I wanted to share an insight I had about the Most Blessed Sacrament and perhaps that's the right thread to do that. The insight was given in a sort of "intellectual vision", by which I mean that I understood what I understood in an instant. But then when I tried to express it in concepts and language, it took a little while to break it down into rational analysis.
"The Most Blessed Sacrament is a total self-giving of God to us, wretched sinners. When Jesus made the bread his own Body, he transformed into himself not only this bread, but also all that into which he descended, when he emptied himself and accepted our human body. He transformed our whole existence - our bodies, our emotions and imagination, our everyday life, our work, exhaustion and suffering. By accepting it, he sanctified it and divinized it. By giving himself, he permeated everything with himself and his Spirit made it alive by his breath and sanctified the whole creation. By receiving Holy Communion we also give ourselves and all that is ours, as he did, but we also receive all that back as sanctified, because transformed into him. We ourselves become a gift, as he became a Gift for us, since along with him we are being given to the Father in the Holy Spirit. With our suffering, with our toil, with our joys, with our whole humanity we are being transformed into the Body and the Blood of God himself. It is not that we, by our will, lift ourselves above the mundane and the human, but that we allow him to descend to us, to give himself to us as a bread, as our common, ordinary, daily food, nothing special or sublime. But then, what is ordinary and common (but, at the same time, essential to our existence), the bread, becomes our God. He descended into our darkness and nothingness, into our poverty and wretchedness, and he gave himself to us and by giving he transformed it all into his Fullness and he raised this Fullness up through the Cross and Resurrection into the very core of the Trinity. This happens during every Eucharist. What does it mean to be holy? It means to accept the gift and let it take us into the depths of God the Trinity."
When I look at what I wrote about this understanding, the words seem totally dry and inadequate, when I compare them with the intensity of the insight itself and a totally new way of seeing it bestowed on me. But maybe it'll resonate also with your experience of God. The insight came when I was listening to the most beautiful hymn by Thomas Aquinas "Sacris solemniis" (written for the Feast of Corpus Christi), immersed in contemplative prayer. Here is the hymn:
English translation you can find here:
As far as I remember the insight was given when I heard the words:
sic totum omnibus,
quod totum singulis,
(the Lord unto the Twelve
His Body gave to eat;
the whole to all, no less
the whole to each did mete)
It followed the word "datum", "given", and, as you can see, the insight is all about giving.
Thank you for sharing of your experience, Mt. Although a stammering, you do manage to convey something of its depth and richness. It seems you were (are) profoundly in touch with the transformative dynamics of Eucharist. It is the greatest gift He left us.
I attended a lecture on St. Thomas Aquinas last week on his feast day and the presenter emphasized his deep love for Christ in the Eucharist. We generally know him as a thorough philosopher and theologian, but some of his greatest works were his poems and hymns, especially on the Eucharist. You share a good example. His Panis Angelicus also comes from this Mass, I believe.
In Wesleyan terms it might be called "entire sanctification".
Thanks for that comment, Pastor Tom, and welcome to the forum.
I find it interesting that this article attempts to place theosis in the realm of gnosticism: "it has become such a well-kept secret, that is nearly unknown to most contemporary laymen." In fact, theosis is the cornerstone of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and though different in approach, the Catholic Church's "divine filiation" has similar ontological goals--to realize the full potential of the imago dei within ourselves, neither of which are considered secret knowledge. Both traditions place a high value on the sacraments, but the Catholic Church tends towards a hierarchical, structured approach that treats the sacraments like oaths, whereas the Orthodox Church views the sacraments as mysterious gifts. The Eastern Orthodox approach is more experiential, and it is hard to nail down systemically, with each believer finding their own path to theosis.
I also find the chart depicting the theotic process using a tripartite anthropology interesting. I might like to address that in a new post.
Hi Dean. Welcome to the forum.
I don't think the author of the article meant "secret" in a gnostic sense, so much as it being a teaching not emphasized. He went on to list many ways in which the teaching on transformation is mentioned in Scripture and spiritual writers through the ages.
