JMC : The Christian Mind / by Dom Anscar Vonier, O.S.B.

Chapter II.
Two Views of the Son of God.

The Catholic doctrines concerning Christ's Divine Personality, however lofty and speculative they may seem at first sight, are found, sooner or later, to be the sources of living waters for the humblest soul, and to give life and growth to the tiniest spiritual plant.

There is hardly a more impressive spectacle in nature than the sight exhibited in some of the great mountain systems of Europe. A great mountain rises straight up to the sky, its flanks forming a sheer precipice, a rugged wall of rocks; and from the rock there leaps a fully formed stream, born as it were in full manhood, beginning its career with a great volume of water, there being none of that silent oozing out from the ground of waters that meet gently, and gradually form themselves into a rivulet. No, the dry hard rock itself lets loose a fully formed stream. It is, of course, the overflow of the ever active lakes inside the mountain fastness.

What strikes the observer when he comes upon a phenomen of that kind, is the contrast between the rigidity, the apparent lifelessness of the mountain, and this glorious manifestation of movement and life, the warm stream coming out of the mountain's side. Yet a moment's reflexion will tell the traveller that the stern rigidity, the unmoving massiveness of the mountain is the direct physical cause of that entrancing spectacle of life. Through its lofty rigidity the mountain gathers the waters inside itself, and sends them out a very marvel of movement, light and life.

The height and unchangeable finality of our Christology are the total if remote cause of all the higher life in Christ that is to be found in souls.

But the rigidity is merely apparent. There are in the doctrines of the Incarnation many aspects that proclaim the fundamental fact that God in becoming man meant it to be a transformation of man, soul and body.

We all believe in a general and vague way, that God became man for the sake of man, for man's spiritual profit. But very few amongst us grasp the deeper truth, that the Incarnation is in itself, in its innermost nature, the highest possible uplifting of human nature, of mankind in general, at least potentially.

We then may consider the Incarnation in a twofold Hght. God becomes man, we say, for the sake of man.

This may be something of the following kind. The God-man, possessing infinitude of personal dignity, worth and power, does something for the human race that uplifts and saves the race. His mission on earth is essentially to do that great thing, to accomplish that great act, in the way, and under the circumstances He knows best. It would be essentially a transient act, an act that might be dated and described by the historian as the act of man's redemption. We are orthodox Christians the moment we believe that God made man redeemed mankind by an act of His that took place here on earth.

But there is a second aspect to this most divine truth, a higher and more comprehensive aspect, which includes that first point of view, and which goes a good deal beyond.

The redemption, says the man who is wise in the mystery of Christ, is more than a transient act on the part of the Son of God made man. The whole of the Son of God Incarnate is redemption, is the uplifting of the human nature.

The various phases and acts of Christ's career here on earth have but one object, to consummate Christ's fitness to be the redemption, to be mankind's uplifting.

"Of him (God) are you in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and justice, and sanctification, and redemption" (i Cor. i. 30).

This deeper understanding of the mystery of Christ lays great stress on what the Son of God is, both in the divine and in the human element of Himself. The acts and facts of His life here on earth are infinitely precious to such people, because they reveal the permanent character of the Son of God.

It might even be said that they are precious, because they are known to have shaped permanently Christ's human character.

We have the Epistle to the Hebrews as an authority that Christ's human character received a lasting imprint from His earthly experiences:

"Whereas indeed he was the Son of God, he learned obedience by the things which he suffered. And being consummated, he became, to all that obey him, the cause of eternal salvation" (Hebr. v. 8 9).

I might describe the two views as the verb view and the substantive view.

The first is the verb view of Christ's role: the second is the substantive view of it.

One says, Christ gives life; the other says, Christ is life.

The two views, as already remarked, do not exclude each other, but they complete each other. It is, of course, a much greater thing to be life substantively, than merely to cause life, and when I say here that Christ is life substantively, I mean necessarily this, that He is the life of man substantively, not only life in Himself.

