The Incarnation

The Incarnation is the mystery and the dogma of the Word made Flesh. ln this technical sense the word incarnation was adopted, during the twelfth century, from the Norman-French, which in turn had taken the word over from the Latin incarnatio. The Latin Fathers, from the fourth century, make common use of the word; so Saints Jerome, Ambrose, Hilary, etc. The Latin incarnatio (incaro, flesh) corresponds to the Greek sarkosis, or ensarkosis, which words depend on John (1:14) kai ho Logos sarx egeneto, “And the Word was made flesh”. These two terms were in use by the Greek Fathers from the time of St. Irenæus–i.e. according to Harnack, A.D. 181-189 (cf. Irenaeus, “Adv. Haer.” III, 19, n. i.; Migne, VII, 939). The verb sarkousthai, to be made flesh, occurs in the creed of the Council of Nicaea (cf. Denzinger, “Enchiridion”, n. 86). In the language of Holy Writ, flesh means, by synecdoche, human nature or man (cf. Luke 3:6; Romans 3:20). Francisco Suárez deems the choice of the word incarnation to have been very apt. Man is called flesh to emphasize the weaker part of his nature. When the Word is said to have been incarnate, to have been made Flesh, the Divine goodness is better expressed whereby God “emptied Himself . . . and was found in outward bearing (schemati) like a man” (Philippians 2:7); He took upon Himself not only the nature of man, a nature capable of suffering and sickness and death, He became like a man in all save only sin (cf. Francisco Suárez, “De Incarnatione”, Praef. n. 5). The Fathers now and then use the word henanthropesis, the act of becoming man, to which correspond the terms inhumanatio, used by some Latin Fathers, and “Menschwerdung”, current in German. The mystery of the Incarnation is expressed in Scripture by other terms: epilepsis, the act of taking on a nature (Hebrews 2:16): epiphaneia, appearance (2 Timothy 1:10); phanerosis hen sarki, manifestation in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16); somatos katartismos, the fitting of a body, what some Latin Fathers call incorporatio (Hebrews 10:5); kenosis, the act of emptying one’s self (Philippians 2:7). In this article, we shall treat of the fact, nature and effects of the Incarnation.

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Christian Faith

The fact of the incarnation

The Incarnation implies three facts: (1) The Divine Person of Jesus Christ; (2) The Human Nature of Jesus Christ; (3) The Hypostatic Union of the Human with the Divine Nature in the Divine Person of Jesus Christ.

The divine person of Jesus Christ

We presuppose the historicity, of Jesus Christ — i.e. that He was a real person of history (cf. JESUS CHRIST); the Messiahship of Jesus; the historical worth and authenticity of the Gospels and Acts; the Divine ambassadorship of Jesus Christ established thereby; the establishment of an infallible and never failing teaching body to have and to keep the deposit of revealed truth entrusted to it by the Divine ambassador, Jesus Christ; the handing down of all this deposit by tradition and of part thereof by Holy Writ; the canon and inspiration of the Sacred Scriptures–all these questions will be found treated in their proper places. Moreover, we assume that the Divine nature and Divine personality are one and inseparable (see TRINITY). The aim of this article is to prove that the historical person, Jesus Christ, is really and truly God, –i.e. has the nature of God, and is a Divine person. The Divinity of Jesus Christ is established by the Old Testament, by the New Testament and by tradition.

Old Testament proofs

The Old Testament proofs of the Divinity of Jesus presuppose its testimony to Him as the Christ, the Messias (see MESSIAS). Assuming then, that Jesus is the Christ, the Messias promised in the Old Testament, from the terms of the promise it is certain that the One promised is God, is a Divine Person in the strictest sense of the word, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of the Father, One in nature with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Our argument is cumulative. The texts from the Old Testament have weight by themselves; taken together with their fulfilment in the New Testament, and with the testimony of Jesus and His apostles and His Church, they make up a cumulative argument in favour of the Divinity of Jesus Christ that is overwhelming in its force. The Old Testament proofs we draw from the Psalms, the Sapiential Books and the Prophets.


Psalm 2:7. “The Lord hath said to me: Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee.” Here Jahweh, i.e., God of Israel, speaks to the promised Messias. So St. Paul interprets the text (Hebrews 1:5) while proving the Divinity of Jesus from the Psalms. The objection is raised that St. Paul is here not interpreting but only accommodating Scripture. He applies the very same words of Psalm 2:7 to the priesthood (Hebrews 5:5) and to the resurrection (Acts 13:33) of Jesus; but only in a figurative sense did the Father beget the Messias in the priesthood and resurrection of Jesus; hence only in a figurative sense did He beget Jesus as His Son. We answer that St. Paul speaks figuratively and accommodates Scripture in the matter of the priesthood and resurrection but not in the matter of the eternal generation of Jesus. The entire context of this chapter shows there is a question of real sonship and real Divinity of Jesus. In the same verse, St. Paul applies to Christ the words of Jahweh to David, the type of Christ: “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”. (2 Samuel 7:14) In the following verse, Christ is spoken of as the first-born of the Father, and as the object of the adoration of the angels; but only God is adored: “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever. . . Thy God, O God, hath anointed thee” (Psalm 44:7-8). St. Paul refers these words to Christ as to the Son of God (Hebrews 1:9). We follow the Massoretic reading, “Thy God, O God”. The Septuagint and New Testament reading, ho theos, ho theos sou, “O God, Thy God”, is capable of the same interpretation. Hence, the Christ is here called God twice; and his throne, or reign, is said to have been from eternity. Psalm 99:1: “The Lord said to my Lord (Heb., Jahweh said to my Adonai): Sit thou at my right hand”. Christ cites this text to prove that He is Adonai (a Hebrew term used only for Deity), seated at the right hand of Jahweh, who is invariably the great God of Israel (Matthew 22:44). In the same psalm, Jahweh says to Christ: “Before the day-star, I begat thee”. Hence Christ is the begotten of God; was begotten before the world was, and sits at the right hand of the heavenly Father. Other Messianic psalms might be cited to show the clear testimony of these inspired poems to the Divinity of the promised Messias.


So clearly do these Sapiential Books describe uncreated Wisdom as a Divine Person distinct from the First Person, that rationalists have resort to a subterfuge and claim that the doctrine of uncreated Wisdom was taken over by the authors of these books from the Neo-Platonic philosophy of the Alexandrian school. It is to be noted that in the pre-sapiential books of the Old Testament, the uncreated Logos, or hrema, is the active and creative principle of Jahweh (see Psalm 32:4; 32:6; 118:89; 102:20; Isaiah 40:8; 55:11). Later the logos became sophia, the uncreated Word became uncreated Wisdom. To Wisdom were attributed all the works of creation and Divine Providence (see Job 28:12: Proverbs 8 and 9; Sirach 1:1; 24:5-12; Wisdom 6:21; 9:9). In Wis., ix, 1, 2, we have a remarkable instance of the attribution of God’s activity to both the Logos and Wisdom. This identification of the pre-Mosaic Logos with the Sapiential Wisdom and the Johannine Logos (see LOGOS) is proof that the rationalistic subterfuge is not effective. The Sapiential Wisdom and the Johannine Logos are not an Alexandrian development of the Platonic idea, but are a Hebraistic development of the pre-Mosaic uncreated and creating Logos or Word.

Now for the Sapiential proofs: In Sirach 24:7, Wisdom is described as uncreated, the “first born of the Most High before all creatures”, “from the beginning and before the World was I made” (Sirach 24:14). So universal was the identification of Wisdom with the Christ, that even the Arians concurred with the Fathers therein; and strove to prove by the word ektisemade or created, of verse 14, that incarnate Wisdom was created. The Fathers did not make answer that the word Wisdom was not to be understood of the Christ, but explained that the word ektise had here to be interpreted in keeping with other passages of Holy Writ and not according to its usual meaning,–that of the Septuagint version of Genesis 1:1. We do not know the original Hebrew or Aramaic word; it may have been the same word that occurs in Prov. viii, 22: “The Lord possessed me (Hebrew gat me by generation; see Genesis 4:1) in the beginning of His ways, before He made anything from the beginning, I was set up from eternity.” Wisdom speaking of itself in the Book of Ecclesiasticus cannot contradict what Wisdom says of itself in Proverbs and elsewhere. Hence the Fathers were quite right in explaining ektise not to mean made or created in any strict sense of the terms (see St. Athanasius, “Sermo ii contra Arianos”, n. 44; Migne, P.G., XXVI, 239). The Book of Wisdom, also, speaks clearly of Wisdom as “the worker of all things . . . a certain pure emanation of the glory of the almighty God . . . the brightness of eternal light, and the unspotted mirror of God’s majesty, and the image of his goodness.” (Wisdom 7:21-26) St. Paul paraphrases this beautiful passage and refers it to Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:3). It is clear, then, from the text-study of the books themselves, from the interpretation of these books by St. Paul, and especially, from the admitted interpretation of the Fathers and the liturgical uses of the Church, that the personified wisdom of the Sapiential Books is the uncreated Wisdom, the incarnate Logos of St. John, the Word hypostatically united with human nature, Jesus Christ, the Son of the Eternal Father. The Sapiential Books prove that Jesus was really and truly God.