Don't know where you got the idea that the Catholic Church "treats sacraments like oaths." The official teaching is that Sacraments are signs instituted by Christ to communicate grace. They are tangible means by which Christ, through the Church, ministers to us.
Sounds like you've jumped in to this discussion with something of an axe to grind. I hope not.
No axe to grind at all. I apologize if you took it that way. I am only trying to put forth what I know about theosis. Granted, I have an academic interest in Christianity, which may seem dry to some (I actually studied religion at a Catholic university, though I consider myself a disgruntled Baptist who is taking the next step towards theosis through liturgical worship). As you note, theosis is well-represented in Scripture and tradition, so I thought that it was odd that someone writing on the topic would consider it a "well-kept secret." As you state, throughout the article the author suggests that theosis is pretty well-known. I just thought it an odd way to introduce the subject.
Concerning sacraments as oath, Bradley Nassif, a well-respected scholar of theology and the Bible writes, "Catholic liturgical life describes the sacraments mainly in terms of Latin legal categories, such as 'oaths,' compared with the Greek fathers, who viewed the sacraments as 'mysteries'" ( Four Views of Christian Spirituality ed. Bruce Demarest). Indeed, the Latin sacramentum literally means oath. I don't propose this aspect of Catholicism is somehow heretical. Personally, in my search for God, I prefer to draw from all traditions, including traditions outside of Christianity. I believe this is where the guidance and discernment of the Holy Spirit comes into play. Without a doubt, sacraments "are a tangible means by which Christ, through the Church, ministers to us," but it is also quite true that the Catholic Church is very structured, hierarchical, and prone to legal terminology (not to be confused with legalism). I'm not sure what the difference would be between "oath" and "covenant," other than the latter is laden with a lot of religious weight. Now I am genuinely curious. Why do you push back against the use of oath?
Dean, here's a link to the Catechism of the Catholic Church section on the Sacraments.
I don't understand what the Catholic Church being "very structured, hierarchical, and prone to legal terminology" has to do with theosis or the Sacraments. That describes one aspect of the Church -- its institutional life -- but is by no means the heart of the religion. The latter would be carried forward by our liturgical tradition, spiritual theology, spiritual disciplines, mystics, and so forth.
I looked up the etymology of "Sacrament" from the Webster online dictionary and found various levels of meaning there.
When you look up the etymology of "oath" you find a different origin:
So the modern use of "oath" has a different origin from "Sacrament," even though the latter derives from a word, "oath." Still, not much of a "common ancestor" for these words.
I was thinking more about theosis last night, and it occurred to me that it is probably erroneous to conflate theosis with divine filiation. Theosis is specifically a tradition of the Greek church, and while it has many things in common with the Catholic divine affiliation, including a similar ontological purpose (which perhaps could defined by a more general term like divinization or glorification), the "how" or epistemology of glorification is decidedly different. The Greek church has a more inward focus that centers on Jesus and his glorification, while the Catholic Church has a more familial orientation centering on the Father and the problem of sin. While there is nuance, the Greek church relies heavily on apophatic prayer (via negativa) and a winding, life-long pursuit of theosis. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, tends to be more kataphatic, and I think that it can be argued that the Catholic Church sees sacraments like baptism as a "status" change, something that changes the believer ontologically in that moment, but it would be a mistake to think that the status change is the only thing required.The believer is adopted into the family of God, which infers certain rights, but also bears certain responsibilities. Certainly, the Catholic Church, with its strong sense of social justice, sees that actions and daily life of the believer further the ontological change, bringing the individual closer to divine filiation.
For myself, I think it is important to maintain these distinctions, as each tradition, or path, of glorification has something different to offer. It makes a big difference for a believer if the focus is on sin as opposed to a focus on glorification or forgiveness (as a disgruntled evangelical, I can point to the American evangelical focus on sin, particularly the sin of the other, and the havoc that has been wreaked upon that institution by that focus). This is not to say that sin, forgiveness, social justice or glorification should not all be a part of a Christians life, but balance is important, and I think it is also important to be respectful to the nuances of each tradition.
