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The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition$

Norman Russell

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780199205974

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199205974.001.0001

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(p.333) Appendix 2 The Greek Vocabulary of Deification

(p.333) Appendix 2 The Greek Vocabulary of Deification

The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition
Oxford University Press

With the exception of a few references to human beings or angels as ‘gods’ (Exod. 7: 1; Deut. 10: 17; Ps. 82: 6; John 10: 34), none of the Greek expressions for deification is used in the Septuagint or the New Testament. Linguistically, deification appears at first sight to have impeccably pagan credentials. The situation, however, is more complex, as the following survey shows. I have attempted to examine all the Greek terms for deification used in inscriptions, papyri, and literary texts. This task has already been performed in an admirable way with regard to the earlier material by C. Habicht (1970). Here I propose, so far as possible, to complete his account to about 500 CE.

(i) Ἀποθεόω/ἀποθειόω

The characteristic terminology of deification first appears in the Hellenistic age. It is uncertain exactly when it began to be used. Aristoxenus, a pupil of Aristotle, is reported by Athenaeus to have mentioned the deification of personified Justice (ἀπεθεώθη δὲ καὶ αὐτὸ τὸ τῆς Δίκης ὄνομα), but Athenaeus (who was writing at the end of the second century CE) is likely at this point to have been using his own words.1 There is also a reference to the deified Ganymede (Γανυμήδης οὗτος ἀποθεούμενος) by Nicolaus, a dramatist of the New Comedy of uncertain date, perhaps of the second century BCE.2

The first certain occurrence of the verb, ἀποθεόω, however, is in Polybius (c. 200 –after 118 BCE), who mentions that Alexander's court historian, Callisthenes, ‘wished to deify (ἀποθεοῦν) Alexander’ (Hist. 12. 23. 4). At about the same time, in 118 BCE, a decree of Ptolemy VII refers to the king's deified predecessors as the ἀποτεθεωμένοι (P. Tebt., eds Grenfell and Hunt 5. 78; cf. note ad loc.). Not long (p.334) afterwards ἀποθεόω is used in the Alexander Romance of Ps.-Callisthenes. An oracle tells Alexander that when he has been deified (ἀποθεωθείς) his body will be venerated and many kings will send gifts to his tomb, which will be the city of Alexandria itself which he has founded.3

The earliest surviving instance of the noun ἀποθέωσις is in a dated inscription. Ἀποθέωσις and ἐκθέωσις appear together in the Canopus Decree of 238 BCE as equivalent terms for the incorporation of Berenice, the deceased daughter of Ptolemy III, into all the temples of Egypt.4 A century later, a psephisma for a gymnasiarch at Pergamon speaks of a public gift of unguent ‘after the apotheosis of the royal couple’.5

It will be seen that these early instances of ἀποθεόω and ἀποθέωσις are all connected with the Hellenistic ruler-cult. There seems to be little doubt that the terms originated in the chanceries of the royal courts. Later, Euhemerism will also play a significant role, but at this stage its influence is apparent only in the Jewish writer, Ps.-Aristeas. This cultivated Alexandrian (fl. c. 200 BCE) ridicules polytheism and popular religion, even if they are defended from a Euhemeristic point of view, on the grounds that it is ‘empty and vain to deify one's equals’ (διὸ κενὸν καὶ μάταιον τοὺς ὀμοίους ἀποθεοῖν) (Ep. ad Phil., SC 89. 170).

The Roman period is marked by a widening of applications of ἀποθέωσις. The first metaphorical use is by Cicero, who says in a letter to Atticus of July 61 BCE that the consulship which Curio used to call an apotheosis will be worth nothing if Afranius gets in.6 Cicero's friend, the Epicurean rhetorician Philodemus, personifies rhetorical persuasion, saying, perhaps under the influence of Euhemerism, that if she had been considered divine because of her practical usefulness she would have been deified (ἀπεθεύθη) by philosophy (Rhet. 5. 32. 5 ed. Sudhaus I. 269). Diodorus of Sicily, who was certainly influenced by Euhemerism, explains in his World History, written between 60 and 30 BCE, how Ouranos, the inventor of urban life, was accorded immortal honours (ἀθάνατους τιμάς) after his death because the accurate way in which he predicted the movements of the heavenly bodies to his ignorant subjects convinced them that he ‘partook of the nature of the gods’. Titaea, the mother of the Titans, was also deified (ἀποθεωθῆναι) after her death because of her ‘many good deeds for the peoples’ and was renamed Ge (Bibl. 3. 57. 2).

Diodorus, like many of his contemporaries, was fascinated by the strange customs of the Egyptians. In his discussion of the Egyptian worship of animals he remarks that they deified the he-goat (τὸν δὲ τράγον ἀπεθὲωσαν) because of his generative (p.335) member (Bibl. 1. 88). This seems to him comparable to the Greeks' deification of Priapus, but the deification of crocodiles he finds too bizarre for his taste (λείπεται δ᾽ ἡμῖν εἰπεῖν περὶ τῆς τῶν κροκοδείλων ἀποθεώσεως) (Bibl. 1. 89). Surviving inscriptions and papyri provide us with further examples of the apotheosis of animals in Egypt. In this connection our stock of terms is augmented by the verb ἀποθειόω. An inscription from the crocodile necropolis at Theadelphia (Batn-Herit), dated 57/6 BCE, mentions the tombs τῶν ἀποθειουμένων ἱερῶν ζώων.7 Two papyri of the second century ce refer to the apotheosis of the holy bulls, Apis at Memphis and Mnevis at Heliopolis.8 A papyrus of the third century uses ἀποθεόω to signify the killing of a lizard by drowning for use in a magic spell.9

