- Holy Is His Name: The Transforming Power of God’s Holiness in Scripture (book)
- Holiness for Everyone (book)
- St. Paul Center
The Christian life could be summed up in a nutshell as the pursuit of holiness. Holiness is also the framework of the sacred scriptures, but what is holiness? We have Scott Hahn today to break down what the Bible and Catholic tradition say about holiness. Hello, I’m Eric Sammons your host and editor-in-chief of Crisis Magazine. Before we get started, I just want to encourage people to like this episode, to subscribe to the channel and let other people know about it. Also, you can follow us on various social media channels @CrisisMag. Actually, we just to this week add to Rumble. We’re now on Rumble as well, so if you want to watch us on Rumble, you can do that as well, as well as Odyssey and YouTube and all the podcast channels.
Okay, so our guest today needs no introduction. I’m going to give him one anyway. Dr. Scott Hahn is the Father Michael Scanlan Professor of Biblical Theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he has taught since 1990. He’s the founder and president of the awesome, I mean, just awesome St. Paul Center. He’s been married to Kimberly since 1979. They have six children, and as of last count I know of, 21 grandchildren. And his most recent book is Holy Is His Name, The Transforming Power of God’s Holiness in Scripture. Welcome to the program, Scott.
It’s great to be with you, Eric. Thanks for the invite. And also I should mention that one of our six kids is Father Jeremiah was ordained to the Diocese of Steubenville, long may it live, and I dedicated the book to him in gratitude for his reception of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
Right. He’s only been a priest, is it a year now?
Year and a half.
Year and a half. Year and a half. I mean, it’s just great. I was very excited when he was ordained. I mean, just great to have these young, great priests who are enthusiastic about the faith and we just need more of them. We just need more of them. We always do.
From your lips to God’s ears. Yes.
So, you decide in this book to tackle really super simple, easy topic which is holiness. Holiness, I think we all know it’s at the heart of the Christian life, yet I think most of us would have a very difficult time defining it. Why is holiness so hard to define?
Wow. I mean, that’s a good question. And it was a question that I was asking way, way back in the ’70s. The narrative arc of this book is in some ways closely related to a book I wrote 20 plus years ago called The Lamb Supper, The Mass As Heaven on Earth, because that’s where I discovered the need to have a sort of eternal perspective, to understand the earth in terms of heaven. To see creation in the light of the creator and the liturgy and all of that. But I realized the more you … Well, I just turned 65, and so I’m reflecting more and more in my own life. But going back 50 years to my own young adult conversion around the age of 14, for whatever reason providence had me immersed there in southwestern Pennsylvania, southeastern, no southwestern Pennsylvania, in the Pittsburgh area with Dr. RC Sproul.
And he was just beginning his ministry in the early ’70s. At the time he was a Ligonier, Pennsylvania where I used to go to summer camp and the Ligonier Valley Study Center was where I would go every week if I could to hear him teach. And he was teaching all about the holiness of God. And at the time, it was exactly what I needed as a former juvenile delinquent, as a survivor of the ’60s, as someone who was just tired of love, love, love the Beatles, all you need is love. I was out of my hippie hangover as a sophomore in high school and he was talking about the holiness of God. And I’m like, Oh, wow, is that refreshing? It’s also humbling because when you realize that God is holy, holy, holy, in Isaiah 6, in Revelation 4, in that he’s not love, love, love.
It’s a wake up call, not only for teenagers, but for spiritual adolescents of every age, which most Christians were back then. And so I’m like, Wow. And he was talking all about the trauma of holiness, the holiness of God, drawing from Rudolph Otto who had written a classic in German back in 1917 if memory serves Das Heilige on the idea of holiness. It was translated and published by Oxford University. And so he was quoting Rudolph Otto in terms of holiness as mysterium tremendum et fascinans. On the one hand, it fascinates, I mean Moses just had to look at this bush that was burning but wasn’t consumed, but it’s not just enthralling or fascinating, it’s also terrifying. It causes you to tremble. And so this mystery there was a wake up call for me like it was from Moses, but it was really a calling to get to know God on his own terms.
