The Divinization of Man

Beloved in Jesus Christ,  
At the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday, as the priest puts ashes on your forehead,  he traditionally says,  ‘Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.’  This is a reminder of our own mortality; that this body will eventually disintegrate to dust.  Speaking about this phrase, Pope Benedict said a few years ago:  “this is not only an invitation to humility,  but also an announcement of the path to salvation. When God said to the human race,  ‘You are dust and to dust you shall return!’  he is not referring only to our death,  but he announces a path of salvation which will travel through the earth.’  

Jesus Christ unites himself to our flesh, and by taking it through the dust of Death, he raises it up in the glory of the Resurrection.   So our path to resurrection is through the dust of death.   

In the Gospel today, on the mountain of Tabor,  Jesus shows his disciples a glimpse of the resurrection to come.  He shows them, in himself, a Divinized Man.  ‘And it came to pass that he was transfigured before them;  his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.’ Our Lord gives the apostles a look into the future. He shows them a glimpse of his resurrected, glorified self – and he shows us our own destiny, to be resurrected.   

What is the meaning of this Light, which comes forth from the Lord on Mt. Tabor?  Scripture tells us that the ‘just will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.’ (Matt 13:43)  In the world to come, in our own resurrection, there will be this Light in us – an overflowing of the beauty of the soul. Ludwig Ott, in his book on Catholic Dogma says, This light ‘is the overflowing of the beauty of the transfigured soul onto the body. (p. 490) In chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation, we are shown a vision of heaven, and we see there Mary, who has already gone ahead. She is already resurrected,[i] and assumed to heaven. How do we see her? It says: ‘A woman, clothed with the sun.’  This is the beautiful luminosity of the glorified body.

Mary is a symbol of the whole Church, she leads the way, so this is the goal for all of us:  to be transfigured like Christ in glory.  This Light, seen in the glorified bodies of the Just implies a sharing in the Divine nature of God.  

The Catechism says: ‘The Word became flesh to make us partakers of the divine nature. The Son of God became man so that we might become God.’[ii]  

A lady was once so shocked to hear me say this as Mass, that she accused me of heresy, but that quote is from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The saints say the same thing:[iii]  St. Athanasius: ‘As the Lord, putting on a body became man, so we are deified by the Word as being taken to him through his flesh; for he was made man that we might be made God.’

So, this is the doctrine of ‘theosis,’ or ‘divinization;’ God’s plan for us is nothing less, than to make us sharers in his actual Divinity.   What does it mean to share in Divinity?  Well, it means immortality. We will never die again. It means impassibility. We won’t suffer.  We will not be in all places at once, as God is,  but we will possess the gift of Agility –  easy movement of our glorified body over vast distances.  

Now on this question of theosis, of being Divinized like God, the saints tell us that it begins here on earth – now. We share in the Divine Life of God starting with our baptism.  and the closer we are with the Lord, doing his will, loving him, in our Communions, in our prayer –  then the greater is our share in his Divine Life even now.  St. Hippolytus says, ‘God has breathed into us the spirit of life, to give us a new birth that would make our bodies and souls immortal; we shall be coheirs with Christ after the resurrection of the dead;[iv] we shall have become divine.[v]  

You know, in the Acts of the Apostles[vi] we see that in the miraculous life of the first Christians, people who met them sometimes thought they were gods. ‘The gods have come down to us!, they said. Well, to the degree that we give our heart to Christ, we already are sharing in this Divine Life. St. John of the Cross,[vii] speaking of a person who has united his entire life to God, he says:  the Lord communicates [to them] his supernatural Being in such a way, that the soul has all that God has. The soul seems to be God rather than a soul, and is indeed God by participation.’  

This doctrine of divinization is expressed in the prayers at Holy Mass; at the offertory, a drop of water is mixed into the wine. That drop of water is us, mixed in with the wine.  After a moment, it is impossible to distinguish between the water and the wine, they have become one.  That wine is then consecrated to become the Blood of Christ – Divinity,  and where are we, where is that drop of water?  We are there too, sharing in Divinity.  When the drop of water is added, the priest or Deacon says:  ‘By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ.’ (Novus Ordo) [‘By the mystery of this water and wine, may we become partakers of his divine nature.’ – Latin Mass] St. Peter, in his Epistle, says the same: ‘God has given us this precious promise: that you may become sharers in the divine nature.[viii]  

We could think of it like this: Imagine a poor waitress whose life is a mess. She came from a terrible family situation, she can hardly pay the rent, every guy she meets is a bum. Then one day a handsome man enters the restaurant.  He is kind and sincere and well-mannered.  He asks her on a date, and soon she is so in-love with him. He is good, and pure, and she senses that he is her protector.  She feels so unworthy – her life a mess, he is so good and great. Then, beyond her wildest dreams, he proposes, and they marry. She becomes one with him.   Now although she knew that he was successful in his job, she finds out that he is the CEO of a major corporation, he is a billionaire; he says to her, ‘Sweetheart, all that I have is yours.  This vast wealth and all my important friends, and all this is ours together, because I love you.’  

Well – God says this to us.  When we are sharing with God in the marriage of heaven,  transfigured in glory, sharing in his divinity. then he will say to us: everything I have is yours.[ix]  
May the Blessed Virgin pray for us, that we may be made worthy of these great promises of Christ.

(Entrusted to the prayers of St. John of God)

 


[i] It is the tradition of the Church that Mary died before she was assumed body and soul into heaven. For this reason, it is rightly said that Mary ‘resurrected.’ See for example, Gentilucci, ‘Life of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, p. 435, 438.

[ii] Catechism of the Catholic Church, #460

[iii] Good collection of quotes found in Wikepedia under Divinization (Christian)

[iv] Office of Readings, Tuesday after Epiphany. See also Romans 8:17

[v] Office of Readings, December 30th.

[vi] Acts 14:11; 28:6

[vii] The Essentials of St. John of the Cross, p. 126.

[viii] 2 Peter 1:4

[ix] As St. Paul says: all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God. (1 Cor 3:23)

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