In his two volume work, The Mystical Evolution, Fr John G Arintero provides basically a summa of mystical evolution, or theosis. Moving beyond the simplistic notion that the Christian has to be good to be saved and go to heaven, he makes clear what the true task is:
One can understand the supreme importance of this mystical evolution which carries us, virtue by virtue, to mystical union with God and the deifying transformation. Christ said that He came to cast fire on the earth and He desired that the earth be set on fire. This fire is the Holy Ghost, who must animate, inflame, purify, and perfect us, transforming us to the point of deification.
This deification, so well known to the Fathers but unfortunately forgotten today, is the primary purpose of the Christian life.
The Role of the Holy Spirit
Not unlike Valentin Tomberg, Fr Arintero tells us that the Holy Spirit reflects the divine image in the soul. He explains:
It is the Holy Ghost who imprints on us the divine image. He himself is the stamp which impresses on us that divine image and thus He refashions us, making us participants in the divine nature itself. This divine stamp or character which is impressed upon us is a living thing; it molds us within and without, penetrating into the very depth of the heart and soul, and in this way it refashions us and makes us living images of God.
Of course, that image is reflected best in the purest souls, hence mystical evolution must begin with the purgative way:
Our purification consists in cleansing our hearts from all stain of sin, in making satisfaction for out faults, and in rooting out all evil inclinations, banishing with them anything that my hinder us in the right practice of the virtues or impede in us the operations of grace and the communications of the Holy Ghost.
Contemplation of the Divine Truth
In theosis, one takes on God’s nature as adopted children, which is a real change in one’s state of being. That is not the same as thinking. For example, one can find interminable debates about whether or not the mystic can grasp the essence of God. Fr Aritenro rejects the emphasis on “abstractive notions and speculative concepts”. Therefore, the ultimate authority is the one who speaks from experience. In the Mystical City of God, Mary of Agreda describes her experience this way:
Man’s mind is rapt by God to the contemplation of the Divine Truth in three ways:
- First, so that he contemplates it through certain imaginary pictures.
- Secondly, so that he contemplates the divine truth through its intelligible effects.
- Thirdly, so that he contemplates it in is essence
Now when man’s intellect is uplifted to the sublime vision of God’s essence, it is necessary that his mind’s whole attention should be summoned to that purpose in such a way that he understand naught else by phantasms, and be absorbed entirely in God.
Some may recognize in this a different school of thought for which item (2) represents the divine energies and item (3) is considered impossible.
Of course, man qua man cannot “know” the divine essence as one being knowing another. However, Mary of Agreda is not describing that. Rather she is talking about a direct intuitive knowing of the divine essence. So, yes, one cannot “know” God without “being” God, which, however, is exactly what she is asserting. Through theosis, she is being raised up to that level.