Category Archives: Theosis

Theosis θέωσις, “Partakers in the divine nature” – 2 Peter 1:4

-by Carl Olson, Carl grew up in a Fundamentalist Protestant home and attended Briercrest Bible College, an Evangelical school in Saskatchewan, Canada. He and his wife, Heather, were married in 1994 and entered the Catholic Church together in 1997. Their conversion story appears in the book, Surprised By Truth 3 (Sophia Institute Press, 2002).

“This year marks the twentieth anniversary of my wife and me entering the Catholic Church from Evangelicalism. My upbringing skewed strongly toward the Fundamentalist end of the spectrum while hers was more mainstream Evangelical. Both of us were graduates of Evangelical Bible colleges, so we had a fairly in-depth understanding and experience of American Evangelicalism, which is a complicated and even bewildering world of denominations, para-church organizations, and movements.

My interest in apologetics started when I read works by C.S. Lewis, who played a significant role in our journey into the Church. Like so many other Evangelicals who “poped,” I worked through a wide range of questions about Mary, the saints, authority, the sacraments, purgatory, and Tradition. In fact, the very first article I ever had published was a detailed account of that search and study for This Rock (the predecessor to Catholic Answers Magazine), “Joining the Unsaved” (June 1998). The experience could be likened to being dropped into a huge and exotic forest and spending countless hours studying the flora and fauna, trying to grasp their curious and often surprising details.

During that time, I ended up writing a lengthy letter to my parents. In a way, it was like sending them a box with samples from the forest with a mixture of tree leaves, flowers, and rocks. A few years later, when I re-read the letter, I saw that my explanation of Catholicism, while still correct and on point—and there were many points—lacked a sense of the big picture. Although I was able to defend against the negative stereotypes and false concepts that good people like my parents were tossing at me, I did not and could not provide a positive, succinct picture of the essence of Catholicism.

Something was missing

This sense of incompleteness was especially strong when it came to the Church’s teaching about salvation. I knew the Church did not teach that our works alone save us, but I also knew that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). How so? I understood the importance of the sacraments; it was, after all, the reality of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist that drew my wife and me so powerfully to the Church. But, to continue the analogy, how did that fit into the bigger picture of the forest of Catholicism? In what way could the forest be brought into focus and best understood?

The answer is a word every Catholic needs to know: theosis. It is also known as deification, divinization, participation, and divine sonship. The essence of Christianity and the gospel is that the triune God, who is perfect communion, “in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1). The Father desires to give us his actual life and make us, through the Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit, true children of God. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us,” states St. John, “that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).

Now, as a young Evangelical Protestant I never questioned the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation—but I also rarely contemplated in depth what those two great mysteries had to do with me. Sure, I knew God created me. I accepted that God became man. But these were more points of doctrine than realities to be contemplated and explored. And, to be fair and blunt, that says more about my own personal failings than it does about failings in Evangelical theology. When I finally began to grasp the startling truth of theosis, I began to see and understand the details of the forest in an even more vibrant and life-changing way.

Considering this, how do essential but often overlooked truths—the subject of a detailed book I co-edited with Fr. David Meconi, S.J.—help the apologist? Here are three basic ways:

Personal relationship

Most Fundamentalists and many Evangelicals see Catholicism as a religious system based on works, ritual, and “doing stuff.” What they don’t see, first, is that they themselves—for all the talk of a “personal relationship” with Christ—take part in a system based on works, ritual, and “doing stuff.” After all, they insist on the necessity of going to church, participating in some form of communal worship, doing good works, and so forth.

The heart of Catholicism is having a personal relationship with Christ. Yes, there is a lot of debate over whether or not Catholics should use such language, but to me it’s quite simple: the triune God, who is Creator of all, is perfect communion and love. He is relationship. And Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, is one of three divine persons. So, yes, having a personal relationship with each person of the Trinity is the very essence of being a Catholic:

“O blessed light, O Trinity and first Unity!” God is eternal blessedness, undying life, unfading light. God is love: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God freely wills to communicate the glory of His blessed life. Such is the “plan of His loving kindness,” conceived by the Father before the foundation of the world, in His beloved Son: “He destined us in love to be His sons” and “to be conformed to the image of His Son,” through “the spirit of sonship” (CCC 257).

