The Incarnation

Bethlehem and Nazareth were not the first homes of Jesus; His home was from all eternity in the bosom of the Father. "In the beginning," says St. John (John 1:1), "was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." The Word Whom Scripture also calls Son of God proceeds from the Father by intellectual generation; He is the Father's understanding of Himself. He is the first Word ever spoken, and is in all things equal to Him by Whom He was spoken. The Father Who uttered Him is not prior to the Word, but both are equally eternal.

Yes, the Incarnate Christ is older than the oldest creatures since He is at once their Creator and the Pattern after which they were created: "All things were made by Him: and without Him was made nothing that was made" (John 1:3); "In Him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominations, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by Him and in Him. And He is before all, and by Him all things consist" (Colossians 1:16, 17). In the beatific light of the heavenly palace, says St.Paul, the Word before His Incarnation dwelt in the "form of God," that is in a nature which - because it is Divine - cannot be acquired but is eternal (Philippians 2:6-8). Verily Christ could say of Himself, "Before Abraham was made, I am" (John 8:58).

When that moment arrived which for centuries had been foreshadowed in figure, type and prophecy, the Eternal Word became Man: "When the fullness of time was come, God sent His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, that He might redeem them who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons" (Galatians 4:4, 5). When urging upon the Philippians the example of humility and unselfishness, St. Paul tells us - as it were, by accident - how the Incarnate Christ was at once God and Man: "Who being in the form of God . . . emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, becoming obedient unto death" (Philippians 2:6-8). Since the Divine nature is immutable, since the "form of God" or "nature of God" cannot be acquired, changed or lost, Christ continued to be God even after His Divine Person had placed under its dominion a human nature.

And since Christ, after assuming the "form of a servant," suffered and died, He was also really and truly Man. St. Paul repeats the same doctrine when he exhorts the Corinthians to a spontaneous and affectionate generosity toward the poor: "For you know the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, that being rich, He became poor for our sakes, that through His poverty you might be rich" (II Corinthians 8:9). Christ "became poor," not by "emptying" Himself of the Divine nature and attributes, which are inadmissible; but rather, continuing rich inwardly as God, He appeared poor externally to men; beneath the "form of a servant" He hid the "form of God." Christ did empty Himself of the external glory, honor and adoration due to His Divinity from reasonable creatures. Instead of appearing on earth as an absolute monarch in regal splendor, Christ chose a life of poverty, humility, suffering and death.

St. John expresses the dogma of the Incarnation in a terse phrase which has been incorporated into the liturgy and is well known to all: "The Word was made flesh" (John 1:14). By using the term "flesh," St. John does not mean to affirm that Christ assumed a human body to the exclusion of the human soul.

But in order to impress upon us the awful truth that the infinitely perfect and holy God became true Man, St. John denotes the whole human nature by its less noble component element. In fact, did not Christ Himself impress upon us the reality of His being Man by referring to Himself as "Son of Man?" But what can the formula, "The Word became flesh," exactly mean? Does it mean that the Divine nature was converted into the human nature, or that the latter was absorbed by the former? Does it mean that the two natures entered into a composition with each other, that there was a blending or commingling of the two? No, such could not have been the case. The Divine nature, which is wholly perfect, cannot be converted into something else nor can anything be converted into it - it is absolutely immutable. If the human nature, on the other hand, were absorbed by or changed into the Divine, Christ could no longer be called true Man, and the Incarnation itself would be destroyed. St John here teaches that the Person of the Word, which from all eternity operated through the Divine nature, placed under its dominion, at the moment of the Incarnation, and began also to operate through, a human nature. In the Incarnate Christ there are two complete natures - The Divine and human - and the actions of both natures are attributable to one and the same Person.

Scripture frequently proclaims Christ as at once true God and true Man. Christ is conceived and born as man but at the same time He is proclaimed God's beloved Son. Christ hungers in the desert but at the same time angels minister to Him as God. He leads a humble life and is often weary but at the same time performs miracles in His own name and by His own power. He undergoes a bloody sweat and is sorrowful in the garden of Gethsemani but at the same time He restores the ear of Malchus and proclaims Himself Son of God before the judges. He is scourged and dies desolate as man but - because He is at the same time God - the sun is darkened, the veil of the temple is rent, the dead rise and He Himself rises.

When the Divine and human natures were united in the one Person of the Word, in that very instant Christ became the Head and Representative of the human race - the Head of the mystic body. Christ became what we are in order to make us - in Himself - what He is. Christ became the Son of Man in order to make the sons of men the sons of God. When He was rich He became poor for our sakes, that through His poverty we might become rich. "Him Who knew no sin, He hath made sin for us, that we might be made the justice of God in Him" (II Corinthians 5:21). He Who was eternally blessed in heaven became the Man of Sorrows in order that through His suffering we might enter into the joy of the Lord.

In this connection let us note that Christ is Head of the human race under three titles: The Incarnation, the Redemption and sanctifying grace. All men, by the very fact of being human beings, are members of the mystic body under the first two titles. But to become members of the mystic body in the full sense by participating in sanctifying grace - for this, a baptismal spiritual regeneration is needed.

In fact, Christ founded the Church to confer upon men this integral membership in His mystic body by dispensing to them His atoning merits. The purpose of sacramental life is to make those who are already our brothers in Christ through His Incarnation and through His Blood, our brothers in that full sense which comes by a common corporate sharing in His Divine Life, brought to fruition by a participation in His apostolate expressed by the term Catholic Action.

