Meaning of the Incarnation

Jesus did not “die for our sins.”

He died so that humanity could be judged honestly according to its merits.

In other words: God the Son was presented with both the best humanity had to offer — His disciples, and those, too, seem pretty dull — and the worst — His murderers.

Jesus came so that given these two extremes, He might in His own heart and guided by own personal experience judge whether the virtues and strengths of the totality of humanity outweighed its vices and faults.

It so happened that we all have been judged on the whole greater than zero, an asset and not a liability.

The way Christ’s decision benefited us is that the souls of those who had died before the Incarnation were awakened and brought into either a temporary afterlife of natural happiness or into full glory, and similar fate awaits now everyone else.

It is on this contingent event — meaning that it did not have to happen — that the Christian religion is built. Jesus was graced first with knowledge of the created universe, then with full power of the Father, and lastly with charity toward humans. His freely given acceptance of that final grace despite the injustice done to Him and the suffering He experienced was a crucial component of the entire divine project.

Meaning of the Resurrection

To continue with the previous post, in the highest heaven, wherein one is a child of God and is a full-fledged member of His family, it is possible to trade off love for power and vice versa, while fully preserving one’s intellect.

A physical equivalent is that an object with a mass can be converted into its rest energy, becoming thereby pure energy; and can possibly coalesce back into a material thing.

So, one can “expand” his being fully into love and subsist in everyone and everything while forsaking the ability to manipulate matter; or one can “solidify” and acquire a body, trading off for this feature some ability to indwell in things by love.

This is done by the blessed at will, as per their enjoyment.

Before the Incarnation and before the Resurrection, souls did not acquire new bodies upon death. Did they therefore exist as pure love? Surely not. Christ had not yet come, and neither, therefore, had the Holy Spirit. So, they must have existed as ghosts, unable to exercise any power over anything; unable even to move! Imagine how your life would be if you were suddenly completely paralyzed yet remained conscious. It (1) would be a horror, and (2) would drive you insane. I’m serious; you’d end up 100% psychotic in no time.

Consequently, the souls of the dead could not have been conscious. They were sleeping, in what is often referred to as the Limbo of the Fathers, the difference being that all the separated souls were there, not just the righteous, and none were in hell.

What Jesus did for us was awaken these souls, gave them lightsome new bodies in whatever lower heaven they ended up, and prepared them for new adventures in this world.

Those who died after the Resurrection and those who die now get such bodies instantly upon death. If they are done here and qualify for the highest heaven, then in addition they acquire the ability to expand and contract as described.

Resurrection: Case of Samuel

In the first part, I point out that before Jesus’ mission was finished, souls of the dead slept in the Limbo. Upon His ascension, they were given new bodies, and anyone who died or will die thereafter is also instantly embodied upon death.

An illustration of one part of this understanding is found in 1 Sam 28, an episode with the witch of Endor who brought up the spirit of prophet Samuel for king Saul. She summoned a “ghostly figure” who looked like an “old man wearing a robe.”

The old man was predictably cantankerous. But apparently for a reason; he says: “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Then Samuel predicts a vast amount of gloom and doom for Saul.

I admit, there isn’t much to go on with this exchange. From what was Samuel disturbed? From contemplating God while fully awake or from sleeping?

Well, a man who is perfectly happy would probably have enough self-esteem not to be as cruel to Saul as Samuel was. I say, therefore, that Samuel — or rather his ghost, a being with will and intellect but no power — was sleeping, and he did not appreciate being awakened, when it was not yet time for ghosts to come unto Jesus.

Jesus’ Hypostatic Union

Recall our 3 trinities within: nature (will + intellect + power), virtue (duty + moral ideal + personality), and narrow happiness (plan + execution + pleasure).

Jesus indeed had 2 natures that were entirely separate and unmixed with each other. He was fully God and fully man.

He also has 2 personalities, one divine, the other human, but those two were so inextricably and fully intertwined as to form a single person. For example, Jesus enjoyed not only the vision of God even while incarnated but even His full comprehension. At the same time, He had a human body including the brain. His body may have been exceeding healthy and handsome, but it was the body of a particular human being, and supplied Jesus with a unique and distinct human personality. These two personalities were united such that “who or what sort of person Jesus was” was different before and after the Incarnation.

