Choose a topic from Part 3a:

2. The Union of the Word and the Flesh

1. The nature of a thing is its essence considered asthe source of operations. And the essence of a thing isthe basic make-up of the thing; its fundamental constitution inbeing and kind; it is what makes the thing what it is; it is whatwe express by a true and exact definition of the thing. And, as wehave noted, the nature of a thing is this sameessenceregarded from the standpoint of what it does, or what itis for. Thus we say that man's essence, physicallyconsidered, is body and soul; man's nature is the human essenceas capable of living, walking, talking, thinking, willing. Now,God's nature and essence are in all respects one and the samereality; this is because of God's perfect simplicity. And humannature (that is, the human essence with its faculties foroperation, and notably its intellect and will) is a complete naturein its kind. God could not have become man by any fusion or mixingof the human nature and the divine nature; the nature of God ischangeless and cannot be fused or mingled with another nature. Yetthese two natures, the divine and the human, were not merely to beheld side by side in an accidental union. There had to bea substantial union of God and man if God were to beincarnate. Since, as we see, the point or focus of this substantialunion cannot be the natures themselves, we must seek that focus(that, precisely, in which the union took place) in the divinePerson of the Son of God.

2. A person is an individual substance ofrational nature, that is, equipped for understanding and willing.Whatever is to be attributed to such a being, is attributed to itin person. It is to the person of John Doe thatwe attribute his mind, his will, his hasty temper, his pleasantsmile, his broken arm. Now, if human nature is not united to God inthe Person of the divine Son, it is not united to thedivine Son at all. Hence, we must conclude that the union of thetwo natures, divine and human, which we call the Incarnation, takesplace in the Person of the Word of God, that is, of God the Son,the Second Person of the Eternal Trinity.

3. An individual substance with its own way of operatingand acting is called a supposit or a hypostasis.Thus, a tree, or an animal, or a man, is a hypostasis. But thepart of a substance (say, a man's arm), is indeed asubstance, but it has not its own way of acting; the arm'sacting is the acting of the man; if the arm be severed from theman, it does not continue (on its own, so to speak) to act as anarm. Hence, a hypostasis is a complete individualsubstance with its own way of acting. Now, when a hypostasis isequipped to act with understanding and free will, it is called aperson. Therefore we say, "Person adds tohypostasis a determinate nature, namely the rationalnature." It is manifest, then, that every person is ahypostasis, but not the other way round. Hence, a union in personmust be a union in the hypostasis; else it could be a union only inpoint of some dignity, that is, an accidental and not a substantialunion. But God actually became man. God therefore unitedhuman nature to the divine Nature inthe Person or hypostasisof the Son. For this reason we call the union which made theIncarnation a fact by the name of "the hypostaticunion."

4. St. John Damascene (De Fid. Orthodox, iii 3-5)says that in Christ we acknowledge two natures, but one hypostasiscomposed from both. This does not mean that there is any realcomposition or compounding in the simple divine Essence and Natureof the Son of God. It means that the Second Divine Person is now aPerson in whom two natures subsist.

5. Since Christ is true man as well as true God, his humansoul and human body are united substantially as these elements areunited in any other man. But in Christ the substantial union ofhuman body and human soul does not constitute a new hypostasis orperson, but is substantially effected in the already existingPerson of the Son of God.

6. The hypostatic union is a substantial union, not anaccidental one; it is a union of two natures inone Person. If the union were only accidental, there would be twopersons in Christ, whereas, in truth, there is only one Person, andthat is the Person of the Eternal Word or Son. And if the unionwere such that the human nature would be absorbed completely intothe divine Nature (were that possible), then Christ would not betrue man; but he is true man as well as true God. Christ who is GodIncarnate is one divine Person, subsisting withtwo substantially united but really distinct andunconfused natures, the nature of God and the nature of man.

7. Since God became man "in the fullness oftime," the hypostatic union does not exist from eternity; itis the work or creation of God, and took place in time.

8. The Son of God assumed human nature in theIncarnation. This assumption of human nature is the divine actionby which the hypostatic union of the two natures (that of God andthat of man) was effected. Speaking precisely, then, theassumption is not the same as the union. For wecan say, speaking of the union, either, "The divineNature is united with the human nature," or "The humannature is united with the divine Nature." But, in speaking ofthe assumption, we refer that term to the divine Natureexclusively, and say that God assumed human nature; we cannot saythat man assumed the divine Nature.

9. Because the hypostatic union is effected in the divinePerson of the Son of God, it is the most excellent of unions.

10. It is correct to say that the hypostatic union tookplace by grace if we understand grace to mean the will ofGod doing what is well-pleasing to him, without any merit ordeserving on the part of those for whose benefit it is done.

11. For the human race did not merit the redemption, northe Incarnation which made the redemption possible. Says St. Paul(Titus 3:5): "Not by the works of justice which we have done,but according to his mercy he saved us." It may be said thatthe holy men of old who longed prayerfully for the Redeemer,established, by their fidelity and devotion, a claim on God'smercy and love, and thus merited the Incarnationcongruously. But no one, or all, of the human race couldmerit the Incarnation condignly under the title ofjustice, as something earned, and therefore owed to man.

12. Grace was natural to the human nature of Christ in thesense that it was in him from the beginning, from the very momentof the effecting of the hypostatic union. And by reason of thisunion there is in the human nature of Christ a perfect anduntouchable sinlessness.

"The one thing necessary which Jesus spoke of to Martha and Mary consists in hearing the word of God and living by it."
R. Garrigou-Lagrange, OP

* * *

"Does our conduct correspond with our Faith?"
The Cure D'Ars

* * *

"God has no need of men."
St Philip Neri

* * *