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Home > Fathers of the Church > On the Incarnation (John Cassian) > Book V

On the Incarnation (Book V)

Chapter 1.

He vehemently inveighs against the error of the Pelagians, who declared that Christ was a mere man.

We said in the first book that that heresy which copies and follows the lead of Pelagianism, strives and contends in every way to make it believed that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, when born of the Virgin was only a mere man; and that having afterwards taken the path of virtue He merited by His holy and pious life to be counted worthy for this holiness of His life that the Divine Majesty should unite Itself to Him: and thus by cutting off altogether from Him the honour of His sacred origin, it only left to Him the selection on account of His merits. And their aim and endeavour was this; viz., that, by bringing Him down to the level of common men, and making Him one of the common herd, they might assert that all men could by their good life and deeds secure whatever He had secured by His good life. A most dangerous and deadly assertion indeed, which takes away what truly belongs to God, and holds out false promises to men; and which should be condemned for abominable lies on both sides, since it attacks God with wicked blasphemy, and gives to men the hope of a false assurance. A most perverse and wicked assertion as it gives to men what does not belong to them, and takes away from God what is His. And so of this dangerous and deadly evil this new heresy which has recently sprung up, is in a way stirring and reviving the embers, and raising a fresh flame from its ancient ashes by asserting that our Lord Jesus Christ was born a mere man. And so why is there any need for us to ask whether its consequences are dangerous, as in its fountain head it is utterly wrong. It is unnecessary to examine what it is like in its issues, as in its commencement it leaves us no reason for examination. For what object is there in inquiring whether like the earlier heresy, it holds out the same promises to man, if (which is the most awful sin) it takes away the same things from God? So that it would be almost wrong, when we see what it begins like, to ask what there is to follow; as if some possible way might appear in the sequel, in which a man who denies God, could prove that he was not irreligious. The new heresy then, as we have already many times declared, says that the Lord Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, only a mere man: and so that Mary should be called Christotocos not Theotocos, because she was the mother of Christ, not of God. And further to this blasphemous statement it adds arguments that are as wicked as they are foolish, saying, No one ever gave birth to one who was before her. As if the birth of the only begotten of God, predicted by prophets, announced since the beginning of the world, could be dealt with or measured by human reasons. Or did the Virgin Mary, O you heretic, whoever you are, who slander her for her childbearing— bring about and consummate that which came to pass, by her own strength, so that in a matter and event of so great importance, human weakness can be brought as an objection? And so if there was anything in this great event which was the work of man, look for human arguments. But if everything, which was done, was due to the power of God, why should you consider what is impossible with men, when you see that it is the work of Divine power? But of this more anon. Now let us follow up the subject we began to treat of some little way back; that everybody may know that you are trying to fan the flame in the ashes of Pelagianism, and to revive the embers by breathing out fresh blasphemy.

Chapter 2.

That the doctrine of Nestorius is closely connected with the error of the Pelagians.

You say then that Christ was born a mere man. But certainly this was asserted by that wicked heresy of Pelagius, as we clearly showed in the first book; viz., that Christ was born a mere man. You add besides, that Jesus Christ the Lord of all should be termed a form that received God (Θεοδόχος), i.e., not God, but the receiver of God, so that your view is that He is to be honoured not for His own sake because He is God, but because He receives God into Himself. But clearly this also was asserted by that heresy of which I spoke before; viz., that Christ was not to be worshipped for His own sake because He was God, but because owing to His good and pious actions He won this; viz., to have God dwelling in Him. You see then that you are belching out the poison of Pelagianism, and hissing with the very spirit of Pelagianism. Whence it comes that you seem rather to have been already judged, than to have now to undergo judgment, for since your error is one and the same, you must be believed to fall under the same condemnation: not to mention for the present that you compare the Lord to a statue of the Emperor, and break out into such wicked and blasphemous impieties that you seem in this madness of yours to surpass even Pelagius himself, who surpassed almost every one else in impiety.

Chapter 3.

How this participation in Divinity which the Pelagians and Nestorians attribute to Christ, is common to all holy men.