The prophets clearly state that the Messias is God. Isaias says: “God Himself will come and will save you” (35:4); “Make ready the way of Jahweh” (40:3); “Lo Adonai Jahweh will come with strength” (40:10). That Jahweh here is Jesus Christ is clear from the use of the passage by St. Mark (1:3). The great prophet of Israel gives the Christ a special and a new Divine name “His name will be called Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). This new Divine name St. Matthew refers to as fulfilled in Jesus, and interprets to mean the Divinity of Jesus. “They shall call his name Emmanuel, which, being interpreted, is God with us.” (Matthew 1:23) Also in 9:6, Isaias calls the Messias God: “A child is born to us . . . his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Strong One, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace.” Catholics explain that the very same child is called God the Strong One (9:6) and Emmanuel (7:14); the conception of the child is prophesied in the latter verse, the birth of the very same child is prophesied in the former verse. The name Emmanuel (God with us) explains the name that we translate “God the Strong One.” It is uncritical and prejudiced on the part of the rationalists to go outside of Isaias and to seek in Ezekiel 32:21 the meaning “mightiest among heroes” for a word that everywhere else in Isaias is the name of “God the Strong One” (see Isaiah 10:21). Theodotion translates literally theos ischyros; the Septuagint has “messenger”. Our interpretation is that commonly received by Catholics and by Protestants of the stamp of Delitzsch (“Messianic Prophecies”, p. 145). Isaias also calls the Messias the “sprout of Jahweh” (4:2), i.e. that which has sprung from Jahweh as the same in nature with Him. The Messias is “God our King” (Isaiah 52:7), “the Saviour sent by our God” (Isaiah 52:10, where the word for Saviour is the abstract form of the word for Jesus); “Jahweh the God of Israel” (Isaiah 52:12): “He that hath made thee, Jahweh of the hosts His name” (Isaiah 54:5)”.

The other prophets are as clear as Isaias, though not so detailed, in their foretelling of the Godship of the Messias. To Jeremias, He is “Jahweh our Just One” (23:6 and 33:16). Micheas speaks of the twofold coming of the Child, His birth in time at Bethlehem and His procession in eternity from the Father (5:2). The Messianic value of this text is proved by its interpretation in Matthew (2:6). Zacharias makes Jahweh to speak of the Messias as “my Companion”; but a companion is on an equal footing with Jahweh (13:7). Malachias says: “Behold I send my angel, and he shall prepare the way before my face, and presently the Lord, whom you seek, and the angel of the testament, whom you desire, shall come to his temple” (3:1). The messenger spoken of here is certainly St. John the Baptist. The words of Malachias are interpreted of the Precursor by Our Lord Himself (Matthew 11:10). But the Baptist prepared the way before the face of Jesus Christ. Hence the Christ was the spokesman of the words of Malachias. But the words of Malachias are uttered by Jahweh the great God of Israel. Hence the Christ or Messias and Jahweh are one and the same Divine Person. The argument is rendered even more forcible by the fact that not only is the speaker, Jahweh the God of hosts, here one and the same with the Messias before Whose face the Baptist went: but the prophecy of the Lord’s coming to the Temple applies to the Messias a name that is ever reserved for Jahweh alone. That name occurs seven times (Exodus 23:17; 34:23; Isaiah 1:24; 3:1; 10:16 and 33; 19:4) outside of Malachias, and is clear in its reference to the God of Israel. The last of the prophets of Israel gives clear testimony that the Messias is the very God of Israel Himself. This argument from the prophets in favour of the Divinity of the Messias is most convincing if received in the light of Christian revelation, in which light we present it. The cumulative force of the argument is well worked out in “Christ in Type and Prophecy”, by Maas.

New Testament proofs

We shall give the witness of the Four Evangelists and of St. Paul. The argument from the New Testament has a cumulative weight that is overwhelming in its effectiveness, once the inspiration of the New Testament and the Divine ambassadorship of Jesus are proved (see INSPIRATION; CHRISTIANITY). The process of the Catholic apologetic and dogmatic upbuilding is logical and never-failing. The Catholic theologian first establishes the teaching body to which Christ gave His deposit of revealed truth, to have and to keep and to hand down that deposit without error or failure. This teaching body gives us the Bible; and gives us the dogma of the Divinity of Christ in the unwritten and the written Word of God, i.e. in tradition and Scripture. When contrasted with the Protestant position upon “the Bible, the whole Bible and nothing but the Bible”–no, not even anything to tell us what is the Bible and what is not the Bible–the Catholic position upon the Christ-established, never-failing, never-erring teaching body is impregnable. The weakness of the Protestant position is evidenced in the matter of this very question of the Divinity of Jesus Christ. The Bible is the one and only rule of faith of Unitarians, who deny the Divinity of Jesus; of Modernistic Protestants, who make out His Divinity to be an evolution of His inner consciousness; of all other Protestants, be their thoughts of Christ whatsoever they may. The strength of the Catholic position will be clear to any one who has followed the trend of Modernism outside the Church and the suppression thereof within the pale.


We here assume the Gospels to be authentic, historical documents given to us by the Church as the inspired Word of God. We waive the question of the dependence of Matthew upon the Logia, the origin of Mark from “Q”, the literary or other dependence of Luke upon Mark; all these questions are treated in their proper places and do not belong here in the process of Catholic apologetic and dogmatic theology. We here argue from the Four Gospels as from the inspired Word of God. The witness of the Gospels to the Divinity of Christ is varied in kind.

Jesus is the Divine Messias

The Evangelists, as we have seen, refer to the prophecies of the Divinity of the Messias as fulfilled in Jesus (see Matthew 1:23; 2:6; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27).

Jesus is the Son of God

According to the testimony of the Evangelists, Jesus Himself bore witness to His Divine Sonship. As Divine Ambassador He can not have borne false witness.

Firstly, He asked the disciples, at Caesarea Philippi, “Whom do men say that the Son of man is?” (Matthew 16:13). This name Son of man was commonly used by the Saviour in regard to Himself; it bore testimony to His human nature and oneness with us. The disciples made answer that others said He was one of the prophets. Christ pressed them. “But whom do you say that I am? “(ibid., 15). Peter, as spokesman, replied: “Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God” (ibid., 16). Jesus was satisfied with this answer; it set Him above all the prophets who were the adopted sons of God; it made Him the natural Son of God. The adopted Divine sonship of all the prophets Peter had no need of special revelation to know. This natural Divine Sonship was made known to the leader of the Apostles only by a special revelation. “Flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven” (ibid., 17). Jesus clearly assumes this important title in the specially revealed and altogether new sense. He admits that He is the Son of God in the real sense of the word.

Secondly, we find that He allowed others to give Him this title and to show by the act of real adoration that they meant real Sonship. The possessed fell down and adored Him, and the unclean spirits cried out: “Thou art the Son of God” (Mark 3:12). After the stilling of the storm at sea, His disciples adored Him and said: “Indeed thou art the Son of God “(Matthew 14:33). Nor did He suggest that they erred in that they gave Him the homage due to God alone. The centurion on Calvary (Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:39), the Evangelist St. Mark (i, 1), the hypothetical testimony of Satan (Matthew 4:3) and of the enemies of Christ (Matthew 27:40) all go to show that Jesus was called and esteemed the Son of God. Jesus Himself clearly assumed the title. He constantly spoke of God as “My Father” (Matthew 7:21; 10:32; 11:27; 15:13; 16:17, etc.).

Thirdly, the witness of Jesus to His Divine Sonship is clear enough in the Synoptics, as we see from the foregoing argument and shall see by the exegesis of other texts; but is perhaps even more evident in John. Jesus indirectly but clearly assumes the title when He says: “Do you say of him whom the Father hath sanctified and sent into the world: Thou blasphemest, because I said, I am the Son of God? . . . the Father is in me and I in the Father.” (John 10:36, 38) An even clearer witness is given in the narrative of the cure of the blind man in Jerusalem. Jesus said: “Dost thou believe in the Son of God?” He answered, and said: “Who is he, Lord, that I may believe in him? And Jesus said to him: Thou hast both seen him; and it is he that talketh with thee. And he said: I believe, Lord. And falling down, he adored him.” (John 9:35-38) Here as elsewhere, the act of adoration is allowed, and the implicit assent is in this wise given to the assertion of the Divine Sonship of Jesus.