For example, Jesus’ life on earth was enriched at least with the natural functions of the body, the deliverances of the senses, and the operation of the concupiscible and irascible appetites. And there was surely more, e.g., “Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’ Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.'” (Mt 26:38-39) As a human being, Jesus wanted to avoid the horror ahead; as God, He was perfectly resolute in His purpose. There was conflict even in His will which is the intellectual appetite, a choice to be made between the human inclination and the divine duty.

Thus, we say, as per the orthodox teaching, that Jesus was two natures and one person.

Finally, Jesus’ pursuit of happiness was a single thing. There were no separate either in reality (as for nature) or in the understanding (as for virtue) for Jesus divine and human planning and executing of His plans to achieve His goals. There were no “divine actions” and “human actions” for Jesus; there was just a single set of “Jesus’ actions” and Jesus’ enjoyments. The choices Jesus made and deeds He performed in life were all for the sake of Jesus’ good, in whatever variety of things (including humanity’s good) it consisted.

We have then that Jesus was: 2 fully separate natures, 1 personality fully interwoven or fused from 2 persons, 1 pursuit of happiness.

Goodness: Creator and Destroyer

In order to shake God the Son out of His private self-sufficiency, something drastic has to be done; specifically, the Son had to be killed and rebuilt. The Son’s intellect had to be thus uplifted as the first step in the Father’s first original creative act.

The Son had to measure up to the Father’s natural knowledge of possible worlds and the Holy Spirit’s middle knowledge of how the divine providence could mingle with the works of secondary causes at any given time. The Son needed to choose the best possible world.

But the Son was completely unprepared for this sort of instruction.

(i) He is pure act, but exposure to new information introduces a potency into Him, thereby corrupting His nature and destroying Him.

(ii) He is in addition a “locally” perfect being, and one cannot improve the global state of affairs without exploding local equilibria.

Not even the Father’s only begotten Son is immune from the perennial theme of death and rebirth in a perfected state.

Creation adds something to the Son, or rather it shakes God out of the exclusive focus on Himself, i.e., on maintaining His complete contentment and pleasure. Again,

(1) from the Father, the Son obtains the knowledge of all possibilities of finite existence, including he extents to which each creature and the universe as a whole imitate or reflect Him or ought to;

(2) from the Holy Spirit, He obtains the connections between the divine means and ends, i.e., how the world can be guided in its evolution through God’s interaction with it;

(3) and the Son Himself is tasked with ruling the world He chose to actualize for all eternity.

As we can see, faith and theism as opposed to deism begin not with the Son’s birth during His Incarnation in which His power was made equal to the Father’s;

nor with His death and resurrection which uplifted His will;

but with the transcendence of the Son’s intellect upon creation.

Note that the Holy Spirit’s intellect, too, was upgraded “before” creation; but I think, unlike with the Son, non-violently. Somehow the Holy Spirit was able to generate the requisite middle knowledge and supply it to the Son on His own accord.

This is how the world was partially destroyed in the process of the second creation led by the Holy Spirit.

Angels were created first. They, too, are great and powerful creatures. For their union with the lower universe, they all paid if not an ultimate (like God) then still terrible price: the angelic unified nature was violently torn asunder and partially defiled. The angelic host was split into good and evil and forced to fight an irreconcilable war with each other that must end with unconditional surrender and eternal imprisonment of one faction and complete triumph and ascendance of the other. Their fight is for us humans who live in the middle earth, as it were, in the middle of the cosmic hierarchy, and smack-dab in the middle of the angelic battleground. The angels fight for our souls and because of that, are forced to learn all there is to know about the lower universe. Do angels know about cars or radars? They didn’t used to, before Lucifer’s rebellion. They do now. That the lower universe would be so honored by the awful humiliation of the angels!

The cost or the sacrifice that God made is then threefold:

  1. the corruption and condemnation of a portion of the angels;
  2. the humility of the good angels in rendering services to humans;
  3. the losses the good angels suffer in the war in the form of humans lost to sin.

That’s quite a turmoil to introduce into the great cohort of His eminent firstborn!

Then came humans. They, too, were created in a happy place, the tentative Garden of Eden. Just think of what kind of creatures Adam and Eve were. Did they perhaps engage in scientific study of the things in the Garden? Unlikely, and without technology they would not get far anyway. Did they make beautiful music or create art for the glory of God? No. Did they do works of mercy? Certainly not; there was no one to do good to. They were, it would seem, little more than zombies. Exactly.

