Dan Burke is an award-winning author, writer, and speaker on Catholic spirituality. He has written and/or edited nine books on faithful Catholic spirituality and is the President and Chief Operating Officer of EWTN News, Inc. Dan is the president of the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, and the creator of Divine Intimacy Radio and SpiritualDirection.com.
In the third part of his Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas catalogues 10 reasons or effects for the Incarnation of God — and supports each one with a quote from St. Augustine. The first five effects deal with drawing mankind into the Goodness of God, and the second five deal with humanity’s withdrawal from evil.
1. Faith: Certitude in the Living God
God takes on human flesh to grant humanity a greater assurance that it is truly “God Himself Who Speaks” to his people. As St. Augustine comments, “In order that man might journey more trustfully toward the truth, the Truth itself, the Son of God, having assumed human nature, established and founded faith.”
2. Hope: A Strengthening
The Incarnation is the apogee of hope. The Son of God comes Incarnate to fulfill the hope of the People of Israel — and preaches the New Testament hope of the Kingdom of God. Again, St. Thomas turns to the wisdom of St. Augustine: “Nothing was so necessary for raising our hope as to show us how deeply God loved us. And what could afford us a stronger proof of this than that the Son of God should become a partner with us of human nature?”
3. Charity: The Great Kindling
Charity, the mother of all virtue, is “greatly enkindled” in mankind by the Incarnation of God. St. Augustine comments, “What greater cause is there of the Lord’s coming than to show God’s love for us?” and “If we have been slow to love, at least let us hasten to love in return.”
4. The Exemplar: The Life of Right-Doing
St. Augustine avers, “Not man, who can be seen, should be followed, but God, who cannot be seen. So then, that we might be shown one who would be both seen and followed, God became man.”
5. Theosis: Full Participation in Divinity
In a famous sermon, St. Augustine declared, “God was made man, that man might be made God.” According to St. Thomas Aquinas, the Incarnation opened up a “full participation of the Divinity, which is the true bliss of man and end of human life.”
6. United to Christ: The Bodiless Evil Spirits
In taking up human nature in the Incarnation, Christ revealed to all men that they were united to God and should not praise the bodiless “author of sin.” St. Augustine states, “When human nature is so joined to God as to become one with him in person, these proud and evil spirits no longer sate to vaunt themselves over man because they are without flesh.”
7. Dignity of Humanity: To Shun Sin
The Incarnation “taught how great is man’s dignity” that Christ would take up human form, and therefore “we should [not] sully it with sin.” In a sermon on the Nativity, Pope Leo preached, “Learn, O Christian, thy worth; and being made a partner of the Divine Nature, refuse to return to evil deeds to your former worthlessness.” In a similar train of thought, St. Augustine states, “God has proved to us how high a place human nature holds amongst creatures, inasmuch as he appeared to men as a true man.”
8. Human Presumption: Unmerited Grace
“In order to do away with man’s presumption,” says St. Augustine, “the grace of God is commended in Jesus Christ, though no merits of ours went before.” In fact, we have earned hell, yet, in return, he has offered us heaven.
9. Human Pride: The Humility of God
Intimately tied to the removal of man’s presumption, the undercutting of human pride by the Incarnation paved the way for man’s understanding of his need for a savior. As Augustine says, “Man’s pride, which is the greatest stumbling block to our clinging to God, can be convinced and cured by humility so great.”
10. The Thralldom of Sin: Divine Rescue
St. Thomas says the Incarnation was “to free man from the thralldom of sin,” and St. Augustine agrees in saying the Incarnation “ought to be done in such a way that the devil should be overcome by the justice of the man Jesus Christ.” The way this was done was through Christ’s satisfaction on the cross. Man owed the sin debt, but only God could pay it; thus, the Savior of mankind had to be both God and man — the Incarnate Jesus Christ.
The Incarnation of Christ is a pillar and central mystery of the Catholic faith. As Advent rolls on and Christmas approaches, let us slow our pace and take time to meditate on the Incarnation. Only then will we be blessed to see how the humble and tender child in a manger is going to pull us away from evil — and further draw us into the Good.
He is real, present, and good - may He be ever more so to you and yours this Christmas