Fourthly, likewise to His enemies, Jesus made undoubted profession of His Divine Sonship in the real and not the figurative sense of the word; and the Jews understood Him to say that He was really God. His way of speaking had been somewhat esoteric. He spoke often in parables. He willed then, as He wills now, that faith be “the evidence of things that appear not” (Hebrews 11:1). The Jews tried to catch Him, to make Him speak openly. They met Him in the portico of Solomon and said: “How long dost thou hold our souls in suspense? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly” (John 10:24). The answer of Jesus is typical. He puts them off for a while; and in the end tells them the tremendous truth: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). They take up stones to kill Him. He asks why. He makes them admit that they have understood Him aright. They answer: “For a good work we stone thee not, but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man makest thyself God” (ibid., 33). These same enemies had clear statement of the claim of Jesus on the last night that He spent on earth. Twice He appeared before the Sanhedrim, the highest authority of the enslaved Jewish nation. The first times the high priest, Caiphas, stood up and demanded: “I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us if thou be the Christ the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63). Jesus had before held His peace. Now His mission calls for a reply. “Thou hast said it” (ibid., 64). The answer was likely–in Semitic fashion–a repetition of the question with a tone of affirmation rather than of interrogation. St. Matthew reports that answer in a way that might leave some doubt in our minds, had we not St. Mark’s report of the very same answer. According to St. Mark, Jesus replies simply and clearly: “I am” (Mark 14:62). The context of St. Matthew clears up the difficulty as to the meaning of the reply of Jesus. The Jews understood Him to make Himself the equal of God. They probably laughed and jeered at His claim. He went on: ‘Nevertheless I say to you, hereafter you shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of the power of God, and coming in the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64). Caiphas rent his garments and accused Jesus of blasphemy. All joined in condemning Him to death for the blasphemy whereof they accused Him. They clearly understood Him to make claim to be the real Son of God; and He allowed them so to understand Him, and to put Him to death for this understanding and rejection of His claim. It were to blind one’s self to evident truth to deny the force of this testimony in favour of the thesis that Jesus made claim to be the real Son of God. The second appearance of Jesus before the Sanhedrim was like to the first; a second time He was asked to say clearly: “Art thou then the Son of God?” He made reply: “You say that I am.” They understood Him to lay claim to Divinity. “What need we any further testimony? for we ourselves have heard it from his own mouth” (Luke 22:70, 71). This twofold witness is especially important, in that it is made before the great Sanhedrim, and in that it is the cause of the sentence of death. Before Pilate, the Jews put forward a mere pretext at first. “We have found this man perverting our nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Cæsar, and saying that he is Christ the king” (Luke 23:2). What was the result? Pilate found no cause of death in Him! The Jews seek another pretext. “He stirreth up the people . . . from Galilee to this place” (ibid., 5). This pretext fails. Pilate refers the case of sedition to Herod. Herod finds the charge of sedition not worth his serious consideration. Over and again the Jews come to the front with a new subterfuge. Over and again Pilate finds no cause in Him. At last the Jews give their real cause against Jesus. In that they said He made Himself a king and stirred up sedition and refused tribute to Caesar, they strove to make it out that he violated Roman law. Their real cause of complaint was not that Jesus violated Roman law; but that they branded Him as a violator of the Jewish law. How? “We have a law; and according to that law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God (John 19:7). The charge was most serious; it caused even the Roman governor “to fear the more.” What law is here referred to? There can be no doubt. It is the dread law of Leviticus: “He that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, dying let him die: all the multitude shall stone him, whether he be a native or a stranger. He that blasphemeth the name of the Lord dying let him die” (Leviticus 24:17). By virtue of this law, the Jews were often on the very point of stoning Jesus; by virtue of this law, they often took Him to task for blasphemy whensoever He made Himself the Son of God; by virtue of this same law, they now call for His death. It is simply out of the question that these Jews had any intention of accusing Jesus of the assumption of that adopted sonship of God which every Jew had by blood and every prophet had had by special free gift of God’s grace.

Fifthly, we may only give a summary of the other uses of thee title Son of God in regard to Jesus. The angel Gabriel proclaims to Mary that her son will “be called the Son of the most High” (Luke 1:32); “the Son of God” (Luke 1:35); St. John speaks of Him as “the only begotten of the Father” (John 1:14); at the Baptism of Jesus and at His Transfiguration, a voice from heaven cries: “This is my beloved son” (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22; Matthew 17:3); St. John gives it as his very set purpose, in his Gospel, “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).

Sixthly, in the testimony of John, Jesus identifies Himself absolutely with the Divine Father. According to John, Jesus says: “he that seeth me seeth the Father” (ibid., xiv, 9). St. Athanasius links this clear testimony to the other witness of John “I and the Father are one” (ibid., x, 30); and thereby establishes the consubstantiality of the Father and the Son. St. John Chrysostom interprets the text in the same sense. A last proof from John is in the words that bring his first Epistle to a close: “We know that the Son of God is come: and He hath given us understanding that we may know the true God, and may be in his true Son. This is the true God and life eternal” (1 John 5:20). No one denies that “the Son of God” who is come is Jesus Christ. This Son of God is the “true Son” of “the true God”; in fact, this true son of the True God, i.e. Jesus, is the true God and is life eternal. Such is the exegesis of this text given by all the Fathers that have interpreted it (see Corluy, “Spicilegium Dogmatico-Biblicum”, ed. Gandavi, 1884, II, 48). All the Fathers that have either interpreted or cited this text, refer outos to Jesus, and interpret “Jesus is the true God and life eternal.” The objection is raised that the phrase “true God” (ho alethisnos theos) always refers, in John, to the Father. Yes, the phrase is consecrated to the Father, and is here used precisely on that account, to show that the Father who is, in this very verse, first called “the true God”, is one with the Son Who is second called “the true God” in the very same verse. This interpretation is carried out by the grammatical analysis of the phrase; the pronoun this (outos) refers of necessity to the noun near by, i.e. His true Son Jesus Christ. Moreover, the Father is never called “life eternal” by John; whereas the term is often given by him to the Son (John 11:25; 14:6: 1 John 1:2; 5:11-12). These citations prove beyond a doubt that the Evangelists bear witness to the real and natural Divine Sonship of Jesus Christ.

Outside the Catholic Church, it is today the mode to try to explain away all these uses of the phrase Son of God, as if, forsooth, they meant not the Divine Sonship of Jesus, but presumably His sonship by adoption–a sonship due either to His belonging to the Jewish race or derived from His Messiahship. Against both explanations stand our arguments; against the latter explanation stands the fact that nowhere in the Old Testament is the term Son of God given as a name peculiar to the Messias. The advanced Protestants of this twentieth century are not satisfied with this latter and wornout attempt to explain away the assumed title Son of God. To them it means only that Jesus was a Jew (a fact that is now denied by Paul Haupt). We now have to face the strange anomaly of ministers of Christianity who deny that Jesus was Christ. Formerly it was considered bold in the Unitarian to call himself a Christian and to deny the Divinity of Jesus; now “ministers of the Gospel” are found to deny that Jesus is the Christ, the Messias (see articles in the Hibbert Journal for 1909, by Reverend Mr. Roberts, also the articles collected under the title “Jesus or Christ?” Boston, 19m). Within the pale of the Church, too, there were not wanting some who followed the trend of Modernism to such an extent as to admit that in certain passages, the term “Son of God” in its application to Jesus, presumably meant only adopted sonship of God. Against these writers was issued the condemnation of the proposition: “In all the texts of the Gospels, the name Son of God is merely the equivalent of the name Messias, and does not in any wise mean that Christ is the true and natural Son of God”. This decree does not affirm even implicitly that every use of the name “Son of God” in the Gospels means true and natural Sonship of God. Catholic theologians generally defend the proposition whenever, in the Gospels, the name “Son of God” is used in the singular number, absolutely and without any additional explanation, as a proper name of Jesus, it invariably means true and natural Divine Sonship of Jesus Christ. Corluy, a very careful student of the original texts and of the versions of the Bible, declared that, whenever the title Son of God is given to Jesus in the New Testament, this title has the inspired meaning of natural Divine Sonship; Jesus is by this title said to have the same nature and substance as the Heavenly Father.

