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.

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Quote of the Day: Peter Kreeft


“You can see the nature of ultimate reality when you look at a crucifix.  There is more metaphysical wisdom in that simple gaze of the simple Christian child than in the highest mystical experiences of the sage or guru, and more than in the finest philosophical systems of a Plato or an Aristotle.  They may have known the experience of Being or the concept of Being, but the Christian child sees Being’s face.”

What’s Wrong With the World – Emotionalism


Related Book: Socratic Logic: A Logic Text Using Socratic Method, Platonic Questions, and Aristotelian Principles by Peter Kreeft

A problem facing Western society today is that, as a people, we tend to be more emotional in our responses and thinking than we are rational. Though there’s nothing wrong with emotions or being emotional at times, when our thinking and actions center on our emotions, we run into many problems.

Before going further, I should note that I am not against reacting emotionally to certain instances. Even Jesus was overcome with emotion at the death of Lazarus, even though He knew He would raise Lazarus from the dead. When a man sees a woman being robbed, the rational thing is to call the police; the emotional response might be to protect the woman before calling the police. In these situations and others, an emotional response is completely justified.

Instead, I am talking about emotionalism, or constantly using our emotions in our thinking and our rhetoric. Rather than thinking deeply about an issue, we instead go with our gut reaction. Rather than evaluating the merits of a statement, we instead jump on our prima facie understanding of what was said and, regardless of further clarifications, continue with our original understanding.

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Applied Theology – The Incarnation


APPLIED THEOLOGY SERIES

Introduction | The Incarnation | The Image of God | The omniscience/omnipotence of God 

What is it?

One of the central aspects of Christian theology is the belief in the Incarnation – that Christ came down and became human, taking on a human nature, but keeping His divine nature. It is also generally accepted that the incarnation is a mystery, that is, there really is no comprehensive or even adequate understanding of how the incarnation works. The best work dealing with this subject is Athanasius’ On The Incarnation, but even this work only shows how the incarnation works logically – it doesn’t explain how it actually works.

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