Fr. Paul A. F. Castellano
NOTE:**** This is a slightly revised and expanded version of a FB post from last month. I'm including it here because for the next few weeks I'll be discussing the Incarnation of Christ and I wanted to make this available to those who are NOT FB friends at the moment.
When treating the doctrine of the incarnation of the 2nd Person of the Triune Godhead and its consequences, we often overlook the very real, pervasive, and necessary redemptive effects the incarnation has on both human nature and physical nature. To discuss Christ's “incarnation,” the assumption of a human nature, we oft-times, skirt the far-reaching implications God taking on a human nature presents.
There is no loss of stating this occurrence by all orthodox Christians. However, in many (most?) instances, that’s as far as the discussion goes. There is apparently mere lip service presented when mentioning “Jesus is the God-man; He took upon Himself a human nature all the while remaining God,” without the full cognition (or possibly even knowledge) of what "redeeming the physical" means, including its ramifications for Christianity overall.
Christianity is a "physical" religion; it is a religion steeped in the tangible, the seen, the experienced, the tactile.
Christianity is not exclusively a propositional religion - though it is that most certainly; but that and so much more.
When the "WORD became flesh and dwelt among us," the divinely instituted separation of the physical from the transcendent; the material from the spiritual; of mankind from God, was the nascent act of supra-divine redemption of the physical and spiritual and a profound cosmic act of reconciliation of both!
The Greek word the Apostle John uses here, ἐσκήνωσεν (eskanosen), "to dwell, pitch a tent, to settle, to take up one's abode," he uses only once, here, in his Gospel or epistles. However, he uses it 4 times in the Apocalypse - Rev 7:15; 12:12; 13:6; 21:3.
Why so many times there? It is in the context of the eternal and eschatological dwelling, the consummated dwelling, the final glorious and gracious dwelling of the Incarnate Word and His people (particularly 7:15; 13:6; and 21:3)! The dwelling of the physical and spiritual that ONLY the Incarnation could achieve.
It is important to remember mind you, that the separation was not an elimination of the interaction of the two - physical and transcendent - but an inhibition of the intended cosmic relationship, fellowship, integration that was originally the organic ousia, the relational "essence" between the Godhead and man as well as all of nature, created in the Garden. The incarnation is the transcendent cosmic, divinely spiritual intrusion into the immanent, earthly arena that begins the drama of healing, reconciling, and reuniting the two in the perfect union of Divine and human in Christ's incarnation.
From the angelic guards at the gates of Eden to the thick veil between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle, then the Temple, Scriptures SCREAMs of this separation due to sin.
The physical, the God-created, the-God-declared-"good," of that creation in the garden, was marred by man, and caused that glorious creation to groan in the anticipation that "man" would set things right; set things back to their proper state. Here the incarnation of the Perfectly Holy, Pure, Righteous, Divine Son of God, steps into the role of prophet, priest, and king Adam was supposed to assume when placed in and given the responsibility of, transforming, conforming, and sanctifying in holiness the earthly kingdom God set forth for him to rule in, serve, and preach! How utterly astounding and overlooked are the practical effects and implications when juxtaposed with Adams failure, is the incarnation of Jesus.
The nature of "man," being so marred and damaged by man's sin and guilt, was incapable of this cosmically needed, desired, and urged restoration. Only one whose "hands" were not tainted with sin and guilt, could usher in such a gracious and magnificent redemption.
As Adam was mankind's "federal" representative in the garden, we were all present with him, we all sinned with him, we all bear his guilt because he "was us" and "we were him." If you deny this representation, with all its intended effects - sin and guilt - then you eliminate yourself for the representation of the Incarnate Word of God, with ALL of ITS intended effects. They are divinely linked by the Incarnation; you simply cannot have the one without the other.
However, when the Incarnate Word arrived His work was something even better, something even more glorious. Yes, He was going to redeem creation, redeem that which He declared "good," redeem the physical because He, in fact, declared it to be good because He, the font of goodness, created it!
His work would, not only accomplish this, but it would so elevate the spiritual AND the physical that "all things would become new."
The Incarnation destroys the separation between God and "man" and nature due to sin. Because of the Incarnation, Christianity is NOT merely a propositional religion; it is a physical, sensuous religion that not only unites the physical and the spiritual in a divinely transcendent act, but the Incarnation mandates also that Christianity is a wholistic religion, incorporating the body and soul. This is eminently and profoundly manifested (or should be) in how our Churches are built, what our Churches look like, and how we function in our worship in those Churches. The Incarnation of Jesus not only should but must be demonstrated in our worship and in our Churches lest we traverse the spectrum of the various theological heresies.
And note, this is a union, a unification of the physical and spiritual NOT an identity; that would result in pantheism.
Any emphasis to degrade, to denigrate, to eliminate the physical elements resulting from the Incarnation of the 2nd Person of the Triune Godhead, turns Christianity into either an attenuated, transubstantiated, pseudo-docetic Gnosticism on the one hand; or a freakish pantheism/panentheism on the other.
This is a neon light shining to all who intentionally strip their churchmanship (and Churches) of the physical elements of Christianity for "fear" - fear of Romanism; fear of materialism; fear of idolatry; fear of, well, anything. If you denude Christianity of her physical structure, you deny true Christianity; you deny what the redemption of the physical by Jesus' Incarnation accomplished, you deny the Incarnation.
Next week we'll look at the foundational connection with the Incarnation of Jesus "In the beginning."