In order to come to know lower nature — animals, plants, matter and their laws of operation, Adam and Eve were unceremoniously and seemingly though not really tragically expelled from the Garden into a cruel, brutal, and dark world. This continued the story begun with God, to unite the higher, otherwise blissfully unaware of the lower, with the lower, to produce a single uni-verse, a one creation, where each is aware of and relates to all.

Thankfully, we humans don’t have to fight each other like angels do; our price for life that Goodness has demanded from us is less steep, but only because we are less inherently perfect than angels. We just need to learn us some economics and that wars are unnecessary and are meant to be fully abolished. It is proper for us to enjoy peace on earth and good will toward men. And all things considered, we have done remarkably well. Despite all our mistakes throughout the centuries of struggle, our sciences — including economics! — are extremely well developed. We have accomplished wonders in controlling nature. On the whole, God the Father’s human project is a success.

Even animals continue this pattern. There are certain animals that qualify for the exalted status of pets, of beloved companions to humans. It so happens that the most suitable pets are carnivorous predators, in particular cats and dogs. They are on top of the food chain. The lion is king of the beasts, etc. (No one has bred big cats for pet-hood, artificially selecting for meekness, docility, peacefulness, playfulness, trust toward humans, etc. But it can probably be done.) Did the lion imagine his royal status was going to be a freebie? Their price is the curse of gnawing and constantly returning hunger, to satisfy which they are forced to learn the ways of their prey and how to hunt and capture it. An antelope just eats grass; a herbivore has no problem feeding itself; but it is not sufficiently developed to be a friend to man. So, predators are higher in perfection than prey, and for that they, too, are put through a gauntlet by the Holy Spirit.

I have so far talked about knowledge. But attendant on it is love. For example, human happiness is found in graceful refined play involving their bodies and super-sophisticated machines they create to assist them. There is no pleasure without man-made “stuff” to cause pleasure. As a result, humans end up loving their own creations, i.e., their technology. The best kind of human being is an artist, a virtuoso of skill and proficiency with some technique. Love comes in many kinds, as I will show in later posts; but it is surely true that now angels love men, and God, angels and men.

In short, the story of creation is the story of coercing the higher in perfection to forsake its natural self-sufficiency and contempt for the lower and to acknowledge and come to love the lower and help it prosper. God has solved the problem of natural isolation of the higher from the lower in the most original and astonishing, if also terrible, way imaginable.

Three Temptations of Jesus

We read that Jesus was tempted by by the devil in Mt 4. What’s remarkable about this episode is that it is clear that Jesus aced the test. Moreover, He defeated the devil simply as a man, through merely human righteousness; thus, St. Thomas writes: “Christ resisted these temptations by quoting the authority of the Law, not by enforcing His power, ‘so as to give more honor to His human nature and a greater punishment to His adversary, since the foe of the human race was vanquished, not as by God, but as by man.'” (ST, III, 41, 4)

So that was peanuts for Jesus. But His passion was a different thing entirely. We can get an idea of His anguish from the agony in the garden: “After withdrawing about a stone’s throw from them and kneeling, he prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.’ [And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him. He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.]” (Lk 22:41-44)

His second temptation then was to escape death: “Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mt 26:53) The fear and sorrow came from his human nature but involved the divine nature: Jesus’ humanity had to have submitted and surrendered to His divinity — and the Father’s. As a man, he sought to live; as man-God, he accepted that “all this has come to pass that the writings of the prophets may be fulfilled.” (Mt 26:56)

There is no mention of such intensity of feeling or spiritual perilousness of the situation regarding the devil’s temptation. This second temptation was clearly far more serious.

Finally, St. Thomas writes that during His passion Christ endured practically all manner of suffering, and the “pain of Christ’s passion was greater than all other pains.” (ST, III, 46, 5/6) That was now not the devil’s intent but the Father’s. What the Father wanted was to tempt Jesus with hating mankind. He did all He could to provoke in His Son the feelings of rage, contempt, and hatred for men for the monstrous crime they were committing against Him. The third temptation was addressed not to the man Jesus but explicitly to Him as God. It was the temptation of infinite and perfect God the Son. There was no “quoting the authority of the Law” this time to breezily dispose of the matter.

Yet there is no sign whatsoever that the Son ever fell prey to this temptation. His last words to the thief were, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” That is the glory that now belongs to the Son as distinct from the glory of the other two persons of the Trinity: that He loved us despite the horror of our sin against Him personally (as now the vine) then and sins we presently commit against each other (as now the branches).

Awakenings of Persons of the Trinity

All of the Father‘s faculties were fully mobilized before His creative act.

Moreover, the intellects of the Holy Spirit and the Son were uplifted before creation.

Regarding the Holy Spirit, His power was awakened immediately after creation; and His will, just before the giving of the first grace to the angels.

Regarding the Son, there are 5 major events of His life: conception, birth, baptism, death, and resurrection.

Thus, Christ’s power was given to Him at conception; accepted at birth; charity in the will was given at baptism; tested at death; accepted at resurrection.

If Christ Had Not Been Murdered, Would He Have Died of Old Age?

St. Thomas seems to suggest that He would have died in this manner, perhaps from a heart attack at the age of 95: “Christ’s body was subject to the necessity of death and other like defects,” not because He contracted these defects through the manner of His birth, “as if taking them upon Himself as due to sin,” but because He assumed them voluntarily. The fundamental reason to think so is that “it was in order to satisfy for the sin of the human race that the Son of God, having taken flesh, came into the world. Now one satisfies for another’s sin by taking on himself the punishment due to the sin of the other. But these bodily defects, to wit, death, hunger, thirst, and the like, are the punishment of sin, which was brought into the world by Adam… Hence it was useful for the end of Incarnation that He should assume these penalties in our flesh and in our stead…” (ST, III, 14)

But I reject the premise of this Pauline teaching that the Father punished the Son as some sort of hated scapegoat in order for the human race to evade divine justice. Without this disgraceful and absurd idea, does the argument still hold up?

There are two reasons to think that Christ would have died of old age. First, because of the easy syllogism:

(1) All men are mortal.
(2) Christ was a man.
Therefore,
(3) Christ was mortal.

If Jesus’ body was naturally immortal and would not age beyond 30 years old or whatever, then His body had to have worked very differently from own own bodies. It would then be difficult to maintain that Christ took on human nature.

Second, because of the realistic consideration to the effect that “what good would it have done Him?” Jesus knew that He would die on the cross, unjustly destroyed by those He loved, and an ageless body would have been entirely useless to Him.

There are, however, two other possibilities. First, St. Thomas argues that Adam in his Garden in the state of original righteousness and pure uncorrupt nature was graced with natural immortality and the “fullness of health, i.e., vigor of incorruptibility.” Upon his sin, this grace was withdrawn, and Adam, now expelled into the world, ended up growing old and dying as per the functioning of human nature as we now know it. Could it be that, say, at Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit similarly imparted immortality upon His body: “heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him”? (Mt 3:16)

Unfortunately, there is no Scriptural support whatsoever for this opinion.

Second, it may be that Jesus’ bodily immortality resulted from the union of His human nature with His divine nature or Godhead; or from the eminence or even glory that accrued to His human soul. St. Thomas admits that this is possible but denies that it was actual: “the beatitude remained in the soul, and did not flow into the body; but the flesh suffered what belongs to a passible nature; thus Damascene says… that, ‘it was by the consent of the Divine will that the flesh was allowed to suffer and do what belonged to it.'”

St. Thomas lists two more reasons “for the body assumed by the Son of God to be subject to human infirmities and defects” that do not depend on the dubious theory of “punishment”:

1) In order to cause belief in Incarnation. For since human nature is known to men only as it is subject to these defects, if the Son of God had assumed human nature without these defects, He would not have seemed to be true man, nor to have true, but imaginary, flesh, as the Manicheans held.

2) In order to show us an example of patience by valiantly bearing up against human passibility and defects. Hence it is said… that He “endured such opposition from sinners against Himself, that you be not wearied, fainting in your minds.”

On the whole, it seems somewhat more plausible that Jesus would indeed have died of old age, perhaps in the manner of the rather honorable Moses’ death, in His pre-resurrection body, had He not been murdered by us in His prime.

Mary’s Body Exceeded Jesus’ in Health

I fully agree with the authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church laid down on 8 December, 1854 by Pius IX that the Blessed Virgin Mary “in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.”

