March 25, 2011

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

The Annunciation and the Incarnation

John F. FinkThe date of this issue, March 25, is the Solemnity of the Annunciation.

Next week, there are no saints on the liturgical calendar, probably because that week is often either Holy Week or the Octave of Easter. Easter is later than usual this year. I will, therefore, write about the Annunciation.

I have long felt that the Church doesn’t give enough prominence to this feast. It celebrates more than just an announcement. It should be called the feast of the Incarnation.

The Church makes the feast of the Immaculate Conception, when Mary was conceived, a solemnity and holy day of obligation, and the feast of Mary’s birth a lesser feast. It does the opposite with Christ, celebrating his birth more than his conception. But who am I to tell the Church that it should be consistent?

St. Leo the Great, a pope of the fifth century, wrote an instruction about the Incarnation that the Church includes in the Office of Readings for today’s feast.

He wrote: “To pay the debt of our sinful state, a nature that is incapable of suffering was joined to one that could suffer. Thus, in keeping with the healing that we needed, one and the same mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, was able to die in one nature, and unable to die in the other.”

He wrote that Jesus enlarged our humanity without diminishing his divinity.

As St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians said, he emptied himself. The Creator and Lord of all things chose to be one of us mortal men.

In doing so, the Son of God did not separate himself from the Father’s glory, but “he is born in a new condition, by a new birth.”

St. Leo emphasized that God the Son existed before time began, a dogma that was denied by the Arians of his time. However, he also, in his human nature, “began to exist at a moment in time. Lord of the universe, he hid his infinite glory and took the nature of a servant.”

The battle at the time that Leo wrote the letter was between the Arians and the Monophysites, who taught that Jesus had only a divine nature and wasn’t truly human. Therefore, Leo repeated, “He who is true God is also true man. There is no falsehood in this unity as long as the lowliness of man and the pre-eminence of God coexist in mutual relationship.”

Each of Jesus’ natures exercised its own activity, he wrote. “The Word does what is proper to the Word, the flesh fulfills what is proper to the flesh. One nature is resplendent with miracles, the other falls victim to injuries. As the Word does not lose equality with the Father’s glory, so the flesh does not leave behind the nature of our race.”

Jesus was God, he wrote, in virtue of the fact that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1). He was man in virtue of the fact that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). That is the doctrine of the Incarnation. †

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