CHAPTER II — THE DREAM OF THE AGES
A DREAM can be an opiate or an inspiration. It can be the world of make-believe by which the coward escapes reality; or it can be a star lighting up the path of men, leading them on to a revelation of the profoundest meanings of the world even when it stops over a cave. It can be the restless, charging steed on which a man rides over the hordes of things earthly, crashing through the barriers that imprison the world.
It is to be noted that a dream, either as a reverie or a vision, is of no use to a man whose mind is blind. If his eyes are so dim that he cannot see the horror around him nor the splendor of the goal which makes battle a glory, he will not dream. Indeed, he cannot dream.
Men and their dreams: The stuff of dreams
In one sense or another, men have always been dreamers because, normally, men are not blind. There has always been a percentage of cowards among us, of men and women who use their dreams to escape reality; but that percentage has always been small, since the human heart is a thing so stout as to dare again and again the dangerous business of love. A far greater percentage of men live on dreams in the sense of visions. There has always been a vision before the heart and mind of a man; how else would that heart and mind reach out, as they do, beyond what is already had, straining to the ultimate grasp of the infinite itself?
When men stood on the lowest rung of their human achievement, what was only an ordinary thing seemed high and hard; at such times their visions have been lowly, even despicable things. At other times, their visions have been as startling as a joyous shout of courage thundering out of clouds of desperate battle. They have been daring, reckless, superhuman things.
In other words, the stuff of man’s dreams has always been furnished by the far horizons of humanity. Behind every human life there has been at least the ghost of that wild, reckless dream that goes as far as dreams can go, even to God Himself. Sometimes it was a tortured, twisted dream, a kind of nightmare which revolved around the mad notion that men could become God. Sometimes it was a disappointing, shrunken thing, as though the dream had squeezed itself through too narrow an aperture to reality, a distorted thing that revolved around the absurd conceit that men were gods because the human level was the peak of reality. Much more persistently, the dream has been that dream of dreams centering on God dwelling amongst us, being like to us but still God. It made God homely, familiar, tangible. It made Him man, but, because He still remained God, that dream was powerful enough to uproot the staid mediocrity of men left on their own level.
A dreamless world
As long as there was left to them the far human horizons, men dreamed dreams and saw visions; robbed of these horizons, the magic stuff of dreams was gone. It is the shame of our time to have shortened the horizons of man, step by step, until now he is blind for want of something to see. By removing God and heaven from his heart and mind, our time has made it impossible to look up. Man might have been left to stare along the monotonous level of his own humanity, even though his eyes, whatever direction they took, would always end up short staring at the gray walls of nature. But that was allowing too much of the stuff of dreams. His very nature was denied; he was denied the right not only to look up but even to look along the distinctive horizon of his own humanity.
He was only allowed to look down, to search, nauseated, the depths from which he allegedly came to find there some reason to sustain his self-respect. Of course the visions of the children’s tales were forbidden childish eyes; after all, we had found psychological horrors in the guileless wanderings of Alice in Wonderland and reduced all dreams to sex.
This blind man’s world would be too stolid, too brutal, too animal for men to bear; but it is hard to keep men blind since, do what we will, men remain men with all that divine dissatisfaction and reckless reaching of the human heart. We have tried to make the inspiring glimpse of a vision impossible, we have attacked the inclination to dream, have driven it out and in its place planted a horror of the visions that might have led men on; but we have forgotten that men will dream, must dream, or they will die. They will become sick of the revolting depths, uncertain of the limited lives ascribed to them, and they will either despair or, in spite of arguments to the contrary, they will dream.
The realization of the vision — the Incarnation:
Its nature; The doctrine of Faith
There has been reason for the dreams of men in the very nature of man’s mind and will. For that dream of dreams, the dream of our walking arm in arm with God, there is reason more solid than the nature of man. It rests upon the long promise of God, a promise whose fulfillment was awaited so patiently by a race that knew what it was waiting for and somewhat less patiently by a world that knew that much was lacking. That dream was realized, that seeking became a reality, when the maid of Galilee answered the angel: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to thy word.” At that instant God became incarnate. God was made man. The Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us.
