2.5 Theosis – the purpose of the Christian life
Link to the full series of posts here.
“Man is not satisfied with solutions beneath the level of divinization.” (Cardinal Ratzinger)
As a Catholic, I now see the purpose of life as growing in grace and in holiness on the path to union with God. This is what the Christian tradition calls theosis and is the telos (purpose) of the life of a Christian. There is simply nothing else as important as this mission.
Here is a good synopsis of many of the ideas surrounding theosis, which really can be summed up by the common phrase found throughout the history of the Church: “God became man so that we may become gods”.
Once God had become human, there was no other way back to God except through the human. No longer was the law the measure of one’s relationship with God. Love of neighbor thus became the new measure by which one understood his relationship with God. Paul therefore writes that salvation is now a matter of allowing the God-Man Jesus Christ to grow within one’s soul, to inform all we think and say and do, so that we may become other Christs as he has become one of us:
For I through the law died to the law, that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me. (Gal 2:19–20)
By giving himself up for all who have fallen short of the law, Christ has come into this world not to reestablish a law-based religion but to offer his children the freedom of allowing him to live their lives. Through our Lady’s fiat, God has come not only to us and for us, but he has come as one of us, sanctifying and thus offering us his very own divine life.
This is what the earliest Christian thinkers called the “great exchange”. In the Incarnation the Son lowers himself to humanity so as to elevate humans to divinity. In his kenosis is our theosis. To explain this, could the Church enroll any more foundational theologians than Saint Peter, Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, Saint Athanasius, and Saint Thomas Aquinas? This is precisely what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has done; it points us to the heart of the faith by teaching that:
the Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4): “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” (St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 3, 19, 1: PG 7/1, 939). “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God” (St. Athanasius, De inc., 54, 3: PG 25, 192B). “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” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Opusc. 57:1–4).1
Notice that the Christian understanding of deification is one of participating, of becoming a partaker, never the possessor, of divinity—that is, Christian deification is never an autonomous sovereignty but one of humble reliance on God to inform us of all we are, to fulfill that divine image and likeness originally implanted deep within every human soul. Christian deification is not a matter of autonomy as in Mormonism, but a matter of eternally receiving the divine attributes that Christ longs to give his saints: charity, true wisdom, unalloyed joy, incorruptibility, and immortality.
We are all called to this participation in the divine life. This participation isn’t just a passive thing; there is active participation on our part enabled through the cardiac righteousness we receive from God as a gift in justification. This is echoed in the Catechism where it speaks of the universal call to holiness:
460 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.”
1996 Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.
2013 “All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity.”65 All are called to holiness: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”66 (915; 2545; 825)
In order to reach this perfection the faithful should use the strength dealt out to them by Christ’s gift, so that … doing the will of the Father in everything, they may wholeheartedly devote themselves to the glory of God and to the service of their neighbor. Thus the holiness of the People of God will grow in fruitful abundance, as is clearly shown in the history of the Church through the lives of so many saints.67
2014 Spiritual progress tends toward ever more intimate union with Christ. This union is called “mystical” because it participates in the mystery of Christ through the sacraments—“the holy mysteries”—and, in him, in the mystery of the Holy Trinity. God calls us all to this intimate union with him, even if the special graces or extraordinary signs of this mystical life are granted only to some for the sake of manifesting the gratuitous gift given to all. (774)
2015 The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle.68 Spiritual progress entails the ascesis and mortification that gradually lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes: (407; 2725; 1438)
He who climbs never stops going from beginning to beginning, through beginnings that have no end. He never stops desiring what he already knows.
In a like manner, Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange here calls the interior life (growing towards union with God through His grace) the one thing necessary in life.
The interior life is for all the one thing necessary. It ought to be constantly developing in our souls; more so than what we call our intellectual life, more so than our scientific, artistic or literary life. The interior life is lived in the depths of the soul; it is the life of the whole man, not merely of one or other of his faculties. And our intellectual life would gain immeasurably by appreciating this; it would receive an inestimable advantage if, instead of attempting to supplant the spiritual life, it recognized its necessity and importance, and welcomed its beneficial influence — the influence of the theological virtues and the gifts of the Holy Ghost. How deeply important our subject is may be seen in the very words we have used: Intellectuality and Spirituality. And it is important to us not only as individuals, but also in our social relations, for it is evident that we can exert no real or profound influence upon our fellow-men unless we live a truly interior life ourselves.>
Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange gives another wonderful summary here as to why sanctifying grace is the very principle of the interior life and why it is an absolute essential for our faith.
