View all Novenas | November 3, 2023
Part 4 – God the Son – Week 1
Part 4 – God the Son – Week 1
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary
Our last novena was dedicated to exploring Ratzinger’s commentary on the ‘name’ and ‘title’ Jesus Christ. We discovered that, in his opinion, the title Christ does not refer simply to a kind of ‘job description’ of Jesus in His role as Messiah and Savior. Instead it describes His deepest identity as God, and even more precisely as God the Son, or in other words as the one who is both completely ‘from’ and ‘toward’ the Father, but also completely ‘for’ us. He truly is, in His very being, God-with-us and God-for-us, and it is this deeper ontological level that founds and explains His concrete actions – His teaching and healing – done on our behalf. Because of this, Ratzinger concludes, it is on the Cross that we can most clearly recognize Jesus as the Christ, that we can most fully see Jesus for who He truly is: stretched out between Heaven and earth in His nothingness and nakedness, He becomes the visible transition space, the opening between God and man in which we discover our own deepest identity as God’s children and attain the final salvation that union with God signifies.
Within this overall context, Chapter 2 of Ratzinger’s Christological section of Introduction to Christianity then takes up the six main doctrines about Jesus that are taught by the Creed: that He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary; that He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; that He descended into Hell; that He rose again on the third day; that He ascended into Heaven; and that He will come again to judge the living and the dead. It is precisely these six topics that we will thus be exploring in this novena.
To begin with then, what does it mean that Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary? Above all, it situates Jesus within the entire history of covenantal relationship that constitutes the Old Testament, Ratzinger tells us: it identifies Him as the fulfilled hope of Israel, as the realization – in an altogether unexpected realism – that God is with us. In this way, he then continues, the truth contained in this apparently simple formula also take up the creation account of Genesis and shows us Jesus as the first being in the order of a new creation, as the fulfillment not only of Israel’s hope but of the hope of all mankind, as the realization of that union with God that constitutes our most secret desire and longing as human beings.
“The origin of Jesus is shrouded in mystery. It is true that in St. John’s Gospel the people of Jerusalem object to his Messianic claim on the grounds that “we know where this man comes from; and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from” (Jn 7:27). But Jesus’ immediately following words disclose how inadequate this alleged knowledge of his origin is: “I have not come of my own accord; he who sent me is true, and him you do not know” (7:28). Certainly Jesus comes from Nazareth. But what does one know of his true origin just by being able to name the geographical spot from which he comes? St. John’s Gospel emphasizes again and again that the real origin of Jesus is “the Father”, that he comes from him more totally than anyone sent by God before, and in a different way.
This descent of Jesus from the mystery of God, “which no one knows”, is depicted in the so-called “infancy narratives” in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke, not with the object of eliminating that mystery, but precisely to confirm it. Both evangelists, but especially Luke, tell the beginning of the story of Jesus almost entirely in the words of the Old Testament, in order thus to demonstrate from within what happens here as the fulfillment of Israel’s hope and to put it in the context of the whole story of God’s covenant with men. The words with which in Luke the angel addresses the Virgin are closely akin to the greeting with which the prophet Zephaniah hails the saved Jerusalem of the last days (Zeph 3:14f6.), and they also echo the words of blessing with which the great women of Israel had been praised (Judg 5:24; Jud 13:18f.). Thus Mary is characterized as the holy remnant of Israel, as the true Zion on which hopes had centered in the wildernesses of history. With her begins, according to St. Luke’s text, the new Israel; indeed, it does not just begin with her; she is it, the holy “daughter of Zion” in whom God sets the new beginning.
No less full is the central promise: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Lk 1:35). Our gaze is led beyond the historical covenant with Israel to the creation: in the Old Testament the Spirit of God is the power of creation; he it was who hovered over the waters in the beginning and shaped chaos into cosmos (Gen 1:2); when he is sent, living beings are created (Ps 104 :30). So what is to happen here to Mary is new creation: the God who called forth being out of nothing makes a new beginning amid humanity: his Word becomes flesh. The other image in this text—the “overshadowing by the power of the Most High”—points to the Temple of Israel and to the holy tent in the wilderness where God’s presence was indicated in the cloud, which hides his glory as well as revealing it (Ex 40:34; 1 Kings 8:11). Just as Mary was depicted earlier as the new Israel, the true “daughter of Zion”, so now she appears as the temple upon which descends the cloud in which God walks into the midst of history. Whoever puts himself at God’s disposal disappears with him in the cloud, into oblivion and insignificance, and precisely in this way acquires a share in his glory. […]
[As a result,] Christian faith really means precisely the acknowledgment that God is not the prisoner of his own eternity, not limited to the solely spiritual; that he is capable of operating here and now, in the midst of my world, and that he did operate in it through Jesus, the new Adam, who was born of the Virgin Mary through the creative power of God, whose spirit hovered over the waters at the very beginning, who created being out of nothing.”
- Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 2004 , 271-279.
Take some time to slowly and meditatively re-read the Gospel stories about the birth of Jesus, if possible, with the help of a good commentary that identifies the richness of these texts and their rootedness in the Old Testament prophecies about a Messiah. Try to discover – as if for the first time – the astounding but fundamental reality of our faith: that Jesus is not just half God and half man, but that He is completely God and completely man. That He is fully God and fully man. And that precisely because of this, my own humanity – when united to His – is also being transformed and divinized, being inserted into God Himself. Fill your heart with amazement and gratitude for the gift of faith, the gift of knowing and truly being able to participate in the life of Jesus Christ, the God made man, who was born of the Virgin Mary to communicate nothing less than God’s own life to me.