20 February 2011

On Man becoming God: four explanations

Today's homily provoked a few questions about the nature of our salvation understood as "Man becoming God."  Below are four selections that explain the concept of theosis/deification/divinization. 

1. From an Advent mission that I preached back in 2007,  Mission Two:  Grace and Divinization:

The longest tradition of the Catholic Church understands our redemption and sanctification, our one time rescue and our growing into holiness, as an on-going process of turning each of us individually and all of us together into Christ. The Biblical tradition, the Patristic tradition, the scholastic tradition, and all of the traditions of the Church loyal to the magisterial ministry of Peter agree: God became man so that men might become God. That’s right. You heard me correctly: to be saved is to be made God. We call this deification or divinization—the God-initiated, God-driven, God-bound process of bringing a man or woman into the fullest possible participation in the divine life. Think about what the phrase “to partake” means. We can partake in a meal. Partake in a game of poker. Partake in an discussion. This means that we are involved, engaged, deeply committed to the activity, and open to the players, the actors; open to the game, and ready to be caught up, absorbed, taken in and changed. You eat a steak and that steak becomes part of you. You drink a glass of water and that water becomes part of you. You marry and your single flesh joins another single flesh to become one flesh. You eat the Body and drink the Blood of Christ and you become Christ. You are what you eat!

To partake of the divine nature, then means to share in, to participate in, to live with right now and forever the Blessed Trinity. To be supremely intimate with God the Father who loves His Son in the Holy Spirit. But we have to be absolutely clear about one thing: we do nothing to deserve this gift of the divine life; we do nothing to merit our redemption in Christ; we cannot reach for God until God teaches us to reach; we cannot grasp at an everlasting life until God teaches us to grasp; we cannot pray, sacrifice, sing, forgive, confess, repent, show mercy, grow in holiness—none of this!—we can do none of this until God teaches us to pray, sacrifice, sing, forgive, confess, repent, show mercy, grow in holiness. 

2. From Fr. Jean Corbon’s book, The Wellspring of Worship (Ignatius Press, 1988):

Following these three pathways of the transfigured icon, we are divinized to the extent that the least impulses of our nature find fulfillment in the communion of the Blessed Trinity We then "live" by the Spirit, in oneness with Christ, for the Father. The only obstacle is possessiveness, the focusing of our persons on the demands of our nature, and this is sin for the quest of self breaks the relation with God. The asceticism that is essential to our divinization and that represents once again a synergy of grace consists in simply but resolutely turning every movement toward possessiveness into an offering. The epiclesis on the altar of the heart must be intense at these moments, so that the Holy Spirit may touch and consume our death and the sin that is death's sting. Entering into the name of Jesus, the Son of God and the Lord who shows mercy to us sinners, means handing over to him our wounded nature, which he does not change by assuming but which he divinizes by putting on. From offertory to epiclesis and from epiclesis to communion the Spirit can then ceaselessly divinize us; our life becomes a eucharist until the icon is completely transformed into him who is the splendor of the Father (223).

3. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Word became flesh to make us "partakers of the divine nature": "For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God." "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God." "The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods." (par 460)

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  1. Because Christ has put us on, we have to put on Christ. In this sense of mystical union, we are all mystics, all saints, and any who go after revelations or wonders or spirits show ingratitude to Christ.

  2. Anonymous1:36 PM

    Just one thing: It is very dangerous to give a false notion that man can become a God or God Himself, that human nature will be transformed into God´s nature. That is mormonism and other heresies, not Catholicism.

  3. In my latest unpublished book, I call myself a "Goddess" because:

    1. I am a spouse of a Godman.

    2. I have partaken in the Eucharist and been born again of water and the Holy Spirit.

    3. As long as I do not sin, the Holy Spirit inhabits my soul, divinizing me.

    Is this heresy? I don't think so, from reading this article. Do we now see what a treasure our faith and sacraments are?

  4. Anonymous6:39 PM

    Sorry to see you so confused. We will never become "God." Now in the state of grace, and as glorified beings in Heaven we will have some participation in Divine life which has usually been described as an indwelling of Divine life. But it has never been called an identification with Divinity. I think one should call it an intense awareness of God's immediate presence to our souls and His continual communication of His love as we would merit,by his grace, as adopted children who have survived earthly trials.(couldI

  5. Oh, how I wish this were preached more! The prayer of the deacon at Mass is one of my favorites, "By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity." This sums up the reason for the Incarnation!

