Bishop Kallistos on the Incarnation

Two comments from Bishop Kallistos Ware from his HOW ARE WE SAVED?  on the Incarnation of the Word of God:

nativity6“Salvation means healing,

And this healing is brought about more particularly through sharing, through mutual solidarity and exchange.

Like is healed and saved by like:

Our Lord saves us by becoming what we are,

By sharing totally in our humanity,

Thereby enabling us to share in what he is.

Thus through a reciprocal exchange of gifts he takes our humanity and communicates to us his divine life,

Reestablishing that communion between Creator and creation which sin has destroyed.

Salvation according to this model is realized above all through indwelling-

‘Christ in us’ rather than ‘Christ for us.'”   

nativity5“‘In his unbounded love’, writes Irenaeus, ‘He was made what we are, that He might make us to be what He is.’

Athanasius expresses the same truth yet more directly in the words,

‘He became man that we might be made God’.

The ‘hominization’ of God, that is to say, makes possible the ‘deification’ (theosis) of man.

He takes into himself what is ours and in exchange he gives us what is His own,

So that we become by grace what God is by nature, being made sons in the Son.”

The Incarnation: TransFIGuring the Fig Leaves

ephremWe are all familiar with contemporary Christmas Carols.  Here is one hymn written by 4th Century Christian poet St. Ephrem the Syrian.   We can learn from this what Christians in the 4th Century emphasized about the Christmas Feast.    St. Ephrem sees the Nativity as the Feast of the Incarnation, which for him was the undoing of what happened to humanity as a result of the sin of Eve and Adam

All these changes did the Merciful One make,

Stripping off glory and putting on a body*;

For He had devised a way to reclothe Adam

In that glory which he had stripped off.**

He was wrapped in swaddling clothes,

Corresponding to Adam’s leaves,

He put on clothes

In place of Adam’s skins;

He was baptized for Adam’s sin,

He was embalmed for Adam’s death,

He rose and raised Adam up in His glory.

Blessed is He who descended,

Put Adam on and ascended.

 *Philippians 2:5-7

** Some Patristic writers interpreted Genesis 3:7, 21 to mean that Adam & Eve were originally royally clothed by God, but in sinning they lost the right to wear the regal/divine garments given them by God, and “their eyes being opened” was their sudden realization of having lost their clothes and now being naked before God.  Thus their sin could not be hid by garments of leaves or by hiding in a bush as their nakedness was as obvious to God as it had become to them.   That is why Ephrem connects the incarnation to  God “reclothing” Adam.  The garments of skin given to Adam and Eve by God in 3:21 were a sorry substitute for their original garments which enabled them to be in God’s presence.    Christ the incarnate God thus sanctifies and transforms clothing when He allows Himself to be wrapped in swaddling clothes.   For now the clothes do not hide sin, but divinity!      We read this at the Transfiguration of Christ:   “Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them”   (Mark 9:2-3).

Was Constantine’s Vision Dreamt Up?

I’ve been slowly reading through Mark Allman’s new book WHO WOULD JESUS KILL?: WAR, PEACE AND THE CHRISTIAN TRADITION.    Two comments by St. Augustine which in my opinion are thought provoking:

 “For every man is in quest of peace, even in waging war, whereas no one is in quest of war when making peace.” 

War is thus never a goal, but serves only as a means to an end, whereas peace is a goal, a desired end.  It makes me think of the Patristic idea that evil has no substance, it is only a negation of the good, whereas good exists, founded in God.  Good is substantive, but also is of God’s will and energy as well.  Evil is none of these, literally!

Commenting on Matt 26:51-52, Augustine wrote:  “The Lord, indeed, had told His disciples to carry a sword; but He did not tell them to use it.”

It is a very interesting observation.   Jesus does not command the use of the sword.  St. Paul believes the sword in the hands of rulers/authority to be approved by God for its use, though he nowhere comments about a Christian being the authority to use it.    In the Koran there is command to use the sword but there is no approval for pacifism as Allah says when it comes to war humans may not want to fight, but that God knows better as He knows what humans do not know and so humans must obey Him when the call to arms comes. 

Allman’s book has brought a question to my mind:

emperorPrior to Constantine both the Roman Empire and the Christian Church forbade Christians to serve in the military.   The story of Constantine seeing a vision (“by this sign you shall conquer”) before going to battle, seems to have become a justification for Christians embracing the military – it shows God using the Roman Emperor and His military to achieve God’s will, so the use of military would be God ordained.  But if I remember my history correctly, the story of Constantine’s vision is only first reported many years after Constantine had come to power but not at the time it supposedly happened.  I thought I even remember it being attributed to Eusebius, the very pro-Constantine Church historian for whom Constantine is a hero.   I wonder if anyone has researched whether Eusebius promoted or even concocted the story to justify Christians being in the military?   After all Constantine could hardly embrace a religion that forbade military service especially since he used the military to defeat the other co-reigning emperors to become the sole emperor of the Roman empire.  And once in power, he wouldn’t be able to defend his position or the empire itself if Christianity maintained its pacifist stance.   So is it possible that Constantine’s “vision” was “dreamt” up (as it were) to justify the melding of militarism and Christianity? 

It apparently is St. Ambrose in the post-Constantine era who first writes about the Roman Empire as the instrument of God’s peace.    According to Allman Ambrose simply  “imported the Greek philosopher’s concern for social justice into the Christian understanding of war.”  Ambrose, himself a former Roman governor, assumed that political leaders receive their legitimate authority from God and thus if the emperor orders Christians to war, the Christians are to assume this is God’s will.

Augustine, following his teacher, Ambrose, accepted from the Greek philosophers a notion that order in the world is good and that government has the job of imposing order on the sinful world which otherwise tends toward evil.  Thus, according to Allman, Augustine opined that  “governmental authority and power are instruments God uses to frustrate the power of sin.” 

Christians believing in the omnipotent God accepted the notion that Constantine’s conversion was ordained by God (it did after all signal the end of Christian persecution by the Empire) and thus anything Constantine ordered must be God-ordained as well.    I wonder if there is any research already done on this.