Only years later did I begin to realize that wait a minute, that description of divine holiness is sort of like from below. It’s an ascending description, which is fine, but it’s a description that scholars call phenomenological because it’s really about our experience of God’s holiness more than it is the reality of God’s holiness. And there’s nothing wrong with reflecting upon our experience of God’s holiness if it will arouse in us. That humility, that gratitude, that sense of awe, that inspires us to kind of bow before the majesty of God, but what is holiness? What is holiness essentially as it is in God? That’s what I went in search of. And so my own second stage of study and discovery, and again, you often don’t recognize stages until you look back years later. But my second stage began to bring together the righteousness of God, the righteousness of the law with the holiness of God and the holiness that were commanded to be.
Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbors yourself,” but the theme there in Leviticus 19 is “Be holy for the Lord your God is holy.” And so years later I began to realize, okay, that’s good, but that’s not enough. That’s not exactly right. You have to adjust your screen because holiness is not reducible to righteousness in Hebrew kadosh and tzedakah are inseparably connected, but clearly distinct. And so I began to look at the story that Dr. Sproul would use of Isaiah’s call in Isaiah 6 where he sees the vision of God lifted up in the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and lifted up in his train, filled the temple, and above him stood the seraphim, and it describes, he describes how the seraphim were singing the Trisagion on holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory. And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of I who called and the house was filled with smoke.
And Isaiah says, “Woe is me, for I am loft. I’m a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips for my eyes have seen the king, the Lord of hosts.” And the next scene, of course is when the one of the seraphim takes the burning coal from the altar of incense there in the heavenly temple and touched it to Isaiah’s mouth. Talk about third degree burn. Behold, this has touched your lips, your guilt is taken away and your sin forgiven.
And so I began to reflect upon Isaiah’s experience of holiness, but also the way he frames it by announcing that it was in the year that King Uzziah died. And as I did more historical study, more background research, I began to realize how important it is to distinguish holiness on the one hand from righteousness on the other because righteousness tzedakah comes from justice, and that has to do with keeping the commandments and administering justice, which was the province of the king in the palace. Whereas holiness is the province of the priest in the sanctuary. And holiness is more of like that vertical axis that relates us directly to God and God to us, whereas justice is more horizontal in dealing with interpersonal relations and social equity as it were, or social justice, although those terms are just charged with all kinds of misunderstanding these days.
But the year that King Uzziah died is what tipped me off because Uzziah was the 10th in the line of David. He had extended the boundaries of Israel further than before, and he had caused the economy to prosper, the military to grow stronger. The whole culture was really on a roll, you might say. He was making Israel great again. He was a kind of MAGA king, and he got so puffed up with his own sense of self importance that one day we read a second chronic of 26, he decided to take a stroll out of the palace and into the temple where the priests are supposed to administer in the presence of the holy God.
And he goes in, the priests are trying to stop him, but he keeps going until finally he enters this sacred realm that is off limits to anybody but Aaronic priests. And suddenly what happens, he’s covered with leprosy. And at that point, of course, the priests drag him out and he ends up spending the last 10 years of his 50 year reign basically in a makeshift leper colony designed for the king. And so in the year that King Uzziah dies, you realize, okay, you have to distinguish not to oppose, but you’ve got to distinguish holiness from justice. You’ve got to distinguish what the priests alone can do from what the kings and the other royal ministers are allowed to do. And only then do you realize, okay, holiness is that vertical access that relates us to God. And so equating or reducing holiness to righteousness is missing the mark.
And I began a sense too at that point as I was becoming Catholic, that in our tradition we get that right because we have priests, we have altars, we have sacrifice, we have sanctuaries. And so we have still an objective realm of the holy as distinct from in a certain sense, the commandments that we have in the second table of the law. So the first table of the decalogue commandments one, two, and three, well, we have no other gods before. Don’t take his name in vain, and then remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. And that’s the only one of the 10 commandments that uses that term kadosh as we find it there in Isaiah 6. And then it recounts God creating the world. And on the seventh day hollowing it, consecrating it, declaring it to be holy, in fact, the only time holiness occurs in all 50 chapters of Genesis.
And so it was a wake up call for me to look at the common notions of holiness and realize they’re inadequate. And yet I couldn’t find an adequate definition until finally I stumbled upon a definition that you find in the catechism. Paragraph 2809 where you read “The holiness of God is the inaccessible center of his eternal mystery.” And the reason I like that is because it’s almost evocative of the inaccessible center of the temple, which is the holy of Holies, where God dwells, where even the high priest can’t go except briefly once a year on the Day of Atonement, basically to do penance for his own sins as well as the people’s sins. And so the definition goes on beginning with the holiness of God is the inaccessible center of his eternal mystery. What is revealed of it in creation and history, that’s what scripture calls glory.
