To Be Human is To Be Christ(-like)

Creation of Adam and Eve in God's Image

Morna Hooker’s book  FROM ADAM TO CHRIST: ESSAYS ON PAUL is a theological gem, but not easy reading.  She pieced together some ideas that seem quite profound to me.

“According to Gen. 3-5 and 22, the eating of the forbidden fruit meant that Adam became as God, knowing good and evil; according to Jewish tradition, however, his action meant that he ceased to be like God; in disobeying God’s command, Adam ceased to be in the likeness of God.”   (p 97)

“Adam, created in the form and likeness of God, misunderstood his position, and thought that the divine likeness was something which he needed to grasp; his tragedy was that in seizing it he lost it.”  (p 98)

The first Adam, according to St. Paul, is the exact opposite of Christ Jesus, the new Adam, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross”   (Philippians 2:6-8).   Hooker goes on to say about Christ:

“At this point the one who is truly what man is meant to be – in the form and likeness of God – becomes what other men are, because they are in Adam… Men have ceased to be what they were meant to be; they have become slaves to sin and death and the Law, as Paul expresses it elsewhere; hence we have the paradox that when the true man becomes what they are, this human likeness is a travesty of what man is meant to be.” (pp 98-99)

“Here is the paradox: it is precisely because he is truly in the form of God (or God’s image) that he is prepared to take on the form of a slave …    Christians are called upon to be like Christ in his self-humiliation which involved becoming like men.  In becoming what we are, Christ becomes subject to human frustrations and enslavement to hostile powers; but his very action in becoming what we are is a demonstration of what he eternally is – ungrasping, unself-centered, giving glory by all his actions to God.”  (p 100)

The Gospel story is thus the revelation of God, of God’s true nature, which even His chosen people misunderstood.  Consequently, they didn’t understand their own calling and role in the world – what it means to be God’s people, to be fully human. 

Christ in dying on the Cross – a rebellious slave’s punishment – suffers the punishment and death that Adam never experienced.  Christ became obedient – a slave/servant! – in order to die this death.   God as a human incarnate in Christ is obedient to God’s command!  God doesn’t simply command us, He becomes us and obeys the divine intention and will.   He shows us what it is to love, to be God, to be human.

Christ Pantocrator - The One Who Is

Thus becoming dominant over creation (including over death) requires submission to God.  Equality with God means becoming God like; God shows Himself to be self-emptying (kenotic), self-sacrificing love.  He shows that to be God is to practice self denial (asceticism).  Most incomprehensible of all is that this is both what God is, and also what God wills.  YHWH, “I am who I am”, means God is what He does and what He does is Who He is.  He is love divine – self-emptying and self-sacrificing.   Christ is the incarnation of love, of God.

Jesus however is not only God; He is also perfect human.  He reveals not only God to us, He shows us what it is to be fully human, to be like God.  To be human is to be Christian: Christ like.  To be Christ like is to be self denying, self empyting, self sacrificing.   To be human is to love as Christ loves.  To be like God is to be like Christ, for God is love.

The Sin and Sinfulness of Anger

I finished reading the excellent little book FINDING HAPPINESS: MONASTIC STEPS FOR A FULFILLING LIFE  by Abbot Christopher Jamison.  I will share some of his comments on the sin of anger – a sin which is so pervasive in our lives that many just consider it natural and human, even if potentially harmful to others, rather than sinful.  Jamison’s comments are culled from the Christian monastic tradition, and though he sees value in the psycho-analytical tradition, he is offering the particularly insightful wisdom of the monastic tradition in dealing with anger.   He especially quotes from St. John Cassian (d. 435AD) who many credit with bringing monastic spirituality to the Christian West.  Jamison writes from his own experience as monk, offering all practicing Christians sound advice on how to deal with the vice of anger:

“…I came to see that my anger came from being a very goal-oriented person.  I resented this other person’s actions threatening the achievement of my goals…”

“… the belief that we always need love and approval from those significant to us and that we must avoid their disapproval is irrational.  Its irrationality lies in the fact that we literally defeat ourselves by handing our well-being over to a whole host of significant others.  A more rational belief is that love and approval are good and we will seek them when we can, but they are not absolutely essential all the time from all significant others.”