Rules, rules, rules?

Catholicism, being deeply communal, familial, and covenantal, is never satisfied by a mere legal or juridical understanding of salvation. The irony is that the Fundamentalists and Evangelicals who insist that salvation is juridical and reflects a sort of divine courtroom denounce Catholicism for being impersonal and devoid of relationship. That’s absurd. As Catholics, we always understand that laws and rules are rooted in the familial, communal nature of God, because they orient us toward our final beatitude, by God’s grace.

The reality of grace

The biggest divide between Catholics and many Protestants is the nature of grace. “Grace,” as the Catechism so succinctly states, “is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life” (CCC 1997). This is why Catholics can say that the sacraments aren’t just symbols but signs that really accomplish, by the power of God’s grace, what they signify. We insist that we don’t receive bread at Holy Communion but the very body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ.

Because we are filled, animated, and joined by the trinitarian life of God, we participate in the heavenly realities, being truly part of Christ’s body—not just in a metaphorical sense but in a way that is truly real.

If we are really “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4), then our deeds are not the works of slaves trying to impress a master but the joyful works of sons and daughters on behalf our Father, joined to Christ our Savior, aided by the Holy Spirit our advocate. Catholicism, then, is not a religion of “works righteousness” but of righteous, holy children, growing even more righteous and holy as we continue to conform to the will and way of God. Understanding this theosis is a deeply biblical and traditional view of the dense forest of doctrine and spirituality should guide the apologist in debates and conversations.”

“The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.” – St Gregory of Nyssa


Theosis θέωσις

[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,

Protestant & Catholic: different definitions of grace

-cf Dr. Bryan Cross, PhD, was raised in the Pentecostal tradition, then became Reformed shortly after completing his bachelor’s degree in cellular and molecular biology at the University of Michigan. He then received an M.Div. from Covenant Theological Seminary. In 2003 he and his wife and two daughters became Anglican. On October 8, 2006, he and his family were received into full communion with the Catholic Church. He has previously taught at Saint Louis University, Lindenwood University, and Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. He is presently an assistant professor of philosophy at Mount Mercy University. His personal blog is “Principium Unitatis.”

“When seeking to attain an end, one must keep that end in one’s mind and heart, and ensure that one’s understanding of it is as accurate as possible, to ensure attaining that end. That is no less true in the Christian life, which has heaven as its end. But what is heaven? Is it a garden of earthly delights? A perpetual feast? A planet of our own? A return to the Garden of Eden? Protestant and Catholic accounts of heaven agree that the saints will be in the presence of God in resurrected and glorified bodies, without any suffering, death or sin. Protestant descriptions of heaven typically depict heaven as a place in which sorrow, pain, sin and death have been removed, so that with resurrected bodies the saints eat and drink and fellowship with the incarnate Christ and all the other saints forever on a renewed earth. The Catholic teaching concerning the Beatific Vision is typically not included in Protestant accounts of heaven. That is because Protestant theology has generally not conceived of grace as a participation in the divine nature, and thus has not seen heaven as a culmination of theosis or insertion by participation into the divine life. Hence in Protestant theology the happiness enjoyed by the saints in heaven is not God’s own happiness…

…In other words, the difference between the Protestant and Catholic conceptions of grace leads to different conceptions of what heaven is and what is our essential happiness in heaven. If grace is mere favor (Protestant), and union with God is only covenantal (Protestant), then the happiness of heaven is having Christ and the saints near us forever, and being free from sin in our souls, and free from suffering and death in our bodies forever. But if grace is a participation in the divine nature (Catholic), then the essence of eternal life is union with God in the Beatific Vision (Catholic), which is not everlasting existence (Protestant), but is eternity itself, namely, the “simultaneously-whole and perfect possession of interminable life.”1

Any Protestant conception of ‘heaven’ without the Beatific Vision is something like Abraham’s bosom or the Garden of Eden, and is infinitely surpassed by the supernatural happiness of the Beatific Vision, God’s own infinite happiness. But that supernatural end requires grace as a participation in the divine nature, not merely divine favor. (Cf. Scott Clark’s claim that grace is merely divine favor.)

