Anselm the English bishop and monk almost nine hundred years tried to philosophically unravel the mystery of incarnation in the context of many questions raised by several profane philosophers and critics of Christianity. The result was the book “Cur Deus Homo”. It was a sophisticated book which was basically intelligible only to an erudite mind. The title of the book is translated, “Why God (became) man” .
There are a few postulates he takes as self-evident.
1. God is metaphysically the most Supreme Being, above whom none exists. This Supreme Being is the ultimate in existence, and It cannot come down to the level of any created beings as God.
2. Mankind is in a fallen state, and needs redemption. Man cannot perform the act of redemption, because he is incapable of repairing himself as a result of the fall, whereby he is short of divine grace that sanctifies him.
3. God as God cannot perform this act, because He is existentially and essentially incapable of paying off the unimaginable debt human sin incurred and the immeasurable damage human sin inflicted on the Divinity, because God as God cannot go through the most humiliating act (kenosis) required for redemption. Redemption comes from the Latin word, redemere, meaning, to buy again after paying a huge price, which a human being cannot afford to make by any means.
4. It was essential that humanity was to be brought back to the grace of God, because God created man to be with Him eternally. So every human being should have the opportunity to be reconciled with Him. However, the possibility was negligible because God and man belonged to two different existential levels, where metaphysical impossibilities were impenetrable barriers.
Hence the redemption of humanity was a metaphysical impossibility.
The fathers of the Holy Church are of the opinion that the Persons of the Holy Trinity conducted in eternity its Holy Synod to deliberate on the lot of man. The Holy Persons agonized over the eternity of man. They even wondered if it was necessary to grant man the unique privilege of possessing Their image or similitude, which endowed man with a free will and rationality similar to those of the Persons of the Holy Trinity. It was his rationality and free will that took him to this kind of incorrigible jeopardy. It is said that there were several proposals, such as: to annihilate the human race altogether and create another rational race, or to reduce man to the irrational levels of apes or mere animals or to lift him up through some inconceivable methods. Finally, the Holy Trinity came to the conclusion that man needs to be lifted up. However they were confronted with many obstacles in that process.
What Adam in his first sin had done was an ungrateful aggression against his Master, his own creator. Using his free will man decided to rebel against a loving God, who created him and sustained him. God’s greatest act of love was His creation of humanity in His own image. To be the ICON of God is not a mirror image or reflection, which has no life in it. The Greek word, ICON which is translated from Hebrew does not mean that. It means more than that. An icon of God is actually the same being at a lesser degree and intensity with real life, life of God. A mirror reflection has no life at all. A man is not such an image, but an ICON possessing the same faculties at a much lesser intensity than what the Sovereign God possessed, the faculties of reason and free will, which are the sources of divine creation in the first place. It is this creative force that God infused into human creation; among all creations man is the only creator somewhat comparable to the creative nature of God, although not an ultimate Creator, but a relative creator. He made man very much similar to Him in many ways, although not to the extent of an offspring that is identical to its parent. Is there any LOVE similar to the love explicit in the act of the first human creation? The first sin was a breach of this primordial existential affinity, a wreck of filial love creating a divide and disconnect between God and His rational creation. This is an explicit attack on the very essence of Divinity, the punishment of which is death, to quote the idea of St. Paul. Hence man has to die for this aggression against God.
The fathers of the Church teach that the creation of man was initiated with the suggestion of the Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. When all creations were completed, God saw that everything HE created was good. But none of them could recognize its Creator. None of them was intelligent to ask the question, “Who made us?” It was at that point that God the Father consulted God the Son about another creation possessing almost the same faculties of the Godhead, with the powers of intellect and will; and the fathers of the Church propose that the second Person of the Holy Trinity suggested the idea of the unique creation of man. Yes, God the Father was impressed with the idea and responded to the Son (according to St. John Chrysostom): “Let Us make man in Our image”, and the Son concurred. This may look like a mythological account by some fathers. However, we have to demythologize and squeeze the truth out of it.
