Friday, May 28, 2010

The Incarnation: Why God Became Man

This is the text version of the talk I did last night at my parish on the Incarnation. The text is much more rough than the first talk I did on God’s existence. Sorry. But I hope this will provide a general outline to help those who attended the talk last night. For those of you who read this for the first time, I hope it is more coherent than I think it is. Enjoy.

I. Intro-Transition from God’s existence to the Incarnation: Yesterday, we began our inquiry by reading the first part of our Creed. After making a quick investigation into the nature of Theology, we attempted to prove that this God in which we profess our faith actually exists. And we did so with some success, proving that there must be some prime mover—some first cause by which all things continue to be. Yet, we also found that we must hold by faith that this God is the Christian God, the Triune God. Today, we fittingly begin our discussion with the Incarnation as professed in the second part of the Creed. In this way, we are moving from the One God, the Father, to the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Now, the answer to the question up for discussion (Why God became man?) seems obvious: God became man in order to save man. Fortunately, most of these theological questions are quite obvious, since they are to be mastered by all of the faithful. But the beauty of Theology is that there is always another level. There is always a deeper understanding to be had, for the object of Theology is God, who is ultimately mysterious and unknowable.

So then let us re-ask the question. Why did God become man? Or rather, why did God have to become man? Or did He? There are several aspects of this question that are to be addressed, but before we delve in, let us set up some parameters, boundary lines if you will in which we can have our discussion.

II. Dictums on the Incarnation: The first and probably most important dictum to follow in a discussion on the Incarnation is this saying held and taught by the Church Fathers, that is God became man so that man might become God. Ironically, nearly every theological exposition supports this claim, even the heretical ones. The point of contention, as we will find out, is what it actually means for God to become man. What does it mean for the Incarnation to be both fully God and fully Man, yet one person? This is a sloppy and very metaphysically involved question, which we will get into at some length, but let us continue on before we get to the question.

The second dictum to follow is that God is equally just and merciful. Did God become man due to His mercy or due to His justice? We must keep in mind here that God’s justice is His mercy. Sorry, Shakespeare’s ‘justice seasoned by mercy’ is not correct when it comes to God, for perfect justice (not attainable in this world) is merciful. This is not to say, however, that God’s particular actions might seem merciless or unjust from our perspective. Indeed, most of the events in salvation history seem to be without mercy or justice. For examples, please see the Old Testament. Yet, these imperfections in our vision are just that, limited visions of God’s ultimate will for the salvation of souls. Again, this is only an introductory exposition and will be further explained later.

The last dictum is more like a method and will help guide us through the jungle of argumentation we are about to head into. That is the so-called ‘via media’ or middle way. Most often likened to a road splitting two extremes, this view seems a bit impoverished to me. The ‘via media’ is not a compromise or mixed version of two extremes, pleasing both sides. The ‘via media’ is, however, a process of emphasis and modality that allows one to argue for either side at a moments notice without sliding into either extreme. Think of it more like a pendulum on a grandfather clock, swinging back and forth, yet never hitting either side or getting stuck. In this way, the ‘via media’ is a dynamic ‘both/and’ solution to a problem and involves a nimbleness of the mind to step back and see the connections and the differences between opposing views. In this way, most arguments by the Church against heresies or false positions are corrections, bringing one’s understanding back to the ‘middle’. In doing this, the Church in her reasoning does the same that one would have to do in order to straighten out a warped piece of wood, bending it past straight over to the other extreme. This is what I meant earlier about the ‘via media’ being a dynamic back and forth, emphasizing whichever side needs to.

III. Objections to God becoming Man: Having laid out our guidelines, let us begin by outlining some objections to God’s becoming man. By stoking the fire so to speak, we can begin to get into the meat of the question.

There are four basic objections to God becoming man. The first is that it seems to be unfitting for God to become man, to stoop down to the lowliness of man who is hemmed in among the lowest creatures. For God is highly exalted above all things in Heaven. The spirit of this objection is good because it wishes to preserve the majesty of God. It is true that God in His Divine nature cannot become tangled up or marred by creation. He is above and infinitely different than His creation.

The second objection has to do with the universality of salvation and what the Bible means when it says that Jesus died for ‘all’. One version of the objection highlights the salvation of those before Christ. It states that if God had to become man in order to save men, then—men existing before the Incarnation—it appears that God ought to have been Incarnate from the beginning of the world. In this objection, it seems that all those men proceeding the incarnation were left out of salvation. Keep in mind that this objection does not address those outside of the ‘means’ of salvation, i.e. baptism. This problem (the necessity of Baptism for Salvation) will be addressed more in the next topic: On the Church.

The third objection looks at the oddity of death, a privation and evil, satisfying for sin and bringing about salvation and eternal happiness, a good. The objection is fourfold: (1) only God’s grace can cleans man of sin, not death or anything else; (2) God cannot satisfy for those who have sinned, for in His justice every one shall bear his own burden; (3) Sin is not expiated by Sin, that is the sin of those who crucified Jesus causing His ‘death’ can not satisfy for sin; and (4) if death was required for the satisfaction of sin, then the Incarnation must die for each man that is saved, dying over and over again. Now, some of these objections seem ridiculous and indeed they are, but they are useful for getting us thinking.

The fourth and final set of objections has to do specifically with satisfying for original sin, not just the particular sins committed by each man. The objections are threefold: (1) if man could not save himself, then how does Christ’s death as a man satisfy for sin; (2) if Jesus died for us, saving us from original sin, then why do we continue to suffer the punishments of sin after baptism; and (3) if Christ’s death remitted man of all sin, then why must further absolution of sin need to be sought, or why go to confession if Christ died for our sins on the cross? This set of objections gets very messy and will begin to draw some distinctions we will use in our talk on the Church, since in the response to these objections highlights the division between the different Christian faiths.

