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Why Was Jesus Born?

Why Was Jesus Born?

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Published by Matthew G. Hysell
The English text for the broadcast "Why Was Jesus Born?", delivered in American Sign Language for the Catholic Deaf Community in the Archdiocese of Edmonton.
The English text for the broadcast "Why Was Jesus Born?", delivered in American Sign Language for the Catholic Deaf Community in the Archdiocese of Edmonton.

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Published by: Matthew G. Hysell on Feb 16, 2012
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02/16/2012

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1
(Deacon-Elect) Matthew G. Hysell, MA MTh
St Mark’s Community of the Deaf 
 Community Catechesis, Delivered 15 January 2012 (in ASL)Part of the Treatise
 de Incarnatione Verbi
 
Pursuant to canon 823 §1, §2 of the
Code of Canon Law 
, the following text wassubmitted to the Most Reverend +Richard W. Smith
MA STD DD
, MetropolitanArchbishop of Edmonton, and was judged to be in conformity with Catholic doctrineand approved for publication in a communique dated 30 January 2012.This text forms the basis of the video catechesis,
 “
Why Was Jesus Born?
” 
, deliveredto St Mark
’ 
s Community of the Deaf. Please see
 for the original broadcast.
Why Was Jesus Born?I. The Priority of Easter Over Christmas
Today we will answer the
question, “Why was Jesus born?” Whether or not 25
December was in fact the birthdate of Jesus (and there are certain Fathers of the Church whoinsist it in fact was
1
) is not important here; what is important, rather, is
that 
2
Jesus was born. Butagain: Why is this important?
First of all, let us look at the official title of the commemoration. “Christmas” is an
English term; different languages have different words for the birthday of Jesus. The French, forexample, have
 Noël
. But in the Latin language, the official language of the Holy Roman Church,we call it
 Nativitas Domini nostril Iesum Christum secundum carnem
, “The Nativity of our Lord
Jesus Christ
according to the Flesh
.”
3
 
Christmas isn’t simply about the birth of Jesus; it’s about
the birth of the
humanity
and the
 fleshliness
of Jesus Christ. As we will see, there were two
‘births’ of the
Son of God.
Let’s put this on hold and ask another question: Which commemoration is more
important,
Christmas
or
 Easter 
? Clearly, Easter is more important, because it is the climax of 
Jesus’ life and it is the
completion
of His work of salvation here on earth.
 Each
of the four
gospels end with the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection, and this is the rec
urringtheme in His preaching;
only
two gospels
 — 
Matthew and Luke
 — 
have anything to say about thebirth.However, Easter and Christmas are
mirror commemorations
. This is our first point. Inorder to understand this, we need to look at the icons of each commemoration: the icon of the
 Nativity
and the icon of the
 Empty Tomb
. There are features in each icon
 — 
as in the gospel
narratives of Jesus’ birth and rising from the dead— 
that point to each other. In both His birthand resurrection, He is announced by angels; in both, he is wrapped in linen; in both, he is placed
1
See J
OSEPH
F.
 
K
ELLY
, “Creating Christmas Day and the Christmas Season”, in
The Origins of Christmas
(Collegeville,MN: The Liturgical Press, 2004).
2
In ASL, indicative statements beginning
“that” (conceptually equivalent to Latin
ut 
or Greek
ὅτι
, is signedidiomatically with
HAVE
. To sign
THAT
would be conceptually erroneous because is
THAT
 
in fact a ‘determiner,’ whichis not what “that” means when it prefaces an indicative statement.
3
 
See, for example, the “Christmas Proclamation” and the
titulus
for the commemoration on 24/25 December inthe
Roman Missal 
.
 
2
in a grotto; in both, he is venerated, especially by women; and in both, He begins and ends hislife on wood: the wood of the manger, and the wood of the cross.This is related to our first point: because Jesus could not suffer and die for our salvationwithout a fleshly body, it follows that
the birth of Jesus looked towards Easter 
. The fleshlinessof Jesus is the means by which we are saved
; it is one of the ‘stuff’—the ‘building blocks’, i
f youwill
 — 
which makes possible His Passion and Resurrection. In the
 Epistle to the Hebrews
, whichtalks about the sacrificial death of Jesus, we read:
[…] For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins.
Consequently when
Christ came into the world, He said, “Sacrifices and offerings
thou has not desired, but a body thou hast prepared for me; in burnt offerings and
sin offerings thou has taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Lo, I have come to do thywill, O God.’” …And by tha
t will we have been sanctified through the offeringof the body of Jesus Christ once for all (
 Heb
10:5-7, 10).The bodyliness of Jesus, the fleshliness of Jesus, is the means by which we are saved. This iswhy the Archangel Gabriel announced to St Joseph
: “[D]o not fear to take Mary your wife, for 
that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a Son, and you shall call hisname Jesus,
 for He will save His people from their sins
” (
 Mt 
1:20-21).
4
 
2. Synopsis of Triadology
In order to understand this more, we need to grasp more carefully the nature of the Son of God.
The bodyliness of Jesus was necessary, yes, but it was not ‘only’ His bodyliness
, Hisfleshliness, but also his Godhead, His divinity. In the Creed, we profess:
…the Only
-Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages,God from God,Light from Light,true God from true God;begotten, not made, c
onsubstantial with the Father…
 We need to understand this very carefully and as thoroughly as possible. God, as you know,exists in a Trinity of Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, while remaining
one
God.
5
 
However, it is God the Father who is the ‘fountain’ of divinity: both the
Son and the Holy Spirit
derive their personhood and divinity from the Father. The Son is “Only
-
Begotten” which means
that in the Trinity,
only
the Second Person is begotten and therefore only the Second Person is
“Son.”
6
The Creed emphasizes that the So
n is “from” the Father, and this ‘from
-
ness’ means thatwhat the Father is, the Son is also: “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true
4
Moreover, this is the reason
for one of the Magi’s gift: Myrrh was an oil used to embalm a corpse—
indeed anunusual gift for a newborn baby. The gifts of the Magi hint at the sort of person that Jesus is, as we hear in the
Christmas carol: “Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume, / bre
athes a life of gathering gloom; / sorrowing, sighing,breathing, dying, / sealed in the stone-
cold tomb!”
 