Why did not the Father or the Holy Ghost, rather than the Son, become incarnate? Our feeble reason, if left to its own resources, could not demonstrate that there is more than one Person in God, much less establish which One of Them should become Incarnate. But when flooded by Divine revelation and illumined by grace, the mind can understand the eminent fitness of the Incarnation of the Second Person. Following carefully in the footsteps of the Angelic Doctor, let us indicate some of the reasons for the Incarnation of the Son. Since the Word created the world, the Word should also redeem the world when it fell under the domination of Satan and of sin. Since man fell from God by inordinately desiring knowledge, he should be brought back to God through Him Who was the "Wisdom of God." Since man's happiness as a rational being consists in knowledge, and his supreme beatitude will be to know God and see Him face to face, he should be brought to this happiness by Him in Whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Since Redemption and justification make us adopted sons of God, this adoptive filiation should be conferred upon us by Him Who is the natural Son of God. Since the Son holds an intermediary position, as it were, between the Father and the Holy Ghost, it was fitting that He should be the mediator between God and man. The Son proceeds from the Father by intellectual generation, He is the Father's knowledge of Himself; the knowledge of the Father should therefore be imparted to us by the Son. Finally, the Father is unbegotten and the Holy Ghost was spirated in the Divine order; it was logical that He Who was begotten in the divine nature should be begotten in the human order.

Since Christ came out of love to redeem us from our sins, why did not the Redeemer come as soon as humanity became sinful in the Fall of Adam?

Although the solution to this question must ultimately be sought in God's mysterious designs, we cannot doubt for a moment that God chooses the most convenient epochs for events which in the religious history of men are at once most important and most sublime. First of all, we must remember that Adam and all men in him sinned by pride. Hence it was necessary that man be subjected to a religious training which would reveal to man how sinful and helpless he is when left to his own natural power. He had to be subjected to a discipline which would bring out all his misery and make him cry to God for mercy. Just as a man who unwittingly bears in his breast the germ of death often presumptuously rejects the immediate aid of the physician, so too sinful humanity might have under-estimated the merciful advances of God before knowing how desirable they were. God will not confer His gifts on man a second time until man is ready to accept them as gifts. Man must learn to know that God is Master of His gifts, and that these gifts are indispensable for all generations. In order that men might worthily receive the Author of these gifts, namely, the Incarnate Word, His advent must in addition be heralded by a long line of holy men and prophets.

On the other hand, the Incarnation should not have been deferred until the end of the world. Christ came at the precise psychological moment when He could best aid our infirmity. He applied the remedy when the disease came to a head. Had the Incarnation been delayed till the end of time, all knowledge of and reverence for God, as well as all morality, would have disappeared from the world.

What was the relation of the Incarnation to Mary? By the Incarnation Mary became the Mother of God. At the Annunciation the Archangel Gabriel said to Mary: "Thou shalt conceive and bring forth a son, he shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High" (Luke 1:31). If Mary's son is God, Mary is the mother of God. In fact, at the Visitation Elizabeth, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, exclaimed: "Whence is this to me that the Mother of my Lord should come to me" (Luke 1:43)? By His generation in the bosom of the heavenly Father, Christ is the true Son of God. By His generation in time from the Virgin Mary, He is the true Son of Mary. But in Christ there is only one, undivided divine Person.

Hence the Son of God and the Son of Mary are one and the same Person - Christ is God, and Mary is the Mother of God.

Mary is the greatest saint of the New Testament because no one was so intimately associated with the Incarnation as she. She voluntarily conceived, gave birth to, and nourished Christ. Our Lord derived from her the very flesh and blood of His body.

Because Christ, the Source and meritorious Cause of all graces, came to us through Mary, Mary is called the Mediatrix of all graces. She freely consented to the Incarnation. She conceived, gave birth to, and nourished the body of Christ. She prepared the Divine Victim for the immolation, and standing beneath the Cross offered Him for the salvation of mankind. She was intimately associated with Our Lord in the acquisition of graces.

Is she Mediatrix of all graces also in the sense that she participates now in the dispensation and distribution of the graces from the Risen Christ to us? Does she effectively intercede for each and every grace given to every man on earth? Does every grace, irrespective of her intercession, pass through her hands before it reaches the soul? These are questions which are open to theological discussion but on which the Church has not pronounced infallibly.

Discussion Aids

1. Did Christ exist before the Incarnation? Explain.
2. How does the Son proceed from the Father?
3. Are the Father and Son and Holy Ghost equal in all things? Why?
4. What is meant by the "fullness of time?"
5. Prove that Christ was true God and true Man.
6. Of what did Christ "empty" Himself in the Incarnation?
7. What is the meaning of the words: "The Word was Made Flesh?" Give a full explanation.
8. Show that Christ conducted Himself at once as God and as Man.
9. What is meant by the headship of Christ? Under how many titles is Christ our head?
10. Why did not the Father or the Holy Ghost, rather than the Son, become our head?
11. Why did not the Incarnation take place immediately after the Fall?
12. Why was it not delayed till the end of the world?
13. What is Mary's relation to the Incarnation? Why does Mary's motherhood of Christ make her the Mother of us all?
14. How does the Incarnation increase reverence for childhood and womanhood?
15. On what two feasts of the year does the priest kneel down at High Mass while the choir sings: "Et incarnatus est" ("and He became Incarnate")?
16. By what words did Mary bring the Son of God down upon earth? By what words does the priest bring Him down upon the altar?
17. Where in the Mass do the words occur: "Et Verbum caro factum est" ("And the Word was made flesh")? What religious sentiments should animate us when we utter these words?

Religious Practices
1. I will be humble and obedient after the example of Our Lord Who "being in the form of God - emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being obedient unto death."
2. I will be generous in imitation of Christ Who "Being rich, became poor for our sakes."
3. I will strive to attain spiritual perfection not by natural means but with the help of God's grace.

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