All right – so you’ve asked for it! We now have the opportunity to exchange, and perhaps develop, our understanding of the Incarnation. I have no reason to suppose that my understanding is as great, or greater, than anyone else who contributes to the Blog. So I am going to confine myself to setting the scene. If I use, as I will, definitive language remember that I am only expressing my own opinion.
We are in the realm of mystery. This does not mean that we simply put a mystery on one side because we know we cannot understand. Mysteries are there to be explored: we must understand and benefit from what we can learn. There would be no point in God presenting us with a mystery if he did not want us to deepen our knowledge through it, while remembering that the whole truth is beyond the human mind.
I start with the concepts of person and nature. In our habitual thinking we do not distinguish between the two. The phrase: I am a ‘human person’ combines both ideas. But, if we step back, we realise that there is a distinction. If I say ‘I am a person with a human nature’, we get closer to reality. And that is emphasised by the absurdity of reversing this phrase because it is a person who possesses a nature, not a nature which possesses a person. Thus ‘person’ is a statement of identity; it answers the question ‘who?’ Our nature tells us ‘what’ sort of person we are describing. In this case it’s a person who has, and operates through, a human nature.
So, whatever difficulties we may have in understanding the Incarnation there is no contradiction nor absurdity in the fundamental truth that God the Son who has, from all eternity, the nature of God, and acquired at a moment in history the nature of man, so becoming one person with two natures.
Rightly, we turn to the Scriptures to understand more fully what this means. But we have to be careful because the various misunderstandings which people in the first millennium of the Church made about the Incarnation arose from their consideration of Scripture. In the end we always have to refer to the Church’s infallible teaching. No better authority is available for us to know the basic facts.
This teaching is outlined in the Catechism. We really do need to consult the text – several sites are on the Internet. Questions 456-478 particularly apply. Here I am confining myself to the Catechism’s own summary as a reminder:
479. At the time appointed by God, the only Son of the Father, the eternal Word, that is, the Word and substantial Image of the Father, became incarnate; without losing his divine nature he has assumed human nature.
482. Christ, being true God and true man, has a human intellect and will, perfectly attuned and subject to his divine intellect and divine will, which he has in common with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
In trying to understand this more clearly, I suggest that we consider these truths in the incidents of the Gospels. Here are some which may be relevant:
Was Jesus’ DNA all from his mother? If not what constituted paternal DNA? What did Jesus know as a new born baby?; did he have to learn the Scriptures to develop his understanding?; what do we learn from the incident in the Temple and the questions he asked?; from the baptism by John?; from the temptations in the desert?; from the Transfiguration?; his ability to understand what was in people’s hearts?; his miracles?; his claims to forgive sins?; his claim: “Before Abraham was, I am”?; “He who has seen me has seen the Father”?; the agony in the garden?; his expression of abandonment at the time of death?; his descent into Hell?; his strange appearances after the Resurrection, including the sharing of a meal?
Needless to say these are only prompts off the top of my head – you will be able to think of more. In considering this, we may want to consult other authorities, but we must avoid getting lost in academic obscurities. I hope that our reflections, if they are to be helpful to all, need take us no further than the plain language accessible to reasonably intelligent Christians. I suggest that we are less interested in what saint X or theologian Y has said, than we are in our insights which we present for others to share. We are not after an exchange of quotes or Internet links, but the witness of each other’s personal understandings. It may prove our most demanding discussion yet.