This text was originally published as part of Ad Cenam Agni, a 2023 virtual Lenten Retreat hosted by the Abbot's Circle.
At the Office of Readings of Monday of Holy Week we will hear St. Augustine preach the following words: The Word of God… had no power of himself to die for us: he had to take from us our mortal flesh. This was the way in which, though immortal, he was able to die; the way in which he chose to give life to mortal men… He effected a wonderful exchange with us, through mutual sharing: we gave him the power to die, he will give us the power to live.
God becoming man is only one side of the equation. He became one with us so that we could become one with him. God became man so that men might become gods. This is the “wonderful exchange” St. Augustine speaks of. If there is any doubt about this claim, we have only to look to the Scriptures: You are gods, and all of you sons of the Most High, says the psalm.
Becoming divine is called theosis. Another way of describing it, and one that we are familiar with, is simply holiness. To become holy is to become divine, to participate more deeply in the life of God that Christ offers us. If you are wondering when and how this takes place, you don’t need to look far. If we are participating in the life of the Church, we are participating in theosis. In other words, are you attending Mass and receiving the sacraments? Are you praying regularly and giving your mind and heart over to contemplation? Are you familiarizing yourself with the Faith and with the life of Christ and the saints? If so, you are growing more and more into “gods,” because these are the means of growing holy.
But even the ascetical side of our Christian life really and truly contributes to making us divine. St. Denys the Areopagite says that divinization consists of being as much as possible like and in union with God. For us sinful creatures, purification is necessary if we want to become like God. So, are you fasting? Are you mortifying your worldly desires, your selfish tendencies, and detaching yourself from the things of earth? Our ascetical and penitential disciplines, which are part and parcel with the season of Lent, are themselves essential to the process of theosis.
But let us never forget that it is Christ who accomplishes this divinizing work in us. In the “wonderful exchange,” he gives us the power to endure our trials and our penances, to be purified by them, and finally to become, along with Christ, gods.