In his Summa St. Thomas does not touch on the Incarnation until he has treated exhaustively of God and man; and with very good reason. It is only by knowing something of God and something of man that we can appreciate the splendor of the union of the two in the Incarnation. It is only by the contrast of the infinite, dazzling perfection of God with the limited, stumbling perfection of the best of men that we see something of the generosity and unreckoning love involved in the Incarnation, with the consequent debt of gratitude owed to God by men. When we understand man’s relation to God, his desperate need for attaining that final goal, we can understand much more of the tender thoughtfulness of God in giving us a personally conducted return to Himself. Without one or the other, God or man, there is no sense to the Incarnation; without a knowledge of both, there can be no insight into the mystery; without the goal, thoroughly understood, the full, homely meaning of the incredible fact is lost.
The angel Raphael’s protection and guidance of the younger Tobias on his long journey and safe return home is a dim shadow of the life of God on earth. Here God was not merely taking on the appearance of a man, as did the angel, he assumed man’s own nature. He treated us like the children He hoped we would become, taking us by the hand, showing us by the example of His own life how we were to live our lives lest, as children, we be frightened by the majesty of divinity, He came to us in the familiar nature with which we must face all the struggles of our own short lives.
So much love and sacrifice went into the Incarnation, and so much love and sacrifice has come out of it through the centuries, that it is easy to give emotion its head in talking of this mystery; but this was never the way of Thomas. Because of that very emotional appeal of the mystery, it is essential that we get its intellectual side firmly and clearly. By our Faith it is infallibly true that the Word of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, assumed true human nature from the Blessed Virgin Mary. In this mystery there is one person involved, the person of the Son of God; there are two complete and perfect natures, a human and a divine, really distinct from one another and joined only in the Person of the Son of God. Christ, the Person) is at the same time true God and true man; God from eternity, man in time.
Faced with a truth of this proportion, the human mind not infrequently rebels; and a revolt against truth adds up to error. It might be noted at once that in this business of error we admit no superiors; it is an old trick of our human nature promptly to exhaust every possibility of error. In the comparatively simple matter of preparing a letter for the mails, for example, there is only a limited field for mistakes: the name, the street number and name, the city, the country, the return address, the postage, and the box in which the letter is deposited. Yet every day in America mistakes are made in every one of these respects. We can be depended on for mistakes; and that was no less true two thousand years ago than it is today.
The errors of men
In the mystery of the Incarnation three things are involved: the divinity of Christ, the humanity of Christ, and the union of the human and divine nature in the one divine Person. In the first four centuries of the existence of the Church every possible error was made against all three. Some men said that Christ was not God, denying His divinity. They were willing to look on Him as the most perfect of men, as more than a man, or even more than an angel, as long as He was to be less than God. Other men, defending His divinity, insisted that He was not human: perhaps His body was only a ghostly body; if it were real, it must have been a heavenly, not an earthly thing; or, since the evidence of His suffering and death was overwhelming, granted that He had a body, He could not have had a soul; again the evidence was too much, so perhaps He had no human will.
The attack on the divinity and the humanity of Christ did not exhaust the possibilities of error; there was still the matter of the union of those two. Some heretics insisted that the union was entirely accidental, like that of a heap of stones thrown carelessly together. Others, indignant at such a mistake, refuted it by maintaining the union was an essential one: the divine nature and the human nature were somehow fused together to form a third mysterious thing that was neither God nor man, as matter and spirit are united to form what is neither a soul nor a body but a man.
Error in this matter is not surprising, for this is mystery. The reason for the error is always astounding. It rests upon the notion that we can treat a mystery as we would a problem in mathematics. We are not content to feed on it, to penetrate it; rather we must destroy it by reducing it to the dimensions of our own human mind.
Of course there is mystery here since an infinite Person is involved. The truth is so wide that only the swinging doors of the divine mind can possibly accommodate it. Our minds, in contact with this truth, are like the arms of a very small child seeking to embrace its mother. The child can cling to its mother even though its arms cannot encircle that loved one; even though the arms of our mind cannot go around this truth, at least we can cling to it. We cannot discover the truth of the Incarnation by any human means. It must be told to us by God; once told, we cannot possibly understand it fully, for it is a properly divine truth. But we can and do wax strong on it, penetrate it a little, deepening the darkness of its splendor and lovingly examining it from all sides. What we can do by our own reason in this matter is to ward off the shower of small stones thrown by objectors and see the complete freedom of this mystery from any contradiction.
