What Is Theosis? Christianity's Most Radical Claim
Before I begin... want my Jane Austen e-book for free?
Shameless self-promotion, check.
Moving on . . .
What is theosis? I've subtitled my blog "Theosis In Progress" with full understanding that theosis is a strange, obscure little word that I picked up from my theologian husband.
(It's cool being married to a theologian. Makes me sound way smarter than I actually am.)
Definition: Theosis is a Greek word that the Western Church translates as deification.
Like, becoming a god?
You're right to be scandalized. I know I was when I first heard it. So let's back this soul train up.
When it comes to our salvation in Jesus Christ, most of us, consciously or not, fixate on what we are saved from—sin—without asking ourselves the question, What are we saved for?
The answer is heaven, of course. But let’s dig deeper.
Who is this Jesus Christ who claims to save us? Our faith tells us that He is the Word Made Flesh, God becoming human. But logically, how is this possible at all? Wouldn’t God annihilate his own nature in condescending to become his creation? Wouldn’t human nature be annihilated in being joined to God? Wouldn't God cease to be God, and the creature cease to be the creature?
The answer is no. Because God transcends his creation—He is not the highest thing within creation, but stands outside it as being itself—he can enter into his creation without violating it. Bishop Robert Barron states in his book Catholicism:
The Incarnation tells central truths concerning both God and us. If God became human without ceasing to be God and without compromising the integrity of the creature that he became, God must not be a competitor with his creation . . . The Word does indeed become human, but nothing of the human is destroyed in the process; God does indeed enter his creation, but the world is thereby enhanced and elevated.
God is not in competition with his creation, nor is he in competition with us. He does not violate the integrity of his creation, nor does he violate our integrity. Instead, as Bishop Barron states, by entering into it, God raises it up. Bishop Barron continues:
And the Incarnation tells us the most important truth about ourselves: we are destined for divinization. The church fathers never tired of repeating this phrase as a sort of summary of Christian belief: Deus fit homo ut homo fieret Deus (God became human so that humans might become God). God condescended to enter into flesh so that our flesh might partake of the divine life, that we might participate in the love that holds the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in communion.
This is a radical claim. Our salvation is nothing less than God’s transforming us into Himself. This claim is so radical that at first we might balk. It sounds heretical. And yet it is the consistent teaching of the Church, starting with St. Peter (cf. 2 Peter 1:4) and St. Paul (cf. Galatians 4:4-7) and repeated in our day in the very first paragraph of the Catechism.
Salvation is not simply about escaping hell. It is about God’s gratuitous gift of love and desire for complete union with us. Complete union.
Still scandalized? Good. It's God's scandal—a wonderful scandal.
Despite my bumbling and sin, God is drawing me—us—to himself. Theosis is in progress, because that's just the way God loves.