THE FEAST OF CHRISTMAS
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.–JOHN I. 14.
Today the Church calls to our minds the threefold birth of our Lord: His birth of the Father before all ages, His birth from the Blessed Virgin Mary twenty centuries ago, and His birth through grace in the souls of the just. But the central thought of this day’s feast is the temporal birth of our Lord in the stable at Bethlehem.
I. The Gospel Narratives of the Conception and Birth of Christ. l. The Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was the chosen Mother of God. Mary consented, and thereupon the Mystery of the Incarnation was accomplished (Luke i. 26-38). 2. Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem to be enrolled. There Christ was born in a stable. Angels announced His birth to the Shepherds (Luke ii. 1-20).
II, “Who was conceived of the Holy Ghost.” 1. The meaning of these words of the Creed: Christ’s conception was miraculous; a Divine Person took human flesh in a manner transcending the order of nature. 2. All three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity were authors of this mystery, since all external works of the Godhead are common to the three Divine Persons; but it is especially attributed to the Holy Ghost because it is a work of love. 3. The body of our Lord was formed from the flesh and blood of the Blessed Virgin, who is therefore truly the Mother of God. 4. The soul of Christ was filled with all grace from the moment of His conception. 5. The Divinity was united to Christ’s body and soul from the first instant of conception, and hence Christ is the Son of God by nature, and not by adoption.
III. “Born of the Virgin Mary.” 1. The birth of Christ was miraculous, since He was born of a virgin. 2. The virgin birth was foretold in prophecy: “Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son” (Is. vii. 14); it was prefigured in many types of the Old Testament, e.g. in the gate of the sanctuary which Ezechiel saw closed (Ezech. xliv. 2); in the bush which Moses saw burn without being consumed (Exod. iii. 2), etc. 3. Comparison between Mary and Eve: Eve brought malediction on the human race, Mary brought Christ to us; Eve bore children in sorrow, Mary brought forth the Son of God in joy, etc.
CONCLUSION. How we should profit by the birth of Christ:
I. We should adore this mystery through faith, since it transcends our understanding. 2. We should meditate on this feast with gladness, because it establishes peace between God and man (Luke ii. 14), because in it all the nations of the earth are blessed (Gen. xxii. 18), because through it the goodness of God shines forth with incomparable splendor.
Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part I
ARTICLE III OF THE CREED
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.
INCARNATION OF THE SON OF GOD
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost. From what has been said in the preceding Article, the faithful are given to understand that in delivering us from the relentless tyranny of Satan, God has conferred a singular and invaluable blessing on the human race; but if we place before our eyes the economy of redemption, in it the goodness and beneficence of God shine forth with incomparable splendor and magnificence.
The pastor, then, will enter on the exposition of this third Article by developing the grandeur of this mystery, which the Sacred Scriptures very frequently propose to our consideration as the principal source of our eternal salvation. Its meaning he will teach to be, that we believe and confess that the same Jesus Christ, our only Lord, the Son of God, when He assumed human flesh for us in the womb of the Virgin, was not conceived like other men, from the seed of man, but in a manner transcending the order of nature, that is, by the power of the Holy Ghost;(1) so that the same person, remaining God as He was from eternity, became man,(2) what He was not before. That such is the meaning of these words is clear from the confession of the Holy Council of Constantinople, which says: “who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and became incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and WAS MADE MAN.” The same truth we also find unfolded by St. John the Evangelist, who imbibed from the bosom of the Saviour Himself the knowledge of this most profound mystery. When he had thus declared the nature of the divine Word: ” In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” he concludes,” And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” (3)
Thus, “the Word,” which is a person of the divine nature, assumed human nature in such a manner that the person of both natures is one and the same: and hence this admirable union preserved the actions and properties of both natures; and, as we read in St. Leo, that great pontiff, ” the lowliness of the inferior was not consumed in the glory of the superior, nor did the assumption of the inferior diminish the glory of the superior.”(4)
THE WORK NOT OF ONE, BUT OF THE THREE PERSONS OF
As an explanation of the words in which this Article is expressed is not to be omitted, the pastor will teach that when we say that the Son of God was conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, we do not mean that this Person alone of the Holy Trinity accomplished the mystery of the incarnation. Although the Son alone assumed human nature, yet all the Persons of the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, were authors of this mystery. It is a principle of Christian faith that whatever God does extrinsically is common to the three Persons, and that one neither does more than nor acts without another. But that one emanates from another cannot be common to all, for the Son is begotten of the Father only, the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son; but whatever proceeds from them extrinsically is the work of the three Persons without difference of any sort, and of this latter description is the incarnation of the Son of God.
