Θεοσις – Sin or no sin, God’s plan was to make us partakers of the divine nature in Christ

St. Maximus the Confessor, a prominent Greek Father of the Church (d. 662), in his Questiones ad Thalassium (q.22) argues that all of history is rooted in the Incarnation because that is when our divinization (or deification) took place. The truth of our divinization in Christ is prominent in the writings of the Greek Fathers and is called theosis (in Greek – Θεοσις). Although the Western Church tends to focus on adoptive sonship, the Catechism of the Catholic Church cites divinization as one of the motives of the Incarnation and ties it in with divine sonship (#460):

“The Word became flesh to make us ‘partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Pt 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, 1928). ‘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).”

The notion of theosis [Θεοσις] is, of course, rooted in Scripture and Tradition. St. Peter is cited in the Catechism above (cf. 2 Pt 1:4). St. Paul alludes to this truth when he writes, “For you know the graciousness of our Lord Jesus Christ – how, being rich, He became poor for your sakes, that by His poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). Christ’s wealth is His Divinity and He becomes “poor” by assuming our human nature, all of this so that by His “poverty” (viz. His Sacred Humanity) we might become “rich” by partaking of the divine nature. And St. John tells us that “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us… And of His fullness we have all received grace for grace” (Jn 1:14,16) which ties in nicely with Paul’s text to the Colossians, “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodliy, and in Him who is the head of every Principality and Power you have received of that fullness” (Col 2:9-10).

St. Athanasius (besides the quote cited in the Catechism above) wrote, “for as the Lord, putting on the body, became man, so we men are deified by the Word as being taken to Him through His flesh” (3rd Discourse Against the Arians, n.34). He, in essence, is reiterating the words of St. Irenaeus: “If the Word has been made man, it is so that men may be made gods” (Adv. Haer V, Pref.). This sublime teaching is exquisitely expressed in the Divine Liturgy of the East and West in the prayer during the mingling of the water and wine: “By the mystery of this water in wine, may we come to share in the Divinity of Christ, who humbled Himself to share in our humanity” (Roman Missal – deacon or priest at the Preparation of the Gifts); “You have united, O Lord, Your Divinity with our humanity and our humanity with Your Divinity; Your life with our mortality and our mortality with Your life. You have assumed what is ours and You have given us what is Yours for the life and salvation of our souls. To You be glory forever” (Rite of Intinction – Maronite Rite).

For St. Maximus all of salvation history can be divided into two periods: the time preparing for the Divinity to take on human nature in the hypostatic union and the period thereafter wherein humanity is invited to partake of the divine nature. I will conclude this post with his teaching which I believe speaks for itself:

Q. If in the coming ages God will show His riches (Eph 2:7), how is it that the end of the ages has come upon us (1 Cor 10:11)?

R. He who, by the sheer inclination of His will, established the beginning of all creation, seen and unseen, before all the ages and before that beginning of created beings, had an ineffably good plan for those creatures. The plan was for Him to mingle, without change on his part, with human nature by true hypostatic union, to unite human nature to Himself while remaining immutable, so that He might become a man, as He alone knew how, and so that He might deify humanity in union with Himself. Also, according to this plan, it is clear that God wisely divided “the ages” between those intended for God to become human, and those intended for humanity to become divine.

Thus the end of those ages predetermined for God to become human has already come upon us, since God’s purpose was fulfilled in the very events of His Incarnation. The divine Apostle, having fully examined this fact […], and observing that the end of the ages intended for God’s becoming human had already arrived through the very Incarnation of the divine Logos, said that the end of the ages has come upon us (1 Cor 10:11). Yet by “ages” he meant not ages as we normally conceive them, but clearly the ages intended to bring about the mystery of His embodiment, which have already come to term according to God’s purpose.

Since, therefore, the ages predetermined in God’s purpose for the realization of His becoming man have reached their end for us, and God has undertaken and in fact achieved His own perfect Incarnation, the other “ages” – those which are to come about for the realization of the mystical and ineffable deification of humanity – must follow henceforth. In these new ages God will show the immeasurable riches of His goodness to us (Eph 2:7), having completely realized this deification in those who are worthy. For if He has brought to completion His mystical work of becoming man, having become like us in every way save without sin (cf. Heb 4:15), and even descended into the lower regions of the earth where the tyranny of sin compelled humanity, then God will also completely fulfill the goal of His mystical work of deifying humanity in every respect, of course, short of an identity of essence with God; and He will assimilate humanity to Himself and elevate us to a position above all the heavens. It is to this exalted position that the natural magnitude of God’s grace summons lowly humanity, out of a goodness that is infinite. The great Apostle is mystically teaching us about this when he says that in the ages to come the immeasurable riches of His goodness will be shown to us (Eph 2:7).

We too should therefore divide the “ages” conceptually, and distinguish between those intended for the myster of teh divine Incarnation and those intended for the grace of human deification, and we shall discover that the former have already reached their proper end while the latter have not yet arrived. In short, the former have to do with God’ descent to human beings, while the latter have to do with humanity’s ascent to God. By interpreting the texts thus, we do not falter in teh obscurity of the divine words of the Scripture, nor assume that the divine Apostle had lapsed into this same mistake.