Sanctifying grace, the principle of our interior life, makes us truly the children of God because it makes us partakers of His nature. We cannot be sons of God by nature, as the Word is; but we are truly sons of God by grace and by adoption. And whereas a man who adopts a child brings about no interior change in him, but simply declares him his heir, God, when He loves us as adoptive sons, transforms us inwardly, giving us a share in His own intimate divine life.
Hence we read in the Gospel of St. John:
‘(The Word) came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them he gave the power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name. Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’ [John 1:11–13]
And our Lord Himself said to Nicodemus:
‘Amen, amen, I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Wonder not that I said to thee: You must be born again.’ [John 3:5]
St. John himself, moreover, writes in his first Epistle:
‘Whosoever is born of God committeth not sin; for God’s seed abideth in him. And he cannot sin because he is born of God.’ [1 John 3:9]
In other words, the seed of God, which is grace — accompanied by charity, or the love of God — cannot exist together with mortal sin which turns a man away from God; and, though it can exist together with venial sin, of which St. John had spoken earlier, yet grace is not the source of venial sins; on the contrary, it makes them gradually disappear.
Still clearer, if possible, is the language of St. Peter, who writes :
By (Christ) he hath given us most great and precious promises, that by these you may be made partakers of the divine nature’; [2 Pet. 1:4]
and St. James thus expresses the same idea:
‘Every best gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no change nor shadow of alteration. For of his own will hath he begotten us by the word of truth, that we might be some beginning of his creature.’ [James 1:17]
Truly sanctifying grace is a real and formal participation of the divine nature, for it is the principle of operations which are specifically divine. When in heaven it has reached its full development, and can no longer be lost, it will be the source of operations which will have absolutely the same formal object as the eternal and uncreated operations of God’s own inner life; it will make us able to see Him immediately as He sees Himself, and to love Him as He loves Himself:
says St. John,
‘we are now the sons of God; and it hath not yet appeared what we shall be. We know that when it shall appear we shall be like to him, for we shall see him as he is.’ [1 John 3:2]
This is what shows us, better than anything else, in what the true nature of sanctifying grace, the true nature of our interior life, consists. We cannot emphasize it too much. It is one of the most consoling truths of our faith; it is one of those vital truths which serve best to encourage us in the midst of the trials of our life on earth.
In our adoption into into Gods’ family and our resulting theosis, we actually become the living stones of the temple. St. Augustine said: “The temple of God is constructed of gods made by the uncreated God.”
DIVINE INDWELLING If the right to call God by the name of Father is, as St. Leo main tains, the greatest of all gifts, it is because in it are epitomized all things else and all things are ordained to this filiation. And if adoption, although common, is not attributed equally to the three Persons, we can say much the same of the consequent indwelling. The Father, in union with the Son who is in His bosom, dwells in us as in His temple, which is sanctified by the communication of His Spirit of love who consecrates us by His unction 24 and rebuilds us by His charity, thereby making us a fitting dwelling place of God.25 Thus do we become like so many living stones in this temple so far as we are like so many other gods deified by the eternal One.26
24 St. Thomas, Comm, in 11Cor. 6:16: “A temple is a place dedicated to God for His indwelling.”
FN: 25 Eph. 2:21 f.
FN: 26 St. Augustine, Enchiridion, chap. 56: “The temple of God is constructed of gods made by the uncreated God.”
Theosis isn’t just an instaneous event. While our justification (forgiveness of sins and interior renewal via sanctifying grace) is both instaneous and ongoing, our growth in this holiness – often called sanctification – can increase over time. We only can increase in our sanctification/glorification in this life, though. The fullness of this sanctification is often called glorificaiton and is vieled in this life, but in the next it will be fully unvieled. As such, we can only increase in our union with God in this life and our progress will be revealed and solidified for all eternity at death.
Identity of the Life of Glory and thee Life of Grace
What is said of that intimate communication of God in glory can be applied in a lesser degree to the communication of God through grace, for the latter is the seed of the former. To be manifested in its plenitude it does not require any essential change, but only that it complete the development of its latent power and manifest clearly what it already is. At its basis, the supernatural life is identically the same in this exile as it is in heaven. The union with God which is communicated through grace to the essence of the soul, will remain the same for all eternity as it is at the end of life, for from that moment on it cannot be augmented. The union of charity is also identical, for this virtue is not destroyed as are faith and hope; but it will remain as an eternal bond of union, without diminishing or increasing the least bit after death.
