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CHAPTER XXIXOf the Error of the Manicheans concerning the Incarnation

THE Manicheans said that the Son of God took not a real but an apparent body; and that the things which He did as man, — being born, eating, drinking, walking, suffering, and being buried, — were not done in reality, but in show. To begin with, this theory robs Scripture of all authority. For since a show of flesh is not flesh, nor a show of walking walking, the Scripture lies when it says, The Word was made flesh, if the flesh was only apparent: it lies when it says that Jesus Christ walked, ate, was dead and buried, if these things happened only in fantastic appearance. But if even in a small matter the authority of Holy Scripture is derogated from,917917Understand, ‘in anything which Holy Scripture, as God’s word, really does say.’ no point of our faith can any longer remain fixed, as our faith rests on the Holy Scripture, according to the text, These things are written that ye may believe (John xx, 31).

Some one may say that the veracity of Holy Scripture in relating appearance for reality is saved by this consideration, that the appearances of things are called figuratively and in a sense by the names of the things themselves, as a painted man is called in a sense a man. But though this is true, yet it is not the way of Holy Scripture to give the whole history of one transaction in this ambiguous way, without there being other passages of Holy Scripture from whence the truth may be manifestly gathered. Otherwise there would follow, not the instruction but the deception of men: whereas the Apostle says that whatsoever things are written, are written for our instruction (Rom. xv, 4); and 361that all Scripture, divinely inspired, is useful for teaching and instructing (2 Tim. iii, 16). Besides, the whole gospel narrative would be poetical and fabulous, if it narrated appearances of things for realities, whereas it is said: We have not been led by sophisticated fables in making known to you the power of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter i, 16). Wherever Scripture has to tell of appearances, it gives us to understand this by the very style of the narrative, e.g., the apparition of the three men to Abraham, who in them adored God and confessed the Deity (Gen. xviii). As for the visions of the imagination (imaginarie visa) seen by Isaias, Ezechiel, and other prophets, they originate no error, because they are not narrated as history, but as prophetic pictures: still there is always something put in to show that it is but an apparition (Isai. vi, 1: Ezech. i, 4: viii, 3).

When divine truths are conveyed in Scripture under figurative language, no error can thence arise, as well from the homely character of the similitudes used, which shows that they are but similitudes; as also because what in some places is hidden under similitudes, in others is revealed by plain speaking. But there is no Scripture authority to derogate from the literal truth of all that we read about the humanity of Christ. When the Apostle says: God sent his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. viii, 3): he does not say, in the likeness flesh, but adds sinful, since Christ had true flesh, but not sinful flesh, there being no sin in Him; but His flesh was like sinful flesh, inasmuch as He had flesh liable to suffering, as man’s flesh was rendered liable by sin. So the expression, made in the likeness of men (Phil. ii, 7), conveys no idea of illusion: that is shown by what follows, taking the form of a servant, where ‘form’ is clearly put for ‘nature,’ as the adjoining clause shows, being in the form of God: for it is not supposed that Christ was God only in resemblance.918918The term likeness, and its synonym figure, should be pressed more home, as in the original it is evidently emphatic. The meaning will be clear, if we consider the gist of the whole passage, Phil. ii, 3-11. The Philippians are not to be contentious or vainglorious, but in humility they are to give way to one another, and abate their pretensions to personal distinction: this on the example of their Lord, who being God and man, did not think the glory of the Godhead, as extended to His human nature, a thing to be seized upon without paying a price for it (ἁρπαγμόν, R.V. prize), but submitted to kenosis in His human nature, being made in the likeness of ordinary men, and in the configuration and general circumstances of His humanity being found just like any other man. This He did in the days of his flesh, i.e., His mortal life, from birth to crucifixion: cf. Heb. v, 7-10, which is a parallel passage to this. It is to be borne in mind that, as God, Jesus Christ had a right to a glorified humanity from the first: but He waived that right, and went without the glory of His body, until He had purchased His glorification by His death. In this consisted His kenosis, a voluntary human act of self-abasement and self-renunciation on His part. This kenosis met with its great reward in the glory of His resurrection, in the triumph of His ascension, and in the divine honours rendered Him age by age in His Church.

Moreover there are passages in which Holy Scripture expressly bars the suspicion of Christ being a mere appearance, Matt. xiv, 26, 27: Luke xxiv, 37-39: Acts x, 40, 41: and St John’s words, What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the word of life (1 John i, 1). In fact, if Christ had not a real body, He did not really die; neither therefore did he really rise again: And if Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain, yea and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have given testimony of God that he hath raised up Christ, whom he hath not raised up [if He never really died] (1 Cor. xv, 14, 15).

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