You say then that Christ should be termed a form which received God (Θεοδόχος), i.e., that He should be revered not for His own sake because He is God, but because He received God within Him. And so in this way you make out that there is no difference between Him and all other holy men: for all holy men have certainly had God within them. For we know well that God was in the patriarchs, and that He spoke in the prophets. In a word we believe that, I do not say apostles and martyrs, but, all the saints and servants of God have within them the Spirit of God, according to this: You are the temple of the living God: as God said, For I will dwell in them. 2 Corinthians 6:16 And again: Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in you? 1 Corinthians 3:16 And thus we are all receivers of God (Θεοδόχοι); and in this way you say that all the saints are only like Christ, and equal to God. But away with such a wicked and abominable heresy as that the Creator should be compared to His creatures, the Lord to His servants, the God of things earthly and heavenly, to earthly frailty: and out of His very kindnesses this wrong be done to Him; viz., that He who honours man by dwelling in him should therefore be said to be only the same as man.

Chapter 4.

What the difference is between Christ and the saints.

Moreover there is between Him and all the saints the same difference that there is between a dwelling and one who dwells in it, for certainly it is the doing of the dweller not the dwelling, if it is inhabited, for on him it depends both to build the house and to occupy it. I mean, that he can choose, if he will, to make it a dwelling, and when he has made it, to live in it. Or do you seek a proof, says the Apostle, of Christ speaking in me? 2 Corinthians 13:3 And elsewhere, Do you not know that Jesus Christ is in you unless you be reprobate? And again: in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith. Ephesians 3:16-17 Do you not see what a difference there is between the Apostle's doctrine and your blasphemies? You say that God dwells in Christ as in a man. He testifies that Christ Himself dwells in men: which certainly, as you admit, flesh and blood cannot do; so that He is shown to be God, from the very fact from which you deny Him to be God. For since you cannot deny that He who dwells in man is God, it follows that we must believe that He, whom we know to dwell in men, is most decidedly God. All, then, whether patriarchs, or prophets, or apostles, or martyrs, or saints, had every one of them God within him, and were all made sons of God and were all receivers of God (Θεοδόχοι), but in a very different and distinct way. For all who believe in God are sons of God by adoption: but the only begotten alone is Son by nature: who was begotten of His Father, not of any material substance, for all things, and the substance of all things exist through the only begotten Son of God— and not out of nothing, because He is from the Father: not like a birth, for there is nothing in God that is void or mutable, but in an ineffable and incomprehensible manner God the Father, wherein He Himself was regenerate, begot his only begotten Son; and so from the Most High, Ingenerate, and Eternal Father proceeds the Most High, Only Begotten, and Eternal Son. Who must be considered the same Person in the flesh as He is in the Spirit: and must be held to be the same Person in the body as He is in glory, for when He was about to be born in the flesh, He made no division or separation within Himself, as if some portion of Him was born while another portion was not born: or as if some portion of Divinity afterwards came upon Him, which had not been in Him at His birth from the Virgin. For according to the Apostle, all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ bodily. Colossians 2:9 Not that It dwells in Him at times, and at times dwells not; nor that It was there at a later date, and not an earlier one: otherwise we are entangled in that impious heresy of Pelagius, so as to say that from a fixed moment God dwelt in Christ, and that He then came upon Him; when He had won by His life and conversation this; viz., that the power of the Godhead should dwell in Him. These things then belong to men, to men, I say, not to God—that as far as human weakness can, they should humble themselves to God, be subject to God, make themselves dwellings for God, and by their faith and piety win this, to have God as their guest and indweller. For in proportion as anyone is fit for God's gift, so does the Divine grace reward him: in proportion as a man seems worthy of him: in proportion as a man seems worthy of God, so does he enjoy God's presence, according to the Lord's promise: if any man love Me, he will keep My word; and I and My Father will come to him and make Our abode with him. John 14:23 But very different is the case as regards Christ; in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily: for He has within Him the fullness of the Godhead so that He gives to all of His fullness, and He— as the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him— Himself dwells in each of the saints in proportion as He deems them worthy of His Presence, and gives of His fullness to all, yet in such a way that He Himself continues in all that fullness—who even when He was on earth in the flesh, yet was present in the hearts of all the saints, and filled the heaven, the earth, the sea, aye and the whole universe with His infinite power and majesty; and yet was so complete in Himself that the whole world could not contain Him. For however great and inexpressible whatever is made may be, yet there are no things so boundless and infinite as to be able to contain the Creator Himself.

Chapter 5.

That before His birth in time Christ was always called God by the prophets.

