If man had no value in the eyes of God, Christ would
not have come and taken on flesh and died. So mans dignity rests
in the Redemption and within the salvific economy man becomes a "new
creature": "In this dimension man finds again the greatness,
dignity and value that belong to his humanity. In the mystery of the Redemption
man becomes newly expressed and, in a way, is newly created"
An error common to some theologians and (whether they realize it or not) secular humanists, is a fear the "new creation" brought by Christ involves a destructive or disrespectful attitude towards mans nature. This can be seen in the classical Protestant notion of "total depravity." But divine life and grace are not given to destroy mans nature, but to perfect it, heal it, and bring it to full completion. Sin is destroyed, yet sin is not physical, or even "natural."
"He who is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15), is himself the perfect man who has restored in the children of Adam that likeness to God which had been disfigured ever since the first sin. Human nature, by the very fact that it was assumed, not absorbed, in him, has been raised in us also to a dignity beyond compare. For, by his Incarnation, he, the Son of God, in a certain way united himself with each man" (GS 22, quotes in RH 8.2).
Yet while each man is united to Christ through the Incarnation, each must decide for himself what to do about the scandal of the Incarnation. God does not force his supernatural life upon man; such an act would obliterate mans free will, an essential feature of human dignity. The dilemma for each person is this: "Will I enter into the life of Christ or not?" If not, divine life is lost and there is an eternal separation from the Source of life. If man chooses divine life, he is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and enters into communion with God:
The hidden breath of the divine Spirit enables the human spirit to open in its turn before the saving and sanctifying self-opening of God. Through the gift of grace, which comes from the Holy Spirit, man enters a "new life," is brought into the supernatural reality of the divine life itself and becomes a "dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit," a living temple of God...Man lives in and by God... (DeV 58.3).
God became Man to Grant Divine Life
In Redemptor Hominis, John Paul II refers to Christ as the "one who penetrated in a unique, unrepeatable way into the mystery of man and entered his heart" (RH 8.2). When the mystery of man is met by the mystery of the Incarnation, they become unified: "For, by his Incarnation, he, the Son of God, in a certain way united himself with each man." The Incarnation is the bridge spanning the gap between man and God. It is the ultimate expression the final Word of Gods merciful love.
In Dominum et Vivificantem the Holy Father
writes of "Gods salvific self-communication" and "giving"
(see DeV 11, 12, 13,14). He states this self-communication gives mankind
"the capacity of having a personal relationship with God, as I
and you, and therefore the capacity of having a covenant,
which will take place in Gods salvific communication with man..."
(DeV 34, see all of 34). This culminates in the Word, whose Incarnate
entrance into history "constitutes the climax of this giving, this
divine self-communication" (DeV 50.1).
The Incarnation and mans divinization should be seen as part of a familial reality. Just as the Father sent his only begotten Son (Jn 3:16, Heb 1:5), the Son in turn sends forth adopted sons (Gal 4:4-7). Just as the Son came to do the will of the Father (Lk 22:42, Jn 4:34), adopted sons go forth to do the will of the Son (Jn 15:14-17). This spiritual procreation occurs by the power of the Holy Spirit, the giver of life (2 Cor 3:6, Gal 6:8). John Paul II writes:
For as Saint Paul teaches, "all who are led by the Spirit of God" are "children of God." The filiation of divine adoption is born in man on the basis of the mystery of the Incarnation, therefore through Christ the eternal Son. But the birth, or rebirth, happens when God the Father "sends the Spirit of his Son into our hearts." Then we receive a spirit of adopted sons by which we cry Abba, Father!" Hence the divine filiation planted in the human soul through sanctifying grace is the work of the Holy Spirit. "It is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ." Sanctifying grace is the principle and source of mans new life: divine, supernatural life. (DeV 52.2).
By entering into human history and uniting Himself with mankind, God not only restored communion between the divine and the natural, He modeled divine sonship for us. By becoming united to humanity, he demonstrated that man can become one with God. Man can become by grace what the Son is by nature. Put another way, the Son of God became a Son of Man so that men might become sons of God (see CCC 460).
In Dominum et Vivificantem, the Holy Father meditates upon the unique relationship between the Incarnation, the Holy Spirit, and divinization. Christ told the apostles he must go in order for the Helper, the Paraclete, to be sent (Jn 16:7). Throughout his encyclical on the Holy Spirit, John Paul II reflects on the role of the Paraclete as the communicator of the divine life which comes through the Incarnation:
Thus there is a supernatural "adoption," of which the source is the Holy Spirit, love and gift. As such he is given to man. And in the superabundance of the uncreated gift there begins in the heart of all human beings that particular created gift whereby they "become partakers of the divine nature." Thus human life becomes permeated, through participation, by the divine life, and itself acquires a divine, supernatural dimension. There is granted the new life, in which as a sharer in the mystery of the Incarnation "man has access to the Father in the Holy Spirit." (DeV 52.3).
