Deification of Man in Christianity
Apostolate of the Divine Heart (12 Mar 2014)
Saint John Paul II called the Church to breathe with "both lungs", incorporating the spiritual traditions of both East and West. We tend to associate deification with the Christian tradition of the East. However, as the author of this very good summary of the subject shows, deification is very much part of the Western tradition as well. The tragedy of the Protestant revolt and the Lutheran understanding of man as totally depraved led to its undermining in the West. However, deification is very much in harmony with the Divine Indwelling in the soul as promoted by St Elizabeth of the Trinity and Blessed Columba Marmion. It is also entirely in keeping with the doctrine of spiritual childhood promoted by St Therese of Lisieux.
Deification, the author notes, is the transformative process whose aim
is union with God. God became man so that man might become God. Not by
nature, of course, as certain religions of Asia suggest: it is not
possible for created beings to become God in the way that a drop of water
falls into the sea. Deification is brought about by purification of mind
and body and by theoria: that is, illumination with the vision of God.
For this reviewer, the importance of this subject lies in the fact that deification is not for the spiritually elite. It is for all Christians. It is effected only by human activity and God's uncreated energies.
Saving our souls is vital. But deification is much more than the avoidance of sins. It gives us a richer understanding of what it means to live a Christian life. The focus is not what we can do for god (as if we can!), but what God can do for us if we will let Him.
Both Eastern and Western Fathers agree that Christ became Incarnate so that we might be made God-not by nature but by participation. Through theoria, created beings come to experience what it means to be fully human. The three stages as understood in the Western tradition of purgation, illumination and union are fully compatible with the doctrine of theoria.
The author succeeds in showing us that Christian spirituality is very rich and, by the grace of God, very achievable.
Reviewed by Dr Pravin Thevathasan