When the first man fell out of God’s grace, the fathers teach, another Holy Synod of the Trinity was conducted to deal with Their failure in creating such a stupid rational being who had the audacity to rebel against Him. The very idea of human creation was from the Son, and therefore it was also His task to come up with a solution to deal with this existential dilemma. It was a tremendous responsibility. It involved a great sacrifice, because only sacrifice could please the Godhead, to wipe out the wickedness towards a Creator, and nothing except a total sacrifice was acceptable to God. A total sacrifice literally meant the destruction or annihilation of mankind, but this would wipe out the entire mankind from the face of the earth. Even if a total destruction of mankind could be avoided, man’s sacrifice could not produce any thing good, particularly the required sanctifying grace, as he was incapable of producing any good, or of pleasing God in the absence of natural grace in which he was created; he fell away from it, he is in condemnation. In fact he cannot generate anything good for his own benefit or on behalf of him. Hence, man becoming a sacrifice was ruled out as a solution.
The destruction of man would in fact defeat the very purpose of his creation as a unique being, creation of the rational man. Although the entire creation magnifies the majesty and sovereignty of God, only angels who are celestials and men who are terrestrials, could offer RATIONAL WORSHIP to God, and the other creations do not rationally comprehend that they do magnify God. Hence the destruction of mankind was not a tenable alternative at all.
“Then how do We solve this enigmatic problem?” The Holy Trinity thought about it over and over. There was only one solution to avoid the annihilation of mankind altogether: God to become a sacrifice on behalf of man. Again there were many insurmountable problems attached to that process. God Himself cannot become a sacrifice; a sacrifice definitely involves suffering and death. God cannot suffer, nor can He die as He is an Eternal Supreme Being. So the discussion boiled down to one solution: An eternal sacrifice is needed to satisfy the Godhead to solve the most heinous crime against God. In conducting that sacrifice, whatever is impossible for man God will perform, and whatever is metaphysically impossible for God as an infinite Being man should perform. Again there remains another problem: if this sacrifice is not performed by ONE person in the place of the entire mankind, it would not bring in the results expected. If God does His part individually without being substantially united with man and if man does his part being separated from the substance (knumo/ hypostasis) of God , his deed cannot produce any good.
The Synod came up with a final solution. One person, who is both completely God and completely man, hypostatically united as ONE, can do the job. Who among the three persons of the Trinity will do this? As the Person Who proposed the creation of man, finally the responsibility fell on the shoulders of the Son, urged by the Holy Spirit. The Son willfully, without any coercion, offered Himself to God the Father to descend upon the earth and take the true form of man and go through unimaginable sufferings and even most crucial and despicable form death on the cross as an eternal sacrifice for the sin of man , and satisfy God’s justice, and reconcile him with God the Father. The Holy Spirit took an incredible supernatural task of impregnating a virgin womb on earth for the descent of the Son.
Now we go to the question Anselm asked, “Cur Deus Homo (Why God became man)?” The answer is explained above. This writer stated a Western question and its Eastern answer. For the West and the East the question and answer still remain a mystery. A mystery simply means that certain truth is incomprehensible. Yes, the incarnation is a mystery. No one internalizes it without faith. That is why Anselm said faith precedes reason, and he emphatically declared “Credo ut intelligam” (I believe so that I may understand).
Yes, Orthodox Christians, if you try to rationally understand first and then try to believe in the incarnation, it becomes no more a mystery and there is a chance that you will never understand and never believe. And redemption will never be realized in you.
Come with the mind of a child before the mysteries of God and you will eventually understand them.
As we celebrate this great mystery with all the external pomp and glamour, never forget to ask ourselves the reason behind all our celebrations. Jesus the incarnate God is underlying reason.
May the Incarnate Word of God be spiritually born in your hearts and bring salvation for your souls. May the Prince of Peace reign in your hearts and bring you peace and prosperity through out the New Year 2011!
May all our readers have a very Merry Christmas and a Bright New Year!
CHRIST IS BORN; GLORIFY HIM!!!