Arthur Middleton on the meaning of the incarnation


The antiphon to the Benedictus for the Circumcision in The English Office is a succinct exposition of the incarnation. It reads:


A great and wondrous mystery is made known to us this day; a new thing is wrought in nature; God is made man; that which he was he remaineth, and that which he was not he assumeth, suffering neither confusion nor yet division.


In the words of the Athansian Creed the antiphon is saying that Our Lord Jesus Christ is at once fully God and fully man, the completeness of his manhood including a rational mind. He has a twofold generation, before time from the Father and in time from the Blessed Virgin. Yet though he is simultaneously complete God and complete man, there is no division in his being, and he remains indissolubly one after the incarnation. This insistence on his unity is a unity of person, not just the intermingling of the divine and the human, and certainly not the transformation of the former into the latter. At the incarnation the eternal Son of God took human nature to himself and made it his very own.

   This is the Catholic conception of the incarnation and is the vision of the seer John on the isle of Patmos. It was defined by the Council of Chalcedon and is expounded by Richard Hooker in Book Five of his Ecclesiastical Polity before he defines the Church and Sacraments. Incredible it may seem to the intellect but where reason recoils intuitive faith leaps to its acceptance. I believe! Help thou my unbelief. Faith accepts the fact. Reason must go on to ponder the mystery and face anew the whole problem of the true relation of the human and the divine in the light of the revelation of their union in the person of Christ.

   The acceptance of the seer’s vision and its teaching as to the continuity of Being between the Jesus of the gospels and the Christ of God and the recognition of the central constituents of his person as divine will come, if we remember that faith as for the seer of Patmos, so for us, is open, if we with him in prayer and worship seek the vision and are found in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. To such the real presence is given as he is made known to us in the breaking of the bread, and we receive the witness within us which enables us also to testify, My Lord and my God!