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Sean J. Fennell, MD wrote:

Good morning,

I have already submitted this question to Catholic Answers but heard nothing. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 460 seems to say that Christ became a man so that men could become gods.

I just cannot understand this.

  • Could one of your apologists on the AskACatholic team explain this to me?

Thank you,

Sean J. Fennell, M.D.

  { How can men become gods through Christ and can you suggest a list of theology books to study? }

Mike replied:

Hi Sean,

Thanks for your question.

In quoting:

CCC 460 The Word became flesh to make us "partakers of the divine nature":
(2 Peter 1:4) "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." (St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 3, 19, 1: PG 7/1, 939) "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God." (St. Athanasius, De inc. 54, 3: PG 25, 192B) "The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Opusc. 57, 1-4)

You said:
I just cannot understand this.

My knee-jerk response, and I don't mean to be facetious, was: that just means you are normal.

  • What do I mean?

If you read on in the Catechism past CCC 460 it talks about the mystery of the Incarnation:

461 Taking up St. John's expression, "The Word became flesh", (John 1:14) the Church calls "Incarnation" the fact that the Son of God assumed a human nature in order to accomplish our salvation in it. In a hymn cited by St. Paul, the Church sings the mystery of the Incarnation:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

(Philippians 2:5-8; cf. Liturgy of the Hours, Saturday, Canticle at Evening Prayer)

462 The Letter to the Hebrews refers to the same mystery:

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, "Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, Lo, I have come to do your will, O God."

(Hebrews 10:5-7, citing Psalms 40:6-8 ([7-9] LXX)

463 Belief in the true Incarnation of the Son of God is the distinctive sign of Christian faith: "By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God." (1 John 4:2) Such is the joyous conviction of the Church from her beginning whenever she sings "the mystery of our religion": "He was manifested in the flesh." (1 Timothy 3:16)

483 The Incarnation is therefore the mystery of the wonderful union of the divine and human natures in the one person of the Word.

2 Peter 1:4 says:

Through these, he 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.

Our Blessed Lord instituted the Blessed Eucharist and it is through the Eucharist that we physically partake in His divine nature. (John 6:51-69) We are not divine nature apart from Christ.

Notice that, in quoting Thomas Aquinas, the last portion of CCC 460 said:

"The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods."

The word "gods" is not capitalized.

  • Jesus is a Divine Person with a Divine and Human nature — neither nature confusing the other, but united in the One Person of God's Son.
  • We are a Human people with human natures that partake in that divine nature.

All Christians make up the Body of Christ, but all are also called to participate in it fully through the Eucharist. We will be evaluated at our particular judgment to the extent to which we have participated in Jesus' life and in the Eucharist.

Our Blessed Lord has chosen us to assist in His plan of salvation for mankind; we do this by our words and actions in the secular world and are given the courage to do it through our participation in His Divine nature in the Blessed Eucharist. From the Catechism:

The Sacrament of the Eucharist

1416 Communion with the Body and Blood of Christ increases the communicant's union with the Lord, forgives his venial sins, and preserves him from grave sins. Since receiving this sacrament strengthens the bonds of charity between the communicant and Christ, it also reinforces the unity of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ.

1419 Having passed from this world to the Father, Christ gives us in the Eucharist the pledge of glory with him. Participation in the Holy Sacrifice identifies us with his Heart, sustains our strength along the pilgrimage of this life, makes us long for eternal life, and unites us even now to the Church in heaven, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and all the saints

When one thinks about partaking in the divine nature of God Himself, one can't help but be amazed at the honor.

On the other side of the coin, when one meditates on the fact that Jesus was 100% man, and
a man like us in all things but sin, one also can't help but be amazed.

This means that God can understand every sinless, but human thing we do in life, because He did it Himself! I don't mean to defame the Name of our Lord, but if Jesus was a man like us in all things but sin, this means he even did the basics like:

  • going to the bathroom
  • taking a shower
  • having to obey His earthly parents
  • and ....... being tempted by sin and understanding the struggles of human temptations!

Hope the helps to answer your question.

Stop by again any time you have a question about the Church.

That's what we are here for.

Mike

Eric replied:

Hi, Sean —

This awe-inspiring teaching, which sounds wonderfully scandalous, describes essentially how we are saved. It is variously called theosis, deification, and divinization. It means that we become
by grace what God is by nature. What an awesome gift!

In the Eastern churches, they speak of participating in the energies of God, as opposed to his essence. We don't become one in being (essence) with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; we don't join the Holy Trinity. Rather we participate in their created energies. We become saved by being transformed into his likeness from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). In other words, we become more and more like Him, until finally we see Him face to face:

"Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." (1 John 3:2)

This is what is spoken of in the Roman liturgy when the priest mixes the water and wine and says,

"May we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity."

