[Ed. it is MOST IMPORTANT to note, theosis does NOT imply an ontological change. We do not become gods ourselves! Athanasius is terribly often misquoted to say “a god”, which implies ontological change and which is blasphemy and heresy of the highest form, by the uninformed.]
-by Fr. Joseph Gill
“When Cardinal Timothy Dolan was a young priest, he was in charge of running an RCIA program for adults who wanted to convert and become Catholic. One man was going through the classes to please his wife, and he challenged Fr. Dolan almost every class on some issue or another. He seemed to be truly wrestling with the Faith. Finally, at the end of the last class, Fr. Dolan asked the man if he had any questions about the Catholic Faith. The man replied, “Yeah, there’s one thing I just don’t get.”
Fr. Dolan braced himself – would it be a hot-button issue like the Church’s teaching on birth control or marriage?
The man continued, “I just don’t get your teaching on grace. You said that God literally comes to dwell in your soul. That seems too good to be true – I must have misunderstood.”
Fr. Dolan breathed a sigh of relief and said, “You understood me perfectly – that is grace.”
Often we focus on the Father’s creation, or the Son’s death on the Cross, or the Holy Spirit inspiring the Apostles. But the entire Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is not just out there but comes to dwell in our soul through grace.
I don’t think we fully appreciate what an amazing gift this is! In Catholic theology, this is called theosis or divinization – that we become so filled with God that we resemble God, we contain God, we radiate God, we become transformed into God. As St. Athanasius put it so succinctly, “God became man so that man might become God.” What an amazing gift! Christianity isn’t about us becoming nice people – Christianity is about becoming so filled with the Blessed Trinity that we become like Him.
Now, we need to make a careful distinction. Although we are truly divinized, we are not God. We don’t stop being creatures even when the Creator has drawn us into Himself. Some New-Age followers believe that we are “all part of the divine” and that we just need to tap into the “god within”. That’s pantheism, and it is not what we believe.
Rather, we believe that, because of the free gift of God’s grace, He does three things. First, He comes to dwell in our soul. Second, He makes us adopted sons and daughters of God, which means that we share in His nature. Third, He transforms us until we start to share His glory. How remarkable! This is so much more than just “getting to Purgatory by the skin of our teeth” – this is an invitation to participate in the inner life of the Trinity?
Lest we get too abstract, let’s look at three practical consequences of this “theosis”.
First, it means that we must always live in the state of grace (that is, free of all mortal sins). St. Teresa of Avila said that if we could see a soul in the state of grace, we would be tempted to worship it! So make sure your soul is always a dwelling-place for the Trinity. This means avoiding mortal sins like missing Mass, getting drunk or using drugs, or any sexual activity outside of marriage. If we happen to fall into any of these mortal sins, run to Confession to get back into the state of grace, which will allow God to literally dwell in your soul again!
Second, since we believe that God is in our soul, we do not need to go to great lengths to pray – we can pray anywhere, and have a continual conversation with the God Who dwells within. Yes, it is often helpful to go to a church or a prayer room in your house, but even if you’re in the dentist chair or on a ski lift or sitting on the school bus, you can converse with God living in your soul. Converse with Him often throughout the day!
Third, if the Trinity dwells in me and you, then how must we treat each other? One time, St. Jacinta Marta, the young shepherd girl who was one of the visionaries at Fatima, was too sick to attend Mass. When her cousin Lucia came home from Mass, Jacinta came up to her and sat next to her, resting her head on her cousin’s shoulder. Lucia asked why she was being so affectionate, and Jacinta replied, “Since you received Jesus at Mass, being next to you is like being next to the tabernacle! I just want to pray to Jesus who is living in your soul!”
How much respect and love we ought to pay to one another if we knew the other person was preparing for eternal glory! How would we treat another person if we knew their soul housed the Triune God! This should be our attitude toward all, knowing that God desires all to become transformed into Him.
Divinization. Theosis. This teaching of our Catholic Faith is so tremendously awesome that I am speechless in the sight of such a mystery. So I will conclude, then, with words that are not my own, but come from an early church Father, St. Irenaeus: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, through His transcendent love, became what we are, that He might bring us to become even what He is Himself.”
“The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.” – St Gregory of Nyssa
Love & His Grace,