Thursday, 7 March 2019

INCARNATION a series of quotations arranged by Clare McArdle

On Thursday the 14th of February the Carmelite Spiritual Learning Circle met in the Library to study that most central of Christian revelations, the Incarnation.

John 1:1 – 4
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.  What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. (Divine inspiration p 2)

Possible Questions:

1.      What does the doctrine of the Church say about ‘incarnation’?

2.      What does a belief in incarnation specifically have to do with my daily life?  Does it help me with my prayer? Does it help me understand suffering? Does it help me with wondering about the creation?

Christian doctrine of incarnation and some critiques and controversies.

“In AD 325 the Council of Nicaea affirmed the divinity of Jesus in the creed of Nicaea.  This led to the emergence, over fifty years later, of the Nicene Creed, which defines the faith of the Christian church world-wide.  At the heart of both stands the affirmation that Jesus Christ is ‘God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being ..with the Father, through whom all things were made..’  The intention of both is clear.  They wish to affirm with unambiguous clarity that Jesus is to be identified as God incarnate – God has not merely come in a human being but as human.” (Torrance p 200)

“The whole raison d’etre of the church is the recognition that Jesus is not simply a good person, or an inspired prophet, or a person with spiritual insight but, rather, the very presence of God identifying with humanity and revealing himself to humanity in a reconciling act of pure and unanticipatable grace.” (Torrance p 200)

Council of Chalcedon (451AD/CE) affirmed the divinity and the humanity of Jesus in the following statement:

We confess that the one and the same Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son must be acknowledged in two natures, without confusion or change, without division or separation.  The distinction between the natures was never abolished by their union but rather the character proper to each of the two natures was preserved as they came together in one person {prosopon} and  one hypostasis.   (quoted in Torrance p 210)

“The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. …Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear…To the sons of Adam He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward.  Since human nature as He assumed it was not annulled, by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man.  He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice, and loved with a human heart. …He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin.” (Vatican 11 p 220-221)

The concept of the divine and human nature of Jesus is sometimes referred to as the hypostatic union.   It is difficult for us to get our heads around the idea that in the person of Jesus we have both the unchanging form of the divinity that always is and the changing form of human which only comes into being at a certain point in time and dies at a certain point in time.  We need to keep both concepts of the divine (unchanging and always is) and the human (changing with a beginning and an end) in our heads at the same time.  They do not overlap but are kept separate.


“There is a widespread insistence that the ancient affirmations of the Nicene creed constitute pre-scientific mythology from which an enlightened and inclusive Christian faith come of age is obliged to liberate itself.” (Torrance p 200)

Some puzzles that have concerned theologians (taken from the Catholic Encyclopedia)
·         Did union with the Divine nature do away with all bodily imperfections?  The gospel describes all bodily weaknesses (thirst, hunger, sadness, like, dislikes) but never mentions illness. One assumes as a child Jesus experienced all the weaknesses of a child and if He lived into old age no doubt would also have experienced the decline of the body.  Some Fathers of the Church opined that illness was not a weakness necessarily belonging to human nature.  While everyone gets sick at some time not everyone experiences the same sickness.
·         The human will of Christ was free in all things save only sin.  Jesus could not sin is proclaimed in the gospels.  Many put this down to the hypostatic union of His human nature with the Divine.
·         Is the knowledge found in the Divine intellect the same as that in the human Christ?  Many theologians teach “that the soul of Christ is elevated to participation in the Divine wisdom by an infusion of Divine light  For the soul of Christ enjoyed from the very beginning the beatific vision; it was endowed with infused knowledge; and it acquired in the course of time experimental knowledge.”  (Volume VIII) [beatific vision is the vision of God ]  Theologians hold that the human soul of Christ must have seen God face to face from the very first moment of its creation. The scriptures do not specifically say this but imply this privilege.
·         Whom do we adore when we say we adore Jesus?  “We adore the Word when we adore Christ the Man; but the Word is God.  The human nature of Christ is not at all the reason of our adoration of Him; that reason is only the Divine nature.  The entire term of our adoration is the Incarnate Word; the motive of the adoration is the Divinity of the Incarnate Word.”(vol VII)