The Incarnation is a fact and a fact worth clinging to. Indeed, it is the central fact of the universe, the fact that gave youth back to an old, tired, disillusioned, despairing universe. It reopened the gates of heaven. It is much more than the beginning of an era. It is a release from slavery for creatures who have freedom in their very blood. It is the essential fact of Christianity.
We can, of course, speak of the historical Christ. The fashion today, however, is to speak of an historical Christ as if He were a mere character in history no different from any other man who walked across the human stage. This is sheer nonsense if, at the same time, one insists on retaining a claim to Christianity; yet when I have pointed out to individuals that the modern smartness was in reality a denial of Christianity, I’ve been made to feel as heartless as though I have told a child there was no Santa Claus. The conclusion simply cannot be dodged: if Christ were not divine, then Christianity is a despicable hoax.
Credibility of the fact of the Incarnation
Christ was divine. We cannot prove this by reason; but it can be known and known more certainly than we know the very first principles of thought. For here, you see, there is no such intermediary between ourselves and supreme truth as the light of human reason. This truth comes to us on the direct and full authority of Truth itself; it cannot be proved, it must be believed. Nor is it such a difficult thing to believe; despite its immanent mystery, it is an eminently credible truth.
The existence of Christ and the words of Christ are as certain as any historical truth can well be. Yet this man, Christ, said He was God, not in a whisper, not obscurely hinting, but publicly: before His disciples, before crowds, before His judges. He was so understood; indeed, for saying this thing He died. His statements are well worthy of belief. His whole life is evidence that He was neither a fool nor a liar He was not an actor talking Himself into a part. The splendor of His doctrine, the perfection of His life, His love of God and men are more than enough proof of this. To say the contrary, to say that Christ was deceived or was a deceiver of men, is to fly in the face of the historical evidence. Yet this man, who was neither a fool nor a liar, seriously made the claim again and again that He was God.
His statements had the solemn confirmation of God Himself. There were, for example, the express words of approval at the transfiguration and baptism; there were the miracles of the conservation and propagation of His Church of which the Incarnation was a fundamental doctrine. Miracles are not worked in confirmation of a lie for the very simple reason that God is Truth. Christ Himself worked miracles in express proof of the truth of His words. He made prophecies which were fulfilled. Through Him were fulfilled all the long prophecies of the Old Testament. Surely, if any statement made in the history of the world is worthy of belief, it is the statement that Christ was God, that God became man. Believing it, we have laid hold on the truth around which all human history revolves.
If God were a clumsy lover of men, we might be forced to make excuses for something or other about the Incarnation. Certainly, in the course of human love, we must make allowances for love’s good intentions. We know the lover did not mean to spill coffee on a gown in his eagerness to arrange a wrap, to wake up the baby with an over-cheery greeting, to arouse the enthusiasm of the populace by a resounding kiss in a railroad station. Human love is, often enough, clumsy and embarrassing in its expression, but not so divine love; precisely because it is divine, it is perfect in every way. It is not surprising, then, that the Incarnation is perfect from the side of God, from the side of men, and even from the angle of all the circumstances.
The fittingness of the Incarnation: From the nature of God
We shall see more of the beauty of the perfection of the Incarnation in eternity; but even now our stumbling minds, peering at the great work of God, see enough to make us lose our hearts completely. We know, for example, that the visible world was not meant as a set of blinders but rather as lenses giving new sight to our eyes, that we were not meant to stop at the obvious but to penetrate to the invisible things of God through the visible world spread out before our eyes. In the Incarnation, the perfections of God are manifest as no world can manifest them. In the infant Son of Mary there is evidence of a divine goodness that did not shrink from the womb of the virgin or the weakness of the flesh; of the thoughtful justice that brought about the conquest of man’s enemy by man himself; of the wisdom that made a perfect payment of a most difficult, an infinite price; of the power that is indeed infinite, for nothing is greater than for God to become man.