The radiance of his majesty and cited is that passage in Isaiah 6:3, where the angels are shouting, crying out, “Holy, holy, holy.” But I think that basically nails it. That’s something of a bullseye because the holiness of God is the essence of God, not as God relates to creation, not as God relates to us creatures who are made in the image and likeness of God, but it’s the holy trinity. It’s the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as the bond of love that flows from the Father to the son and then proceeds from the son back to the Father. And at that point we recognize that the highest and the holiest mystery of God is who God is from all eternity. That alone explains everything that he does in history and everything that we discover in creation. And so with laser precision, the catechism helped me recognize this, well, I mean 25 years ago, really more like 30 years ago, when it came out in ’92.
And ever since then I’ve been working on the idea of holiness from below. How do we relate to a all holy God, but also holiness from above. That is what does it mean for God alone to be holy? Holy is His name. You alone are holy. And so to recognize that holiness is a unique property that belongs to God alone helps us to recognize then that holiness for us is achieved only when we truly become divine property. That is when we see ourselves as belonging properly and entirely to God.
And this is how Jesus puts it in a simpler way when he quotes Deuteronomy 6:5, “What is the greatest command? That you love the Lord, your gala, law of your heart, mind, soul, and strength and then the second is like unto it, love your neighbor as yourself.” So he is quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18, but he is also summarizing the two tables of the decalogue. The first three commandments relate to God. And then the last seven are parents and witnesses, all of the other things that we have to do in social life. So it’s always the case that when you ask me a question like this, Eric, you know I’m going to go on for 10 plus minutes.
No, no, I understand. I think though it seems like there’s a paradox here because okay, when you talk about holiness righteousness, God is holy and he of course is righteous. I can see how we can be righteous in the sense that we do good. Most people, of course today kind of think of holiness as being a goody two shoes, being good, which obviously it’s not really the essence of what it means, but if holiness, which essentially means otherness, means set apart, which obviously that’s what God is, and you see that in the temple and things like that. But if we’re called to be holy, how does that work? Because that seems to be a paradox because God is holy, he’s other, meaning he’s other from us, yet we’re called to be holy. And so how do we become holy? How are we holy like God is holy when only God is holy in essence. So how do you we resolve that paradox there?
Yeah. Again, it’s by opening ourselves up so that we are acknowledging to God not only are we surrendering to him, but even before we decided to surrender to him, we were his. And so holiness is the recognition of that transcendent reality, that he is the beginning and end of our existence for each and every one of us, but for all of us collectively, but even more, I think it just changes the whole. It brings about a shift in our orientation because what you see is what you get, but what you don’t see is even more of what you get. And so the looking at the visible in light of the invisible, the temporal in light of the eternal, the created in the light of the uncreated, this is reality therapy and it comes through contemplation, but it also comes from sound doctrine and especially doctrine about God, about Christ, about what he does in creating as his own image and likeness.
But what happens with the fall? And so as I point out in the book, the term kadosh only occurs once in the 50 chapters of Genesis. In Genesis 2:3, where he hallows the seventh day, he declares the Sabbath to be holy because why? Well, it’s the sign of the covenant. What covenant? Well, the covenant that he has established between himself and creation, but especially the covenant that is mediated by the only creature on the planet who’s made in the image and likeness of God. And so in Genesis 2:7, we discover what is it that makes man holy, God breathes into his nostrils the breath of life. And this notion of God’s breath is more than oxygen. So that the first breath that our first father is drawing is more than the air that the other animals had. It is the breath of God. It is the Holy Spirit and is what theologians will call sanctifying grace, original holiness.
So the original justice that we have is dependent upon the sanctifying grace that we received that our first father had and breathed. But 10 verses later, the Lord God says, “You can eat from every tree and its fruit except for one. On the day you eat of that, you’ll surely die.” And so you turn the page and the next chapter they eat, but they don’t drop dead because the mystery here is there is life that is human and natural, but then there is life that is divine and supernatural. And what happens to them is what the catechism calls the death of the soul. It’s spiritual suicide, it’s mortal sin. What our first parents commit is original sin, but it was mortal sin as described in 1 John 5:16-17.