Some critiques of Nicene Christianity:
-          feminist theology suggests that this Nicene Christianity “serves to elevate maleness and precisely this has been enshrined in the life and practice of the church ever since.” (Torrance p 201)
-           Liberal theology – Nicene Christianity engenders ‘an exclusively ‘Eurocentric’ faith bound to European thought forms which are no longer appropriate in a ‘post-Eurocentric’, multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual world – a world characterized by diverse and disparate spiritual and philosophical homes.”  (Torrance p 201) This approach stems from the view that the New Testament was subject to a Hellenising process whereby Greek metaphysical concepts and categories were imposed inappropriately on the claims of the New Testament. As a result of such criticism a number of “‘indigenous’ and ‘contextual’ christologies have emerged which …[attempt] to reinterpret Jesus’ significance in the light of the spiritualities characteristic of their specific contexts.” (Torrance p 201)
-          concern that the doctrine of incarnation is a piece of mythology “more appropriate to the thought-patterns of ancient civilization than to those of contemporary society”. (Torrance p 201) The incarnation story seen as metaphor, story, parable or fable.

  “The incarnation helps us understand the reality of Christ in a universe marked by evolution. (Delio p4)  A 13th century Franciscan penitent, Angela of Foligno, spoke of her experience of Christ in his suffering humanity as her experience of God.  She refers to Christ as the “God-man”.  Angela’s experience of the divine in the suffering humanity of Christ led her discover that the “the world is permeated with the goodness of God.” 

Franciscan theology emphasizes the incarnation as the “love of God made visible in the world”  (Delio p 6)  Bonaventure “did not consider the incarnation foremost as a remedy for sin but the primacy of love and the completion of creation. He recapitulated an idea present in the Greek fathers of the church, namely, Christ is the redeeming and fulfilling center of the universe.  Christ does not save us from creation; rather, Christ is the reason for creation.  For Bonaventure and proponents of the primacy of the Christ tradition, Christ is first in God’s intention to love; love is the reason for creation.  Hence, Christ is first in God’s intention to create…..Christ is the design of the universe…” (Delio p 6).

If we maintain that the incarnation is the goal of evolution then the direction of evolution “is toward the maximization of goodness. If Jesus Christ is truly creator (as divine Word) and redeemer (as Word Incarnate) then what is created out of love is ultimately redeemed by love.  The meaning of Christ is summed up in creation’s potential for self-transcendent love.  Bonaventure used the term ‘spiritual matter’ to describe the orientation of matter toward spirit”. ” (Delio p 7)

“God created matter lacking in final perfection of form, he [Bonaventure] wrote, so that by reason of its lack of form and imperfection, matter might cry out for perfection.  This is a very dynamic view of the material world with a spiritual potency for God, which Bonaventure saw realized in the incarnation.  The idea of a spiritually potent creation means that Jesus Christ is not an intrusion into an otherwise evolutionary universe but its reason and goal. “ (Delio p 7)

A contemporary Franciscan theologian Zachary Hayes “has found in Bonaventure’s integral relationship between incarnation and creation a key to cosmic Christology in an evolutionary universe.  The intrinsic connection between the mystery of creation and the mystery of incarnation means that we discover…in Jesus the divine clue as to the structure and meaning not only of humanity but of the entire universe.  Rather than living with a ‘cosmic terror’ in the face of the immensity of the universe, Hayes suggests that this evolutionary universe is meaningful and purposeful because it is grounded in Christ, the Word of God.” (Delio p 7)  For Hayes “Christ is the purpose of this universe and, as exemplar of creation, the model of what is intended for this universe, that is, union and transformation in God.” (Delio p 8)

Rohr in his on-line messages (Incarnation Thursday, January 25, 2017Feast of St. Paul) says:

‘Incarnation should be the primary and compelling message of Christianity. Through the Christ (en Christo), the seeming gap between God and everything else has been overcome “from the beginning” (Ephesians 1:4, 9). [1] Incarnation refers to the synthesis of matter and spirit. Without some form of incarnation, God remains essentially separate from us and from all of creation. Without incarnation, it is not an enchanted universe, but somehow an empty one.

