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CHRIST THE HEALING OF MANKIND.
“The Word was made flesh.”
SUCH is the Catholic Faith touching the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ—a doctrine defined by the Holy Ghost, and declared by the beloved disciple; such was the prophecy of Isaiah—“Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel;”11 Isa. vii. 14. such was the salutation of the angel Gabriel—“Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. . . . . . . The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God:”22 St. Luke i. 28, 35. such is the witness of the apostles—“God was manifest in 2the flesh.”33 1 Tim. iii. 16. Again—“In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.”44 Col. ii. 9. So the Church confesses: “For the right faith is, that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man; God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man, of the substance of His mother, born in the world: perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting: equal to the Father as touching His Godhead; and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood: who although He be God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ: one, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the manhood into God: one altogether; not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person; for as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ.”
Now, in this mystery there are two cardinal points: the one, the integrity of the two natures; the other, the unity of the one person. The Word which is the Eternal Son, begotten from everlasting, the very and Eternal God, of one substance with the Father, having in Himself all the attributes, powers, and perfections of the Divine nature—without ceasing to be God was made man, of the substance of flesh and blood, 3and took to Himself our nature, with all its endowments and properties of soul and body; “so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God and very man.” Wherefore “God was in Christ,” not as when He appeared in angelic forms to Abraham and to Israel; nor as He was in the prophets by vision and revelation; nor as He is in us by presence and fellowship: but the man Jesus Christ Himself was God. They that saw Him saw God; they that spake with Him spake with God; they whom He touched and breathed upon, felt the touch and the breath of God. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life (for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us); that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”55 1 St. John i. 1-3.
Such is this great mystery, which we can hardly enunciate, and having enunciated can do 4little more than adore in silence. Let us, how ever, gather such lights as Holy Scripture gives us for the better understanding of the wisdom which is hid in it.
Gainsayers of the Catholic Faith have set themselves chiefly against this dogma, which is the corner-stone of the gospel. They have been wont to object to the mystery of the Incarnation, not only as a thing incredible in the manner of its fulfilment, but as unnecessary and circuitous—that is, inconsistent with the directness of the power and operations of God. “Why,” they say, “need the Son of God be made man? What connexion has this with our salvation? Why could not man be redeemed by the simple exercise of Almighty power in forgiving, cleansing, and raising him from the dead, or in abolishing at once the power of sin and death, so that he should no longer either sin or die?”
Let us consider what answer the doctrine of Faith gives to these questions. It is this: that according to the revelation made to us of the character and kingdom of God, and of the nature and conditions of man, there appears no other way by which we could be saved but by the manifestation of God in the flesh.
1. For, first, although it is most true that God might, in His almighty power, destroy the 5sinful race of mankind, and create another all holy in its stead; or separate the taint of sin and the power of death from our nature, and abolish them altogether; yet we must not forget that God is not Power alone, but Holiness, Wisdom, Justice. There are deeper necessities in the perfections of the Divine mind, and the laws of the spiritual world, which are the expressions of those perfections, than we can penetrate. Sin and death are antagonists and contradictions of the righteousness and immortality of God, which need, it may be, deeper operations of the Divine hand than a simple exercise of power. Sin and death are not realities existing in themselves, apart from beings whom God has made, but are a condition of the creatures of God, privations of holiness and life; they are negations, having no separate existence. Man is sinful, because righteousness has departed from him; and mortal, because with righteousness life also departed. The salvation of man, then, is the restoration of righteousness and immortality—the expulsion of sin and death, by the infusion of their natural and distinctive opposites of holiness and life. But as man, who has fallen under the power of sin and death, is a moral and responsible creature, and as his fall from God was through the misdirected energies of his moral powers, so the restoration of man, it 6may be, can only be effected through the same means, and under the same conditions; and therefore it may be that the immutable justice of God’s kingdom demands no less than the atonement of a Person. We are so greatly ignorant of the original springs of right and wrong, life and death, and of the laws which inform a mind of infinite perfection, that we cannot, without the highest presumption, doubt that there was no other way to abolish the moral causes of separation between God and man, but by One who should harmonise the laws and conditions of such a redemption in His own Person; in a word, that it needed not a bare exertion of Omnipotence, but an economy and dispensation of moral agencies in harmony with the nature of God and of man, co-ordinate with the scheme of the Divine kingdom and of human probation—that is, the intervention of a Personal Redeemer.