Indeed, if we remember no more than the infinite goodness of God, the fittingness of the Incarnation strikes our minds in a burst of splendid brilliance. A quirk of human nature makes first page news of vice while virtue is made the material for an epitaph, perhaps because we so readily see that a rotten apple can spoil a whole barrel. It is, however, no less evident that a good neighbor fills a neighborhood with good neighbors; that a wise man scatters his wisdom; that a saintly priest can change the whole character of his parish. For scattering power is even more true of good than of evil.
Some of that scattering of good is undoubtedly necessary; but not all of it for, after all, we do have beggars. We can give a dime away now and then and we hardly believe ourselves more generous than God. While it is undoubtedly true that God does not have to diffuse His goodness beyond the ineffable confines of the Trinity, what is more natural, more perfectly becoming, than that infinite Goodness should scatter itself? Creation is a statement of the efficient diffusion of that goodness; the life of sanctifying grace, a non-substantial participation of the divine life itself, is a declaration of the divine eagerness to share goodness, an eagerness impatient of the limits of nature; the highest diffusion of the highest Good is found in the personal and substantial union of God to human nature.
If our notion of generosity were not the finite thing it must always be, we might have said that we could have expected something like this from God — with the comforting privilege of saying “I told you so.” In solid truth, only God could have had such an expectation. Always if we are seeing the truth we are overpowered by the goodness showered upon us.
From the end of the Incarnation — the redemption of men:
The price of our ransom
The inherent beauty and goodness of the Incarnation, the divine vistas it opened up, the supreme dignity it conferred on our fallen nature add up to a total of such charm as even to sweep some theologians off their feet. They decided that the Incarnation would have taken place if Adam had never sinned. Thomas yielded to no man in his recognition of the charm of the Incarnation; but he was a hard man to sweep off his feet, intellectually as well as physically. He had the irritating habit of keeping his feet solidly on the ground even when he was peering into the high things of Good. In this matter, he could see no room for conjecture. A truth such the Incarnation can be known only by revelation; and revelation assigns one definite motive for the Incarnation, namely, the redemption of man and the destruction of sin. He agrees with Augustine in his joyous phrase: “O happy fault,” the fault of Adam that merited such a redeemer.
His hard-headed denial that the Incarnation would have taken place in any case has seemed like a dash of cold water thrown on the romance of the Incarnation. In fact, it has been a dash of cold water, clearing our eyes and our heads; not at all a damaging thing when we are looking at the truth. Romance built on anything less than the truth is a pitiful thing, doomed from the start to shattering disillusionment; there is nothing pitiful nor disillusioning about the Incarnation. In reality, Thomas’s opinion gives a more profound insight into the wonders of a divine wisdom that could make the sin of Adam work to such good. It does not decrease, it recognizes the sublimity of the romance of the Incarnation.
Inducement to good
With the purpose of the Incarnation, the redemption of men, clearly in mind, the full perfection of the Incarnation as a fitting means is not hard to see. How better can man be redeemed than by moving him to good and restraining him from evil? And how can man be moved to good more effectively than by the divine virtues of faith, hope, and charity, by the solid steps of good works, by positively sharing in divinity?
Of course the worried father, looking into the very eyes of Christ, would find it not too difficult to say: “I believe, Lord, help thou my unbelief.” It is not hard to understand the hope and courage of the woman suffering from an issue of blood as she crept up behind Christ to touch the hem of His garment, the garment of the Son of God at that very instant on His way to raise the daughter of Jairus to life. The love of Magdalen, great as it was as she followed her Master up and down Palestine, was nothing compared to the love awakened in her heart by the three hours on Calvary. It is hard to resist a love as impetuous as that of Mary’s Son. There is no easier, more effective way of engendering faith than by seeing, talking, living with the Son of God. There is no deeper root for hope than the evidence of His eagerness to help.
As for good works, how could they be made easier for us than to have Christ Himself mark out with His own tired fed the steps we are to follow. The road from Bethlehem to Calvary is not nearly so hard, as long as we can put our arm upon His; we may even find the courage to stop in the midst of our agony for a word of comfort and a gesture of help to others before we plod stubbornly on. This was the example Christ left; an example that was taken up joyously by all of the saints who crowd the corridors of heaven
The final inducement to good was the share we were given in divinity. Now our nature shares substantially in that divinity by the Incarnation, until, in heaven, we personally and individually will share in that divinity by the vision made possible through the grace of Christ.