  6. Anon., if I'm confused then most of the Patristic theologians, most of the medieval theologians, most of the Church's saints, a dozen or so popes, the Bible, and the Catechism are all confused.

  7. Rev Dr, none of us is divinized on this side of heaven. At best, we are on our way when we remain constant in the Spirit.

  8. Anon @ 8.36, did you actually read the post. The CCC can't be any clearer. We don't replace God. We partake in the His divine nature in virtue of His gift to us.

  9. Are we not created from the Image of God? Do we not hold that very Image within the very center of our being? Are we not the church of Christ, who is our head? As Jesus said, "I and the Father are one." Therefore, as the church of Christ, we are also 'one with the Father' as the spiritual living Image of God as our true selves that can never die or be destroyed.

    No one is equal to or can take the place of God, but we can be held within and of God Himself who created us from Himself.

  10. We share in the Divine nature through participation. We are still human, but we are lifted up so that we can share the intimacy of friendship with God. We are divinized!

  11. Anonymous5:40 AM

    Fr.Philip, you are correct. The problem is that some of the Fathers and even the Catechism hyperbolize the notion of heavenly participation in Divine life. This article certainly does. It begins with the notion that we become God. To stress this hyperboly is dangerous. Even the notion of " participation " can be over stressed. What does it mean exactly? We simply don't know. We do know however that we do not " become God." Our natures never, in any sense, become God. Whatever " participation " means, it does not mean that. The notion I suggested, while strictly personal, may be pretty close to the actuality. We shall see, hopefully.
    I don't remember the phrase " we become God " being in the Catechism. If it is, it would have been much more prudent to have omitted it. To my mind, documents teaching the Deposit of the Faith should avoid such hyperboly - however well intentioned they may be.

  12. I think people are failing to grasp that we partake of God's nature though grace, not because we trade our human nature for divine nature or because we become additional persons of the Holy Trinity or something like that. We don't become God in the sense that we transform into God Himself (personally), or in the sense that we become in ourselves divine (naturally), but in the sense that grace allows us to live the divine life, to partake in His nature through grace.

  13. Anonymous, CCC 460 specifically uses a quote of St. Athanasius: "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God." It is hyperbole in a sense, yes. We don't literally become God Himself or trade our nature for His, but we do come to share in His nature.

  14. Anon @ 12.40,

    The CCC quotes Aquinas/Irenaeus' statement that God became Man so that Man might become God. What's dangerous is second-guessing the magisterium of the Church. The quote is in there b/c the magisterium thinks that it perfectly describes orthodox theology.

    It's possible that deification as salvation can be misunderstood or misused, but the idea itself is either right or wrong. The Church says that it is right.

    While fully deified in heaven we remain human. We don't cease being human; we are perfectly human as God created us to be. The idea is that we become like Christ--fully human, fully divine. We are not absorbed into God nor do we become separate little gods ruling over our own planets.

  15. Anonymous11:47 PM

    Just a quick reminder of The 1. commandment of The Covenant, before this evolves any further:

    "I am the Lord your God. Thou shall have no other Gods before me"

    Incuding yourselves. Ok?


  16. Anon, you are not made into God Himself or into another person of the Trinity or anything like that. What it does mean is that through grace, God Himself dwells in you fully, meaning that you are filled with the divine nature. In a similar, but not completely analogous way, Christ is a divine person who took on human nature. We do not say that He became a human person. There wasn't a change of His personal essence, but another nature added to His divine nature by His coming to share our nature. Similarly, I won't be divinized by having my personal essence transformed so that I myself as a person am divine, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent. Rather, divinization consists in God's dwelling in me through grace. He is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and since He will be in me, filling me with Himself, who is His divine nature, I will experience His divine life and share in my nature. However (getting to your point), my having the divine nature is contingent on God's dewlling in me, which can only come to those who are humble and conformed to His will. The divine nature in me is really God's indwelling, and to worship myself would be to think that I am divine on my own and would be a denial that this grace is a gift. The proper response to divinization is to spend eternity worshipping God (fulfilling the commandment) for His mercy through which He comes to dwell in a lowly creature like me and allow me to partake in the divine nature. By worshipping God, in fact, I remain in the proper place of a creature rather than exalting myself, and therefore have the humility God requires to dwell in me. My worship of God rather than myself does not subtract from my greatness as a divinized person, rather, it adds to it, because the more I honor God, the more I am aware of what a tremendous gift it is to share in His nature.