by Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg | August 30, 2016 12:04 am
To profess belief in the second person of the Most Holy Trinity carries with it unfathomable implications because full understanding lies rooted inconceivably beyond human reach in our eternal Creator. The Catechism elucidates the incarnation as we read: “we believe and confess that Jesus of Nazareth, born a Jew of a daughter of Israel at Bethlehem at the time of King Herod the Great and the emperor Caesar Augustus, a carpenter by trade, who died crucified in Jerusalem under the procurator Pontius Pilate during the reign of the emperor Tiberius, is the eternal Son of God made man. He ‘came from God’, ‘descended from heaven’, and ‘came in the flesh’ For ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”1 Such profound words constitute a poetic promise by those of us who utter them and compel us by the most strenuous efforts to apprehend (aided by the gifts of the Holy Spirit) who Christ Jesus is and what our belief in Him demands from us.
In this age of great divorces and illicit marriages, it is difficult by human efforts alone to give full assent to the revealed truths of Christ Jesus. We may have particular difficulty with three terms that require deep understanding, the Logos, Jesus and Christ. Consider the incarnation of God and marvel that this “is the central and decisive point of all human history.”2 The eternal Word entered the temporal world as Jesus and as Cardinal Ratzinger explained it, “the meaning that sustains all being has become flesh; that is, it has entered history and become one individual in it; it is no longer simply what encompasses and sustains history, but a point in it.”3 The weighty consequences of this truth usher wonder, awe and an appropriate fear of the Lord into the believer’s soul.
The Logos, the second person of the Trinity is a profound, glorious and paradoxical mystery. We are especially vexed in this age by material reductionism embodied by the historical-critical method. We are apt to minimize Christ’s divinity and give undue weight to the historical Jesus. As Cardinal Ratzinger explains, our modern notion of “historical science” not only “reveals history, but conceals history.” To see Christ in Jesus is increasingly difficult because “a truth of history cannot simply be checked as right or wrong by reference to the documentary evidence.”4 In preparing to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we can aid our ascent to belief with the help of good teachers like Cardinal Ratzinger, Frank Sheed and the Catechism so we might apprehend our profession to its fullest.
The Logos is God’s Word throughout the Scriptures from the “creative act” in Genesis through the Johannine writings as the “Word of God incarnate,” and on to the Book of Revelation where the Christ completes His work at the end of Time. Christ Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, He always was, He is now, and He always will be for eternity, even after the end of time. In John 1:1-3 we learn that “In the beginning was the word [logos] and the word was with God and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and apart from him was not anything made that was made.” The Gospel writer is referring to an earlier beginning than Genesis. John here describes the relationship between the first and second person of the Godhead before the work of Creation began. This explains that Christ and the Father were before the creation of time and space. God is eternal and outside of time. In understanding God and His Word, one of our first stumbling blocks is to get our minds around the word Logos.
The Logos is a Christian word meaning the Word of God and the second person of the Trinity, but it is inexhaustibly more. The Ancient Greeks used the word logos to denote more than just a word, they used it to express, as Heraclitus conjectured it, “that universal principle which animates and rules the world.” The Stoic Galen explained that the Logos “did not make the world as an artisan does his work, but it is by wholly penetrating all matter that He is the demiurge of the universe.” The Greeks further asserted that the Logos is the law, an all-encompassing force which carries the world and everything in it to its proper end. In the Neoplatonic tradition, the Logos was conceived as the intercessory agent by which the transcendent Creator rules the world.
To the ancient Jews in the Old Testament the “word,” rendered in the Greek as “logos,” represents the creative act as seen in Genesis 1:3 when God said “Let there be light; and the light began.” In Psalm 33:9 the psalmist told us God “spoke and they were made, he gave his command, and their frame was fashioned.” And in Sirach 42:15, the author asks us to recount “what things the Lord has made; his visible creation be our theme; nothing he has fashioned but hangs on his word.” Though the hypostatic union is not directly described in the Old Testament, there are hints at the incarnation by comparisons between wisdom and the Word in such passages in the Knox translation as Wisdom 18:15 where we learn that “when from thy heavenly throne, Lord, down leaped thy word omnipotent.” All this creation by the Word, and finally we learn in the New Testament that the Word became created Himself.
