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A Question About a Saying by Athanasius

Monday, November 28, 2011 2:00 AM Comments (98)

A reader asks:

How would explain to a critic of the Catholic Church CCC460, which quotes Athanasius about “becoming God”

I understand that it means “participation in the divine nature” but how would explain the strong language used? Poetic vs. technical theology?

I’d go with poetic emphasis. Obviously we are not Mormons and don’t believe we are transformed into a God (a fact Athanasius knew very well). Nor do we believe that God the Father was once human and then graduated to godhood. Nor are we polytheists who believe the persons of the Trinity are three gods. Athanasius’ point was indeed to drive home the reality that, as 2 Peter 1:4 teaches, we become divinized in Christ (“partakers in the divine nature), yet remain ourselves.

That passage from Athanasius, by the way, is a favorite with Mormon apologists (i.e, “God became man that man might become God.”) It gets trotted out as “proof” that early Christians were basically Mormon before the Great Apostasy (when the wicked Catholics drove the true Church into oblivion, necessitating the re-revelation given to Joseph Smith as a patchup on the botched job Jesus and the apostles did. 

The problem: For Mormonism to work, the Great Apostasy has to have happened centuries before Athanasius (who lives over 300 years after the Church supposedly went off the rails). Because by his time everybody (including Athanasius) looks, acts, talks, walks and quacks exactly like a Catholic and believes all sorts of things no Mormon would touch with a barge pole. That’s why that quote from Athanasius, ripped bleeding from its context, is the only thing Mormon apologists know about him. Of his orthodox (not Mormon polytheistic) Trinitarianism, his devotion to the teaching of Nicaea, his faith in the Real Presence, his devotion to the Blessed Virgin as sinless and ever-virgin Mother of God and all the rest that marks him out as an “apostate” Catholic (by Mormon lights) and not a Mormon in the slightest, Mormon apologists say nothing.

My recommendation for chatting with Mormons: Don’t waste time talking about the staggeringly huge doctrinal difference between Catholic faith and the King James Version fan fiction known as the Book of Mormon. Instead, ask for the exact date of the Great Apostasy. Because Mormonism has no other raison d’etre in the universe than as a remedy for that alleged Great Apostasy. If there was no Great Apostasy (which, you know, there wasn’t) there is absolutely no point to Mormonism. It becomes a cure for a non-existent disease peddled by a 19th Century snake oil salesman who sold his wares to people who knew nothing about the history of the Church.

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About Mark Shea

Mark Shea
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Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.