I. UNION OF FAITH, HOPE, AND CHARITY AUGMENTED BY THE GIFTS
So it is that there can be souls on earth in a higher degree of grace and charity and, therefore, more intimately united with God than many of the souls who are now in glory. Glory merely manifests what we were and permits the full enjoyment of the Good possessed, and that without any obstacles. Only the union of knowledge here on earth is less; and so also, the joy consequent upon that knowledge. For faith, together with hope, although it goes straight to God in His reality, shows Him to us from afar off and in shadows and enigmas. When perfected by the gift of understanding, it penetrates, even here on earth, into the profundity of God and partly removes the shadows. When further perfected by the gift of wisdom and the various forms of the sensus Christi, which are expansions of this precious gift, we can in a certain sense feel, touch, see, and taste God in Himself.34 With the development of the Christian life the knowledge of faith tends to be perfected by these two gifts and the other gifts and spiritual senses.
- PRESENT GLORY OF THE SONS OF GOD
Let us soften the brightness of the mysterious picture of the life of glory and we shall then have the picture of the life of the sons of God on earth. Father Gardeil explains this beautifully:
The life eternal is in the order of things accomplished what the present supernatural life is in the order of things which have not yet reached their conclusion though tending efficaciously toward that goal. Let me explain. It is the same reality which lies at the root of heavenly life and the supernatural life on earth; but, above, we possess it unveiled, never to lose it; while, here below, we have it veiled and may unhappily lose it. But, once more, apart from the difference between faith and sight, the possession is just as real. God dwells in our hearts as really as in the hearts of the blessed, since, in truth, we love Him and this love which we have now will not change after our entry into heaven. “Charity never dies,” says St. Paul. Thus, the just man, the saint on earth, performs now, in the sight of God, the same triumphant act through which it will possess God in heaven. God already dwells in his love. His heart is a veritable heaven, although invisible and hidden from all eyes. Such, in its profound reality, is the supernatural life on earth.
But, to go still deeper into the springs of this mysterious life, who has been able to deposit this heavenly love in the heart of man, living in the world? Of ourselves we cannot produce even a particle of love for God as He is in Himself. First of all, we cannot naturally know God in such a way: He must be revealed to us. But how can we love naturally what we do not know naturally? Further, even after He has been revealed to us, how dare we love Him? I mean with the love of friendship, a love given and received, in a word, an efficacious love, not the false and discouraging love which one has for an inaccessible being, a love which is only a shadow of love. Yet it is with this given and efficacious love that the blessed love God. God has stooped down to them and what they could not do He has given them the power to do. He has made them participants of the love wherewith He loves Himself. The divine act has become, so far as it is possible, the act of the blessed. And as the Father and the Son love one another through the Holy Ghost, so the blessed love God through the Holy Ghost. But, since the love of the blessed for God is already in us in a state of efficacious tendency, it follows that God stoops down to us to make us participants of the love whereby He loves Himself, to raise our small love to the loftiness of His Heart. Thus it follows that the Holy Ghost, the consubstantial love of the Father and the Son should, in a certain way, be at the bottom of our love of God. For, once more, we really love God, and it is by the Holy Ghost alone that one can love God.
The Holy Spirit, then, dwells in us in an especial way, though the whole Blessed Trinity dwells there as the object to which our faith and our love efficaciously tend. The Holy Ghost adds ayi especial way to this already intimate way of living in a soul. He resides at the bottom of the supematuralized heart as the principle of the movement by which it tends toward the Holy Trinity. He is, so to speak, the heart of our heart. And, as the heart makes itself known in a man by an inclination which induces it, by a bias which orients it and draws it powerfully toward the good, so the Holy Ghost, as an inherent bias to our charity, orients us, draws us, and carries us along toward the Holy Trinity, the common center of the aspirations of the blessed in heaven and of the just on earth.
It is with the expansion of this force, hidden in the depths of our supernaturalized heart, that the Gifts of the Holy Ghost are connected. They arc one of the two ways, anti the most divine one, by which the activity of the Holy Ghost operates in the souls of the just.35
FN: 34 Cf. John of St. Thomas, In lam llae, q.68, disp. 18, a.i.
