Now that is one theological mouthful. Some definitions may help. The meanings of “deified” and “human” are fairly clear. “Hypostasis” has been defined in several ways, e.g., nature, individual reality, substantive reality, person, and essential nature.
So, how could Mary, who has a human nature just like the human nature of all of us, become “deified.” ? And this leads to the follow-up question – can each of us be “deified”?
Called To Be Children Of God
Father David Meconi and Carl Olson discuss this “theological mouthful” in their book Called To Be The Children Of God – The Catholic Theology Of Human Deification, in the section discussing “Liturgy and Divinization, Mary as Liturgical Person.” The authors tell us:
Salvation is Christ’s accomplishment, but had it not been communicated to another person, what good would it have been? Mary is witness that divinization in no longer out of reach. Christ is a divine hypostasis incarnated; Mary is a human hypostatis divinized. (page 282)
Various terms have been used for this doctrine: each person “becoming God”; theosis; divinization; deification; and divine adoption. In his book, Fr. Meconi summarizes the idea as “man’s participation in the divine life of God.”
Say What? I’m Going to be God?
It is important before we get to what the heck the title of this article could mean about the Blessed Virgin Mary, to make some things clear.
“Becoming God” is not:
The complete annihilation of a person.
The person becoming a new or separate god.
The person and God becoming equals.
“Becoming God” is:
Sharing God’s divine nature similar to the way in which He has shared our human nature.
Participating, in an adoptive way, in Jesus’s sonship with the Father.
Partaking in God’s divinity, but not possessing it.
This Is Not New
Scripture, the church fathers, scholarly works of theologians, and various works of the magisterium deal with this subject. In the Gospel of John, Jesus Himself refers to this idea, without contradicting it, when he says:
The Jews answered him: We do not stone you for a good work we stone, but for blasphemy; and because that you, being a man, make yourself God. Jesus answered them: Is it not written in your law: I said you are gods? If he called them gods, to whom the word of God was spoken, and the scripture cannot be broken; do you say of him whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world: You blaspheme, because I said, I am the Son of God? (Jn 10: 31-36)
God’s inspired word, both Old Testament and New Testament, refers to our becoming God.
St. Peter’s second epistle provides a very clear example of this when he speaks of our partaking in the divine nature:
By whom he hath given us most great and precious promises: that by these you may be made partakers of the divine nature: flying the corruption of that concupiscence which is in the world. (2 Peter 1:4)
The New American Bible translation of this verse uses the words “share in the divine nature.”
With that groundwork, which is discussed in detail in the Meconi book, I am going to describe my confusions and guesses about what it means to say “Mary is a human hypostasis divinized.” To begin with, Mary was conceived a saint in her mother’s womb, born a saint, lived all her life as a saint on earth, and is now a saint in heaven, body and soul. In short, Mary is special, in some ways the special-est human being every created. Being immaculately conceived, she was “full of grace” as the Angel Gabriel announced to that young teenage girl in Nazareth over two millennia ago.
The Catechism puts it this way:
The Fathers of the Eastern tradition call the Mother of God “the All-Holy” (Panagia), and celebrate her as “free from any stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature”. By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 493)
This means – this “full of grace,” this “by the grace of God” – that Mary was full of the life of God. Her life was the life of God, 100%. Our prayer, the gift of Jesus, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” was, and is, an actual reality in the person of Mary, then in Nazareth and now and forever. Her will was in total agreement with God’s will. This being her will, her life, she shared in God’s life, in the divine nature of God.
Lossky the Theologian
Vladimir Lossky (1903 A.D – 1958 A.D.) was an Orthodox Christian theologian who was exiled from Russia by the communists. Some of his work (cited in the Meconi book) focused on the principle of theosis and the concept of Mary “becoming God”:
Mary does not partake in the divine nature as God Himself, but through God’s grace in her.….. If the Mother of God could truly realize in her human and created person the sanctity which corresponds to her unique role, then she cannot have failed to attain here below by grace all that her Son has by His divine nature. But if this be so, then the historical development of the Church and the world has already been fulfilled, not only in the uncreated person of the Son of God but also in the created person of his Mother. Alongside the incarnate divine hypostasis there is a deified human hypostasis. (Vladimir Lossky; Chapter 11, In the Image and Likeness of God, 1974; quoted in the Meconi book; emphasis added)
Mary is the living proof that our own deification is possible, our own partaking of the nature of God,
Freely Willed, Good Actions Let Us Share God’s Divine Nature
Every human action of Mary, every act done freely by her in exercising her free will, was an act of good. In a brilliant book, After Aquinas, Fergus Kerr, O.P., in a chapter entitled “Deified Creaturehood,” writes about the relationship between good human actions and deification, divinization, and participation of the creature in God. After going through the history of this concept – participation in God – and summarizing various treatments of it, Kerr refers to the “most remarkable discussion in recent scholarship” from Anna Williams. For Williams, according to Kerr, a ‘mystical theology’ of St. Thomas
is concerned with the union of God and the human being created in God’s image. . . . Anna Williams insists that the project is wholly shaped by Thomas’s relentless portrayal of God as the God who is intent on union with humanity” (Kerr. page 157)
Kerr comments further:
Thus, our beatitude is not other than God himself; and as our participation in the divine beatitude it is something that God creates in us. But now this created beatitude is the life of human activity in which our human powers begin to be fulfilled here and now. Human beings become what they are meant to be only in union with God; and the specifically human activities, the practice of the virtues, are a form of participation in divine beatitude in this life.” (Kerr, page 158)
How Do We Become God?
How do we, not immaculately conceived like Mary, how do we act so as to “become God” ?
It is our good human actions, e.g. as discussed by Kerr and others, which bring good into being, They are actions that “make good.” They are actions that affect the participation of a human person in the nature of God.
From her conception in Nazareth to today, Mary had and has a human hypostasis divinized, she partakes of the divine nature. She is also a signpost, beacon, ideal and exemplary for us. Each of us can, exercising the God-given gift of free will, choose to do good, to “make” good, and so share in the nature of God.