Not all sins are mortal. Some venial, they only weaken us, they wound us. They make it easier for us to die. But there are sins that are mortal sins because they snuff out the life of God and the soul. Because by performing those sins, we choose the finite over the infinite, the temporal over the eternal. That is essentially idolatrous. And so what happens to our parents is when they commit mortal sin, they die a spiritual death that is not metaphorical. It’s more of a death than the loss of human life. But what we speak of original sin, it’s what we contract as their progeny, but it’s not what we commit. As Protestants we used to believe that original sin was basically meaning that we’re born depraved, but for Catholics, it’s not depraved, it’s being born deprived of the divine life, the sanctifying grace that a first parents had and then lost, the catastrophic consequences of which are implied in the next chapters of Genesis. Because from that point on, in the next 47 chapters of Genesis, nobody is described as holy. Something immense has got to be done.
And the book of Exodus is the prelude to that immense work of God. Because in the opening chapters of Exodus, which is only 40 chapters long compared to Genesis, you have a veritable explosion of the variations of the Hebrew word kadosh I think it’s 98 times in the 40 chapters of Exodus, holiness is described. First of all, the ground that you stand on as holy, so take your shoes off, and then you’re called to be a holy nation in Exodus 19, you’re called to the holy land. And then there’s the holy place the vestments, the sacrifices, the feasts, and all of these other aspects that pertain to the tabernacle, to the altar, to the various precincts of the tabernacle, the outer court, the holy place and the holy of Holies.
And so it’s like, wow, I never noticed this absence and then suddenly the explosion, and yet it took a friend of mine, Rabbi Joshua Berman, to point out what I should have seen, that the holy land, the holy city, the holy temple, the holy of Holies, but nobody’s ever referred to in the Old Testament as a saint, at least not in what Rabbi Berman calls the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible. And it’s like, seriously, I never noticed that before. And so what I could see then is that when you look at the holy nation, the holy land, the holy city, the holy temple, you realize that the law of God in the Old Testament is creating a prophetic people that become a sign that point to something far greater than anything you can achieve in the old covenant, namely good citizens.
And so to distinguish good citizens from real saints is really to distinguish what happens after the incarnation when Christ comes, not to abolish, but to fulfill the old covenant, you begin to sense that what is going on in his death and his dissent into Hades and his resurrection and ascension into heaven is something far more seismic than we probably picked up on a Richter scales back then if we had them. Because you have in Matthew 27:50-52 that with the resurrection of Jesus, he alone of the evangelist describes how the tombs around the holy city were opened, and the souls of these faithful departed Old Testament saints are seen. For how long? We’re not told, but presumably until the ascension, when Jesus ascends into heaven, it is not a solo flight. He’s taking captivity captive as St. Paul describes through the Ephesians, he’s basically repopulating heaven with saints for the first time.
And so when you go back to the old covenant, you see in Isaiah 6 that the angels alone inhabit heaven, and the angels alone sing “Holy, holy, holy.” But then when you compare that to the visions of John and the apocalypse in Revelation 4, 5, and 6 you can sense that all of the angelic songs and prayers are now shared by the saints, by the martyrs, by the remnant, the 144,000 from all the 12 tribes of Israel, plus this innumerable throng from every tribe, tongue, and nation.
And so it’s sort of like growing up. You go through stages and you tend to forget them. You don’t remember your first step. You don’t remember your first word, you don’t remember it when you were finally toilet trained, but assume you know are. And so all of these things that you transcend or in a certain sense stages of the pedagogy that God uses. And only when … I was just talking this morning after breakfast with a friend of mine who has, he’s a psychiatrist, he got his doctorate from Harvard, and he was talking about this discovery on the part of psychiatrists that when you counsel patients, one of the most important things you can do for them is have them construct a timeline of their childhood, of their adolescence, of their adulthood, and to coincide with traumatic events that happen to them or in their family, or whether it’s Sputnik or landing on the moon.
Because suddenly you begin to remember, anamnesis, you remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy, but a whole lot more. You remember salvation history. You remember your own personal history and you begin to step back and say, “Whoa, what was I made for?” Well, one thing only, what is the will of God? In 1 Thessalonians 4:3 Paul says, “This is the will of God for you,” that you should become a lawyer. No, that you should marry Kimberly. No. That you should go to Grove City, no. That you should convert, no, this is the will of God for you, namely your sanctification, and that you avoid pornea, immorality, sexual sin, all of the rest. But I mean, we are so preoccupied with kind of cracking the code of God’s will that we don’t realize that there’s one thing that he wills for us, that we become saints.