“Cassian calls it (anger) ‘a deadly poison… that must be totally uprooted.  He quotes scripture at length to show the harm that can come to one who is angry, destroying right judgment, wisdom and the interior light of contemplation.  He insists that ‘man’s anger does not work God’s righteousness’, and then goes on to challenge those who seek to justify anger directed towards those who do wrong.  He is disdainful of those who quote passages of scripture that say ‘God was angry with Israel’, saying that such passages are figurative and notes stingingly that if people take the metaphor literally how will they cope with other passages that suggest God was ‘asleep like a man drunk with wine’. (Psalm 78:65)  To use scripture as a source for justifying anger, he says, is to derive death from the very place where the medicine of salvation is found.       Cassian is particularly critical of a monk who gets angry with the wrongdoing of another brother, which he sees as an example of taking the speck of wrongdoing out of the other person’s eye before removing the plank of wrath in our own.” 

“… our not getting angry must derive not from someone else’s perfection but from our own virtue, which is achieved not by another person’s patience but by our own forbearance.”

“The popular notions that it is good to ‘let off steam’ or that it is right ‘to give those people a piece of my mind’ are based on a very mechanistic view of human beings.  We are not steam engines, we are rational beings who can make our own choices; we are not objects that can cut off a piece of our mind, we are whole people with integrated emotions.” 

The monastic tradition according to Jamison sees anger as an especially destructive and egregious sin, especially within an intentional Christian community such as a monastery.  Of course there is recognition that anger does occur even among people committed to Christian peace, but as St. Paul says in one of very rare places where the word ‘angry’ occurs in the New Testament,  “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger…” (Ephesians 4:26)

Twelve Quotes for Christmas (12)

“The mystery of the Incarnation was a mystery of the love divine, of the divine identification with lost man.  And the climax of the Incarnation was the cross.  It is the turning point of human destiny.  But the awful mystery of the cross is comprehensible only in the wider perspective of an integral Christology; that is, only if we believe that the Crucified was in very truth ‘the Son of the Living God.’   … Yet it is precisely this doctrine… that can change the whole spiritual outlook of modern man.  … Man is not alone in the world, and God is taking personal interest in the events of human history.  This is an immediate implication of the integral conception of the Incarnation.  Modern man … does not take the Incarnation in earnest.  He does not dare to believe that Christ is a divine person.  He wants to have a human redeemer, only assisted by God.  He is more interested in the human psychology of the Redeemer than in the mystery of the divine love.  Because, in the last resort, he believes optimistically in the dignity of man.” (Georges Florovsky, BIBLE, CHURCH, TRADITION)

See Quote 11

Twelve Quotes for Christmas (11)

 

Holy Family

“If he had chosen the great city of Rome, men would have said that the transformation of the world had been accomplished by the might of that people.  Had he come as the son of the Emperor, they would attribute that gained to military power.  But what did He?  He chose only what was poor and humble, so that it would be seen that divinity had changed the world.  And so He chose a poor woman as His Mother, a poorer fatherland.  He had no money, and this the crib makes plain to you.”

  (Theodoret, 5th C bishop)

 See Quote 9-10

Next Quote 12

 

Twelve Quotes for Christmas (9-10)

 
 
 

Dayton Art Institute Creches

“Herod, you are troubled with idle fear.  Your kingdom would not contain Christ; nor is the Lord of the world to be confined within the narrow limits of the power of your scepter.  He whom you wish not to reign in Judah, already reigns everywhere.”    (Pope Leo the Great)

 

“What shall the tribunal of the Judge be like, when the Nativity of an Infant, makes proud kings tremble?  Let kings fear Him, now sitting at the Right Hand of the Father, Whom the impious king feared, while yet at His Mother’s breast.”  (St. Augustine)

See Quote 8

Next Quote 11

Christmas: The Incarnation of the Word of God

CHRISTMAS: THE INCARNATION OF THE WORD of GOD

Hilary of Poitier (d. ca 368 AD) read the prologue to St. John’s Gospel which was an awakening and revelation to him.  His writing is a testimony to the power of the Word of God to speak to us through the written word.

