Perhaps one of the most provocative statements in the entire Catechism of the Catholic Church is found in no. 460, which says that Jesus “became man so that we might become God.” Really? Do Catholics really believe that we can become God?
It’s a great question–especially in this season as we celebrate the mystery of the birth of the Son of God. Let’s begin by looking at the context of the Catechism’s bold statement. In nos. 456-60, the Catechism is providing answers to the question, “Why did the Word become flesh?” He came to save us, to show forth His love for us, and to be our model of holiness.
But there is one other motive. In 2 Peter 1:4, we learn that Christ came to enable us to “become partakers of the divine nature.” As He saves us, He incorporates us into His family, of which He is the firstborn (Romans 8:29). We truly have become God’s children (e.g., 1 John 3:1), and one can’t truly be a child if one doesn’t share the same nature as the parent.
That doesn’t mean that we become God by nature. We have merely a human nature. Christ is God’s only-begotten son (which is why, incidentally, “only-begotten” was put back into the Gloria and Creed at Mass). Rather, by grace, we partake of the divine nature. We participate in the very life of God through adoption into His mystical body (see Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 4:4-7).
Being God’s children “by adoption” doesn’t cheapen the wonderful, undeserved gift we received at Baptism. Nor is our status as God’s children merely a legal fiction.
Rather, the term “adoption” reflects the fact that through grace we are able to participate in the very life of God. If we were “gods” in our own right, we wouldn’t need to be adopted. If God were distant and uninvolved with us, we would not truly be His children. The truth is that through Christ God is calling all of us to Himself.
And by the way, the quote from the Catechism is a direct quote from St. Athanasius (see above icon), a heroic fourth-century bishop and Father of the Church, known as the champion of orthodoxy. The Catechism didn’t make it up!