‘God, who is Infinite Love, incarnates that love as the universe itself. This begins with the “Big Bang” approximately 14 billion years ago, which means our notions of time are largely useless (see 2 Peter 3:8). Then, a mere 2,000 years ago, as Christians believe, God incarnated in personal form as Jesus of Nazareth. Matter and spirit have always been one, of course, ever since God decided to manifest God’s self in the first act of creation (Genesis 1:1-31), but we can only realize this after much longing and desiring. Most indigenous religions somehow recognized the sacred nature of all reality, as did my Father St. Francis, when he spoke of “Brother Sun and Sister Moon.” It was always hidden right beneath the surface of things.
‘The dualism of the spiritual and so-called secular is precisely what Jesus came to reveal as untrue and incomplete. Jesus came to model for us that these two seemingly different worlds are and always have been one. We just couldn’t imagine it intellectually until God put them together in one body that we could see and touch and love (see Ephesians 2:11-20). And—in Christ­—“you also are being built into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). What an amazing realization that should shock and delight us!

‘The final stage of incarnation is resurrection. This is no exceptional miracle only performed once in the body of Jesus. It is the final and fulfilled state of all divine embodiment. Now even physics tells us that matter itself is a manifestation of spirit, a vital force, or what many call consciousness. In fact, I would say that spirit or shared consciousness is the ultimate, substantial, and real thing. [2] Yet most Christians, even those who go to church each Sunday, remain limited to a largely inert materiality for all practical purposes. Such emptiness sends us on a predictable course of consumerism and addiction—because matter without spirit is eventually unsatisfying and disappointing.

‘Matter also seems to be eternal. It just keeps changing shapes and forms, the scientists, astrophysicists, and biblical writers tell us (Isaiah 65:17 and Revelation 21:1). In the Creed, Christians affirm that we believe in “the resurrection of the body,” not only the soul. The incarnation reveals that human bodies and all of creation are good and blessed and move toward divine fulfillment (Romans 8:18-30).

‘Death is not final, but an opening and a transition for ever new forms of life. An Infinite God necessarily creates infinite becoming. God is the one who “brings death to life and calls into being what does not yet exist” (Romans 4:17b).’

[1] This is the theme of Richard Rohr’s forthcoming book on the Universal Christ (to be released fall 2018).
[2] For more on quantum physics and incarnation, see Diarmuid O’Murchu, Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1997, 2004).
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2003), 117-119; and
Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 17.

The dualism of the spiritual and so-called secular is precisely what Jesus came to reveal as untrue and incomplete. Jesus came to model for us that these two seemingly different worlds are and always have been one. We just couldn’t imagine it intellectually until God put them together in one body that we could see and touch and love. —Richard Rohr
Fully Human, Fully Divine
Friday, February 1, 2019

Francis of Assisi emphasized an imitation and love of the humanity of Jesus, without needing to first “prove” or worship his divinity (which Jesus never told us to do). In most of Christian history we have emphasized the divinity, omnipotence, omniscience, and “almightiness” of Jesus, which makes following him—or loving him—largely unrealistic. We are on two utterly different planes that are rather hard to connect. A God who is “totally other” alienates humanity and creation.
I doubt this will surprise you, but many Christians are not really Incarnational Christians. That’s not a moral judgment; it’s a description. Many Christians simply believe in “a Supreme Being who made all things,” and their Supreme Being just happens to be Jesus (not recognizing that he was anything but almighty!). He was the available God¬-figure in Europe and the Middle East, so we pushed him into that position, while ignoring most of Jesus’ concrete message: that power and powerlessness can and probably must coexist. Jesus is actually a “third something,” fully human and fully divine. This is hard for the dualistic mind to grasp or even imagine; it seems like a self-canceling system, a contradiction in terms, an irreconcilable paradox. In Byzantine icons and many later paintings, Jesus is shown holding up two fingers, indicating, “I am fully human, and I am fully divine at the same time.” This paradox is just too much for the rational mind to grasp. Maybe only art and prayer can help us understand it!
For most Christians today, Jesus is totally divine, but not really human. When we deny what Jesus holds together, we can’t hold it together in ourselves! And that’s the whole point: you and I are also children of heaven and children of earth, children of God and children of this world. Both are true simultaneously, which defies all reason and logic. The Incarnation overcomes the split in us and creation.
Christianity is saying that we need a model, an exemplar, a promise, and a guarantee (words used in Pauline letters) to imagine such a far-off impossibility. For us, that living model is Jesus. In Scholastic philosophy, we call this an “Exemplary Cause”; which is exactly how Jesus “causes” our salvation. He models it and it rubs off on us when we gaze long enough. Salvation is not a magical transaction accomplished by moral behavior or joining the right group. The only salvation worthy of the name is a gradual realization of who we are already in this world—and always have been—and will be eternally. Salvation is not a question of if nearly as much as when.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014)      
Implications of the incarnation for our Christian lives.

