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Being Fully Alive

by Jun 3, 2024Friar Reflection

It is but a simple, single verse from our first reading (2 Peter 1:2-7): God “…has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire” (v.4) And that simple phrase, “to share in the divine nature” has been the fountain from which has flown endless reflection, speculation, and wonder over the millennia.

One line of thought is that the phrase refers to theosis – a process referred to variously as sanctification, divinization, deification. A related verse is 1 John 3:2: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”  There have been religious movements in history that have concluded, using the verses from 2 Peter and 1 John, that we will become divine, become god. Such is the theological conclusion of the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons).

Maximos the Confessor (ca 580-662) explains the text: “God made us so that we might become partakers of the divine nature and sharers in His eternity, and so that we might come to be like Him through deification by grace. It is through deification that all things are reconstituted and achieve their permanence; and it is for its sake that what is not is brought into being and given existence.” Did that provide any additional clarity? Maximos focuses on “partaking,” which in his thought means we are sharing in what is by nature not ours. He recognizes that our rebellious human nature has to be reconstituted by grace to become more like God’s nature, while becoming “fully human.”

The Catholic Church understands the phrase to refer to theosis. This teaching affirms that through God’s grace, human beings are called to participate in the divine life and become partakers of God’s nature. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) explains this concept in paragraph 460, stating that “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.'” Furthermore, paragraph 1996 emphasizes that through baptism, believers are “made partakers of the divine nature” and become children of God, sharing in His life and love. This participation in the divine nature is not a transformation into another kind of being but rather a transformation of our human nature, enabling us to reflect the image of God more fully.

The Church teaches that this participation in the divine nature is made possible through the grace of God, which is freely given to us. It is through this grace that we are united to Christ and share in His divine life. This transformative process involves the ongoing cooperation of the individual with God’s grace, leading to a gradual conformity to Christ and a growth in holiness.

Divinization (theosis) refers to the sharing in God’s life, love, and holiness. It is a participation in the divine nature while maintaining the distinction between the Creator and the creature. Think of it this way: in James 1:12-15 it is written about God that He cannot be tempted by evil. Every human being, on the other hand, has a flesh containing lusts and desires, or the inclination to sin, which causes us to be tempted. That is human nature. However, if I am faithful to overcome when I am tempted to sin, step by step I can develop so the sin in my flesh is put to death. But through the grace of Word and Sacrament we can share in God’s life, love, and holiness. Partaking of these Godly characteristics on a daily basis we are transformed to live, reflect and share in characteristics that are “natural” to God.

It seems to me that another way of saying all that is to share “the life in the Spirit,” sharing the divine nature which begins to replace the sin in my life. This transformation is described beautifully in Galatians 5:16-26. Human nature’s fruit (“immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness”) is replace by “fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

We receive the grace of Word and Sacrament, but our reading reminds us to supplement that grace “with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion, devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love.

Practice increases our share in the divine nature until as St. Irenaeus remarked: “the glory of God is the human person fully alive.”

Image credit: a Google AI creation. It was actually created in regards to The Ascension, but it seemed appropriate for this post.