Skip to comments.Pope Francis, Romans 8, and the theme of theosis
Posted on 05/09/2013 2:17:35 PM PDT by NYer
Pope Francis made some waves today when he spoke to the plenary assembly of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) about "men and women of the Church who are careerists and social climbers, who 'use' people, the Church, their brothers and sisterswhom they should be servingas a springboard for their own personal interests and ambitions." It was another example of how the Holy Fatherpick a clichépulls no punches and wastes no words.
We'll have more about that particular address and related matters soon, but I want to reflect a moment on Francis's general audience today, which focused on the work of the Holy Spirit, the gift of divine life, and the mystery of divine sonship. These are topics and themes that he has touched on several times already in the first weeks of his pontificate. A month ago, in his April 10th general audience, Francis asked, "What does the Resurrection mean for our life?" His answer, in part, is that the Resurrection (as the Apostle Paul explained) is not just freedom from, but freedom for: "we are set free from the slavery of sin and become children of God; that is, we are born to new life." This freedom is received in and through the sacrament of Baptism. Having received the sacrament,
the baptized person emerged from the basin and put on a new robe, the white one; in other words, by immersing himself in the death and Resurrection of Christ he was born to new life. He had become a son of God. In his Letter to the Romans St Paul wrote: “you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry ‘Abba! Father! it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom 8:15-16).
It is the Spirit himself whom we received in Baptism who teaches us, who spurs us to say to God: “Father” or, rather, “Abba!”, which means “papa” or [“dad”]. Our God is like this: he is a dad to us. The Holy Spirit creates within us this new condition as children of God. And this is the greatest gift we have received from the Paschal Mystery of Jesus. Moreover God treats us as children, he understands us, he forgives us, he embraces us, he loves us even when we err. In the Old Testament, the Prophet Isaiah was already affirming that even if a mother could forget her child, God never forgets us at any moment (cf. 49:15). And this is beautiful!
This gift of supernatural filiation goes by many names, including divinization, deification, and theosis, as it is widely known in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches. It is a teaching that has long interested me. It was a key reason for becoming Catholic many years ago, and it is the focus of a book I am co-editing with Fr. David Meconi, SJ, editor of Homiletic & Pastoral Review and assistant professor of theological studies at Saint Louis University, whose doctoral dissertation was on St. Augustine’s use of deification. The book has fifteen chapters by fourteen contributors (as well as a Foreword by Dr. Scott Hahn) and it covers two thousand years of Catholic teaching on the topic of theosis, beginning with Scripture and concluding with the Catechism of the Catholic Church and recent papal documents. This week, I am finishing up the final section of the opening chapter, co-authored with Fr. Meconi, on theosis in Sacred Scripture.
And so today's audience by Francis caught my attention, as he returns to the same themes as he highlighted a month ago. For example:
But I would like to focus on the fact that the Holy Spirit is the inexhaustible source of God's life in us. In all times and in all places man has yearned for a full and beautiful life, a just and good one, a life that is not threatened by death, but that can mature and grow to its fullest. Man is like a traveler who, crossing the deserts of life, has a thirst for living water, gushing and fresh, capable of quenching his deep desire for light, love, beauty and peace. We all feel this desire! And Jesus gives us this living water: it is the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and who Jesus pours into our hearts. Jesus tells us that "I came that they may have life and have it more abundantly" (John 10, 10).
The Holy Father touches on a couple of passages in the Fourth Gospel, which is rich with the theme of mankind being called to share in God's divine life; the same can be said of 1 John. Speaking of the "living water" spoken of by Jesus to the Samaritan woman by the well, Francis remarks:
The '"living water," the Holy Spirit, the Gift of the Risen One who comes to dwell in us, cleanses us, enlightens us, renews us, transforms us because rendering us partakers of the very life of God who is Love. This is why the Apostle Paul says that the Christian's life is animated by the Spirit and by its fruits, which are "love, joy, peace, generosity, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal 5:22 -23). The Holy Spirit leads us to divine life as "children of the Only Son." In another passage from the Letter to the Romans, which we have mentioned several times, St. Paul sums it up in these words: "All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. And you… have you received the Spirit who renders us adoptive children, and thanks to whom we cry out, "Abba! Father. “The Spirit itself, together with our own spirit, attests that we are children of God. And if we are His children, we are also His heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we take part in his suffering so we can participate in his glory "(8, 14-17). This is the precious gift that the Holy Spirit brings into our hearts: the very life of God, the life of true children, a relationship of familiarity, freedom and trust in the love and mercy of God, which as an effect has also a new vision of others, near and far, seen always as brothers and sisters in Jesus to be respected and loved.
