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Friday, December 24, 2021

The Incarnation (Panagiotis Chrestou)

By Panagiotis Chrestou
The Incarnation is a paradox and, in a way, an antinomian process which transfers the Creator to the position of the creature. The Incarnation creates, according to human data and standards, an unexpected adaptation of the archetype to the antitype. This is a reversal of the regular course of affairs, but is a necessity because of the antitype’s inability to adapt to the archetype, as demanded by his destiny. By an inconceivable process, this movement transfers the eternal to the sphere of time and eliminates the temporal, that is, it really abolishes the restrictions of time and space. And this is the greatest mystery – the greatest miracle in the history of the world. The fact that God created the world is within the boundaries of the comprehensible. The fact that fire goes upward is within the boundaries of the natural, but if it went downward, like the heavy bodies, this would be unnatural and incomprehensible. Therefore, the fact that the divine presence directs itself downward, deigning to become like that which lives there (without being transposed, of course), is the most incomprehensible event and, also, the greatest manifestation of power. How can that which is sublime be manifested within that which is lowly without losing its grandeur? Gregory of Nyssa asked: "How is the sublime seen in the lowly and, yet, does not descend from its height? How can the Deity, entwined as it is with the nature of man, become this and still be that."
Yet this is incomprehensible and strange only to human standards, but not in God’s eyes. The union of God and man in Christ is the great and hidden mystery, the happy telos, for which all things were made. According to Maximos the Confessor, it is the preconceived telos: This is the great and hidden mystery. This is the blessed telos for which all things have been made. This is the telos preconceived before the beginning of things for whose sake all things exist, while it does not exist for the sake of anything else. Looking towards this telos, God produced the logoi of beings. This passage and especially its last phrase, which appears to indicate that the object of creation is the Incarnation, may seem strange. Yet from a general survey of Orthodox theology, this concept is correct because it agrees with the purpose of the creation of man. Theophilos of Antioch taught that the reason God decided to create man is so that He could be known by him, to be revealed to him and to make him a partaker of His glory. All of patristic theology agrees on this point. Inasmuch as the summit of revelation is the Incarnation, we could say that this is truly the purpose of creation, but such an interpretation sounds farfetched. The passage undoubtedly has this meaning when placed within the context of Maximos’ whole theological system – the purpose of the creation of man is his union with God, whose first fruit was the hypostatic union of the divine and human in Christ. 
This remarkable concept was later repeated by the brilliant theologian, Nicholas Cabasilas, who stated that man was made precisely for the sake of the new man, Christ. The first question that is raised as soon as the problem of the Incarnation is put forth is this: What did the Son of God assume in order to become Jesus Christ, the God–man? If He assumed an abstract wholeness of humanity or an idea of man, then all individual men automatically, immediately and compulsorily would be led to salvation as partakers of the idea. The Fathers of the Church never supported such a concept because they did not accept the existence of such wholeness. Gregory of Nyssa, to whom some modern scholars ascribe it, did not even support this theory. The Word of God became a concrete man, and even a whole concrete man. The passage of John, "and the Word became flesh", has always incited interpreters to mutilate the human element of the God–man thinking that the Word assumed only the flesh of man and not his soul or mind, whose place was occupied by the Word Himself. The Cappadocians steadily fought against this concept (in its final formulation by Apollinarios), and the Second Ecumenical Synod condemned it. What sense would there be in receiving only the flesh when it was not this component alone that sinned, but the whole man? And, in any case, did not the mind sin more than the body since it made the first move towards sin? The Good Shepherd raises the lost sheep as a whole onto His shoulders and not just its hide. This was the constant reply to Apollinarios who presented the humanity of Christ mutilated in that way: "What was not assumed remains unhealed, while what was united is saved." 