WHY SPECIALLY ATTRIBUTED TO THE HOLY GHOST
Of those things, however, that are common to all, the Sacred Scriptures often attribute some to one person, some to another. Thus, to the Father they attribute power over all things; to the Son, wisdom; to the Holy Ghost, love; and hence, as the mystery of the Incarnation manifests the singular and boundless love of God towards us, it is therefore in some sort peculiarly attributed to the Holy Ghost.
IN WHAT NATURAL AND IN WHAT SUPERNATURAL
In this mystery, we perceive that some things were done which transcend the order of nature, some by the power of nature. Thus, in believing that the body of Christ was formed from the most pure blood of his Virgin Mother we acknowledge the operation of human nature, this being a law common to the formation of all human bodies. But what surpasses the order of nature and human comprehension is, that as soon as the Blessed Virgin assented to the announcement of the angel in these words, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word,”(5) the most sacred body of Christ was immediately formed, and to it was united a rational soul; and thus in the same instant of time, He was perfect God and perfect man. That this was the astonishing and admirable work of the Holy Ghost cannot be doubted.
THE DIVINITY UNITED TO THE HUMANITY OF CHRIST
Again (and this should overwhelm us with astonishment), as soon as the soul of Christ was united to His body, the Divinity became united to both; and thus at the same time His body was formed and animated, and the Divinity united to body and soul.
THE VIRGIN TRULY MOTHER OF GOD AND MAN
Hence, at the same instant He was perfect God and perfect man, and the most Holy Virgin, having at the same moment conceived God and man, is truly and properly called Mother of God and man. This the Angel signified to her when he said: “Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High.”(6) The event verified the prophecy of Isaias: ” Behold a Virgin shall conceive, and bear a son.”(7) Elizabeth also, when, filled with the Holy Ghost, she understood the conception of the Son of God, declared the same truth in these words: ” Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”(8)
THE SOUL OF CHRIST REPLENISHED FROM HIS CONCEPTION WITH ALL GRACE
But as the body of Christ was formed of the pure blood of the immaculate Virgin without the aid of man, as we have already said, and by the sole operation of the Holy Ghost, so also, at the moment of His conception, His soul was replenished with an overflowing fulness of the Spirit of God, and a superabundance of all graces; for God gave not to Him, as to others adorned with graces and holiness, His Spirit by measure, as St. John testifies,(9) but poured into His soul the plenitude of all graces so abundantly that ” of his fulness we all have received.” (10)
CHRIST THE SON OF GOD BY NATURE, NOT BY ADOPTION
Although possessing that Spirit by which holy men attain the adoption of sons of God, He cannot, however, be called the adopted Son of God; for being the Son of God by nature, the grace, or name of adoption, can on no account be deemed applicable to Him.
HOW WE ARE TO REAP FRUIT UNTO SALVATION FROM THE BELIEF OF THIS ARTICLE
These truths comprise the substance of what appeared to us to demand explanation regarding the admirable mystery of the conception. To reap from them abundant fruit for salvation the faithful should particularly recall, and frequently reflect, that it is God who assumed human flesh, but that the manner of its assumption transcends the limits of our comprehension, not to say of our powers of expression; and finally, that He vouchsafed to become man in order that we mortals may be regenerated children of God. When to these subjects they shall have given mature consideration, let them, in the humility of faith, believe and adore all the mysteries contained in this Article, and not indulge a curious inquisitiveness by investigating and scrutinizing them–an attempt scarcely ever unattended with danger.
