The Cosmic Importance of the Incarnation

Why did God become man?  Was this simply a reaction to Adam and Eve’s fall into sin?  Is the Incarnation merely contingent upon this event?  Or is there more to this story?

When I was a Protestant I often focused exclusively on one aspect of the Incarnation–namely its leading to the death of Christ and the atonement for sins.  While this is obviously of central importance (Christ most certainly did come to lay down his life for the world) it can lead to some misconceived and even detrimental notions.  One of them being that the Incarnation was simply an “accident”; namely, that it was not absolutely essential for the redemption of creation.  For many Protestants (not all) the Incarnation is viewed as merely a reaction to a particular event – the Fall of man into sin – rather than part of the cosmic destiny of creation itself.

I had this conversation in a course in philosophical theology I took last Fall.  Having read multiple essay’s written in defense of Calvin’s notion of penal substitutionary atonement we engaged in a rather lively class discussion.  Several of my classmates seemed to view the Incarnation itself as superfluous to our salvation and destiny.  Everything, for them, hinged upon Christ taking our sins upon himself, dying on the cross, and satiating the wrath of God.  Some didn’t even seem to find the mode of Christ’s death necessary–it was merely the “best possible way” to both satiate God’s wrath and offer an example for us to live by.  To be fair, this view was not held by everyone in class, but did seem to be the predominate view of the author’s we were discussing.

This stands in marked contrast to the Catholic (and I include here Eastern Orthodox as well) tradition which understand’s the Incarnation to be more than a contingent event; a mere accidental happening in the history of the world.  Consider this statement made by Peter Kreeft:

“Jesus is not merely the universe’s savior; He is the universe’s purpose.  The Incarnation was not a last-minute fix-it operation.  And it was not undone in the Ascension.  He is still incarnate, still with us.  He is with us in different ways.  He is with us through the material things, for He created them and He sanctified all matter by incarnating Himself in matter.”

From the perspective of Catholic theology it has always been God’s intention to unite creation to Himself in an intimate way.  In this sense the Incarnation was inevitable.  Consider this, often neglected passage, from St. Paul:

“For he [Christ] has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:9-10).

While the Incarnation clearly has soteriological implications, leading to forgiveness of sins and personal salvation, it is also a cosmic event.  It is God’s plan to unite all things, in heaven and on earth, to perfect creation, and to offer creation a share in His eternal reality.

In the words of St. Maximus the Confessor:

“Because of Christ–or rather, the whole mystery of Christ [i.e., the Incarnation]–all the ages of time and the beings within those ages have received their beginning and end in Christ.  For the union between a limit of the ages and limitlessness, between measure and immeasurability, between finitude and infinity, between Creator and creation, between rest and motion, was conceived before the ages.  This union has been manifested in Christ at the end of time, and in itself brings God’s foreknowledge to fulfillment . . .”

Christ is not only the creator of the universe but its telos, its end and purpose.  From this standpoint the Incarnation has much broader implications than the forgiveness of sins (although this is surely a central part of it).  The Incarnation is not simply a reaction to the Fall of mankind but is mankind’s destiny.  It is only from this perspective that we can arrive at the necessity of the Incarnation and appreciate the full scope of God’s redemptive work.


Random Musings/Prayers

IMG_0355As we (Orthodox Christians) enter the last week of Lent prior to Holy Week, I wanted to post a few random thoughts/prayers that I wrote out this morning pertaining to the essence of Lent and Pascha (Easter). Why do we fast? Why do we lament? Why do we recognize these things? I hope you find these short snippets of my thoughts/prayers to help provide a tiny answer to those questions.

On the Moral Nature of Man

What is man if nothing more than a tree? If we lose our roots, then we become nothing more than fuel for a fire. You, O Lord, are our roots. You are the fertile soil for our wooden souls. It is in You that we grow. But our sin, our passions, everything contrary to You is the wind that uproots us, that rips us from our soil, and it is then that we become deadwood, something to kindle the fire of the Enemy’s rebellion.

We have sought to create for ourselves our own reality. A false creation! A garbage heap! A simulacrum! You are Reality, it is You we seek, but like the wandering tribes in the exodus from Egypt we create golden idols and act like they are You. What folly there is in the desires of man.

On the Created Nature of Man

There are those who say we are evil in our nature. They say your first children tainted our very essence, that there is no good to be found in us. But You said we were very good and in us You found enough goodness to die for. And if we were evil by nature, then how could we say that we sin? All evil actions would be inevitable, it would be in keeping with who we are. There would be no sin if we were evil. Instead, we are as You created us. We are good, very good, in our nature. And this is why we call sin evil, because it is any action that goes against our created purpose. We are morally evil only because we are by nature good.

