The Ascension of God and Divinisation of Man

We tend to think of the Resurrection as both the culmination as well as the end point of the history of salvation, with not a lot going on between then and the eschaton. To this, a sermon by Pope Leo the Great entitled “the Days Between the Resurrection and the Ascension of the Lord” (read in the Office of Readings on Wednesday 28th May), provides a very important corrective. The sermon draws our  attention to the important actions for the cosmos undertaken by the resurrected Jesus, the new Adam who engages in new acts of creation. Note the motif of the Holy Spirit hovering over the disciples, as it did over the waters before the creation of the world (Gen 1:2).
Of particular significance is the creation of a new kind of man, with new set of eyes to recognise the encounter with the glorified Lord, as exemplified in the opening of the eyes of the disciples walking to Emmaus.
This sermon is an important reminder that Eastertide’s ending with Pentecost is not the end of a joyful interlude to an otherwise “ordinary time”, but the emergence of a new cosmos – a neo-genesis –  one that was set in motion by the Son of God, and now facilitated by the people of God and guided by the Spirit of God towards a new “Seventh Day” called the eschaton. Hence the marking of this period between the time of the Resurrection to the eschaton by the haunting line spoken by God in the book of the Apocalypse: Behold, I make all things new (Rev 21:5)

In speaking of the journey of making all things new,  it is important to note Leo’s use of the language of theosis or divinisation since, as Leo says, man’s nature is elevated “above the elevated dignity of the archangels”. This is not a divinisation that man is undertaking by himself, but is only initiated and facilitated by this new act of creation by Jesus, the Second Adam.

The sermon can be found in full below.

Beloved, the days which passed between the Lord’s resurrection and his ascension were by no means uneventful; during them great sacramental mysteries were confirmed, great truths revealed. In those days the fear of death with all its horrors was taken away, and the immortality of both body and soul affirmed. It was then that the Lord breathed on all his apostles and filled them with the Holy Spirit; and after giving the keys of the kingdom to blessed Peter, whom he had chosen and set above all the others, he entrusted him with the care of his flock.

During these days the Lord joined two of his disciples as their companion on the road, and by chiding them for their timidity and hesitant fears he swept away all the clouds of our uncertainty. Their lukewarm hearts were fired by the light of faith and began to burn within them as the Lord opened up the Scriptures. And as they shared their meal with him, their eyes were opened in the breaking of bread, opened far more happily to the sight of their own glorified humanity than were the eyes of our first parents to the shame of their sin.

Throughout the whole period between the resurrection and ascension, God’s providence was at work to instill this one lesson into the hearts of the disciples, to set this one truth before their eyes, that our Lord Jesus Christ, who was truly born, truly suffered and truly died, should be recognized as truly risen from the dead. The blessed apostles together with all the others had been intimidated by the catastrophe of the cross, and their faith in the resurrection had been uncertain; but now they were so strengthened by the evident truth that when their Lord ascended into heaven, far from feeling any sadness, they were filled with great joy.

Indeed that blessed company had a great and inexpressible cause for joy when it saw man’s nature rising above the dignity of the whole heavenly creation, above the ranks of angels, above the exalted status of archangels. Nor would there be any limit to its upward course until humanity was admitted to a seat at the right hand of the eternal Father, to be enthroned at last in the glory of him to whose nature it was wedded in the person of the Son.

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