The Mystery of the Incarnation (1)

January 22, 2021

The mystery of the Incarnation that the liturgy brings to life with the Christmas cycle is an inexhaustible source of contemplation. To facilitate this consideration, two articles by Fr. Patrick Troadec will summarize the main teachings of the Church on this subject.

The Suitability of the Incarnation

The life of God is a mystery to us. God is Light, but this light is dazzling for us; it remains inaccessible. God dwells in “light inaccessible,” St. Paul tells us: Lucem inhabitat inacessibilem (1 Tim 6:16). As a result, the imprudent one who “is a searcher of majesty, shall be overwhelmed by glory” (Prov 25:27).

Also in the spiritual life, it is important not to seek to understand fully the divine mysteries. God being infinitely above us, it is not surprising that we do not fully understand who He is. As the author of The Imitation of Christ says in Book IV, God can do more than meets the eye. What He expects from us is that we have a deep faith and a pure life. So, let us simply recognize our limits.

However, if God is in Himself inaccessible, He has sent his Son to us to make Him known to us. “No man hath seen God at any time,” says St. John, “the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him” (Jn 1:18).

Let us not forget that the Incarnate Word is the firstborn of all creatures (Col 1:15), the one who is before all and above all. He sums up all creation in Himself. He is the model and the perfection of everything (Eph 1:10). He is the object of the Father’s kindness (Mt 3:17). The rest are worthy only in Him and only by Him. It is therefore Our Lord who will allow us to know God without exhausting His mystery.

If the knowledge of God in His intimate life is impenetrable, we can, however, discover the appropriateness of certain mysteries of religion, as well as the links which unite the mysteries between them, things being supposed as they are. God could have done things differently. He could have not incarnated, He could have saved us without suffering, but He wanted to incarnate, He wanted to suffer. And theologians and mystical writers have shown the merits of the divine plan.

We will therefore discover why the Word became incarnate and admire the suitability of the divine plan, then we will see how the Incarnation reveals several attributes, and, notably, His omnipotence, His wisdom, His goodness, and His justice. Finally we will try to see the harmony of three inseparable mysteries: the Incarnation, the Eucharist, and communion.

The Reason for the Incarnation

Before probing the perfections of the Word made flesh, let us try to remember why He became incarnate.

The first man sinned. He had come out of the hands of God, free, innocent, holy, but abusing his freedom, he separated himself from God in order to turn in a rebellious way towards the goods of this earth. As a result, he found himself stripped of grace, wounded in his natural faculties, condemned to eternal deprivation of the sovereign good he had offended, and also to the eternal torment of the senses which he had wanted to satisfy with disordered pleasures.

In itself, the harm was irremediable. For God is the sovereign good, and evil is the negation or rejection of the sovereign good. Whoever commits evil says no to God; he refuses to submit to Him. Consequently, he separates himself from God. Sin is defined as “aversio a Deo, conversio ad creaturam” (I-II a 4, q 87): the turning away from God and the conversion, that is to say the unregulated attachment, to the creature.

God must therefore punish evil in order to satisfy His justice, but man cannot—alas!—make satisfaction himself, the sin being committed against the majesty of an infinite God. But if divine justice demands infinite punishment, His mercy appeals to an immense forgiveness.

The Son of God, having compassion on fallen humanity, resolved to raise it up and save it. He said to His Father: “O Father, you no longer wanted these offerings, these sacrifices, which are not sufficiently worthy of you. But you formed a body for me. And why did you give it to me? For I come, O Father, to accomplish your will. You demand that I offer it to you as a sacrifice ... Behold I come: Ecce venio, in capite libri scriptum est de me, ut faciam voluntatem tuam. Deus meus. At the head of the book it is written of me that I should do thy will: O my God, I have desired it, and thy law in the midst of my heart” (Heb 10:5-7; cf. Ps 39:7-9).

The realization of the mystery

To accomplish this plan for the salvation of mankind, God resolved to come to this world in the womb of the Immaculate Virgin. Thus, the Blessed Virgin is at the height of creation. It is through her that the Word enters the world. As soon as He appears, she welcomes Him, she adores Him: humble, docile, pure, loving, she opens up and surrenders herself to Him according to the full extent of her will.

“O Jesus, God of love, God given out of love, how sweet it is to think that the heart of this Virgin was the first step in coming into this world to redeem it from its fault!”

The next step for Jesus is a painful life from the manger to the Cross, from Bethlehem to Golgotha. Jesus accepts it generously and even with joy.

However, to benefit from the salvation He has merited for man, man must open his heart to the actions of grace,  and as soon as he does so, Our Lord is filled with joy.

Here then is man’s offense, made against God, fully erased; and the glory of God, which was to sing the creation, compromised for a moment, abundantly repaired to the point that the Church sings on Holy Saturday: “O felix culpa! O happy fault!”

How can one dare to assert such a thing? True, original sin has disastrous effects. It has caused the corruption of nature in every man: the darkening of the intellect to the point where man often comes to confuse good and evil and to seek his happiness in creatures; a wound in the will affected with malice and brought to revolt; cuts and wounds in the sensitive faculties weakened in the assistance they were to provide to the will, and bearing with unbridled violence towards guilty pleasures. This is all true. And as a consequence of this weakening of man, how many men fall into mortal sin with all the incalculable dramatic consequences that it contains: loss of the friendship of God, deprivation of sanctifying grace and of all previously acquired merit. This is all true.

But alongside so many evils, sin has also resulted in better emphasizing the perfections of God, which without Him would have remained obscure. St. John Damascene says that the Incarnation reveals all at once, the power of God, His goodness, His justice, and His wisdom.