The application of these terms to the imperial cult is well known but less frequent than might be expected. The Latin consecratio, the official proclamation of the deceased emperor or member of his family as a divus, was rendered in Greek by ἀποθέωσις.10 Thus the people of Samos date their official decrees from the apotheosis of Augustus in 14 CE, the best preserved example being from 85 (ἔτους οά τῆς ἀποθεύσεως).11 Similarly, consecro was represented by ἀποθεόω. A decree of Paullus Fabius Persicus of about 44 CE, checking abuses in the financial administration of the Artemision at Ephesus, expresses the deification of Livia, the consort of Augustus and mother of Tiberius, by the emperor Claudius in the words: ἀπεθέωσεν αὐτ[ήν ἡ τε σύγκλητος κ]αὶ θεὸς Σεβαστ[ός.12 Seneca's satire on the deification of Claudius in 54 CE, the Apocolocyntosis, had the alternative and less offensive title of the Ἀποθήοσις (sic) (Schanz and Hosius 1935: ii. 471–2). The equivalence of consecratio and ἀποθέωσις becomes so well established that eventually even the consecration of the new city of Constantinople can be called an apotheosis.13

In imperial times the literary use of ἀποθεόω and ἀποθέωσις is not very frequent. (p.336) Strabo (64/3 BCE to after 21 CE) mentions that the Veneti call the death of Diomedes an apotheosis (Geog. 6. 3. 9). Plutarch (before 50 CE to after 120) refers to the deification of Romulus without comment in his life of Numa (Numa 6. 3). In his life of Demetrius, however, we encounter the first pagan criticism of deification. The extravagances of Demetrius prompt him to declare that the value of statues, paintings, and apotheoses is to be measured by the actions that called them forth (Demetrius 30. 4–5). There is a further use by Plutarch of the verb ἀποθεόω which seems to take up a point made by Longinus. In his essay On the Glory of the Athenians Plutarch says that Demosthenes in an oblique way had deified those who had fallen at Marathon by swearing oaths by them.14 Longinus treats this theme in some detail. He comments on the skill of Demosthenes in stirring up the emotions of his hearers by swearing ‘by those who had risked their lives at Marathon’, and says that the orator thus ‘deifies his audience's ancestors’.15 Finally, a spurious text included in the Moralia speaks of the honouring of Agesilaus by the Thasiotes ‘with temples and apotheoses’.16

From the second century onwards there are further extensions of meaning. First, ἀποθέωσις and ἀποθεόω are no longer reserved to heroes and emperors but at least in the Greek cities of Asia Minor can refer simply to the burial of ordinary citizens.17 Secondly, metaphorical applications continue to be made. We have from the Hadrianic period a use of ἀποθειόω in a metaphorical sense by the paederastic poet Straton to express the heightened senses of someone who has fallen in love.18 Thirdly, philosophical uses appear for the first time. A Stoic text probably of the second century, which has been adapted to Christian use, refers to the nous as the apotheosis of the soul, and speaks of the fool who is unable to look up and know God, ‘who has made all things for the salvation and apotheosis of man’.19 At about the same time two tractates of the Hermetic Corpus make use of ἀποθεόω. In the fourth tractate the rejection of the corporeal and the choosing of the spiritual is described as the correct choice which deifies a man (τὸν Ἀνθρωπον ἀποθεῶσαι) (CH iv. 7). In the tenth tractate escape from the body and the contemplation of the Good are similarly represented as the appropriate condition for deification (CH x. 7).

(p.337) The use of ἀποθέωσις in a pagan philosophical context does not occur again until the fifth century, when the Neoplatonist Hierocles refers twice to apotheosis as the result of the attainment of virtue (In Carmen Aureum, 27. 2, ed. Koehler, 119. 13); 27. 4, (120. 12). Among Christian authors Clement of Alexandria (d. c. 213), Origen (d. c. 253), Gregory Thaumaturgus (d. c. 270), Apollinarius (d. c. 390), Didymus the Blind (d. c. 398), Macarius Magnes (fl. 400), Nestorius (d. after 450), Ps.-Macarius (fifth century), and Maximus the Confessor (d. 662) employ these terms. Clement refers six times to the deification of outstanding men in a Euhemeristic fashion (Prot. 10. 96. 4; Strom. 1. 105. 1, 3, and 4; 1. 137. 3; 3. 5. 2). Origen uses ἀποθεόω twice in the same way (Hom. Jer. 5. 3; C. Cels. 4. 59). But he also uses the verb in a manner not unlike that of the Hermetists to denote the deification of those who choose to live according to virtue rather than according to the flesh (Com. Matt. 16. 29; In Psalm. 81). Gregory, Origen's pupil, claims in a similar way that the virtue of prudence reflects the divine mind and produces ‘a kind of apotheosis’ (Panegyric 11). Didymus applies ἀποθεόω in a novel way to the effect on the believer of baptism, which ‘immortalizes and deifies us’ (ἀπαθανατοῖ καί ἀποθεοῖ ἡμᾶς) (De Trin. 2. 14). Apollinarius uses the same verb to denote the deification of the flesh assumed by the Logos, a usage which Nestorius reproduces only to condemn (Frag. 98; cf. Loofs, Nestoriana, pp. 265, 275). Macarius Magnes says that when a man honours his Maker, ‘he deifies himself by sharing in the Godhead’ (ἑαυτὸν δ᾽ ἀποθεοῖ κοινωνών τῇ θε_τητι) (Apocriticus 4. 16). The Macarian homilies refer to a man's being deified and becoming a son of God when he has undergone spiritual regeneration: ἀποθεοῦται γὰρ λοιπὸν ὁ τοιοῦτος καὶ γίγνεται υἱὸς θεοῦ (Mac. Hom. (Coll. II) 15. 35). When a man has been deified in this way he becomes greater than the first Adam (Mac. Hom. (Coll. II) 26. 2). Maximus uses ἀποθεόω on a single occasion to express the exchange formula: ‘Man's ability to deify himself through love for God's sake is correlative to God's becoming man through compassion for man's sake’ (Amb. Io. 10, PG 91. 1113B). Finally, we may note in Gregory of Nyssa a new compound form, συναποθεόω to denote the deification of the human nature of Christ contempor-aneously with the Incarnation (Orat. Cat. 35, 37). The first Christians to use ἀποθεόωand ἀποθέωσις, Clement and Origen, thus follow a recognizable contemporary usage which their successors extend to embrace the operation of baptism and the transformation of the flesh at the Incarnation. This Christian usage, however, remains rare.