-by Anna Krestyn, who is a freelance writer and Director of Religious Education at St. Lawrence the Martyr Catholic Church in Alexandria, VA. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in liberal arts from Thomas Aquinas College and worked as a publishing assistant at Catholic Answers in her native California before moving to northern Virginia to pursue pastoral work.

Protestants tend to think grace works extrinsically to the person

“One of the great divisions between Catholic and Protestant theology regards the understanding of how grace, the gift of God won for humanity by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, works on the human soul. This division essentially became a disagreement between the Catholic Church and the Protestant reformers of the 16th century about man’s justification, or means of salvation – a matter that remains a source of tension even today.

The Protestant reformers of the 16th century supported the idea that grace works extrinsically on the human person; it does not penetrate and cleanse human nature from within. Martin Luther, a central figure of the Protestant Reformation, taught that after baptism, original sin remained. Grace acts as a sort of cloak which covers the corruption of human nature and makes the person acceptable to God, though underneath he remains depraved. Luther is famously credited with having said that the justified soul is a “snow-covered pile of dung.”

What follows from this understanding of grace is the Protestant teaching that a person’s actions are worth nothing toward his or her justification, since they come from a sinful source. From this has emerged the doctrine of sola fide, or justification by “faith alone”. Evangelical Protestants identify the moment of justification as the moment when the person experiences, for the first time, genuine faith – this moment is what the well-known phrase “born again,” (John 3:3) means for them. Protestants consider good works and taking after the example of Christ as a process of becoming holy, which is distinct from justification.

The Catholic teaching, on the other hand, is that grace does indeed work intrinsically, and that in Baptism the person is truly made a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). “The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us ‘the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ’ (Rom 3:22) and through Baptism,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches. And the Second Vatican Council re-affirmed that “[t]he followers of Christ … are justified in the Lord Jesus, because in the baptism of faith they truly become sons of God and sharers in the divine nature. In this way they are really made holy. Then too, by God’s gift, they must hold on to and complete in their lives this holiness they have received” (Lumen Gentium, #40).

So baptism fully cleanses the human person of original sin, though the tendency to sin remains and keeps us in need of ongoing grace, especially through the Sacraments. And against the notion of justification by faith alone, the Church teaches that we are saved not only through faith but also through the expression of this faith in good actions. “My brothers, what good is it to profess faith without practicing it? Such faith has no power to save one, has it?” wrote St. James (James 2:14), in the epistle which Luther significantly called a “perfect straw-epistle” compared to the writings of St. Paul, who emphasized the need for faith.

During his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI offered a helpful re-casting of this long-standing disagreement between Catholics and Protestants about grace and justification. According to the Pontiff, “the centrality of justification without works, the primary object of Paul’s preaching, does not clash with faith that works through love; indeed, it demands that our faith itself be expressed in a life in accordance with the Spirit. Often there is seen an unfounded opposition between St. Paul’s theology and that of St James, who writes in his Letter: ‘as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead’(2: 26). In reality, while Paul is primarily concerned to show that faith in Christ is necessary and sufficient, James accentuates the consequential relations between faith and works (cf. Jas 2: 24). Therefore, for both Paul and James, faith that is active in love testifies to the freely given gift of justification in Christ.”

“The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.” – St Gregory of Nyssa

Love & His grace,

(1) Summa Theologica I. Q.10 a.1.