The Fathers of Chalcedon decided to give an official dogmatic formulation on the person of Christ: "We teach with one voice that the Son of God and our Lord Jesus Christ is to be confessed as one and the same person, that He is perfect in Godhead and perfect in manhood, true God and true man ...consubstantial with us as regarding His manhood, made in all things like us, sin only excepted... This one and the same Christ, Lord, Only–begotten Son must be confessed to be in two natures, unconfusedly, indivisibly, inseparably, without the distinction of natures being taken away by such a union, but rather the peculiar property of each nature being preserved and being united in one person and subsistence, not separated or divided in two persons, but one and the same Son and Only–begotten God, the Word, Lord Jesus Christ." The Divine Word assumed the whole man. The only qualification concerning the fullness of the assumed nature was that the total man, who was assumed by the Word, did not have a passionate sinful disposition (which had blinded the human will and had been transmitted from the first man to his descendants, for they completely inherited and received Adam and completely transmitted him to their descendants). Christ’s human acquisition did not inherit the old Adam because that was what constituted the new Adam (i.e. Christ) together with the Word. This absence is better understood in light of the enhypostatic concept which Leontios developed. There were certainly two hypostases, the divine and the human, which were united in Christ to form one person. However the human hypostasis was never really an independent entity (which naturally, would also contain the element of sinfulness), but was united with the divine nature as enhypostaton from the beginning. This is the reason theologians avoided speaking about a human hypostasis in Christ, this nature was united with the divine Word before its development was completed and before it even started. Therefore, it is neither a person nor a hypostasis, but an enhypostaton, that is, a hypostatic component which has never had any existence outside of the God–man. The word "nature" definitely does not have the same meaning regarding the divine Word, because in him nature possesses the energy eternally and is a person eternally. The union of the two natures is so complete and inseparable that, although we can characterize the hypostatic components that Christ has as "one thing and another", we cannot characterize Christ as "one person and another person", that is, as being composed of two persons; for through their integration the two hypostatic components became one with the result that God was incarnate and man was undivided. A unique person came forth out of this integration, and this person is "ομοούσιον ημίν", of the same essence as us because He possesses the whole human essence. This union, however, is not a natural one. The union was formed neither by fusing and confusing the two natures, nor, even more so, by absorbing the human nature into the divine nature. The natures remained intact, and only the hypostases – obviously the human hypostasis in the way defined above – were fused into one person. The properties of the two natures remained unchanged, though their energies became common because of their combination and union. The God–man is not assimilated by man not only because he did not assume man’s sinful disposition, but also because he preserved the whole of divinity. Kenosis simply means the descent of the Divine to man, which is not a diminutive act, but is, on the contrary, a fruit of the infinite power of God, who can even enter incomplete beings, and a sign of his infinite love for mankind. With this doctrine the Orthodox position on the Christological problem was defined in relation to the Nestorian doctrine of two persons and the Monophysitic doctrine of one nature. 
A charming Nativity hymn (perhaps composed by Patriarch Germanos I of Constantinople), which is sung at the vespers of Christmas, portrays without rival all of creation’s participation in the great event of the divine Logos’ Incarnation through its offering: "What shall we offer you, Christ; for you were seen on earth as a man for us? Every creature made by you offers you thanks: The angels a hymn, the heavens a star, the Magi their gifts, the shepherds their amazement, the earth a cave, the wilderness a manger, and as for us men a virgin mother." The world and man had a definite destiny as God’s creations, namely, to partake of the goodness and glory of God, which is possible only through communion with Him. After the suspension of the course leading to the fulfillment of that destiny, all of creation, as well as mankind, groans as it awaits its restoration. All groan because of their separation from one another, which is due to their detachment from God. Five divisions prevent the fulfillment of their destiny, according to Maximos the Confessor. Man was the agent who had the obligation and ability to bridge the divided elements so that the greatest union might be achieved – the union of the created and the Uncreated. Since, however he did not accomplish this, the Son of God came to realize it. He received human nature which all of creation offered to Him (because it is part of creation). According to the hymn above, all divisions are abolished by the Incarnation – male and female no longer exist in the Nativity, the world is identified with paradise before the Newborn, heaven and earth participate harmoniously in the event, the tangible and the intelligible cooperate, and the incarnate God embraces within Himself the Uncreated and the created.
Source: From Partakers of God.
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