December 21, 2012

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Year of Faith: Our belief in the Incarnation

John F. Fink“The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14).

That is what we celebrate on Christmas, the magnificent mystery of the Incarnation. It is the amazing fact that Almighty God actually lowered himself to become a human being.

St. John’s Gospel tells us as plainly as possible, “In the beginning was the Word”—he existed from all eternity—“and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). To make it even clearer, he identifies the Word with creation, saying, “All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be” (Jn 1:3).

St. Paul also taught the pre-existence of Jesus Christ. In his Letter to the Philippians, written perhaps as early as 55 A.D., he quoted a hymn that already existed.

“Jesus Christ, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness” (Phil 2:6-7).

Paul wrote about God sending his Son in other letters, too. To the Galatians, he wrote, “When the fullness of time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman” (Gal 4:4). To the Romans, he wrote, “Sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh … ” (Rom 8:3).

This has been the belief of Christians down through the centuries—that Jesus was true God, existing from all eternity and through whom all things were made, but at a particular moment in history also became a human being.

He was both God and man, fully human with all our imperfections and weaknesses while remaining the perfect and infinitely powerful God. He is not part God and part man or some confused mixture, but fully human while remaining God.

But why did God choose to assume our human nature? Various reasons are given. The Word became flesh in order to save us by reconciling us with God, so that thus we might know God’s love, to be our model of holiness, and to make us partakers of the divine nature.

The ultimate reason, though, is because God chose to assume a human nature in order to accomplish our salvation, our redemption, in it. That couldn’t be done by just any human, but it did require a human to do it. Since Jesus is divine and human, he is the one and only mediator between God and humans.

Because we have been redeemed by the God-man, we humans can share God’s divine nature. Ever since the beginning of Christian theology, the reason for the Incarnation has been “so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God” (Irenaeus, second century).

Or as St. Athanasius wrote in the fourth century, “God became man so that man might become God.”

In the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas said, “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.” †

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