On The Incarnation Part 2… Soteriological – Lift Up Our Nature

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The Incarnation took place in the plan of God for the emancipation of our human race from slavery to sin.  It must be looked at in a soteriological context, and as such its links to the Crucifixion/Resurrection must be acknowledged.  The events of Easter were in God’s plan even as the Incarnation happened. Peter emphasizes this when addressing the gathered crowd regarding the Messiah death and resurrection (Acts 2:22-24):

You who are Israelites, hear these words. Jesus the Nazorean was a man commended to you by God with mighty deeds, wonders, and signs, which God worked through him in your midst, as you yourselves know. This man, delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God, you killed, using lawless men to crucify him. But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death, because it was impossible for him to be held by it.

The address to Christ from the final prayer of Sunday Vespers service, besides once again showing the communicatio idiomatum of the two natures of Jesus by ascribing the properties of the nature of His divinity to the name Jesus, also exclaims that He is the source of our hopes and expectations:

Glory to you, Jesus our just king, eternal splendor of the Father, begotten without beginning,
above times and beings, without whom we have neither hope nor expectation!

One of the reasons given for the incarnation by the Catechism of the Catholic Church follows:

460 The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature”:  “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.”  “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.”  “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”

This ancient observation — one is immediately reminded of St. Athanasius’ famous remark that the Word was made man so that we might be made God — mirrors the Church of the East teaching and its emphasis on the need that Christ be complete in both His natures.  For example, Mar Babai (d. 628 AD)emphasizes the necessity of Christ’s humanity for our hope in redemption,

If Christ had not been truly human and accepted death in his humanity for our sake, — being innocent of sin — and had not God who is in him raised him up, it would not have been possible for us sinners, condemned to death, to acquire hope of resurrection from the dead…

This echos similar statements by other Church of the East fathers including Mar Narsai, but, more relevant to the discussion, at same time the emphasis can be seen in the Tome of Leo the Great (d. 461 AD):

This nativity … expended itself wholly on the restoration of man who had been deceived : in order that he might both vanquish death and overthrow by his strength, the Devil who possessed the power of death. For we should not now be able to overcome the author of sin and death unless He took our nature on Him and made it His own, whom neither sin could pollute nor death retain.

St. Leo says “expended itself wholly”.  With this, one aspect must be emphasized.  The act of the Incarnation is a self-emptying act by the Word of God.  This is reflected in what scholars believe to have been a hymn quoted by St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians.  It has two main divisions, one (v6-8) points out this self emptying, while the second (9-11) points to the glory earned.  Paul writes (Philippians 2:6-11):

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,

Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

This is the same self-emptying Christ voluntarily undergoes in Jerusalem in His crucifixion (John 10:16-18):

“These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.”

Hopefully in a future date we can look at our liturgical/patristic references to this self-emptying but for now this is outside of the scope of this survey.

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One Response to “On The Incarnation Part 2… Soteriological – Lift Up Our Nature”

  1. On The Incarnation Part 3… Soteriological – As an Example « Ab Oriente Weblog Says:

    […] Ab Oriente Weblog Just another WordPress.com weblog « On The Incarnation Part 2… Soteriological – Lift Up Our Nature […]

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