It is readily evident that Romans 8:15-17 is a passage with great significance for Francis, as he himself notes that he has mentioned it "several times." He does not, of course, use the term "theosis", but explicates the doctrine using language that is largely keeping with the Western way of referring to it. In fact, a quick search of the Vatican site turns up just a few uses of it among the documents accessible there, two of which are notable. First, Pope Benedict XVI made mention of it in a 2009 audience about John Scotus, and in the 2011, document, “Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles, and Criteria”, the International Theological Commission articulated a succinct and helpful definition:
The Mystery of God revealed in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit is a mystery of ekstasis, love, communion and mutual indwelling among the three divine persons; a mystery of kenosis, the relinquishing of the form of God by Jesus in his incarnation, so as to take the form of a slave (cf. Phil 2:5-11); and a mystery of theosis, human beings are called to participate in the life of God and to share in ‘the divine nature’ (2 Pet 1:4) through Christ, in the Spirit. (par 98)
The term "divinization" appears over thirty times in English texts on the site; it was used often by Bl. John Paul II, for whom the theme was of great importance, as I've shown elsewhere. Especially interesting is how Benedict XVI emphasized the connection between divinization, conversion, and spiritual growth, both individual and communal. In the October 2010 homily at the papal Mass for the opening of the special assembly for the Middle East, Benedict stated:
Without communion there can be no witness: the life of communion is truly the great witness. Jesus said it clearly: "It is by your love for one another, that everyone will recognize you as my disciples" (Jn 13: 35). This communion is the life of God itself which is communicated in the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ. It is thus a gift, not something which we ourselves must build through our own efforts. And it is precisely because of this that it calls upon our freedom and waits for our response: communion always requires conversion, just as a gift is better if it is welcomed and utilized.
Benedict pointed back to this remark in the opening paragraphs of of his September 2012 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, writing:
In the context of the Christian faith, “communion is the very life of God which is communicated in the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ”. It is a gift of God which brings our freedom into play and calls for our response. It is precisely because it is divine in origin that communion has a universal extension. While it clearly engages Christians by virtue of their shared apostolic faith, it remains no less open to our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters, and to all those ordered in various ways to the People of God. The Catholic Church in the Middle East is aware that she will not be able fully to manifest this communion at the ecumenical and interreligious level unless she has first revived it in herself, within each of her Churches and among all her members: Patriarchs, Bishops, priests, religious, consecrated persons and lay persons. Growth by individuals in the life of faith and spiritual renewal within the Catholic Church will lead to the fullness of the life of grace and theosis (divinization). In this way, the Church’s witness will become all the more convincing. (par 3)
In other words, if I might try to summarize, we must grow in divine life so that the Church can be renewed, so we might better proclaim the Gospel, and we might give better witness to the Catholic Faith, the heart of which is the supernatural sonship granted in baptism, by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is already a focus of the pontificate of Francis, and it seems to me that one reason is that he wants to emphasize that real, substantial renewal comes from becomingas John Paul II liked to saywhat we are: children of God. And in this way, both are reiterating what the Apostle John wrote nearly two thousand years ago: "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are" (1 Jn 3:1).
“It is the Spirit himself whom we received in Baptism”
Water baptism in and of itself has no power to give the Holy Spirit. An example of this is with Cornelius and his family, who received the Holy Spirit prior to water immersion:
Act 10:44-47 While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. (45) And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. (46) For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, (47) Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
If water baptism is necessary to receive the Holy Spirit, then every instance of the Holy Spirit filling/baptizing the believer must be at the instigation of water baptism. However, the scripture never teaches that the Spirit is bound to human activity. The Spirit, in all actuality, moves on man, reveals the person of Christ to man, and regenerates Him, all according to His own good purpose and will, and not on any foreseen works of the man.
Show me in Scripture where you get the notion that everyone has exactly the same plan for Salvation and that all are equal?
Peace be with you
“Show me in Scripture where you get the notion that everyone has exactly the same plan for Salvation and that all are equal?”
If there are a diversity of plans for exactly how salvation occurs, then it aids my position which denies that water baptism is required to receive the Holy Spirit. Since if water baptism really does give the Holy Spirit, then salvation is “the same” for everyone.