Jesus is God

St. John affirms in plain words that Jesus is God. The set purpose of the aged disciple was to teach the Divinity of Jesus in the Gospel, Epistles, and Apocalypse that he has left us; he was aroused to action against the first heretics that bruised the Church. “They went out from us, but they were not of us. For if they had been of us, they would no doubt have remained with us” (1 John 2:19). They did not confess Jesus Christ with that confession which they had obligation to make (1 John 4:3). John’s Gospel gives us the clearest confession of the Divinity of Jesus. We may translate from the original text: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was in relation to God and the Word was God” (John 1:1). The words ho theos (with the article) mean, in Johannine Greek, the Father. The expression pros ton theon reminds one forcibly of Aristotle’s to pros ti einai. This Aristotelian way of expressing relation found its like in the Platonic, Neo-Platonic, and Alexandrian philosophy; and it was the influence of this Alexandrian philosophy in Ephesus and elsewhere that John set himself to combat. It was, then, quite natural that John adopted some of the phraseology of his enemies, and by the expression ho logos en pros ton theon gave forth the mystery of the relation of Father with Son: “the Word stood in relation to the Father”, i.e., even in the beginning. At any rate the clause theos en ho logos means “the Word was God”. This meaning is driven home, in the irresistible logic of St. John, by the following verse: “All things were made by him.” The Word, then, is the Creator of all things and is true God. Who is the Word! It was made flesh and dwelt with us in the flesh (verse 14); and of this Word John the Baptist bore witness (verse 15). But certainly it was Jesus, according to John the Evangelist, Who dwelt with us in the flesh and to Whom the Baptist bore witness. Of Jesus the Baptist says: “This is he, of whom I said: After me there cometh a man, who is preferred before me: because he was before me” (verse 30). This testimony and other passages of St. John’s Gospel are so clear that the modern rationalist takes refuge from their forcefulness in the assertion that the entire Gospel is a mystic contemplation and no fact-narrative at all (see GOSPEL OF SAINT JOHN). Catholics may not hold this opinion denying the historicity of John. The Holy Office, in the Decree “Lamentabili”, condemned the following proposition: “The narrations of John are not properly speaking history but a mystic contemplation of the Gospel: the discourses contained in his Gospel are theological meditations on the mystery of salvation and are destitute of historical truth.” (See prop. xvi.)


It is not the set purpose of St. Paul, outside of the Epistle to the Hebrews, to prove the Divinity of Jesus Christ. The great Apostle takes this fundamental principle of Christianity for granted. Yet so clear is the witness of Paul to this fact of Christ’s Divinity, that the Rationalists and rationalistic Lutherans of Germany have strived to get away from the forcefulness of the witness of the Apostle by rejecting his form of Christianity as not conformable to the Christianity of Jesus. Hence they cry: “Los von Paulus, zurück zu Christus”; that is, “Away from Paul, back to Christ” (see Jülicher, Paulus und Christus”, ed. Mohr, 1909). We assume the historicity of the Epistles of Paul; to a Catholic, the Christianity of St. Paul is one and the same with the Christianity of Christ. (See SAINT PAUL). To the Romans, Paul writes: “God sending his own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh and of sin” (viii, 3). His Own Son (ton heautou) the Father sends, not a Son by adoption. The angels are by adoption the children of God; they participate in the Father’s nature by the free gifts He has bestowed upon them. Not so the Own Son of the Father. As we have seen, He is more the offspring of the Father than are the angels. How more? In this that He is adored as the Father is adored; the angels are not adored. Such is Paul’s argument in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Therefore, in St. Paul’s theology, the Father’s Own Son, Whom the angels adore, Who was begotten in the today of eternity, Who was sent by the Father, clearly existed before His appearance in the Flesh, and is, in point of fact, the great “I am who am”,–the Jahweh Who spoke to Moses on Horeb. This identification of the Christ with Jahweh would seem to be indicated, when St. Paul speaks of Christ as ho on epi panton theos, “who is over all things, God blessed for ever” (Romans 9:5). This interpretation and punctuation are sanctioned by all the Fathers that have used the text; all refer to Christ the words “He who is God over all”. Petavius (De Trin., 11, 9, n. 2) cites fifteen, among whom are Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian, Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose, Augustine, and Hilary. The Peshitta has the same translation as we have given. Alford, Trench, Westcott and Hort, and most Protestants are at one with us in this interpretation.

This identification of the Christ with Jahweh is clearer in the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Christ is said to have been Jahweh of the Exodus. “And all drank the same spiritual drink; (and they drank of the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ)” (x, 4). It was Christ Whom some of the Israelites “tempted, and (they) perished by the serpents” (x, 10); it was Christ against Whom “some of them murmured, and were destroyed by the destroyer” (x, 11). St. Paul takes over the Septuagint translation of Jahweh ho kyrios, and makes this title distinctive of Jesus. The Colossians are threatened with the deception of philosophy (ii, 8). St. Paul reminds them that they should think according to Christ; “for in him dwelleth the fulness of the Godhead (pleroma tes theotetos) corporeally” (ii, 9); nor should they go so low as give to angels, that they see not, the adoration that is due only to Christ (ii, 18, 19). “For in Him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominations or principalities or powers; all things were created by Him and for Him” (eis auton). He is the cause and the end of all things, even of the angels whom the Colossians are so misguided as to prefer to Him (i, 16). The cultured Macedonians of Philippi are taught that in “the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father” (ii, 10, 11). This is the very same genuflexion and confession that the Romans are bidden to make to the Lord and the Jews to Jahweh (see Romans 14:6; Isaiah 14:24). The testimony of St. Paul could be given at much greater length. These texts are only the chief among many others that bear Paul’s witness to the Divinity of Jesus Christ.

Witness of Tradition

The two main sources wherefrom we draw our information as to tradition, or the unwritten Word of God, are the Fathers of the Church and the general councils.


The Fathers are practically unanimous in explicitly teaching the Divinity of Jesus Christ. The testimony of many has been given in our exegesis of the dogmatic texts that prove the Christ to be God. It would take over-much space to cite the Fathers adequately. We shall confine ourselves to those of the Apostolic and apologetic ages. By joining these testimonies to those of the Evangelists and St. Paul, we can see clearly that the Holy Office was right in condemning these propositions of Modernism: “The Divinity of Christ is not proven by the Gospels but is a dogma that the Christian conscience has evolved from the notion of a Messiah. It may be taken for granted that the Christ Whom history shows us is much inferior to the Christ Who is the object of Faith” (see prop. xxvii and xxix of Decree “Lamentabili”).

The Fathers Themselves

St. Clement of Rome (A.D. 93-95, according to Harnack), in his first epistle to the Corinthians, xvi, 2, speaks of “The Lord Jesus Christ, the Sceptre of the Might of God” (Funk, “Patres Apostolici”, Tübingen ed., 1901, p. 118), and describes, by quoting Isaiah 3:1-12, the humiliation that was foretold and came to pass in the self-immolation of Jesus. As the writings of the Apostolic Fathers are very scant, and not at all apologetic but rather devotional and exhortive, we should not look in them for that clear and plain defence of the Divinity of Christ which is evidenced in the writings of the apologists and later Fathers.

The witness of St. Ignatius of Antioch (A.D. 110-117, according to Harnack) is almost that of the apologetic age, in whose spirit he seems to have written to the Ephesians. It may well be that at Ephesus the very same heresies were now doing havoc which about ten years before or, according to Harnack’s chronology, at the very same time, St. John had written his Gospel to undo. If this be so, we understand the bold confession of the Divinity of Jesus Christ which this grand confessor of the Faith brings into his greetings, at the beginning of his letter to the Ephesians. “Ignatius . . . . to the Church . . . which is at Ephesus . . . . in the will of the Father and of Jesus Christ Our God (tou theou hemon).” He says: “The Physician in One, of the Flesh and of the Spirit, begotten and not begotten, who was God in Flesh (en sarki genomenos theos) . . . Jesus Christ Our Lord” (c. vii; Funk, I, 218). “For Our God Jesus Christ was borne in the womb by Mary” (c. xviii, 2; Funk, I, 226). To the Romans he writes: “For Our God Jesus Christ, abiding in the Father, is manifest even the more” (c. iii, 3; Funk, 1, 256).

The witness of the Letter of Barnabas: “Lo, again, Jesus is not the Son of man but the Son of God, made manifest in form in the Flesh. And since men were going to say that the Christ was the Son of David, David himself, fearing and understanding the malice of the wicked, made prophecy: The Lord said to my Lord . . . . . Lo, how David calls Him the Lord and not son” (c. xiii; Funk, I, 77).