2. Again, sin and death had power in and over the personal nature of mankind. It was from this we had need to be redeemed. Though the laws of God’s kingdom were never so fully satisfied, yet our nature would be our destruction: “to be carnally minded is death.” The first sin, as it deprived Adam of the righteousness of grace, so by consequence it threw his nature into corruption; and that corruption is derived to us; and is in every 7one born into the world; and infects the first motions of the will, which, as they pass through the lusts of the flesh, become biassed and distorted. Even though the kingdom of God had nothing against us, we should die, each one of us, by our own inherent mortality. No man could break the yoke of death from off his own neck; much less redeem mankind. Our very nature itself needed to be purged and restored to the conditions of immortality. There must be a work of life counteracting the work of death, and propagating life throughout the race of mankind, as death has been propagated to us from Adam. And for this cause, the Person who should undertake the salvation of mankind must assume to Himself our humanity, that is, the very nature which He was to heal and to save; and put Himself into personal relation to us. So St. Paul argues: “Forasmuch, then, as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same.”66 Heb. ii. 14. We imposed on Him that necessity. The fall of our nature was the producing cause of His incarnation: because we are men, therefore for us men, and for our salvation, He was made Man.
3. And, once more: as this burden of our humanity is too great for any of us to bear without 8falling, no created and finite being, either man or angel, could so assume it as to raise it from its fall, restore its imperfections, and sustain it in strength and mastery over the powers of sin. Angels fell from their first estate, not man alone; both need either the grace of redemption or the grace of perpetual support. Even angels “that excel in strength” stand stedfast in the power of God. In Him is their life, energy, and power. Without Him they would be as we are. They can render to God nothing but what they owe. They can minister, at His bidding, to those that shall be heirs of salvation; but to save is a work too near akin to creation for any but God to accomplish. Our humanity needed to be strengthened and hallowed: of fleshly, to be again made spiritual; of mortal, to be raised above the power of death; of outcast from God, to be united to Him again. So closely, indeed, are we knit to Him, that St. Peter does not fear to say that we are made “partakers of the Divine nature.”77 2 St. Pet. i. 4. Therefore He must needs “by Himself purge our sins.” None but He that in the beginning said, “Let us make man in our image,”88 Gen. i. 26. could restore again to man the image of God.
So far, then, as we can reason upon things the very terms of which transcend our understanding 9it seems that the intrinsic necessities of God’s kingdom, and of man’s fallen state, require a redemption which is wrought by a Person who is able to fulfil the requirements of the Divine Law, and to perfect in Himself the redeemed nature of mankind. And what is this but the Catholic doctrine of the Incarnation? which is, that the Word, the second Person of the ever-blessed Trinity, took upon Him, not by way of nature, but of miracle, our manhood, “of the substance of the Virgin Mary His Mother, without spot of sin;” and in that nature He sanctified our humanity, fulfilled the perfect will of God, bare our sins in His own body, and by death destroyed him that had the power of death. That which as God He could not suffer, He became man that He might undergo. The impassible, eternal God was made flesh, that in the flesh He might endure all that sin had brought upon mankind. His Person was capable of the whole mystery of the fall, sin only excepted.
But here two questions have been asked. One, Why need He to have taken a body of a human mother, instead of creating one for Himself? And the other, How, if human nature be corrupt, and if the Son of God took on Him that very nature, did He escape the original sin which is in us?
To these the answer is direct and easy. It 10is the very same that the Catholic Church made to the heresy of Arius, in defence of Christ’s true Godhead. To the first it must be said, It was necessary that He should partake of our very nature. Had He taken a body created, as in the beginning, from the dust, it would have been a like nature, but not the same. It would have been a second creation of another and a new humanity; and His person would not have been partaker in the very flesh and blood derived to us from the first Adam, for the redemption of which the Word was made flesh. It was necessary that He should be united to us in our own humanity, that the grace of His Incarnation might be communicated to mankind. God, who is the Origin of all being, the Creator of all things that are, does not destroy any work He once has made, but raises it from its fall, and heals it of its wounds and diseases. Therefore He took our very nature, that He might restore it in Himself to its original purity. That very humanity in which the first Adam was created is the same in which the Second was incarnate. There was no other way, than either to create a new nature, which would not be our own, or to restore the old, in which we are fallen and dead.
