Thursday, May 15, 2008

Compendium, 1, 1: "I believe" - "We believe"

1. What is the plan of God for man?

(cf. Catechism 1-25)
God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. In the fullness of time, God the Father sent his Son as the Redeemer and Savior of mankind, fallen into sin, thus calling all into his Church and, through the work of the Holy Spirit, making them adopted children and heirs of his eternal happiness.

The plan of God for man is "to make him share in his own blessed life." This idea of sharing in the divine life is called by the Orthodox, theosis, deification or divinization. (I understand the connotations here, but it is not what the Orthodox mean.) It is most famously stated by St Athanasius (4th cent.), "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God." A rather bold statement, I should think, and yet there it is. This is the mystery of the incarnation.

Theosis, though the term is not often mentioned in Catholicism, is salvation. This is what it is about. This is what salvation means, what its purpose is. And this is our end. Theosis is the plan of God for man.

But I tremble for a qualification, so I will add St Athanasius' own: "becoming by grace what God is by nature." We do not "become God" in the sense that we become divine in our very essence (apotheosis is, I believe, still a heresy). We partake of or share in his divine nature. We become holy as God is holy. The doctrine of the Trinity certainly puts limits on the idea.

Here is a series of quotes in the Catechism, on the incarnation, which also speaks on theosis:

460 The Word became flesh to make us "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pt 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). "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God" (St Athanasius, De inc., 45, 3). "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).


HIllbilly Rockin' Robin said...

Question - Per your statement, why is theosis or salvation not mentioned often in the Catholic church? Just curious...

Scott Lyons said...

Robin, let me clarify: The Catholic Church speaks about salvation all the time, but while it speaks about the process of theosis the word itself, the term, is never used. It's a Greek word, which may have something to do with it since the Catholic Church adopted Latin. It's an Eastern term.

About the Catholic Church speaking about salvation: You'd probably never hear in a homily: "You need to accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior." That's because the Catholic conception of salvation is far more ecclesial - the Church is an integral part of one's salvation, it's because salvation is assumed since the parishioners are at Mass (though never presumed), and it's because faith is never separated from the sacrament of Baptism, which is also called the sacrament of faith.

Let me give a quick example: Many years ago I was told how to evangelize Catholics. The first thing I was told they'd say when I asked Are you saved? is, "I've been baptized." And so, when I asked two Mexican visitors in my Sunday School class if they were saved, that's exactly what they said. But that's the Catholic understanding of salvation. It runs something like this, though perhaps not so consciously - "I've been brought into the life of Christ, the life of the Church, through baptism. I profess my faith every week. I receive Jesus down at the altar every week, every day if I'd like. I participate in the sacraments (the life of the Church, the life of Christ). So I'm not sure what you mean by, 'Are you saved?' I hope that I am."

There is no one-time sinner's prayer in the Catholic Church. So if you ask us if we've been saved, the question will not be understood the same way by both parties (unless you happen to talk to some ornery convert like myself). Relationship with Christ is certainly spoken of often and the Holy Father often talks about friendship with Christ, which I like more because it feels less sterile and it's also a more biblical term (not that the idea of relationship isn't biblical, but the term as such isn't used that I'm aware of - being "in Christ" seems to be the biblical concept: We have "faith in Christ," we've been "baptized into Christ," and we are simply "in Christ" - these kinds of phrases are often used to express our friendship/relationship).

But, on the other hand, if you point at a crucifix or an icon of Christ and you ask an old Catholic lady or an old Orthodox gentleman if they know that person, then you might just get an earful. Or you might simply get a quiet Yes accompanied by a bright smile and even brighter eyes.

HIllbilly Rockin' Robin said...

Thanks for sharing. Can't say I completely understand, but you knew that already. I do enjoy reading your thoughts and am learning a lot about Catholicism as I read your blog. Would love to have you all over to TN sometime!! Toodles!

Scott Lyons said...

I'm glad you're reading, Robin! We'd love to get out to TN sometime. Perhaps if we make a trip up to MI this summer, we can swing by.