Incarnation. Begotten. Nature. Substance.
One of the most fascinating mysteries of our faith deals with the Incarnation of Christ. In the early history of the Church the question naturally arose regarding how Jesus was God and how he was man. How did these two seemingly opposite natures co-exist in one created being? Due to the overwhelming questions that arose from this great mystery and many heretic proclamations the council of Nicea was spawned to see what it is the Church confessed. Through this council we have the Nicean creed, which took up not just the Incarnation but also issues of the Trinity as well. As a result we have a rather profound proclamation of Jesus as the begotten son of God. The Church would confess that Jesus was fully man and fully human. Two natures in one being.
For the next 1700 or so years we’ve continued to contemplate this very profound mystery. I’ve noticed from conversations I’ve had with friends of the faith, those who are learning of the faith, and especially in my time as a Catechist, that this great mystery still can be incredibly misunderstood, and many times these misunderstandings all seem to “lean in favor” of the Divinity of Christ. There’s a shyness then, and a natural inability to approach Christ. As man we can understand why we should fear God. We understand all too well our sin and failings, and this can make us cower in the presence of a Holy God. It can make us fearful of approaching Him. The Old Testament is filled with prophets who have poetically expressed this woeful shame and indignity. The New Testament shows many cases where the apostles trembled when Christ expressed His Divinity.
Yet the Divinity of Christ is only half the story. As the book of Hebrew states “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.” And again, our misunderstanding of the Incarnation might not fully appreciate a man without sin. Jesus Christ was FULLY MAN, His Divine nature did not have the right to override His human nature, therefore Christ felt things like weakness, and certainly temptation. At the start of Lent we become reacquainted with the story of the temptation of Christ. We hear of Christ being tempted by the devil in the desert. How does one tempt the Son of God? Satan, being the crafty bastard he is, tries to exploit Christ’s human weaknesses (hunger, fear, potential for pride) and tempts him to snuff out those weaknesses with his Divine Nature. If one can override the other, the Cross would be useless. If we look carefully at the way Christ responded to His three temptations we see not a man who uses his Divinity the way a superhero would use his super powers when in peril, but He simply turns to the Word of God, essentially meeting temptation with the Truth of God’s Word and approaching the Word of God for counsel and help. He then gives us a perfect guide for how we should meet life’s temptations and weaknesses. Perfect – because one needn’t have a divine nature to meet the challenge, because that’s not what Christ did, Christ did was the author of Hebrews encourages us to do: ” So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”