I treasure the small volume of George Gabriel, Mary the Untrodden Portal of God. Gabriel occasionally strikes hard at the West and the book would perhaps be strengthened with a less combative approach to the differences of East and West in the faith (my own opinion), but I liked the book and found Gabriel addressing many things, well foot-noted, that are not found in many other places. I share an excerpt.
From eternity, God provided for a communion with His creation that would remain forever. In that communion mankind would attain to the eternal theosis for which it was made. The communion, of course, is the Incarnation through the Ever-Virgin. Mankind’s existence and, therefore, that of all creation is inexorably tied to Mary because she was always to be the Mother of the Incarnate Word. The fathers say that neither the course of human events nor necessity of any kind forced the Uncreated One to join to Himself a creaturely mode of existence. God did not become flesh because some actions of the devil or of man made it necessary, but because it was the divine plan and mystery from before the ages. Despite the works of Satan and the coming of sin into the world, the eternal will of God was undeterred, and it moved forward.
History and the course of human events were the occasion and not the cause of the Incarnation. The Incarnation did not take place for the Crucifixion; the Crucifixion took place so the Incarnation and the eternal communion of God and man could be fulfilled despite Satan, sin, and death. Explaining that there was no necessity in God the Father that required the death of His Son, St. Gregory the Theologian says of the Father “neither asked for Him nor demanded Him, but accepts [His death] on account of the economy [of the Incarnation] and because mankind must be sanctified by the humanity of God.” St. Gregory is telling us that, from before the ages, it was the divine will for mankind to be sanctified and made immortal by communion with the humanity of the Incarnate God, but corruptibility and death came and stood in the way. By His Passion and Resurrection, Jesus Christ destroyed these obstacles and saved, that is, preserved, mankind for the Incarnation’s eternal communion of the God-Man and immortal men. St. John of Damascus repreats the same idea that the Incarnation is a prior and indeed ontological purpose in itself, and that redemption is the means to that end. Thus, he says the Holy Virgin “came to serve in the salvation of the world so that the ancient will of God for the Incarnation of the Word and our own theosis may be fulfilled through her.”
It seems worthwhile to me, for us to meditate on the fullness of our salvation which is to be accomplished in God’s great Pascha. Indeed, it seems to me that everything always was about Pascha – the “Lamb was slain before the foundation of the earth” (Rev. 13:8) We are approaching the end of all things – and, I should add, their beginning as well.
Reposted from a year ago.
I always knew the incarnation and crucifixion (and the subsequent resurrection) were from the foundation of the world, but I was among those who thought it was for the purpose of paying the penalty for our sins. The thought that He was going to be incarnate no matter what is mind blowing. That the crucifixion was to bring us into communion with the incarnation turns my understanding upside down.
I don’t know if it was you who said it, but I have heard it said that since death is the result of sin, death was broken because it unjustly took hold of the sinless One.
What an amazing truth. Christ took on flesh so He could live in communion, not as a substitution.
In Jeremiah’s comment above he says “death is the result of sin”. This is a continual point of struggle for me, so please forgive me Jeremiah and Father Stephen if I am out of line or speaking foolishly; I am not asking this to bust Jeremiah’s chops. For Adam death came as the result of sin; but for us we inherited death and because of that we sin. Which is correct? If you could elaborate on this, Father Stephen, and point me to any writings of the Fathers on the subject it sure would be appreciated.
A truly wonderful post, thank you Father Stephen.
It reminds me very much of the “Franciscan hypothesis”.
I’m obviously still getting over my Catholic/Protestant upbringing and life, but to be perfectly honest, I had not thought about whether the Incarnation was always a part of the original plan until now–I had just assumed it wasn’t, and that it was causal. This is big & unchartered territory for me to realize this morning that the Fathers taught this, though not surprising the more I think about it.
Thank you Fr. Stephen! And blessed Feast!
Somehow I missed this the first time it was posted. This is the clearest explanation I have ever seen of the Incarnation — as you know, vastly different from the Western “take” on the Incarnation, and the first time I heard the Orthodox point of view, it was totally beyond my comprehension. But I have learned, over 19 years of being Orthodox, that what I don’t understand right away will become clear in time. *This* post makes *this* point perfectly clear. Thank you, Father!