(ii) Θεοποιέω––θεοποιΐα––θεοποίησις––θεοποιός

The earliest instance of θεοποιέω occurs in an inscription of between 27 and 11 BCE in which the citizens of Mytilene promise to look out for any honours that can deify Augustus even more than those they have already voted him.20 This is the only pagan use of θεοποιέω with reference to the ruler-cult.

(p.338) The first appearance of θεοποιέω in a literary text occurs in about 7 BCE when Dionysius of Halicarnassus states that the peculiar circumstances of the death of Romulus lend support to those who ‘deify mortal things’ (τοῖς θεοποιοῦσι τὰ θνητά ) (Ant. Rom. 2. 56. 6). In the second century Lucian says with some irony in the first chapter of The Scythian that the enrolment of Toxaris among the heroes in Athens shows that ‘it is also possible for the Athenians to deify Scythians in Greece, (ἀλλὰ καὶ Ἀθηναίοις ἐζεῖναι θεοποιεέν τοὺς Σκύθας ἐπὶ τῆς Ἑλλάδος) Scyth. 1. The only other pagan author to use θεοποιέω is Sextus Empiricus (fl. c. 200 CE), who says that the Pythagoreans used to treat Pythagoras as a god (τοῦτον γὰρ ἐθεοποίουν) (Adv. Math. 7. 94), that the Stoic sage ‘was in all respects considered a god because he never expressed a mere opinion’ (κατὰ πάντα ἐθεοποιεῖτο διὰ τὸ μὴ δοζάζειν) (Adv. Math. 7. 423), and that ‘Euhemerus declared that those considered gods were certain men of power, which is why they were deified by the rest and reputed to be gods’ (καὶ διὰ τοῦτο ὡπὸ τῶν ἄλλων θεοποιηθέντας δόζαι θεούς) (Adv. Math. 9. 51).

Θεοποιέω, while remaining uncommon among pagan writers, became the preferred verb among Christians to denote both pagan and Christian deification. The Apologists use the verb a number of times to denote the pagan deification of inanimate things.21 Clement is the first to apply it to Christian deification.22 Thereafter the verb is used by Hippolytus (Ref. 10. 34), Origen23 and Eusebius of Caesarea,24 then by Athanasius (with great frequency),25 and subsequently by Didymus the Blind,26 the three Cappadocians,27 and Apollinarius of Laodicea28 in the fourth century, Macarius Magnes,29 Ps.-Macarius,30 and Cyril of Alexandria31 in the fifth century, Leontius of Jerusalem32 in the sixth century, and Maximus the Confessor33 in the seventh century. In terms of frequency of use, θεοποιέω, largely through the influence of Athanasius, becomes by the fourth century a word with a primarily Christian range of meanings. Towards the end of the patristic age, however, it tends to be replaced by θεόω.

The earliest witness to the noun θεοποιΐα is the scholar Julius Pollux (second century CE), who defines it as the art of making statues of the gods (Onomast. 1. 13). A century later (c. 270) Porphyry uses it to denote the Egyptian deification of animals (De Abstin. 4. 9). In the following century Athanasius34 and Eusebius35 use it in a similar way for the invention of gods by the pagans in general. In the fifth century Hierocles is able to use the word for deification by progress in virtue, but no (p.339) Christian ever uses it in this sense.36 Instead, Christians use the form θεοποίησις, which is first encountered in the writings of Athanasius,37 and appears again in Didymus38 and Cyril of Alexandria.39

The adjectival noun θεοποιός survives in a fragment from Aristophanes (frag. 786/7). Without a context its meaning is uncertain, but it probably means ‘a maker of statues of the gods’. This is the sense it has in Lucian's Lover of Lies (Philopseudes 20), and is also the definition given by Julius Pollux (Onomasticon 1. 13). The first Christian author to use the word, Clement of Alexandria, follows the same usage, but alongside this he also gives it a new adjectival sense, namely, ‘deifying’ (Prot. 4. 51. 6; QDS 19). It remains a rare word, being used once by Origen (Sel. in Exod. 1. 3), Methodius (Symposium 9. 4), Athanasius (De Syn. 51), Apollinarius (Kata meros pistis 27), Ps.-Basil of Caesarea (Adv. Eunom. 5. 732B), and Cyril of Jerusalem (Catech. 4. 16), twice by Gregory of Nazianzus (Or. 3. 1; Carm. ii. 2. 7), and Cyril of Alexandria (Dial. Trin. v. 567e; vii. 644d), and four times by Ps.-Dionysius (CH 1. 1. 120B; DN 2. 1. 637B; 11. 6. 956B; Ep. 2. 1068A). We find it taken up in the sense first attested by Clement of Alexandria, however, by the late Neoplatonists Proclus (In Tim. 5. 308d, (ed. Diehl, iii. 226. 28), Hierocles (In Carm. Aur. 19. 10 (84. 1)), and Damascius (V. Isidori, ed. Zintzen, 207. 8).