He it is then of whom the Prophet says: For in You is God, and there is no God beside You. For You are our God and we knew You not, O God of Israel the Saviour. Isaiah 45:14-15 Who afterwards appeared on earth and conversed with men. Baruch 3:37 Of whom and in whose Person the Prophet David also speaks: From my mother's womb You are my God: showing clearly that He who was Lord and man was never separate from God: in whom even in the Virgin's womb the fullness of the Godhead dwelt. As elsewhere the same Prophet says: Truth has sprung from the earth and righteousness has looked down from heaven, that we may know that when the Son of God looked down from heaven (i.e., came and descended), righteousness was born of the flesh of the Virgin, no phantasm of a body, but the Truth: for He is the Truth, according to His own witness of Truth: I am the Truth and the life. John 14:6 And so as we have proved in the earlier books that this Truth; viz., the Lord Jesus Christ, was God when born of the Virgin, let us now do as we determined to do in the book before this, and show that He who was to be born of the Virgin, was always declared to be God beforehand. And so the prophet Isaiah says, Cease from the man whose breath is in his nostrils, for it is He in whom he is reputed to be; or as it is more exactly and clearly in the Hebrew: for he is reputed high. But by saying cease, a term which deprecates violence, he admirably denotes the disturbance of persecution. Cease, he says, from the man whose breath is in his nostrils, for he is reputed high. Does he not in one and the same sentence speak of the taking upon Him of the manhood, and the truth of His Godhead? Cease, he says, from the man whose breath is in his nostrils, for he is reputed high. Does he not, I ask you, seem plainly to address the Lord's persecutors, and to say, Cease from the man whom you are persecuting, for this man is God: and though He appears in the lowliness of human flesh, yet He still continues in the high estate of Divine glory? But by saying Cease from the man whose breath is in his nostrils, he admirably showed His manhood, by the clearest tokens of a human body, and this fearlessly and confidently, as one who would as urgently assert the truth of His humanity as that of His Godhead, for this is the true and Catholic faith, to believe that the Lord Jesus Christ possessed the substance of a true body just as He possessed a true and perfect Divinity. Unless possibly you think that anything can be made out of the fact that he uses the word High instead of God; whereas it is the habit of holy Scripture to put High for God, as where the prophet says: the Most High uttered His voice and the earth was moved, and You alone are Most High over all the earth. Isaiah too, who says this: The High and lofty one who inhabites eternity: Isaiah 57:15 where we are clearly to understand that as he there puts Most High without adding the name of God, so here too he speaks of God by the name of Most High. So then, since the Divine word spoken by the prophet clearly announced beforehand that the Lord Jesus Christ would be both God and man, let us now see whether the New Testament corresponds to and harmonizes with the testimony of the Old.

Chapter 6.

He illustrates the same doctrine by passages from the New Testament.

That, says the Apostle John, which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the word of the life: for the life was manifested: and we have seen, and do bear witness, and declare unto you the life eternal which was with the Father, and has appeared unto us. 1 John 1:1-2 You see how the old testimonies are confirmed by fresh ones, and the support of the new preaching is given to the ancient prophecy. Isaiah said: Cease from the man whose breath is in his nostrils for he is reputed high. But John says: That which was from the beginning, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled. The former said that as man He would be persecuted by the Jews: the latter declared that as man He was handled by men's hands. The one predicted that He whom he announced as man, would be God Most High: the other asserts that He whom he showed to have been handled by men, was ever God in the beginning. It is then as clear as possible that they both showed the Lord Jesus Christ to be both God and man; and that the same Person was afterwards man who had always been God, and thus He was God and man, because God Himself became man. That then, he says, which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the word of life; and the life was manifested, and we have seen, and do bear witness, and declare unto you the life eternal which was with the Father, and has appeared unto us. You see the number of proofs and ways, very different and numerous, in which that Apostle so well beloved and so devoted to God, indicates the mystery of the Divine Incarnation. In the first instance he testifies that He, who ever was in the beginning, was seen in the flesh. Lest in case it might not seem sufficient for unbelievers that he had spoken of Him as seen and heard, he supports it by saying that He was handled, i.e., touched and felt by his own hands and by those of others. Admirably indeed by showing how He took flesh, does he shut out the view of the Marcionites and the error of the Manichees, so that no one may think that a phantom appeared to men, since an apostle has declared that a true body was handled by him. Then he adds the word of life: and the life was manifested; and that he saw it, announced it, and proclaimed it: thus at the same time carrying out the duties of the faith and striking the unbelievers with terror, that while he declares that he proclaims Him, he may bring home the danger in which he stands, to the man who will not listen. We declare to you, he says, the life eternal which was with the Father, and has appeared to us. He teaches that that which was ever with the Father appeared to men: and that which was ever in the beginning, was seen of men: and that which was the Word of life without beginning, was handled by men's hands. You see the number and variety, the particularity and the clearness of the ways in which he unfolds the mystery of the flesh joined to God, in such a way that no one could speak at all of either without acknowledging both. As the Apostle himself clearly says elsewhere: For Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and for ever. Hebrews 13:8 This is what he said in the passage given above: That which was from the beginning, our hands have handled. Not that a spirit can in its own nature be handled: but that the Word made flesh was in a sense handled in the manhood with which it was joined. And so Jesus is the same yesterday and today: i.e., the same Person before the commencement of the world, as in the flesh; the same in the past as in the present, the same also for ever, for He is the same through all the ages, as before all the ages. And all this is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Chapter 7.

