The Modernness of the Incarnation of the Word

19 February, 2016

Homily preached by Fr. Carlos Miguel Buela, IVE on the occasion of a visit to the Province of the Immaculate Conception.

In this age of ‘militant atheists,’ archaic laicists, moral eclipses, public or private apostasies, anti-Christian media, petrified progressivism, and so many problems, it’s very interesting to see that the fact that the Word became flesh is the most modern thing there is.

This is so for several reasons:

  1. Absolutely speaking, there is nothing more ‘in act’ than God (2), not only because He is the Creator of everything that exists, but also because He conserves all things in existence; even more, He governs them with His providence. He is the Ipsum Esse Subsistens, the Subsistent Act, Infinite Being who, without ceasing to be God, became man.
  2. That the Word of God becomes flesh means that the divine nature and human nature were united in the one divine Person of Jesus Christ. This is the great mystery of the hypostatic union – union in a Person – that will never end and, hence, it is always modern. That the union of both natures in one Divine Person will never end is a defined dogma of the faith, because at one point someone proposed the contrary: Marcellus of Ancyra († around 374) was condemned as a heretic at the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (381), and, as a sort of reply to his heresy, the words “whose kingdom will have no end” (Lk 1:33, Dz 86; cf. Dz 283) were added to the Creed. If the union between the two natures in Jesus Christ will remain eternally, then the Incarnation of the Word is absolutely and always modern.
  3. The modernness of the mystery of the Incarnation can also be seen in the widespread diffusion of Hegelian ideas in philosophy and Marxist ideas in sociology (among others), since these spring from a caricature of the Incarnation.

We should first take note of the wide-spread diffusion of Hegel’s doctrines. A glance at Massimo Borghesi’s work suffices, as he summarizes his book in an article entitled, “Hegel, Everyone’s Teacher. Including Catholics.” Note that clear affirmation: Everyone’s teacher, including Catholics. We don’t need to spend time on the diffusion of Marxism: almost everyone is aware of it.

According to the Catholic doctrine of the past 20 centuries, God is infinitely transcendent – even nearer to us than we are to ourselves – and He freely creates man and the world. In Him there are two divine processions, both of which are immanent (that is, they remain in Him): one is the generation of the Word, and the other the spiration of the Holy Spirit. In the fullness of time, the Word, without ceasing to be God, took on a human nature in Mary’s womb in the unity of a person. It is God’s greatest communication and communion with His creature! What an august, impenetrable, and great mystery! Saint Peter of Alcántara would go into ecstasy and amazement when contemplating the mystery of the Incarnation; he would say:

“What did God incarnate?

Why did God make man?

What did God come to incarnate?

Why did God have take on human flesh?”

In the letter to the Philippians, Saint Paul describes the Incarnation as ‘God’s negation’: “he emptied himself” (Phil 2:7), which means, ‘He became nothing.’ That is the way the Vuglate translates it, “exinanivit,” and the Greek “eantón ekénosen”: He emptied himself. Misunderstanding these concepts which express transcendent realities produces false and erroneous re-readings of the sacred text. (3)

During the Lutheran reformation, this passage was erroneously interpreted, and it was that mistaken interpretation which influenced Hegel in his dialectic; that dialectic rests upon the foundation of the so-called “second moment,” the “antithesis” or “negation,” the “contradiction” or, above all, on “alienation.”

This annihilation, this emptying of the Word is not ontological, as though He had ceased to be God and became something else. That the Word empties Himself by hiding the glory and power of His divinity gives us an example of humility.

By losing the intellectual or speculative view of the Christian mysteries, Lutheranism was left to consider them only in as much as they concern us, that is, in as much as they are useful for praxis, for action. The metaphysical and contemplative aspects of the Incarnate Word are of no interest for Lutheranism; the only thing that matters is the dramatic aspect, the active aspect. Little does it matter that Christ has two natures united in one Person; what matters for Lutheranism is only that He came to take away our sins and justify us.

From here, it’s only a short step to confusion in the communication of idioms (4), that is, the association and mutual exchange of the human and divine properties, attributes, and operations that refer to only one concrete subject, Jesus Christ. Thus we say, and rightfully so, that “God was born in Bethlehem,” and that “God died on the cross,” which doesn’t mean that He was born or died in His divinity, but rather that He was born and died according to His humanity, and, since that humanity had been assumed by the Divine Person of the Word, it is true to say that as man God was born and that He died as man.

