Monday, October 15, 2012

The importance of the incarnation for our salvation

With Advent coming in about a month and a half, perhaps it is timely that we start to ponder anew what the coming of Jesus into our world really means for us.  We seldom give the incarnation and its implications serious thought.  We may become better Christians when we think anew about this mystery of God becoming one of us for our sake.

In my Christology class, we have been looking at the many theories of the natures of Christ which had been discussed extensively throughout the history of the Church.  That he is human and divine and undivided had been the reason of great and stormy debates in the early church years. 

I asked the professor in class whether this debate and misunderstanding of the natures of Christ are something to be of concern to the person in the pew in this day and age, and the answer he gave was something that I believed to be very relevant, especially for the coming Advent season. 

He believes that many Catholics have a rather heretical understanding of how Jesus is both human and divine.  One heretical understanding of Jesus being fully human was that there was a point when his divine nature came upon his humanity, probably at the time of his baptism in the river Jordan.  This heresy is given the term ‘adoptionism’. This is the erroneous belief that God ‘adopted’ Jesus at some point in time of his life.  Stretched this belief to its limit, an extreme form of ‘adoptionism’ would be when man believes that things can be divinized.

The other heresy is that Jesus is divine, but he only appeared to be a man.  The term for this heresy is ‘docetism’, which comes from the Greek word ‘dokein’ meaning “to seem’.  These are just two of the many wrong views of Christ’s two natures which have gotten theologians through the ages in all sorts of knots. 

What implications do they have for us?  A misconstrued understanding of how Jesus is God and man will affect the way we pray and the way we define and talk about Jesus as the Son of God.  If he only ‘seems’ to be human, the result would be that in whatever difficulties or challenges which we find ourselves facing, which will inevitably involve some form of suffering, it would be only lip-service when we say ‘Jesus, you suffered as man in order to give us the strength to cope with our own sufferings’. It would mean that he was only putting on a show on Calvary, and only ‘seem’ to suffer when he really did not. 

If we think in terms of adoptionist theories, it would mean that any created being can be ‘divinised’ and made into God just by the Father’s adoption.  The result of this belief is that everything that is in nature can also then be divinized and worshipped if God wants it to be, or if we choose to believe so.  That would make Jesus only slightly different, if at all, from every other person.  Or worse, that a tree, an animal or some element could become something that can be worshipped. 

I like a story written by G K Chesterton about how a man who wasn’t too spiritual in life died and went to hell.  Missed by his friends who were still alive, they made attempts to see if there was any chance of getting him back.  First was his business agent, who rapped on the gates of hell for it to be opened, but to no avail.  Next, his priest went down and pleaded his case, saying “he wasn’t all that bad when he was alive.  I am sure, given the time and the opportunity, he would have repented and changed.  Please, let him out”.  But still, the gate remained tightly shut.  Finally, his own mother went down, but her approach was very different.  Instead of begging for his release, or giving reasons for leniency, she spoke as only a mother could and said to Satan: “Let me in.” Immediately the gate swung open.  Chesterton goes on to say, “For love goes down through the gates of hell and there redeems the dead”.

A proper and healthy understanding of the incarnation will help us draw a parallel between that loving and sacrificial act by the man’s mother to Jesus’ becoming one us in our humanity, to suffer and die for us.  It turns many things on its head, and hopefully, one of them is the belief that there is a limit to God’s love for us. 

If we really believe that God’s love for us is unlimited and unconditional, there is then so much that we can do for one another when we see others trapped in the hells of their own creation.  


  1. Dear Fr. Luke,

    From what I understand, and according to Catholic teaching, Jesus was always both human and divine at the same time. Something called the hypostatic union, I believe. Thus, Jesus embodied two natures, human and divine, both in perfect union in the one person of Christ.

    How God could allow His only Son to become “one of us” and then suffer so unjustly is utterly incomprehensible to me. But I accept that His love has no limits; and that His ways are certainly not ours. What a great, great God we have !

    Peace and Joy,

  2. Dearest Fr. Luke,
    I remembered a few years back when reflecting on Christmas – Jesus’ incarnation as man; I came across a quote by Pope St Leo the Great, which goes like this -

    Invisible in His own nature, He became visible in ours.
    Beyond our grasp, He chose to come within our grasp.
    Existing before all time began, He began to exist in a moment in time.
    Incapable of suffering as God, He did not refuse to be man, capable of suffering.
    Immortal, He chose to be subject to the laws of death.

    When reflecting this quote, I was simply awestruck as the immensity of God’s love for us overwhelms me. Our God loves us so much, that He would rather die Himself than to live without us. How blessed, blessed, blessed we are to be recipients of this everlasting, unchangingly faithful, enduring love.

    Indeed as you say, because when we believe in God’s unconditional and limitless love, there is then so much we can do for others who are in hell – of not knowing how beloved they are by God; and thus remaining in their brokenness and hells of their own creation. When we believe and surrender to God, God will strengthen us and use us – as His channels of peace. (Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi).

    Thank You Fr. Luke, for this reminder, that we should start now, preparing ourselves in anticipation for the wonderful gift of Jesus’ birth (before the commercial world distracts us during the season…)
    God be with you always.

    PS: Happy Blessed Feast Day.