He shows again from the union in Christ of two natures in one Person that what belongs to the Divine nature may rightly be ascribed to man, and what belongs to the human nature to God.

And how was it the same Person before the origin of the world, who was but recently born? Because it was the same Person, who was recently born in human nature, who was God before the rise of all things. And so the name of Christ includes everything that the name of God does; for so close is the union between Christ and God that no one, when he uses the name of Christ can help speaking of God under the name of Christ, nor, when he speaks of God, can he help speaking of Christ under the name of God. And as through the glory of His holy nativity the mystery of each substance is joined together in Him, whatever was in existence— I mean both human and Divine— all is regarded as God. And hence the Apostle Paul seeing with unveiled eyes of faith the whole mystery of the ineffable glory in Christ, spoke as follows, in inviting the peoples who were ignorant of God's goodness to give thanksgiving to God: Giving thanks to the Father, who has made us worthy to be partakers of the lot of the saints in light, who has delivered us from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the remission of sins; who is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of every creature: for in Him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominations, or powers: all things were created by Him and in Him. And He is before all, and by Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body the Church, who is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; that in all things He may hold the primacy. Because it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell; and through Him to reconcile all things unto Himself, making peace through the blood of His cross, both as to the things on earth, and the things that are in heaven. Colossians 1:12-20 Surely this does not need the aid of any further explanation, as it is so fully and clearly expressed that in itself it contains not merely the substance of the faith, but a clear exposition of it. For he bids us give thanks to the Father: and adds a weighty reason for thus giving thanks; viz., because He has made us worthy to be partakers with the saints, and has delivered us from the power of darkness, has translated us unto the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption and remission of sins: who is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of every creature; for in Him and through Him were all things created; of which He is both the Creator and the ruler: and what follows after this? He is he says, the head of the body the Church: who is the beginning, the first-born from the dead. Scripture speaks of the resurrection as a birth: because as birth is the beginning of life, so resurrection gives birth unto life. Whence also the resurrection is actually spoken of as regeneration, according to the words of the Lord: Verily I say unto you, that you which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of His glory, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Matthew 19:28 Therefore he calls Him the first-born from the dead, whom he had previously declared to be the invisible Son and image of God. But who is the image of the invisible God, except the only-begotten, the Word of God? And how can we say that He rose from the dead, who is termed the image and word of the invisible God? And what is it that follows afterwards? That in all things He may hold the primacy: for it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, making peace through the blood of His cross, both as to things on earth and the things that are in heaven. Surely the Creator of all things has no need of the primacy in all things? Nor He who made them, of the primacy of those things which were made by Him? And how can we say of the Word, that it pleased God that all fullness should dwell in Him who was the first-born from the dead, when He was Himself the only-begotten Son of God and the Word of God, before the origin of all things, and had within Him the invisible Father, and so first had within Him all fullness, that He might Himself be the fullness of all things? And what next? Bringing all things to peace through the blood of His cross, both things on earth, and the things which are in heaven. Certainly he has made it as clear as possible of whom he was speaking, when he called Him the first-born from the dead. For are all things reconciled and brought into peace through the blood of the Word or Spirit? Most certainly not. For no sort of passion can happen to nature that is impassible, nor can the blood of any but a man be shed, nor any but a man die: and yet the same Person who is spoken of in the following verses as dead, was above called the image of the invisible God. How then can this be? Because the apostles took every possible precaution that it might not be thought that there was any division in Christ, or that the Son of God being joined to a Son of man, might come by wild interpretations to be made into two Persons, and thus He who is in Himself but one might by wrongful and wicked notions of ours, be made into a double Person in one nature. And so most excellently and admirably does the apostle's preaching pass from the only begotten Son of God to the Son of man united to the Son of God, that the exposition of the doctrine might follow the actual course of the things that happened. And so he continues with an unbroken connection, and makes as it were a sort of bridge, that without any gap or separation you might find at the end of time Him whom we read of as in the beginning of the world; and that you might not by admitting some division and erroneous separation imagine that the Son of God was one person in the flesh and another in the Spirit; when the teaching of the apostle had so linked together God and man through the mystery of His birth in the body, so as to show that it was the same Person reconciling to Himself all things on the Cross, who had been proclaimed the image of the invisible God before the foundation of the world.

