Trinity, Incarnation, and Participation
In my last post on advent and the Incarnation, I mentioned that the entire Catholic gospel is focused on the ontological participation that the believer enjoys with the holy Trinity, by means of the Eucharistic flesh of Christ, alluding to the oft-quoted idea found in so many of the church fathers that God became man so that man could become God.
An objection was raised to this idea due to its alleged inconsistency with monotheism: If there is only one God, how can human beings become gods as well?
This question really gets to the heart the matter concerning just how bizarre and obviously unbiblical certain Catholic teachings appear to non-Catholics. In a word, what it comes down to is participation, and this idea of participation is rooted in the the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation.
Whether knowingly or not, Protestants often have a zero-sum-game view of God’s saving dealings with his people. If Jesus’ self-offering was sufficient, then the idea that our sacrifices merit salvation detracts from his work of atonement. If Christ is the sole Mediator between God and man, then the idea that we’re to invoke the prayers of the Blessed Virgin takes away from his Mediatorship. And if there is only one God, then our “becoming God” threatens his unique divinity.
Here’s the thing, though: If God is by his very nature a Father who eternally generates a Son with whom he shares his own essence, and if God graciously adopts as sons and daughters into the divine Family sinners whom he re-creates in the image of Christ our elder Brother, and if, as he does with the divine Son, the Father shares his riches and life with us his adopted children, then the objection that our participation in uniquely divine activities eclipses God’s prerogatives should completely vanish.
God grants us a share and participation in the priesthood of Christ, which is why we, as royal priests, can offer prayers and sacrifices on behalf of others. The entire communion of saints, including Mary, can participate in the work of intercession, not because they are upstaging Jesus or stealing his spotlight, but because that’s what the gospel, when viewed through Trinitarian lenses, is all about.
That’s why it is not a threat to God’s unique divinity to say with the early fathers that “we become God,” that the Son participated in our human nature so that, through his glorified humanity, we might participate in God’s divinity. If God is a Father and Jesus is an Incarnate Son, then this is pretty much what we should expect the gospel to be.
I mean, when my own earthly son mimics me, exhibits my own traits, and learns to do some of the things I do, I beam with paternal pride, not seethe with petty envy.