Christmas Reflections: Post III
This then, if I may so express myself, is one of the acts of the contract. God takes our nature so as to unite it to Himself in a personal union.
What is the other act? What is God going to give us in return? Not that He owes us anything: Bonorum meorum non eges (Ps 15:2). But as He does all things with wisdom, He could not take upon Himself our nature without a motive worthy of Him.
What the Word Incarnate gives in return to humanity is an incomprehensible gift; it is a participation, real and intimate, in His Divine nature: Largitus est nobis suam deitatem. In exchange for the humanity which He takes, the Incarnate Word gives us a share in His Divinity; He makes us partakers of His Divine Nature. And thus is accomplished the most wonderful exchange which could be made.
Doubtless, as you know, this participation had already been offered and given, from the creation, to Adam, the first man. The gift of grace, with all its splendid train of privileges, made Adam like to God. But the sin of the first man, the head of the human race, destroyed and rendered this ineffable participation impossible on the part of the creature.
It is to restore this participation that the Word becomes Incarnate; it is to reopen to us the way to heaven that God is made man. For this Child, being God’s own Son, has Divine life, like His Father, with His Father. In this Child “dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead corporeally” (Col. 2:9); in Him are laid up all the treasures of the divinity (Cf. Ibid. 3). But He does not possess them for Himself alone. He infinitely desires to communicate to us the Divine life that He Himself is: Ego sum vita (Jn 14:6). It is for this that He comes: Ego vend UT vitam habeant (Ibid. 10:10). It is for us that a Child is born; it is to us that a Son is given: Puer natus est NOBIS et Filius datus est nobis (Introit of the Mass of the day). In making us share in His condition of Son, He will make us children of God. “When the fulness of time was come, God sent His Son, made of a woman,… that we might receive the adoption of sons (Gal 4:4-5). “What Christ is by nature, that is to say the Son of God, we are to be by grace; the Incarnate Word, the Son of God made man is to become the author of our divine generation: Natus hodie Salvator mundi DIVINAE NOBIS GENERATIONIS est auctor (Postcommunion of the Mass of Christmas Day). So that, although He be the Only-begotten Son, He will become the First-born of many brethren: UT sit IPSE PRIMOGENITUS in multis fratribus (Rom 8:29).
Such are the two acts of the wonderful “bargain” that God makes with us: He takes our nature in order to communicate to us His divinity; He takes a human life so as to make us partakers of His divine life: He is made man so as to make us gods: Factus est Deus homo, ut homo fieret Deus (Sermon attributed to St. Augustine, number 128 in the appendix to his works). And His human Birth becomes the means of our birth to the divine life.
In us likewise there will be henceforth two lives. The one, natural, which we have by our birth according to the flesh, but which, in God’s sight, is not only without merit but, before baptism, is stained in consequence of original sin; which makes us enemies of God, worthy of His wrath: we are born filii irae (Eph 2:3). The other life, supernatural, infinitely above the rights and exigencies of our nature. It is this life that God communicates to us by His grace, since the Incarnate Word merited it for us.
God begets us to this life by His Word and the infusion of His Spirit, in the baptismal font: Genuit nos Verbo veritatis (Jac 1:18)… Per lavacrum regenerationis et renovationis Spiritus Sancti (Tit 3); it is a new life that is superadded to our natural life, surpassing and crowning it; In Christo nova creatura (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15). It makes us children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, worthy of one day partaking of His beatitude and glory.
Of these two lives, in us as in Christ, it is the divine that ought to dominate, although in the Child Christ it is not as yet manifested, and in us it remains ever veiled under the outward appearance of our ordinary existence. It is the divine life of grace that ought to rule and govern, and make agreeable to our Lord, all our natural activity, thus deified in its root.
Oh! if the contemplation of the Birth of Jesus and participation in this mystery by the reception of the Bread of Life would bring us to free ourselves, once and for all, from everything that destroys and lessens the divine life within us; from sin, wherefrom Christ comes to deliver us: Cujus nativitas humanam repulit vetustatem (Postcommunion for the Mass of Day-break); from all infidelity and all attachment to creatures; from the irregulated care for passing things: Abnegantes saecularia desideria (Tit 2:12; Epistle for the midnight Mass); from the trying preoccupations of our vain self love!…
If we could thus be brought to give ourselves entirely to God, according to the promises of our baptism when we were born to the divine life; to yield ourselves up to the accomplishment of His will and good pleasure, as did the Incarnate Word in entering into this world: Ecce venio… ut faciam Deus voluntatem tuam (Heb 10:7); to abound in those good works which make us pleasing to God: Populum acceptabilem, sectatorem bonorum operum (Tit 2:14. Epistle for the midnight Mass.)!
