(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 was submitted to the Most Reverend +Richard W. Smith MA STD DD, Metropolitan Archbishop of Edmonton, and was judged to be in conformity with Catholic doctrine and approved for publication in a communique dated 30 January 2012. This text forms the basis of the video catechesis, “Why Was Jesus Born?”, delivered to St Mark’s Community of the Deaf. Please see www.deafcatholicedmonton.org/catholicteachings.html 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 who insist it in fact was1) is not important here; what is important, rather, is that2 Jesus was born. But again: 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, for example, 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 recurring theme in His preaching; only two gospels—Matthew and Luke—have anything to say about the birth. However, Easter and Christmas are mirror commemorations. This is our first point. In order 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 birth and resurrection, He is announced by angels; in both, he is wrapped in linen; in both, he is placed


See JOSEPH F. KELLY, “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 signed idiomatically with HAVE. To sign THAT would be conceptually erroneous because is THAT in fact a ‘determiner,’ which is 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 in the Roman Missal.


in a grotto; in both, he is venerated, especially by women; and in both, He begins and ends his life 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 salvation without a fleshly body, it follows that the birth of Jesus looked towards Easter. The fleshliness of Jesus is the means by which we are saved; it is one of the ‘stuff’—the ‘building blocks’, if you will—which makes possible His Passion and Resurrection. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, which talks 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 thy will, O God.’” …And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of 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 is why 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 his name 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, His fleshliness, 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, consubstantial 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 Son is “from” the Father, and this ‘from-ness’ means that what the Father is, the Son is also: “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true

Moreover, this is the reason for one of the Magi’s gift: Myrrh was an oil used to embalm a corpse—indeed an unusual 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, / breathes 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 Catholic th Church, 7 rev. ed. (Staten Island: Alba House Publishers, 2001), nn. 306/1—306/24. Henceforth, ND, with the corresponding 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.


God…” This is the meaning of the word “consubstantial”—it is an important word and one over which had caused the Church much grief during the fourth century. We must understand it clearly. 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 God Light True God consubstantial with  from from from Father God Light True God

However—and this is major—the Son differs from the Father in one way only: Whereas the Son is “begotten,” the Father is “unbegotten.” 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 was always 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, and so 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 Son of God always existed? In the famous words of St Athanasius of Alexandria, “Always Father, always Son.” 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, since eternity 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


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 sign symmetrically 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, Epistle 38, in EP 915; St Gregory the Theologian, Third Theological Oration, n. 12, in EP 1009; St Augustine of Hippo, On the Trinity, 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…»


He was not.”12 The Church responded, in the words of St Athanasius, “Always Father, always Son.” This is why at the very beginning of the Gospel According to John (1:1, 2), we have: Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος. οὗτος ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν θεόν. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; He was in the beginning with God… The Greek verb behind the English “was” means much more than a past tense. The verb here, ἦν13 or ēn, comes from ειμί, which is roughly equivalent to “am,” but in the ‘imperfect tense,’ which means an ongoing and uncompleted action. This means, as Biblical scholars tell us, that even at the “beginning,” the Word of God was always there; the Word was always “with” God; the Word always “was” God; more importantly, he always “was…with God.” Immediately after this sentence of the Creed we’ve just quoted, we meet another sentence: “For us men and for our salvation...” For us men and for our salvation, He came down from heaven: by the Holy Spirit He was Incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became Man. “For us men and for our salvation…” Why do we need a saviour? This is our next question. 3. Why a Saviour? The answer is found at the very beginning of the Bible, in Genesis, in the story of Adam and Eve. The story of Adam and Eve is the story of each of us: they had disobeyed God and withdrew from His friendship, thereby disfiguring the souls of their descendants. This ‘disfigurement’ we call original sin, which means a condition in which we are born in a state of alienation from God. What, exactly, was the root of the sin of disobedience? It was pride. Satan had convinced Eve that if she were to disobey God’s commandment, she would become like God, “knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5). In other words, the heart of the first sin was the illegitimate desire to be ‘like God,’ even to usurp those prerogatives which are God’s alone. Unfortunately, the sin of Adam and Eve infected the entire human race. As a result, the entire human race fell out of friendship with God, as St Paul wrote: Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned… (Rom 5:12) Consequently, each and every one of us are liable to sin and to punishment for sin.14 By no mere human power can we be reconciled to God—the offence given to God far outweighs any effort we can make in winning His forgiveness. In other words, salvation cannot be earned. We are simply incapable of repairing the damage caused by refusing God’s friendship. Because of our
12 13

