Happy Feast of St. Joseph! St. Joseph is the MAN (meaning he is awesome AND his is my model of manhood). I’ve written about how awesome St. Joseph is HERE and am also working on a series of reflections about him and how he is a model of manly virtues.
But this post, like my devotion to Joseph, isn’t really about Joseph. Its about Jesus.
Today, we continue our reflections on the Creed, and our reflections on our Lord Jesus Christ, by examining the historical importance of the Incarnation and the theological importance of the Hypostatic Union.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven
One of the fundamental truths the Church teaches about Jesus is that Christ is truly God and truly Man. He isn’t part god, part man, like Hercules or some other demigod from other world mythologies. Rather, in the words of the Council of Chalcedon, Christ has two natures, Divine and human, “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.” When the Incarnation happened, God took on a human nature without losing any of the Divine Nature. It is what the Church calls the Hypostatic Union. Practically speaking, this means that Jesus was fully God, and yet truly one of us, “like us in all things but sin” (Hebrews 4:15). All of the Christological heresies in the Church, from Gnosticism onward, took issue with some aspect of this fundamental teaching of the Gospels. The Creed of Nicaea answers their heresies sometimes before they were even formulated.
Perhaps Christ was merely God, with an imaginary body. So the Gnostics, specifically the Docetists, taught. The New Testament allows no such confusion.
Perhaps He was like God, but not quite God, since it would not be fitting for God to join with His creation. No, Arius, that’s not right either.
Perhaps He was God and Man, with a real body, but with two persons: the Second Person of the Trinity and the human person Jesus, son of Mary. No, Nestorius, that doesn’t work either; He wouldn’t be truly God.
Maybe, at the moment of the Incarnation, the power of God was SO POWERFUL, that the divine Nature subsumed Jesus’ human nature? No, you Monophysites, then He wouldn’t be truly human. You can’t be human without a human nature.
What if Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t really God, but was so good, as a moral teacher, that God picked Him to be His Son at His baptism by John in the Jordan River? No, Apollianarius, then he wouldn’t be God; he would be a mere hero from Greek and Roman mythology.
Jesus of Nazareth was (and is) 100% God and 100% Man. That statement continues to baffle people today. The pendulum has swung away from those who sought to paint Jesus as God and not really man to the point that you might be mocked today for considering Jesus truly God, that the miracles attributed to Him really happened, that He did, indeed, rise from the dead. Modernism, “the synthesis of all heresies” according to Pope St. Pius X, tried desperately to keep the relevancy of the Gospels while gutting it of the spiritual dimensions found therein. The result was a mixed bag of confusion and error, a perfect storm of bad history and messy heresy.
And the Church continues to confess, in season and out of season, that “He came down from heaven.”
Fine fine FINE. He’s truly God and truly man. But we didn’t really need Him as a redeemer, just as a model for right living.
No, Pelagius, that doesn’t work either.
The line “For us men and for our salvation” answers the question, “Why did God become incarnate?” Check out one of the most famous lines in all of Scripture:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him (John 3:16-17)
Our salvation is through Christ Jesus, through the grace of God for us. It was this fundamental facet of our Faith that Pelagius denied. Pelagius taught that it was our work, our effort, that won us our salvation. In other words, we weren’t redeemed by Christ, but we instead seized our place in Heaven. In fact, we didn’t need a redemption at all, because Adam’s sin (Original Sin) had no affect on us directly; rather, we followed his bad example and sinned. Christ was not our redeemer; He was merely a good example to counteract Adam’s bad example.
Now Pelagius should have known better. At least the earlier heretics like the Gnostics and Arius did not have the benefit of the Nicene Creed to help in their theological discussions. Pelagius did, having come onto the theological scene a generation after Nicaea I. St. Augustine dealt well with Pelagius’ arguments, earning Augustine the nickname “Doctor of Grace.”
So Christ, truly God and truly man, saved us from our sins.
What of our good works? Are they as bad as Martin Luther taught in the 16th century, that the best human act is at least a venial sin? Are they a waste of time, since our redemption has been won for us by the blood of Christ on the cross?
Often forgotten in this context, at least by those who reject the Church’s position on salvation, is St. Paul comment in his letter to the Colossians, that in his suffering he is “filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His body, which is the church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God” (Colossians 1:24-25). In other words, our actions unite with those of Christ for the whole Church. What is “lacking” is our joining our joys and sufferings with those of Christ, through which we participate in Christ’s sacrifice. This is particularly clear at the Mass, where the faithful are called upon to “lift up your hearts.” The Roman Canon has the priest pray to God for those gathered at the liturgy,
Whose faith and devotion are known to you.
For them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise
or they offer it for themselves
and all who are dear to them:
for the redemption of their souls,
in hope of health and well-being,
and paying their homage to you,
the eternal God, living and true.
At every Mass we, in our prayers, admit that we are not the source of our salvation, but that we play a role in it through our participation in the sacrifice of Christ.
Yet it isn’t to the sacrifice of the cross that the Creed turns at this moment. Rather, it is the other side of Christ’s life, the Annunciation itself. We will turn to this mystery in our next reflection.