Thomas Aquinas on Our Being Sons and Daughters of God

We are exploring the Christian tradition for what it has to teach us about an unsentimental Christmas and a pre-capitalist Christmas and a sense of Christmas and Advent for adults. 

“Do It to the Least and You Do It to Me” Plaque by Ullrrich Javier Lemus, in The Stations of the Cosmic Christ.

We are finding, thanks to Meister Eckhart but also to many other thinkers including St. Paul, Clement of Alexandria and others, that Advent is about preparation for a great Coming in which we become born as other Christs, sons and daughters of God.

Thomas Aquinas, a brother Dominican to Meister Eckhart who was fifteen years old when Aquinas died, had much to say about this very topic.  This saint and doctor of the church says:

The Son of God became human in order that human beings might become gods and become the children of God.

In his commentary on Ephesians he writes:

The Incarnation accomplished the following: that God became human and that human beings became God and sharers in the divine nature (see 2 Pet. 1:4).

And again,

The Godhead becomes human: “The Nativity.” Plaque by Ullrrich Javier Lemus, in The Stations of the Cosmic Christ.

…the only-begotten Son of God intended to make us ‘partakers of his divine nature’ (2 Pet. 1:4)  For this reason the Godhead did take our nature on itself and became human in order to make humans gods.

What does it mean to say humans are meant to become God’s children and take on God’s nature?  Aquinas answers:

We are meant to become more and more like God.  [And] we are called God’s children by taking the likeness of this natural and only begotten Son, who is himself begotten wisdom.

We take on wisdom. 

Our likeness to Divinity shows in our actions.  To become instruments of justice and compassion is to exhibit the divine likeness.  Developing virtues of honesty and the search for truth, of courage and of magnanimity, of generosity and love–and of joy–are ways we exhibit the divine likeness.  “By their fruits you will know them.”  

Ikon of the Three Holy Unmercenary Physicians, saints Hermione, Philonella, and Zenaida, Christian women who treated the poor and disadvantaged, holistically, without charge, combining clinical medicine, traditional medical practices, pharmaceuticals, and prayer, believing that salvation is a healing process. Photo by Jim Forest on Flickr.

Indeed, for Aquinas, “the vision of God is arrived at through justice” and “compassion is the fire that Jesus came to set on the earth.”  Since “God is justice” and “God is compassion,” to work for both is to be god-like. 

Aquinas elaborates:

A rational creature is said to be deified through the fact that, in its own way, it is united to God.  Thus, the Godhead itself principally belongs to God, but secondarily and individually it belongs to those who are deified.

To say “God deifies” means “God makes them gods through sharing the divine likeness, but not through their proper nature.”  Humans “are called ‘gods’ by participation.” 

We are “mirrors” of the beauty of God but a created mirror is “always partial and not entire” in its capacity to reflect the beauty of God.  Furthermore, “we resemble God but God does not resemble us, just as a painting is the expression of a painter but the painter is not the expression of her painting.”

All this is part of our Christmas and Advent, our being born anew and more deeply as God’s sons and daughters.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality, pp. 154f., 162-164; and

Matthew Fox, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas, pp. 109-116.

Banner Image: Dorothy Day stained-glass window at Our Lady of Lourdes Church NYC. Photo by Jim Forest on Flickr.

Let these teachings from Aquinas seep into your soul and actions.  Be with them as they accompany you in Advent and Christmas times.

Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality

Matthew Fox renders Thomas Aquinas accessible by interviewing him and thus descholasticizing him.  He also translated many of his works such as Biblical commentaries never before in English (or Italian or German of French).  He  gives Aquinas a forum so that he can be heard in our own time. He presents Thomas Aquinas entirely in his own words, but in a form designed to allow late 20th-century minds and hearts to hear him in a fresh way. 
“The teaching of Aquinas comes through will a fullness and an insight that has never been present in English before and [with] a vital message for the world today.” ~ Fr. Bede Griffiths (Afterword).
Foreword by Rupert Sheldrake

The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times

A stunning spiritual handbook drawn from the substantive teachings of Aquinas’ mystical/prophetic genius, offering a sublime roadmap for spirituality and action.
Foreword by Ilia Delio.
“What a wonderful book!  Only Matt Fox could bring to life the wisdom and brilliance of Aquinas with so much creativity. The Tao of Thomas Aquinas is a masterpiece.”
–Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

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