“Ask a Priest: Does the Soul Receive the Divine Essence?”

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Q: Does the soul receive the divine essence, and is it present in that soul when the human dies? And is receiving the essence different from what some call “participating” in it? — K.D.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The divine essence is another way of saying the essence of God — what makes him God. In philosophical terms we could say that God’s essence is his existence. “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14).

We don’t receive God’s essence – that belongs to him alone – but rather we participate in it. We benefit from it and “share in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). Scripture says that to those who “did accept [Christ] he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:12).

This sharing in the divine nature is a little like a baby who is born to American parents in the U.S. The baby automatically benefits from certain privileges of citizenship that aren’t of the baby’s own doing. The benefits we derive from sharing in the divine nature, of course, are much deeper and greater.

Once created, we depend on God to hold us in existence at every moment. We can’t exist on our own power. God alone exists on his own.

At death, the soul leaves the body and goes to its particular judgment. It remains essentially the same soul as it was before the death of the body. Which means it continues to participate in God’s essence by its (the soul’s) very existence. And this goes on for eternity.

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