This would be signed, roughly, as HAVE WHEN SON NOT-YET. Third person singular, imperfect, active indicative. 14 POPE INNOCENT III, “Letter to Humbert, Archbishop of Arles (1201), in ND 506/DS 780.


limitation, we cannot ‘afford’ to save or to redeem ourselves.15 Not only that, but an infinite gap yawns between God and humanity, a gap that is unbridgeable by human effort. See how we, as humans, compare with God: Human Race Created Finite, Limited Mortal Sinful Almighty God Uncreated Infinite Unlimited Immortal Sinless, Holy

Now we come to the question: how can God and humanity be reconciled? Humanity cannot reconcile itself with God, because it is beyond human capability. God cannot simply ignore human sin, because justice cannot be left undone. There is a ‘gap’ or a ‘chasm’ between God and humanity. The gap or the chasm must be closed. How? This gap or chasm can only be closed by none other than the God-Man: as a God-Man, the Man would certainly be capable repairing the damage of lost friendship because He is Himself God.16 This is exactly why the Son of God and Word of the Father was incarnate and became a human being, so that He can share our human nature and thus heal our human condition. The infinite gap that separates Almighty God and the human race must be bridged by what the Fathers called the communicatio idiomatum or the ‘communication of properties’ or, more poetically, the admirabile commercium or ‘wondrous exchange.’ It simply means bringing together the opposites belonging to humanity and divinity. Recall the contrasting lists I gave recently between the human race and almighty God. Now, the Son of God and Word of the Father, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Father willed to be joined to a human nature and to become a human person. Thus: Human Race Created Finite Limited Mortal Sinful Incarnate Word: Jesus Christ Created and Uncreated Finite and Infinite Limited and Unlimited Mortal and Immortal Holy, Sinless Almighty God Uncreated Infinite Unlimited Immortal Sinless, Holy

In the Incarnation, the Son of God becomes ‘one of us.’ God becomes a member of the human race. As the beginning of the Gospel According to John says, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelled among us…” (1:14). This means that the Son of God and Word of the Father, came from heaven and joined Himself to our human nature in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Again, as the Creed says, “For us men and for our salvation, He came down from heaven; by the Holy Spirit He was Incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became Man.” This is our third point: In Jesus Christ is the coming together of humanity and divinity. Here we introduce the all-important word: Incarnation. It comes from three Latin words: in and carnatus, the adjectival form of caro, meaning ‘flesh.’

SIXTEENTH COUNCIL OF CARTHAGE, canon 1, in ND 501/DS 222; Indiculus, n. 1, in ND 503/DS 239; Second Council of Orange (529), nn. 1, 2, in ND 504-505/DS 371-372. 16 ST BONAVENTURE, Brevil., IV.1.4 and IV.2.5.


