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Monday, February 14, 2005

Deification and the New Evangelization

by Matthew Tsakanikas

Saint John tell us “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn 4:18). Commenting on the passage in his Birth Control and Christian Discipleship booklet (2nd ed, p. 33), John Kippley quips that we can invert the quote to remind people that “fear can cast out love.”
Love and Fear
Throughout his call for a new evangelization, Pope John Paul II constantly reminds us of Jesus’s words to the disciples, “Be not afraid.” It is love that must guide the new evangelization and not fear. The new evangelization must be a pro-active proclamation of the heart of the Gospel, not a reaction to every crisis, heresy and scandal plaguing society.
The heart of the Gospel message is God’s love and God’s call for us to enter that love. God’s love is easy for many to hear: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). Many are willing to accept that love from a distance, never meditating on what God wanted from us in making such a commitment in becoming man. Many do not meditate on the truth that God can never shed the human nature He assumed from the Virgin Mary; that it was a permanent thing Jesus did when He became flesh. The idea that the Incarnation established a real marriage between God and man is foreign and perhaps scary; especially if one has many misunderstandings about God and has difficulty with commitment.
God does not want to just love us from a distance. He already proved that when He came down from heaven and the took flesh of the Virgin in order to dwell among us. He wants to be intimately united to us because He loves us; that’s the part about “eternal life.” “Eternal life” is not just about living in a better place…heaven. The better place is secondary to “eternal life.” “Eternal life” is about God living in you; it is the great “mystery hidden from ages past and from generations past” of “Christ in you, the hope for glory” (Col 1:26-27). In taking human flesh, God made a vow to love us unto death. He made a marriage vow; He made a real commitment. Love means commitment at its very core, and since the world has a big problem with commitment — because it misunderstands the purpose of freedom — it lacks an understanding of God’s ways and an understanding of love.

The Real Shocker

The real shocker for many Catholics (and its easy for us to get comfortable and miss it) is the answer as to why God became a man. The immensity of the answer, the immensity of the gift which reveals the depth of God’s love is this: “The Son of God became man so that we might become God.”
Whoa! Did that knock your socks off or what? You mean God is not afraid of us becoming God? Exactly. It was the devil who lied to us and told us God was afraid of such a thing. It was God’s plan all along that we should become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pt 1:4). In this plan we have to do it His way — which is the way of love (commitment) and not the way of lust and power. “God is love” (1 Jn 4:9) and we can only enter Him and He can only enter us according to His plan of love. Hearing that makes it easier to love God does it not? Hearing of God’s perfect love for us casts out our fears and enables us to give ourselves to God who so obviously loves us and loved us first (1 Jn 4:10).Is it too good to be true? The quotation (“The Son of God became man so that we might become God”) you just read comes straight from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is a quotation from one of the greatest Church Fathers and Doctors of the Church; the one who saved Christianity from the Arian heresy. The quotation is from Saint Athanasius and can be found in paragraph 460 of the Catechism. It is followed by Saint Thomas Aquinas commenting: “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in His divinity, assumed our nature, so that He, made man, might make men gods.” Nothing is being taken out of context.
In the Transfiguration Jesus revealed what we are called to become. This is the heart of the Catholic faith. It is the greatest of pearls which must not be thrown before swine (Mt 7:6). We are called to become God by grace, not by nature; a becoming which in no way destroys our human nature or personal identity (God wants real diversity); all of this because of the Incarnation, the proof of God’s love. Many readers probably have their mouths hanging agape. Many will demand: “But this requires more explanation!” No one doubts that. The point of this brief article is that this doctrine about man sharing in Godhood (doctrine of deification) has always been at the heart of Christian catechesis and only needs elaboration and explanation because it is hardly taught in the Western Church these days. We have been so busy “reacting” to Protestants, New Age, and modernists that we have not taken the time to pro-actively explain the doctrine of deification to a majority of the lay faithful who in turn have been unable to explain this simple Athanasian and Aquinan formula of love to their neighbors.

Be Pro-active, Not Reactive

We have let New Agers run away with the idea of man becoming God because we have not affirmed that that is indeed God’s plan. We need to explain to them that divinity does not belong to us by nature; only God has it by nature. But we can share in it according to God’s grace. We often fail to encourage repentance from sin because we have not emphasized or not even addressed sharing in divinity.
We have let Protestants holler about how much trust they have in “the saving work of Christ on the Cross” because we are not pointing out that their doctrines actually diminish the power of Christ’s salvific acts. They do not recognize Christ’s power to actually transform men and make them “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pt 1:4). Protestants have not understood sanctifying grace because they have abandoned the ancient doctrines of deification and they aren’t hearing about it from us.
We have not silenced modernists because we have let them carry the “humanist” banner. We have not emphasized the purpose and truth of the Incarnation…the deification of man which only comes through Jesus.More catechesis on deification would clarify and open to our reflection things we have missed: the need for the Eucharist and its transforming power; the role and importance of Mary; the intercession of the saints in heaven; how repentance from sin and the sacrament of penance contribute to deification; and the power of prayer. Most importantly it would open to us the center and importance of the Incarnation which enables all of this. The mystery of deification is inseparable from the mystery of “Christ in you, the hope for glory” (Col 1:27).
The answer to many problems within the Church today is a rediscovery of who the Church is and what she is called to become. The members are called to holiness, because they are called to become sharers in God’s divinity; God in them and they in God (Jn 15:5) through a special and free union of wills. The best way to rediscover this is to discover Scripture in the Tradition. The best way to read Scripture in the Tradition is to read it along with the Church Fathers and Doctors. The easiest way to read and discover them is right there in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and paragraphs 456-460 are a great start.
© Copyright 2005 Catholic Exchange
Matthew Tsakanikas is a freelance Catholic writer. You can contact him at