In the New Testament it is primarily in the writings of John that we read of the Logos as the revealed Word of God. Tertullian posited that the Logos permeates the world “as honey does the honeycomb.” St. Augustine boldly made the analogy between the Divine Word and human speech. By one such comparison in his On the Holy Trinity, book 9, chapter 12, he explains that “speech also itself, which must be disposed in time,” is similar to the incarnate Word who came from outside time into time that we creatures may better understand Him. St. Augustine sensibly claims that a “thing is easier of explanation which is comprehended in the order of time.” St. Augustine compares the incarnate word, not to our oral speech but to interior speech. By explaining that “the omnipotent God the Creator, after whose image man is made, which troubles men, whom the truth of God invites to the faith by human speech,” St. Augustine emphasizes that the Word of God is known by analogy to that interior speech informed by prayer and conscience. Our interior call to sanctity is an echo of the Logos, the Divine Word, as a corresponding artifact of the truth that we are made in the image and likeness of God
When the Logos became flesh, we mere mortals were gifted an intelligible revelation in Jesus the historical man. In Galatians 4:4-5 we read that “when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Blessed Mary, born of the Immaculate Conception without original sin, was the perfect vessel for Jesus to enter the world. There is no historical dispute concerning the advent of Jesus and a certain chronology of His life beginning with his infancy, followed by his hidden life, public life, His passion and His glory.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem in a stable, wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger. He was presented to the Lord. When he was twelve, he journeyed to the Passover in Jerusalem with his family, Jesus stayed behind and was lost for three days and finally found in his Father’s house by Mary. He lived a hidden life of obedience until he came to the River Jordan to be baptized by John the Baptist. He was called out by the Holy Spirit to the desert for forty days of fasting and was tempted by Satan. He returned, went to the wedding at Cana, performed His first public miracle turning water into wine and thus began His public life.
Jesus traveled throughout the Decapolis proclaiming His Kingdom and the Good News. He healed the sick, cast out demons, and performed more miraculous good works than can be recorded by human books. After three years He was accused of blasphemy and sentenced to die on the Cross. He died and was buried, on the third day He rose in victory over death. He remained with His disciples for forty days and ascended into heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father.
The historical Jesus is a fact illustrated by the historical record. The problem today is that by reduction, many modern theologians would like to historically document the Christ also, and this is not possible. The historical Jesus, that man who was like us in every way but sin, is amply represented in the history books. However, Christ’s nature cannot be demonstrated by the historical record as can the life of Jesus. For that, we will have to resort to other means less empirical.
The Greek word Χριστός, transliterated as “Christos” means the Anointed One, the Messiah, and the Christ. The entire Old Testament is the prophetic groundwork for the coming of the Messiah. God’s chosen people were gifted the prophecies heralding the coming of the Lord. The wise men from the East confirmed that the savior had come. From that blessed Advent in Bethlehem to the end of his public ministry, Jesus fulfilled the law and the prophets as the Christ, most profoundly when he picked up his Cross.
Cardinal Ratzinger confirms that “the birthplace of the faith in Jesus as the Christ, that is, the birthplace of Christian Faith as a whole, is the Cross.”5 It was in fact the death notice drawn by the command of Pontius Pilate that speaks so precisely of Jesus’ status as the Christ. Cardinal Ratzinger continues that “this execution notice, the death sentence of history became with paradoxical unity the profession of faith, the real starting point and taproot of the Christian Faith, which hold Jesus to be the Christ.”6 When Pontius Pilate asked Jesus about his status as the King, Jesus responded “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews.”7 Jesus here expresses clearly His divine Lordship and his communion with the Godhead by his full possession of the One Divine Nature.
Jesus Christ is One Divine person with two natures, one divine and one human. Jesus Christ is one hundred percent human and one hundred percent God. In the Catechism we learn of Christ’s nature when we read: “’you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ On the rock of this faith confessed by St. Peter, Christ built his Church.”8 Further, we must contemplate what we learn of the Christ from the book of Revelation as the author reveals “when I saw him [Christ], I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand upon me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the First and the Last.’”9 Christ and the Father are one! It is revealed and proclaimed to us that the Word made flesh has dwelt among us and comes to us and is the Savior.
Frank Sheed reminds us to “observe that the fullness of time, with all the mysterious spiritual resonances that the phrase has, actually is in time.”10 Jesus Christ is the timeless entered into time and as such we ought to know Him and His mission. We learn in Luke 1:33-34 that the Archangel Gabriel told the Blessed Virgin Mary that she was to give birth to the Savior who was to “be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” Christ came to save us from our sins and to usher us into the City of God, into His Kingdom, the Kingdom without end.
John the Baptist said of Christ that He is “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” By Christ, we learn the true nature of our Creator, about the nature of charity as sacrifice and of His Justice conveyed most profoundly by His mercy; “for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”11 This is the mission of Jesus Christ, to forgive us our sins and to save us by redemption.
Frank Sheed also reminds us to be aware that Jesus Christ is the Redeemer and it is important to notice that it was the “Second Person of the Blessed Trinity who became man, not the First, nor the Third, nor all Three.”12 Sheed explains that it was by the Word of God that all things were created, it is fitting that that same Word came into the world for the reparation, for the redemption of all that was lost in the fall by the disobedience of our first parents. “God the son took to Himself a human nature, not merely wearing it as a disguise or taking it up as an instrument He might use, but making it His own”13 and He became man so that we might be redeemed.
Jesus Christ is the savior of the world and our own personal savior. The Word made flesh marries the temporal and eternal and becomes the incarnation of the divine law whose source is the eternal law. When we profess that we “believe in Jesus Christ” let us embrace the totality of that reality and acknowledge its deepest implications concerning Jesus of Nazareth as the Logos, the man and the savior who is One Divine Person with two distinct natures whom we call Jesus Christ. As we profess our belief in Him, let it follow by the grace of God that we come to know, love and serve Him as our profession calls us to.
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