The Mystery of the Incarnation - A Reflection #
Adapted from a work by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III
Also from Theological Statements of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
The Incarnation of God the Son is primarily for the salvation of the world. Salvation means to restoration of the world to its direct and unimpeded relation with God.
We know from the creation story in the Book of Genesis, that Almighty God, the Most Holy Trinity, created all out of nothing and it was perfect, without evil or sin. But evil came there in it. The Lord God, Who made the world, is ever concerned and active to save it from the clutches of evil and restore it to the destiny for which it has been created. Incarnation is God’s supreme act in saving the world.
God the Only-begotten Son entered the earthly realm of existence in a unique way by taking unto Himself a perfectly real human life. This is Incarnation by which God the Father, Who created the world through God the Son and perfects it through God the Holy Spirit, manifests through the Son His saving work for the world and completes it in the Holy Spirit. As creation is the work of Almighty God, redemption is also God’s work.
The Lord God, Who created the world made man as the crown of creation. Made in God’s image and endowed with creaturely freedom and autonomy, man seeks God and reflects on His being and nature. Through the wrong exercise of man’s freewill there came on him and the world at large, misery and suffering as well as evil, sin and death. The salvation of the world, therefore, required pre-eminently the healing of man. It is this healing which the Incarnation (is believed by the Church) to have aimed to accomplish.
In the Incarnation, God the Son united to Himself real and perfects manhood. Conceived in the womb of Mary the Virgin, through the work of the Holy Spirit, He was born in the world as a real man. At the very moment of His Conception, through the operation of the Holy Spirit, a personal manhood was formed in the Virgin’s womb in union with God the Son. Thus God the Son united to Himself the manhood, taken from the human mother, and was born as perfect God and total man in the real sense.
Jesus Christ, the Incarnate God, the Only-begotten Son, is one Person, continuous with Godhead and continuous with His manhood. In Him Godhead and manhood continue each in its integrity and perfection, in a state of indivisible and unconfused union.
On this ground the Church of Ethiopia, with the all the other Oriental Orthodox Churches, affirms that Jesus Christ is not two natures, but “One Incarnate nature of God the Word.” The “one” here is not meant to ignore the dynamic continuance of either Godhead or manhood in the one Christ, but to confess a real Incarnation whereby God the Son entered the world of ours as a man. He is indeed true God the Incarnate Son even while He is found to undergo the frailty of manhood.
Living as He did, a life of unbroken communion with God, He was absolutely sinless. Maintaining this union in the most inward and real sense, He entered into our battle with sin and evil as a man, and fell a victim to our death. By His suffering and ignominious death on The Cross, He achieve total victory over the forces of sin, death and devil, and by His Resurrection from the dead He lives eternally in His natural unity with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, and in his unbroken and indivisible union with the manhood. In Jesus Christ, then, we have the Incarnate, Crucified and glorified Risen God the Son, Who is Himself our brother, signifying the final destiny awaiting the human race.
Regarding the Person of Jesus Christ also there have been serious discussions in Ethiopia. But the Church holds to the view that He is God the Son in His Incarnate state. Begotten of God the Father eternally as God the Son, He was born of the Blessed Virgin Mother as a real man. There are a number of affirmations in the Anaphora - Eucharistic Prayers - Canons, regarding Him, some of which may be noted here.
Jesus Christ was born of Our Lady St. Mary for our salvation. He Who does not believe in His birth from Holy Mary, let him be anathema.
In this way, after being conceived in the womb of the Virgin, God the Son was born as a man. By His Conception, God the Son became Incarnate “taking our nature.” The Son, Who is begotten of the Father without a mother, was born as a man without a Father. “He put on mortal flesh and made it immortal,” and He came truly into the world “clothed in the body which He took from us.”
His human birth was a unique event, whereby God the Son “came down through the will of His Father” and was made man. “His humanity was not inferior because He had no Father to be born of His seed.” This is Incarnation, whereby God the Son entered the historical realm in order to save it forever.
In the Incarnation, God the Son united to Himself manhood and “made it one with his Godhead without mixture or confusion, without division or alternation.” Therefore, “His Godhead was not separated from His manhood, not for an hour, nor for the twinkling of an eye.”
