God and Man; The meaning of "Incarnation"

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posted on Jul, 11 2013 @ 04:13 PM
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What does the church mean by the teaching of the Incarnation”?

The best way of approaching this question is to go back to the roots of the word.
It stems from the Latin word for “flesh”.
To be “incarnate” is to be IN CARNE- that is, housed in a fleshly body.

The main Biblical ground of the teaching is the first chapter of John’s gospel, where John tells us about two aspects of the Word.
On the one hand, what the Word was “in the beginning”.
The Word was with God and the Word was God.
Everything was made through him, and nothing was made without his agency.
Which means, of course, that it’s logically impossible for the Word himself to be included among the “everything that was made”.
He is the light shining in the darkness, which the darkness cannot extinguish- John ch1 vv1-5

On the other hand, what the Word became.
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”- John ch1 v14.
When the Word becomes flesh, as we see from that sentence, he does not cease to be the Word.
Just as Abraham Lincoln “became President” and went to live in the White House, without ceasing to be “Abraham Lincoln”.
“Becoming”, in both cases, means gaining an extra quality.
The Word remains God, as from the beginning, but now combines that with the fleshly body of a man.
In that form, as John says, his disciples “beheld his glory, as of the only-begotten [Son] of the Father”.

The Council of Nicaea was called in the time of the Arian controversy, when the divinity of Christ was disputed.
Then the purpose of the Nicene Creed was to confirm the church’s teaching on the subject.
We believe, it says, in God the Father
“…And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
The only-begotten Son of God,
Begotten of his Father before all worlds.
God of God,
Light of Light,
Very God of Very God,
Begotten not made,
Being of one substance with the Father,
By whom all things were made,
Who for us men and for our salvation
Came down from heaven
And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost
In the Virgin Mary,
And was made man…”

(All right, this is not strictly the Council’s version.
It’s the form I can quote from memory)

The Council declares its faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and then defines what this faith means.
“Only-begotten Son of God” picks up that last phrase quoted from John.
“Begotten before all worlds” picks up what we learn from John, that the Word was “in the beginning with God”.
“Begotten, not made” picks up what we learn from John, that the Word was not part of the “created” world.
The phrases from “God of God”, including “Having the same substance as the Father”, are picking up what we learn from John, that “the Word was with God and was God”.
“By whom all things were made” comes direct from John.
“Came down from heaven” is the equivalent of John’s “dwelt among us”.
Finally “was made man” is the equivalent of John’s phrase “became flesh”.

In this Creed, “the Word” is replaced by the expression “the Lord Jesus Christ”.
Otherwise, the Creed speaks of the same two aspects of the Incarnation that can be found in John.
The first aspect, of course, the divinity and pre-existence of Christ, receives more attention than the humanity of Christ, which nobody was openly questioning.
But the full teaching of the Creed combines the two.

As the church discovered over the next couple of centuries, the key to understanding the doctrine of the Incarnation is getting the balance right.
Once the divinity of Christ had been questioned, believers were tempted to emphasise his divinity at the expense of his humanity.
A good example is Apollinarius, who proposed that the LOGOS or “Word” in Christ took the place of the NOUS, the “reasonable soul”.
This theory was rejected, because it had the effect of making Jesus less than fully human.

If the church is affirming both the divinity and the humanity of Christ, the next question is how closely the two are connected.
The teaching of Nestorius was rejected, because it seemed to separate them and place distance between them, undermining the teaching that the Word became flesh, that the Son of God became man.
In reaction to this, the Monophysites went in the opposite direction.
They emphasised the single nature of Christ to such an extent that his humanity, in the words of one of them, would have been absorbed into his divinity “like a drop of vinegar absorbed into the ocean”.
Once again, then, they were in danger of losing sight of that full humanity.