(iii) Ἐκθεόω/ἐκθειόω—κθέωσις—ἐκθεωτικός

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, the earliest literary author to use θεοποιέω is also the first witness to ἐκθειόω. In offering a rationalistic explanation of how Pistis or Fides came to be worshipped in Rome, he says that Numa added Pistis to Dike, Nemesis, and Erinyes, which had already been deified (ἐκτεθειόσθαι), so as to strengthen the force of contracts which had been made without a witness (Ant. Rom. 2. 75. 2). Our next witness is the Jewish Platonist Philo of Alexandria (fl. 39 ce), who uses ἐκθειόω several times in his references to the pagan deification of animals, men, and heavenly bodies.40 At the end of the first century Plutarch uses ἐκθειόω in his discussion of how Herodotus has cheapened the story of Io, ‘whom all Greeks consider to have been deified’ (ἣν πάντες Ἕλληνες ἐκτεθειῶσθαι νομίζουσι) by the barbarians (Moralia 856e).

Ἐκθεόω occurs for the first time in Appian, who uses it to signify the dedication of an altar.41 The first witness to its use with the meaning ‘to deify’ is Clement of Alexandria, who uses it in both a pagan and a Christian context.42 Origen also uses the word but only once and with a pejorative sense.43 Christian writers, however, did (p.340) not adopt the term. By contrast, it does become important among the Neoplatonists. Porphyry (232/3–c.305) says that a man deifies (ἐκθεοῖ) himself by attaining likeness to the divine.44 Proclus (c. 410–83) uses ἐκθεόω frequently, particularly in his Commentary on the Timaeus, to express the divinity which is acquired by participation in the divine. Only the One and the demiurge are gods per se; the rest are ἐκθεούμενοι.45 Ps.-Dionysius betrays a Procline influence with two instances of ἐκθεόω (DN 1. 5. 593B; 8. 5. 893A). Hermias refers to Dionysus as one of the ἐκθεούμενοι (Schol. in Phaedr. 135a, (ed. Couvreur, 138. 24). Damascius, the last head of the Academy in the sixth century, takes it for granted that only the ὑπερούσιος θεός is God in the true sense; the others are ἐκθεούμενοι (Dub. et sol. 100, (ed. Ruelle, 1. 258. 3).

For the origins of ἐκθέωσις we must probably go back to Callimachus (c. 305–c. 240 BCE). On the deification of Arsinoe I of Egypt in 270 BCE he wrote a celebratory poem which the later summary of his works, the Diegesis, entitles the Ἐκθέωσις Ἀρσινόης (Dieg. 10. 10, Callimachus, ed. Pfeiffer, 1. 218, frag. 228). It always remained a rare noun. It appears with ἀποθέωσις without any discernible difference of meaning in the Canopus Decree of 238 BCE (OGI 56. 53). It is the term used by Philo for the setting up of false gods in general and for the self-deification of Caligula in particular (Leg. 77, 201, 332, 338, 368; Dec. 81). But it does not seem to be used again until the fifth century CE, when we find it in Proclus (In Remp., ed. Kroll, i. 120. 17). Proclus also uses an adjectival form, ἐκθεωτικός, which he seems to have coined himself.46 The first author to find a Christian use for ἐκθεόω, ἐκθέωσις, ἐκθεωτικός is Ps.-Dionysius.47

(iv) Θεόω—θέωσις

Θεόω appears first in Callimachus, the earliest writer to have used any of the technical terms of deification. He represents Heracles as still gluttonous among the gods ‘although his flesh had been deified [i.e. by self-immolation] beneath a Phrygian oak’ (οὐ γὰρ ὅ γε Φρυγίῃ περ δρυὶ γυῖα θεωθεὶς/παύσατʼ ἀδηφαγίης)(Hymn III to Artemis 159–60). Not long afterwards another Alexandrian, the Jewish writer Ps.-Aristeas, uses θεόω in his comments on the absurdity of pagan deification (Ep. ad Phil., SC 89, p. 170).

Thereafter there is silence until the verb is revived in the second century CE by the Cynic philosopher Oenomaus of Gadara (fl. c. 120), to pour scorn on the notion that one of the gods had deified a certain olive trunk.48 Θεόω appears in the Poemandres of the Hermetic Corpus to express the state of the soul that has stripped away the passions through true knowledge and, assimilated to the Powers, has entered the (p.341) eighth sphere (CH i. 26; cf. CH xiii. 10). Clement of Alexandria at about the same time also uses the verb to indicate deification through the eradication of the passions in a way which is not dissimilar (Strom. 4. 152. 1). In the third century the Neoplatonist Iamblichus (c.250–c.325) uses θεόω to signify the deifying power of the doctrine contained in the Pythagorean symbols.49

Although Proclus also uses θεόω several times in his commentaries on the Parmenides and the Timaeus (In Parm. 1. 34, 35, ed. Cousin, 490, 491); In Tim. 3. 173e, (ed. Diehl, ii. 111. 20), it is in fact in Christian usage that the verb becomes established. Apollinarius uses it twice (Frag. 147, ed. Lieztmann, 246), and Gregory of Nazianzus no fewer than twenty-one times to express both the deification of the human nature of Christ and the telos of the Christian believer.50 Theta;εόω is next found in Macarius Magnes, where it simply means to ‘dedicate’ or ‘consecrate’ the mind (Apocriticus 3. 23), but is not used in Gregory's sense until it is taken up by Ps.-Dionysius,51 Diadochus of Photice (Hom. Ascens. 6), Leontius of Jerusalem (Nest. 3. 5; 4. 37; 5. 10 G 25), Maximus the Confessor52 (largely in his exegesis of Gregory), and John Damascene.53 From these it passes into the Byzantine tradition.

Θέωσις, the correlative noun to θεόω, was coined by Gregory of Nazianzus. It first appears in the Fourth Oration, the First Invective against Julian, which was composed shortly after Julian's death in July 363.54 Although this became the standard term for deification in Byzantine theology, it is the rarest of the various expressions employed by the earlier Fathers. Like θεόω it appears again in Ps.-Dionysius,55 Leontius of Jerusalem (Adv. Nest. 1. 18), Maximus the Confessor,56 and John Damascene.57 The only pagan writer to have used the term was the Athenian Neoplatonist Damascius. The multiplicity of suprasubstantial henads, he says, implies not that they are self-subsistent hypostases, but that they are granted illuminations and θεώσεις (Dub. et sol. 100, ed. Ruelle, i. 258. 5).

(v) Ἀποθειάζω—ἐκθειάζω

The verb ἐκθειάζω, which Plutarch is the first to use, remains comparatively rare. Plutarch says that Sertorius κατὰ μικρὸν ἐξεθείαζε his pet fawn to impress the Lusitanians who formed the bulk of his troops (Sert. 11. 3). The grammarian Heraclitus gives it a metaphorical turn when he says that the whole world has ‘deified’ the (p.342) wisdom of Homer.58 In the second century Lucian uses ἐκθειάζω as a synonym for θεοποέω to refer to the way that Orestes and Pylades are rendered divine honours in Thrace (Toxaris 2, 8). Iamblichus says that Pythagoras in his lifetime was ‘deified’ by his admirers and followers.59 In the third century Herodian, applying the term to the imperial cult, writes: ‘it is the custom with the Romans to deify (ἐκθειάζειν) emperors who die leaving behind them children as their successors’ (Hist. 4. 2. 1). In the next century Julian accuses the Christians of deifying a quality in God which they find blameworthy in men, namely, jealousy (C. Gal. 155d). Finally in the late fifth century Hermias claims that Plato ἐκθειάζει τοὺς Aἰgamma;ύπτιους ὡς ἀρχαίους, that is to say, treats them as divine oracles (Schol. in Phaedr. 199a).

The few Christian authors who use this verb do not apply it to the human telos. Clement of Alexandria uses it frequently along with θειάζω.60 Origen and Athanasius also use it but only twice each.61 In every case ἐκθειάζω is employed in a pagan context with a pejorative sense.

There is only a single witness to the verb ἀποθειάζω. In the fourth century CE Themistius coined it on analogy with ἐκθειάζω to denote the deification of Heracles (Orat. 20. 239d).

(vi) Conclusion

The pattern which emerges from this survey is that of a group of more or less synonymous words which from the third century BCE to the sixth century ce express in some way, either literally or metaphorically, the transference of people or animals or abstractions from the transient world below to the everlasting world above. The words, however, are not entirely synonymous. It is significant that Christian writers adopt some in preference to others and coin new forms for their own use. Jewish writers in Greek, unlike Christians, never apply these terms to the human telos.

In the Hellenistic period the vocabulary is small, comprising the verbs θεόω and ἀποθεόω and the nouns ἐκθέωσις and ἀποθέωσις and is used exclusively in the context of the deification of heroes and rulers. Whether Euhemerus himself used any of these terms is not known, but in the first century BCE it is mainly in Euhemeristic writers that we find them. Dionysius of Halicarnassus augments the number of verbs, introducing ἐκθειόω and θεοποιέω, the latter with a slightly pejorative sense but otherwise without any extension of meaning. Ἀποθειόω also appears contemporaneously in an Egyptian inscription.

In early imperial times we find ἀποθέωσις used as the equivalent of the Latin consecratio. Moreover, a Greek community can use θεοποιέω for its awarding of divine honours to the living emperor. By the second century ἀποθέωσις has become synonymous with solemn burial and can be used of ordinary citizens.

Philosophical uses of the vocabulary begin with Plutarch in the late first century. Plutarch also introduces the term ἐκθειάζω. In the second century there is a revival (p.343) of θεόω and the first appearance of ἐκθεόω, verbs which come to be taken up strongly by the Neoplatonists. Among the Neoplatonists the words with the prefix apo- are on the whole avoided. A distinction in meaning between ἀποθέωσις and ἐκθέωσις was first proposed by M. Radin in 1916 (Radin 1916: 44–6). Habicht rejects Radin's arguments, but in doing so he only has in mind the earlier material, in which the distinction does not yet seem to have developed (Habicht 1970: 174 n. 24). But the distinction which Radin wished to make does seem to be valid later. Ἀποθέωσις was applied particularly to the imperial cult and by extension to the dead generally; in its wider use it implies a ‘return to origins’, an ascent of the soul to the place whence it came. It is in this sense that we find ἀποθεόω used in the Hermetic writings and in Origen. The Neoplatonists, however, wished to express the descent of divine power into lower levels of being and the transformation of entities on those levels through participation in the divine. For this purpose ἐκθέωσις and its derivatives are more appropriate, the prefix ek- conveying the sense of ‘making completely’.

Before the later Neoplatonists—and Proclus in particular—the terminology of deification was used much more frequently by Christians than by pagans. Until the beginning of the Christian era there are only seventeen surviving instances of the use of the terms. By the end of the third century the number of instances has risen to sixty-eight, which is more than equalled by the Apologists, Clement, Origen, and Hippolytus, who use the term more often by the middle of the third century than all of their pagan contemporaries and predecessors put together.62 There seem to be two fundamental reasons for this. The first is that the imperial cult, although diffused throughout the empire, was not much discussed. It was not problematical (except to Jews and Christians) and therefore did not excite much comment. The second is that in Platonism there was no true deification until Iamblichus began to develop the concept of theurgy. Plotinus, for example, never once uses any of the expressions of deification for the simple reason that if the human soul is already divine in essence, it does not need to be deified.63 When Christian authors wished to speak about deification they therefore had to hand a relatively unexploited set of terms with a wide range of meaning which they could adapt to their own purposes without much difficulty.

