Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Christ Unites Himself With Each Man - What Does That Mean?

I know what some of my readers are thinking.  "Kevin, aren't you done with the Francis interview stuff?  Have you suddenly morphed into a "neo-catholic papal apologist?"  I don't have much sympathy for a lot of the "papal defenders."  A lot of their statements really fall short, and they are just as guilty of trying to read Francis through their own ideological prisms as they accuse others of doing.  I try to do my best to let the man speak for himself, and then look back within our rich tradition, and see if there's anything to what he says.

Louie Verrecchio is feeling down in the dumps about how he isn't getting the writing opportunities he used to.  I'll give him a link, but only as an example of how not to do things.  He writes:

So, now that we can stop wondering whether or not this is the case, will the CPAs kindly offer a plausible explanation as to how one is to understand in a truly Catholic sense the novel notion of the Incarnation being intended to “infuse the feeling of brotherhood in men’s souls,” or any number of other items on the growing list of Papa’s humanist proclamations? (Operative word, plausible.)
Given the presence of the weasel word plausible, I'm well aware that no explanation anyone gives will ever match his predisposition to view the Pope preaching a false Gospel.  Yet for those who actually want an answer to the question:  it is very simple to present this in a truly Catholic sense.  It's Christology 101.

That's right sports fans.  Today we are going to give a basic primer on the Incarnation.  To do so, let's take a trip throughout salvation history.  After the flood wipes out most of the earth, the Bible reminds us that "the earth was of one tongue, and of the same speech."  Another way of saying this is that man was united under one tribe as descendants of Noah.  (Genesis 11:1)  They took advantage of this unity by doing what men during that time always did:  try to find creative ways to disobey and doubt God.  They decide to build a tower that stretches to the heavens so they can "make a name" for themselves.  They wanted to prove to everyone it was possible to bring about a utopia without God.  (Genesis 11:4-6)  To prevent that from happening, God confuses the speech of the men, causing them to fracture in unity and go their separate ways.  (7-8)  Nations form, wars are begun, geopolitics begins.  Over the next several thousand years, empires come and empires go, all attempting to recreate the original unity men had after the flood.

One of the ways in which tribes, cities and nations began to splinter was they began to worship their own gods. These were relatively speaking weak gods, either of a particular region or a particular force in the earth.  (water, wind, storms, etc.)  The world was divided not just by location and tongue, but worship as well.  This is the environment into which Christ comes.

What made Christ so unique in the ancient world is not that he was a Messianic figure.  Messianic figures were pretty common in all religions.  No religion had the idea that the eternal God would become flesh on earth and die on a cross.  In becoming flesh on the earth, God didn't come to the Earth as a Jew, even though he was born in Israel belonging to a certain tribe.  His coming was a message of joy for all "men of good will."  (Luke 2:14)  Why was this message for all men of good will, and not just of a certain tribe or nation?  St. Athanasius the Great gives profound insight when he says the following:

For if it were absurd for Him to have been in a body at all, it would be absurd for Him to be united with the whole either, and to be giving light and movement to all things by His providence. For the whole also is a body.  But if it beseems Him to unite Himself with the universe, and to be made known in the whole, it must beseem Him also to appear in a human body, and that by Him it should be illumined and work. For mankind is part of the whole as well as the rest. And if it be unseemly for a part to have been adopted as His instrument to teach men of His Godhead, it must be most absurd that He should be made known even by the whole universe. (On the Incarnation of the Word, 41)
Elsewhere (paragraph 20) he says:

The body, then, as sharing the same nature with all, for it was a human body, though by an unparalleled miracle it was formed of a virgin only, yet being mortal, was to die also, conformably to its peers. But by virtue of the union of the Word with it, it was no longer subject to corruption according to its own nature, but by reason of the Word that had come to dwell in it it was placed out of the reach of corruption.  And so it was that two marvels came to pass at once, that the death of all was accomplished in the Lord's body, and that death and corruption were wholly done away by reason of the Word that was united with it. For there was need of death, and death must needs be suffered on behalf of all, that the debt owing from all might be paid.
In the Incarnation, God united himself with every man because every man needed salvation, and so that all men should be directed by His providence.   Through His death on the Holy Cross, Christ is given a name "greater than any other name" so that at the name of Jesus "every name should bow, whether on heaven, on earth, and under the earth."  Even demons are forced to acknowledge who Christ is.  (Mark 1:24)  This kingship extends across national boundaries here on earth, reminding everyone that their true Sovereign is not on this earth. 

We see this universalism in the book of Acts, where all men (not just Israelites!) gathered in Jerusalem.  "Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, Egypt, and the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews also, and proselytes, Cretes, and Arabians" all heard the Gospel preached in their own language.  (Acts 2:9-11)  When the first converts joined the Church, they were Jews from every nation.  Shortly after, Gentiles are also received into the Church, and Christianity becomes a truly universal religion.  (Acts 10:35)

This understanding has deep implications for the missionary activity of the Church.  When the pagan nations were conquered, this was used to bring all people out of their specific nation and tribe and into the universal (catholic) Church.  No matter what nation you lived in, you belonged to one faith and one baptism, the same Eucharist and the same sacraments, no matter how they were expressed.  From this understanding developed the doctrine of the Kingship of Christ.  Sadly, most of those only talk about Christ the King when it comes to establishing political orders in earthly society, while forgetting the supremacy of Christ extends to not just nation states, but individuals as well, and is primarily an eternal Kingdom.

So when Christ "establishes a sense of brotherhood" in the Incarnation, he is calling men out of their tribes and nations of this world into one body of Christ.  He is calling us to put aside the divisions of this world, and embrace the unity of truth.  This is Christology 101 and one of the foundational premises of the Gospel.  If you deny it (as Mr. Verrechio seems to do), it becomes very tough to continue calling yourself a Christian, much less a member of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Many will complain "but Kevin, why on earth did you have to spend 1300 words to describe one sentence of the Pope?  This proves how desperate you are to insert words into his mouth, unable to spin away the fact he is not promoting Christ, but a humanist Gospel of man."  If I respond "St. Paul says the same thing in Galatians 3:28, Romans 10:12, and Colossians 3:11" people will complain that I'm not giving a serious response.  For those who continue to object, all I can say is this:  Just because you don't like an answer and can't be bothered to do your homework, doesn't mean it is modernist or humanist.

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