The purpose of the Council of Chalcedon was to restore the balance.
The Definition that was agreed at Chalcedon is rather technical, so I’ll quote the semi-official Athanasian Creed, which has the same theology and is a little more accessible.
(In the sense that it’s on my bookshelves. If you possess the old Anglican Prayer Book, it can be found just after the “order for Evening Prayer”)

The relevant portion of the Athanasian Creed says this;
“We believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ , the Son of God, is God and man;
God of the substance of the Father, begotten before all worlds;
And Man, of the substance of his mother, born in the world;
Perfect God and perfect Man; of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting;
Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead, and inferior to the Father, as touching his manhood.
Who, although he is God and Man, yet he is not two, but one Christ;
One, not by the conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the Manhood into God;
One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of Person;”

There’s a very careful balance, in this passage, between the statement that Christ is God and the statement that Christ is Man.
On the one hand, he has the full nature of divinity (“perfect God”), derived from the Father.
On the other hand, he has the full nature of humanity (“perfect Man”), derived from his mother.
The statement that he has a “reasonable soul” is a direct rebuff to the Apollinarian theory; Christ is fully human in mind, as well as in body.
The next line answers the old Arian quibble about “My father is greater than I am”.
Christ is both God and Man, you see.
Inasmuch as Christ is God, he is equal to the Father.
Inasmuch as Christ is Man, he is not equal to the Father.

The last three lines give a balanced understanding of the connection between the two aspects of Christ.
The two extremes are ruled out.
The Nestorian view is answered by “not two, but one Christ”.
The Monophysite view is answered by “not by confusion of substance” (that is, not a complete fusion which obliterates the human side of Christ).
Finally, “not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh” corrects a possible misunderstanding of “becoming”, one that I’ve already pointed out.
The Son did not cease to be God, in becoming flesh; instead, he “took up” his humanity, and brought it into conjunction with his divinity.

As far as we know, this combination of divinity and humanity is permanent.
Which implies that the person of Christ is a permanent and unbreakable bond between Creator God and created world, holding them together like a rivet.
That ought to be a mind-blowing thought.




posted on Jul, 11 2013 @ 04:14 PM
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Some observations addressed to critics of the Christian faith;
You’re sometimes prone to using the argument “Christ can’t be God, because there’s a text here that shows he must have been human”.
That’s rather like criticising the “Stars and stripes” nickname of the American flag, on the grounds that you can see stripes on the flag, “which proves there can’t be any stars there”.
As I’ve just been demonstrating, the Christian doctrine is that Christ is both God and man.
So pointing out that Christ is man does nothing to undermine it.
We know that already- it’s built into the teaching.

Some observations addressed to modern Christians;
If critics are tempted to score cheap debating points by drawing attention to the humanity of Jesus (see above), it’s partly your own fault, you know.
Like believers in the time of the early church, and for the same reason, you can be prone to emphasise the divinity of Christ and play down his humanity, which gives them their opening.
Whenever you use an argument like “Jesus must have known such-and-such, because he was God”, you’re in danger of drifting into unconscious Apollinarianism, forgetting the teaching that he was fully human in mind as well as in body.
In fact the phrase “Jesus is God” is not really helpful, because it leaves out half the story and encourages misunderstanding.
It would be better to use the balanced language of the Councils, that Christ is both God and man, so that both aspects are kept in view.



posted on Jul, 11 2013 @ 04:58 PM
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Lots of guessing and arguing has gone on, is going on, and will go on.

Jesus didn't need to guess.

“In mysticism that love of truth which we saw as the beginning of all philosophy leaves the merely intellectual sphere, and takes on the assured aspect of a personal passion. Where the philosopher guesses and argues, the mystic lives and looks; and speaks, consequently, the disconcerting language of first-hand experience, not the neat dialectic of the schools. Hence whilst the Absolute of the metaphysicians remains a diagram —impersonal and unattainable—the Absolute of the mystics is lovable, attainable, alive.”

― Evelyn Underhill

edit on 11-7-2013 by BlueMule because: (no reason given)



posted on Jul, 11 2013 @ 05:01 PM
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reply to post by BlueMule
 

As I've been pointing out, the theologians were building as firmly as they knew how upon the New Testament foundations.



posted on Jul, 11 2013 @ 05:32 PM
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Originally posted by DISRAELI
reply to post by BlueMule
 

As I've been pointing out, the theologians were building as firmly as they knew how upon the New Testament foundations.



They guessed and argued about the NT as best they could.

Just like theologians today.

One thing that's changed is, in the old days the theologians didn't have the option to incorporate or ignore comparative mysticism scholarship.

Today theologians have that option. It's the information age.