CHRIST BORN OF A VIRGIN
Born of the Virgin Mary. These words comprise another part of this Article of the Creed, in the exposition of which the pastor should exercise considerable diligence; because the faithful are bound to believe that Christ our Lord was not only conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, but was also “born of the Virgin Mary.” The words of the Angel who first announced the happy tidings to the world declare with what transports of joy and emotions of delight the belief of this mystery should be meditated by us. “Behold,” says he, ” I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people.”(11) The song chanted by the heavenly host clearly conveys the same sentiments. “Glory,” say they, ” to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.”(l2) Then began the fulfillment of the splendid promise made by Almighty God to Abraham,–that in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed;(13) for Mary, whom we truly proclaim and venerate as Mother of God, because she brought forth Him who is at once God and man, was descended from King David.(14) But as the conception itself transcends the order of nature, so also the birth of the man-God presents to our contemplation nothing but what is divine.
THE MANNER OF HIS BIRTH
Besides–a circumstance wonderful beyond expression or conception–He is born of His Mother without any diminution of her maternal virginity; and as He afterwards went forth from the sepulcher while it was closed and sealed, and entered the room in which His disciples were assembled, the doors being shut,(15) or (not to depart from natural events which we witness every day) as the rays of the sun penetrate without breaking or injuring in the least the substance of glass, so after a like but more incomprehensible manner did Jesus Christ come forth from His mother’s womb without injury to her maternal virginity, which, being immaculate and perpetual, forms the just theme of our eulogy. This was the work of the Holy Ghost, who at the conception and birth of the Son so favored the Virgin Mother as to impart to her fecundity and yet preserve inviolate her perpetual virginity.
CHRIST COMPARED TO ADAM, MARY TO EVE
The Apostle sometimes calls Jesus Christ the second Adam, and institutes a comparison between Him and the first Adam; for as in the first all men die, so in the second all are made alive:(16) and as in the natural order Adam was the father of the human race, so in the supernatural order Christ is the author of grace and of glory. The Virgin Mother we may also compare to Eve, making the second Eve, that is Mary, correspond to the first, as we have already shown that the second Adam, that is Christ, corresponds to the first Adam. By believing the serpent. Eve brought malediction and death on mankind;(17) and Mary, by believing the Angel, became the instrument of the divine goodness in bringing life and benediction to the human race.(18) From Eve we are born children of wrath; from Mary we have received Jesus Christ, and through Him are regenerated children of grace. To Eve it was said: “In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children.”(19) Mary was exempt from this law, for preserving her virginal integrity inviolate she brought forth Jesus the Son of God without experiencing, as we have already said, any sense of pain.
TYPES AND FIGURES OF HIS CONCEPTION AND NATIVITY
The mysteries of this admirable conception and nativity being, therefore, so great and so numerous, it accorded with the views of Divine Providence to signify them by many types and prophesies. Hence the holy Fathers understood many things which we meet in the Sacred Scriptures to relate to them, particularly that gate of the Sanctuary which Ezechiel saw closed;(20) the stone cut out of the mountain without hands, which became a great mountain and filled the universe;(21) the rod of Aaron, which alone budded of all the rods of the princes of Israel;(22) and the bush which Moses saw burn without being consumed (23) The holy Evangelist describes in detail the history of the birth of Christ;(24) but, as the pastor can easily recur to the Sacred Volume, it is unnecessary for us to say more on the subject.
1. Matt. i. 20.
2. John i. 14.
3. John i. i, 14.
4. Serm. i. de Nat.
5. Luke i. 38.
6. Luke i. 31, 32.
7. Is. vii. 14.
8. Luke i. 43.
9. John iii. 34.
10. John i. 16.
11. Luke ii. 10.
12. Luke ii. 14.
13. Gen. xxii. 18.
14. Matt i. I, 6.
15. John xx. 19.
16. I Cor. xv. 21, 22.
17. Eccl. xxv. 33.
18. Eph. i. 3.
19. Gen. iii. 16,
20. Ezech. xliv. 2.
21. Dan. ii. 35.
22. Num. xvii. 8.
23. Exod. iii. 2.
24. Luke ii.
BY THE REV. THOMAS F. BURKE, C.S.P.