If the humanity of Jesus is down-played (e.g.Arianism) it has the effect of undermining the vision of the full extent of the grace of God.  “Worship became a ‘task’ which human beings are expected to perform in relation to Jesus rather than the gift of participating in his humanity, in his risen life and in his continuing priesthood.  The impact on the history of the church was that worship became a ‘legal’ obligation placed on humanity rather than the ‘filial’ gift of participating in the divine life – and which lies at the very heart of the gospel.” (Torrance p 209)

“Incarnation is experienced in terms of profound earthly presence and promise.  And when we glimpse and feel its meaning in the flesh, it takes our breath away.” (O’Leary)

“…Thomas Merton realized, to his surprise, that contemplation s not about the acquisition of a consciousness emptied of everything except thoughts of God.  It was the opposite – not a movement towards a distant God but a sinking into a deeper awareness of one’s own life and to find God already there.  Contemplation he surmised, was not a different state to our usual way of being. There is only one reality.  Our hours and our days are divided not between time spent with God or with the world but between those occasions when we are more, or less, aware of God’s presence in our experiences – when we are more, or less distracted from that presence by the heartaches of our work.” (O’Leary)

“Too often we are not present to the beauty, love and grace that brims within the ordinary moments of our lives,” Roland Rolheiser writes  “Our lives come laden with riches, but we are not sufficiently present to what is there.”  That presence is the gift and revelation of Incarnation; it is the sheer fulfillment of it, the authenticity and truth of it.” (O’Leary)

Hope and evolving creation

“Because we humans are in evolution we must see Christ in evolution as well – Christ’s humanity is our humanity, Christ’s life is our life…….Christ is the power of God among us and within us, the fullness of the earth and of life in the universe.  We humans have the potential to make Christ alive; it is what we are created for.  To live the mystery of Christ is not to speak about Christ but to live in the surrender of love, the poverty of being, and the cave of the heart. …We can look toward that time when there will be one cosmic person uniting all persons, one cosmic humanity uniting all humanity, one Christ in whom God will be all in all.” (Delio p 180)

The true appearance of the Word  by Ku Sang

As the cataract of ignorance falls

From off the eyesight of my soul,

I realize that all this huge Creation

Round about me is the Word.

The hitherto quite unattended fact

That these familiar fingers number ten,

Like an encounter with some miracle,

Suddenly astonishes me

And the newly-opened forsythia flowers

In one corner of the hedge beyond my window

Entrance me utterly,

Like seeing a model of Resurrection.

Smaller than a grain of sand

In the oceanic vastness of the cosmos,

I realize that this my muttering,

By a mysterious grace of the Word,

Is no imagined thing, no mere sign,

But Reality itself.

(from Divine Inspiration p 4)


Delio, Ilia (2014)       Christ in evolution. N.Y; Orbis Books.  (233 D353)

Divine inspiration: the life of Jesus in world poetry. Assembled and edited by Robert Atwan, George Dardess and Peggy Rosenthal.  New York, Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1998  (808.81 D618)

O’Leary, Daniel (2008)         Windows of wonder. The Tablet. 17 May 2008  p 15.

Rohr, Richard            Daily meditations.  On-line - Center for Action and Contemplation  (

The documents of Vatican II; all sixteen official texts promulgated by the Ecumenical Council 1963-1965. General editor Walter M. Abbott, S.J. and translation editor Very Rev. MSGR. Joseph Gallagher.  London, Dublin; Geoffrey Chapman. 1966. (262.717 A134)

The catholic encyclopedia; an international work of reference on the constitution, doctrine, discipline, and history of the catholic church.  Ed. Charles G. Herbermann.  15 volumes.  New York; Robert Appleton Company. 1910. (Ref 203 C363)

Torrance, Alan (2001)          “Jesus in Christian doctrine” in The Cambridge Companion to Jesus. Ed Markus Bockmuehl.  Cambridge University Press.  PP 200 – 219  (233 B665)

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