Jonathan Alexander’s last day is July 22. That means his final Life Night is already behind him as of this post. Getting together our crack team of youth ministers, we decided to continue the Summer Life Nights and keep the glory coming. I will be hosting the Life Night on Sunday, July 24. We are going to have some fun, but also really dive into the topic of the night, Jesus Christ, the Word Made Flesh.
The Incarnation is the most important doctrine of the Church, second only to the Trinity. It is absolutely crucial to understand the full meaning of the Word made flesh to live out our faith. The doctrine of the Incarnation was best summed up in the phrase by St. Cyril of Alexandria: the hypostatic union.
The hypostatic union means that the two natures of Jesus Christ- his eternal and unchanging Divine nature and his finite, created human nature, born of the Virgin Mary- are not united to one another, but to the Divine Person (hypostasis, in Greek) of the Son. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is fully human and fully divine.
So we need to hold on to this definition for Christianity to make any sense and for us to be truly redeemed by God. Remember this ancient Catholic principle: He did not redeem what He did not assume.
If they were united to each other, the human nature would be utterly annihilated by the divine nature, like a drop of water in a cask of wine. If each nature was united to its own personhood, then there would be Jesuses, not one Jesus.
Some think the Son of God, already having a divine intellect and will, simply united that to a human body and, boom, you got yourself the Incarnation. But that would violate the ancient Catholic principle, because sin is not merely in the body, but starts and ends with the human soul. Thus, to be redeemed, Jesus needed to assume our full human nature: body and soul.
Also, and this goes along with the last misunderstanding, he was not Hercules or some kind of halfsy: 50% divine and 50% human. He was 100% divine and 100% human, joining both natures to his divine person.
Heretics have the truth, though partially. They grab hold of one thing, and make of it everything. In that sense, they are not catholic, or universal.
Here’s the heretics’ thoughts:
The Docetists said he only appeared to be human, but was really God the whole time. After all, no man could do what he did, and no god would lower himself to be really tortured, killed, and buried.
The Arians said he was only like God but was not the same as God, denying his divinity. Jesus was just the greatest of all creatures, but is not the Creator.
The Nestorians proclaimed Mary as the Christokos, the Christ-bearer, and not the Theotokos, the God-bearer. How could a creature, a woman, give birth to the divine? Don’t call her the Mother of God, just the mother of Christ, the mommy of his human nature.
The monophysites said he only had one nature, the divine, when the two combined. How could merely created and finite things be joined to the eternal, infinite godhead as endure?
The monothelites said, sure he has two natures, but only one will, the divine. Jesus’ will was always in union with God’s will because that is all he had, the one divine will.
What Catholics Have Always Thought
Contrary to what Dan Brown may think, the Church did not invent the doctrine of the Incarnation for greater position and power politics . Nope, what the Church’s geniuses invented was the philosophical and theological language to describe in human, rational terminology what is reality.
The Incarnation means that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and thus is fully God. He shares the divine nature just as much as the Father and the Holy Spirit share in it. He is “God from God, light from light…begotten, not made.” He is no creature. The Son of God is eternal and infinite. He is the eternal Logos, the Word of God (see John 1: 1-18).
The Incarnation means that the Son of God chose to enter into history around 2,000 years ago, through the consent of a Jewish teenager named Mary. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Incarnation means the enfleshment of God the Son. The Son of God born of the Virgin Mary is who we mean when we say Jesus.
Speaking of Mary, she is the Theotokos, the God-bearer, because how many mommies do you know give birth to natures and not persons? Mary gave birth to the person, and that person was fully human and fully divine. Thus, she is rightfully the Mother of God and is the Theotokos.