Divinization — Center for Action and Contemplation

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Contemplative Consciousness

Monday, January 8, 2018

By God’s divine power, God has given us all the things we need for life and for true devotion that allow us to know God, who has called us by God’s own glory and goodness. In this gift, God has given us a guarantee of something very great and wonderful. Through this gift, you are sharers in the divine nature itself. —2 Peter 1:3-4

Spirituality is primarily about human transformation in this life, not just salvation in a future realm. While Western Christianity lost much of this emphasis, and became rather practical and often superficial, the Eastern church taught theosis or divinization as the very real process of growing in union and likeness with God in this world. [1] This is one of the many losses Christianity experienced in the Great Schism of 1054, when the popes of East and West mutually excommunicated one another. The later Protestant Reformation, while needed, did not reclaim this wisdom and further split the church, each side losing something of value.

In fact, most of Judeo-Christian history reflects a split from depth and interiority (which some identify with the feminine). This led us to rely on dualistic thinking, which is incapable of comprehending, much less experiencing, the mystical, nonviolent, or non-dual level. With the rational mind, we literally could not imagine God and humanity being one, or being one with our neighbor, because the dualistic mind always splits things apart and takes sides. The contemplative mind or non-dual thinking allows us to see things in wholes instead of in parts.

Lest any Catholics or Protestants think I am dredging up some old condemned heresy, consider these words from Pope John Paul II: “The venerable and ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches, that is the teaching of the Cappadocian Fathers on divinization (theosis), passed into the tradition of all the Eastern Churches and is part of their common heritage. This can be summarized in the thought already expressed by St. Irenaeus at the end of the second century: God passed into man so that man might pass over to God.” [2]

Popes do not quote such statements unless they know they are part of the Perennial Tradition and go back to the early undivided church. Pope John Paul II was acknowledging that the Western church had largely lost its foundational belief in divinization, and in the practical order had even denied its possibility. Instead, we were just “sinners in the hands of an angry God” and even “totally depraved.” No wonder humans suffer from such lack of self-esteem today. We haven’t told them the central and foundational Good News! I believe this is the source of a lot of the anger and disillusionment with Christianity today.

Contemplation allows us to experience the reality of our participation in God’s nature for ourselves. Once we plug into the Divine consciousness, God can work through us for the good of the world.

[1] See Michael Christensen and Jeffery Wittung, eds., Partakers of the Divine Nature (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press: 2007), for the history, loss, and development of the theme of “deification” in the Christian tradition.
[2] Pope John Paul II, “Orientale Lumen,” Apostolic Letter of May 2, 1995, I:6. Note [14] in this papal letter gives references to Iranaeus’ writings.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013), 117-119.

Image credit: Impression Sunrise (detail), Claude Monet, 1872, Musee Marmottan Monet.
When another thought arises [in contemplation]—as no doubt it will—welcome it and let it go, returning to your inner watch place on the bank of the river. —Thomas Keating
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