In the apologetic age, Saint Justin Martyr (Harnack. A.D. 150) wrote: “Since the Word is the first-born of God, He is also God” (Apol. I, n. 63; P.G., VI, 423). It is evident from the context that Justin means Jesus Christ by the Word; he had just said that Jesus was the Word before He became Man, and used to appear in the form of fire or of some other incorporeal image. St. Irenæus proves that Jesus Christ is rightly called the one and only God and Lord, in that all things are said to have been made by Him (see “Adv. Haer.”, III, viii, n. 3; P.G., VII, 868; bk. IV, 10, 14, 36). Deutero-Clement (Harnack, A.D. 166; Sanday, A.D. 150) insists: “Brethren, we should think of Jesus Christ as of God Himself, as of the Judge of the living and the dead” (see Funk, I, 184). St. Clement of Alexandria (Sanday, A.D. 190) speaks of Christ as “true God without any controversy, the equal of the Lord of the whole universe, since He is the Son and the Word is in God”.

Pagan Writers

To the witness of these Fathers of the Apostolic and apologetic age, we add a few witnesses from the contemporary pagan writers. Pliny (A.D. 107) wrote to Trajan that the Christians were wont before the light of day to meet and to sing praises “to Christ as to God” (Epist., x, 97). The Emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117) wrote to Servianus that many Egyptians had become Christians, and that converts to Christianity were “forced to adore Christ”, since He was their God (see Saturninus, c. vii). Lucian scoffs at the Christians because they had been persuaded by Christ “to throw over the gods of the Greeks and to adore Him fastened to a cross” (De Morte Peregrini, 13). Here also may be mentioned the well-known graffito that caricatures the worship of the Crucified as God. This important contribution to archaeology was found, in 1857, on a wall of the Paedagogium, an inner part of the Domus Gelotiana of the Palatine, and is now in the Kircher Museum, Rome. After the murder of Caligula (A.D. 41) this inner part of the Domus Gelotiana became a training-school for court pages, called the Paedagogium (see Lanciani, “Ruins and Excavations of Ancient Rome”, ed. Boston, 1897, p. 186). This fact and the language of the graffito lead one to surmise that the page who mocked at the religion of one of his fellows has so become an important witness to the Christian adoration of Jesus as God in the first or, at the very latest, the second century. The graffito represents the Christ on a cross and mockingly gives Him an ass’s head; a page is rudely scratched kneeling and with hands outstretched in the attitude of prayer; the inscription is “Alexamenos worships his God” (Alexamenos sebetai ton theon). In the second century, too, Celsus arraigns the Christians precisely on this account that they think God was made man. Aristides wrote to the Emperor Antonius Pius (A.D. 138-161) what seems to have been an apology for the Faith of Christ: “He Himself is called the Son of God; and they teach of Him that He as God came down from heaven and took and put on Flesh of a Hebrew virgin”.


The first general council of the Church was called to define the Divinity of Jesus Christ and to condemn Arius and his error (see ARIUS). Previous to this time, heretics had denied this great and fundamental dogma of the Faith; but the Fathers had been equal to the task of refuting the error and of stemming the tide of heresy. Now the tide of heresy was so strong as to have need of the authority of the universal Church to withstand it. In his “Thalia”, Arius taught that the Word was not eternal (en pote ote ouk en) nor generated of the Father, but made out of nothing (ex ouk onton hehonen ho logos); and though it was before the world was, yet it was a thing made, a created thing (poiema or ktisis). Against this bold heresy, the Council of Nicaea (325) defined the dogma of the Divinity: of Christ in the clearest terms: “We believe . . . in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, generated of the Father (hennethenta ek tou patros monogene), that is, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, True God of True God, begotten not made, the same in nature with the Father (homoousion to patri) by Whom all things were made” (see Denzinger, 54).

The Depiction of Jesus

The Depiction of Jesus

The human nature of Jesus Christ

The Gnostics taught that matter was of its very nature evil, somewhat as the present-day Christian Scientists teach that it is an “error of mortal mind”; hence Christ as God could not have had a material body, and His body was only apparent. These heretics, called doketae included Basilides, Marcion, the Manichæans, and others. Valentinus and others admitted that Jesus had a body, but a something heavenly and ethereal; hence Jesus was not born of Mary, but His airy body passed through her virgin body. The Apollinarists admitted that Jesus had an ordinary body, but denied Him a human soul; the Divine nature took the place of the rational mind. Against all these various forms of the heresy that denies Christ is true Man stand countless and clearest testimonies of the written and unwritten Word of God. The title that is characteristic of Jesus in the New Testament is Son of Man; it occurs some eighty times in the Gospels; it was His Own accustomed title for Himself. The phrase is Aramaic, and would seem to be an idiomatic way of saying “man”. The life and death and resurrection of Christ would all be a lie were He not a man, and our Faith would be vain. (1 Corinthians 15:14). “For there is one God, and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). Why, Christ even enumerates the parts of His Body. “See my hands and feet, that it is I myself; handle and see: for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as you see me to have” (Luke 24:39). St. Augustine says, in this matter: “If the Body of Christ was a fancy, then Christ erred; and if Christ erred, then He is not the Truth. But Christ is the Truth; hence His Body was not a fancy’ (QQ. lxxxiii, q. 14; P.L., XL, 14). In regard to the human soul of Christ, the Scripture is equally clear. Only a human soul could have been sad and troubled. Christ says: “My soul is sorrowful even unto death” (Matthew 26:38). “Now is my soul troubled” (John 12:27). His obedience to the heavenly Father and to Mary and Joseph supposes a human soul (John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38; Luke 22:42). Finally Jesus was really born of Mary (Matthew 1:16), made of a woman (Galatians 4:4), after the angel had promised that He should be conceived of Mary (Luke 1:31); this woman is called the mother of Jesus (Matthew 1:18; 2:11; Luke 1:43; John 2:3); Christ is said to be really the seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:16), the son of David (Matthew 1:1), made of the seed of David according to the flesh (Romans 1:3), and the fruit of the loins of David (Acts 2:30). So clear is the testimony of Scripture to the perfect human nature of Jesus Christ, that the Fathers held it as a general principle that whatsoever the Word had not assumed was not healed, i.e., did not receive the effects of the Incarnation.

The hypostatic union of the divine nature and the human nature of Jesus in the divine person of Jesus Christ

Here we consider this union as a fact; the nature of the union will be later taken up. Now it is our purpose to prove that the Divine nature was really and truly united with the human nature of Jesus, i.e., that one and the same Person, Jesus Christ, was God and man. We speak here of no moral union, no union in a figurative sense of the word; but a union that is physical, a union of two substances or natures so as to make One Person, a union which means that God is Man and Man is God in the Person of Jesus Christ.

The Witness of Holy Writ

St. John says: “The Word was made flesh” (i, 14), that is, He Who was God in the Beginning (i, 2), and by Whom all things were created (i. 3), became Man. According to the testimony of St. Paul, the very same Person, Jesus Christ, “being in the form of God [en morphe Theou hyparxon] . . . emptied himself, taking the form of a servant [morphen doulou labon]” (Philippians 2:6-7). It is always one and the same Person, Jesus Christ, Who is said to be God and Man, or is given predicates that denote Divine and human nature. The author of life (God) is said to have been killed by the Jews (Acts 3:15); but He could not have been killed were He not Man.

Witness of Tradition

The early forms of the creed all make profession of faith, not in one Jesus Who is the Son of God and in another Jesus Who is Man and was crucified, but “in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God, Who became Man for us and was crucified”. The forms vary, but the substance of each creed invariably attributes to one and the same Jesus Christ the predicates of the Godhead and of man (see Denzinger, “Enchiridion”). Franzelin (thesis xvii) calls special attention to the fact that, long before the heresy of Nestorius, according to Epiphanius (Ancorat., II, 123, in P.G., XLII, 234), it was the custom of the Oriental Church to propose to catechumens a creed that was very much more detailed than that proposed to the faithful; and in this creed the catechumens said: “We believe . . . in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of God the Father . . . that is, of the substance of the Father . . . in Him Who for us men and for our salvation came down and was made Flesh, that is, was perfectly begotten of Mary ever Virgin by the Holy Spirit; Who became Man, that is, took perfect human nature, soul and body and mind and all whatsoever is human save only sin, without the seed of man; not in another man, but unto himself did He form Flesh into one holy unity [eis mian hagian henoteta]; not as He breathed and spoke and wrought in the prophets, but He became Man perfectly; for the Word was made Flesh, not in that It underwent a change nor in that It exchanged Its Divinity for humanity, but in that It united Its Flesh unto Its one holy totality and Divinity [eis mian . . . heautou hagian teleioteta te kai theoteta].’ “The one holy totality”, Franzelin considers, means personality, a person being an individual and complete subject of rational acts. This creed of the catechumens gives even the Divinity of the totality, i.e. the fact that the individual Person of Jesus is a Divine and not a human Person. Of this intricate question we shall speak later on.

