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Chapter VI.—On the Incarnation of Christ.

1.  It is now time, after this cursory notice of these points, to resume our investigation of the incarnation of our Lord and Saviour, viz., how or why He became man.  Having therefore, to the best of our feeble ability, considered His divine nature from the contemplation of His own works rather than from our own feelings, and having nevertheless beheld (with the eye) His visible creation while the invisible creation is seen by faith, because human frailty can neither see all things with the bodily eye nor comprehend them by reason, seeing we men are weaker and frailer than any other rational beings (for those which are in heaven, or are supposed to exist above the heaven, are superior), it remains that we seek a being intermediate between all created things and God, i.e., a Mediator, whom the Apostle Paul styles the “first-born of every creature.”21412141    Col. i. 15.  Seeing, moreover, those declarations regarding His majesty which are contained in holy Scripture, that He is called the “image of the invisible God, and the first-born of every creature,” and that “in Him were all things created, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers, all things were created by Him, and in Him:  and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist,”21422142    Col. i. 16, 17. who is the head of all things, alone having as head God the Father; for it is written, “The head of Christ is God;”21432143    1 Cor. xi. 3. seeing clearly also that it is written, “No one knoweth the Father, save the Son, nor doth any one know the Son, save the Father”21442144    Matt. xi. 27. (for who can know what wisdom is, save He who called it into being? or, who can understand clearly what truth is, save the Father of truth? who can investigate with certainty the universal nature of His Word, and of God Himself, which nature proceeds from God, except God alone, with whom the Word was), we ought to regard it as certain that this Word, or Reason (if it is to be so termed), this Wisdom, this Truth, is known to no other than the Father only; and of Him it is written, that “I do not think that the world itself could contain the books which might be written,”21452145    John xxi. 25. regarding, viz., the glory and majesty of the Son of God.  For it is impossible to commit to writing (all) those particulars which belong to the glory of the Saviour.  After the consideration of questions of such importance concerning the being of the Son of God, we are lost in the deepest amazement that such a nature, pre-eminent above all others, should have divested itself of its condition of majesty and become man, and tabernacled amongst men, as the grace that was poured upon His lips testifies, and as His heavenly Father bore Him witness, and as is confessed by the various signs and wonders and miracles21462146    Virtutibus, probably for δυνάμεσιν. that were performed by Him; who also, before that appearance of His which He manifested in the body, sent the prophets as His forerunners, and the messengers of His advent; and after His ascension into heaven, made His holy apostles, men ignorant and unlearned, taken from the ranks of tax-gatherers or fishermen, but who were filled with the power of His divinity, to itinerate throughout the world, that they might gather together out of every race and every nation a multitude of devout believers in Himself.

2.  But of all the marvellous and mighty acts related of Him, this altogether surpasses human admiration, and is beyond the power of mortal frailness to understand or feel, how that mighty power of divine majesty, that very Word of the Father, and that very wisdom of God, in which were created all things, visible and invisible, can 282be believed to have existed within the limits of that man who appeared in Judea; nay, that the Wisdom of God can have entered the womb of a woman, and have been born an infant, and have uttered wailings like the cries of little children!  And that afterwards it should be related that He was greatly troubled in death, saying, as He Himself declared, “My soul is sorrowful even unto death;”21472147    Matt. xxvi. 38. and that at the last He was brought to that death which is accounted the most shameful among men, although He rose again on the third day.  Since, then, we see in Him some things so human that they appear to differ in no respect from the common frailty of mortals, and some things so divine that they can appropriately belong to nothing else than to the primal and ineffable nature of Deity, the narrowness of human understanding can find no outlet; but, overcome with the amazement of a mighty admiration, knows not whither to withdraw, or what to take hold of, or whither to turn.  If it think of a God, it sees a mortal; if it think of a man, it beholds Him returning from the grave, after overthrowing the empire of death, laden with its spoils.  And therefore the spectacle is to be contemplated with all fear and reverence, that the truth of both natures may be clearly shown to exist in one and the same Being; so that nothing unworthy or unbecoming may be perceived in that divine and ineffable substance, nor yet those things which were done be supposed to be the illusions of imaginary appearances.  To utter these things in human ears, and to explain them in words, far surpasses the powers either of our rank, or of our intellect and language.  I think that it surpasses the power even of the holy apostles; nay, the explanation of that mystery may perhaps be beyond the grasp of the entire creation of celestial powers.  Regarding Him, then, we shall state, in the fewest possible words, the contents of our creed rather than the assertions which human reason is wont to advance; and this from no spirit of rashness, but as called for by the nature of our arrangement, laying before you rather (what may be termed) our suspicions than any clear affirmations.