FN: 35 The Gifts of the Holy Ghost in the Dominican Saints, pp. 26–28.
I love this quote from St. Teresa of Avila where she posits if we knew what even an increase in the smallest amount of sanctifying grace would mean for us in the afterlife, we would be willing to sacrifice everything for it.
St. Teresa, Life, chap. 37: “I can say, then, that if I were asked whether I should prefer to endure all the trials in the world until the world itself ends, and afterwards to gain a little more glory, or to have no trials and to attain to one degree less of glory, I should answer that I would most gladly accept all the trials in exchange for a little more fruition in the understanding of the wonders of God, for I see that he who understands Him best loves and praises Him best.”
And lastly, here is St. Catherine of Siena saying that if we had eyes to see the beauty of a soul in grace, we would adore it, believing that it was God Himself, for we would be unable to conceive of any greater nobility and glory.
The Soul in the State of Grace– Catherine of Siena was permitted by God to see the beauty of a soul in the state of grace. It was so beautiful that she could not look on it; the brightness of that soul dazzled her. Blessed Raymond, her confessor, asked her to describe to him, as far as she was able, the beauty of the soul she had seen. St. Catherine thought of the sweet light of that morning, and of the beautiful colours of the rainbow, but that soul was far more beautiful. She remembered the dazzling beams of the noonday sun, but the light which beamed from that soul was far brighter. She thought of the pure whiteness of the lily and of the fresh snow, but that is only an earthly whiteness. The soul she had seen was bright with the whiteness of Heaven, such as there is not to be found on earth. “ My father,” she answered. “I cannot find anything in this world that can give you the smallest idea of what I have seen. Oh, if you could but see the beauty of a soul in the state of grace, you would sacrifice your life a thousand times for its salvation. I asked the angel who was with me what had made that soul so beautiful, and he answered me, “It is the image and likeness of God in that soul, and the Divine Grace which made it so beautiful.”
Yes, this is our dignity and final destiny if we are faithful to God.
— Sunday School Teacher’s Explanation of the Baltimore Catechism
Here is a great summary of what theosis is from Fr. Arintero. We are participants in the divine nature and co-heirs with Christ, all through grace. Again, all of the Church Fathers seem to have taught deification by the indwelling of God and His grace.
These wonderful and inconceivable relations which God has deigned to establish and communicate to us are not simply moral, but very real and ontological in a sense more exalted and more true than one would imagine, even more than one could either conceive or declare. The saints feel these things to a certain extent, but they do not find expressions capable of transmitting such lofty sentiments. Even the most daring language seems to them but a mere shadow of so exalted a reality; and yet they do not cease to speak to us of “participation in the divine nature itself,” “transformation in God,” and “deification.” 59
Truly animated by the Spirit of Jesus, who dwells in us as in His living temple and who lives in Jesus as He lives in the Father,60 we are thus made participants in the divine nature itself, and we are truly sons of God and brothers and co-heirs of Jesus Christ. The Spirit of adoption which we have received animates us at the same time with the life of grace. He purifies us and renews and perfects us, producing in us and with us the work of our sanctification. Thus, in making us live a divine life, He deifies us, for then He Himself is “the life of our soul as the soul is the life of our body,” according to the powerful phrases of St. Basil and St. Augustine, not to mention all the other Fathers.61
In speaking of the indwelling by grace as an action proper to the Holy Ghost, Father Froget makes the following observation:
The Fathers of the Church speak in exactly the same terms. The Holy Spirit is the great Gift of God and the Guest of our soul. In giving Himself to us, He makes us share in the Divine nature and constitutes us the children of God, saints. Divine beings. He is spoken of as the sanctifying Spirit, the principle of celestial and Divine life; some even go so far as to call Him the form of our holiness, the soul of our soul, the bond uniting us to the Father and the Son, as that One of the Divine persons by Whom the other two dwell in us.