Christian authors show a marked preference for the verbs θεοποιέω and θεόω and the nouns θεοποίησις and θέωσις, both nouns being late coinages found almost exclusively in Christian writers. The second-century Apologists use θεοποιέω with some frequency, but only with reference to pagan deification. Clement is the earliest writer to apply θεοποιέω to Christian deification, along with θεόω and several other terms which he uses in a manner indistinguishable from that of his pagan contemporaries. The first verb is taken up by Athanasius, who is the first witness to the noun, θεοποίησις, and the second by Gregory of Nazianzus, who produces the noun, θέωσις. Cyril of Alexandria follows Athanasius' terminology, while Ps.-Dionysius and Maximus the Confessor follow Gregory's. It is therefore the latter set of terms that comes to predominate in Byzantine usage.

(p.344) Of the other terms, ἀποθεόω and ἀποθέωσις are found in an approving Christian context only in Origen, Gregory Thaumaturgus, Didymus, Apollinarius, Macarius Magnes, Ps.-Macarius, and Maximus the Confessor. Even before the beginning of the Nestorian controversy, ‘apotheosis’ had begun to acquire perjorative connotations. Nestorius confirmed these when he protested vigorously against the ‘apotheosis’ of the humanity of Christ by the ‘innovators’. Nor did ‘ektheosis’ take root in the Church. Ἐκθεόω occurs only once after Clement, in Ps.-Dionysius, and ἐκθέωσις only three times, in Maximus the Confessor. Yet these are the terms that were most popular among the later pagan Neoplatonists. Christian writers were thus successful in evolving their own distinctive terminology for deification.


(1) Aristoxenus, frag. 50 (ed. Wehrli, 24. 14) = Athenaeus 12. 546b. Cf. Habicht 1970: 175. From Aristoxenus' time we have a use of θεοποίητος by Isocrates to mean ‘made by the gods’ or ‘a divine creation’ (Or. 7. 62 [Areopagiticus]). Apart from this there is only the isolated word θεοποιούς from Aristophanes (frag. 786/7), which, as Julius Pollux tells us, means ‘makers of statues of the gods’ (Onomasticon 1. 12–13).

(2) Nicolaus, frag. 1 35 (ed. Kock, Comicorum Atticorum Fragmenta, iii. 384). Habicht 1970: 175 says that Nicolaus is certainly not older than the second century BCE. Körte (ed. Pauly, Wissowa, and Kroll, Real-Encyclopädie, Nikolaos [19] 362) thinks it likely that this dramatic poet is to be identified with the adviser and confidant of Herod the Great, Nicolaus of Damascus (end of the first century BCE).

(3) Ps.-Call. 1. 33. 11. Ps.-Callisthenes cannot be dated with certainty, the possible period of composition ranging from the first century bce to the second century CE.

(4) OGI 56. 53 and 56. Another equivalent expression is ἐπεὶ εἰς θεοὺς μετῆλθεν (55). M. Radin 1916: 44–6 argues for a difference in nuance between ἀποθέωσις and ἐκθέωσις but the evidence, here at least, does not bear this out. Cf. Habicht 1970: 174 n. 24.

(5) Ath. Mitt. 33 (1908) 381, no. 3. 9–10, corrected by H. Hepding, Ath. Mitt. 35 (1910) 419–20: μετὰ δὲ τὴν τῶν β]ασιλέων ἀποθέωσιν δημοσίαι ἐτίθετο τὸ ἄλειμμα. Cf. OGI 308. 2–4: ἐπεὶ βασίλισσα [Ἀπ]ολλωνὶς Εὐσεβής (the wife of Attalus I, 241–197 BCE) μεθέστηκεν εἰς θεούς and OGI 339. 16: τῶν τε βασιλέων εἰς θεοὺς μεταστάντων (after the death of Attalus III in 133 BCE).

(6) Att. 1. 16. 13: ‘Sed heus tu! Videsne consulatum illum nostrum, quem Curio antea ἀποθέωσιν vocabat, si hic factus erit, fabam mimum futurum?’ As D. R. Shackleton Bailey has pointed out (Cicero's Letters to Atticus, i (Cambridge 1965) 325), ‘consulatum illum nostrum’ is the consular office which Cicero is always talking about, not Cicero's own consulship.

(7) Mitteis and Wilcken, Chrestomathie, no. 70. iii. 17. On the Egyptian deification of animals cf. Plutarch, De Iside 71–5, and Cicero, De natura deorum 1. 36. ‘The correct attitude’, says Plutarch (De Iside 71), ‘is that of the Greeks, who regard certain animals as sacred to certain gods.’ Both Cicero and Plutarch find the Egyptian attitude absurd, but account for it in a rationalistic way by appealing to the usefulness or strength of the animals deified.

(8) Schubart and Uxkull-Gyllenband, Aegyptische Urkunden 5. [89] 203: Οἱ [μ]ὴ πέμ[ψ]αντες στολίσματα [εἰ]ς ἀπο[θέ]ωσιν Ἄπιδος ἢ Μνέ[υι]δος κατακρίνοντ[αι πρόσ]τειμον. (This is the Gnomon of the Idios Logos, dated between 151 and 160 CE. The editors note that although in Ptolemaic times the kings often bore the cost of the burial, in the imperial period every Egyptian temple was required to deliver byssos (fine linen) to Memphis and Heliopolis for wrapping the mummified holy bulls.) Mitteis and Wilcken, Chrestomathie, no. 85. 15–20: Παπήνεγκα καὶ παρέδωκα ὑπὲρ τοῦ προκειμένου ἱεροῦ ὐπὲρ ἀποθεύσεως Ἄπιδος Θαώϊτος βύσσου στολίσματος πήχεις δέκα. (This is P. Genev., no. 201, dated 170 CE. Wilcken (p. 112) notes that Apis only becomes Osorapis after 70 days. The deification is not immediately at death but after the period of official mourning.)