I. The cornerstone of the whole structure of Christianity, my dear brethren, is the fact of the divinity of its Founder. Upon that fact is based the authoritative character of all Christian teachings; and whatever we accept as essential to the gaming of eternal life is considered essential for the very reason that it was proclaimed by a Divine Voice. Useful and beautiful though other doctrines may be in themselves, their value rests upon the truth of this primary one, the divinity of the Saviour. As in the solar system all things are centred in the sun, dependent upon it for their very existence, and as all things would fail with the going out of its light and the ceasing of its heat, so all the dogmas of our faith are centred in Christ’s divinity, and were that great fact removed they would be worthless; in fact they would cease to exist.
The word which has been chosen to denote the accomplishment of this great mystery of God’s coming upon earth is “Incarnation.” In a sense we may consider the manner of its accomplishment apart from the fact, though necessarily in such a consideration the fact itself is supposed. Thus, in the natural world, for example, our thought may be concerned with the fact of electricity or with the manner of its generation; or, again, we may dwell upon the fact of a falling body, or upon the reason for this phenomenon. Thus, too, to take another Catholic doctrine, we draw a distinction between the fact of Christ’s real presence in the Blessed Sacrament and the process by which it is brought about, namely, transubstantiation. In such a way we may, too, distinguish between the divinity of Jesus Christ and the manner in which that fact is brought about, namely, Incarnation.
On the other hand, however, it must be clear that whatever goes to establish the Incarnation is likewise a proof of Christ’s divinity, for the former includes the latter, just as whatever proves transubstantiation is a valid argument for the real objective presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
With this preliminary, then, it is well for us, in a day when, among many, if the Incarnation is not entirely denied it is at least but vaguely understood, to recall the Christian doctrine upon this subject, to see at least some of the reasons for its acceptance and to understand something of the wonderful bearing it has upon our lives.
II. When the name of Jesus Christ is mentioned there naturally rises before us the vision of a man who trod this earth centuries ago in living flesh and blood; there comes the figure of one who drew men to Himself, who won men by the gentleness of His manner, by the kindness of His words, by His teaching of the future life; of one who, more than all other teachers and prophets combined, exercised an influence for good upon humanity; of one who in His life and conduct brought again to light the truth and power that were lying dormant or corrupted in the intellect and the heart and the will of man. All admit that Christ was a human being. Born of woman, He grew from childhood to youth and manhood. He lived, He suffered. He died as man. But the ages in which Christ has been preached and the multitudes to whom Christ has been made known unite in proclaiming Him to be more than man–even to be God Himself. Voices of opposition indeed have been heard in the land, but the great multitude of Catholic peoples are united in accepting Christ as the Incarnate Son of God.
What does that belief mean? Literally, “Incarnation” means the taking on of flesh. Applied to the Son of God, it is that act by which the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity came upon earth and took to Himself a human nature such as that which we possess. This does not mean that human nature became divine nature, for this would be a contradiction in terms. It means that the Divine Person, in whom the divine nature is complete, united to the divine nature in that one person the nature of man, so that we have the mystery of the two natures, that of God and that of man, existing in the one Person who is divine.
Nature and person–let us see if we can grasp a little of the meaning of these words. As I look about me in this church today I see a number of human beings. All of you have something in common, something that is a distinguishing mark, that separates you from all other creatures, from the angels in heaven and from other species or kinds of beings upon earth; a something that makes you to be what you are, namely, human beings. This something we call “human nature.”
I can see further that this human nature is complete in each individual. Thus you do not attribute your actions to another, or to the race in general, but you attribute them to yourself. You say of these acts, whether you performed them today or ten or twenty or more years ago, “I did them.” You feel and realize that they belong to you individually. Now this condition in which a being is responsible for his acts, whether they be moral or physical or intellectual, is called ” personality.” In the human being, nature and personality are one.