If Scripture and the Fathers lay so much stress upon the fact that this indwelling by grace, like the work of our sanctification and adoption, are the particular work of the Holy Ghost, is this not a sure sign, and a strong proof that the Holy Spirit has special relations with our soul and a mode of union which, in some true sense, He does not share with the other two persons? 62
The same doctrine is taught by Petau and by Scheeben, Tomassin, Ramiere, and many other modern theologians. Leaning on the patristic tradition, they maintain with very solid reasons that that work is not, as current opinion affirms, entirely common to the three divine Persons and only appropriated to the Holy Ghost, but that it is truly proper to Him. He it is who directly unites Himself with souls in order to vivify and sanctify them and, if the other two Persons dwell and work in the souls at the same time, it is by concomitance, immanence, or circuminsession, whereas He communicates Himself to souls immediately and personally, although not hypostatically.63
However that may be, the most interesting truth of the deification of souls will remain an unquestionable fact. It is likewise indisputable that all the Fathers with one accord teach or recognize a real filiation, which is founded on an actual participation in the divine nature itself. We agree with Passaglia when he says: “The Fathers confirm that the fellowship with the divine nature, which Peter lists among the great and precious promises, is a fellowship that is not merely affected and moral, but ontological and substantial. Indeed, I make bold to contend that not even one ancient Father of the Church can be cited who would circumscribe the participation in the divine nature within the bonds and limits of a social or moral union.” 64
“The great and precious promises which are here mentioned,” observes Bellamy, “oblige us to understand this participation in the divine nature in the strictest sense possible, granting always the essential difference between God and creature… . There is nothing that could give the Christian a loftier idea of his grandeur or remind him so eloquently of his obligations.” 65
FN: 59 St. Cyril declares energetically (De Trinit., Dial. 4) that a mere moral union would be illusory and that by participating in the divine nature through the Holy Ghost we are truly in the Son as He is in the Father: “Let us acknowledge, moreover, how the Son is in the Father naturally and not, as the adversaries state, according to that fictitious relation which is based on the fact that He loves and is loved. Similarly and in the same manner we are in Flim and He in us. It is not only a conjecture that we are sharers in the divine nature by our conformity to the Son through the Spirit, but we are so in very truth… . Shall that mystery which is within us be a fraud and a futile hope, and, as it seems, an imposture and deception, a mere expression of opinion?” Dial. 7: “Why are we said to be and why are we temples of God and therefore gods? Ask the adversaries whether we are indeed participants of a barren grace lacking subsistence. It is not so; not at all. For we are temples of an existing and subsisting Spirit. Moreover, on account of Him we are even called gods, especially since we are participants with Him by reason of a union, a conjunction with His divine and unspeakable nature… . The Spirit deifies us through Himself… . How can He who is not God give deity to others?”
60 John 6:58.
61 St. Basil, Contra Eunom ., Bk. V: “The Holy Ghost is not distinct from the life which He communicates to souls; so the divine life itself which He has by nature, they enjoy by participation.” In another place (De Spiritu Sancto, chap. 26, no. 61) he states that the Spirit Himself acts as the formal principle in that divine life and is to the soul what the visual power is to the eye: “Inasmuch as the Holy Ghost possesses the power of perfecting rational creatures and of bringing them to the very peak of their perfection. Fie has the status of a formal principle. For he is said to be spiritual who lives now not according to the flesh but is led by the Spirit of God and is called a son of God and has been made conformable to the image of the Son of God. So the operation of the Spirit is to a purified soul what the power of sight is to a healthy eye.”
St. Augustine is even more decisive in affirming that God is formally the life of the soul (Enarrat. in lJs. 70, Serin. 2): “1 shall say boldly, brethren, but truly: There are two types of life; one of the body, the other of the soul. And as the soul is the life of the body, so God is the life of the soul; whence if the soul departs, the body dies; and if God departs, the soul dies.” On another occasion (Serm. 156, chap. 6, no. 6) he asks: “Whence comes the life of your flesh? From your soul. Whence comes the life of your soul? From your God. Each of these lives by its own life; for the flesh is not its own life, but the soul is the life of the flesh; the soul is not its own life, but God is the life of the soul.” The statement of St. Macarius is almost identical: “The Lord truly takes the place of the soul in those on whom the grace of the divine Spirit falls. O the goodness and condescension that has been shown to the nature of man oppressed by sin!” (De libert. mentis, XII.)