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Vatican forbids U.S. Jesuit to teach as Catholic theologian

By John Thavis and Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After a five-year investigation, the Vatican's doctrinal congregation said it had found "serious doctrinal errors" in the work of U.S. Jesuit theologian Father Roger Haight and forbade him to teach as a Catholic theologian.
The Vatican's critique focused on Father Haight's 1999 book, "Jesus Symbol of God," which explored the themes of Christ's divinity, the resurrection, the Trinity and salvation for non-Christians.
A lengthy notification summing up the investigation's conclusions was published by the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, in its Feb. 7-8 edition. The notification, dated Dec. 13, was signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; a note said Pope John Paul II had approved the notification and ordered its publication.
The doctrinal congregation said Father Haight's book contained "serious doctrinal errors against the Catholic and divine faith of the church."
"As a consequence, the author is forbidden to teach Catholic theology until his positions have been rectified in such a way as to be in full conformity with the doctrine of the church," the notification said.
Contacted by telephone in New York, Father Haight said, "I'm not going to comment at all" on the Vatican document.
The notification said Father Haight's assertion that Catholic theology must be "in dialogue" with the modern world leads him to downplay or deny central teachings of the church, including that:
  • The Word of God existed from all eternity.
  • The Word was made flesh in Jesus Christ.
  • Jesus was divine.
  • Salvation is offered to all humanity through Jesus.
  • The Son and the Spirit are separate persons within the Trinity, not simply "metaphors" for actions of the one God.
The congregation also criticized Father Haight's assertion that "because of modern pluralistic consciousness," one cannot continue to affirm that Christianity is a superior religion or that Christ is the centerpiece of God's plan for salvation.
The congregation's notification said that by denying the pre-existence of the Word, Father Haight moved to an "equally erroneous understanding of the doctrine on the divinity of Jesus." While Father Haight used phrases such as "Jesus must be considered divine," he also asserted that such statements are simply symbolic and that "Jesus was 'a human being like us,'" the congregation said.
"This interpretation of the divinity of Jesus is contrary to the faith of the church, which believes in Jesus Christ, eternal son of God, made man, as has been repeatedly confessed by various ecumenical councils and in the constant preaching of the church," the congregation said.
Father Haight recently resigned as a professor of theology at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass. He had been barred from teaching there since 2000, pending the outcome of the Vatican's investigation.
The Vatican notification said that in June 2000 Father Haight responded in writing to questions about his work. It said Father Haight's response "neither clarified not corrected the errors that had been pointed out."
A more extensive theological examination was then launched, and in 2002 it concluded there were serious errors in the work. Through the Jesuit order, Father Haight was invited to submit an explanation of his methods and corrections of the content of his work. A signed response from Father Haight arrived in early 2004, and the doctrinal congregation found it unsatisfactory.
In 2000, "Jesus Symbol of God," published by Orbis Books, won an award from the Catholic Press Association as the year's best book on theology. It was a selection of the Catholic Book Club, operated by America Press.
In the book, Father Haight says the religious pluralism of the world is a given, and "theologically, from a Christian standpoint, this pluralism should be interpreted positively. The normative revelation of Jesus posits that God's grace is operative in other religions."
He argues that "affirming the validity of other religions does not undermine the normativity of Jesus Christ. And affirming the normativity of Jesus Christ, not simply for Christians but for all human beings, does not undermine the validity and truth contained in other religions."
In 2000, the doctrinal congregation issued a declaration, "Dominus Iesus" ("The Lord Jesus"), reiterating church teaching that Jesus Christ is the one savior of all and warning sharply against any theories that would contradict or undermine that teaching.
At the start of his book, Father Haight expresses the conviction that in the postmodern era, with its pervasive consciousness of pluralism, "Christianity in the 21st century must confront new problems and issues that will generate genuinely new understandings and behavior patterns in and by the churches. ... But at the same time Christianity, in this case in its theology and Christology, must remain faithful to its originating revelation and consistent tradition."
In a brief statement, the Jesuit provincial superior in New York, Father Gerald J. Chojnacki, said Father Haight "has collaborated with the congregation and is available for consultation with them."
He said the priest submitted a letter of resignation to the president of Weston in February 2003, and it was accepted in October 2004."
Father Haight now lives in New York City, where he continues his research and writing," Father Chojnacki said.
  • Contributing to this story was Jerry Filteau in Washington.