Again, if I consider this human nature, I find that it is two-fold: it is partly spiritual and partly material; it is composed of body and soul. All actions, however, whether they spring principally from the soul or from the body, are attributed neither to the one nor to the other alone, but to both combined, forming the one responsible person. Thus, though it is the body that eats, you say, “I eat.” Thus, though it is the soul that thinks, you say, “I think.” Now this union of soul and body in man has been used as an illustration–for there is a likeness–of the union of man and God in Jesus Christ. The Athanasian Creed puts it thus: “As the rational soul and the flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ.” In the incarnate Christ there exist two natures, that of God and that of man, united in One Person, and since that Person is divine, all His actions are of a divine character. This Person was always God, existing throughout eternity, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. In time He became man for the glory of God and the redemption of mankind.
Summing up this, the Catholic doctrine of the Incarnation, it can be seen that there are contained in it substantially four distinct ideas. First, Jesus Christ is very God, equal to God the Father and God the Holy Ghost, possessed of all the divine attributes, power, and majesty. Secondly, Jesus Christ is man, having a body and soul like ours, endowed with all human faculties. Thirdly, while Jesus Christ is both God and man, God from eternity, made man in time, yet He is but one Person, one individual Being, and that Person is divine. Fourthly, the manhood possessed by Christ, though it is really assumed into the Divine Person, still remains entirely human, so that in respect of His manhood Christ is of one substance with us. Words could not more clearly state this doctrine than the definition used in the Athanasian Creed: “The right faith is that we believe and confess that Our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, is both God and man. He is God from the substance of the Father, begotten before all ages; and man from the substance of His mother, born in time; perfect God, perfect man, subsisting of a rational soul and human flesh; equal to the Father according to His Godhead; less than the Father according to His manhood; who though He be both God and man, nevertheless is not two but the one Christ; one, not by the conversion of the Godhead into flesh but by the taking of manhood unto God; one altogether, not by the confusion of substance, but by unity of person. For as the rational soul and the flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ.”
Such the doctrine of the Incarnation which the Catholic Church has steadfastly proclaimed and unflinchingly defended. Its very existence through the many centuries of human change and against numerous attacks stamps it with the seal of truth. For it is as much beyond man’s invention as the sun is beyond the eagle that soars into its light. That He who is God, who “thought it not robbery to be equal with God,” should “empty himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men,” could have been conceived only in the Divine Mind, as it could have been accomplished only by the Divine Will. To my mind, one of the greatest proofs of its truth is to be found in the benefit that has accrued to mankind from its acceptance during the past nineteen centuries. We who live with centuries of Christian civilization behind us can scarcely appreciate at first glance the change that has been wrought in the world. Could we, however, but conjure up the vision of past paganism with its terrible immorality and degradation; so low that we wonder that man even without grace could descend to it, and contrast this state of things with the civilization of today, even with its spots of leprosy, we would realize that only a fact which is divine could have brought about the change. Whether men acknowledge it or not, the nobler realities of our present civilization, the higher moral standards by which men are judged today, testify to the coming of the Son of God upon the earth as man.
III. The fact of the Incarnation is borne witness to in the Sacred Scriptures. Because at various times in the history of Christianity opponents have attacked this doctrine in one point or another, the Church has defined and declared exactly its meaning; but all of her decisions have been based upon the teaching of the Apostles. In all her declarations she has ever preserved that which shows the great beauty and glory of the mystery, namely, the perfect union of God and man.
If with Arius of old some deny that Christ was truly God, assigning to Him the place as it were of a demigod, making of Him the most perfect of all creatures, but still allowing Him to be only a creature, the Church summons the witnesses of apostolic days to proclaim the truth. She calls upon the greatest defender of Christ’s divinity, St. John, and he bears testimony, for he says that the Word, who is Jesus Christ, “was with God, and the Word was God.” In his Apocalypse, that revelation vouchsafed especially to him, he pictures Christ as the Lamb receiving the worship that is given to God: ” To him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb, benediction, and honor, and glory, and power, for ever and ever” (Apoc. v. 13).
She appeals to St. Paul, who staked all upon his belief in Christ’s divinity, and he gives testimony of his faith in the Godhead of Christ when he states that He who is the Redeemer is He “who is over all things, God blessed for ever” (Rom. ix. 5), and when he proclaims that Jesus Christ “thought it not robbery to be equal with God” (Phil. ii. 6).