3.  The Only-begotten of God, therefore, through whom, as the previous course of the discussion has shown, all things were made, visible and invisible, according to the view of Scripture, both made all things, and loves what He made.  For since He is Himself the invisible image of the invisible God, He conveyed invisibly a share in Himself to all His rational creatures, so that each one obtained a part of Him exactly proportioned to the amount of affection with which he regarded Him.  But since, agreeably to the faculty of free-will, variety and diversity characterized the individual souls, so that one was attached with a warmer love to the Author of its being, and another with a feebler and weaker regard, that soul (anima) regarding which Jesus said, “No one shall take my life (animam) from me,”21482148    John x. 18.  “No other soul which descended into a human body has stamped on itself a pure and unstained resemblance of its former stamp, save that one of which the Savior says, ‘No one will take my soul from me, but I lay it down of myself.’”—Jerome, Epistle to Avitus, p. 763. inhering, from the beginning of the creation, and afterwards, inseparably and indissolubly in Him, as being the Wisdom and Word of God, and the Truth and the true Light, and receiving Him wholly, and passing into His light and splendour, was made with Him in a pre-eminent degree21492149    Principaliter. one spirit, according to the promise of the apostle to those who ought to imitate it, that “he who is joined in the Lord is one spirit.”21502150    1 Cor. vi. 17.  This substance of a soul, then, being intermediate between God and the flesh—it being impossible for the nature of God to intermingle with a body without an intermediate instrument—the God-man is born, as we have said, that substance being the intermediary to whose nature it was not contrary to assume a body.  But neither, on the other hand, was it opposed to the nature of that soul, as a rational existence, to receive God, into whom, as stated above, as into the Word, and the Wisdom, and the Truth, it had already wholly entered.  And therefore deservedly is it also called, along with the flesh which it had assumed, the Son of God, and the Power of God, the Christ, and the Wisdom of God, either because it was wholly in the Son of God, or because it received the Son of God wholly into itself.  And again, the Son of God, through whom all things were created, is named Jesus Christ and the Son of man.  For the Son of God also is said to have died—in reference, viz., to that nature which could admit of death; and He is called the Son of man, who is announced as about to come in the glory of God the Father, with the holy angels.  And for this reason, throughout the whole of Scripture, not only is the divine nature spoken of in human words, but the human nature is adorned by appellations of divine dignity.  More truly indeed of this than of any other can the statement be affirmed, “They shall both be in one flesh, and are no longer two, but one flesh.”21512151    Gen. ii. 24; cf. Mark x. 8.  For the Word of God is to be considered as being more in one flesh with the soul than a man with his wife.  But to whom is it more becoming to be also one spirit with God, than to this soul which has so joined itself to God by love as that it may justly be said to be one spirit with Him?

2834.  That the perfection of his love and the sincerity of his deserved affection21522152    Meriti affectus. formed for it this inseparable union with God, so that the assumption of that soul was not accidental, or the result of a personal preference, but was conferred as the reward of its virtues, listen to the prophet addressing it thus:  “Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated wickedness:  therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.”21532153    Ps. xlv. 7.  As a reward for its love, then, it is anointed with the oil of gladness; i.e., the soul of Christ along with the Word of God is made Christ.  Because to be anointed with the oil of gladness means nothing else than to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  And when it is said “above thy fellows,” it is meant that the grace of the Spirit was not given to it as to the prophets, but that the essential fulness of the Word of God Himself was in it, according to the saying of the apostle, “In whom dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.”21542154    Col. ii. 9.  Finally, on this account he has not only said, “Thou hast loved righteousness;” but he adds, “and Thou hast hated wickedness.”  For to have hated wickedness is what the Scripture says of Him, that “He did no sin, neither was any guile found in His mouth,”21552155    Isa. liii. 9. and that “He was tempted in all things like as we are, without sin.”21562156    Heb. iv. 15.  Nay, the Lord Himself also said, “Which of you will convince Me of sin?”21572157    John viii. 46.  And again He says with reference to Himself, “Behold, the prince of this world cometh, and findeth nothing in Me.”21582158    John xiv. 30.  All which (passages) show that in Him there was no sense of sin; and that the prophet might show more clearly that no sense of sin had ever entered into Him, he says, “Before the boy could have knowledge to call upon father or mother, He turned away from wickedness.”21592159    This quotation is made up of two different parts of Isaiah: chap. viii. 4, “Before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father and my mother;” and chap. vii. 16, “Before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.”

5.  Now, if our having shown above that Christ possessed a rational soul should cause a difficulty to any one, seeing we have frequently proved throughout all our discussions that the nature of souls is capable both of good and evil, the difficulty will be explained in the following way.  That the nature, indeed, of His soul was the same as that of all others cannot be doubted, otherwise it could not be called a soul were it not truly one.  But since the power of choosing good and evil is within the reach of all, this soul which belonged to Christ elected to love righteousness, so that in proportion to the immensity of its love it clung to it unchangeably and inseparably, so that firmness of purpose, and immensity of affection, and an inextinguishable warmth of love, destroyed all susceptibility (sensum) for alteration and change; and that which formerly depended upon the will was changed by the power of long custom into nature; and so we must believe that there existed in Christ a human and rational soul, without supposing that it had any feeling or possibility of sin.