The Work of Divine Omnipotence

It reveals divine omnipotence given that God became man. The fact of uniting in one person two such distant natures, which are divinity and humanity, is the manifestation of divine omnipotence. The distance between divinity and humanity is such that St. Paul speaks in terms of annihilation in describing the Incarnation. He says: “Jesus Christ emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant,” (Phil 2: 7). And if we ask ourselves how this is possible, we already have the answer in the words of the Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin when he tells her that her cousin Elizabeth is pregnant—she who was sterile and advanced in age: “Nothing is impossible with God” (Lk 1:37). This is why St. John Chrysostom affirms: “Ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed; He had the power; He descended; He redeemed; this was our salvation.”

The Incarnation, a Masterpiece of Wisdom

To be wise is to proportion the means to the end. He is wise who takes the right measures to achieve the end he has set for himself. But there is an even higher wisdom: it is to be able not only to correct evil, but to bring good out of evil.

What all men must recognize is that man is a fallen being. Man has a nature of being reasonable, and yet there are very few men who live in a truly reasonable way. Blaise Pascal has already pointed that out.

And the more people deny the existence of God, the harder it is to overcome themselves, to control themselves, to tame their passions, to ensure full control of themselves. This is a sign that human nature, left to its own devices, is inclined towards evil. Man by nature is selfish, proud, carnal.

Now, God has created a fully harmonious, ordered universe. So there would therefore only have been the man He had “messed up,” He who is nevertheless the king of creation? This is untenable. So this is the clue that God did not create man as he is today. Therefore, he has indeed fallen from an original state in which he lived in order. And faith confirms to us that man has been removed from a state of perfection by an act of disobedience to God.

So consequently, by what means will divine wisdom solve the great problem of evil? Some people think: God only had to forget the sin and act as if it had not happened. In reality, evil being the negation of the supreme Good, God must demand satisfaction proportionate to the evil. And that is why God in His wisdom resolved to incarnate.

Since man sinned out of pride, God humbled Himself. Man having disobeyed, Our Lord obeyed; man having tasted a forbidden pleasure, Our Lord would drink the chalice of bitterness to the dregs.

These lessons have been understood throughout the history of the Church by devout Christians and especially by the Saints. They in turn sought to follow the divine Master on the way of humility, obedience, and mortification, the way of the cross carried with love.

The Incarnation, A Work of Divine Goodness

The Incarnation is not only a work of Divine omnipotence, of His wisdom, but also of His goodness.

God became man so that man may rediscover the friendship of God and be made a participant in His divine nature.

St. Paul in his Epistle to the Ephesians clearly says that the Incarnation is a work of the infinite goodness of God: “But God, (who is rich in mercy,) for His exceeding charity wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together in Christ, (by whose grace you are saved,) and hath raised us up together, and hath made us sit together in the heavenly places, through Christ Jesus. That he might shew in the ages to come the abundant riches of His grace, in His bounty towards us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, for it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man may glory. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus in good works, which God hath prepared that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:4-10).

In the following chapter, St. Paul wishes for the faithful “to know also the charity of Christ, which surpasses all knowledge,” (Eph 3:19).

The Incarnation, The Work of God’s Justice

How is God’s justice manifested in the Incarnation?

It manifests itself in Our Lord who comes into this world to repair our faults. He comes as a victim of our faults. By becoming human, Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate, will be able to pay all the debt owed to God through sin. As a divine person, He can do acts of infinite value. He can therefore erase the injury made to the Divine Majesty, by offering Him as a reparation of infinite value. Certainly, the slightest act of the Incarnate Word would be enough to ensure this reparation, but what would have been sufficient for strict justice is not enough for His love. To more perfectly manifest His love, He went so far as to endure His Passion and His death.

And by that very fact, He also conquered the Devil. He announced it in these terms: “The prince of this world is going to be cast out” (Jn 12:31). Of course, God did not remove all power from Satan; St. Paul even predicted the progress of evil towards the end of time: “in the last days shall come dangerous times. Men shall be lovers of themselves, covetous, haughty, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, wicked, without affection, without peace, slanderers, incontinent, unmerciful, without kindness, traitors, stubborn, puffed up, and lovers of pleasures more than of God: having an appearance indeed of godliness, but denying the power thereof,” (2Tim 3:1-5). These are “men corrupted in mind, reprobate concerning the faith,” (2Tim 3:8).

And it is precisely in this impiety that the Devil found his just punishment: the death to which he doomed Jesus Christ marks the end of his reign. This is what the Church’s liturgy recalls in the Preface of the Holy Cross: “Lord, Father almighty, eternal God: who didst establish the salvation of mankind on the tree of the cross: that whence death rose, thence also life might rise again, and that he who overcame by a tree, by a tree also might be overcome: through Christ our Lord.”

Our Lord thus erased the original stain and appeased the just anger of God by becoming man and dying for us on the cross. And at the same time He humiliated the Devil by making what appeared to be his victory in reality his defeat. By putting Christ to death, the Devil believed he had conquered Him forever. However, it was by his killing that he himself was defeated.

We can add that the justice of God appears in his wanting the Devil to be conquered by this same human nature that he had brought to evil. As he had deceived a man, and by that one man corrupted all of Adam’s offspring, so his empire would be ruined by a man who will infuse grace into any soul who accepts to be guided by Him.

Thus, we can say that the Incarnation is truly the masterpiece of the infinite justice of God.

And for our part, by recognizing that Our Lord is God, let us not forget to recognize that He is not only the God of individuals, the God of families, but that He is also the God of societies. God created man with a social nature. Society therefore has duties to render to Him. Also, we must beg the good Lord that Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, as creator of peoples as well as of individuals, may regain His rights over the nations. May the nations finally accept the science of salvation as we say in the Benedictus: “Ad dandam scientiam salutis plebi ejus, in remissionem peccatorum. To give knowledge of salvation to His people, unto the remission of their sins” (Lk 1:77).