God the Son came to us “without being separated from His Godhead.” After being born, “He grew like an infant, and grew little by little until He matured like a man. At the age of thirty He was baptized in the Jordan by John.” He was tempted by the devil; “He hungered and thirsted,” He went about “preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven.” By this, Who is perfect like God the Father and is His image walked among us in our image.
He suffered passion and death voluntarily on our behalf and for our sakes. He became hungry as man, and granted food to many with very little bread. He thirsted as a man who dies, but changed water into wine as being able to give life to all.
They bet Him on the head as a servant and He set free from the yoke of sin as Lord of all. He suffered all. He cured the blind with His spittle and gave us the Holy Spirit by receiving the spittle of the unclean. He who forgives sin was accused as a sinner by them. The Judge of judges was judges by them. He was crucified on the tree to destroy sin, was crucified with the sinner to control with the righteous. He died through His will, and was buried willingly; He died to destroy death, He died to give life to the dead; He was buried to raise those who were buried, to keep the living, to justify the impure, to justify the sinners, to gather together those who were scattered, and to turn the sinners to glory and honor.
Such passages in the Anaphora are too numerous to be reproduced or even noted in the present context. They show that Jesus Christ was at once God and man without division or confusion. The same Christ, God the Son Incarnate, expressed the Divine actions as well as the human. He is one Christ, in whom God and man are indivisibly united.
- As to the absolute reality of the suffering and death, there are passages almost without number. We shall reproduce here two of them, one taken from the Anaphora - Eucharistic Prayer of St. James of Serug, and the other from the Anaphora of St. Dioscorus. The Priest who celebrates using the first of these two Anaphora’s says in prayer:
O Lord, Thou was struck with the hands of a servant, beaten with sticks, pierced with a spear, and they caused Thee to drink a little gall with vinegar. While Thou was God able to prevent them, Thou didst not prevent them, Thou didst become patient even to death; all this Thou didst accept for the love of man.
The Anaphora of St. Dioscorus contains the following passages bearing on the point at issue in the present context. The Priest says there in prayer:
He was laid in the manger of the cattle, received the presents of His kingdom, and wept as infants do, asking for food from the breast of His mother. As to suffering and death in particular, we have passages like the following. They crucified Him on the tree, nailed him with nails, beat Him on the head with sticks, pierced His side with a spear, to Him who gave drink to the Israelites from a rock they gave to drink gall mixed with myrrh in His thirst. The immortal died, died to destroy death, died to quicken the dead as He promised them with the word of covenant.
- Death was not the end of His dispensation. “He rose from the dead, absolutely without corruption and set is free from the yoke of sin.” The risen Christ ascended into heaven and is with God the Father. He has triumphed over death and decay.
These and the many other passages in the Eucharistic Liturgy show that the manhood of Christ Jesus was absolutely real and perfect. But everywhere the emphasis is on the unity of Jesus Christ. It is affirmed that He is God the Son in His Incarnate state.
As regards the Incarnation, it is clearly shown that He was conceived in the Virgin St. Mary’s womb, and that He was born as a real man. At the very moment of His Conception, through the power of the Holy Spirit, actual manhood was formed from the human mother in union with Himself. It is to Him Who was thus conceived that the Virgin gave birth. Therefore, Jesus Christ is indivisibly one. The two natures of Godhead and manhood which came into union in Him continue in the one Christ, each in its absolute integrity and perfection with its respective properties, without change or division. Each of them continues in its dynamic reality, not in a quiescent state, so that Christ is God and man at the same time.
The Church of Ethiopia, with the other Oriental Orthodox Churches, has refused to accept the Greco-Roman Council of Chalcedony’s Definition of the Faith with the affirmation that Christ is “made known in two natures.” If by the expression the Churches which accept the Definition mean only that Godhead and manhood continue in the one Chris dynamically, this is the teaching of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. On the other hand, if the expression is taken in the sense that Godhead and manhood continue in Christ only in a state of moral union, there is a basic difference on this issue between the churches of the Chalcedonian tradition and the Church of Ethiopia, which should be noted.