Okay, you persuaded me. I’ve placed my order for the Gabriel book. 🙂
Yes, indeed !
Don, I would need to do some digging for references (which may not happen today). Generally, I agree with your statement – with the caveat that we should not think about sin and death as issues of thing done wrong and punishment. Sin is the refusal to live in communion with God – which is death. True, we are born in a state in which we are out of communion with God, in its proper and full sense, and so the sin/death process begins its work in us. Death is more than what happens in the end – it is a constant state as sin/death work in us. Sometimes St. Paul uses the word “corruption” phthora to describe this.
Well put Father Stephen!
What exactly is the Franciscan Hypothesis? I have had a Franciscan priest tell me that in fact his order dord not repeat, Oh Happy Fault, since they do not believe that the Incarnation was in answer to anything but rather was as has been stated here, intended from the foundation of the world. And Fr. Stephen, thank you for the post, your explanation has clarified this priest’s point for me.
The same priest told me that many years ago, a Protestant colleague after hearing this ‘version’ of Catholic theology, realized that the difference between Protestants and Catholics is that Protestants create new denominations, Catholics simply create new Orders! I do praise God for the ‘both and’ outlook of Catholicism.
I lean toward letting precise explanation sit in the wings, I much prefer acceptance of mystery as mystery, but the West likes explanation and has had to deal with a lot of heresy. So while I am gratefully Catholic by choice, I very much appreciate the sensibilities of Orthodoxy.
Thank you again for this post.
The reference I made to death being broken by Jesus’ death is from St John Chrysostom: “For as long as sin took hold of men, it kept pressing to its end. But after finding a sinless body, when it had led it to death, it was condemned as having acted unjustly. In this way, then, Christ at once unnerved sin’s power, and abolished the death introduced by it.”
The quote is out of a book by Dee Pennock, that talks about the healing of our minds, and applying the wisdom of the Church Fathers to do so. I found that quote to fit in to what you said about the Incarnation.
Just to answer Don’s question (which I did not take as my chops being busted), from what I have learned so far, death was brought in by Adam’s sin, because it was separation from the Source of Life (not to sound New Age). And, as you pointed out, we inherit death, which continues to work sin in us. I believe the Church Fathers recognize that Death works sin, which works death (a vicious cycle).
I am a Fireman/Paramedic, and one of the things I see a lot is the destruction people bring on themselves with drugs, smoking and alcohol abuse. The use brings its own destruction, as well as the “need” to have more. Not that it’s a punishment, just a vicious cycle. Only a conscious, willful (and very often painful) denial of that impulse can bring about freedom from the destruction of the cycle. I think Heroin addicts are the best analogy. It is such an addictive self-perpetuating destruction, that very few people break away from it.
And, as Fr Stephen pointed out, it is relational, not legal. These people I see frequently have destroyed and fractured relationships. (Lord have mercy)
The concepts are still very hard for me to get my head around, but I find a kind of freedom in the thought that it is relational and not legal. Forgive me Don and Fr Stephen for rambling on. I hope you will pardon my zeal for trying to express what I am learning, so I can see if I have grasped it in any way.
Ya, i agree with Fr. Alvin…i want to order the book too!
i only hope it’s not some 5lb monster.
Blessed Annunciation to all!
There’s one new copy available on Amazon for $800!!! 4 used are also available – I think it will be a race. 🙂
I seem to get all the good books before they go out of print. I’ll see if we’ve got any left in our parish bookstore. Fr. Al, I’ll find a copy for you around the Church.
Hey Don. I didn’t take your question as busting my chops. It is a tough thing to get my head around.
The best thing I can liken it to is something I see often in my profession. I am a Fireman/Paramedic, and see a lot of people living out the destruction brought on by their abusive choices. There is the initial choice to use a drug, abuse alcohol, smoke, etc. but then comes the self perpetuation of the addiction. Without a willful decision to stop the cycle and go through the painful process of self-denial, they will continue until it finally consumes them.
I’m guessing that’s how the Death/Sin thing works in us. Sin introduces death, death works sin, and sin works continued death. A vicious cycle. Fr Stephen pointed out it is relational and not legal.