It seems they chose to ignore the scholarship of comparative religion, comparative mythology, and comparative mysticism. It's a shame.



posted on Jul, 11 2013 @ 05:35 PM
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reply to post by BlueMule
 

They are following the Bible because, as Christians, their religion is based on the Bible.
A mysticism which wanders away from Biblical roots is a different kind of religion, not Christianity.



posted on Jul, 11 2013 @ 07:03 PM
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There was not room in the OP to bring up the relation between the teaching on the Incarnation and the doctrine of redemption.
Part of the argument for balancing the divinity and humanity of Christ was that both aspects were needed for redemption.
To put it epigrammatically;
If Christ was not God, then humanity could not be saved through him.
But if Christ was not Man, then humanity could not be saved through him.



posted on Jul, 11 2013 @ 07:53 PM
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Originally posted by DISRAELI
reply to post by BlueMule
 

They are following the Bible because, as Christians, their religion is based on the Bible.


No, they are following their guesses because, as non-mystics, their beliefs about the Bible are based on guesses about guesses about exegesis.

Not experience.

Then they convince themselves that their guesses are correct because people are vain and arrogant.


A mysticism which wanders away from Biblical roots is a different kind of religion, not Christianity.


Christian mysticism is rooted in Jesus because Jesus was a mystic. Perhaps the most powerful mystic to ever live.

Mysticism by its very nature transcends the borders of religions (as Jesus did)... borders which are mere social mechanisms... borders which non-mystics cling to like a security blanket.

God is bigger than the borders of guesses and cultures.

edit on 11-7-2013 by BlueMule because: (no reason given)



posted on Jul, 11 2013 @ 07:59 PM
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Originally posted by BlueMule
Mysticism by its very nature transcends the borders of religions

In other words, it is not the Christian religion, which was my point.
The Christian faith is Biblically based.

What you are doing with "mysticism" is taking your own fancies and projecting them upon Jesus, which is less scientific, and much more like "guesswork", than any kind of Biblical exegesis.



posted on Jul, 11 2013 @ 08:07 PM
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Originally posted by DISRAELI

Originally posted by BlueMule
Mysticism by its very nature transcends the borders of religions

In other words, it is not the Christian religion, which was my point.
The Christian faith is Biblically based.


Part of the Christian faith is "Biblically based". The exoteric part. The kindergarten part. The active part. The part for Martha. The part for the masses.

There is another part of Christianity which is closer to the truth. It's the contemplative part. The esoteric part. The 'solid food' part. The part for Mary. The part for monks and mystics.


What you are doing with "mysticism" is taking your own fancies and projecting them upon Jesus, which is less scientific, and much more like "guesswork", than any kind of Biblical exegesis.


What you are doing here is making a guess about me and running with it as if it were a "fact"... something that seems to be a long-standing part of exoteric theology practices.

edit on 11-7-2013 by BlueMule because: (no reason given)



posted on Jul, 11 2013 @ 08:12 PM
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reply to post by BlueMule
 

The historical Christian religion is Biblically based.
That's what "Christianity" means.
Of course it is impossible to legislate for people abducting the name by projecting their own fancies uponJesus.



posted on Jul, 11 2013 @ 08:13 PM
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Originally posted by DISRAELI
reply to post by BlueMule
 

The historical Christian religion is Biblically based.
That's what "Christianity" means.
Of course it is impossible to legislate for people abducting the name by projecting their own fancies uponJesus.



No, the historical Christian religion is based on Jesus.

Jesus was a mystic.

Do the math.



posted on Jul, 11 2013 @ 08:19 PM
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reply to post by BlueMule
 

The historic Christian religion is based on what the Bible says about Jesus.
Once people start projecting their own fancies upon Jesus instead, the whole thing becomes formless and without any solid foundation. It becomes a form of guesswork.



posted on Jul, 11 2013 @ 08:44 PM
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Originally posted by DISRAELI
reply to post by BlueMule
 

The historic Christian religion is based on what the Bible says about Jesus.


And what the Bible says about Jesus is that he was a mystic.

Mysticism is a cross-cultural phenomenon that connects all religions on the esoteric level.

