Theosis: The Ultimate Goal of the Human Experience

Andrei Rublev [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Andrei Rublev [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

by Jayson M. Brunelle

How tremendous and unspeakable a blessing we have received in Christ Jesus, Who is, in His Person, words and deeds, the fulfillment and completion of the Heavenly Father’s Divine Revelation of Himself to humanity, and, as Pope St. John Paul II would so often remind us, is additionally God’s revelation of man to man; that is, the stupendous dignity and vocation of each human person, called by God to become a “partaker of the divine nature.”  Indeed, the great St. Athanasius, an early Church Father, clearly taught that “God became man so that men might become gods.”  This, of course, is not to be confused with a more Eastern form of pantheism; rather, it is an extremely orthodox, fundamental tenet of our Christian faith.   Indeed, Sacred Scripture abounds with evidence for this truly exalted and, quite frankly, rather stunning status that God wishes to bestow upon humanity in Christ Jesus.  Thus, the “Good News” of the Gospel of Christ Jesus is nothing less than the stupendous news that, in Christ, we have all been made adopted sons and daughters of the Father, true brothers and sisters of Christ!  Or, in other words, He Who Is the Only Begotten Son of God, the Father, wishes to share with us, mere mortals, the exalted status of His Own Divine Sonship of God the Father.  This reality is truly incomprehensible, surpassing anything the human mind could ever dream of; hence, the very apt words of St. Paul: “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as entered into the mind of man what God has in store for those who love Him.”

This concept of Theosis, or Deification, is largely foreign to many who self-identify as “Christian,” who might well decry this theological reality to be some pantheistic heresy.  Yet, nothing could be further from the truth.  Far from being heretical, it is precisely this reality of the exalted vocation of every human person that illumines not only the dignity of each human person, thereby underscoring the sacred gift of every human life (from the moment of conception until natural death), but additionally, the radical nature and purpose of the Seven Sacraments instituted by Christ and imparted by His Church.  For, it is precisely through our full, active participation in the Sacramental life of Christ’s Church on earth, with primacy of place being given to the two Sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and Baptism, that theosis, or divinization, can and does occur.  Let us, then, take a moment to explore these two exalted sacraments; namely, the Holy Eucharist and Baptism, by which God freely shares with us His two-fold Divine Essence as Life  and Love.

In the “Eucharistic” or “Bread of Life” discourse in John’s Gospel, Christ states, “I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever…. I tell you most solemnly, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you” (Jn 6:51, 53).  Additionally, it is a well established, accepted, agreed upon and understood doctrine of Christianity, in general, and of Roman Catholicism, in particular, that the Holy Spirit of God, the Third Divine Person of the Holy Trinity, is, indeed, the very “Love” of God, Himself, and that His existence as a Divine Person, from all eternity, is a necessary consequence of the reciprocity of Divine Love that exists between God the Father, the First Person of the Holy Trinity, and God the Son – the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.  Indeed, it can be evidenced from the earliest of Christian writings and from among the most influential of the early Church Fathers that such is indeed the case.  Regarding this issue, the great St. Augustine has this to say: “Love, therefore, which is of God and is God, is specially the Holy Spirit, by whom the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, by which love the whole Trinity dwells in us. And therefore most rightly is the Holy Spirit, although He is God, called also the gift of God. And by that gift what else can properly be understood except love, which brings to God, and without which any other gift of God whatsoever does not bring to God? . . .” (The Holy Spirit, Gift of God’s Love, St. Augustine).

It becomes most evident, then, that while the Holy Eucharist is the chief sacramental means by which our Lord wishes to effect our participation in His own Divine Life, in like fashion, Baptism is the chief sacramental means by which our Lord wishes to effect our participation in His own Divine Love.

It is interesting to point out that when speaking of God, in His very Divine Essence, two terms are always invariably associated, as though these two dimensions are two sides of one coin.  I am speaking here of Life and Love.  With regard to the former, God the Father, in revealing His own most holy name to Moses in the Burning Bush, reveals Himself as “I AM HE WHO IS.”  This self-revelation of God to Moses is the most philosophically accurate name for God, for, as St. Thomas points out, God is the sole being whose essence it is to exist.  Simply put, God cannot not be; He MUST exist.  Indeed, His existence is the only existence that is Necessary.  Thus, St. Thomas goes on to state that God is the only being whose essence and existence are one and the same.

Moreover, we read in Sacred Scripture, very plainly, that, “God is Love.”

Thus, these two dimensions of God’s essence – Life and Love – are, without question, the most salient aspects of God’s own essence.  Further, it has pleased the Almighty God to call human persons to participate in these glorious dimensions of His being through the Sacraments of Baptism, which is the Sacrament of His Mercy, and the Holy Eucharist, which is the Sacrament of His Own Divine Life.

The radical significance of the devotion to, and the image of, the Divine Mercy, as revealed to St. Faustina, is here underscored.  The Red Ray which emanates from the Sacred and Eucharistic Heart of Our Lord is symbolic of His Most Precious Blood – the Life-Blood of the New and Eternal Covenant, by which we share in  the very Divine Life of Christ, is the gift of God’s Grace. The pale or White Ray is symbolic of the Waters of our Baptism, by which we are forgiven and cleansed of the Original Sin.

Thus, Baptism serves as the “Bridal Chamber,” as it were, where the bride-to-be (that is, the Mystical Body of Christ) prepares for her union with the beloved of her soul.  This union, begun in Baptism, is brought to its highest expression (at least while on earth) in our reception of the Holy Eucharist, where we are transformed by God’s Grace, which is nothing other than God’s free and unmerited gift of our participation in His own, supernatural Divine Life, and this through, with, and in the Divine Person of His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

Indeed, Theosis, or deification, is – or ought to be – the goal of every Christian.  As we read in 2 Peter 1:3-4: as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature” (cf. 2 Peter 1:3-4).

With the above sentiments in mind, let us together offer the following prayer:

Dearest Jesus, beloved of my soul, through the intercession of Mary, grant me the grace to imitate Thee, Who laid down thy life for love of me, that I might live again in Thee; may I lay down my life for the love of Thee, that Thou may livest again in me.  Amen.

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