And then there’s a whole lot of freedom for us to pursue the love that he plants within our hearts for the people he puts all around us. But in the process, you move from the old covenant to the new, you move from relating to God as servants, as slaves, as employees, to relating to God in terms of divine affiliation, that he really is Abba Father, more than he is our creator from all eternity, he is the eternal father, the eternal son, the eternal spirit. So what he does in creating the world, what he does in salvation history, what is described as the glory of his majesty is ultimately meant to lead us back to holiness where we’re like, this is divine, eternal, interpersonal love on steroids and beyond. It’s so awesome, that love, but it’s so flipping and demanding. We would never want to love as much as God loves. We could never attain that, and yet we discover it’s the only thing for which we were made.
And so at the end of the day, what we’ve got to recognize is that we’ve got to do everything we can, but the most important thing that we can do is to acknowledge that everything I can do, everything that I’ve done falls infinitely short of attaining the only thing for which I was made. And so worship, the virtue of religion, the holy sacrifice, the holy mass, the holy Eucharist, these sacraments don’t make holiness easy, much less automatic, but the sacraments are what make true holiness possible, difficult but attainable. And so for me, it’s like sacred scripture, understanding the unified message and then breaking it down in terms of the old and the new, it’s what led me to the Catholic faith. But sound Catholic doctrine is the only thing, the fulcrum, by which all of scripture just keeps making more and more sense, more and more deep sense. Beautiful, true, powerful, but difficult. After being a Catholic 36 years and after being a Christian now going on 50 years, well I go back to my baptism, I suppose. But at the same time, it’s like the sacred mysteries get deeper and more compelling and more challenging too.
Absolutely. And I think one of the most scandalous teachings, I think of the Catholic faith is one of the four marks of the church, which is that the church is holy. Because when I look at myself, and let’s be honest, when I look at everybody, all the other Catholics, I’m like, “That does not seem right. It does not seem like the church is holy on an outward sense,” yet the church is holy, that is one of the marks of church. And I think we believe that the way it is holy is that it gives us the means of holiness, that that’s how we can achieve holiness, particularly through the sacraments. And you mentioned that already, but how exactly then do we tie in the role of the sacraments in this pursuit of holiness, particularly in the sense that the sacraments in one sense are this otherness, they are set apart. You talked about the priesthood and things like that. How do we tie all that together in our heads, the role of the sacraments, being holy and being set apart and all that? How do we see that?
Well, I think we have this unconscious tendency to reduce sacraments in theory down to anthropological rituals of religion, and then in actual practice it becomes a kind of religious checklist of the things that we have to do because, well, we’ve got our job description, we’re creatures, we’re called to be saints. And so here’s the checklist. But I think the only thing that really connects our experience of the sacraments is a life of prayer. And I think it’s difficult for us to acknowledge the fact that prayer is difficult, that prayer is always difficult. I mean, I suppose that if you are St. Theresa of Avila, whatever mansion you happen to be, you get a sense of momentum. But for the rest of us, for most of us, I think you have the opposite sense of inertia.
That is many times as I’ve tried to pray in the morning, in the evening, or in the afternoon, whether it’s the rosary or whether it’s mental prayer, or whether it’s just a visit to the blessed sacrament, it’s always so out of this world that you’re like, “I am present to you Lord, but you are a billion times more present to me,” the distractions and all of the things that impinge upon our five senses that are shouting to us are much more real and meaningful than the things that you believe are no, you’re not.
And so the sacraments are the sine qua non, without them, we don’t have a chance. And so when we reflect upon that daunting challenge of Hebrews 12:14, “Strive for holiness, for without it, no one will see God.” No one will see God. Yeah. Here is Esau. That’s the example that the writer of Hebrews employs who is the firstborn, and he is the favorite. And yet he sells his birthright because he’s just too hungry. He’s so famished that you despise the eternal because you have this unholy hankering for the temporary, and this is the battle of everyday life for ordinary saints. You might think well in the convents and the monasteries, it’s probably no sot. But I was just out in Clear Creek Abbey talking to the Benedictans there, and they’re fighting the same spiritual battle. And so it’s reassuring to me that you do have sort of special ops, those Benedictine monks in Clear Creek are like Navy Seals as far as the church is concerned, but the rest of us are just, I’m soldiering through it all.
But I have to come back to the first part of your question, and that is, holy church, you got to be kidding. Have you noticed what’s been happening in the Vatican or what you see in the local diocese or what has been happening in this parish or that? Well, really what’s been happening in my heart and my soul in my own home? There are all of these struggles and signs of corruption. What do you mean holy? Well, you know where I’m headed at this point, I’m sure, because a supernatural outlook, an eternal perspective, we always look at our lives in view of heaven, and that is where the church is in her essence, where the blessed mother embodies the church, she personifies the bride and the mother who is fruitful, the virginal bride and the fruitful mother. And so I know I might sound like a broken record, at least I do to myself, but this idea of going along every day of life and recalling that this life that seems so long is going to look so short as soon as we cross the threshold and enter eternity.
And we’ll look back and realize, “Okay, how much time has gone by in eternity? Oh, a couple trillion years. I hadn’t noticed,” and will wonder why we didn’t cultivate that eternal perspective that would cause us to long for the sacraments, to really celebrate them, to commemorate all of the things that God has done in my life and all of the things that God allowed me to do wrong so that his strength would be manifest in weakness. So that through humiliations, we’ll discover that that is the shortcut to heaven more than just being a good citizen, a great scholar, a teacher, an author, some kind of celebrity in America, all of which is worthless if it doesn’t contribute directly to seeing the face of God achieving authentic holiness. The sacraments make sanctity possible. But as you also recognize, when you celebrate the sacraments or when you receive them in a state of mortal sin or with ingratitude, or with no disposition to grow in charity, it’s the fastest way to damn your soul in the deepest part of hell that has ever been devised.
The stakes couldn’t be higher, and yet there’s only one goal, and that is holiness. And there’s one indispensable means, and that is the seven sacraments. And so it’s comforting at this time of year. In the spring, we have the Easter Triduum, so we celebrate the commemoration, the memorial of his death and resurrection from Good Friday, from Holy Thursday, all the way through Easter Sunday. But there is another triduum that comes in the fall for us in the Northern Hemisphere, and that is All Hallow’s Eve, then All Saints, and then All Souls where we look at the holy church. But we recognize, okay, we’re the church militant, but we’re not militant. We’re more like the church somnolent, we’re asleep, but we ought to be fasting. I just discovered this year that All Hallow’s Eve is part of this triduum, but it’s also like most vigils, it is a time of fasting and preparation for All Saints.
And so you celebrate the church in her perfection. This church triumphant, the church in the state of glory, we’re just slogging along in the state of grace. And then there is All Souls Day where we reflect upon that other state of the church that is the church suffering, the penitential state there in purgatory where they’re being purified of all of the disorders that were still there in their souls when they died. And so again, I just think that sound doctrine is the only way to read scripture. Scripture is the way to reanimate and reinvigorate sound doctrine. It’s like body and soul coming back together again.
But what we have to do is contemplate as best we can, pray and admit how hard of a struggle it is, and then receive the sacraments. And just to cry out to God, I am such a weak, I am so wayward. I have just wandered from you so many times. And even now in mass, I’m giving in to distraction. Even now in a holy Hour, I’m more like a dog at the foot of his master than I am a grateful son of God who is striving to become a saint. But thank God that his power to sanctify us is infinitely greater than my capacity to separate myself from him.
Yeah, I think one of the things you bring up in your book, Holy Is His Name, The Transforming Power Of God’s Holiness In Scripture, is this idea of, that’s unknown, I think to most Christians in the West, most Catholics in the West, but it’s very much emphasized in east. And that’s where I first discovered it was this idea of theosis or divinization. And I think that’s a very key point to holiness, is that our goal, I think most of us, our goal is can I scrape by and get into heaven? I might have to spend a lot of time in purgatory, but can I make it into heaven? That’s kind of our goal.
Yet God’s goal, when he talks about will of our sanctification, his goal is nothing less than we are like him. That radical, very scandalous statement from the early church fathers, God became man so that man might become God. Of course we have to understand what he means, what that means. But I mean, the goal we have, the goal that God has for us is beyond our wildest imaginations. And so give us some understanding of what theosis really is and what it is that we’re we’re made for.