And to the second question the answer is, that in taking our nature, He took it without spot of 11sin; for He took it not by the way of natural descent, but by a miracle, which broke through the transmission of the original fault. Isaac and John Baptist, though born by miracle, were, nevertheless, conceived and born in sin. Eve was made from the side of Adam; Adam was made of the dust; both by miracle and without sin. The second Adam was made by the operation of the Holy Ghost, of the substance of a pure virgin. He was born in a way of which our regeneration is a shadow, “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”99 St. John i. 13. And, again, from the mystery of the conception, that pure substance which He took was so united to His Divine Person that it was hallowed and sinless, in like manner as the flesh of Adam when God created him and filled him with His own Divine presence. From the moment of His birth every motion of His human soul and flesh was sinless and pure; every inclination of His will was holy. He had all the powers, affections, capacities of our nature, filled with more than original righteousness, with the holiness of God. Yet He was very man, with all our sinless infirmities, susceptible of temptation, sorrow, hunger, thirst, weariness, solitude, weeping, fear, and death. And what are all these but properties of man by creation, not 12by the fall? They were in our first father before he sinned; and in them is no sin. In Christ man was exalted above the state of creation, and united to God by a bond of personal and substantial unity. The second Adam not only restored in Himself the losses of the first, but endowed the nature of man with new gifts of Divine perfection. “The first man was of the earth earthy, the second man is the Lord from heaven;” “the beginning”—that is, the originating principle and productive life of the new “creation of God.”1010 Rev. iii. 14. ἡ ἀρχὴ τῆς κτίσεως τοῦ Θεοῦ.
Now, this supreme doctrine of the faith throws light upon two other doctrines closely related to it.
And, first, it shews us what is the true nature of original sin. It is “the fault and corruption of the nature of every man that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam.” This, therefore, could not reach to the manhood of our Lord, because, though born in our nature, He was not “naturally engendered,” but “conceived by the Holy Ghost.” Adam, by sinning, forfeited his original righteousness,—the grace of God’s presence, whereby he was sanctified: through loss of this gift his nature became faulty and corrupt; and through this fault and corruption inclined to evil. We are born with this fault and corruption, 13whereby we are by nature inclined to evil. The human will, acting under the conditions of this inclination, tends universally and by its own free choice to fulfil the lusts of the flesh, and becomes itself carnal; and “the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be;”1111 Rom. viii. 8. wherefore “it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation.” Such is our first birth into this world: “that which is born of the flesh is flesh.” And in this inheritance of evil we were passive and unconscious: the fault and corruption was in us before we knew that we were in being. Such as man made himself by the fall, such are we who are born from him.
2. The other doctrine which is related to the mystery of the Incarnation is our regeneration. It is the correlative and opposite to the doctrine of original sin. So the Catholic Church has ever taught, arguing, by contraries, from the one to the other: for example, as original sin is the transmission of a quality of evil, so regeneration is the infusion of a quality of good; as original sin is inherited without the personal act of us who are born of the flesh, so regeneration is bestowed without personal merit in us who are born of the Spirit; as in the inheritance of original sin we are passive and unconscious, so in regeneration; 14as original sin precedes all actings of our will, so also regeneration; as original sin is the root of all evil in us, so regeneration is the root of all good. Strange is the cycle in which errors run. Those very tokens by which the gift of regeneration is manifested to be freely given to us of God, are the very grounds of modern unbelief. Men will have it to be no more than a change of state, and not of nature; a mere outward transfer into the outward means of grace; and that, forsooth, because a passive, unconscious child is, in their eyes, incapable of the infusion of a quality of good. What is this but the Pelagianism of regeneration? How can they defend the doctrine of original sin as the transmission of evil to passive, unconscious infants, by inheritance from a man that sinned, while they deny the infusion of a quality of good by the free gift and grace of God? In truth it is much to be feared that this is simple unbelief in the great freeness of God’s grace, in the presence and reality of spiritual mysteries. And it is to be feared too, that it is an unbelief which spreads further into the doctrines of faith. Can it be thought that even the doctrine of original sin is thoroughly believed? or the doctrine of the creation of Adam from the dust, and of Eve from the side of Adam? or of the mysterious Incarnation of the Word, of the substance of His 15mother? or of the resurrection of the body? or of the doctrine of regeneration in any sense or shape? For, if the passiveness and unconsciousness of the subject be any objection to the regeneration of infants in baptism, it is an objection to the doctrines of creation, incarnation, resurrection, and regeneration, in any form, unless we be Pelagians and Rationalists. After all, will it not be found that the root of all this is a rationalistic unwillingness to believe any thing which does not base itself upon the active and conscious workings of the human soul?—an error fatal to faith in the Gospel of Christ; subversive of the freeness and sovereignty of God’s grace, which it assumes to magnify. Let us not give up the faith of a childlike heart for petulant, half-sighted reasonings. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights.” “What have we that we have not received?” “By the grace of God I am what I am.” All things come from Him; we are but receivers, empty vessels to be filled out of His fulness; passive and unconscious till He breathe into us the breath of life, as in our first, so in our second birth. This is the very law of our regeneration, whereby we are taken out from the first Adam, and incorporated into the second; whereby we are made “members of His body, of His flesh, and of His 16bones;”1212 Eph. v. 30. and are made partakers of His Incarnation, and of the virtues of healing, life, and resurrection, which go out of His flesh, which He gave “for the life of the world.”17
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