Of course, when I think of this question, I think in entirely different terms than you do. All those who receive the Holy Spirit, who are called, justified, and glorified, were predestinated by the sovereign will of God, and not according to any foreseen works, but rather that we should produce works:
Rom 8:30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
Rom 9:11, 16 (11) (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;)... (16) So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.
2Ti_1:9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,
Therefore, it is impossible for me to see the filling of the Holy Spirit as anything but the sovereign movement of God on the undeserving sinner. And when I think “plan” of salvation, I think of predestination, which is God’s plan to save the elect in His own time.
Freep-mail me to get on or off my pro-life and Catholic List:
Please ping me to note-worthy Pro-Life or Catholic threads, or other threads of general interest.
How can you say, “Water baptism in and of itself has no power to give the Holy Spirit”?
“Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” -John 3:5
By the example of Cornelius, who was baptized/filled by the Holy Spirit prior to water immersion. We can also add the Thief on the cross, yet you would say that it is impossible without water immersion. Water baptism, therefore, cannot be the agent of salvation, but the sign and the seal of a higher spiritual reality. When Christ speaks to Nicodemus, he does not harp on water, but instead harps on being born again “in the spirit.” It is the change in the heart of the man, the renewing of the soul by the sovereign will of God, that is really the most significant event in salvation. As Christ says, the Spirit moves, comparing it to the wind, “where it listeth.” IOW, the Spirit moves on man according to the sovereign will of God, thus gifting us the faith, and the power to do, and the will to proceed with an act of water baptism which you ascribe to the power of man.
Serious typo: Comparing HIM*, not it*, the Holy Spirit, to the Wind.
|15||For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, "Abba! Father!"|
|16||it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,|
|17||and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.|
An outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.
“Do you understand the Sacraments of the Catholic Church?”
Of course I do. I simply reject them, since they propose that grace or the Holy Spirit can be delivered by the hand and will of man, when Christ says it is not by blood, or by the will of the flesh, or by the will of man, but by the will of God.
Being baptized Catholic (and rebaptized when I actually believed, as opposed to a child who neither believes or even knows anything), I know that baptism in and of itself does not regenerate a human being. Baptism does not bring about a rebith in the Spirit. Otherwise, I should have lived a regenerated life, and every Catholic child would grow up to be a good Catholic, as the scripture teaches that God, who starts a work in you, sees the work to its completion.
The sacraments of the Catholic Church, therefore, do not have any of the power that the scripture would suggest they should have. There is an absence of evidence for a difference between the baptized child and the unbaptized child when they grow up. The only real difference are in those who have been born again by the Spirit.
Why even bother with baptism then?
Wrote any better scripture yourself lately?
“Why even bother with baptism then?”
To be baptized in the name of someone, in the Jewish 1st century context, is the same as saying that they are publicly agreeing to receive this person as their lawgiver and teacher. Hence, the Jews were baptized “unto Moses.” Hence the Jews required that converts to Judaism be baptized as a sign of their conversion. Hence all Christians are to be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as a sign of their new commitment to Christianity. It is not therefore the cause of salvation, but is the result of it, as we see with Cornelius or the Thief on the cross.
“Wrote any better scripture yourself lately?”
Let me correct that statement then. The sacraments, as they exist in Catholicism, do not exist in the scripture. But if they did exist in the scripture as agents of grace dispensing, they should have the power of Grace that is in the scripture. The lack of outward evidence for any spiritual change in the individual is damning, therefore, to Catholic pretensions about their church practices. The end result of salvation is always a change in the individual. If these carnal practices are not capable of producing fruit, it stands to reason then that they should be hewn down and a better way searched for.
One size does not fit all. We know that for some water baptism is not required for some, but that does not mean it is not required for others. Presumption is every bit as much of a sin against hope as is despair.
Peace be with you
Why or why would you want to rejct the power of the priest given in his ordination (another Sacrament).
This is the power of Jesus.
I can’t believe that you reject the power of Jesus. At least that is what you are seeming to say.
It is damning of the people who leave the One Holy Apostolic Church to pursue their own theological fantasies.
Men reject God and make "shipwreck concerning the faith" (1 Timothy 1:19) all the time. Doesn't prove anything about the Holy Sacraments.
**The sacraments of the Catholic Church, therefore, do not have any of the power that the scripture would suggest they should have. **
I can’t believe that you are saying these words, rejecting the Scriptures that you build sola scriptura on.