She calls upon the apostolic writers in general, and to those who read the New Testament with open eyes and unprejudiced mind; it is evident that these pioneers of Christianity are agreed in identifying Christ with the Lord of all things, with the Jehovah of the Old Testament.
Or if some, admitting that Christ is God, on the other hand deny to Him true human nature either in its entirety or in part, the Church is just as jealous in guarding this side of the truth, again appealing to the teaching of Christ’s chosen messengers. Thus, when she condemned the teaching that declared there was in Christ no human soul such as that which exists in man, when she declared false the assertion that the human nature was lost and swallowed up in the divine, and when again she inveighed against the opinion of the Monothelites, who would curtail the human faculties of Christ, she invented no new doctrine but simply reiterated the first teaching of Christianity. She cites the evangelists, who continually insist upon the humanity of Christ in the complete sense of that word; who depict the Saviour as a man who knew with a human mind, who obeyed and served with a human will, who prayed with a human soul. She cites St. John, who without equivocation or reserve says that ” the Word was made flesh “; who asserts that Jesus Christ ” is come in the flesh” (2 John 7). She cites St. Paul, who says that the Son of God ” emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (Phil. ii. 7). Or again, she cites St. Peter, who speaks of Christ’s human spirit side by side with His human body (I Pet. iii. 18). Indeed, in all the New Testament there is nothing clearer than Christ’s true and complete humanity, and as a matter of fact, however many have assailed the divinity of the Saviour, few, especially in later days, have questioned His humanity.
The whole life of Jesus Christ, from Bethlehem to Calvary, is replete with proofs that show forth the double, yet single, truth of the Godhead and manhood united in one person. Enter the stable at Bethlehem and you behold, lying upon the straw, an infant, born of woman, a man like unto all men; but you behold also a God whose coming the angels announce and who receives the adoration of the shepherds and the kings of the East. Gather with those who witness the baptism of the Saviour in the Jordan, and you behold a man, one Who has taken to Himself the likeness of sin; but you behold also a God for whom the heavens are opened, upon whom the Holy Spirit descends, and of whom the Father says, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” Go with Him out into the desert, and you will witness a man who hungers and thirsts; but you will witness also a God who is ministered unto by angels. Journey with Him throughout Judea and you will see a man who lives as other men, who, in fact, lives a life of poverty, who grows weary under his burdens, who is despised, hated, and pursued by some, even unto death; but you will see also a God who cures the sick, and of His own power raises the dead to life. In the garden of Gethsemane you behold the man stricken to earth in an agony of blood, saddened, sorrowful even unto death; but you also behold the God whose voice alone strikes back His captors and whose word cures the wounded soldier. Upon the cross you behold the man, who is terribly tortured, who suffers the woeful agony of thirst, who is deserted and left desolate; but you also behold the God, with whose suffering nature itself sympathizes, and who, on the third day, is to rise from the dead, giving thus the greatest proof of His divinity.
To us this mystery has a wonderful meaning. That God should redeem man at all, that He should make atonement for the sins of mankind, is an evidence of infinite mercy. But that God should have chosen this special way, the Incarnation of His Divine Son, is an evidence of His stupendous love for the creature of His hand. It is the answer of heaven to the cravings, the longings of man, an answer to be conceived only in the Divine Mind. Religion, in its very essence, implies a loving creature and a loving God; and the history of man’s spiritual life has been a series of cravings and a series of answers.
In the offerings of Cain, when he placed before the Lord the fruits of the field, or of Abel, when he presented the firstlings of his flock; in the ritual observances of the chosen people, in the blood of sacrifice, in the victim of the holocaust; in the glories of the temple of Solomon; in the lowly catacombs of Christianity’s dawn, in the medieval miracles of stone; in the rude worship of the uncouth barbarian and the humble offering of the untutored savage; in the monumental tributes erected by Greece and Rome to their pagan deities; in Egypt’s enduring walls of Thebes and Karnak,–in all these we detect the great desire of man and look upon the silent witnesses to the everlasting craving of man’s heart for God.