(9) Kenyon, P. Lond., no. 121. 628–9: λαβων καλαβωτην απ[ο υγ]ρου εασον αυτον εις κρινον εως αν αποθεωθη. (Cf. A. D. Nock 1931: 235–87).

(10) Diodorus, Bibl. 4. 2. 1: Ἐθος γάρ ἐστι Ῥωμαίοις ἐκθειάζειν βασιλέων τοὺς ἐπὶ παισὶ διαδόχοις τελευτήσαντες τήν τε τοιαύτην τιμήν ἀποθέωσιν καλούσι.

(11) IGR iv. 1732. Cf. 1704: ἀν τῶ ρμ [.Ἐτει] (uncertain figure between 140 and 146, i.e. a year between 154 and 160 CE); 1726: [Ἐτους…τῆς Καί]σαρος ἀποθεώσε[ως.

(12) Die Inschriften von Ephesos (ed. H. Wankel) ia (Bonn 1979), no. 17–19. 66. Cf. D. Magie 1950: 545–6.

(13) John Lydus, On Powers, or the Magistracies of the Roman State, 30: Appendix 2 The Greek Vocabulary of Deification (ed. Bandy (Philadelphia 1983) 128. 8–13). Lydus was born in 490.

(14) Moralia 350C: τούτους ἀπεθέωσε τοῖς ὅρκοις ὁ ῥήτωρ ὀμνύων οὕς οὐκ ἐμιμεῖτο.

(15) On the Sublime 16. 2: τοὺς μὲν προγόνους ἀποθεώσας, ὄτι δεῖ τοὺς οὕτως ἀποθανόντας ὡς θεοὺς ὀμνῦναι παριστάνων.

(16) Ps.-Plutarch, Apoph. Lakon., Agesilaus 25 (Moralia 210cd).

(17) CIG ii. 2831 (Aphrodisias): Appendix 2 The Greek Vocabulary of Deification. 2832 (Aphrodisias): μετὰ δὲ τὴν τούτων ἀποθέωσιν οὐδεὶς ἀζ[ου]σ[ίαν] ἕζει ἐνθάψαι ἕτερον. Keil and von Premerstein, 1908: 85, no. 183 (Kula, Lydia): ὄταν δ᾽ ἀπ[ο]θεωθῆι Λυκῖνος, ὑ[π]άρχε[ιν] τοῖς ἐκγόνοις αὐτοῦ τό τε γέρας ὁμοίως, ὄταν [γε] ἐπιδημῶσ[ι]. Cf. the verbs ἀφηρωΐζω and ἀποϊερόω used in exactly the same way at Aphrodisias in CIG ii. 2827, 2845.

(18) Anth. Pal. 12. 177: εἰ δὲ μὲ καὶ πεφίληκε τεκμαίρομαι· εἰ γὰρ ἀληθές, πῶς ἀποθειωθεὶς πλάζομ᾽ ἐπιχθόνιος;

(19) Philokalia (eds Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain and Macarius of Corinth), i: Parainesis, 135: Ὁ νοῦς ἐν τῇ ψυχῇ φαίνεται, καὶ ἡ φύσις ἐν τῷ σώματι. Καὶ ὁ νοῦς μὲν τῆς ψυχῆς ἀποθέωσις ἐστίν ἡ δὲ φύσις τοῦ σώματος, διάχυσις ὑπάρχει. 168: τὸν θεὸν τὸν τὰ πάντα εἱς σωτηρίαν καὶ ἀποθέωσιν ἀνθρώπου ποιήσαντα. Cf. I. Hausherr, ‘Un écrit stoicien sous le nom de Saint Antoine Ermite’, OCP 86 (Rome 1933): 212–16.

(20) OGI 456. 44–50: εἰ δέ τι τούτων ἐπικυδέστερον τοῖς μετέπειτα χρόνοις εὐρεθήσεται, πρὸς μη[δὲν] τῶν θεοποιεῖν αὐτὸν ἐπὶ [πλέ]ον δυνησομένων ἐλλείψει[ν] τὴν τῆς πόλεως προθυμίαν καὶ εὐσέβειαν. Cf. Habicht 1970: 176–7; S. R. F. Price 1980: 34–5.

(21) Aristides, Apol. 7. 11; 13. 1; Athenagoras, Legat. 22. 9, 10, 12; Tatian, Orat. 18.

(22) Prot. 9. 87. 1; 11. 114. 4; Strom. 6. 125. 4.

(23) For references, see p. 141.

(24) But comparatively rarely; see p. 236.

(25) For references, see p. 167.

(26) Com. Gen. (SC 244, p. 248); De Trin. 2. 4, 25; 3. 2, 16.

(27) Basil, Adv. Eun. 3. 5; Greg. Naz. Or. 2. 73; Greg. Nys. De Virg. 1; C. Eun. 4. 629D.

(28) Quod unus sit Christus 1; Kata meros pistis 1, 31.

(29) Apocrit. 4. 18, 26.

(30) Mac. Hom. (Coll. I) 2. 12. 6.

(31) Thes. 4. 15, 33; Dial. Trin. vii. 640a, 644d.

(32) Adv. Nest. 3. 8; 5. 25.

(33) Ep. 31; Myst. 7.

