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Chapter 24: Christians: Human Children of God

Appendix 2: The mystery of the Christian’s share in divine life

Is our sharing in the love which God is—the sharing which inheres in us as our own love of God—itself something created or is it the very creator himself? I answer: Neither.

It is not the very creator himself, for only the Trinity creates. Everything other than the Trinity proceeds from the Father, Son, and Spirit together by their free choice (see DS 1330–31/703–4). The love of God which is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit does not proceed from him as the Son proceeds from the Father or as the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son: that is by an eternal procession without which God cannot exist. The love of God poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit proceeds from him—he having been sent by the Father and the Son—through a gracious act of the free will of the Trinity. In this respect, our share in divine love is like a creature.

Yet I do not see how this love can be a mere creature. How can it be something created? Surely, nothing created can be the very love which God is. If Christians do not share in this very love, in what sense are they really adopted children of God? Every creature participates in God’s being, since every creature is some manifestation of God’s goodness and love. But not every creature participates in the very divine nature; not every creature is an adopted member of the eternal Father’s family. How could any created gift bring about this unique transformation in created persons?23 For we remain created persons. In this respect, adopted children of God are altogether other than the divine persons, who are identical with their very divinity. We are not and never can be personally identical with the divine nature. We are children of God by adoption, by participation in his love.

Therefore, I think the love of God poured forth in our hearts through the Holy Spirit is neither something created nor the very creator himself. Like things created in being the Trinity’s free gift, like the divine persons in being uncreated, this love of God which inheres in us also is diverse from both. It is unique, in a category all by itself, for this love makes created persons sharers in divine life. As question D explained, the opposing relationship between the Trinity’s freedom in bestowing their love on us and our freedom in consenting to share in it guarantees that there can be no confusion between the divine persons and us created persons, and also that there can be no absorption of our created personhood into the love which makes us adopted children of God.

This position, so far as I know, never has been asserted before.24 For this reason, this position should be entertained with great caution. It ought not to be proposed as if it represented the Church’s teaching. But I believe it articulates an understanding of the relevant truths of faith, consistent with the Church’s teaching, which might one day be accepted as a legitimate development of this teaching.

Prior to the time of St. Thomas, it had been suggested that the grace by which a Christian shares in divine life is the Holy Spirit himself. St. Thomas (with others around his time and since) insists that there must be something inherent in the Christian, assumes that everything other than the Trinity is some created entity, and concludes that grace is a created quality inherent in the Christian’s soul.25

From the supposition that sanctifying grace is a created entity together with the principle that everything created as such relates to God as to a unitary principle, it follows that the Christian life of which grace is the principle involves a single relationship to God, not personal relationships with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. However, Scripture, the Fathers, and liturgical texts all seem to indicate that Christians relate to the distinct divine persons. All this evidence had to be written off to appropriation—that is, to a manner of talking as if there were distinct relationships when there really are not.26

To many theologians, the Council of Trent seemed to have adopted the teaching of St. Thomas on grace. Trent certainly makes it clear that grace and/or charity inheres in the Christian. But Trent does not say that this principle of divine life in the Christian is caused or created; Trent rather says that it is infused (see DS 1528–31/799–800, 1561/821). And it must be noticed that Trent’s main concern is to exclude an account of justification which would allow for no real transformation of the justified person—a position precisely the opposite of that taken here.

In recent years, many Catholic theologians have tried to articulate some theory by which the Christian really can be related to the indwelling divine persons in distinct ways which many theologians after Trent, drawing out implications of the Thomistic theory, had to write off to appropriation.27 It seems to me that by denying conclusions logically consequent upon the theory of created grace, these recent theologians implicitly deny the theory, but fail to face this implication of their position.

Although the solution proposed here sounds self-contradictory, I am confident that it is not. The doctrine of our adoption as children of God, as I understand it, is very like the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity. In all three cases, unity and multiplicity, which seem absurdly opposed, are perfectly reconciled. Is Jesus God or not? If he is God, must he not be the Father; if he is not the Father, must he not be other than God? In the sense in which this question first arose—in the minds of the Jews who listened to our Lord—Jesus neither is God (the Father) nor not-God (a created person). Is Jesus a man or not? If he is a man, must he not be a human person; if he is not a human person, must he not be God in merely human form? In the sense in which this question first arose—in the minds of many early Christians—Jesus is neither a man (a human person) nor not a man (God veiled in flesh not his own).