62 Froget, The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Souls of the Just, Part III, chap. 1, pp. 105 f .
63 Petau, De Trin., Bk. VIII, chap. 6, no. 8: “The three Persons certainly dwell in the just man, but only the Holy Ghost formally sanctifies him and makes him an adoptive son through His communication… . Let the testimonies of the Fathers and the places of Scripture be read again: … we shall find that a great many of them assert that this is done through the Holy Ghost as the proximate cause, and, as I have said, as the formal cause.” Many of the testimonies already cited actually bear this out; and in particular, those of St. Augustine, St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Macarius, and St. Basil. Indeed, St. Basil expressly teaches that “through this (Spirit) each of the saints is a god, for it was said to them ‘I have said, you are gods and you are all sons of the Most High.’ But it is necessary that He who is the cause of men’s being gods should be the divine Spirit and should Himself be from God” (Contra Eunom., Bk. V ). St. Irenaeus (Adv. haer., Bk. V, chap. 6) goes so far as to assert that according to God a perfect man is composed of body and soul and the vivifying Spirit; and when this whole composite conforms perfectly to the image of the Son, then God is glorified in His work: “God is glorified in His creature, adapting it in conformity with and after the pattern of His Son. Through the hands of the Father, that is to say, through the Son and the Spirit, man is made according to the likeness of God, but not only a part of man… . For the perfect man is a commingling and union of a soul which takes to itself the Spirit and a body joined to that soul, which is a creature in the image of God… . For man is not perfect by reason of the fashioning of the flesh alone … nor by reason of his soul alone … nor by reason of the Spirit alone … but the commingling and union of all these things renders a man perfect.”
64 Comment., Bk. V, p. 43.
65 La vie surnaturelle, p. 166.
Tying this all back to our discussion, justification is not just the remission of sins; it is the adoption as sons and daughters of God, the healing of our nature, the elevation of our nature to a supernatural state through infused grace (cardiac righteousness), all with the goal to grow in holiness so that we may one day see God face to face.
The Council of Trent29 teaches: “Justification is not merely the remission of sins, but it is also the sanctification and renovation of the inner man.” So it is, according to the teaching of St. Augustine, that “He who justifies us also deifies us, because in justifying us, He makes us sons of God.” 30 Therefore the divine Lamb “who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) purifies us and with His own blood cleanses our conscience of dead works to serve the living God.31 He is come “that transgression may be finished, and sin may have an end, and iniquity may be abolished, and everlasting justice may be brought.” 32
For that reason we ought also to repent and be converted, that our sins may be blotted out (Acts 3:19). Then the Lord, who through His mercy blots out our sins (Isa. 43:25), will pour upon us clean water and cleanse us from all our filthiness (Ezech. 36:25). Even the saints beg Him to wash them yet more from their iniquity and cleanse them from their sin for they know that He will wash them and they will be made whiter than snow and He will give them joy and gladness (Ps. 50).33 Through the ardor of charity their “sins shall melt away, as the ice in the fair warm weather.” 34 The Lord will put away our iniquities and He will cast all our sins into the bottom of the sea (Mich. 7:19).35
The Apostle, after reminding the faithful of the most sorrowful state in which they formerly found themselves, adds: “And such some of you were; but you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the spirit of our God.” 30 And this divine Spirit of sanctification, through whom we are created for eternal life by receiving His divine grace, continually renews the face of our hearts.37 He charges us to be renewed in the spirit of our mind and to put on the new man (Eph. 4:23 f.) and to make sure our calling and election by means of good works (II Pet. 1:10) through which we cooperate as much as possible in our renewal.38
In this way, using the waters of grace which wash and give fertility, we shall grow luxuriant, like a tree planted near the running waters which shall bring forth its fruit in due season (Ps. 1:3). We shall flourish like the palm tree and prosper like the cedars of Lebanon (Ps. 91:13).39 Thus does divine wisdom fructify in us and we begin to exhale, not the stench of whitened sepulchers, but the sweet odor of Christ (II Cor. 2:15).40
After we have been reborn of the Holy Ghost and renewed in Him, we shall be truly spiritual41 and that to such an extent that He can then say to our souls, “Thou art all fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee.” 42 Growing in all things according to Him, we shall “be filled unto all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19).43
Such is and ought to be the process of our deification. We are not so many mummies under the illusory wrappings of an imputed justice, nor are we solidified in a changeless mold. Rather we are obligated to cooperate with the grace which vivifies us in order to increase it and to make fruitful the gifts we have received. Therefore we ought to grow in the grace and knowledge of God, and we ought to die more and more to ourselves in order to live more anti more perfectly in Him. We must be renewed from day to day and continually purify ourselves of the traces of the old ferment of iniquity and be cleansed of the earthly dust which imperceptibly clings to us. By truly cooperating with the grace which heals, purifies, and deifies us; by being washed and inebriated with the blood of Christ in the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist; and by sharing His sufferings, we can repair the evils of our fallen state and, by virtue of His most precious blood, arrive at a much greater height than we could have attained in the state of original innocence.44 Indeed, many saints believe that even had man retained his original innocence the divine Word would have become incarnate in order to deify us and to serve as the key to the supernatural order,45 but He would not then have suffered for our redemption. By the same token, we would not now have the good fortune of sharing in His triumphs, which are as sublime as they are bloody and as glorious as they are sorrowful, for we would not be able to follow Him valiantly along the arduous path to Calvary.