Chapter 8.

He confirms the judgment of the Apostle by the authority of the Lord.

And though this is the saying of an Apostle, yet it is the very doctrine of the Lord. For the same Person says this to Christians by His Apostle, who had Himself said something very like it to Jews in the gospel, when He said: But now you seek to kill me, a man, who have spoken the truth to you, which I heard of God: for I am not come of Myself, but He sent me. John 8:40, 42 He clearly shows that He is both God and man: man, in that He says that He is a man: God, in that He affirms that He was sent. For He must have been with Him from whom He came: and He came from Him, from whom He said that He was sent. Whence it comes that when the Jews said to Him, You are not yet fifty years old and have You seen Abraham? He replied in words that exactly suit His eternity and glory, saying, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham came into being, I am. I ask then, whose saying do you think this is? Certainly it is Christ's without any doubt. And how could He who had been but recently born, say that He was before Abraham? Simply owing to the Word of God, with which He was entirely united, so that all might understand the closeness of the union of Christ and God: since whatever God said in Christ, that in its fullness the unity of the Divinity claimed for Himself. But conscious of His own eternity, He rightly then when in the body, replied to the Jews, with the very words which He had formerly spoken to Moses in the Spirit. For here He says, Before Abraham came into being, I am. But to Moses He says, I am that I am. Exodus 3:14 He certainly announced the eternity of His Divine nature with marvellous grandeur of language, for nothing can be spoken so worthily of God, as that He should be said ever to be. For to be admits of no beginning in the past or end in the future. And so this is very clearly spoken of the nature of the eternal God, as it exactly describes His eternity. And this the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, when He was speaking of Abraham, showed by the difference of terms used, saying, Before Abraham came into being I am. Of Abraham he said, Before he came into being: Of Himself, I am, for it belongs to things temporal to come into being: to be belongs to eternity. And so to come into being He assigns to human transitoriness: but to be to His own nature. And all this was found in Christ who, by virtue of the mystery of the manhood and Divinity joined together in Him who ever was, could say that He already was.

Chapter 9.

Since those marvellous works which from the days of Moses were shown to the children of Israel are attributed to Christ, it follows that He must have existed long before His birth in time.

And when the Apostle wanted to make this clear and patent to everybody he spoke as follows, saying that, Jesus having saved the people out of the land of Egypt afterward destroyed them that believed not. But elsewhere too we read: Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them tempted, and were destroyed by serpents. 1 Corinthians 10:9 Peter also the chief of the apostles says: And now why do you tempt God to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear. But we believe that we shall be saved by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ even as they were. Acts 15:10-11 We know most certainly that the people of God were delivered from Egypt, and led dryshod through mighty tracts of water, and preserved in the vast desert wastes, by none but God alone; as it is written: The Lord alone did lead them, and there was no strange God among them. Deuteronomy 32:12 And how can an Apostle declare in so many and such clear passages that the people of the Jews were delivered from Egypt by Jesus, and that Christ was at that time tempted by the Jews in the wilderness, saying, Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them tempted, and were destroyed of the serpents? And further the blessed Apostle Peter says of all the saints who lived under the law of the Old Covenant that they were saved by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Get out then, and wriggle out of this if you can— whoever you are— you who rage with vapid mouth and a spirit of blasphemy, and think that there is no difference at all between Adam and Christ; and you who deny that He was God before His birth of the Virgin, show clearly how you can prove that He was not God before His body came into existence. For lo, an Apostle says that the people were saved out of the land of Egypt by Jesus: and that Christ was tempted by unbelievers in the wilderness: and that our fathers, i.e., the patriarchs and prophets, were saved by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Deny it if you can. I shall not be surprised if you manage to deny what we all read, as you have already denied what we all believe. Know then that even then it was Christ in God who led the people out of Egypt, and it was Christ in God who was tempted by the people who tempted, and it was Christ in God who saved all the righteous men by His lavish grace: for through the oneness of the mystery (of the Incarnation) the terms God and Christ so pass into each other, that whatever God did, that we may say that Christ did; and whatever afterwards Christ bore, we may say that God bore. And so when the prophet said, There shall no new God be in you, neither shall you worship any other God, he announced it with the same meaning and in the same spirit as that with which the Apostle said that Christ was the leader of the people of Israel out of Egypt; to show that He who was born of the Virgin as man, was even through the unity of the mystery still in God. Otherwise, unless we believe this, we must either believe with the heretics that Christ is not God, or against the teaching of the prophet hold that He is a new God. But may it be far from the Catholic people of God, to seem either to differ from the prophet or to agree with heretics: or perchance the people who should be blessed may be involved in a curse, and be charged with putting their hope in man. For whoever declares that the Lord Jesus Christ was at His birth a mere man, is doubly liable to the curse, whether he believes in Him or not. For if he believes, Cursed is he who puts his hope in man. Jeremiah 17:5 But if he does not believe, nonetheless is he still cursed, because though not believing in man, he still has altogether denied God.