Similarly, is the love of God in us by which we are his adopted children something uncreated or something created? I am suggesting that it is neither in the sense in which the question has been asked since St. Thomas. It is neither the creator (the Trinity) nor a mere creature (something other than divine life); it is uncreated (a true sharing in divine life) and yet inherent in us by the free choice of the Trinity (and so a sharing by the grace of adoption, not by nature).

If this explanation of God’s love and our sharing in it is correct, still the warning of Pope Pius XII, referred to in question C, must be borne in mind. The intimate unity which Christians enjoy with God by the love of God given by the Spirit does not make created persons cease to be created persons. Nothing which is said of the Holy Trinity can be said in exactly the same sense of created persons. Communion with God is no pantheistic merging into him. God loves us by an act of his sovereign freedom. We enter into communion with him freely. Giving and receiving forever unite and forever distinguish. We are God’s adopted children.

23. See Louis Bouyer, Cong. Orat., Introduction to Spirituality, trans. Mary Perkins Ryan (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1961), 152–56.

24. However, the position taken here is very similar to the views of some theologians of the Eastern Church. See Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (London: Hames Clarke, 1957), 162–63: “In the tradition of the Eastern Church grace usually signifies all the abundance of the divine nature, in so far as it is communicated to men; the deity which operates outside the essence and gives itself, the divine nature of which we partake through the uncreated energies.” Again (172): “In the theology of the Eastern Church, as we have already remarked, the Person of the Holy Spirit, the giver of grace, is always distinguished from the uncreated grace which He confers. It is the energy or procession of the one nature: the divinity . . . in so far as it is ineffably distinct from the essence and communicates itself to created beings, deifying them.” On the uncreated energies, see 67–90. Also, see John Meyendorff, A Study of Gregory Palamas, trans. George Lawrence (London: Faith Press, 1964), 217–18: “The divine life—which is deifying grace when it is granted to man—therefore belongs to the divine nature even when men benefit from it (by grace and not by nature); hence it constitutes the means of a communion both personal and real with God, a communion which does not involve the impossible confusion of the natures. It is therefore just the opposite to an ‘intermediary’ between God and man; that would be the case with a created grace, for then it would be an intermediate nature, neither divine nor human. Whatever name one gives them—grace, divine life, light, illumination—the energies or divine acts belong to the existence of God himself; they represent his existence for us. It is therefore not only justified but necessary to apply thereto the attributes proper to the divine Being . . ..” For a compact statement of this Eastern view, together with many indications which might be followed up by historical research: M. Edmund Hussey, “The Persons–Energy Structure in the Theology of St. Gregory Palamas,” St. Vladamir’s Theological Quarterly, 18 (1974), 22–43, esp. the summary, 26. For helpful indications of the consistency of this Eastern theology with Catholic faith: Louis Bouyer, Le Consolateur: Esprit-Saint et vie de Grâce (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1980), 421–49.

25. Cf. St. Thomas, In 2 Sent., d. 26, q. 1, a. 1; De veritate, q. 27, a. 1; S.t., 1–2, q. 110, a. 1 and 2.

26. For some essential background and indications of the problem I am trying to resolve: Henri Rondet, S.J., The Grace of Christ: A Brief History of the Theology of Grace (Westminster, Md.: Newman Press, 1967), esp. 209–48 and 365–77; Robert W. Gleason, S.J., Grace (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1962), esp. 101–71 and 223–40. A recent effort to solve the problem within a Thomistic framework: Fernando Ocáriz, Hijos de Dios en Cristo: Introducción a una teología de la participación sobrenatural (Pamplona, Spain: EUNSA, 1972). A systematic treatise, without the history and problematic: Michael Schmaus, Dogma, vol. 6, Justification and the Last Things (Kansas City: Sheed and Ward, 1977), 3–81.

27. These recent efforts cannot be dismissed as an aspect of theological excess. Even as conservative a theologian as Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., The Trinity and God the Creator: A Commentary on St. Thomas’ Theological Summa, 1a, q. 27–119 (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1952), 311, in defending the Thomistic position that the missions of the Son and Spirit are more than appropriations, invokes the support of certain Greek Fathers: “The Greek Fathers regarded the missions as prolongations of the processions ad extra; they thus distinguished the missions from creation. They said that the sending of the persons of the Son and the Holy Ghost differs from creation as to live differs from to command. And they based the communication of divine life, by which we are elevated to the order of grace, not on creation but on the divine missions. In this way they distinguished between the natural order and the order of grace as they distinguished between creation and the missions of the divine persons.”