In this Compendium Clip I would like to continue our consideration of Jesus Christ, this time looking at one of the most unique and distinguishing mysteries of Christianity, the incarnation.
In the articles especially relating to Jesus, the Nicene Creed professes, “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” This mysterious union of the divine and human in Jesus Christ, is what the Church calls the incarnation.
The Latin roots of this word literally mean “in the flesh,” the idea being that the second person of the Trinity, the Son, became man or as St. John the Evangelist said it, “the Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14). This means that Jesus Christ is true God and true man in the unity of his divine person. It also means that he has two natures, a divine nature and human nature, which are not confused with each other but perfectly united in the person of the Word.
The term nature describes what something is whereas the term person describes who someone is—what is Jesus? He is God and man. Who is Jesus? He is the eternal Son of God. A result of this is that in Jesus’ humanity everything, including his ordinary human actions, his miracles, his suffering and even his death, must be attributed to his divine person, which acts by means of the human nature he assumed.
Let us consider in more detail the humanity of Jesus and what it means that the Son of God assumed a complete human nature. First, it means that Jesus had a real human body as well as a true rational soul with human knowledge.
As for his body, we learn from the scriptures that he experienced hunger and thirst, that he knew fatigue and suffering, and that he had the full range of human emotions. For example, in the Gospel of Matthew we learn that after his fasting, “he was hungry” (4:2), or in John’s Gospel, “Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well” (4:6), and at the death of his friend Lazarus, we see that “Jesus wept” (11:35). Indeed, Christ was like us in all things but sin (cf. Heb 4:15), yet since he is also God it means that his human body became the means by which the invisible God became visible. A consequence of this is that Jesus Christ who was visible can now be represented and venerated in the various forms of sacred art and in holy images.
Like all human beings, Jesus grew in knowledge. We hear in the gospel that, “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man” (Lk 2:52). Yet, more than acquired knowledge gained through learning and experience, we also learn from the scriptures that he had in his humanity an immediate and intimate knowledge of God his Father (cf. Mt 11:27). And finally, we see throughout the Gospels that, even as man, he understood people’s secret thoughts as well as the eternal plans which the Father sent him to reveal.
Next we need to look at another aspect of Jesus’ spiritual soul: his human will. Jesus, being fully God and fully man, has a divine will and a human will. This means that in his earthly life Jesus willed in a human way all that he had divinely decided with the Father and the Holy Spirit for our salvation. Yet, these two distinct wills of Christ were not in opposition, rather his human will was subject to and in perfect harmony with the divine will. We see this illustrated in the scriptures during his agony in the garden of Gethsemane when he prays, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me, nevertheless, not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42).
As we can see, then, God the Son assumed a complete human nature with a real body and soul, a true human mind and will, but we still have to ask why did God come to us in this way? The answer, above all, is because he wanted to reveal his infinite love. In becoming man, God reconciled us with himself and made us, as the second letter of Peter says, “partakers in the divine nature” (1:4). In Jesus’ humanity, then, God showed us what perfect holiness and charity is. Indeed, one of the greatest images of this love is the heart of Jesus, because it reveals that he knew and loved us with a human heart, a heart that was pierced for our salvation, and a heart which is the symbol of that infinite love that God has for each of us.
To summarize, then, the incarnation means that the eternal Son of God, the Word, assumed our human nature and became man. Thus, Jesus is one divine person with two natures, a divine nature and a human nature. In his humanity, which like ours consisted of a body and rational soul, Jesus brought about our salvation and revealed God’s infinite love for the human race. In our next ‘Clip,’ we’ll consider the privileged person by whom the humanity of Jesus came into the world, that is, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
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