Humanity and the Incarnation (part two)

Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise

Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise

The western Christian churches, following the example of Augustine of Hippo, generally begin their understanding of humanity with the fall. If humanity is defined by the fall, then we end up with the concept of original sin, and the guilt of Adam’s sin which is inherited by all of humanity. However, what if humanity is not defined by the fall, but by the creation? What then of Adam’s sin and it’s impact upon humanity?

Humanity was created in the image and likeness of God and, after the creation of humanity (both man and woman together), God announces that the entire creation is now “very good”. Humanity is the capstone of God’s creation. The relationship between the husband and wife, who become “one flesh”, is a similitude of the inner life of the Trinity. We are made for communion with each other, and with God. Moreover, like the animals, man is material; like the angels, man is immaterial. In this manner humanity was meant to be the bridge between the corporeal and the incorporeal. Humanity is the priest of creation, uniting the whole of creation and offering it back to God.

St. Irenaeus of Lyon writes:

For the glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God. For if the manifestation of God which is made by means of the creation, affords life to all living in the earth, much more does that revelation of the Father which comes through the Word, give life to those who see God (Against Heresies, Book 4, 20:7). 

Mankind fell: the great deceiver tricked Eve, but Adam sinned willfully — which is why after the fall we are all “in Adam”, and in Adam all die. Both Adam and Eve turned from beholding God, the giver of life, and chose the material world instead, along with all that the material world, apart from the life of God, affords. Lacking the wisdom of God, they chose sin, death, and the devil.

And yet that is not the whole of the story. We must examine the account of the creation and fall very carefully, for it is not true that God cursed humanity. Examining the accounts closely, we see God curse the serpent, yet we merely see God describing the effects of the fall upon humanity and the material world.  Thus it is untrue that God decreed that the woman be subservient to the man; that is merely a side effect of the fall. And we see no mention in the Genesis accounts of original sin, or of the Calvinist doctrine of Total Depravity. We see nothing of God’s wrath against Adam and Eve, but instead his providential care for them — both in His clothing them in the skins of animals, and in his promise of a redeemer who will wound the serpent’s head.

The first promise of the redeemer (which in theological terms is called the Protoevangelium, or first Gospel), contains no hint of any substitutionary atonement, no hint of an infinitely offended God defending His honor, or Hisdivine law. Instead, we see the overturning of the curse, and the victory over sin, death, and the devil. And how was this accomplished? Through the birth of the Christ, conceived by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, through whom He became man.

Our Lord was like us in every way. He is consanguineous with us, just as we are consanguineous with each other. Since He is of one blood with us, if we bear the guilt of Adam’s sin, so too did He. And yet He was free from the guilt of Original Sin, for Adam’s guilt is his own. We all bear the guilt of our own sins, and not the sins of another. We bear the burden of Ancestral Sin; our common humanity is infected by sin. As the author of Hebrews says, He “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15).

The point of the Incarnation is not that that the Son of God came to suffer and die the infinite penalty for our sins, but that He came to suffer with us, and die like us, so that He could win the victory over sin, death, and the devil, restoring humanity to its original purpose. The Christ put us back on our original path; once again we are called to be priests of creation, offering the entirety of God’s creation back to Him.


Humanity and the Incarnation

Christ in Glory

Christ in Glory

Most of us misunderstand the Incarnation, because we have a faulty understanding of humanity, of what it means to be human. When we misunderstand the meaning of humanity, we don’t know what it means for God to become not only of us, but consubstantial with us according to His humanity, while remaining consubstantial with the Father and the Holy Spirit according to his divinity.

Archimandrite Justin Popovich, in a Christmas sermon entitled “Perfect God and Perfect Man”, writes of the Incarnation.

God is born on earth, and moreover He is born as a man: perfect God and perfect man–the unique God-man. And He has forever remained as the God-man both on earth and in heaven. Indeed, the God-man is the first perfect man on earth. Perfect man? Yes, because only in the God-man is man without sin, without evil, without death, totally filled with God, and thereby with all divine perfections.

 The God-man has demonstrated and proved this most convincingly: man is only a true man when he is completely united with God, and in everything and every way completely lives in God, thinks in God, feels in God, acts in God, is virtuous in God, is immortal in God, is eternal in God. Only and solely in God is man a man, a true man, a perfect man, a man in whom all the fullness of the Godhead lives.

For what purpose did God take upon himself the form of a servant? For what reason was He made in the likeness of our humanity? If we accept the western idea of substitutionary atonement, then God need not be consubstantial with us. In fact, the western idea of original sin, and the necessity that Christ be born without the guilt of original sin, means that the Christ could not have been “touched with the feeling of our infirmities”, nor could He have been “in all points tempted like as we are” (Heb 4:15). If humanity is contaminated by Original Sin, and if the Christ was born without Original Sin, then the humanity of Christ was something other than our humanity, and therefore Christ cannot be consubstantial with us according to His humanity.

Gregory of Nazianzus, in his Epistle 101 against the Apollinarians, describes the problem for us.

For that which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved. If only half Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of Him that was begotten, and so be saved as a whole.

Do you see the problem? If Christ was not fully one of us, if He did not assume the entirety of our human nature, then Christ’s work on the cross was for nothing, and we are still in our sins.

(To be continued)

Why Humans Matter

An image of the cover for "The Lost World of Genesis One"

The Lost World of Genesis One

Embedded in the book “Why Mary Matters” is a long section on theological anthropology, or what it means to be human (Part III: Cosmology and Anthropology). Shortly after releasing the book I came across the book “The Lost World of Genesis One” by John H. Walton, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College. This book is unique in that it looks at Genesis using the figurative literal, grammatical/historical hermeneutic so beloved by fundamentalists and evangelicals, and comes up with conclusions that are remarkably similar to those taught by the church fathers.

Of particular interest, because it fits so well with “Why Mary Matters”, is John Walton’s description of the creation of humans on the sixth day. He has already spent a great deal of time developing the idea that the Creation accounts in Genesis are functional rather than material, based on his understanding of ancient near eastern cosmology and world view. Regarding humanity, he writes:

“The difference when we get to the creation of people is that even as they function to populate the world (like fish, birds and animals), they also have a function relative to the rest of God’s creatures, to subdue and rule. Not only that, but they have a function relative to God as they are in his image. They also have a function relative to each other as they are designated male and female. All these show the functional orientation with no reference to the material at all. …All of the rest of creation functions in relationship to humankind, and humankind serves the rest of creation and God’s vice regent.”

What John Walton misses is that humans were created to be the priests of creation, to offer it up to God. This is likely because he, like most Protestants, is not sacramental himself, and so misses the sacramental elements in Sacred Scripture. Still, Walton does notice that the Genesis accounts are functional, in that they describe the building of God’s temple; when His temple was complete, he rested. However, resting doesn’t mean lazing about, but it means that God took up His rightful place  in His temple, and began His rightful work of engaging with His creation. Walton describes humans being God’s “vice-regents”, when it would better suit his thesis if humanity were the priests of God’s temple.

I highly recommend John Walton’s book to anyone interesting in the origins debate. Walton provides a way to understand the creation accounts that should be palatable to the evangelical, and perhaps the fundamentalist, as it does not violate any of their principles of interpretation. Yet this way does not dictate any particular view regarding the creation of the material world, as that is not what the author of the text is concerned with.

Why do humans matter? Because they were created in the image and likeness of God to serve as priests in God’s temple. Why does Mary matter? Because she was the one through whom the Son of God was born after the flesh, so that He might conquer sin, death, and the devil, restoring us to our position as priests of His creation.