Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Week 6: Jesus Christ—True God and True Man (¶422-570)

“On the Mystery of the Incarnation”
By Denise Levertov

It’s when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know
the taint in our own selves, that awe
cracks the mind’s shell and enters the heart:
not to a flower, not to a dolphin,
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts,
as guest, as brother,
the Word.

“Who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20)

1. Jesus, Christ, Only Son of God, Lord (¶430-55)
a. Jesus: He is the Savior of the world who delivers us from sin
b. Christ: He is the Messiah who fulfills the promise of redemption
c. Son of God: He is the eternal Son of the Father
d. Lord: He is the divine and sovereign king
2. Both divine and human, God and man (¶464-83)
a. The mystery of the incarnation is entirely rooted in the question of salvation. What must be true about Jesus for us to be saved by his life, death, and resurrection? This is the question that the church was forced to ask by the various controversies in the church.

b. On the one hand, Jesus must be truly divine, truly God in the flesh, because God alone is able to save. The church rejected Arianism, therefore, because it resulted in a Christ who is incapable of redeeming humanity. There are many different ways that the church has understood this mystery of salvation, and none of them has been accepted as the official doctrine of the church, so we can and should make use of them all. One view is that in Jesus, God conquered Satan and the forces of sin and evil. Another view is that in Jesus, God paid the debt of our sin. Another is that in Jesus, God reversed the disobedience of Adam and inaugurated a new humanity. These are all views that we find in Scripture, and they are just a few of the ways that the church has thought about the mystery of salvation. The important element is that in each view, salvation can only be accomplished by God. Humanity needs to be saved, and God alone is the Savior.

c. On the other hand, Jesus must be truly human, truly God in the flesh. The reason for this is expressed well in an axiom of the early church: “That which is not assumed is not saved.” Only what is brought into union with Christ is redeemed by Christ. If he only appeared human (Docetism), then our humanity is not healed. If he only took on a human body but not a human soul (Apollinarianism), then the center of our human identity is not healed. If he only indwelled in a human person but did not assume humanity to be his very own (Nestorianism), then our humanity is not healed. If human nature is dissolved into his divinity or if the divinity and humanity combine to form a composite nature (Monophysitism), then our humanity is not healed. If his human nature does not have its own activity and will (Monenergism, Monothelitism), then our humanity is not healed.
3. Fulfillment of the covenant (¶422, 489, 497, 522)
Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament covenants, beginning with God’s covenant with Abraham and including the covenant at Sinai with Moses and the covenant with King David. Jesus came as the one in whom all the promises of God converged and found their ultimate fulfillment.
4. Born by the Spirit and of the Virgin Mary (§2: ¶484-511)
a. Christ’s birth “by the power of the Holy Spirit” affirms his eternal divine origin, as the Son of the Father within the eternal Trinity. The Spirit is involved through the life of Christ: at his conception, at his baptism, in his miraculous works of healing, and in his life of obedience unto death, and as the power of his Resurrection. The Spirit always accompanies the Son as the two “hands” of the Father.

b. Christ’s birth “of the Virgin Mary” is a mark of his purity and holiness, his freedom from corruption, and his redemptive mission. The virgin birth is also a sign of Christ as the New Adam: just as Adam came from virgin soil, so too Christ came a virgin woman. Mary herself is caught up in this redemptive reality of Christ. Her Immaculate Conception, her life of faithful obedience, and her final Assumption are all part of the overflow of Christ’s life to those around him—to Mary first and foremost, then to his disciples, his church, and to the whole world.
5. His whole life is the mystery of salvation (¶512ff.)
The Catechism very nicely tells the story of Jesus’ life by reading the Scriptures in the light of Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection. In other words, it reads the life of Christ in light of his beginning and end, his origin and telos. The Catechism thus affirms that his entire life is salvific, and not just the events captured in the creed. What the creed affirms is that the whole of Christ’s incarnate existence is integral to the mystery of our redemption.
6. Sacrament of salvation (¶515)
Jesus’ humanity is the first and true sacrament, in that his human nature is the visible manifestation of the invisible grace of our salvation. In his humanity, we encounter the “sign and instrument” of his eternal identity and divine mission. In the Eucharist, we partake of this humanity as Christ’s gift of grace to the church.
7. Revelation of God (¶516)
Jesus is the revelation of God. The Son reveals the Father, not only in his resurrection but in his entire life of obedience to the will of his Father in heaven.
8. Recapitulation of the human race (¶430, 518, 538-39)
Jesus is the New Adam, the recapitulation of human history, and the one who reverses our fall so that in him we might partake of the divine life.
9. “For us,” pro nobis (¶519-21)
According to Hans Urs von Balthasar, “The ‘pro nobis’ contains the innermost core of the interplay between God and man, the center of all theo-drama.” Only on the basis of the pro nobis is there a stage in the first place or actors upon this stage. The pro nobis stands at the center as the controlling principle of the Christ-event; it “sums up the covenant” as the basis for divine and human action “in a way that does not blur the distinction between Christ’s preeminence and his followers.” The christological pro nobis, moreover, does not merely indicate that what Christ accomplishes is “for our benefit,” but it also indicates that Christ achieves our reconciliation “from inside,” “in our place.”