Following is my June column that appears on this month’s book page of the print edition of The Catholic Post.
“For the Son of God became man so that we might become God,” — St. Athanasius
Did that quote make you go “hmm,” even just a little?
It did to me, too, the first time that I heard it. Many years ago, my then boyfriend (now husband) quoted it in a friendly conversation about religion with a sincere evangelical Christian. She paused for a moment and said, “Isn’t that heresy?”
I partially agreed with her, to be honest, not having been introduced to “deification.”
It is the idea, prevalent and believed since the earliest days of Christianity, that we humans are meant to live now and eternally in communion with the Holy Trinity—to become gods.
Because it’s not often stressed or even discussed in our 21st century American Christian life, many people are unaware of it, and are concerned or puzzled when they do hear about it.
But it’s an ancient Christian belief, one that has been affirmed by everyone from those early Christian writers like St. Athanasius and St. Irenaeus, through to St. Thomas Aquinas, and even Protestant leaders and writers like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and C.S. Lewis. Some call it the “primary purpose of the Christian life.”
Why is deification, or “divinization,” or “divine filiation,” as it is can also be called, so overlooked in our modern world and religious life?
There are probably a hundred reasons why, but an intriguing and important new book looks at deification through the lens of both psychological health and integrated faith.
Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart by Gregory Popcak, PhD., explores what deification is, how and why we fall short, and how the virtues can heal us.
Popcak is not only a psychologist and prolific writer, but he has hosted several very watchable and entertaining programs on EWTN on marriage, psychology, and faith. So this book is not a jargon-laden treatise, but a down-to-earth exploration of a potentially “heavy” topic.
Popcak calls the concept of deification “a foundational teaching… and a lost treasure.” In the book, he offers an approach to re-introducing Catholics to this “lost treasure” and uniquely integrating it with psychological concepts.
“The truth is, God really and truly intends to make you a god—a being who is perfect, whole, healed, and yes, even immortal,” Popcak writes.
But he also points out that we are “broken gods” because of original sin, in need of healing, and that healing can come through a combination of prayer, practicing the virtues, and sound psychological practices.
The virtues approach works very well in this context. For each of the seven deadly sins, Popcak proposes a “divine longing” that the vice tries but can’t satisfy; for instance, pride is a misguided attempt to satisfy the divine longing for abundance, and humility is the way to approach it. The diving longing for justice is fulfilled through patience, not wrath. The divine longing for trust is fulfilled through generosity, not greed. And so forth.
It’s not a new approach—St. Thomas Aquinas, after all, said that grace perfects nature— but how Popcak updates these themes in the context of our deification is both novel and constructive for personal and spiritual growth.
In Broken Gods, Popcak is reintroducing a theological anthropology—fully understanding what it means to be human—as opposed to a secular anthropology. He shows the true dignity of humanity—that we are meant to live now and always in community with the Trinity.
“When we turn our longings over to him, he sets us on the path to becoming the gods we were created to be—whole and healed, peaceful and perfect, faithful, fearless, and fulfilled.”
Each chapter concludes with an exercise, beginning with prayer, in which Popcak guides the reader through the acronym “COAL” to explore the virtue, the vice, and a path to improve. COAL, as Popcak explains, is “fuel for change”—a neuroscience-based approach to meaningful transformation. COAL stands for curiosity, openness, acceptance, and love toward life, and our failings. In this section, Popcak walks readers through a list of questions, thoughts, and practical ideas to put each virtue into practice.
Broken Gods is a distinctive read with a powerful message. It offers space for pondering the mysteries of divine filiation, and invites us to consider ways we can grow closer to our true destiny.