We will not refute these objections at this point, but we will come back to fight them after we have honed our skills and armed ourselves with a better understanding of the Incarnation.

IV. St. Anselm: Here we will be following St. Anselm, a Benedictine Monk writing in the 9th and 10th century. He is what we in the Church call a Church Doctor, a title given to writings, which are recognized by the Church to be authoritative in matters of faith and morals. Though such writings do not hold the same weight that scripture or a papal decree, there is a certain weight to them. St. Thomas Aquinas, who we followed yesterday in our discussion on the existence of God, is another such Church Doctor, and there are many more.

St. Anselm develops in a work called Cur Deus Homo a syllogism to prove the necessity of the Incarnation. Ultimately, the Incarnation is not necessary and we will get into this at some length later on, yet as will be shown, the Incarnation is the most fitting way for God to save man. Fitting in so far as it was not necessary, but that it was the best way for God to have done this. Any other means seems less noble than the way that salvation was accomplished.

V. The Syllogism: So what then is the syllogism?

1. The end of Man’s nature towards which God created Man is happiness

2. Every nature must be capable of reaching its end, for God does not create to frustration, that is God does not (cannot) create something that is deficient.

a. In the case of Man, God has created a being, which is dependent on His grace for Happiness. In other words, Man cannot reach his end alone. He needs God.

b. This understanding still follows our dictum (man must reach his end), since man was originally created in a state of grace by which he could achieve happiness. And indeed he was happy.

c. Therefore, we are dependent on some other thing (grace) to reach our end as appointed by our nature, however, God has promised that we shall always have in a sufficient amount that which we need to reach our end.

d. His grace is always sufficient before and after the fall.

3. Yet, man has sinned, thwarting man’s ability to reach his end.

a. Sin removes man from a state of Grace in which man is capable of reaching true happiness.

b. Sin renders man incapable of achieving his own end.

4. What is sin? Sin is not rendering to God what is due (justice). What is due to God?—every wish of man (rational creature), i.e. the subjugation of man’s will to God’s.

5. Thus by sinning, man incurs a debt, which he owes to God and must be repaid.

a. After the sin of Adam, the universe is thrown into a state of disarray, because justice was not served. Remember God is justice.

b. The universe being out of order (the debt being due), there must be some reparation or satisfaction by which the universe is restored to order (order being the fulfillment of justice).

c. It is not right for the universe to remain in disorder for the rest of eternity (God’s justice remains unfulfilled)

6. Who should pay the debt?—the one who incurred the debt, Man.

a. The debtor must make the payment, especially in this case when the will, not a monetary or material thing needs to be paid.

b. No one can make an act of the will on your behalf—is that right? (Baptism)

c. Can only make an act of the will which is efficacious for another if it has been preordained to be so. Sacraments, Contract or Covenantal Theory.

7. Can man pay the debt?—No, because to render what is due to God is to do what is required for the present time and can never make up for the offense.

a. The payment must be supererogatory, that is over and above the current justice being owed.

b. Example: debtor paying off a loan in payments, which max out his income, yet he has fallen behind.

8. Yet, as we said, the debt must be paid. So who pays?—God, and He must do so out of His justice as a man because man must pay the debt. Therefore, God becomes man, God-man.

And there we have the syllogism for why God had to become man in order to save man, or make it possible for man to achieve salvation again after the fall. A debt was incurred through sin, which must be paid off by man, the offender. Yet, man cannot pay the debt, therefore, only God can as a man, the God-man.

VI. Response to Objections in sec. I

1. Unfitting—man being connected to God and directed towards God Himself through the intellect, what was proper to each nature was preserved, so that nothing of the excellence of the divine nature was lost, nor was there an exaltation which drew the human nature beyond the bounds of its species; assumed nature not stooped divinity.

2. Universality of Salvation

a. One must receive the remedy against sin only after he first acknowledges his failure, so that man in his lowliness, not relying on himself, may put his hope in God by whom alone sin can be healed.

b. Likewise, God left man to himself to realize his inequality of knowledge (pre-law) and of virtue (under the law). Thus there are three steps of the human race: before the law; under the law; and under grace.

c. The condition of the human person requires that it be not led immediately to the perfect, but that it be led by the hand through the imperfect so as to arrive at perfection (childhood).

d. This [the incarnation] did take place when, because of the promises and testimonies that had gone before, the minds of men were disposed the more readily to believe Him who had had envoys before Him, and the more eagerly to receive Him because of the previous promises.

3. Death

a. Although the grace of God suffices…the remission of sin requires something on the part of him whose sins are remitted; namely, that he satisfy the one offended. And since other men were unable to do this for themselves, Christ did this for all by suffering a voluntary death out of charity.

b. In satisfaction, we consider the charity and benevolence of him who makes satisfaction and this is most especially appears when one assumes the penalty of another.

c. As much as the person is higher, by so much is the penalty he bears reckoned for more. Thus the death of Christ was sufficient for the expiation of all sins.

4. Original Sin

a. Dignity of the person of the Son of God (humanity); Christ is the new Adam. (Christ is the cause of salvation just as the first man was a kind of cause of damnation by introducing death and sin into the world)

b. Why effects of original sin remain?

i. It was fitting to His faithful first to undergo the sufferings and so to arrive at immortality, bearing in themselves, so to say, the marks of the passion of Christ, in order to achieve a likeness to His glory.

ii. The newly found life of immortality and impossibility would render the merit of faith diminished.

c. The effect of the death of Christ comes to each one in a spiritual regeneration in which the man is somehow conjoined with Christ and incorporated into Him. And for this reason each must seek to be regenerated through Christ, and must himself undertake to do those things in which the power of Christ’s death operates (Sacraments).

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