And God has come to man in many and in various ways; not only in the ordinary and usual visitations of His grace to individual souls, in the inspirations and spiritual evidences of His presence, but also in extraordinary and, we might say, physical manifestations. Read in the word of God of the many such favors granted to man, and we must exclaim, “Truly, God is Love.” Behold how in some palpable and real way, though it is not given us to understand, God walked in the garden of His created paradise and spoke with man. Again, learn of the great vision of God with which Jacob was favored at Bethel, and how the heavens were opened to Abraham and Moses in the apparitions of God that were accorded them, and we must say, “God is Love.” Or yet again, learn how in the desert journeyings of the Israelites God was present always in a visible manner, by day in the form of a cloud and in a pillar of fire by night; learn how when Solomon’s temple, in all its beauty, was dedicated to God’s honor, the glory of the Lord, the visible symbol of His abiding presence, filled all the sanctuary, and we must say, “God is Love.”
All these, however, grand and sublime though they be, fade away before the light and splendor of His latest coming: all these evidences of God’s love and desire for man are obscured by the glory of that mighty love that shines forth in the Incarnation. Prostrate before the God made man, with a knowledge that was not accorded of old, with a devotion to which even the patriarchs and prophets were strangers, with a sympathy that strikes a note of sweetest friendship, with an affection that transcends all other tributes of man, we can now exclaim with the highest and sublimest meaning: “God is Love.”
However little we may understand of the deep mystery of the Incarnation, this at least we can grasp, that it is an expression of God’s desire to be with man and the recognition of man’s desire to be with God. God so loved the world as to send His only begotten Son. He came not to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by Him. He came that all may have life, and have it more abundantly. The promise spoken by God in the beginning of the human race is now fulfilled; the fact proclaimed by the lips of the ancient seer; “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son,” is now accomplished; the prophecy uttered of old is now, in the truest and strictest sense, fully realized, and God is become our God with us, our Emmanuel.
In His Incarnation, Christ likewise reveals the true dignity of man. He comes in human flesh. Lowly indeed is His condition, but even in that there shines forth the more the glory of His love and man’s true greatness. In the Incarnation and in it alone we can conceive man’s high estate. This glorious mystery is the only title of nobility that mankind can claim. Without it we could scarcely have any faith in man’s destiny of goodness and happiness; without it the dread veil of sin and crime would obscure the essential beauty of the soul; but with it, we are enabled, through the power of God’s revelation, to divest man of the garb of wretchedness, to unclothe the meanest and the lowest of the vesture of crime and guilt, and to behold, emerging from its habitation of sin, a soul made for eternal life with God.
And in all this revelation that comes to us in the Incarnate Christ, there is established in our hearts the desire, and in our wills the power, to live ever a purer and holier existence, until not only putting aside sin, but also putting on the beauty of ever-increasing goodness, we shall become in truth children of the Most High.
THE THIRD ARTICLE OF THE CREED
BY THE REV. P. HEHEL, S.J.
Of all the mysteries of our Holy Catholic faith there is none which has caused more dissension, more error, schism, and heresy, than the one contained in the third article of the Apostolic Creed. The cause of it I wish to explain to you today. Indeed, we cannot be surprised at it when we ponder over the fact that the conception and birth of Christ are as far above the works of mankind as they are beyond all human understanding, so that they require a strong, living, and firm faith by virtue of which man believes what he can neither see nor comprehend.
Therefore, I ask you when you now listen to the explanation of this third article of the creed to have recourse to your faith and expect of me no other proof than what the words of the article itself offer. Understand then:
I. The proper sense of words.
II. What according to these words we must believe.
III. How our way of life should correspond with this faith.
I. When we make our profession of faith with the words:
“I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Begotten Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary,” we give testimony to our belief in the only begotten Son of God, but in none other than the One who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary. We declare our belief in Him as God and man. God from all eternity and man in time. We also testify that we believe in that Christ who alone was conceived by the Holy Ghost without the aid of man, and whose conception did in no way destroy the virginity of Mary. For though she was a mother, because she had given Him birth, yet she remained a virgin before, during, and after His birth, because she had conceived Him by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost without the cooperation of man. This is the sense of the words of this third article: “Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.”
