Why God became man? An answer from the Church Fathers, by Catholica Romana
Irenæus: Why Verbum caro factum est?
In Irenæus Against Heresies, Book V, Irenæus says that the Word had to become flesh, “for in no other way could we have learned the things of God, unless our Master, existing as the Word, had become man.” (The Writings of the Fathers 526) In order that we physically hear the Word, we must hear it from another human, and this makes logical sense. In order for our redemption, He gave His soul for our souls and His flesh for our flesh. God was incarnate so that we might be in communion with His immortality
Irenæus argues that Jesus could not have been a mere appearance. If this were the case, the Spirit could not have rested upon Him and He would have received nothing from the Blessed Virgin Mary and had no real flesh. Valentinus argues that this was the case and the flesh was not saved. This belief is erroneous because it assumes that God fashioned our bodies ever since Adam to be cast away rather than used for good. Irenæus makes a beautiful analogy of the mingling of the Chalice with water and wine by saying, regarding the Ebionites who errored on their beliefs of Christ’s divinity, “therefore do these men reject the commixture of the heavenly wine.” (527) This analogy demonstrates how the True liturgy literally mixes water with the wine to consecrate into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ, which shows His human and divine natures (water and wine) yet being only a Divine Person (Consecrated Blood) compared to the Ebionite liturgy which only attempted to consecrate water.
In Adam we are dead, but just as God gives us the Breath of Life, He gives us the literal Body and Blood of Christ to unite ourselves with in order that we may be alive in the spirit. We are dead in the substance of Adam, yet the substance of this world, that is, the bread, is changed through Transubstantiation, to the Divine Body of Christ, which remains still in Earthly accidents. Irenæus argues that because Adam fell, another living man, Christ that is, must be formed by God so that His image and likeness are in men once again by taking back His possession of mankind, which was always His.
Irenæus says that those who believe that God did not become flesh, et habitavit in nobis, if you will, are vein because the Mass would be false if it were not His true Body and Blood, that of which can only come from physical veins and flesh! Therefore He must have been flesh. Irenæus quotes Saint Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, that, “we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.” (528) We are not only members of His literal Body by receiving the Eucharist, but we are also in the Church as His spiritual Body, where He is the head! Irenæus says that a spiritual body has no flesh and blood, therefore Christ must have been literal here. Irenæus speaks about how a vine from the ground is cut and how wheat falls to the earth and while decomposing, it rises, Jesus gives us His Body and Blood in the accidents of wine and bread so that when we die, we can decompose in the ground and will rise at the appointed time during the Resurrection of the Bodies, where we obtain mortal immortality and corruptible incorruption. Strength is made in weakness, therefore the strength power of God shines through the weakness of the flesh to conquer it by the Word becoming Flesh.
Jesus: the Mediator and the Sacrifice Who obtains Eternal Life for Mortals
In The City of God, Books IX and X, St. Augustine argues that in order for man to be blessed, he must be immortal, for while men are mortal, they are miserable. This makes sense because the mortal flesh is subject to sin and death, therefore ultimately resulting in misery, and although some achieve wisdom at the end of their lives, they are still subject to eternal death. The only way for men to become blessed immortals is for a mediator who is a blessed mortal to intervene and lead men out of their mortal misery.
Augustine says that in order to accomplish this, the mediator, “must neither fail to become mortal nor remain mortal (City of God, 377).” A blessed immortal such as an angel fails to become mortal with his own power, therefore he fails to become the necessary Mediator. God is that Mediator and He raised His flesh from the dead by no longer being subject to eternal death even in the flesh so that all can experience eternal life. God resembled mortals by taking on literal flesh, but translated them into immortals by conquering it with resurrection. Augustine argues that good angels are immortal and blessed and wicked angels are immortal and miserable, but only God could be blessed and mortal due to His omnipotence. By being mortal and blessed, Christ can use the same power that made His flesh immortal on the rest of mankind to make them have eternal life. Augustine makes very good arguments here, however he begins by saying how the mediator will accomplish the task rather than why a mediator is even needed in the first place. Augustine discusses the latter in Book X rather than Book IX.
Augustine says that, “a mediator is indeed needed… who is united with us in our lowest estate by bodily mortality, yet… always remains on high (382).” This seems like an impossible paradox, yet it is made possible because an omnipotent God could do both. Augustine argues that a sacrifice is needed with the Mediator. In fact, he argues that the sacrifice is the Mediator! This can seem rather foolish, but logically it is the only way. He says that Jesus is not only the High Priest offering the sacrifice, but that He is the sacrifice which is offered. Sin is evil and the flesh is not. Jesus shows that the flesh can remain sinless and become transformed with the power of the Resurrection into something better. Augustine states that God sacrificed Himself in order to show that no sacrifice we could ever do should be for any other creature. The Church is the body of Christ, therefore She can offer Herself through Him. This is very logical. The greatest sacrifice anyone can make for a cause is his own life, which is essentially his body. Jesus further shows this by sacrificing His Body in a literal way. He is the head and the Church is His Body. God sacrificed His Body so that we as the Church, His symbolic body, can sacrifice ourselves and continue to re-present His sacrifice in a non-bloody way. If we, as the body of Christ, desire to sacrifice ourselves, we can re-present the literal body of Christ in order to utilize the mediator which obtains for us eternal life. This is the Sacrifice of the Mass! We, the Church, as the symbolic body of Christ, literally receive His body into ours with the Eucharist. This is the ultimate sacrifice that gives us salvation.