Chapter 10.

He explains what it means to confess, and what it means to dissolve Jesus.

For this it is which John, the man so dear to God, foresaw from the Lord's own revelation to him and so spoke of Him, who was speaking in him. Every spirit, he says, which confesses Jesus come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that dissolves Jesus is not of God: and this is the spirit of Antichrist, of whom you have heard already, and he is now already in the world. O the marvellous and singular goodness of God, who like a most careful and skilful physician, foretold beforehand the diseases that should come upon His Church, and when He showed the mischief beforehand, gave in showing it, a remedy for it: that all men when they saw the evil approaching, might at once flee as far as possible from that which they already knew to be imminent. And so Saint John says, Every spirit that dissolves Jesus is not of God; and this is the spirit of Antichrist. Do you recognize him, O you heretic? Do you recognize that it is plainly and markedly spoken of you? For no one thus dissolves Jesus but he who does not confess that He is God. For since in this consists all the faith and all the worship of the Church; viz., to confess that Jesus is very God; who can more dissolve His glory and worship than one who denies the existence in Him of all that we all worship? Take then, I beseech you, take care lest any one may even term you Antichrist. Do you think that I am reviling and cursing? What I am saying is not my own idea: for lo, the Evangelist says, Every one that dissolves Jesus is not of God; and this is Antichrist. If you do not dissolve Jesus, and deny God, no one may call you Antichrist. But if you deny it why do you accuse any one for calling you Antichrist? While you are denying it, I declare you have said it of yourself. Would you like to know whether this is true? Tell me, when Jesus was born of a Virgin, what do you make Him to be— man or God? If God only, you certainly dissolve Jesus, as you deny that in Him manhood was joined to Divinity. But if you say He was man, none the less do you dissolve Him, as you blasphemously say that a mere man (as you will have it) was born. Unless perhaps you think that you do not dissolve Jesus, you who deny Him to be God, you who would certainly dissolve Him even if you did not deny that man was born together with God. But possibly you would like this to be made clearer by examples. You shall have them in both directions. The Manichees are outside the Church, who declare that Jesus was God alone: and the Ebionites, who say that he was a mere man. For both of them deny and dissolve Jesus: the one by saying that He is only man, the other by saying that He is only God. For though their opinions were the opposite of each other, yet the blasphemy of these diverse opinions is much the same, except that if any distinction can be drawn between the magnitude of the evils, your blasphemy which asserts that He is a mere man is worse than that which says that He is only God: for though both are wrong, yet it is more insulting to take away from the Lord what is Divine than what is human. This then alone is the Catholic and the true faith; viz., to believe that as the Lord Jesus Christ is God so also is He man; and that as He is man so also is He God. Every one who dissolves Jesus is not of God. But to dissolve Him is to try to rend asunder what is united in Jesus; and to sever what is but one and indivisible. But what is it in Jesus that is united and but one? Certainly the manhood and the Godhead. He then dissolves Jesus who severs these and rends them asunder. Otherwise, if he does not rend them asunder and sever them, he does not dissolve Jesus: But if he rends them asunder he certainly dissolves Him.

Chapter 11.

The mystery of the Lord's Incarnation clearly implies the Divinity of Christ.

