Listers, the tender infant that comes to us through the sinless womb of the Ever-Virgin Mary is the Incarnate God. The union of the second person of the Trinity with human nature is a central mystery of the Christian faith. To properly understand the mission of Jesus Christ, the Incarnation, his Death, and his Resurrection must be viewed as three parts of the whole of human salvation.
An SPL Introduction
Often times, the salvific effects of the Cross and Resurrection overshadow the more nuanced effects of the Incarnation. However in St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, the Angelic Doctor catalogues five reasons the Incarnation moved humanity toward the Goodness of God, and five reasons the Incarnation drew us from Evil. Each point is supported by a quote by St. Augustine, if not entirely articulated by him.1
What did the Incarnation do?
Moved Humanity Toward the Good
1. Faith: A Great Assurance
First, with regard to faith, which is made more certain by believing God Himself Who speaks; hence Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xi, 2): “In order that man might journey more trustfully toward the truth, the Truth itself, the Son of God, having assumed human nature, established and founded faith.”
The Incarnation of God moves the People of God past the age of prophets. No longer are God’s Children dependent on prophets to relay the Will of God, but God himself came in the flesh and spoke directly. Christ was the fullness of God’s revelation, and as such the role of the apostles and consequently the Church was to pass on and protect the self-revelation of Jesus Christ.
2. Hope: The Depth of Divine Love
Secondly, with regard to hope, which is thereby greatly strengthened; hence Augustine says (De Trin. xiii): “Nothing was so necessary for raising our hope as to show us how deeply God loved us. And what could afford us a stronger proof of this than that the Son of God should become a partner with us of human nature?”
Amongst the agony of the Cross of Christ, we are struck by the depth of God’s love. However, the Incarnation speaks the same truth, but in a more gentle manner. The humility demonstrated by the Omnipotent God to come not only in human form, but as a helpless babe in an animal trough grants humanity everlasting hope in God’s love for mankind.
3. Charity: Let Us Be Quick To “Love in Return”
Thirdly, with regard to charity, which is greatly enkindled by this; hence Augustine says (De Catech. Rudib. iv): “What greater cause is there of the Lord’s coming than to show God’s love for us?” And he afterwards adds: “If we have been slow to love, at least let us hasten to love in return.”
4. So That God May Be Seen & Followed
Fourthly, with regard to well-doing, in which He set us an example; hence Augustine says in a sermon (xxii de Temp.): “Man who might be seen was not to be followed; but God was to be followed, Who could not be seen. And therefore God was made man, that He Who might be seen by man, and Whom man might follow, might be shown to man.”
Humanity needed an exemplar who could be seen and followed. Christ the Lord fulfilled that role by simultaneously granting humanity a God who could be seen and living an exemplary life.
5. A Full Participation with the Divine
Fifthly, with regard to the full participation of the Divinity, which is the true bliss of man and end of human life; and this is bestowed upon us by Christ’s humanity; for Augustine says in a sermon (xiii de Temp.): “God was made man, that man might be made God.”
Christ Jesus came as the New Adam and recapitulated the body of humanity. With the old sinful head of Adam replaced, mankind is now able to directly participate with Divinity of God. Christ, as the New Adam, is in a real way humanity itself, and he has drawn up mankind into the Divine Life, the Trinity.
St. Peter, the first Pope articulates this truth as follows:2
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence… that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.
If a now famous phrase, St. Athanasius’ quip on theosis:
God became man so that men might become gods.
May the mystery of the Incarnation, a central pillar of the Christian faith, be a centerpiece of our thought during Christmastime and throughout the entire year.
- Sources: The list is found in St. Thomas’ Summa Theologica III.I.II (Third Part – First Question – Second Article) and is also articulated and commented upon by the astute Dominican, Fr. Romanus Cessario, O.P. in his wonderful work The Godly Image: Christ and Salvation in Catholic Thought from Anselm to Aquinas, pp. 126-127. [↩]
- II Peter 1:3-4 [↩]