December 2009 - Vol. 35

Readings from Early Church Fathers on the Incarnation


Joseph and the Christ Child by El Greco (1597-99)

Life itself appeared in human form

from Augustine of Hippo's commentary on the first letter of St John, 5th century
‘That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes and touche with our hands, concerning the Word of Life'.  Who could touch the Word with his hands, were it not that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us?

 This Word, who became flesh in order that he could be touched by hands, began to be flesh in the Virgin Mary's womb.  But he did not hen begin to be the Word; for St John says, ‘That which was from the beginning'.  See how his letter corroborates his gospel, from which you heard a short time ago, ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God'.

Possibly some may understand ‘concerning the Word of life' as a vague expression referring to Christ, not meaning that very body of Christ which was touched by hands.  But you must take into account what follow, ‘And life itself was made manifest'.  It is Christ, therefore, who is the Word of life.

 And how was life manifested?  It was from the beginning, but it had not been manifested to men; yet it had been revealed to the angels, as they saw it and were nourished by it as if it were their bread.  What does scripture say?  ‘Man has eaten bread of angels'.

 So the life itself was made manifest in the flesh, because it depended on ‘manifestation', that a reality only perceptible to the heart might also be visible to our eyes, and thus heal our hearts.  For the Word is seen only by the heart, but the flesh is seen also by bodily eyes.  There was in fact flesh which we could see, in order to heal the heart, the means by which we could see the Word.

‘And we are witnesses', he says, ‘and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest among us'; to make the text clearer it is permissible to read ‘was made manifest to us'.

‘That which we have seen and heard therefore we proclaim to you'.  My dear brethren in Christ, take note of this: ‘that which we have seen and heard therefore we proclaim to you'.  They - namely the writers - saw the Lord himself, present in the flesh and heard the words from the Lord's own lips, and proclaimed them to us.  So we also have heard, but we have not seen.

Is it to be concluded that we are less blessed than those who heard and also saw?  How then does the writer add, ‘that you say have fellowship with us'?  They saw, we have not seen; and yet we are in fellowship with them, for we hold a common faith.

‘And our fellowship is with God the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.  And', he adds, ‘we are writing this that you joy may be complete'.  This complete joy of which he speaks is in that very fellowship itself, in that very love, in that very unity.

Quotes from early church fathers on the Incarnation

» If Christ had not been born of woman, by Proclus of Constantinople 
» When Christ comes, God will be seen by men, by Irenaeus
» The Word made flesh deifies us, by Hippolytus
» Life itself appeared in human form, by Augustine of Hippo

.

.
(c) copyright 2009  The Sword of the Spirit
publishing address: Park Royal Business Centre, 9-17 Park Royal Road, Suite 108, London NW10 7LQ, United Kingdom
email: living.bulwark@yahoo.com
.