Restraint from evil
A man is not restrained from evil because he is thrown behind bars or tied hand and foot. Give him some self-respect by showing him he can fight evil, give him the truth that he might see what has to be fought, and set him free to fight — then, indeed, he has been restrained from evil. That is what Christ did for us in the Incarnation. He humiliated the satanic master before the very eyes of his slaves; He gave new dignity to a nature that had crashed from supreme heights. He protected us from the error of presumption, showing us that it was by His grace and His sufferings that we were saved; from the error of pride by opening our eyes to the humility of God. Finally, the supreme gift of freedom was bought by the ransom that set us free from the slavery of the devil.
In one sense, this Incarnation of the Son of God is more than beautifully fitting: it is absolutely necessary for a complete satisfaction in strict justice. God in His divinity could not suffer for sin; man as an individual could not redeem a whole race, let alone pay an infinite price. It was absolutely necessary that some nature capable of suffering and merit should be assumed by a person whose life had infinite value. Only this, through the justice of God, could perfectly and completely satisfy for man’s offenses.
From the time of the Incarnation
God knows men; and nowhere is this more evident than in the timing of the Incarnation. A child at his home-work, if helped too soon, may resent the help, confident of his own abilities; he may take the help too lightly, or depend on it so much that he will put forth no efforts of his own. Man, who is always a child, also needs time to accept help: time to admit the humiliating knowledge of his own defects; time to see how much of truth he could lose; time to perceive how much of virtue would die out even with the help of the Old Testament; time, in other words, to be ready to accept the help that only God could offer. He needed time, too, to prepare to welcome a Savior of such dignity. Yet he could not have too much time, lest his faith become sluggish. Indeed, if the Incarnation were put off till the end of the world, man, with his capacity for getting used to anything, might well get used to the depths in which he would by that time be wallowing. Look what happened to knowledge, to reverence of God, to moral life, in the actual time elapsing between the fall of Adam and the actual coming of Christ.
God was not too late or too early in the help He brought to men. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity was made man in the fullness of time, at just the right time, a time that gives the faith of men its full scope, embracing a faith of the future for the ages past, a faith of the present for the contemporaries of Christ, and a faith of the past for all of us who would come after Him.
Thus far we have seen the fact of the Incarnation, the credibility of that fact, its beautiful fittingness; but, as yet, we have done no more than glance at the mystery itself. The technique is something like that of a man faced with a task of which he is a little afraid. He will clear off the desk, arrange his correspondence, attend to odd jobs that have been neglected for months, working all around the principal task while he tries to keep his eyes averted from it. Eventually he runs out of excuses and has to get down to work. It is time that we got down to work at the mystery of the Incarnation, scrutinizing the very heart of it — the hypostatic union itself.
The hypostatic union:
Elements of the union: Distinction of nature and person
We have the material of this mystery stated clearly in revelation: a divine nature, a human nature, and a divine Person. This divine Person, at one and the same time, exists in two natures, being His divine nature while having His human nature. Yet there is only one Person involved. This extremely bald statement of the mystery brings home the necessity of our fully grasping the notion of person and that of nature, along with their difference.
A philosopher would meet this difficulty by saying that a person is the responsible agent while a nature is that by which this agent acts; but this is little help to anyone but the contented philosopher. It becomes clearer when we notice that it is John Jones who talks, laughs, enjoys poetry and makes mistakes; and that he does all these things because he is human, because he has human nature. The proud young father peering through the glass walls of the hospital nursery runs smack into the whole truth when he admits his complete conviction that all the babies are human but he hasn’t the slightest idea who is who.
There is no difficulty in seeing the difference between nature and person; after all, every man has the same human nature, but every man is a different person. The difficulty comes in trying to snare this difference with the frail lariat of words. Perhaps the closest we can come to it is in insisting on the non-exclusive character of nature and the decidedly non-communicable character of person. Nature, then, is not a perfect unity, it does not forbid communication; while the personal note establishes complete unity that makes this person distinct from everything else in the universe, a thoroughly completed substance, capable of rights and duties. Once that personal note is present, this nature can act; the acts are acts of this person, they can be attributed to absolutely no one else in the universe.