Redemption and the Divine Life
The opening sentence of Redemptor Hominis squarely places the Redeemer and Redemption at the center of history, reality, and salvation. The scandal of the Redemption, the death of God on a cross, is the climax of the greatest scandal, the birth of God in time and space. It is also the revelation of the greatest love known to man. "In the mystery of the Cross love is at work, that love which brings man back again to share in the life that is in God himself" (DeV 41.1), and "It is love which not only created the good but also grants participation in the very life of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" (DM 7.4). In a beautiful passage in Dives in Misericordia, the Holy Father summarizes the relationship between the redemptive work of Christ and divinization:
The Cross of Christ on Calvary stands beside the path of that admirable commercium, of that wonderful self-communication of God to man, which also includes the call to man to share in the divine life by giving himself, and with himself the whole visible world, to God, and like an adopted son to become a sharer in the truth and love which is in God and proceeds from God. It is precisely besides the path of mans eternal election to the dignity of being an adopted child of God that there stands in history the Cross of Christ, the only-begotten Son... (DM 7.5)
The call to divine life is the call to die to self, and to take up the cross of Christ. One does not experience the divine life of Christ without also experiencing the death of Christ (Rom 6:5-11). Again, this death does not disparage the body or human nature, but is a just condemnation of sin and mans disordered appetites. The Redemption, and through it divinization, is oriented towards the whole man. Men are both physical and spiritual beings whose entire person yearns and groans for the eschaton (Rom 8:22), when all will be made right between God and his creation.
The Inner Life and Love of the Triune God
Another reocurring element in the writings of John Paul II is the Trinitarian formula. Throughout his encyclicals there is a repeated use of the phrase "to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit." In writing about divinization, John Paul II highlights the particular actions of the three Persons, always balancing this with the unity of the Trinity. In Redemptor Hominis, regarding the Church as a "sign" and "sacrament, he writes:
This invocation addressed to the Spirit to obtain the Spirit is really a constant self-insertion into the full magnitude of the mystery of the Redemption, in which Christ, united with the Father and with each man, continually communicates to the Spirit who places within us the sentiments of the Son and directs us towards the Father (RH 18.4).
Here the perfect relationship of the Trinity is expressed in terms of action and interaction: united, communicates, places and directs. The harmony and order of the Trinity does not limit or hinder the individual Persons, nor does the work of the Persons conflict with the unity of their single nature. The Sons redemptive work unites us to himself, the Holy Spirit perfects our will and makes us more Christlike, and both guide us towards our heavenly Father. This is the path of divine growth and divine life, the joy of divinization Further on the Pope further elucidates the nuances of this path:
[T]he Father is the first source and the giver of life from the beginning. That new life, which involves the bodily glorification of the crucified Christ, became an efficacious sign of the new gift granted to the humanity, the gift of the Holy Spirit, through whom the divine life that the Father has in himself and gives to his Son is communicated to all mean who are united with Christ. (RH 20.1)
The Beatific Vision, the eternal joy of those who enter heaven, is participation in the intimacy of the Trinitarian life. While still on earth the believer possesses not only the objective knowledge of the reality of divine life, but also the sacraments, through which the life of the Trinity is given. In baptism we enter into relationship with the Father through the mystery of the Incarnation, by the life of the Son, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. In confirmation we receive additional grace and power from the Triune God. In the Eucharist we partake of the Redeemers flesh and blood and join with him in offering ourselves up to the Father, again in the Holy Spirit.
The Trinitarian formula, as John Paul II emphasizes
in Dominum et Vivificantem, is not just words, but reality:
The [Triune] formula reflects the intimate mystery of God, of the divine life, which is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the divine unity of the Trinity. The farewell discourse can be read as a special preparation for this Trinitarian formula, in which is expressed the life-giving power of the sacrament which brings about sharing in the Triune God, for it gives sanctifying grace as a supernatural gift to man. Through grace, man is called and made "capable" of sharing in the inscrutable life of God. (DeV 9).
Divine Sonship in the Here and Now
According to John Paul II, the reality of divinization should be clearly seen and demonstrated in the Church, which is Christs Mystical Body. Near the beginning of his pontificate he referred back to Lumen Gentium while writing of the union with God found in the Church.
By her relationship with Christ, the Church is a kind of sacrament or sign and means of intimate union with God, and of the unity of all mankind [LG 1], and the source of this is he, he himself, he the Redeemer. (RH 7.3)
Within the Church there must be a growing understanding of the reality and the meaning of divine adoption. Without it there constantly exists the increased possibility of belief in "do-goodism" as a means of achieving heaven, as well as a distorted understanding of the Church, the liturgy and the sacraments. Each of these can only be understood and appreciated more fully when grasped in the context of divine sonship and the reality of Gods true Fatherhood. Divine adoption is the source of our oneness in Christ, the heart of our familial bond. This is clear in the teaching of our Holy Father:
This treasure of humanity enriched by the inexpressible mystery of divine filiation and by the grace of "adoption as sons" in the only Son of God, through whom we call God "Abba, Father" is also a powerful force unifying the Church above all inwardly and giving meaning to all her activity. (RH 18.3)