Cvr Devs Homo and the Debt we owe
In Saint Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo, in the book Anselm of Canterbury The Major Works, published by Oxford University Press, the question as to why God became man is dealt with. In this work, a man by the name of Boso is asking Anselm questions beginning with why the mode of salvation God chose through Jesus was the necessary mode of salvation, for God simply could have willed it. Saint Anselm uses the concept of a debt. He says to Boso that this debt is, “All the will of a rational creature ought to be subject to the will of God…the complete honor, which we owe to God…” (Anselm of Canterbury The Major Works 283) By dishonoring God and sinning, we do not detract any honor from Him, for He has infinite honor, but rather we take away our own blessedness that He created for us. We are essentially taking away our love and obedience from Him, that we owe to Him through the very nature of our creation. I have discussed with Eastern Christians over this atonement theology and they seem to have an issue with the concept of this “debt”. I believe that this debt, which is the honor and glory we owe to God is logical and true.
Due to the nature and omnipotence of God, offending Him is the highest offense we mere humans could ever do. Any sin, even the smallest offense towards God is impossible to pay full reparation for. For, as Anselm argues, God is the only one who can pay this debt, or reparation. Through Adam and Eve, we have lost our blessedness and are now cast out of paradise and subject to the flesh and an inclination towards sin. In order to get this back, man must pay for it. Man cannot pay this, for only God can, therefore a God-Man is necessary. This again is logical here of Anselm to make this conclusion, for God desires us to reach our state of immortal blessedness and would do anything out of love to give us it. Towards the end, Boso sums up the arguments made by saying, “This debt was so large that, although no one but man owed it, only God was capable of repaying it, assuming that there should be a man identical with God.” (348) Jesus was the Incarnate Word of God, who from a Virgin birth was made sinless out of sinful matter. I believe that although these arguments are logical, you must be already a believing Catholic to accept the initial arguments even though Anselm seems to believe anyone can logically follow this. By Jesus being fully man and fully God, He is able to sacrifice Himself to pay this debt of honor owed to forgive our sins. His divine person is powerful enough to pay the infinite debt, not only for one person, but for all in the past and all to come. When He descended into Hell into Abraham’s Bosom, He took up all those who died even before the Sacrifice on Calvary. Through this self-Sacrifice, God willingly allowed Himself to be killed for our sins to restore us to our immortal blessedness and open the gates of Heaven. I believe that Anselm should have further explained that simply because Jesus died for us, everyone does not go to Heaven. He is not ambiguous in his argument, but he does not clarify heresies that can arise from thinking we are saved automatically now. We still need to do penances and avoid even the near occasions of sin, although the Cross does it fully.
The Breviloquium: Why the Incarnation was so utterly efficacious according to Bonaventure
In The Breviloquium from The Works of Saint Bonaventure, published by St. Anthony Guild Press, Saint Bonaventure argues that the remedy of the Incarnation with the mode of the Cross and Resurrection was, “utterly efficacious.” (176 The Works of Saint Bonaventure) Bonaventure begins with the logic that St. Anselm used in Cur Deus Homo by stating that there was no other way that God could have redeemed mankind. Boso in Cur Deus Homo begins by asking Anselm why God could not have used another Angelic power or simply willed our salvation. Bonaventure states that, using Anselm-like logic, atonement can only be offered by one who is obliged to atone, which is man, yet only God is able to, therefore a God-Man is needed that can do both.
One specific aspect Bonaventure likes to focus on is how God does the inverse of an action in order to reverse the effects of it. For example, he states that the human race fell through the seduction of a devil, through the consent of a woman. God reverses this by using a good angel to ask a virgin woman in order to save the human race. He also shows how the Cross is the opposite. Man sinned, aspiring to be as wise as God, desiring a forbidden tree, while on the contrary, God willed to be humiliated down to a God-man to suffer on a tree. Bonaventure then continues on with the resurrection unlike Anselm who does not mention it at all. Bonaventure says that Christ descended into hell to open the gates of Heaven and “by commuting the divine sentence, led His members out of hell.” (176) One interesting point Bonaventure makes is that Jesus was in the tomb for at least 36 hours, which to the Jews proved His death, for if He came out sooner, people could have thought He feigned. He also points out that, Jesus knew everything with His divine knowledge, yet grew in experience through the senses in His human knowledge. Bonaventure makes sure to say that neither the Divine nature, nor the Human nature overcame one another, for they were in perfect union.
I think that if one were to shorten Cur Deus Homo, the work would be very similar to The Breviloquium. Bonaventure’s work sums up the basic points that St. Anselm makes about the necessity of a God-man and how the mode of the Incarnation with a Crucifixion was the only necessary way, yet expands on Anselm in a concise way. I like how Bonaventure writes about how the Resurrection was necessary for the salvation on mankind as well and not just the Crucifixion as St. Anselm points out. I think that Bonaventure’s work is very concise but accurate and covers more detail with actual theology rather than pure logic as St. Anselm attempts, with the help of a general belief in God.
Bonaventure attempts to discuss how the Incarnation actually works even though it is truly a mystery. He uses his own opinion for some of it, which I believe is almost all correct, although it is technically not doctrinal nor dogmatic such as his seven reasons for how Christ’s merit was perfect and complete and by possessing the fullness of grace. He says that God is infinite and that He can comprehend the finite, which makes logical sense. Overall, although I enjoyed Cur Deus Homo, I believe that Bonaventure does a more concise and thorough explanation of the Incarnation and mode of salvation than St. Anselm and I thought that The Breviloquium was easy to follow and very logical. It attempts to explain very difficult questions regarding the natures of Christ in the Incarnation and is one of the best answers that I have found on this topic.