In the case of the hypostatic union, we have a human nature and a divine nature. The divine personality constituting a divine person is there; but the human personality which would constitute a human person is not there. This human nature is personalized by a divine personality. In this union, then, there is no human person; only the Person of the Son of God. The union is not a union of nature to nature; human and divine nature are not tied to each other directly but in the personality of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. The same Person is the subject of the actions which proceed from both the divine and the human nature. It was Christ Who was hungry, Who was thirsty, Who was sorrowful; it was that same Christ Who forgave sins, Who raised the dead, Who founded the Church.
The notion that nature is united to nature in this mystery is not only heresy, it is an insult to intelligence. It would mean that the human and the divine nature were tossed together like a heap of stones, i.e., they were not really united but rather stood side by side. The result, of course, would not be one person but two, Christ would never have existed. Such a union might mean that the divine nature and the human were fused together like hydrogen and oxygen into a mysterious third thing that would be neither God nor man. If such a union is taken to mean that the divine and human natures, incomplete themselves, somehow complete each other as body and soul complete each other to form human nature, the result is just as absurd. For the outcome of this union would be neither God nor man, while the process itself would involve the absurd error of an imperfect God completed and perfected by a defective human nature.
No, this union was not of nature to nature; it was a personal union. Not a simple personal union in which the person is the result of the union of incomplete substances such as the body and soul in man. Here, in this mystery, the union is a personal, substantial one in which the person is not caused by the union but rather pre-exists it. In this unique personal union, with its unique title of “hypostatic,” the two substances brought together, human and divine nature, are both complete and the person pre-exists the union. The difference between union of this kind and the personal union out of which the human person emerges can be made quite clear by a momentary consideration of the dissolution of this latter union. When a man dies, the union of body and soul is dissolved. Since a person originally resulted from that union, with its dissolution, the person no longer exists: the soul of John Smith may be in heaven, but not John Smith; in fact, John Smith isn’t anywhere until after the resurrection when body and soul are reunited. When Christ died on the Cross, there was the same separation of body and soul through the destruction of human nature; but the Person, the Divine Person Who had pre-existed the union with human nature, continued to exist.
In this unique way of hypostatic union the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became incarnate. That is a solemn truth of faith. The divine Person, then, is the sole responsible agent in the whole life of Christ. It was the Second Person of the Trinity who was born, grew, suffered, died; and it’s precisely here that we find the secret of the infinite worth of the smallest acts of the Son of Mary.
It was not necessary to wait for our time to uncover the objection that the doctrine of the Incarnation adds something to God: before the Incarnation He was not man; afterwards, He was. This is exactly the same difficulty we faced in the first volume of this work in dealing with creation. Indeed, it is the fundamental difficulty found in all the relations between God and His creatures; and it is precisely in the nature of relation that we find the answer. Fundamentally, of course, the answer is that divine action perfects others but does not add perfection to an already infinitely perfect God.
Our mind being what it is, we prefer to take answers apart and examine every smallest detail of them. Pondering this matter of relation, then, we see that it is no more than the order of one thing to another, always dependent on its two terms. When a pillar, for example, is seen by a tourist, there is a relation set up between the two; something quite impossible without both the pillar and the tourist. The same is true of the relation established when the earth is heated by the sun, or when human nature is assumed by the Word of God. Do we say that something was added to the pillar by the fact that it was seen by the tourist? Or to the sun because the earth was heated by it? Of course not. Nor do we say that something was added to the Word of God through the union to human nature.
Rather, there was something very definitely added to the tourist, to the earth, and to human nature. The difference between the two is that on one side there is a real relation — the side of the tourist, of the earth, of human nature; on the other — that of the pillar, of the sun, of the Word of God, there is only a relation of reason. The rule of thumb by which we can distinguish one from the other is this: where dependence is found, there is a real relation; where there is no dependence, there is a relation of reason.