And so to every man who breaks out into this mad blasphemy, the Lord Jesus in the gospel Himself repeats what He said to the Pharisees, and declares: What God has joined together, let not man put asunder. Matthew 19:6 For although where it was originally spoken by God it seems to be in answer to another matter, yet the deep wisdom of God which was speaking not more of carnal than of spiritual things, would have this to be taken of that subject indeed, but even more of this: for when the Jews of that day believed with you that Jesus was only a man without Divinity, and the Lord was asked a question about the union in marriage, in His teaching He not only referred to it, but to this also: though consulted about matters of less importance His answer applied to greater and deeper matters, when he said, What God has joined together, let not man put asunder, i.e., Do not sever what God has joined together in My Person. Let not human wickedness sever that which the Divine Glory has united in Me. But if you want to be told more fully that this is so, hear the Apostle talking about these very subjects of which the Saviour was then teaching, for he, as a teacher sent from God that his weak-minded hearers might be able to take in his teaching, expounded those very subjects which God had proclaimed in a mystery. For when he was discussing the subject of carnal union, on which the Saviour had been asked a question in the gospel, he repeated those very passages from the old Law on which He had dwelt, on purpose that they might see that as he was using the same authorities he was expounding the same subject: besides which, that nothing may seem to be wanting to his case, he adds the mention of carnal union, and puts in the names of husband and wife whom he exhorts to love one another: Husbands, love your wives even as Christ also loved the Church. And again: So also ought men to love their wives even as their own bodies. He that loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ also does the Church, for we are members of His body. Ephesians 5:25-30 You see how by adding to the mention of man and wife the mention of Christ and the Church, he leads all from taking it carnally to understand it in a spiritual sense. For when he had said all this, he added those passages which the Lord had applied in the Gospel, saying: For this cause shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. And after this with special emphasis he adds: This is a great mystery. He certainly altogether cuts off and gets rid of any carnal interpretation, by saying that it is a Divine mystery. And what did he add after this? But I am speaking of Christ and the Church. That is to say: But that is a great mystery. But I am speaking of Christ and the Church, i.e., since perhaps at the present time all cannot grasp that, they may at least grasp this, which is not at variance with it, nor different from it, because both refer to Christ. But because they cannot grasp those more profound truths let them at least take in these easier ones that by making a commencement by grasping what lies on the surface, they may come to the deeper truths, and that the acquisition of a somewhat simple matter may open the way in time to what is more profound.

Chapter 12.

He explains more fully what the mystery is which is signified under the name of the man and wife.

What then is that great mystery which is signified under the name of the man and his wife? Let us ask the Apostle himself, who elsewhere to teach the same thing uses words of the same force, saying: And evidently great is the mystery of godliness, which was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached to the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory. What then is that great mystery which was manifested in the flesh? Clearly it was God born of the flesh, God seen in bodily form: who was openly received up in glory just as He was openly manifested in the flesh. This then is the great mystery, of which he says: For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they two shall be one flesh. Who then were the two in one flesh? God and the soul, for in the one flesh of man which is joined to God are present God and the soul, as the Lord Himself says: No man can take My life (anima) away from Me. But I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. John 10:18 You see then in this, three; viz., God, the flesh, and the soul. He is God who speaks: the flesh in which He speaks: the soul of which He speaks. Is He therefore that man of whom the prophet says: A brother cannot redeem, nor shall a man redeem? Who, as it was said, ascended up where He was before, John 6:62 and of whom we read: No man has ascended into heaven, but He who came down from heaven, even the Son of man who is in heaven. John 3:13 For this cause, I say, He has left his father and mother, i.e., God from whom He was begotten and that Jerusalem which is the mother of us all, Galatians 4:26 and has cleaved to human flesh, as to his wife. And therefore he expressly says in the case of the father a man shall leave his father, but in the case of the mother he does not say his, but simply says mother: because she was not so much his mother, as the mother of all believers, i.e., of all of us. And He was joined to his wife, for just as man and wife make but one body, so the glory of Divinity and the flesh of man are united and the two, viz., God and the soul, become one flesh. For just as that flesh had God as an indweller in it, so also had it the soul within it dwelling with God. This then is that great mystery, to search out which our admiration for the Apostle summons us, and God's own exhortation bids us: and it is one not foreign to Christ and His Church, as he says, But I am speaking of Christ and the Church. Because the flesh of the Church is the flesh of Christ, and in the flesh of Christ there is present God and the soul: and so the same person is present in Christ as in the Church, because the mystery which we believe in the flesh of Christ, is contained also by faith in the Church.

