On The Incarnation Part 3… Soteriological – As an Example


In the previous part of this discussion, we reflected on the self-emptying of Christ.  St. Paul asks that his readers imitate that self-emptying.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that one of the reasons for the Incarnation of the Word is:

459 The Word became flesh to be our model of holiness: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.”  On the mountain of the Transfiguration, the Father commands: “Listen to him!” Jesus is the model for the Beatitudes and the norm of the new law: “Love one another as I have loved you.”  This love implies an effective offering of oneself, after his example.

The Chaldean Church fathers also taught this in their writings on the Incarnation.  The Cathalicos-Patriarch Mar Timotheos (Timothy) I is one example of a church father who emphasizes this.  He is said to have debated with Caliph Al-Mahdi in the year 781 AD, and the contents of that debate were written down by him.  Regardless of how accurately the treatise records the conversation, it serves as an apologetic work by the patriarch and reflects Christian {specifically the Church of the East} defense of beliefs against the accusations of the state’s Islamic religion.  Unlike Mar Narsai and Mar Babai who wrote during times when Mesopotamia was under Zoroastrian dominance and before the advent of Islam, Mar Timotheos is writing when it had fallen subject to an Islamic Caliphate.  When debating with the caliph, the question of God’s salvific plan is brought into the dialogue, especially the scandal of the incarnation and then the crucifixion of the Son of God.  The patriarch points out:

He who rescued from the mouth of Sheol in such a wonderful way the temple of His humanity after it had lain therein for three days and three nights, was surely able to save and rescue the very same temple from the unjust Jews, but if He had saved it He would not have been crucified, and if He had not been crucified He would not have died, and if He had not died He would not have risen up to immortal life, and if He had not risen up to immortal life, the children of men would have remained without a sign and a decisive proof of the immortal life.

Today because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead the eyes of all the children of men look towards an immortal life, and consequently in order that this expectation of the immortal life and of the world to come might be indelibly impressed upon mankind, it was right that Jesus Christ should rise from the dead…

Timothy I, interestingly, makes the same argument about St. Mary regarding her death making a clear allusion to the belief of the Assumption of Mary:

It is fair that Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ through whom the Kingdom of Heaven was revealed, should have been raised up first to heaven. It was, therefore, imperative that she should have died.

The strong Marian terminology, beliefs, and devotion may surprise many who do not understand that the Church of the East, like the Church in the west, was apostolic in its nature.

During the debates, Timothy also stresses the duality of the natures of Christ.  By understanding that Christ is also perfect man, His actions in the Gospels can be justified:

He did not worship and pray as God, because as such He is the receiver of the worship and prayer of both the celestial and the terrestrial beings, in conjunction with the Father and the Spirit, but He worshipped and prayed as a man, son of our human kind. It has been made manifest by our previous words that the very same Jesus Christ is Word-God and man, as God He is born of the Father, and as man of Mary. He further worshipped and prayed for our sake, because He Himself was in no need of worship and prayer.

Note the terminology of “the very same” reminding the readers of his treatise that there is only one person of Christ involved.  He continues, pointing to the example that God was able to provide to us humans by the Incarnation:

Jesus Christ worshipped and prayed to God neither as one in need nor as a sinner, but He worshipped and prayed in order to teach worship and prayer to His disciples, and through them to every human being.

The earlier church father, Mar Babai the Great wrote:

In the same one parsopa of the one Lord, Jesus Christ, the properties of the two natures and two qnome* of the Godhead and manhood of Christ are made known… the likeness of God and the likeness of a servant, one Son in one union in one authority, worship and Lordship.

In his book, Fr. Andy clarifies “it is not only God who is revealed in Christ, but also the meaning and purpose of human life, perfected in His qnoma*.”  Christ shows what we did not know since the fall of Adam when the fear of death entered and held us captive.

* Again, qnome is left transliterated since to provide an equivalent English term leads to open debate.  What can be said for sure is that for Mar Babai and the rest of the Chaldean Church patrimony, it did not equate to person as in the West.

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