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Used with permission of George Mitrevski.


Called To Be Children of God, Part 1

By Carl E. Olson
Salvation in Christ is really all about family … God’s family.

Catholic Way -

Carl Olson explains how Jesus’ admonition to “become as little children” is much more than a call to become little children-we are called to be God’s little children! Through Jesus Christ, God the Father offers us the opportunity, not for a merely legalistic redemption, but for a true adoption as His own sons and daughters in Christ. The call to salvation, then, is quite literally a call to join the family of God!

“See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason, the world does not know us, because it did not know Him” (1 John 3:1).

“For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19).

One beautiful summer day in 1995 I found myself standing in the theological section of a large bookstore, on the edge of making an inexpensive, but life changing, purchase. The book I purchased that day was The Catechism of the Catholic Church (all numbers which follow refer to paragraphs in the Catechism, unless otherwise noted).

One section of the Catechism that I initially studied and returned to regularly was that on Grace and Justification (nn. 1987-2029). While it seemed obvious to me that the common portrayal of Catholicism as a system of "works-righteousness" was inaccurate, I still found many aspects of Catholic soteriology to be mysterious and complex. Clearly it was Christocentric, emphasizing God's grace while strongly condemning sin. With time and study I gained some appreciation for the place and meaning of the sacraments. I excitedly noted a high regard in Catholic theology for covenant, which I believed to be an essential element of Biblical thought. But I was still hazy … something was missing in my understanding of the Catholic view of salvation.

Over the next year or so I read a large number of writings by many early Church Fathers and several works by distinguished Catholic theologians. I kept noticing terms and phrases such as "divine adoption," "divine sonship," and "partakers of the divine nature." They struck me as both solidly biblical and yet foreign to me, even though I’d been reading the Bible regularly since I was a little child. I returned to the Catechism regularly, slowly beginning to see the pieces of this "soteriological puzzle" fall into place.

Emerging was a subtle yet clear theme: God the Father offers humans His divine, filial life to be infused into our humanity through the work of Christ, in the love of the Holy Spirit. This depiction of divine adoption burst into bold relief on the pages of the Catechism, as well as from the Scriptures and many of the documents of the Catholic church.

It is not an exaggeration to say that many Catholics are unfamiliar with this familial, relational language; nor with the central place it has in Tradition and Scripture. Far from being an obscure and minor theological idea, it is at the heart of Catholic doctrine as a close examination of the Catechism reveals. It is important because it places Catholic life in a relational framework that the average person can understand and appreciate.

The goal of this essay is to trace the theme of divine adoption through the four parts of the Catechism and arrange it in a loose chronological manner. We will see that the language of divine adoption permeates the Catechism and is intimately intertwined not only into the Church’s teaching about salvation, but also into her view of humanity, the sacraments, Jesus Christ, and the spiritual life.

The very first paragraph of the Catechism states:

God, infinitely perfect and blessed in Himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in His own blessed life. … He calls together all men … into the unity of his family, the Church. … In His Son and through Him, He invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, His adopted children and thus heirs of His blessed life (n. 1).

Here we see quite clearly the familial dimension of the Christian life, a reality too often ignored or trivialized in much contemporary theology. God, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is a completely perfect relationship "in Himself." Yet He creates in order to give not just physical life, but supernatural life. He has a family––the Church––and He offers all of mankind the opportunity to join it, not merely as blessed servants, but as actual children.

This loving invitation forms the basis for Catholic anthropology: "The dignity of man rests above all on the fact he is called to communion with God" (n. 27). Separated from the truth of God and His creative action, man loses his dignity and becomes, in a real way, less than human (nn. 1700, 308). Man, by his natural abilities, can come "to a knowledge of the existence of a personal God" (n. 35). He has a God-given desire for the supernatural and an inner longing for grace, even while he lacks an ability to grasp this on his own (nn. 35-38). He is a spiritual being possessing a soul and "from creation man is ordered to a supernatural end and ... beyond all [his soul] deserves to communion with God" (n. 367). As we will see, the inner desire for the supernatural comes from a Creator who is love personified.

Copyright © 2000 Carl E. Olson.

Carl welcomes your comments. Email him at

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