Perhaps all this will not seem so overpowering if we leave the world of facts for the world of possibility. After all, a huge man does not look nearly so big standing next to a man who is still bigger; an enemy does not seem nearly so deadly if, just beyond him, is an even more deadly enemy. Perhaps the hypostatic union will not seem so intellectually frightening if we look at some of the hypostatic unions that might have been.
Varieties of union
From the very fact that one of the divine Persons did assume a created nature, it is clear that any one of the divine Three can do the same. Even without this confirmation of fact, the truth is dear merely from a consideration of divine Personality. What this involves is the ability to place an act of assuming that nature and the power to complete that nature. The question really boils down to a query as to whether or not a divine Person can do directly, through His divine nature and the infinite perfection of His divine personality, what is ordinarily the work of secondary causes. Certainly a divine Person can assume a created nature, any divine Person; for any divine Person is omnipotent and each divine Person is infinite personality.
Properties of the hypostatic union
Could divine nature assume a created nature? Certainly this is not the proper work of nature, for it will give the last note of incommunicability while the divine nature itself is in fact communicated to all Three Persons. This is rather the work of personality in the full philosophical sense of the term. Looking at it from another angle, nature is the root of action but never the immediate responsible agent. By reason of His divine nature, the Son of God worked miracles but it was the Son, not the nature, Who did so; by reason of His human nature, the same Person could suffer and die, but it was the Person, not the nature, that suffered. The divine nature, then, cannot properly be the first and immediate agent in the assuming of any created nature; it must always remain the radical, not the immediate, principle of action.
Can one divine Person assume a created nature, excluding the other two Persons? If we remember that the assumption of a created nature implies the act of assuming and the completing or perfecting of the nature assumed, the answer to this question is not difficult. The principle of the action of assuming is the divine nature which is common to all Three Persons; in this, no one Person can act alone since it is precisely because of the numerically common nature that all the works of God external to the Trinity are common works. But from the angle of the completion of a created nature, a work proper to personality, not nature, the infinite personality of any one divine Person is more than adequate. This is, in fact, the precise story of the procedure of God in the Incarnation.
The Person and the union: Relation of the union to the three Persons of the Trinity
Pushing this world of possibilities still farther, could a divine Person assume two, three, four, five, a dozen created natures? Or, on the other hand, could one, or two, or three divine Persons be incarnated in the same created nature? All this may seem a little absurd, but it is not absurd. It is some little evidence of the tremendous power of that divine Personality and the mystery of the identically one common nature of the Three Persons.
The condition of the divine Persons does not exclude community of nature but only community of persons; They do in actual fact all possess the same divine nature. It is, then, quite possible for two or three of the divine Persons to be incarnated in the same created nature; in such a case, They would then possess a human nature in common as They now possess a divine nature in common.
As to the other question of a multiplicity of created natures assumed by one Person, there is no difficulty if we remember that the assumption of a created nature is possible because of the omnipotence of the divine nature and the infinite character of divine personality. To ask whether a half dozen or a dozen created natures could be assumed by one Person is simply to ask if there is a limit to the omnipotence of God and to the wide sweep of divine Personality. The answer is obvious. The Son of God could have assumed a dozen human natures.
Its relation to the Second Person
It could have been otherwise. But it was most fitting that the Son, of all the three Persons, take created nature and that that created nature be a human nature. The Son of God, as the eternal concept of God, is, in a sense, the exemplar of all creatures. Just as by participation of this exemplar things are constituted in their proper species, so through a union, not participated but substantial, of this Word to human nature, men are restored in order to an eternal and unchanging perfection. We might say that the Word of God is like the architect’s plan of a house: it is by that plan that the house is built in the first place; and it is by that plan, participating in it, that the house is to be restored once it has collapsed.
The modern world and the Incarnation: Reason and the mystery
There is, too, the fact that the Word of God is the concept of eternal wisdom through which all the wisdom of men is derived. Man is perfected in wisdom by the participation of the Word, as the disciples are perfected by participation of the word of their master. For the consummate perfection of this nature of ours, then, we must have a personal union with the Word of God. It is eminently fitting, to see the thing from another angle, that men who are to be the adopted sons of God should participate through the natural Son of God in the similitude of that sonship. Again, as the first man sinned, desiring inordinate knowledge of things which should not be known, so through the Word of true wisdom, through this gift of true knowledge, can man be led back to God.
A contrast with early errors
There is reason enough for the Incarnation to leave the mind of man staggered. It does. It always has and it always will. Precisely because it is a mystery far surpassing the powers of the human mind, there has been open rebellion against this truth. In the beginning of the Church, these rebellions were gigantic; solid, thumping errors were made on an intellectual basis, errors that demanded the fine, sharp thinking of great minds to detect their fallacy, to show that there is no contradiction in the Son of God becoming man. In those first centuries, the possibilities of error were exhausted and the errors were met. Since that time, there has been a steady decline of intellectual opposition to the Incarnation. From then on, attacks on the Incarnation were really pot-shots taken with air-rifles against an impregnable fort.
In the Reformation there was a definite loss of the intellectual content of faith; indeed, faith itself was reduced to a kind of trust, confidence, a thing of the appetite. More and more, since then, Christianity outside the Church has been an easy victim of rationalistic attack. In fact, in our day that Christianity is succumbing to a scholarship that has been discredited for a generation. This Christianity has adopted a program of compromise with “progress” because it has no weapons of the intellect with which to fight. It is not surprising, then, that today, outside the Church, it is quite the ordinary thing to consider Christ as merely a man. Undoubtedly there is in this a certain shamefacedness about the supernatural; here and there, there is an open denial of the supernatural; increasingly there is a denial, not only of the divinity of Christ, but of all divinity.
The missing foundations
Today the Incarnation will gradually slip further out of the minds of men. Our world cannot accept the Incarnation because it lacks the ingredients of that Incarnation. It does not know what God is, or, indeed, if He is at all; and God plays a very important part in the Incarnation. Even less, perhaps, is known about man when we doubt his spiritual soul, intellectual powers, free will, his beginning and his goal. Under these circumstances, to accept the Incarnation is to accept the union of unknown things to no purpose whatsoever.
It might even be that we are barred from the future knowledge of the Incarnation by our modern rejection of the mysterious. That the barrier of rejection of the mysterious is beginning to break down is one hopeful sign of our times. Perhaps when its crumbling has progressed enough, we may yet know something of man, something of God, and, through the gracious kindness of God, something of the Incarnation. Certainly men are stirring to impatience at a dreamless world. Perhaps mysteries will give them back the stuff of dreams, restoring the far horizons of humanity. At the moment, our world is far indeed from the supreme and realized dream of God made man. So far that only the wisdom of God can envisage the time or manner of its return.
The Christian world and the Incarnation: The word was made flesh; Mary’s realization
There is a chasm indeed between this world and the Christian world. In the Christian world, the Word, the Son of God, was made flesh. A girl of fifteen or sixteen welcomes Him into herself. Hers is the first human heart to thrill at the proof of love given in the exaltation of fallen nature and the humiliation of God. She was the first to stand aghast, yet believing, at the lengths to which God would go. She was the first to recognize the kinship of Christ, our Brother, and to feel something of the serenity, the courage, the inspiration, and recklessly responding love awakened by the presence of that divine Companion Who was man. She was the first to carry the incredible tale the length of the land.
And dwelt amongst us; the Apostles’ realization
To the Christian world, the Word was not only made flesh; He dwelt amongst us. Twelve ignorant men entered into His life, ate, walked, slept with Him, sat under the stars and listened to His sublime doctrines, watched His agony, were witnesses of His Resurrection and Ascension, and, eventually, they understood that God, personally, had come to mark out the path men must travel, given authentic example of how men must love and work and sacrifice and forgive, suffer and die. Eventually, too, they took to the path, laboriously putting their feet down in the footprints He had left for them, and after them have come a host of men and women for two thousand years, treading the same path, under the same guidance, inspired by the same help, and to the same goal. At the core of their splendid lives was this fundamental truth that God became man, as it was at the core of their religion, as it is at the core of the world. For them a dream has been realized.
That dream is a star leading men to the secret meaning of the world, the charging steed upon which they crash through all the barriers of self, of society, of nature, to the realization of that other incredible dream, the dream of seeing God face to face.