6.  To explain the matter more fully, it will not appear absurd to make use of an illustration, although on a subject of so much difficulty it is not easy to obtain suitable illustrations.  However, if we may speak without offence, the metal iron is capable of cold and heat.  If, then, a mass of iron be kept constantly in the fire, receiving the heat through all its pores and veins, and the fire being continuous and the iron never removed from it, it become wholly converted into the latter; could we at all say of this, which is by nature a mass of iron, that when placed in the fire, and incessantly burning, it was at any time capable of admitting cold?  On the contrary, because it is more consistent with truth, do we not rather say, what we often see happening in furnaces, that it has become wholly fire, seeing nothing but fire is visible in it?  And if any one were to attempt to touch or handle it, he would experience the action not of iron, but of fire.  In this way, then, that soul which, like an iron in the fire, has been perpetually placed in the Word, and perpetually in the Wisdom, and perpetually in God,21602160    Semper in verbo, semper in sapientia, semper in Deo. is God in all that it does, feels, and understands, and therefore can be called neither convertible nor mutable, inasmuch as, being incessantly heated, it possessed immutability from its union with the Word of God.  To all the saints, finally, some warmth from the Word of God must be supposed to have passed; and in this soul the divine fire itself must be believed to have rested, from which some warmth may have passed to others.  Lastly, the expression, “God, thy God, anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows,”21612161    Ps. xlv. 7. shows that that soul is anointed in one way with the oil of gladness, i.e., with the word of God and wisdom; and his fellows, i.e., the holy prophets and apostles, in another.  For they are said to have “run in the odour of his ointments;”21622162    Illi enim in odore unguentorum ejus circumire dicuntur; perhaps an allusion to Song of Sol. i. 3 or to Ps. xlv. 8.and that soul was the vessel which contained that very ointment of whose fragrance all the worthy prophets and apostles were made partakers.  As, then, the substance of an ointment is one thing and its odour another, so also Christ is one thing and His fellows another.  And as the vessel itself, which contains the substance of the 284ointment, can by no means admit any foul smell; whereas it is possible that those who enjoy its odour may, if they remove a little way from its fragrance, receive any foul odour which comes upon them:  so, in the same way, was it impossible that Christ, being as it were the vessel itself, in which was the substance of the ointment, should receive an odour of an opposite kind, while they who are His “fellows” will be partakers and receivers of His odour, in proportion to their nearness to the vessel.

7.  I think, indeed, that Jeremiah the prophet, also, understanding what was the nature of the wisdom of God in him, which was the same also which he had assumed for the salvation of the world, said, “The breath of our countenance is Christ the Lord, to whom we said, that under His shadow we shall live among the nations.”21632163    Lam. iv. 20.  And inasmuch as the shadow of our body is inseparable from the body, and unavoidably performs and repeats its movements and gestures, I think that he, wishing to point out the work of Christ’s soul, and the movements inseparably belonging to it, and which accomplished everything according to His movements and will, called this the shadow of Christ the Lord, under which shadow we were to live among the nations.  For in the mystery of this assumption the nations live, who, imitating it through faith, come to salvation.  David also, when saying, “Be mindful of my reproach, O Lord, with which they reproached me in exchange for Thy Christ,”21642164    Ps. lxxxix. 50, 51. seems to me to indicate the same.  And what else does Paul mean when he says, “Your life is hid with Christ in God;”21652165    Col. iii. 3. and again in another passage, “Do you seek a proof of Christ, who speaketh in me?”21662166    2 Cor. xiii. 3.  And now he says that Christ was hid in God.  The meaning of which expression, unless it be shown to be something such as we have pointed out above as intended by the prophet in the words “shadow of Christ,” exceeds, perhaps, the apprehension of the human mind.  But we see also very many other statements in holy Scripture respecting the meaning of the word “shadow,” as that well-known one in the Gospel according to Luke, where Gabriel says to Mary, “The Spirit of the Lord shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.”21672167    Luke i. 35.  And the apostle says with reference to the law, that they who have circumcision in the flesh, “serve for the similitude and shadow of heavenly things.”21682168    Heb. viii. 5.  And elsewhere, “Is not our life upon the earth a shadow?”21692169    Job viii. 9.  If, then, not only the law which is upon the earth is a shadow, but also all our life which is upon the earth is the same, and we live among the nations under the shadow of Christ, we must see whether the truth of all these shadows may not come to be known in that revelation, when no longer through a glass, and darkly, but face to face, all the saints shall deserve to behold the glory of God, and the causes and truth of things.  And the pledge of this truth being already received through the Holy Spirit, the apostle said, “Yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more.”21702170    2 Cor. v. 16.

The above, meanwhile, are the thoughts which have occurred to us, when treating of subjects of such difficulty as the incarnation and deity of Christ.  If there be any one, indeed, who can discover something better, and who can establish his assertions by clearer proofs from holy Scriptures, let his opinion be received in preference to mine.


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