21 February 2011

On Man becoming God: seven more explanations from Catholic Tradition

The notion that human salvation is to be understood as a form of deification/divinization is solidly attested to in the tradition of the Church.  What distinguishes the Christian idea of deification from the pagan idea of deification is our belief that "man becoming God" is the freely given gift of the Holy Spirit.  There is no salvation/deification outside the work of the Blessed Trinity.

1. St Thomas Aquinas, ST I.12.5:

. . .since the natural power of the created intellect does not avail to enable it to see the essence of God, as was shown in the preceding article, it is necessary that the power of understanding should be added by divine grace. Now this increase of the intellectual powers is called the illumination of the intellect, as we also call the intelligible object itself by the name of light of illumination. And this is the light spoken of in the Apocalypse (Apocalypse 21:23): "The glory of God hath enlightened it"--viz. the society of the blessed who see God. By this light the blessed are made "deiform"--i.e. like to God, according to the saying: "When He shall appear we shall be like to Him, and [Vulgate: 'because'] we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 2:2).

2. ST I.12.6:

Of those who see the essence of God, one sees Him more perfectly than another. This, indeed, does not take place as if one had a more perfect similitude of God than another, since that vision will not spring from any similitude; but it will take place because one intellect will have a greater power or faculty to see God than another. The faculty of seeing God, however, does not belong to the created intellect naturally, but is given to it by the light of glory, which establishes the intellect in a kind of "deiformity," as appears from what is said above, in the preceding article. 

3. from the Catholic Encyclopedia on "supernatural adoption":

The Fathers dwell on this privilege [our adoption as "sons of God"] which they are pleased to style deification. St. Irenæus (Adv. Haereses, iii, 17-19); St. Athanasius (Cont. Arianos, ii, 59); St. Cyril of Alexandria (Comment. on St. John, i, 13, 14); St. John Chrysostom (Homilies on St. Matthew, ii, 2); St. Augustine (Tracts 11 and 12 on St. John); St. Peter Chrysologus (Sermon 72 on the Lord's Prayer) — all seem willing to spend their eloquence on the sublimity of our adoption. For them it was an uncontradicted primal principle, an ever ready source of instruction for the faithful, as well as an argument against heretics  such as the Arians, Macedonians, and Nestorians. The Son is truly God, else how could He deify us? The Holy Ghost is truly God, else how could His indwelling sanctify us? The Incarnation of the Logos is real, else how could our deification be real? Be the value of such arguments what it may, the fact of their having been used, and this to good effect, bears witness to the popularity and common acceptance of the dogma in those days.

4. from the Catholic Encyclopedia on "mystical marriage":

. . . .the term mystical marriage is employed by St. Teresa and St John of the Cross to designate that mystical union with God which is the most exalted condition attainable by the soul in this life. It is also called a "transforming union", "consummate union", and "deification". St. Teresa likewise calls it "the seventh resting-place" of the "interior castle"; she speaks of it only in that last treatise which she composed five years before her death, when she had been but recently raised to this degree.

5. from St John Damascus, "An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith," III.12:

For the Word Himself became flesh, having been in truth conceived of the Virgin, but coming forth as God with the assumed nature which, as soon as He was brought forth into being, was deified by Him, so that these three things took place simultaneously, the assumption of our nature, the coming into being, and the deification of the assumed nature by the Word. And thus it is that the holy Virgin is thought of and spoken of as the Mother of God, not only because of the nature of the Word, but also because of the deification of man's nature, the miracles of conception and of existence being wrought together, to wit, the conception the Word, and the existence of the flesh in the Word Himself. 

6. from Pope John Paul II, Orientale Lumen:

The Eucharist is the culmination of this prayer experience, the other pole indissolubly bound to the Word, as the place where the Word becomes Flesh and Blood, a heavenly experience where this becomes an event. In the Eucharist, the Church's inner nature is revealed, a community of those summoned to the synaxis to celebrate the gift of the One who is offering and offered: participating in the Holy Mysteries, they become "kinsmen" [28] of Christ, anticipating the experience of divinization in the now inseparable bond linking divinity and humanity in Christ.

7. from the Catholic Encyclopedia, "The Blessed Trinity":

In Greek theology. . .the Holy Spirit does not come to us because we have received sanctifying grace; but it is through His presence we receive the gift. He is the seal, Himself impressing on us the Divine image. That Divine image is indeed realized in us, but the seal must be present to secure the continued existence of the impression. Apart from Him it is not found (Origen, Commentary on John II.6; Didymus, "De Spiritu Sancto", x, 11; Athanasius, "Ep. ad. Serap.", III, iii). This Union with the Holy Spirit constitutes our deification (theopoiesis). Inasmuch as He is the image of Christ, He imprints the likeness of Christ upon us; since Christ is the image of the Father, we too receive the true character of God's children (Athanasius, loc. cit.; Gregory Nazianzen, Oration 31.4).

All selections were taken from New Advent.

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  1. Theosis is probably the most essential aspect of Eastern Christian theology as well.

  2. John 14:15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

    This passage always speaks to me of the possibility of being in deep communion with the Trinity. This is what I imagine to be partaking in the divine.