Indeed, a highly structured document that lays out the path to divine filiation step-by-step:
This is ontological change, or a change in status, and it must take place after baptism. The foundational sacraments are ordered, or hierarchical, as each stage lifts the participant closer to Christ, which is the purpose of divine filiation.
Another hierarchical step in the process of divine filiation, as the believer is "configured more deeply to Christ."
Actually, I don't think it has anything to do with theosis, now that I think about it. Theosis is a Greek tradition and divine filiation is a Catholic tradition. Both have the same ontological purpose--the glorification of the believer, and both are the core purpose, or telos, of the respective traditions. Christians in general should be pursuing glorification in their lives. The entire purpose of following Christ is to become more Christ-like (1 Peter 2:1; Phil. 2:3-8; 1 Cor. 11:1; 2 Cor. 3:18; 21 John 2:6). The heart of the Catholic Church is divine filiation, and the institution is structured to lead the believer to that purpose. The sacraments are structured, the liturgy is a structured form of worship. I am confused about the push back against the structure in the Catholic Church; it has allowed the Church to thrive from the time of Christ until now. As a disgruntled Baptist, I embrace that structure, and I have been able to deepen my walk with Christ through the Daily Office and the writing of a Rule of Life. Mysticism is a fairly new addition to the Catholic Church. Indeed, the Beguines were persecuted for their worship outside of the Church structure, particularly Margeurite Porete, who was burned at the stake for writing about her pursuit of divine filiation (which was a structured seven step journey). It took about three hundred years from her time for the Church to begin to accept the apophatic theology of John the Cross and Teresa of Avila (though they were likely influenced by the Beguines and their ambiguous and loosely structured style of worship).
I'm not sure I understand what you are getting at with this point. I never said the words had common ancestry; I said that they were cognate. When early scholars were translating from Greek to Latin, they would often conflate the Greek mysterion with the Latin sacramentum, but even Tertullian used sacramentum to mean an oath. The first use of sacramentum was actually a mis-translation as early translators struggled to find a word that adequately defined mysterion. Concurrently, the word was used to describe a Christian's oath of service to God, analogous to the Roman soldier's oath to the emperor. It was not until much later the theological weight of "sign" or "sacred rite" was added. According to the St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church:
Again, I am confused by the resistance to terminology like oath or vow. "We confess Christ is Lord"; I don't understand why a promise of fidelity to the Trinity through the practice of the sacraments is a bad thing.
Because a Sacrament is not "a promise of fidelity to the Trinity" nor is it an oath in the modern sense of the word. It is a means of encounter with Christ. Oaths and creeds and professions are not Sacraments. Also, "Sacrament" and "oath" are derived from different root words. Catholics do not consider Sacraments to be "oaths."
I looked up 774 of the Catechism and this is what I get. It succinctly expresses the understanding of Sacrament I have been taught and read about. There is no mention of "oath" nor an equivocation of "mysterium" and "sacramentum" with "oath"; instead, these terms represent "the visible sign of the hidden reality of salvation." Yes!
My "resistance" is in having the Catholic understanding of sacraments re-defined in a manner that does not resonate with what we actually believe or teach.
I would also add (as I believe I did in discussions that followed the opening post) that theosis is called "sanctification" in Western Christianity, and it is widely taught. The Orthodox use the term Theosis, but there was actually no such tradition when the early writings about this topic were expressed; East and West were one.
Dean, what is your interest in this topic? Why did you want to discuss it here?
