On The Incarnation Part 1… From the Church of the East Fathers.


Thanksgiving Hymn of Mar Narsai:

The great love which the Lover of our race showed us is indescribable:
For from our race, he made a Mediator, and he reconciled the world with his Majesty.
It is a thing too great for us and all creatures;
it is a new thing he has done for our humanity:
that he has made our body a holy temple, in which he fulfills the worship of all.
Come, O earthly and heavenly, wonder and marvel at the greatness of our station:
for our race has reached the great height of incomprehensible Divinity!
Heaven and earth and all therein give thanks to the Magnifier of our race,
For he renewed our image and wiped away our iniquity,
called us in his Name and made all things subject to us.

This hymn, from Mar Narsai, a 5th century Church father of our Chaldean Church, d.ca. 500 AD, is a wonderful reflection on the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

John 1 —

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… 9 The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world… 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.

Another of our great theologian bishops, Mar Babai the Great, d.628 AD, wrote a hymn containing the following statements of christology:

One is Christ, the Son of God,
Worshipped by all in two natures;
In His Godhead begotten of the Father,
Without beginning, before all time;
In his Humanity born of Mary
In the fullness of time, in a body united
Neither His Godhead, is of the nature of the Mother,
Nor His Humanity of the nature of the Father;
The natures are preserved in their Qnumas
In one person of one Sonship.
And as the Godhead is three substances in one nature,
Likewise the Sonship of the Son is in two natures, one person.
So the Holy Church has taught.

We shall leave the transliteration of qnuma without translation since much dialogue and debate has been written on this.  Mar Babai is careful to guard the two natures in their entirety, stressing the different origins of each, and yet also stressing the unity of Christ: all is in the “one person of one Sonship.”  Mar Narsai, writing two centuries earlier, warned against any separation of the Son into two:

Let not the hearer suppose by the fact that I have distinguished the natures that I am speaking of two prosopa which are distant from one another.  I am talking of one prosopon, of the Word and the temple he chose, and I confess one Son…

These writings and hymns from the venerable church fathers are in complete accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church in the west.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church has the following clarification on the Incarnation of the Man-God Christ:

464 The unique and altogether singular event of the Incarnation of the Son of God does not mean that Jesus Christ is part God and part man, nor does it imply that he is the result of a confused mixture of the divine and the human. He became truly man while remaining truly God. Jesus Christ is true God and true man.

Writing slightly earlier than Mar Narsai, Pope Leo the Great made an adamant appeal to the Council of Chalcedon {451 AD} against the loss of either nature:

The impiety of saying that the Son of God was of two natures before His incarnation is only equaled by the iniquity of asserting that there was but one nature in Him after “the Word became flesh.”

St. Leo also writes about the aspects of each nature of the Christ, writing that is similar to Mar Narsai’s theological treatise hymn on Christ as God and Man.  St. Leo writes:

God in that “all things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made:” man in that “He was made of a woman, made under law Galatians 4:4 .” The nativity of the flesh was the manifestation of human nature: the childbearing of a virgin is the proof of Divine power. The infancy of a babe is shown in the humbleness of its cradle : the greatness of the Most High is proclaimed by the angels’ voices. He whom Herod treacherously endeavours to destroy is like ourselves in our earliest stage : but He whom the Magi delight to worship on their knees is the Lord of all…

In his hymn on the Natures of Christ, sung in our Church especially during the Advent season, Mar Narsai writes likewise:

* The Son of God showed the revealed truth to his Church betrothed when he chose, in his love, to come to the world and proclaim and teach his Divinity and his humanity. * For he had been in the womb of his Father, before the ages, without beginning – truly, he is God indeed. * He came to us in the latter times, put on our body and saved us through it – truly, he is man indeed. * The prophets proclaimed him in their revelations, the just revealed him through their mysteries – truly, he is God indeed. * He was carried in the womb for nine months, and was also born as a man – truly, he is man indeed. * The angels glorified him – he is God indeed. He was placed in a manger – he is man indeed. The star proclaimed him – he is God indeed. He suckled milk – he is man indeed. The magi of Persia carried and brought him glorious gifts and offerings – truly, he is God indeed.

The Council of Chalcedon adopted the Tome of Leo in its formulation.  There were other controversies about the figure of the Christ, but that is outside of the scope of this survey.  The guarding of the perfection of Christ’s humanity and divinity is a priority of the Catholic Church.  For example, not long after Mar Babai the great repose, during the Monothelite controversies, there is the Letter of Pope Agatho from the 6th Ecumenical Council, Constantinople III (680/1AD) which reads:

[The Church] acknowledges that each of these natures of Christ is perfect in the proprieties of its nature, and she confesses that all things belonging to the proprieties of the natures are double, because the same our Lord Jesus Christ himself is both perfect God and perfect man, of two and in two natures:  and after his wonderful Incarnation, his deity cannot be thought of without his humanity, nor his humanity without his deity.

From the Roman Synod to the Council comes a clarification: “in all points like unto us, but without sin.”

As with Mar Babai, the letter of Pope Agatho ensure that it is the same Jesus Christ himself who is both perfect God and perfect man.  To the one person is ascribed both natures so completely that a communicatio idiomatum exists between the two.  This is seen clearly in the final prayer of the Divine Offering of the Church of the East.  Liturgy is an expression of the faith of people {lex orandi, lex credendi}, and the theology of the Church is inherent in it.  The final prayer has the following declaration of who is Christ:

 Christ our God, our Lord, our King, our Savior, our Life-giver, and the Forgiver of our sins.

Tags: , , , ,

One Response to “On The Incarnation Part 1… From the Church of the East Fathers.”

  1. aboriente Says:

    This little survey was the first part of a study session with the adult group of our Church. The translations are almost “stolen” from other sources, but I do not claim any as my own. Since the study was done in our language, there was no need to have translations of our Liturgical works or saints’ writings. 🙂

    Since this was a study, I took some time linking quotes from one quote to the other to make it more readable to someone visiting this page and not just have a bunch of quotes surrounded by keywords as my study page was. But at the same time, I kept it minimal.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: