WHAT THE YOUTH CAN LEARN FROM THE INCARNATION OF THE ‘WORD OF GOD.’ “ET VERBUM CARO FACTUM EST.’ (“And the Word became flesh.”)

Borgie Distura

PART 1

Christmas is just one sunrise away. Everybody is rushing to find a present for someone or busy preparing something for the Christmas eve or just preparing to take the long vacation from the buzz of the polis and office. This phenomenon transcends religions and religious orientation for everybody is affected by this event. And no one is exempted. including the youth. But, does the youth grasp the profound significance of this occasion?

What can the youth learn from this incarnation of the ‘word of God.’ ‘Et Verbum caro factum est’ translated as ‘And the Word became flesh’ refers to the Son of God – Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, becoming man and dwelling among us. It refers to Jesus’ conception and birth – which we celebrate as Christmas. The word for this phenomenon of God becoming man is “incarnation” (<L. in + caro, meaning in flesh). Caro in latin means flesh or meat.

What does incarnation means theologically?

In the history of salvation, there was what we call a breach of contract or covenant and the song ‘O Holy Night’ poetically and succinctly described what happened next. Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till he appeared and the soul felt its worth. 

In order to understand INCARNATION we have to focus on two key words: “PERSON” and “NATURE” in the manner in which they were used in the era when church doctrine was developed in its early councils. The church dogmatic teaching  in relation to incarnation is that Jesus Christ is a divine person with two natures: human and divine.

Father James Lentini explained that the term person as we use it today tends to be applied universally with a human being. However, the council fathers of the early church did not understand that term in this way. They used the Greek term “prosopon” (“person”). The term “prosopon” spoke to the idea of who a person, at their core, is. Further they held, that the “prosopon” is immutable. Thus, a human is a human always, an angel is an angel always, and God is God always.  At his core, Jesus Christ is a divine person. He is God, God in the flesh but God nonetheless. If God became man and ceased to be a divine person, then that, by definition would no longer be God incarnate. So, in terms of our understanding of the incarnation, Jesus Christ is a human being (in the way we use that term today), but he is not a human person; he is God.

The term “nature” today is used to speak of a person’s demeanor or character (e.g., “Vicki is good-natured”). However, this was not the understanding of that word in the early centuries of the church, when the word “nature” was put forth using the Greek word “physis.” This word “physis” expressed not who a person is, or how a person is, but rather what one could do. Thus, our human nature, which we all share, allows us to do things defined as human. A divine nature allows one to do things that are reserved to the divine. To put this complex idea into concrete examples:

In his human nature Jesus could swim, in his divine nature he could walk on water.

In his human nature Jesus could shed tears for those suffering, in his divine nature he could heal their suffering.

These two natures (divine and human) exist fully in the one person of Christ, Son of God, son of Mary, who is fully divine and fully human in nature, divine in person. Thus, Christ is the Word made flesh, and he dwelt among us; he was divine person (God) assuming our human nature while maintaining his divine nature. Jesus Christ was fully God; Jesus Christ was fully man. His divinity was of God, his humanity of Mary.

Now speaking of a “prosopon” and a “physis” may not be a spiritual way of understanding Christ coming into the world as our savior. It might seem dry, if not just plain surreal. Nonetheless, it is good to know, appreciate, and understand that the faith we have in Christ as the Son of God become man is not a mere nice-sounding platitude, but rather it is a developed, considered and understandable faith.

 

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