The witness of tradition to the fact of the union of the two natures in the one Person of Jesus is clear not only from the symbols or creeds in use before the condemnation of Nestorius, but also from the words of the ante-Nicaean Fathers. We have already given the classic quotations from St. Ignatius the Martyr, St. Clement of Rome, St. Justin the Martyr, in all of which are attributed to the one Person, Jesus Christ, the actions or attributes of God and of Man. Melito, Bishop of Sardis (about 176), says: “Since the same (Christ) was at the same time God and perfect Man, He made His two natures evident to us; His Divine nature by the miracles which He wrought during the three years after His baptism; His human nature by those thirty years that He first lived, during which the lowliness of the Flesh covered over and hid away all signs of the Divinity, though He was at one and the same time true and everlasting God” (Frag. vii in P.G., V, 1221). St. Irenæus, toward the close of the second century, argues: “If one person suffered and another Person remained incapable of suffering; if one person was born and another Person came down upon him that was born and thereafter left him, not one person but two are proven . . . whereas the Apostle knew one only Who was born and Who suffered” (“Adv. Haer.”, III, xvi, n, 9, in P.G., VII, 928). Tertullian bears firm witness: “Was not God really crucified? Did He not really die as He really was crucified?”.

The nature of the incarnation

Love Jesus Prophet Holy Man Christ Lord Spiritual

Love Jesus

We have treated the fact of the Incarnation, that is, the fact of the Divine nature of Jesus, the fact of the human nature of Jesus, the fact of the union of these two natures in Jesus. We now take up the crucial question of the nature of this fact, the manner of this tremendous miracle, the way of uniting the Divine with the human nature in one and the same Person. Arius had denied the fact of this union. No other heresy rent and tore the body of the Church to any very great extent in the matter of this fact after the condemnation of Arius in the Council of Nicaea (325). Soon a new heresy arose in the explanation of the fact of the union of the two natures in Christ. Nicaea had, indeed, defined the fact of the union; it had not explicitly defined the nature of that fact; it had not said whether that union was moral or physical. The council had implicitly defined the union of the two natures in one hypostasis, a union called physical in opposition to the mere juxtaposition or joining of the two natures called a moral union. Nicaea had professed a belief in “One Lord Jesus Christ . . . true God of true God . . . Who took Flesh, became Man and suffered”. This belief was in one Person Who was at the same time God and Man, that is, had at the same time Divine and human nature. Such teaching was an implicit definition of all that was later on denied by Nestorius. We shall find the great Athanasius, for fifty years the determined foe of the heresiarch, interpreting Nicaea’s decree in just this sense; and Athanasius must have known the sense meant by Nicaea, in which he was the antagonist of the heretic Arius.


In spite of the efforts of Athanasius, Nestorius, who had been elected Patriarch of Constantinople (428), found a loophole to avoid the definition of Nicaea. Nestorius called the union of the two natures a mysterious and an inseparable joining (symapheian), but would admit no unity (enosin) in the strict sense of the word to be the result of this joining (see “Serm.”, ii, n. 4; xii, n. 2, in P.L., XLVIII). The union of the two natures is not physical (physike) but moral, a mere juxtaposition in state of being (schetike); the Word indwells in Jesus like as God indwells in the just (loc. cit.); the indwelling of the Word in Jesus is, however, more excellent than the indwelling of God in the just man by grace, for that the indwelling of the Word purposes the Redemption of all mankind and the most perfect manifestation of the Divine activity (Serm. vii, n. 24); as a consequence, Mary is the Mother of Christ (Christotokos), not the Mother of God (Theotokos). As is usual in these Oriental heresies, the metaphysical refinement of Nestorius was faulty, and led him into a practical denial of the mystery that he had set himself to explain. During the discussion that Nestorius aroused, he strove to explain that his indwelling (enoikesis) theory was quite enough to keep him within the demands of Nicaea; he insisted that “the Man Jesus should be co-adored with the Divine union and almighty God [ton te theia symapheia to pantokratori theo symproskynoumenon anthropon] “(Serm., vii, n. 35); he forcibly denied that Christ was two persons, but proclaimed Him as one person (prosopon) made up of two substances. The oneness of the Person was however only moral, and not at all physical. Despite whatsoever Nestorius said as a pretext to save himself from the brand of heresy, he continually and explicitly denied the hypostatic union (enosin kath hypostasin, kata physin, kat ousian), that union of physical entities and of substances which the Church defends in Jesus; he affirmed a juxtaposition in authority, dignity, energy, relation, and state of being (synapheia kat authentian, axian, energeian, anaphoran, schesin); and he maintained that the Fathers of Nicaea had nowhere said that God was born of the Virgin Mary (Sermo, v, nn. 5 and 6).

Nestorius in this distortion of the sense of Nicaea clearly went against the tradition of the Church. Before he had denied the hypostatic union of the two natures in Jesus, that union had been taught by the greatest Fathers of their time. St. Hippolytus (about 230) taught: “the Flesh [sarx] apart from the Logos had no hypostasis [oude . . . hypostanai edynato, was unable to act as principle of rational activity], for that its hypostasis was in the Word” (“Contra Noet.”, n. 15, in P.G., X, 823). St. Epiphanius (about 365): “The Logos united body, mind, and soul into one totality and spiritual hypostasis” (“Haer.”, xx, n. 4, in P.G., XLI, 277). “The Logos made the Flesh to subsist in the hypostasis of the Logos [eis heauton hypostesanta ten sarka]” (“Haer.”, cxxvii, n. 29, in P.G., XLII, 684). St. Athanasius (about 350): “They err who say that it is one person who is the Son that suffered, and another person who did not suffer …; the Flesh became God’s own by nature [kata physin], not that it became consubstantial with the Divinity of the Logos as if coeternal therewith, but that it became God’s own Flesh by its very nature [kata physin].” In this entire discourse (“Contra Apollinarium”, I, 12, in P.G., XXVI, 1113), St. Athanasius directly attacks the specious pretexts of the Arians and the arguments that Nestorius later took up, and defends the union of two physical natures in Christ [kata physin], as opposed to the mere juxtaposition or joining of the same natures [kata physin]. St. Cyril of Alexandria (about 415) makes use of this formula oftener even than the other Fathers; he calls Christ “the Word of the Father united in nature with the Flesh [ton ek theou Patros Logon kata physin henothenta sarki] (“De Recta Fide”, n. 8, in P.G., LXXVI, 1210). For other and very numerous citations, see Petavius (111, 4). The Fathers always explain that this physical union of the two natures does not mean the intermingling of the natures, nor any such union as would imply a change in God, but only such union as was necessary to explain the fact that one Divine Person had human nature as His own true nature together with His Divine nature.

The Council of Ephesus (431) condemned the heresy of Nestorius, and defined that Mary was mother in the flesh of God’s Word made Flesh (can. i). It anathematized all who deny that the Word of God the Father was united with the Flesh in one hypostasis (kath hypostasin); all who deny that there is only one Christ with Flesh that is His own; all who deny that the same Christ is God at the same time and man (can. ii). In the remaining ten canons drawn up by St. Cyril of Alexandria, the anathema is aimed directly at Nestorius. “If in the one Christ anyone divides the substances, after they have been once united, and joins them together merely by a juxtaposition [mone symapton autas synapheia] of honour or of authority or of power and not rather by a union into a physical unity [synode te kath henosin physiken], let him be accursed” (can. iii). These twelve canons condemn piecemeal the various subterfuges of Nestorius. St. Cyril saw heresy lurking in phrases that seemed innocent enough to the unsuspecting. Even the co-adoration theory is condemned as an attempt to separate the Divine from the human nature in Jesus by giving to each a separate hypostasis.