Then the divine life brought to us by Jesus would meet with no more obstacles and would freely expand for the glory of our Heavenly Father; then “we who are bathed in the new light of the Incarnate Word should shew forth in our deeds what by faith shineth in our minds” (Da nobis quaesumus omnipotens Deus; ut qui nova incarnati Verbi tui luce perfundimur, hoc in nostro resplendeat opere, quod per fidem fulget in mente. Collect for the Mass at Daybreak); then, “our offerings would befit the mysteries of this day’s Nativity”. Munera nostra nativitatis hodiernae mysteriis apta proveniant (Secret for the Mass at Day-break):
What further renders this exchange “admirable” is the manner in which it is effected, the form wherein it is accomplished. How is it accomplished? How does this Child, Who is the Incarnate Word, make us partakers of His divine life? By His Humanity. The humanity that the Word takes from us is to serve Him as the instrument for communicating His divine life to us; and this for two reasons wherein eternal wisdom infinitely shines out; the humanity renders God visible; it renders God passible. It renders Him visible.
The Church, using the words of St. Paul, celebrates with delight this “appearing” of God amongst us: Apparuit gratia Dei Salvatoris nostri omnibus hominibus (Tit 2:11. Epistle for the midnight Mass): “The grace of God our Saviour hath appeared to all men” Apparuit benignitas et humanitas Salvatoris nostri Dei (Tit 3:4, Epistle for the Mass at Day-break). “The goodness and kindness of God our Saviour hath appeared.”
Lux fulgebit hodie super nos, quia natus est nobis Dominus (Introit of the Mass at Day-break): “a light shall shine upon us this day: for our Lord is born to us”; Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”
The Incarnate Word brings about this marvel: men have seen God Himself abiding in the midst of them.
St. John loves to dwell upon this side of the mystery. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the Word of life. For the life was manifested; and we have seen and do bear witness and declare unto you the Life Eternal which was with the Father, and hath appeared in us. That which we have seen and have heard, we declare unto you that… your joy may be full” (1 Jn 1:1-4).
What joy indeed, to see God manifesting Himself to us. not in the dazzling splendour of His omnipotence, nor in the unspeakable glory of His sovereignty, but under the veil of humble, poor, weak humanity, which we can see and touch!
We might have been afraid of the dreadful majesty of God: the Israelites fell on their faces to the ground, full of terror and fear, when God spoke to Moses upon Sinai, in the midst of lightnings. We are drawn by the charms of a God become a Babe. The Babe in the Crib seems to say to us: “You are afraid of God? You are wrong: Qui videt me, videt et Patrem (Jn 14:9). Do not heed your imagination, do not form yourselves a God from the deductions of philosophy, nor ask of science to make My perfections known to you. The true Almighty God is the God that I am and reveal; the true God is I Who come to you in poverty, humility and infancy, but Who will one day give My life for you. I am “the brightness of [the Father’s] glory, and the figure of His substance” (Heb 1:3). His Only-begotten Son, God as He is; in Me you shall learn to know His perfections, His wisdom and His goodness, His love towards men and His mercy in regard to sinners: Illuxit in cordibus nostris… in facie Christi Jesu (2 Cor 4:6). Come unto Me, for, God as I am, I have willed to be a man like you, and I do not reject those who draw near to Me with confidence: Sicut homo genitus IDEM refulsit et Deus.”
Why did God thus deign to render Himself visible?
First of all so as to instruct us: Apparuit erudiens nos. It is indeed God Who will henceforth speak to us by His own Son: Locutus est nobis in Filio (Heb 1:2); we have but to listen to this beloved Son in order to know what God wills of us. The Heavenly Father Himself tells us so: Hic est Filius meus dilectus: ipsum audite (Mt 17:5); and Jesus delights in repeating to us that His doctrine is that of His Father: Mea doctrina non est mea, sed ejus qui misit me (Jn 7:16).
Next the Word renders Himself visible to our sight so as to become the Example that we are to follow. We have only to watch this Child grow, only to contemplate Him living in the midst of us, living like us as man, in order to know how we ought to live in the sight of God, as children of God: for all that He does will be pleasing to His Father: Quae placita sunt ei, facto semper (Ibid. 7:29).
Being the Truth Who has come to teach us, He will point out the way by His example; if we live in His light, if we follow this way, we shall have life: Ego sum via, et veritas et vita (Ibid. 14:6). Thus, in knowing God manifested in the midst of us, we shall be drawn by Him to the love of invisible things: Ut dum VISIBILITER Deum cognoscimus, PER HUNC in invisibilium amorem rapiamur (Preface for Christmas).
To be continued…