The quote I was looking for last time was from St John Chrysostom: “For as long as sin took hold of men, it kept pressing to its end. But after finding a sinless body, when it had led it to death, it was condemned as having acted unjustly. In this way, then, Christ at once unnerved sin’s power, and abolished the death introduced by it.”
I beg pardon of both you and Fr Stephen. I shouldn’t have presumed to answer. I did at least want to clarify that the quote I was looking for was Chrysostom.
Some years ago I found myself behind a car with a bumper sticker that read “GOD CREATED NOTRE DAME NUMBER ONE”. It was blue and gold and had a football on it so I just assumed that some guy in the athletic department in South Bend had gotten overly zealous. It wasn’t until years later when I read patristics and understood that all of creation was created for the incarnation of the second person of the Holy Trinity that it became obvious that the Theotokos thus must have been the first created component in the cosmic plan/idea. I began to laugh out loud when I realized that the bumper sticker I had seen years before may well have originated across campus in the theology department.
Oops. I posted twice. SORRY!
Here are some links for that book at about $21
Well, we do sing ‘Oh happy fault, oh necessary sin.’ However, because God is outside of time – He created it – there is no before of after. When we speak of a plan in regards to humans we necessarily speak of the future. When we speak of God’s plan, we are not speaking about the future, except in reference to creation. For God, his plan is immediate. We can say that the Incarnation was God’s way of rectifying man’s fallen state. However, man did not cause the Incarnation by his sin. Rather, God knew (because he is outside of time) about the fall when He was creating Jesus in time. This gets more confusing the more you think about it! I think the those that are unneasy about singing with the Latin Church, ‘Oh happy fault, oh necessary sin’ are looking at things from the wrong perspective.
Blake, I grant the intent of the language of ‘happy fault’ (‘felix culpa’). The mystery did not come to be expressed that way in the East. Like many things surrounding the mystery of our salvation – East and West found differing language.
The eschatological point of view implied by language such as speaking of a historical event as the “cause of everything” is something I find quite helpful. But I do not make much of the distinction between “our point of view in time” and “God’s point of view outside of time.” God surely sees everything in a way that we cannot imagine. But neither are we “stuck” in time as many people tend to think. If the cause of all things comes among us in 4 B.C. (or so) then time is not the thing we think. The Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, walked among us, and is among us. The Eucharist we partake is the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, the Banquet at the close of the age, and not simply a reminder of something that’s going to come. It comes among us and we are there.
Our eschatology, I think, needs to get as radical as the dogmas of the faith. I do not know much about eschatology in the West but am deeply drawn to it in its proper form in Orthodox theology.
Dear Father, bless!
I have recently come across a discussion about the nature of sin, death and the eternal destiny of the righteous vs. unrighteous on another blog. The argument being made was that the soul does not exist/live while the body is dead, and while both the unrighteous and righteous will be resurrected at the Final Judgment, only the righteous will live eternally. The unrighteous will be annihilated (cease to exist) along with Death and Hades in the lake of fire. Can you comment on this from a patristic perspective?
Thank you, Fr. Stephen!
The book is available from Light-n-Life
Perhaps this will go some way to answer your query. For us it is both, we sin because of our fear of death in looking for distractions but also we die because we sin. If you look at St. Photios’ treatment of Romans 5:12 this comes out in his treatment of the famous “epi ho” clause.
Don, if I might.
Man was created as a communicant not as a miscreant. In other words, he exists in eternal communion with the Living God — but through the fall allowed himself to be subjected to the tyranny of finality (sin).
Of course, God knew from eternity that sin would be destroyed by Christ — nothing that was made was not made through Him. This changes everything, even the pixels on this blog.
The consequence of the fall is that man willingly allowed himself to be turned into something that was not.
(All creation exists only to exalt God!).
Thanks. I broached the subject a bit on Perry’s blog a week ago, and Jeremiah opened the door for me to do the same on this one. I’m doing some reading now on the subject in the Fathers and I’ll ask a few questions later.
The Church Fathers (and the ancient righteous) knew more about all that mattered, than we did as “moderns” i.e. before He also made Himself known to us. Always a source of amazement this. Glory to God!