Good morning Phil,
I apologize for the late reply. I have been rather ill for the past couple of weeks, and I have been trying to catch up on my schoolwork. I hope that answering your questions, "what is your interest in this topic?" and "Why did you want to discuss it here?," may help in understanding my previous posts. My interest in this topic comes from my study of religion at the undergraduate and graduate level over the past eight years. Specifically, as part of a graduate course, The Philosophy of Spirituality, I have been asked to discuss certain aspects of the class, including theosis, in an online setting. From a personal perspective, my interest in theosis comes from my desire to seek God with all my heart, all of my soul, and all of my mind (Matt. 22:37). I consider myself to be inter-denominational and ecumenical, but I also feel that we have to give the traditions from which we draw from their due credit, without conflating the theologies of different traditions. Thus, I am completely fine with a Christian from any tradition drawing off another tradition, but as in the case of theosis, I feel that we have to acknowledge that the idea of theosis is distinctly Greek, and the idea of divine filiation is distinctly Latin. The respective traditions have different views of sin, Christ, Father, and glorification, to name just a few.
My point is that there are nuances within the terminology, theologies, and traditions of each church. Interestingly, you seem to take issue with the idea that oath and sacrament are cognate (which they are, as attested to by many Catholic scholars), but you have no issue at all conflating theosis, divine filiation, and sanctification, which most scholars would agree are similar, but decidedly distinct (as noted in my previous posts).
Looking at your response to my last post, first, I would point out that my quote of CCC 774 was a piece of commentary from a Catholic Church. The author quoted CCC 774 and then stated "The word sacramentum captures the visible sign of this hidden reality and recalls Christ’s covenant oath by which he weds himself to the Church because [the] Latin word sacramentum originally meant an “oath.” This was not to suggest that the CCC explicity stated that sacramentum is an oath, only that this is how a specific Catholic Church interpreted the passage (aside from the other links I have provided, I will provide a lengthy quote from Scott Hahn, which goes in to greater detail in explaining the relationship between sacrament and oath).
Concerning sanctification and divine filiation (since it is a Western thing), I would suggest that sanctification is the path to divine filiation. Here I think the difference is one of epistemology versus ontology: Sanctification is how we achieve divine filiation. All of the texts, traditions, and fellowship teach how to move closer to a state of divine filiation. Divine filiation itself is an ontological change in the believer; it changes the believers existence. This suggestion may break down in light of the fact that I don't think that sanctification can be categorized as purely epistemological, but the point is that there is a difference between sanctification as th epath to the goal of divine filiation. The distinctions may seem pedantic to some, but to me, they are all-important. I feel that the anti-intellectual stance taken by many contemporary denominations and traditions has done great harm to Christianity. For myself, the in-depth study of Chrsitianity and its many nuances is part of my worship.
Here is a quote from Scott Hahn that better describes the relationship between sacrament and oath from a Catholic perspective:
Hi Dean. Yes, I wondered where you'd gone..
As Webster's Dictionary notes about the origin of sacrament:
Lots of nuances, there.
But the modern usage of "oath" has a different root:
You also wrote: this is how a specific Catholic Church interpreted the passage (aside from the other links I have provided , I never saw that commentary. Could you link to it, please?
From Hahn quote (above):
- It seems that here, as in other places, Hahn and other scholars must be referring to remembrance of Christ's promise to give us his Body and Blood with the Eucharist. Those are the passages we pray during the Consecration at Mass, and they do recall a solemn pledge made by Jesus. The liturgy includes this remembrance in its prayer, but the Sacrament per se is the visible sign -- the bread and wine -- consecrated to become the Body and Blood of Christ. Maybe that helps to make the distinction?
Whatever the case, I'm not interested in continuing that discussion any more.
As for divine filiation, I understand this to mean "adoption" as sons and daughters of God in Christ. This begins with Baptism, so when you say that sanctification is the path to divine filiation, I don't know what you mean. An ontological change has already taken place with Baptism; the soul belongs to Christ and its life unfolds in-Christ, unless, of course, it cuts itself off from channels of grace. Perhaps that's what you mean when you say Sanctification is how we achieve divine filiation?
- Webster definition of sanctification: the state of growing in divine grace as a result of Christian commitment after baptism or conversion.
That's how I understand it as well, and that's what theosis means, too. I consider the two terms to be synonyms.
I feel that the anti-intellectual stance taken by many contemporary denominations and traditions has done great harm to Christianity. For myself, the in-depth study of Chrsitianity and its many nuances is part of my worship.
- I say "Amen" to that.
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