The condemnation of the heresy of Nestorius saved for the Church the dogma of the Incarnation, “the great mystery of godliness” (1 Timothy 3:16), but lost to her a portion of her children, who, though dwindled down to insignificant numbers, still remain apart from her care. The union of the two natures in one Person was saved. The battle for the dogma was not yet won. Nestorius had postulated two persons in Jesus Christ. A new heresy soon began. It postulated only one Person in Jesus, and that the Divine Person. It went farther. It went too far. The new heresy defended only one nature, as well as one Person in Jesus. The leader of this heresy was Eutyches. His followers were called Monophysites. They varied in their ways of explanation. Some thought the two natures were intermingled into one. Others are said to have worked out some sort of a conversion of the human into the Divine. All were condemned by the Council of Chalcedon (451). This Fourth General Council of the Church defined that Jesus Christ remained, after the Incarnation, “perfect in Divinity and perfect in humanity . . . consubstantial with the Father according to His Divinity, consubstantial with us according to His humanity . . . one and the same Christ, the Son, the Lord, the Only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures not intermingled, not changed, not divisible, not separable”. By this condemnation of error and definition of truth, the dogma of the Incarnation was once again saved to the Church. Once again a large portion of the faithful of the Oriental Church were lost to their mother. Monophysitism resulted in the national Churches of Syria, Egypt, and Armenia. These national Churches are still heretic, although there have in later times been formed Catholic rites called the Catholic Syriac, Coptic, and Armenian rites. The Catholic rites, as the Catholic Chaldaic rite, are less numerous than the heretic rites.


One would suppose that there was no more room for heresy in the explanation of the mystery of the nature of the Incarnation. There is always room for heresy in the matter of explanation of a mystery, if one does not hear the infallible teaching body to whom and to whom alone Christ entrusted His mysteries to have and to keep and to teach them till the end of time. Three patriarchs of the Oriental Church gave rise, so far as we know, to the new heresy. These three heresiarchs were Sergius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, Cyrus, the Patriarch of Alexandria, and Athanasius, the Patriarch of Antioch. St. Sophronius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, remained true and delated his fellow patriarchs to Pope Honorius. His successor in the see of Peter, St. Martin, bravely condemned the error of the three Oriental patriarchs, who admitted the decrees of Nicaea, Ephesus, and Chalcedon; defended the union of two natures in one Divine Person; but denied that this Divine Person had two wills. Their principle was expressed by the words, en thelema kai mia energeia, by which they would seem to have meant one will and one activity, i.e. only one principle of action and of suffering in Jesus Christ and that one principle Divine. These heretics were called Monothelites. Their error was condemned by the Sixth General Council (the Third Council of Constantinople, 680). It defined that in Christ there were two natural wills and two natural activities, the Divine and the human, and that the human will was not at all contrary to the Divine, but rather perfectly subject thereto (Denzinger, n. 291). The Emperor Constans sent St. Martin into exile in Chersonesus. We have trace of only one body of Monothelites. The Maronites, about the monastery of John Maron, were converted from Monothelism in the time of the Crusades and have been true to the faith ever since. The other Monothelites seem to have been absorbed in Monophysitism, or in the schism of the Byzantine Church later one

The error of Monothelism is clear from the Scripture as well as from tradition. Christ did acts of adoration (John 4:22), humility (Matthew 11:29), reverence (Hebrews 5:7). These acts are those of a human will. The Monothelites denied that there was a human will in Christ. Jesus prayed: “Father, if Thou wilt, remove this chalice from me: but yet not my will, but thine be done,” (Luke 22:42). Here there is question of two wills, the Father’s and Christ’s. The will of Christ was subject to the will of the Father. “As the Father hath given me commandment, so do I” (John 14:31). He became obedient even unto death (Philippians 2:8). The Divine will in Jesus could not have been subject to the will of the Father, with which will it was really identified.

The Catholic faith

Thus far we have that which is of Faith in this matter of the nature of the Incarnation. The human and Divine natures are united in one Divine Person so as to remain that exactly which they are, namely, Divine and human natures with distinct and perfect activities of their own. Theologians go farther in their attempts to give some account of the mystery of the Incarnation, so as, at least, to show that there is therein no contradiction, nothing that right reason may not safely adhere to. This union of the two natures in one Person has been for centuries called a hypostatic union, that is, a union in the Divine Hypostasis. What is an hypostasis? The definition of Boethius is classic: rationalis naturae individua substantia (P.L., LXIV, 1343), a complete whole whose nature is rational. This book is a complete whole; its nature is not rational; it is not an hypostasis. An hypostasis is a complete rational individual. St. Thomas defines hypostasis as substantia cum ultimo complemento (III:2:3, ad 2um), a substance in its entirety. Hypostasis superadds to the notion of rational substance this idea of entirety; nor does the idea of rational nature include this notion of entirety. Human nature is the principle of human activities; but only an hypostasis, a person, can exercise these activities. The Schoolmen discuss the question whether the hypostasis has anything more of reality than human nature. To understand the discussion, one must needs be versed in scholastic Philosophy. Be the case as it may in the matter of human nature that is not united with the Divine, the human nature that is hypostatically united with the Divine, that is, the human nature that the Divine Hypostasis or Person assumes to Itself, has certainly more of reality united to it than the human nature of Christ would have were it not hypostatically united in the Word. The Divine Logos identified with Divine nature (Hypostatic Union) means then that the Divine Hypostasis (or Person, or Word, or Logos) appropriates to Itself human nature, and takes in every respect the place of the human person. In this way, the human nature of Christ, though not a human person, loses nothing of the perfection of the perfect man; for the Divine Person supplies the place of the human.

It is to be remembered that, when the Word took Flesh, there was no change in the Word; all the change was in the Flesh. At the moment of conception, in the womb of the Blessed Mother, through the forcefulness of God’s activity, not only was the human soul of Christ created but the Word assumed the man that was conceived. When God created the world, the world was changed, that is, it passed from the state of nonentity to the state of existence; and there was no change in the Logos or Creative Word of God the Father. Nor was there change in that Logos when it began to terminate the human nature. A new relation ensued, to be sure; but this new relation implied in the Logos no new reality, no real change; all new reality, all real change, was in the human nature. Anyone who wishes to go into this very intricate question of the manner of the Hypostatic Union of the two natures in the one Divine Personality, may with great profit read St. Thomas (III:4:2); Scotus (in III, Dist. i); (De Incarnatione, Disp. II, sec. 3); Gregory, of Valentia (in III, D. i, q. 4). Any modern text book on theology will give various opinions in regard to the way of the union of the Person assuming with the nature assumed

Effects of the incarnation

On Christ Himself

On the body of Christ

Did union with the Divine nature do away, with all bodily imperfections? The Monophysites were split up into two parties by this question. Catholics hold that, before the Resurrection, the Body of Christ was subject to all the bodily weaknesses to which human nature unassumed is universally subject; such are hunger, thirst, pain, death. Christ hungered (Matthew 4:2), thirsted (John 19:28), was fatigued (John 4:6), suffered pain and death. “We have not a high priest, who cannot have compassion on our infirmities: but one tempted in all things like as we are, without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). “For in that, wherein he himself hath suffered and been tempted, he is able to succour them also that are tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). All these bodily weaknesses were not miraculously brought about by Jesus; they were the natural results of the human nature He assumed. To be sure, they might have been impeded and were freely willed by Christ. They were part of the free oblation that began with the moment of the Incarnation. “Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith: Sacrifice and oblation thou wouldest not; but a body thou hast fitted to me” (Hebrews 10:5). The Fathers deny that Christ assumed sickness. There is no mention in Scripture of any sickness of Jesus. Sickness is not a weakness that is a necessary belonging of human nature. It is true that pretty much all mankind suffers sickness. It is not true that any specific sickness is suffered by all mankind. Not all men must needs have measles. No one definite sickness universally belongs to human nature; hence no one definite sickness was assumed by Christ. St. Athanasius gives the reason that it were unbecoming that He should heal others who was Himself not healed (P.G., XX, 133). Weaknesses due to old age are common to mankind. Had Christ lived to an old age, He would have suffered such weaknesses just as He suffered the weaknesses that are common to infancy. Death from old age would have come to Jesus, had He not been violently put to death (see St. Augustine, “De Peccat.”, II, 29; P.L., XLIV, 180). The reasonableness of these bodily imperfections in Christ is clear from the fact that He assumed human nature so as to satisfy for that nature’s sin. Now, to satisfy for the sin of another is to accept the penalty of that sin. Hence it was fitting that Christ should take upon himself all those penalties of the sin of Adam that are common to man and becoming. or at least not unbecoming to the Hypostatic Union. (See Summa Theologica III:14 for other reasons.) As Christ did not take sickness upon Himself, so other imperfections, such as deformities, which are not common to mankind, were not His. St. Clement of Alexandria (The Pedagogue III.1), Tertullian (De Carne Christi, c. ix), and a few others taught that Christ was deformed. They misinterpreted the words of Isaias: “There is no beauty in him, nor comeliness; and we have seen him, and there was no sightliness” etc. (53:2). The words refer only to the suffering Christ. Theologians now are unanimous in the view that Christ was noble in bearing and beautiful in form, such as a perfect man should be; for Christ was, by virtue of His incarnation, a perfect man (see Stentrup, “Christologia”, theses lx, lxi).

