Ascension Day and Human Nature

One of the texts for yesterday’s feast of the Ascension, an insert in the First Eucharistic Prayer, says this: ‘[we are] celebrating the most sacred day on which your Only Begotten Son, our Lord, placed at the right hand of your glory our weak human nature, which he had united to himself..’ This brief phrase recalls the great theological disputes of the 4th century about the nature of Christ. For theologians like St Athanasius, whose feast day was at the beginning of this month, the Incarnation of Our Lord means that because Jesus has taken our human nature he’s actually transformed it: this means that we’re taken to heaven with him. The Greek Fathers even use the word ‘deified’ (the Greek noun for deification, ‘theosis’) to describe how human nature is transformed.

This is why mainstream Christianity has no time for viewpoints which see our human nature as something dirty or rotten (a view nevertheless found in some devotional writing, particularly in western Christianity, from people who should know better). The ways in which our human nature is changed reinforce our belief in the sacredness and the dignity of the human person, created in God’s image and now seated at God’s right hand, one of the building blocks of our social teaching. One reason why Catholics need to safeguard people’s health at this time, and take seriously the ways in which we can contain the Covid-19 virus, is because of what we believe about deified human nature: so Ascension day is particularly important this year.

The picture here is by Giotto.

God bless and take care
Fr Ashley

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