5
 
Cf. “Tome of Damasus”, in J. Neuner and J. DuPuis,
The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the CatholicChurch
, 7
th
rev. ed.
 
(Staten Island: Alba House Publishers, 2001), nn. 306/1
306/24. Henceforth,
ND
, with thecorresponding reference from Denzinger (henceforth
DS
) with their respective reference numbers. Thus
ND
 306.1
306.25/
DS
153-155, 162
xxx. Cf.
ND
308/
DS
525.
6
 
“Symbol of Faith,” Eleventh Council of Toledo:
ND
309/
DS
526.
 
3
God…”
 
This is the meaning of the word “consubstantial”— 
it is an important word and one overwhich had caused the Church much grief during the fourth century. We must understand itclearly
. The ‘substance’ of the Son is the
same
 
as that of the Father. Not ‘similar,’ not ‘like’ the
Father, but the
same substance
as the Father, and
 from
the Father.
7
We can see it like this:Son
consubstantial with
 
FatherGod
 from
GodLight
 from
LightTrue God
 from
True GodHowever
 — 
and this is major
 — 
the Son differs from the Father in
one
way only: Whereas
the Son is “begotten,” the Father is “
un
 begotten.” To be ‘begotten’ is to be a son, necessarily;‘to beget’ is to be a father, necessarily.
8
But the Father is the son of no-one; the Father wasalways Father of the Son. This means, by extension, that the Son had no grandfather! Again:the Son is exactly the same as the Father in
everything
 — 
majesty, glory, divinity, eternality, andso forth
 — 
except 
that the Son is begotten and the Father is unbegotten.
9
We also say that the Son
is ‘generated’ from the Father and the Father is ‘ingenerate,’ generate from no
-one.
10, 11
 One more point to understanding this. How can we say, on one hand, that the Father is
the ‘origin’ of the Son, that the Father ‘begat’ the Son, on one hand, and that the S
on of God
always existed? In the famous words of St Athanasius of Alexandria, “Always Father, alwaysSon.” Are we not contradicting ourselves here?
 No, we are not, for the simple reason that God, the Holy Trinity, exists outside of time.The timeliness
 —questions of ‘when’— 
is simply inapplicable to God. This is why the Church
teaches the doctrine of the ‘Eternal Generation’ of the Son of God— 
which is to say that, sinceeternity past, the Father has
always
generated or begotten the Son. The Father was
never 
God
and then
generated the Son, thus becoming Father. No; the Father
always
is begetting the Son.
This is why the Arius was condemned as a heretic. He said of the Son: “There was a time when
 
7
Cf. n. 3 above. In ASL, we sign carefully
with the sign
SAME
-
AS
such that there is
reciprocity 
in the sameness of 
substance between Father and Son but that the Son’s substance is the same
as that of the
Father. So we sign
SAME
-
AS
 
once
,
 from
 
‘Son’
to
‘Father’
 
to emphasize that the ‘consubstantiality’ of the Son is “with” that of the
Father, strictly and exclusively, because
the “consubstantiality” of the Son with the Father is
asymmetrical 
. To signsymmetrically would imply that the Father is consubstantial with the Son, in which case the Trinity is reduced to
both the Father and the Son being each other’s’ Son and Father and that the ‘distinguishing properties’ of 
paternity/ingenerateness and filiation/generation break down.
8
 
It will be necessary to distinguish ‘beget’ from ‘birth’; whereas ‘to beget’ pertains to paternity, ‘to give birth’
pertains to maternity, generally speaking. Hence it is more accurate to translate
τὸν ἐκ τοῦ
 
Πατρὸς
γεννηθέντα
 
πρὸ
 
πάντων τῶν αἰώνων
 
as “begotten of the Father before all ages” rather than “
born
of the Father before all
ages”; this
 
English translation comes from the Latin version of this same line, “de Patre
natum
ante omnia
saecula.” ‘Natum’ can be either translated as “origin” or “birth.” With the new English translation of the Creed, a
caveat will be necessary here.
9
Lactantius,
The Divine Institutes
, 4.13, in
Enchiridion Patristicum
, n. 634, henceforth,
EP
; St Basil the Great,
Epistle38,
in
EP
915; St Gregory the Theologian,
Third Theological Oration
, n. 12, in
EP
1009; St Augustine of Hippo,
On theTrinity 
, 4.20, in
EP
1657, and 15.26, in
EP
1681; St John of Damascus
 , On the Orthodox Faith
, 1.8, in
EP
2342.
10
St Bonaventure,
Breviloquium
, I.2.2. Henceforth, St Bonaventure,
Brevil.
 
11
 
Consider, also, the last verse of St Thomas Aquinas’ Eucharistic hymn
Pange, lingua, gloriosi 
: «Genitori,
Genitoque…
»

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