On God’s Resolution

Into the darkness, You spoke light. Into nothingness, You spoke everything. Into the void, You spoke fulfillment. Into the chaos, You spoke order. Into the violence, You spoke peace. What is sin if not the attempt to undo all you have spoken? Death is the only conclusion to such actions. And yet, into the death, You spoke Life.

On the Two Gardens of Humanity

In the Garden of Eden, man rebelled against You and was cast out. In the Garden of Gethsemane, man rebelled against You and was found. In the first Garden, man sought to be like You. In the second Garden, man sought to kill You. In the first Garden, man needed a covering for his nakedness. In the second Garden, the covering for man’s nakedness was given. In the first Garden, man sweat out of fear for Your judgement. In the second Garden, You sweat blood out of compassion and our redemption. In the first Garden, man sinned to be equal to You. In the second Garden, You died so we could be like You. In the first Garden, man lost his way. In the second Garden, You found man.

On Hope

The pursuit of Good, the pursuit of You, is nothing more than an attempt to get back to our nature, to who we are meant to be. But our wills are not aligned with Your will and so our actions are contrary to You. Yet You have supplied a way to transcend our very selves, to be like You. As Your servant St. Athanasius said, “God became man so that man might become God.” Your servant St. Maximus the Confessor has said, “Man becomes like God in all things except essence and being.” You created us for Yourself and in our redemption we become all for You and therefore become like You, not by nature, but by grace. Our desire for salvation should not be out of want of Heaven or fear of Hell, but out of a desire to be united to You.

A Contemporary Theology?

IMG_0106Over at The Gospel Coalition, they did an interview with Gregg Allison over the challenges of writing a contemporary theology, specifically on the doctrine of the church (lower ‘c’ intentional). He points out that among evangelicals there are a wide variety of beliefs on how the church should function and look, which makes a contemporary theology over the issue quite a challenge. But the challenge, in my mind, undermines evangelical ecclesiology and not only makes the task of defining an evangelical church difficult, but proves it is ultimately impossible. The reason is that a contemporary theology of the church is impossible simply because we refuse to look at the ancient theology of the Church.

When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Whittenburg door, a lot of his grievances stemmed from the authority of the Roman Pope. This, of course, was not the first time in history that the authority given to the Roman Pope caused problems in Christendom. Prior to Luther’s call for reform (and subsequent excommunication), the Western Church had endured some of the most corrupt and violent popes in history. Even prior to the corruption, one of the driving factors in the Great Schism was the great authority the West was giving to the Roman Pope; at the time, there was a Pope of Constantinople, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome. Due to the collapse of the Roman government in the West, the Pope in Rome (or archbishop) gained quite a bit of political authority. While he was always viewed as the “first among equals” by the Church in the East, those in the West began to see him as having more authority than the popes in the East. Thus, while not the sole contributor to the Great Schism, the authority given to the Pope was a driving factor in the split, much like it was in the Reformation.

The problem with the Protestant Reformation, however, isn’t that it rejected the level of authority given to the Pope, but instead that it ultimately elevated every man to the office of the Pope. Prior to the Reformation, the Bible was often interpreted by Bishops, Cardinals, and ultimately the Pope. He held (and still holds) the power to declare an interpretation or teaching ex cathedra (“from the chair”). While this power was no more than implied prior to the First Vatican Council, it still carried quite a bit of weight; the Pope’s view of how a passage should be interpreted often influenced everyone else’s view. The Reformation didn’t remove the Pope from their hermeneutic, they simply made every man a pope. Thus, John may interpret a passage one way while Peter interprets it another and the entire time both are left to argue endlessly without having an actual way to solve their differences.

The Reformations failure to eradicate the office of the Papacy (as it was known) and instead transfer its authority to the common man is what led to thousands of denominations. Seemingly small differences became massive when mixed with the pride of a self-interpretation. It wasn’t a matter of discovering the truth, but instead it became a matter of declaring x to be true, that we are the keepers of it, and all others are wrong. It gave every layman the ability to declare his interpretation ex cathedra, to say that the Holy Spirit had revealed the interpretation to him. Any attempts to refer to Tradition or how Christians had typically interpreted the passage were (and are) put on the back-burner or outright ridiculed as Papist.  Continue reading