Yeah, I mean, you just summed it up very well. I’m thinking of 1 Peter 1:4. We have been made partakers of the divine nature, and that is really what captures the itinerary of what we call salvation to be forgiven is wonderful, to be healed, to be instructed, but ultimately you’ve got to distinguish between remote, approximate, and the ultimate. And the ultimate goal of the plan of salvation is to be made partakers the divine nature. Now, that’s humanly impossible, and yet he assumes our nature precisely for the point of giving us a share in his own nature. So it’s not impossible except for us, but it’s the only thing for which we were made. It’s the only reason why Christ becomes incarnate in effect. So it is certainly to forgive us of our sins, but he wouldn’t have to suffer and die just to forgive us, but to divinize us, he has to basically take our mortal humanity, invest it with his own divine love, and then suddenly we understand why did he have to suffer the torture and then be executed on the giblet of the cross and then descend into Hades.
The whole point is to divinize his humanity, then to give it to us in baptism, reunited to him. But in the Holy Eucharist, we receive his divinized body, blood, soul, and divinity so that we could become what he is so that we can receive his humanity so he can fulfill the promise. He eats my flesh and drinks my blood as eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. And so that’s why experientially, subjectively, personally, in terms of prayer, I have come to this conclusion as a result of writing this book for many years, researching it, that becoming holy is not about becoming bigger and better. It’s really becoming smaller and closer to our Lord, more like our lady, the handmaid of the Lord. And when you do that, I think it liberates you to become childlike without becoming childish, without just making up excuses like a brat. But at the same time, to recognize that what we’ve been given in the fullness of faith calls for our contemplative attention, our energy. What is it that distracts us? Is it the stock market?
Is it the sports? Is it the World Series or whatever? All of these things are good, but really the only thing that matters the most is wow, discovering my relationship to God and discovering this path to holiness. And I would also say that Eric, you and I are ex Protestants, and so we remember the discussions that we had before we became a Catholic or afterwards as well. Oh, you Catholics always confuse justification with sanctification as though justification is simply something that is over and done in the past. It’s over where sanctification is ongoing, but the fact is both are ongoing. And once you distinguish justice from holding from sanctity, the idea of righteousness and holiness, you can see what Paul is up to in 1 Corinthians 6:11, you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified. What’s his point? You were baptized and you were made to be a recipient of sanctifying grace, which was infused to you.
So you were washed, you were sanctified, and then you’re justified. You are made a partaker of Christ’s own divine sonship. You possess his own justice before God so that you can stand before God in Christ as a beloved son before the Father, but not until or apart from receiving sanctifying grace, receiving the Holy Spirit. And so sanctification in Paul’s thought actually precedes justification because as Trent teaches, sanctifying grace is the formal cause of our justification. I don’t meet one Catholic in 100, probably not one in 1,000 who gets the inner logic of Paul teaching. And then through the filter of Augustine and Aquinas, you come to Trent and you realize that is laser precision. That is such a bullseye that when you understand sanctifying grace as the formal cause of justification and divine sonship, divinization as the point of it all, as Shaban says, if we had gotten that right, the Reformation wouldn’t have happened or it would’ve dissipated very quickly.
Right. Okay. I want to finish this off with a more practical application here, and I will include, just for everybody who’s listening, a plug for my own book, which the second edition of Holiness for Everyone, the Practical Spirituality of St. Josemaria Escriva, which you graciously wrote the forward to, is coming out very soon, but I bring this up because that was one of the geniuses of St. Josemaria, is this practical idea of, okay, our goal is to become holy. Everybody’s supposed to become holy. How exactly do we do it? What do I do every day? And so can you speak, because I know of course you have a love for St. Josemaria Escriva as well. So can you speak a little bit about maybe St. Josemaria’s practical steps that he talks about so that everybody can strive for holiness?
Yeah. Okay. So you referenced your book and I’m so glad you did. Let me also just kind of mention once again, my book, Holy is His Name, The Transforming Power of God’s Holiness in Scripture. It’s kind of dangerous as a father, you know and I know to play favorites because who’s your favorite child? Well, whoever happens to be in my lap, I have 21 grandchildren. I don’t have a favorite, except for the one I’m holding or I’m hanging around with. And so when I say, this is my favorite book, you know can take it with a grain of salt, but this is my favorite book. And why? Because I think it’s the sum total. I mentioned earlier that there’s a kind of narrative arc that starts with Rome sweet Home. It goes through The Lamb Supper. But in a certain sense, I would think that people who read this after they’ve read The Lamb Supper would feel the circuitry.