(34) CG 12. 21, 29.

(35) Praep. evang. 1. 5; 2. 6; 3. 3, 5, 13; 4. 17; Dem. evang. 1. 2; Is. 19. 1; 41. 15.

(36) In Carmen Aureum 27. 5 (ed. Koehler, 120. 16).

(37) CA 1. 39; 2. 70; 3. 53.

(38) On Genesis (SC 233, p. 109. 12).

(39) C. Nest. 2. 8.

(40) Decalogue 8, 53, 70, 79; Spec. Leg. 1. 10, 344; Conf. 173.

(41) The Civil Wars 3. 3: τὴν ἀγορὰν οὖν καταλαβόντες ἐβόων καὶ τὸν Ἀντώνιον ἐβλασφήμουν καὶ τὰς ἀρχὰς ἐκέλευον ἀντὶ Ἀματὶου τὸν βωμὸν ἐκθεοῦν καὶ θύειν ἐπ᾽ αὐτοῦ Καίσαρι πρώτους.

(42) Prot. 2. 26. 5; Paed. 1. 98. 3; Strom. 1. 105. 1.

(43) Hom. Jer. 5. 2; cf. Aelian (who was a younger contemporary of Clement's and an older contemporary of Origen's), De nat. anim. 10. 23: σέβουσι δὲ ἄρα οἱ αὐτοὶ Κοπτῖται καὶ θηλείας δορκάδας καὶ ἐκθεοῦσιν αὐτάς, τοὺς δὲ ἄρρενας καταθύουσιν. Cf. Preisendanz, P. Graec. Mag. i. 2455–9: λαβὼν μυγαλὸν ἐκθέωσον πηγαίῳ ὕδατι.

(44) To Marcella 17: αὐτὸς δὲ ἑαυτὸν καὶ εὐάρεστον ποιεῖ θεῷ καὶ ἐκθεοῖ τῇ τ ῆς ἰδίας διαθέσεως ὁμοιότητι τῷ μετὰ ἀφθαρσίας μακαρίῳ.

(45) El. Theol. 129, 135, 138, 153, 160; In Remp. (ed. Kroll, ii. 48.10–12); In Tim., prooem. 3ef.

(46) El. Theol. 165; In Parm., 4. 838 (ed. Cousin); In Tim. 5. 302b (ed. Diehl, iii. 205. 6); 5. 302d (iii. 206. 26); 5. 302f (iii. 207. 25); 5. 306d (iii. 220. 12); 5. 313b (iii. 241. 19).

(47) These all occur in the most philosophical of his works. Ἐκθεόω: DN 1. 5. 593C; 8. 5. 893A; ἐκθέωσις: DN 9. 5. 912D; 12. 3. 972A; ἐκθεωτικός: DN 2. 7. 645A.

(48) Cited by Eusebius, Prep. evang. 5. 34: καίτοι εἰ ἀσφαλὲς ἦν, οὐκ ἂν ἦν ἐπιβατὸν ληρῷ οὐδʼ ἂν εἷς τις τῶν Ὀλυμπίων εἰς τοῦτο ἦλθεν παρανοίας ὡς ἐλαΐνον κορμὸν θεῶσαι.

(49) V. Pyth. 23. 103: τὰς τῶν Πυθαγορικῶν συμβόλων ἐμφάσεις καὶ ἀπορρήτους ἐννοίας […] ὑπὲρ ἀνθρωπίνην ἐπίνοιαν θεωθεῖσαι.

(50) For references see p. 214 above.

(51) For references see p. 249 above.

(52) Thal. 40, 44, 64; Opusc. 4, 7. (PG 91. 60B, 81D); Epp. 12, 31; Ambig. (PG 91. 1040CD, 1088B, 1237B, 1336A).

(53) De fid. orth. 2. 12; 3. 17; C. Jac. 52; Anacr. (PG 96. 854B). For other writers of the seventh and eighth centuries, see Lampe, PGL, s.v.

(54) Or. 7. 71; for a complete list, see above, p. 214.

(55) CH 1. 3; 7. 2; EH 1. 2. 3, 4; 2. 2. 1; 2. 3. 6; 3. 1; 3. 3. 4; 3. 3. 7; 6. 3. 5; DN 2. 8, 11; 8. 5.

(56) Thal. 9, 22, 40, 44, 59, 60, 61, 63; Orat. Dom. 873C, 877C, 893D, 905D; Cap. Theol. 1. 54, 55, 60, 97; 2. 25, 88; Opusc. 33C; Epp. 2, 9, 43; Myst. 680C; Ambig. 1040D, 1088C, 1237B.

(57) De fid. orth. 3. 17; 4. 18; C. Jac. 52; Carm. Theog. 93. Cf. also Ps.-Cyril (7th cent.), PG 77. 1152C.

(58) Homeric Problems 79 (ed. Oelmann, p. 106. 5): τὴν δʼ Ὁμήρου σοφίαν ἐκτεθείακεν αἰὼν ὁ σύμπας.

(59) V. Pyth. 2. 11: τὸν νεανίαν ἐπευφημοῦντες ἐξεθείαζον καὶ διεθρύλουν.

(60) For references see p. 122 above.

(61) Origen: Hom. Jer. 7. 3; Com. Jo. 10. 34. Athanasius: CG 8, 9.

(62) The Apologists use the terms 6 times (all of them in a pagan context), Clement 39 times (15% in a Christian context), Hippolytus 4 times (25% in a Christian context), and Origen 20 times (50% in a Christian context), making a total of 69. For detailed references see the relevant chapters.

(63) He does say θεὸν γενόμενον but at once corrects it with μᾶλλον δὲ ὄντα (Enn. vi. 9. 9. 58).