And to tie this to our lives directly, if the purpose of life is theosis – to grow in holiness and into full beatitude with God – the means for us to do so is through love and doing God’s will. We are all called to the spiritual life. Rather than justification being an imputation and and a clear distinction between law and gospel, we are infused with the grace of justification and then called to the life of Christian perfection, to live out the Law of the Gospel – The New Commandment to love (John 15:12; 13:34).
1965 The New Law or the Law of the Gospel is the perfection here on earth of the divine law, natural and revealed. It is the work of Christ and is expressed particularly in the Sermon on the Mount. It is also the work of the Holy Spirit and through him it becomes the interior law of charity: “I will establish a New Covenant with the house of Israel…. I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”19 (459; 581; 715)
1966 The New Law is the grace of the Holy Spirit given to the faithful through faith in Christ. It works through charity; it uses the Sermon on the Mount to teach us what must be done and makes use of the sacraments to give us the grace to do it: (1999)
If anyone should meditate with devotion and perspicacity on the sermon our Lord gave on the mount, as we read in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, he will doubtless find there … the perfect way of the Christian life…. This sermon contains … all the precepts needed to shape one’s life.20
…The entire Law of the Gospel is contained in the “new commandment” of Jesus, to love one another as he has loved us. (Cf. Jn 15:12; 13:34) (1823)
Scripture meditation on Luke 12:22–31
Having made the concept clear — God’s goodness is sheer, endless, attentive, all-powerful, ever-present — Jesus then goes on to apply this point of doctrine to our lives. If God is upholding and guarding and guiding us in each moment, then why do we give in to worries and anxieties? Every worry, every anxiety about the material things of life — health, sickness, money, food, success, reputation — stems from a lack of trust in God. These things are all passing, and if we are faithful to our normal responsibilities, God will provide whatever we need for our life’s mission. Instead of living as if the meaning of life were to be found in such things, Jesus invites us — in fact, he commands us — to live with our hearts “set on his Kingdom.” Our first and sole concern in life, according to Christ, should be to know and follow him better, to discover, embrace, and fulfill his will. And if he commands this of us, then it must be possible. In this lies the entire spiritual life: training ourselves under the guidance and grace of the Holy Spirit to pay more and more attention to loving God and our neighbors and focusing less and less attention on our natural tantrums of self-absorption.
Lumen Gentium and the universal call to Christian holiness
Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity;4* by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history.
4* Cfr. Pius XI, Litt. Encycl. Rerum omnium, 26 ian. 1923: AAS 15 (1923) p. 50 ct pp. 59–60. Litt. Encycl. Casti Connubii, 31 dec. 1930: AAS 22 (1930) p. 548. Pius XII, Const. Apost. Provida Mater, 2 febr. 1947: AAS 39 (1947) p. 117. Alloc. Annus sacer, 8 dec. 1950: AAS 43 (1951) pp. 27–28. Alloc. Nel darvi, 1 iul. 1956: AAS 48 (1956) p. 574 s.
Next up, we will move into a disucssion of what St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine taught on Romans 4 and the role of grace in justification.
Psalm 82:6 (ESV)
6 I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you;
- Meconi, David Vincent; Olson Carl. Called to be the Children of God. Ignatius Press. loc. 9 ↩
- Catechism of the Catholic Church ↩
- Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. Three Ways of the Spiritual Life. ↩
- ibid. ↩
- Arintero, J.G. The Mystical Evolution: in the Development and Vitality of the Church (Volume 1). P.148 ↩
- Arintero, Fr. John G. O.P. The Mystical Evolution in the Development and Vitality of the Church. P.130–132 ↩
- ibid. P.34–36 ↩
- ibid. P. 94–97 ↩
- Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., pp. 477–478). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference. ↩
- Bartunek, John. Gospel of Luke. Ch. 12 ↩
- Catholic Church. (2011). Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana. ↩