Everything has come full circle. It’s written at an easy breezy level, but at points it is kind of lofty and deep. But in the end, it’s the nitty gritty. The final chapter is on how we achieve holiness through the mundane chores of everyday life, especially in marriage, but above all in our relationship with God and prayer through the sacraments. But whatever work we do, one book I wrote about the spirituality of St. Josemaria was entitled Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace. And to me, that’s the key. That’s the little way or what he calls the way in his masterpiece. And that is doing little things with a lot of love, doing little things for the glory of God. And in our examination of conscience in the work, this idea of rectifying your intention by doing everything for the glory of God, what is that? Well, that’s the essence of sanctification, but that’s also the essence of practical Catholic experience living like Jesus did.
For 30 years, he wasn’t wasting his time, not one hour, whether he was cleaning up after dinner or just saying his prayers with his blessed mother, or going out and playing with his friends in the neighborhood. Everything that Jesus did was divinizing human experience, not just the three years of public ministry, not just the healings and the teachings, not just the three days that constitute the triduum and the redemption of the world, but for 33 years. And so, however long we live on this planet, I think we have to see that holiness is really not only discoverable in the little things, but it is really attainable through those little things more than all of the big things that we would ever dream about.
So I’m going to wrap it up there. I just want to recommend everybody. Holy is His Name, The Transforming Power of God’s Holiness in Scripture. It’s from the Emmaus Road Publishing. I will definitely put a link to it in the show notes so people can go to it by it from the St. Paul Center, stpaulcenter.com. I’ll put a link to that as well. And it really is, and it’s kind of funny because when I was reading this, I can see why you call it your favorite, because it does bring full circle a lot of things you’ve been saying. I mean, I remember you talking about … Oh man, I had you as a professor almost 30 years ago. Okay, we’re all getting up there. I know, but I remember these themes back then. And so just seeing it all come together really has been, is a beautiful thing. And I think it, yeah, is that framework, It’s the framework of the whole Gospel really is this holiness of God. So I just want to thank you for that. Is there anything else you want to let us know about that you’re doing right now, want people to know about?
Well, at the St. Paul Center, we’ve finished a series on Holy is His Name, and it will be live streamed for free during Lent. We have a workbook, but we have 12 episodes where I was basically walking through salvation history, walking through the book, Holy is His Name, and clarifying, simplifying, summarizing, and then practically applying all of this. And so that is going to be available come Lent, and I’m really excited about that.
That’s great. Yeah, I’m looking forward to that. That would be great. So let people know. Basically, I’ll put a link to the St. Paul Center so people can know to go there, bookmark that page, go back there and find all the stuff that you guys are doing. It’s very exciting. I know you guys are building the new building too. I mean, it’s just great stuff going on there.
Oh, I should mention that. Because right across the street from our studio where I am right now, we have a major construction project, two acres, 25,000 square foot building. It’s going to be three stories if you include the basement. It’s going to be right across from the entrance to Franciscan University who sold us the land for a bargain. It was a real steal. But that’s because the partnership that we feel is, I think about to go to the next level. We’re going to be doing so many events there. We’re going to finally have one location for the whole team, because right now, all of the coworkers for the St. Paul Center are scattered about four different locations in the town of Steubenville. At the mall, up in the CC Heights down at the bottom of the hill, in the warehouse, and so on. And here in the studio too. So about one year from now, we hope and we pray and we plan to enter into our new digs. And so I want to invite, I want to extend an invitation to people to come, not only to see the construction, but especially to come and visit us in a year from now. Because I think we’re going to have a very exciting place for people to feel at home with the word of God.
Okay. Here’s my prediction. I’ve been in your office, of course, the St. Paul Center office, and it’s full of books everywhere. It’s a pretty small, that main office is pretty small. My prediction is a year after your new huge building is open, it’ll still be full of books. I mean, I could probably live in that building after just all the books and everybody in there. So yeah, I would encourage people once it’s up and built and everything, and they’re moved in go visit, because you won’t want to leave though, you might have bouncers to start kicking people out after a while, but it’s okay.
We also hope to have priest retreats there as well as lay retreats. And so we have a room big enough to easily, comfortably sit. Oh, I think we can see the hundred people there. Oh wow. Great, great. So there will be a library of course, in the basement where you’ll find me most every day.
Exactly. Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate you being on the program today, Scott. And again, encourage people buy Holy is His Name, the Transforming Power of God’s Holiness in Scripture. So until the next time, everybody, God love you.