March 20, 2009

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Basic Catholicism: Mystery of the Incarnation

John F. Fink(Sixth in a series of columns)

“The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). That’s how John’s Gospel reported the magnificent mystery of the Incarnation, the amazing fact that Almighty God actually lowered himself to become a human being.

John tells us as plainly as possible, “In the beginning was the Word” (he existed from all eternity), “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). To make it even clearer, he identifies the Word with creation, saying, “All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be” (Jn 1:3).

St. Paul also taught the pre-existence of Jesus. In his Letter to the Philippians, written perhaps as early as 55 A.D., he quoted a hymn that already existed: “Jesus Christ, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness” (Phil 2:6-7).

Paul wrote about God sending his Son in other letters, too. For example, to the Galatians, he wrote, “When the fullness of time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman” (Gal 4:4).

This has been the belief of Christians down through the centuries—that Jesus was true God, existing from all eternity and through whom all things were made.

But at a particular moment in history, he also became a human being. He was both God and man, fully human with all our imperfections and weaknesses while remaining the perfect and infinitely powerful God. He is not part God and part man or some confused mixture, but fully human while remaining God.

But can modern people believe that God really came down from heaven, became a fully human person, lived a dramatic life teaching the right way to live, died a horrible death as a criminal, rose from the dead and then went back to heaven? Isn’t all this in the realm of myth?

That is what C. S. Lewis thought when he was a young lecturer at Oxford. Then, as he described in his book Surprised by Joy, one night he heard another committed atheist remark that the evidence for the historicity of the Gospels was surprisingly good. Lewis came to realize that myths are not false simply because they are myths. He later wrote that “the heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact.”

But why did God choose to assume our human nature? Various reasons are given: in order to save us by reconciling us with God; so that thus we might know God’s love; to be our model of holiness; to make us partakers of the divine nature.

The ultimate reason, though, is because God had to assume a human nature in order to accomplish our salvation, our redemption, in it. That couldn’t be done by just any human, but it did require a human to do it. Since Jesus is divine and human, he is the one and only mediator between God and humans. †

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