Fundamentalism is merely a cultural phenomenon that divides all religions on the petty temporal level of social mechanisms and vanity.


Once people start projecting their own fancies upon Jesus instead, the whole thing becomes formless and without any solid foundation. It becomes a form of guesswork.


You are assuming that I am merely projecting fancies. In fact I have many years of studying comparative mysticism, comparative religion, and comparative mythology under my belt. Among other things.

I have no need to project fancies.

You on the other hand do. So you are projecting onto me.

Typical.

edit on 11-7-2013 by BlueMule because: (no reason given)



posted on Jul, 11 2013 @ 08:49 PM
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Originally posted by BlueMule
And what the Bible says about Jesus is that he was a mystic.

There is no text in the Bible which says that. This is a fancy which you are projecting.



posted on Jul, 11 2013 @ 08:50 PM
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Originally posted by DISRAELI

Originally posted by BlueMule
And what the Bible says about Jesus is that he was a mystic.

There is no text in the Bible which says that. This is a fancy which you are projecting.


No it isn't fancy. It's scholarship.

If you ever find the courage to challenge your fancies, then study comparative mysticism for a few years. Then I won't have to bother correcting your dogmatic, vain, arrogant fancies.



posted on Jul, 11 2013 @ 08:52 PM
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reply to post by BlueMule
 

I repeat, there is no text in the Bible which claims Jesus as a mystic.
So the statement that the Bible calls him one is contrary to the truth.



posted on Jul, 11 2013 @ 09:22 PM
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Originally posted by DISRAELI
reply to post by BlueMule
 

I repeat, there is no text in the Bible which claims Jesus as a mystic.


That's not because he wasn't a mystic.

It's because as an "-ism," "mysticism" is not an emic word, a word actually used by ancient people to describe their experiences. It corresponds to no single term in the ancient literature. In fact, when the early Jews and Christians describe their mystical experiences in a single word, they do so most often by employing the term "apokalypsis," an "apocalypse" or "revelation." In the Jewish and Christian period literature, these religious experiences are described emically as waking visions, dreams, trances and auditions which can involve spirit possession and ascent journeys.

So, mysticism is very much a part of Christianity and Judaism, indeed all religions. Despite your dogmatic assertions to the contrary.

So you might want to try some comparative mysticism scholarship instead of knee-jerk assumptions and dogmatic fundamentalist fancies.

edit on 11-7-2013 by BlueMule because: (no reason given)



posted on Jul, 11 2013 @ 09:29 PM
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Originally posted by BlueMule
That's not because he wasn't a mystic.

In other words, you implicitly retract your claim that "What the Bible says about Jesus is that he was a mystic".
Then I can go back to the point I made before; The historic Christian faith is based on what the Bible says about Jesus.



posted on Jul, 11 2013 @ 09:37 PM
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Originally posted by DISRAELI

Originally posted by BlueMule
That's not because he wasn't a mystic.

In other words, you implicitly retract your claim that "What the Bible says about Jesus is that he was a mystic".
Then I can go back to the point I made before; The historic Christian faith is based on what the Bible says about Jesus.


In other words, no. I retract nothing. I roll my eyes at your petty tactics and ignorance, and your guesses and assumptions.

Much of what the Bible says, it says between the lines. That is where the hidden wisdom of God is found. It's where the spirit of the words is found.

Not the letter of the words. Perhaps you are familiar with the difference between the letter of a word and its spirit.

So "mysticism" is an etic term, a modern typology, contemporary analytic vocabulary that we are imposing on the ancients in order to investigate their religiosity. It serves the modern scholar heuristically as a taxonomy, aiding our engagement in historical investigation and research. It is a comparative analytic tool created and employed by outsiders-to-the-culture and imposed on insiders. In etic terms, it identifies a tradition within early Judaism and Christianity centered on the belief that a person directly, immediately and before death can experience the Divine, either as a rapture experience or one solicited by a particular praxis.

This definition, although framed in etic terms, remains sensitive to the fact that the early Jews and Christians themselves made no distinction between unsolicited rapture and solicited invasion experiences – all were "apocalypses" – nor did they describe their experiences in terms of the unio mystica so central to later Christian mysticism.

Read a book.

edit on 11-7-2013 by BlueMule because: (no reason given)





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