Chapter 13.

Of the longing with which the old patriarchs desired to see the revelation of that mystery.

This mystery then, which was manifested in the flesh and appeared in the world, and was preached to the Gentiles, many of the saints of old longed to see in the flesh, as they foresaw it in the spirit. For Verily, says the Lord, I say unto you that many prophets and righteous men have desired to see the things which you see, and have not seen them; and to hear the things which you hear and have not heard them. Matthew 13:17 And so the prophet Isaiah says: O that You, Lord, would rend the heavens and come down, Isaiah 64:1 and David too: O Lord, bow the heavens and come down. Moses also says: Show me Yourself that I may see You plainly. Exodus 33:13 No one ever approached nearer to God speaking out of the clouds, and to the very presence of His glory than Moses who received the law. And if no one ever saw more closely into God than he did, why did he ask for a still clearer vision, saying, Show me Yourself that I may see You plainly? Simply because he prayed that this might happen which the apostle tells us in almost the same words actually did happen; viz., that the Lord might be openly manifested in the flesh, might openly appear to the world, openly be received up in glory; and that at last the saints might with their very bodily eyes see all those things which with spiritual sight they had foreseen.

Chapter 14.

He refutes the wicked and blasphemous notion of the heretics who said that God dwelt and spoke in Christ as in an instrument or a statue.

Otherwise, as the heretics say, God would be in the Lord Jesus Christ as in a statue or in an instrument, i.e., He would dwell as it were in a man and speak as it were through a man, and it would not be He who dwelt and spoke as God of Himself and in His own body: and certainly He had already thus dwelt in the saints and spoken in the persons of the saints. In those men too, of whom I spoke above, who had prayed for His advent, He had thus dwelt and spoken. And what need was there for all these to ask for what they already possessed, if they were seeking for what they had previously received? Or why should they long to see with their eyes what they were keeping in their hearts, especially as it is better for a man to have the same thing within himself than to see it outside? Or if God was to dwell in Christ in the same way as in all the saints, why should all the saints long to see Christ rather than themselves? And if they were only to see the same thing in Jesus Christ, which they themselves possessed, why should they not much rather prefer to have this in themselves than to see it in another? But you are wrong, you wretched madman, not understanding, as the Apostle says, what you say and whereof you affirm: 1 Timothy 1:7 for all the prophets and all the saints received from God some portion of the Divine Spirit as they were able to bear it. But in Christ all the fullness of the Godhead dwelt and dwells bodily. And therefore they all fall far short of His fullness, from whose fullness they receive something: for the fact that they are filled is the gift of Christ: because they would all certainly be empty, were He not the fullness of all.

Chapter 15.

What the prayers of the saints for the coming of Messiah contained; and what was the nature of that longing of theirs.

This then all the saints wished for: for this they prayed. This they longed to see with their eyes in proportion as they were wise in heart and mind. And so the prophet Isaiah says: O that You would rend the heavens and come down. Isaiah 64:1 But Habakkuk too declaring the same thing which the other was wishing for, says: When the years draw near, You will show Yourself: at the coming of the times You will be manifested: God will come from Teman, or God will come from the south. David also: God will clearly come: and again: You that sits above the Cherubim, show Yourself. Some declared His advent which He presented to the world: others prayed for it. Some in different forms but all with equal longing: understanding up to a certain point how great a thing they were praying for, that God dwelling in God, and continuing in the form and bosom of God, might empty Himself, Philippians 2:7 and take the form of a servant and submit Himself to endure all the bitterness and insults of the passion, and undergo punishment for His goodness, and what is hardest, and the most disgraceful thing of all, meet with death at the hands of those very persons for whom He would die. All the saints then understanding this up to a certain point— up to a certain point, I say, for how vast it is none can understand— with concordant voice and (so to speak) by mutual consent all prayed for the advent of God: for indeed they knew that the hope of all men lay therein, and that the salvation of all was bound up in this, because no one could loose the prisoners except one who was Himself free from chains: no one could release sinners, save one Himself without sin: for no one can in any case set free anyone, unless he is himself free in that particular, in which another is freed by him. And so when death had passed on all, all were wanting in life, that, dying in Adam, they might live in Christ. For though there were many saints, many elect and even friends of God, yet none could ever of themselves be saved, had they not been saved by the advent of the Lord and His redemption.

About this page

Source. Translated by C.S. Gibson. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 11. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1894.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/35095.htm>.

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