No one questions the expression that the Son of God is life in Himself. But what is so consoling, is the ever recurring phraseology of the Scriptures, that the Son of God not only produces life in man, but is the life of man.

I select for the moment this one attribute of life, for the sake of simplicity in my argumentation. Any other of Christ's roles and attributes might be instanced with the same degree of appropriateness.

The circumstance that the New Testament so constantly states Christ's relation to man in terms of substantives can never receive enough attention. Were such phraseology used even once it ought to rouse keenest interest in us. But it is not once, but hundreds of times that the inspired writers express themselves in such fashion when speaking of the share of man in the mystery of the Incarnation.

No one can fail to see the immense spiritual significance of such a turn of mind and speech in the sacred writers.

Although the former, the Christian less educated, says a true thing when he professes his faith that Christ did redeem him, the latter speaks a much wiser and much more correct language when he says, Christ is my redemption.

For the first, redemption is a result, most gracious indeed, but it is something that came out of Christ; for the other, redemption is something inside Christ. He, too, feels redeemed, but his feelings are of a much higher nature, of a much diviner fibre.

And it is evident that the Incarnation becomes a much more glorious thing if the God Incarnate, instead of merely redeeming, is redemption itself. For once granted that God became man, that there is infinitude of power and sanctity in the God-man, the work of redemption is no new marvel; it might be said to be child's play for the divine giant. But to be redemption, intrinsically, through His human nature, as well as through the divine element in Himself, is indeed a scope worthy of the One "Who was predestinated the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of sanctification" (Rom. i. 4).

To do the great work for one who is Omnipotence is no new mystery. To be Himself life, light, food, happiness eternal, is a development of the initial mystery of the Hypostatic Union absolutely worthy of it.

The Son of God calls Himself the Resurrection and the Life, the Way, the Truth, the Light, the Beginning and the End. He is every thing that renders man happy and holy, substantially and substantively.

It is the only mode of being man's Saviour that is really worthy of the Hypostatic Union, that the Incarnate God should be Salvation itself.

The aim and goal of the whole drama of the Incarnation, from the conception through the Holy Ghost in the Virgin's womb to the glories of the risen Jesus on the Easter morning is this, that the man-God, Christ Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, true God and true man, should be, both through His human as well as through His divine element, man's eternal life, and all the parts of that divine drama, with such a wonderful "dramatis persona" in the centre of it, are indispensable to that crowning achievement, that He, the Jesus of Nazareth, is man's life substantively, and not only life-giver to man.

To be life-giver needed no life-drama, such as the Gospel: it only needed God's innate and eternal omnipotence. But to be life to man necessitated a Christ, Who is the Son of God born of a Virgin, Who suffered under Pontius Pilate, Who died, was buried and rose again from the dead.

The Incarnation of Christian theology is indeed the personal union of Divinity with humanity. But let us always bear in mind that Incarnation, or Hypostatic Union, is still a general mystery, a mystery that could take place under other forms.

Thus any of the three Divine Persons could become incarnate. The personal union could have an Angel for its object, or any other human being, or even many other beings at the same time, either human or angelic.

In fact, no man knows under how many different conditions Hypostatic Union could take place.

Thus Hypostatic Union need not at all include "the form of slave", the abasement of the Christian Gospels.

Hypostatic Union could be all a mystery of glory and happiness. But the Hypostatic Union that is the ground work of Christian spirituality is a Hypostatic Union of a well defined mode, deeply characterised and modified through its special purposes.

Through it the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, becomes man, assuming one individual human nature into the partnership of the Divine Personality with the specific purpose of becoming the higher life of that fallen man whose fall culminates in death.

To study the doctrines of the Incarnation without taking into account that very deep characterisation is to miss the whole point. It would be like introducing some great personage into a dramatic play, without giving him a role or a character.

That God should become man is the first marvel; that God made man should be man's life, is the other marvel, as great as the first, in the sense in which a man's character is as great a thing as a man's being.

<< ======= >>