View all Finding the Plug | September 2, 2017
Preface III of the Sundays in Ordinary Time
Salvation history is a history between God and man that eventually became a history of God and man in Christ. The divine came down and became a more integral part of our history than we could have ever conceived.
The salvation of man by a man
The Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, describes the Church as an instrument used by Christ for our redemption, just as he used human nature for our redemption: “As the assumed nature inseparably united to Him, serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation, so, in a similar way, does the visible social structure of the Church serve the Spirit of Christ, who vivifies it, in the building up of the body” (n. 8).
In the Incarnation Christ assumed human nature. The Church Fathers of the first four centuries who struggled against Arians (who denied Christ’s divinity) and Gnostics (who, in many ways, denied Christ’s humanity) had to wrap their heads around all the consequences of the Incarnation. St. Gregory of Nazianzen came up with a principle that helped keep the Church Fathers on track as they formulated the Creed we know say every Sunday and Solemnity: the principle “Quod non est assumptum non est sanatum” (What is not assumed is not saved—Letter to Cledonius [PG 37, 181]). If Christ had not assumed human nature we would not have been saved.
God created man to freely persevere in communion with him or to freely separate himself from him. This was not just a series of personal decisions; when Adam and Eve fell they took all of humanity with them with no hope of regaining by their own efforts what they’d lost.
“For we know it belongs to your boundless glory, that you came to the aid of mortal beings with your divinity and even fashioned for us a remedy out of mortality itself, that the cause of our downfall might become the means of our salvation, through Christ our Lord.”
Humanity was separated from God, and it was through humanity that God decided to rescue us. Christ came, loved, and suffered humanly to restore our communion with God. His divinity never diminished, but his humanity was at the forefront of the redemption.
Imagine you were drowning and the Lord decided to save you by walking on the water and levitating you out of the water with a gesture. He could easily do that, but human beings couldn’t. It would not be natural to them, but completely natural to God. Yet the Lord didn’t decide to just act divinely to rescue us.
He could have simply appeared on shore and thrown a life preserver, minimizing his risk and not going all in to save you. He would have used human means, but without personal investment in the outcome. The Lord didn’t decide just to use human, external means to rescue us.
Instead, still following the example, the Lord assumed human nature. He was born, grew up, learned to lifeguard, strove to excel at it, and dove into that water, risking himself, not knowing whether you’d swim toward him or away from him, whether you’d struggle when he reached you, and all the other possible scenarios of desperation and panic you can imagine. In the end he did “drown” for you, and saved you in the process. His Heavenly Father rewarded him by raising his human body from the dead, along with the rest of him.
When Our Lord took all the consequences of sin upon his shoulders he transformed death into life and reminded us what it truly means to be human. We’d lost sight of that in so many ways due to sin. The Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, teaches us that Christ reveals man to himself: “The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. […] He Who is ‘the image of the invisible God’ (Col. 1:15), is Himself the perfect man. To the sons of Adam He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward. … by that very fact [human nature] has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin” (n.22).