Luther, on the other hand, interpreted God’s kenosis, His emptying, to mean that by the Incarnation God had emptied Himself of all of the attributes of His Divine Nature, of His immutability, of His infinite power, and, in place of these, He acquired all the conditions of a creature. Centuries later, Lutheran theologians would interpret the Incarnation as if the Word had no being apart from His humanity, nor His humanity being apart from the Word. Another great error lies underneath this one: the error of nominalism, which predicates being univocally, and not analogously. For nominalists, there aren’t two ways to possess being: one, as God does, as being by essence, and another, as the creature does, who is being by participation. These nominalists maintain that there is only one way to possess being, and from here follows the absurd conclusion that anything that God has, the creature lacks, and whatever the creature has, God doesn’t possess.

Now then, both the Hegelian and the Marxist systems are based on alienation. Hegel calls alienation Entäusserung, which is the noun form of the words hat sich selbs geeussert, the phrase Luther used to translate the Vulgate’s “he emptied himself.” For Hegel, the Word emptied Himself to the point of becoming Absolute Spirit, which contains the identity of both identity and non-identity. Hegel rejects a transcendent God in the famed figures of the master and the slave; the master is the transcendent God, and the slave, consciousness. However, the slave will become the master of its master once it achieves the re-absorption of the divinity in the immanence of consciousness. In the faith of the Church, Christ’s kenosis is followed by exaltation; for Hegel, however, the rejection of divinity as something transcendent results in divinity being preserved in consciousness.

Hence, “everyone’s Teacher, including of progressive Catholics,” takes the idea of process or procession from the Trinity, self-movement or alienation from the Incarnation, and then, taking these things from theology, he moves them to the realm of concept.

The most dangerous effect is that dialectic is made up of opposition, contradiction, and negation: that is, dialectic isn’t moved by being but rather by nothingness. The great destructive power of these systems comes from the nothingness that they contain.

Protestant free examination gives birth to savage liberal capitalism. By misreading the hymn of the kenosis, Protestantism gave birth to the Hegelian dialectic, whose right wing gave rise to Nazi totalitarianism and whose left gave us Marxist totalitarianism which enslaved entire countries with terror for over 70 years. Since, as the saying goes, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” the false interpretation of kenosis is like a photographic negative which reminds us of the perennial modernness of the Incarnation of the Word.

My dear brothers and sisters:

May we not fall into those false and harmful dialectics that this globalized world constantly proposes to us, obligating us to take part by choosing one side or another. Let us remember that when we were children, we knew how to break the false dialectics between two good things. When they asked us, “Who do you love more: your mom or your dad,” we’d answer, “We love them both!” And so it is with those who want to make us chose between two evils; without hesitating, we should tell them we don’t want either!

Tertullian compared the scandal of the Incarnation with that of the cross; it was only because the first took place that the second could exist: “For which is more unworthy of God, which is more likely to raise a blush of shame, that God should be born, or that He should die? That He should bear the flesh, or the cross? Be circumcised, or be crucified? Be cradled, or be coffined? Be laid in a manger, or in a tomb? . . . Spare the whole world’s one only hope, you who are destroying the indispensable dishonor of our faith. Whatsoever is unworthy of God, is of gain to me. I am safe, if I am not ashamed of my Lord. . . . The Son of God was crucified; I am not ashamed because men must needs be ashamed of it. And the Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd. . . . But how will all this be true in Him, if He was not Himself true— if He really had not in Himself that which might be crucified, might die, might be buried, and might rise again? . . . Thus the nature of the two substances displayed Him as man and God—in one respect born, in the other unborn; in one respect fleshly, in the other spiritual; in one sense weak, in the other exceeding strong; in one sense dying, in the other living. . . . Why halve Christ with a lie? He was wholly the truth.”

May we be faithful to the true doctrine of the Incarnation of the Word, infallibly taught for 2,000 years by the Catholic Church. May we know how to fill ourselves with that holy amazement at the modernness of the Event that split the world’s history into a before and an after.

And, see how even the greatest anti-Catholic thinkers cannot think without relying on the great mysteries of the Catholic faith, even as they seek to destroy them!

May the Virgin Mary, who was the Incarnate Word’s pyx for 9 months, monstrance for 33 years, and ostensorium for 2000 years, make us know, love, and serve Him more and better!

(1) The Spanish title of this homily is La actualidad de la Encarnación del Verbo; actualidad here means up-to-dateness or modernness, which are real, albeit uncommon, words. – Trans. note.

(2) “No hay nada más actual que Dios”: a play on the double meaning of actual, meaning both up-to-the-minute or current and also in act as Subsistent Esse. – Trans. note.

(3) For this and for what follows, see Julio Meinvielle, El poder destructivo de la dialéctica marxista, Buenos Aires 1973, 40 y ss.

(4) “Communicatio Idiomatum: A technical expression in the theology of the Incarnation. It means that the properties of the Divine Word can be ascribed to the man Christ, and that the properties of the man Christ can be predicated of the Word.” Catholic Encyclopedia. – Trans. note.

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