Now the Son of God and Word of the Father, as we have already said, is consubstantial with the Father in everything except—what? Except that whereas the Son is begotten, the Father is unbegotten. Now, with the Incarnation, the Son of God and Word of the Father has become consubstantial with us17—with flesh and blood, with our human nature. But just as the Son differs from the Father in one way, so too does He differ from us in one way. The Son, who took on flesh and blood and became a human being, and was like us in every way except sin. As Jesus challenged His opponents, “Which of you can convict Me of sin?” (Jn 8:46). Jesus was the perfect human being, and because He was perfect, He alone would be able to save us. He could, in other words, ‘afford’ to redeem us because of His moral perfection; He alone could bridge the infinite gap between Almighty God and the human race because he was both God and human in one Person. This is precisely why we say in the Creed, “I believe…in one Lord Jesus Christ…” With two natures—God and human—he remains one Person. The nature of ‘God’ and the nature of ‘human’ in the one Person of Christ are not fused, or mixed, or commingled, but simply joined together in the one Person18, more specifically in the soul of Jesus Christ.19 This is why we see so many contrasts in the life of Jesus: He suffers, because He is human yet works miracles because He is God; He dies, because He is human yet is risen because He is God. Yet in both—the suffering, wonderworking Jesus is “one Lord Jesus Christ”; the dying and resurrected Jesus is “one Lord Jesus Christ.” It is precisely because of the ‘union of the two natures in one Person’ that we are able to be saved—Jesus Christ, the God-Man, is able to bridge God and man. In the words of many of the Fathers, “God became man so that man may become God.” In the Incarnation, then, we see the lifting-up of the human person and the humiliation of the devil. Why? Because God is joined to the human race, and because God thereby communicates His life, His grace, His truth to the human race, the human race is thereby exalted. But God also humiliates the devil because whereas the devil falsely promised our First Parents that they can become like God, the Incarnate Word of God calls the devil’s bluff and really makes possible the divinization of the human person. God, in other words, took the devil’s false promise and fulfilled it, thus showing the world the liar that the devil really is. What the devil could not really promise, God could. How embarrassing must that be for the devil! But there is more. Adam and Eve, at the root of their sin, were dissatisfied with being merely human—they wanted to pursue the devil’s promise to be “like God.” But the pride of our First Parents was met by the humility of God. Whereas our First Parents had the pride to become like God, in the Incarnation, God had the humility to become like us! Thus, at the Incarnation, the very root of sin—pride—was reversed. God had the humility to become what Adam and Eve, by their pride, wanted to repudiate! This is our last point: Jesus was born because God willed to reverse the pride that stood at the root of original sin: What Adam and Eve, in pride wanted to leave behind (their mere humanity), God possessed the humility to embrace. The humility of God in becoming human broke the pride of man who wanted to be God. IV. The Incarnation and the Cross We can only state briefly that the Cross is what saves us; we will discuss this more during the Easter Season. But it is important to understand that the bodyliness and fleshliness of Jesus

COUNCIL OF CHALCEDON, “Definition” (451), in ND 614/DS 301; FIRST LATERAN COUNCIL (649), in ND 627.5/DS 505; ELEVENTH COUNCIL OF TOLEDO, “Symbol of Faith” (675), ND 634/DS 539. 18 COUNCIL OF CHALCEDON, ND 613-614/DS 300-301; ELEVENTH COUNCIL OF TOLEDO, ND 629/DS 534. 19 PETER LOMBARD, Sentences IV, Dist. II, Chap. 2; ST BONAVENTURE, Brevil., xxx


Christ, the ‘Incarnate Word’ and ‘God-made-Man’, was oriented towards the Cross: it was at the Cross where the damage of alientation from God was repaired—Jesus gave Himself wholly and unreservedly to the Father, whereas Adam and Eve had withdrawn themselves from God and rejected His friendship. This is precisely why the Creed jumps so immediately from the Incarnation and Nativity to the Passion and Cross: The Son of God came in order to die and rise again. V. Summary and Conclusion Back to our question: Why was Jesus born? We must remember that there are two ‘births’ of the Son of God: in His Eternal Generation from the Father “before all ages” and his temporal birth from the Virgin Mary “in these last days’ (Gal 4:4). 1. Jesus was born because the life and ministry of Jesus was oriented towards the Cross: In order to suffer and die, a body was necessary. Thus Christmas and Easter are mirror commemorations, the priority being given to Easter. 2. Original sin and death infected our human condition; in Jesus, God entered our human condition and broke the power sin and death. 3. Jesus Christ, who is God, shared in our human condition, becoming Man; as the GodMan, Jesus Christ bridged the infinite and unfathomable gap that separated humanity from God; because He was one Person, the friends of Jesus are able to receive divine benefits which God alone could give; 4. Jesus Christ, as ‘God among us,’ was “made Man” in order to divinize humanity (which the devil falsely promised) and to break human pride by humbling Himself—as God—to become a human being, even a baby. To summarise all we have looked at, I’d like to introduce you to yet another creed—this one is called the Quicunque vult. It’s a long creed and it focuses on the Trinity and Incarnation. One paragraph goes like this: Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of substance of His mother, born in the world. Perfect God and perfect man, of a rational soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father according to His Godhead [/Divinity], and inferior to the Father according to His manhood. Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that manhood into God. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person. For as the rational soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ; Who suffered for our salvation… (29-38).


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