Deification of man in Christianity — 1 — What is deification? / On deification

by Marcelle Bartolo-Abela

Note: As a public service for the people, poorly catechized Catholics, and those who may just want to know more about the subject topic, herewith are going to be presented the chapters of the small book Deification of Man in Christianity.

The first two chapters can be found below.

Chapter 1: WHAT IS DEIFICATION?

Deification is the attaining of likeness to God and union with Him so far as is possible (Dionysus the Aeropagite, EH 1.3, PG 3.376A).
God, you see, wants to make you a god, not by nature, of course, like the One whom He begot but by His gift and by adoption (Augustine of Hippo, Serm. 166.4).

Deification can be defined as “God’s perfect and full penetration of man” (Staniloae, 2002, p. 362). The deification or divinization of man is not “an identification with God; it is only an assimilation, a very eminent restoration of the original divine likeness . . . [whereby one] participates by grace in the perfections that God possesses by nature . . . The Spirit transforms the soul to the image of the Logos, the natural Son of God, thus making the Christian an adoptive child of God. Affecting, it seems, the very essence of the soul, this mysterious conformation is not of a moral nature only but of a physical nature; it is a veritable partaking of the divine nature and of the divine life” (Gross, 1938/2002, p. 272).

Deification is the “enhypostatic and direct illumination of which has no beginning but appears in those worthy as something exceeding their comprehension. It is indeed a mystical union with God beyond intellect and reason, in the age when creatures will no longer know corruption. Thanks to this union, the saints, observing the light of the hidden and more-than-ineffable glory, become themselves able to receive the blessed purity in company with celestial powers. Deification is also the invocation of the great God and Father, the symbol of the authentic and real adoption, according to the gift and grace of the Holy Spirit, thanks to the bestowal of which grace the saints become and will remain the sons of God” (Maximus the Confessor, Ad Th. 61, PG 90, 636C; Schol. 16, PG 90, 644C). Maximus (Chapt, 2.88) added that “The soul becomes god and rests from all its mental and physical works by participation in divine grace; at the same time all the natural operations of the body rest with it. They are deified along with the soul in proportion to its participation in the deification, to the extent that then only God will be visible, through the soul as well as through the body; the natural attributes are conquered by the overabundance of glory.”

Deification, then, is “both the light encountered (inasmuch as it is a visible apparition) and something that attaches to the person, becoming one with her and changing her. It is both God as other and God transforming the human person from within” (Williams, 1999, p. 105). Deification results in the theoria of the uncreated light (Lossky, 1967/1974), because its processes are directly related to theosis — the vision of the divine light (Lossky, 1944/1976, 1983).

Deification and Man

When Adam was first created, the Spirit of God clothe him in holiness and made him a perfect person. However, such perfection was not absolute but relative, in order that Adam and his descendants could “progress peacefully and rise up toward the perfect . . . to draw closer to the Unbegotten” (Irenaeus of Lyon, Adv. Haer. 3.23.5, [963]). It was progressive deification that was originally intended for mankind and presented to our first parent (Gross, 1938/2002; Symeon the New Theologian, 1994). But after Adam sinned (Gn 3:1–24), it was Christ, the new Adam, Who reopened the gate for the deification of mankind through the three spiritual stages of purification (of the heart), illumination (of the heart of the soul), and deification.

Chapter 2: ON DEIFICATION

Is it not written in your Law: I said, “You are gods?” (Jn 10:34).
He has given us most great and precious promises: that by these you may be made partakers of the divine nature (2 P 1:4).

Two kinds of deification exist. The first kind refers to the “elevation of man to the highest level of his natural powers, or to the full realization of man . . . [when] the divine power of grace is active in him. [The second kind refers to the] progress which man makes beyond the limit of his natural powers, beyond the boundaries of his nature, to the divine and supernatural level” (Staniloae, 2002, p. 263). For man to pass from the first kind of deification, which is well-known, to the second kind that is rarely heard about these days in Western Christianity, a leap of grace occurs, because “man too works during the first stage, but during the second, only God” (p. 364).

Thomas Aquinas maintained that in the latter kind of deification, “the gift of grace surpasses every capability of created nature, since it is nothing short of a partaking of the divine nature, which exceeds every other nature . . . God alone should deify, bestowing a partaking of the divine nature by a participated likeness” (Summa Theol. 2.1:112.1). He added that “this name God is communicable, not in its whole signification, but in some part of it by way of similitude, so that those are called gods who share in divinity by likeness, according to the text ‘I have said, “You are gods” (Ps 82:6)’” (Resp. I.13,9).

Aquinas also declared that “Man’s happiness is twofold . . . One is proportionate to human nature . . . The other is a happiness surpassing man’s nature and which man can obtain by the power of God alone, by a kind of participation of the Godhead [ad quam homo sola divina virtute pervenire potest secundum quandam divinitatis participationem], about which it is written (2 P 1:4) that by Christ we are made partakers of the divine nature” (Resp. I-II.62,1).

In deification, “the Paraclete illuminates from on high the man who attains in prayer the stage which is superior to the highest natural possibilities and who is awaiting the promise of the Father; and by His revelation, ravishes him to contemplation of the light” (Gregory of Palamas, The Triads, II.3.33). Those who experience theoria arising from the process of deification see God in themselves as though they are looking into a mirror.

After purification and illumination, “God no longer comes to us as before without appearance and without image . . . He comes under a certain image and yet it is the image of God. [He] makes Himself seen in His simplicity, formed out of formless, incomprehensible, ineffable light . . . He makes Himself seen clearly, He is perfectly recognizable, He speaks and hears in a way that cannot be expressed. He Who is God by nature converses with those whom He has made gods by grace, as a friend converses with His friends, face to face. He loves His sons as a Father; He is loved by them beyond all measure. He becomes in them a wondrous knowledge; a dreadful hearing. They cannot speak of Him as they ought, nor can they any longer keep silence” (Symeon the New Theologian, Serm. 90).

The purified, therefore, “contemplate invisible things . . . they participate in the intelligible gift of the light of God in their impassable and immaterial intelligence” (Gregory of Palamas, The Triads, II.3.26).


Originally published at reflectionsforthesoul.com on August 25, 2017.