Luther and theosis: Deification in the theology of Martin Luther

Paul David Lehninger, Marquette University


Throughout his career, Martin Luther spoke of deification as an aspect of God's redemption of mankind, and affirmed the Athanasian formula that God became man in order that man might be made God. This teaching of deification, or theosis , by Martin Luther became an issue especially in the last decade among some Finnish and German theologians because of ecumenical dialogs held between Finnish Lutherans and the Russian Orthodox. The question was posed in this dissertation as to how Luther dealt with the following issues: is deification accomplished by the human person's participation in the essence of God, in a created grace, or in the energies of God; can the teaching of deification be reconciled with the doctrine of justification; and by what means is deification accomplished? These questions were investigated in order to determine whether Luther understood theosis in the same sense as the Eastern tradition, and to what extent his understanding of theosis was influenced by his background in the medieval West. The history of the doctrine of theosis in the Byzantine tradition was first investigated using the writings of the Eastern fathers as primary sources, as well as secondary sources written by contemporary Eastern Orthodox theologians. Since theosis is employed as an atonement motif primarily by Eastern Orthodoxy, this was done to provide a context for the investigation. The history of this doctrine was then briefly traced in the West through Bernard and Bonaventure, followed by a consideration of the devotio moderna . Attention was then paid to an investigation of Luther's writings themselves, including a survey of pertinent secondary literature. As a result of the research, it was concluded that Luther rejected both the idea that theosis entails a change in the essence of the human person, and that it is accomplished by the impartation of a created grace. Although the Eastern distinction between essence and energies in God is not clearly shared by Luther, his theology does not rule out such a distinction. It was also concluded that Luther's development of the doctrine of justification allows for deification as a complementary atonement motif. Finally, the grace of deification can only be understood in the context of a theology of the cross, and the Eucharist is an essential means for communicating this grace.

Recommended Citation

Lehninger, Paul David, "Luther and theosis: Deification in the theology of Martin Luther" (1999). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9929163.