This echoes St. Athanasius' words,

"God became man so that man might become God" (or, men become gods).

A good booklet on this is published by Conciliar Press:

Theosis: Partakers of the Divine Nature [In a 5-pack]

Also worth checking out is this Wikipedia article:

Theosis

You can also do a web search on "theosis" and you're sure to find pertinent works on the subject.

Hope this helps,

Eric Ewanco

Mary Ann replied:

Hi Sean,

Christ became man to give us a share in His divinity. The early Fathers said we are divinized.

Grace is the transforming indwelling of the Holy Trinity — the power of the Spirit who makes us sons of the Father by conforming us to the Son, all of this made possible by the Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ.

His humanity was taken up into the Godhead at the Ascension, and through His Risen, Glorified Body, extended in the Church, we receive a share in His divine life.

We therefore become gods only analogously. We actually become united to God in a real way, through the humanity of Christ.

Hope this helps,

Mary Ann

Sean replied:

Good morning Eric, Mary Ann, and Mike (in alphabetical order),

Thank you very much indeed for your responses to my question.
Each one of you has contributed to my knowledge.

My first problem was that I considered gods with a lower case g to be those mythological pagan gods to whom the Greeks and the Romans paid homage.

My second problem was, and still is, that I see things as black and white, and analogy and symbolism and as such, the issues just pass over my head.

Now that I have:

  • read your responses
  • read the article on Wikipedia, and
  • read further in the Catechism

I think I have a better understanding of how we share in Jesus's divine nature but I still have a problem with those gods with the lower case g.

Finally, if I can make a suggestion.

  • Could each of you, and your colleagues, name the ten or twenty books on theology that learners such as myself should read and publish the list on your web site.

I don't mean books on spirituality or how to pray. I don't mean the Holy Bible. I don't mean the Catechism. I mean books that both challenge and educate. The kind of books that you read when studying for a degree in theology.

Thank you again and may God bless your ministry.

Sincerely,

Sean

Eric replied:

You said:
Now that I have:

  • read your responses
  • read the article on Wikipedia, and
  • read further in the Catechism

I think I have a better understanding of how we share in Jesus's divine nature

Great!

but I still have a problem with those gods with the lower case g.

Jesus effectively makes the argument (to the Pharisees, who want to stone him) that since God in the Old Testament said to the men to whom the word of God came "I have said you are gods" (Psalm 82:6), how can they stone him for claiming to be God's son?

God calls men gods in a certain sense in Psalm 82, and Jesus uses this to defend his divinity. Ergo, the use of the term gods is appropriate.

In any case, the aphorism is equally expressed as:

"God became men so that men might become God".

You said:
Finally, if I can make a suggestion.

  • Could each of you, and your colleagues, name the ten or twenty books on theology that learners such as myself should read and publish the list on your web site?

I don't mean books on spirituality or how to pray. I don't mean the Holy Bible. I don't mean the Catechism. I mean books that both challenge and educate. The kind of books that you read when studying for a degree in theology.

Thank you again and may God bless your ministry.

This is a good idea.  However, as far as I know, none of us has studied theology, and those sorts of books might not be the kind of books you or other lay people might find most profitable to read.  Our site is geared more toward apologetics, and it is those books which we might like to focus on, but I'll see what my colleagues say.

Hope this helps,

Eric

Mary Ann replied:

Hi Sean,

I have two theology degrees, and a degree equivalent in philosophy, which doesn't necessarily mean much.

My first degree was taken back at a time and place when primary sources were used. My second degree used text books even for graduate studies, all of them American and most of them awful.

Instead of study texts, I would recommend books by the masters:

Also, you can find good resources at Ignatius Press and at Roman Catholic Books. Some of the present day commentators, like Peter Kreeft and Scott Hahn, can be very good in explaining traditional belief without being too scholarly.

Too many people, in trying to discover authentic Catholicism, go only to the 17th-19th century, and they lose sight of the wonderful things of Vatican II, as well as the wonderful early and medieval giants.

Mary Ann

Mike replied:

Hi Sean,

For a novice interested in an introduction to theology, I would recommend two books:

If one is aiming more toward a degree in Catholic Apologetics, I would recommend these books on my other web site,BibleBeltCatholics.com.

The Early Church Fathers were the very first Christians of the Church..

Mike

Sean replied:

Thank you Mike.

God bless you and keep up the good work.

Sean
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