On the human soul of Christ



The effect of the Incarnation on the human will of Christ was to leave it free in all things save only sin. It was absolutely impossible that any stain of sin should soil the soul of Christ. Neither sinful act of the will nor sinful habit of the soul were in keeping with the Hypostatic Union. The fact that Christ never sinned is an article of faith (see Council, Ephes., can. x, in Denzinger, 122, wherein the sinlessness of Christ is implicit in the definition that he did not offer Himself for Himself, but for us). This fact of Christ’s sinlessness is evident from the Scripture. “There is no sin in Him” (1 John 3:5). Him, who knew no sin, he hath made sin for us” i.e. a victim for sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). The impossibility of a sinful act by Christ is taught by all theologians, but variously explained. Günther defended an impossibility consequent solely upon the Divine provision that He would not sin (Vorschule, II, 441). This is no impossibility at all. Christ is God. It is absolutely impossible, antecedent to the Divine prevision, that God should allow His flesh to sin. If God allowed His flesh to sin, He might sin, that is, He might turn away from Himself; and it is absolutely impossible that God should turn from Himself, be untrue to His Divine attributes. The Scotists teach that this impossibility to sin, antecedent to God’s revision, is not due to the Hypostatic Union, but is like to the impossibility of the beatified to sin, and is due to a special Divine Providence (see Scotus, in III, d. xiii, Q. i). St. Thomas (III:15:1) and all Thomists, Francisco Suárez (d. xxxiii, 2), Vasquez (d. xi, c. iii), de Lugo (d. xxvi, 1, n. 4), and all theologians of the Society of Jesus teach the now almost universally admitted explanation that the absolute impossibility of a sinful act on the part of Christ was due to the hypostatic union of His human nature with the Divine.


The will of Christ remained free after the Incarnation. This is an article of faith. The Scripture is most clear on this point. “When he had tasted, he would not drink” (Matthew 27:34). “I will; be thou made clean” (Matthew 8:3). The liberty of Christ was such that He merited. “He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross. For which cause God also hath exalted him” (Philippians 2:8). “Who having joy set before him, endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). That Christ was free in the matter of death, is the teaching of all Catholics; else He did not merit nor satisfy for us by His death. Just how to reconcile this liberty of Christ with the impossibility of His committing sin has ever been a crux for theologians. Some seventeen explanations are given (see Summa Theologica III:47:3, ad 3; Molina, “Concordia”, d. liii, membr. 4).


The effects of the Hypostatic Union upon the knowledge of Christ will be treated in a SPECIAL ARTICLE.


The Humanity of Christ was holy by a twofold sanctity: the grace of union and sanctifying grace. The grace of union, i.e. the Substantial and Hypostatic Union of the two natures in the Divine Word, is called the substantial sanctity of Christ. St. Augustine says: “Tunc ergo sanctificavit se in se, hoc est hominem se in Verbo se, quia unus est Christus, Verbum et homo, sanctificans hominem in Verbo” (When the Word was made Flesh then, indeed, He sanctified Himself in Himself, that is, Himself as Man in Himself as Word; for that Christ is One Person, both Word and Man, and renders His human nature holy in the holiness of the Divine nature) (In Johan. tract. 108, n. 5, in P.L., XXXV, 1916). Besides this substantial sanctity of the grace of Hypostatic Union, there was in the soul of Christ, the accidental sanctity called sanctifying grace. This is the teaching of St. Augustine, St. Athanasius, St. John Chrysostom, St. Cyril of Alexandria, and of the Fathers generally. The Word was “full of grace” (John 1:14), and “of his fullness we all have received, and grace for grace” (John 1:16). The Word were not full of grace, if any grace were wanting in Him which would be a perfection fitting to His human nature. All theologians teach that sanctifying grace is a perfection fitting the humanity of Christ. The mystical body of Christ is the Church, whereof Christ is the Head (Romans 12:4; 1 Corinthians 12:11; Ephesians 1:20; 4:4; Colossians 1:18, 2:10). It is especially in this sense that we say the grace of the Head flows through the channels of the sacraments of the Church–through the veins of the body of Christ. Theologians commonly teach that from the very beginning of His existence, He received the fullness of sanctifying grace and other supernatural gifts (except faith, hope, and the moral virtue of penance); nor did He ever increase in these gifts or this sanctifying grace. For so to increase would be to become more pleasing to the Divine Majesty; and this were impossible in Christ. Hence St. Luke meant (ii, 52) that Christ showed more and more day after day the effects of grace in His outward bearing.


The Hypostatic Union did not deprive the Human Soul of Christ of its human likes and dislikes. The affections of a man, the emotions of a man were His in so far as they were becoming to the grace of union, in so far as they were not out of order. St. Augustine well argues: “Human affections were not out of place in Him in Whom there was really and truly a human body and a human soul” (City of God XIV.9). We find that he was subject to anger against the blindness of heart of sinners (Mark 3:5); to fear (Mark 14:33); to sadness (Matthew 26:37): to the sensible affections of hope, of desire, and of joy. These likes and dislikes were under the complete will-control of Christ. The fomes peccati, the kindling-wood of sin–that is, those likes and dislikes that are not under full and absolute control of right reason and strong will-power–could not, as a matter of course, have been in Christ. He could not have been tempted by such likes and dislikes to sin. To have taken upon Himself this penalty of sin would not have been in keeping with the absolute and substantial holiness which is implied by the grace of union in the Logos.

On the God-Man (Deus-Homo, theanthropos

One of the most important effects of the union of the Divine nature and human nature in One Person is a mutual interchange of attributes, Divine and human, between God and man, the Communicatio Idiomatum. The God-Man is one Person, and to Him in the concrete may be applied the predicates that refer to the Divinity as well as those that refer to the Humanity of Christ. We may say God is man, was born, died, was buried. These predicates refer to the Person Whose nature is human, as well as Divine; to the Person Who is man, as well as God. We do not mean to say that God, as God, was born; but God, Who is man, was born. We may not predicate the abstract Divinity of the abstract humanity, nor the abstract Divinity of the concrete man, nor vice versa; nor the concrete God of the abstract humanity, nor vice versa. We predicate the concrete of the concrete: Jesus is God; Jesus is man; the God-Man was sad; the Man-God was killed. Some ways of speaking should not be used, not that they may not be rightly explained, but that they may easily be misunderstood in an heretical sense.

The adoration of the humanity of Christ

The human nature of Christ, united hypostatically with the Divine nature, is adored with the same worship as the Divine nature (see ADORATION). We adore the Word when we adore Christ the Man; but the Word is God. The human nature of Christ is not at all the reason of our adoration of Him; that reason is only the Divine nature. The entire term of our adoration is the Incarnate Word; the motive of the adoration is the Divinity of the Incarnate Word. The partial term of our adoration may be the human nature of Christ: the motive of the adoration is the same as the motive of the adoration that reaches the entire term. Hence, the act of adoration of the Word Incarnate is the same absolute act of adoration that reaches the human nature. The Person of Christ is adored with the cult called latria. But the cult that is due to a person is due in like manner to the whole nature of that Person and to all its parts. Hence, since the human nature is the real and true nature of Christ, that human nature and all its parts are the object of the cult called latria, i.e., adoration. We shall not here enter into the question of the adoration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Other effects of the Incarnation

The effects of the incarnation on the Blessed Mother and us, will be found treated under the respective special subjects. (See GRACEJUSTIFICATIONIMMACULATE CONCEPTIONTHE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY.)

By Walter Drum

This article is borrowed from


Fathers of the Church: ST. IRENAEUS, Adversus Haer.; ST. ATHANASIUS, De Incarnatione Verbi; IDEM, Contra Arianos; ST. AMBROSE, De Incarnatione; ST. GREGORY OF NYSSA, Antirrheticus adversus Apollinarium; IDEM, Tractatus ad Theophilum contra Apollinarium; the writings of ST. GREGORY NAZIANZEN, ST. CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA, and others who attacked the Arians, Nestorians, Monophysites, and Monothelites.
Scholastics: ST. THOMAS, Summa Theologica, III, QQ. 1-59; ST. BONAVENTURE, Brevil., IV; IDEM, in III Sent.; BELLARMINE, De Christo Capite Tolius Ecclesia, Controversiae., 1619; SUAREZ, De Incarnatione, DE LUGO, De Incarnatione, III; PETAVIUS, De incarn. Verbi: Theologia Dogmatica, IV.

About this page

APA citation. Drum, W. (1910). The Incarnation. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved June 30, 2022 from New Advent:

MLA citation. Drum, Walter. “The Incarnation.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 30 Jun. 2022 <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Mary Ann Grelinger.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.