I differ somewhat in the understanding of this article of faith. Now it seems to me that a human soul develops naturally during pregnancy until it is ready to accept the rational faculty which is infused into the fetus by God (the rational soul may be created brand-new or pre-exist and descend from heaven). Though the soul is fully constructed, owing to the primitiveness of the body, it is at first deaf, dumb, and blind; it acquires its proper powers, i.e., recovers or remembers, slowly as the body develops both before and after birth.

In order to conform to the Catholic teaching, however, we need to posit that Mary’s soul, including its rational part, was unusual in coming to be fully present with the body at the instant of conception. As a result, it could be sanctified immediately.

St. Thomas raises the issue, if Mary never contracted the original sin, nor ever sinned actually, why did she need redemption by Christ? This question assumes the “punishment” theory of the Incarnation which I rejected in the previous post and elsewhere.

I have argued that the Incarnation was much more about God the Son than it was about us. It was a brutal gauntlet, a test for Him, whether He would accept the Holy Spirit’s grace of love for mankind despite our ultimate injustice against Him personally. We rejected the Son, our greatest benefactor, king, and friend, without whom neither heaven nor paradise could be open to us, utterly and murdered Him. In response, He loved us and brought us unto Himself. I, for example, could not do it. Only the true God could and did.

Again, before the Incarnation, the Son literally did not know whether we were worthy or not, since the opportunity to decide this matter once and for all for Himself, the way to demonstrate His preference in action would arise only in the future at His death. Hence He had no authority to guide the evolution of the communion of saints over the entire duration of their everlasting life. In particular, no finite saint could choose what to study or contemplate in heaven from the Father among an infinitude of all possibilities unaided. Further, paradise is mostly empty in its original state. As I suggested, the first things to be built in it would be “replicators.” But what would Moses, say, know about these things? He’d have to learn about them in heaven. Since contemplation could not occur without Jesus, neither could active life: what would be the purpose of allowing people to wander around an empty paradise aimlessly? Keeping the souls awake in Limbo would have been cruel and dangerous, too. So the souls of the dead slept before Christ.

It is for that reason that no one, including Mary, could enter heaven or paradise before the Incarnation. It is irrelevant to this fact that Mary was free of both original and actual sin.

To get back to the title of this post, the Catholic Encyclopedia argues that Mary “was not made exempt from the temporal penalties of Adam — from sorrow, bodily infirmities, and death.” This, too, is at least in part problematic. For Mary had to be gifted not only with a massive amount of grace but also with remarkable bodily health for the sake of her mission as mother of God. Just as her virtue insured Jesus from being aborted, so her physical health insured Him from being miscarried. God could not play dice with the Incarnation. Mary had to be perfectly physically fit for her exalted role.

Therefore, neither Mary nor Jesus contracted any bodily defects through the original sin. However, Jesus assumed those defects of His own free divine will, as suggested in the previous post, while Mary did not. It follows that Mary’s earthly body was superior in health and beauty to Jesus’ pre-resurrection body. Perhaps like Eve before her sin, she was not going to die of old age through the special solicitude of the Holy Spirit.

Christ’s Power to Forgive and Judge

It is often argued that Jesus thought of Himself as divine because He claimed for Himself the power to forgive sins. Now of course, any man can forgive a sin by another against himself, but only God can forgive sins tout court, and Jesus did just that: “‘But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ — he then said to the paralytic, ‘Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.'” (Mt 9:6)

But a much less often stressed Biblical fact — and with some reason, because it’s scary — is that Jesus also claimed for Himself the power to refuse to forgive and by that very fact, condemn to hell, e.g., “the Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” (Mt 13:41-42)

Of course, the opposite of “to condemn” is not “to forgive” but “to glorify.” Forgiveness is for us as wayfarers; glory or damnation is one’s ultimate destiny. Thus, Jesus adds in the next sentence, “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (Mt 13:43)

Now today a Catholic priest can forgive a person’s sins, as per “I will give you [Peter] the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 16:19)

But no man whatever can condemn another to hell or, for that matter, bestow glory. The power to administer the final judgment then is even greater than the power to forgive. For one, the latter is at least partially communicable from God to human beings, while the former is the sole prerogative of God. And being forgiven is merely a means to glory; it is better not to sin in the first place than to be forgiven for sins.

If that’s not an indication of Christ’s divinity, I don’t know what is.