II. According to these words we, as Catholics, must believe and profess: 1. That Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, was at the same time true God and true man; that in accordance with His nature and being He was the Second Person of the Godhead from all eternity, that in time He assumed human nature and united it inseparably with His Godhead. Although He now had two natures, the divine and the human, yet He remained the same person, namely, the Second Person of the Godhead. 2. We must believe and profess that Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Godhead, was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary, like any other child in the womb of its mother, but not in the same common, human, natural manner, but by the supernatural, the overshadowing power of the Holy Ghost. For thus spoke the Angel Gabriel to Mary: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the holy child which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” This was confirmed by the Angel of the Lord when he appeared before St. Joseph and bore testimony to the virginal purity of Mary: “Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.” The teaching of heretics that Christ was born through the cooperation of St. Joseph is therefore false. The teachings of those who held that Christ had brought His mortal body with Him from heaven is equally erroneous, as is the teaching of others who said that Christ had only an apparent body, not a real one formed from the flesh and blood of Mary, for this is contrary to the distinct expression of St. John: “And the Word was made flesh.”
But how was it possible for Christ to take flesh through the overshadowing and cooperation of the Holy Ghost, who is Himself fleshless and a pure spirit? This no human being can comprehend. For this reason I told you that in this article we must be guided much more by faith than by human insight and understanding. Nevertheless, we can make this question clearer to ourselves by a comparison. We all know that our soil will not bring forth fruit unless it has previously been cultivated, plowed, and sown, and yet it is certain that at the creation of the world the first sheaf grew out of the soil solely by the wish of God, man having had no part in its existence and growth. So, too, did Mary bring forth the blessed fruit of her womb without cooperation of man. It was the Holy Ghost alone who, by His almighty power, formed a body from the pure flesh and blood of the Virgin, with which at the same moment the Second Person of the Godhead united Himself. And thus was Jesus who was God from eternity conceived as man and became flesh in the womb of Mary.
III. Out of all this arise important precepts which we must follow if our life and conduct are to reflect the profession of our faith. For behold! How immeasurably great God’s love was toward man that He permitted His only Son to descend from heaven and become man, solely for our sake and our salvation. Think of it! As far as impotent, mortal, sinful man stands beneath God, so far has God humbled Himself for the sake of man: the Master for the sake of His servant; the Creator for the sake of the creature; the Judge for the sake of the poor sinner; God for the sake of man! Is there any human love which can be compared with this? You love your friend, your husband, your wife, your relatives, as you say, from the bottom of your heart; but why? Because they wish you well, they love you, they serve you, and because you have evidences of their good will. What does this mean? It means that you merely love yourself and seek but your own comfort and advantage. But what could God expect from man? He was God from eternity. Before man breathed He was all blessedness, had everything by Himself and through Himself, as the origin of everything good. Therefore by His love He did not seek His own but your salvation and bliss. Oh, Christian, if you would only believe this, or rather ponder over it thoroughly; if you would think seriously of what your faith teaches you, how could you be so ungrateful as to prove yourself an enemy to this infinitely loving God?
Secondly, you can learn from this that Christ became man and walked upon this earth in weak and mortal flesh, to show us by His example how we, the faithful children of God, His disciples and heirs of His kingdom, should live and act. He was meek, mild, and patient, poor and obedient unto His dying day. Oh, how pride, vengeance, avarice, envy, and wickedness despoil a Christian! And how many Christians are there who do not commit one or the other of these sins!
We learn finally that because Christ was born of Mary the Virgin she is really His mother, and consequently can obtain from God all that ever any mother could obtain from her son. If, then, you implicitly believe this, O Christian, take refuge with Mary in all your necessities. Honor her as the mother of the Most High; invoke her as the most powerful of women, who exercises a motherly right over the God-man, her Son. Pray to her, the clement, the mild, the benignant, that she may obtain for you the grace of living here true to your faith, and of beholding hereafter the blessed fruit of her womb, Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Saviour.