 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not…But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God;  who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” (John 1:1-14)

My intellect overstepped its limits at that point and I learnt more about God than I had expected. I understood that my Creator was God born of God. I learnt that the Word was God and was with him from the beginning. I came to know the light of the world… I understood that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us…Those who welcomed him became children of God, by a birth not in the flesh but in faith… This gift of God is offered to everyone… We can receive it because of our freedom which was given us expressly for this  purpose. But this very power given to each person to be a child of God was bogged down in weak and hesitant faith. Our own difficulties make hope painful, our desire becomes infuriating and our faith grows weak. That is why the Word was made flesh: by means of the Word-made-flesh the flesh was enabled to raise   itself up to the Word… Without surrendering his divinity God was made of our flesh… My soul joyfully received the revelation of this mystery. By means of my flesh I was drawing near to God, by means of my faith I was called to a new birth. I was able to receive this new birth from on high… I was assured that I could not be reduced to non-being.    (Hilary of Poitiers, The Trinity)

Twelve Quotes for Christmas (8)

 
 
 

Dayton Art Institute Creches

“Saint John Chrysostom stated that ‘human reason has greater difficulty understanding how a God might become man than to explain how a man might become a child of God (Homily 2, 2 on Matthew).  ‘We cannot fathom this mystery’ (Praises, tone 4), for ‘the incarnation of the Word is a greater and more profound mystery than that of the creation of the world’ (V. Lossky, Mystical Theology, p. 156).  Over against Arianism, which reduced Christ to the level of a superior man, the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea (325)—which was confirmed by each of the six subsequent Councils – affirmed Christ’s consubstantiality (homooussios) with the Father.  … Separated from God, the human creature becomes ‘diabolical’ (from the Greek diabolos, ‘that which divides’), an instrument of death and deception, deprived of the self-giving life.”

(Michael Quenot, THE RESURRECTION AND THE ICON)

See Quote 7

Next Quote 9-10

Twelve Quotes for Christmas (7)

Dayton Art Institute Creches

“He lay in a manger, a child newly born: tiny in body, abject in poverty.  But in this Child something great lay hidden, of which these, the first-fruits of the Gentiles, had learned, not from earthly rumor, but from heavenly revelation.  Hence we have: We have seen His Star in the East.  They announce, yet they ask; they believe, and yet they seek to know: as though prefiguring those who walk by faith, yet still desire to see.” 

(St. Augustine)

See Quote 6

Next Quote 8

Christmas Greetings 2009

Christ is born!

In St. Paul’s day Christmas was neither a Holy Day for Christians nor a winter holiday for consumers and businesses.  Nevertheless, that Jesus Christ was born was a historical fact and reason for Christians to reflect upon His Nativity.   St. Paul, who does not write a lot about the facts of Jesus’ own life,  wrote about Christ’s Nativity almost 2000 years ago:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.  And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba!   Father!”  So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.  (Galatians 4:4-7  NRSV)

Pauline theology tells us that we are not children of God by birth – not even Jews are that – but rather by His adopting us through   baptism.  Christmas is the Feast not just of the birth of Christ but of our adoption by God.  We all have reason to celebrate today for we are reborn as God’s children!  God adopts us so that we might   inherit His Kingdom, and so that we can love one another as He loved us.   We can pray to God as “Our Father…” because Christ‘s birth opened the adoption process to us  and so we fully share in Christ’s eternal and divine life.   That is God’s Christmas gift to you this year and always.   Your life is your Christmas gift to God!

This Christmas season we have been saddened by the sudden death of our Archbishop Job.  We should not avoid thinking about his death during the feast, for the very reason the Son of God came into the world was to triumph over death.  Christmas is meant to be good news not just to those who are prospering, vacationing, and celebrating, or who are holy but also to the poor, to those who are heavy laden with burdens,  to those who are mourning and to those lost in sin.   Christmas is good news for the entire world and for all people.

I’m blessed at Christmas because the birth of the Son of God has made you not only brothers and sisters of Christ, but in Christ, mine as well.  May you be blessed by God as I have been by you.   Peace on earth and goodwill to all.

Fr. Ted

Twelve Quotes for Christmas (6)

 

Dayton Art Institute Creches

“I behold a new and wondrous mystery.  My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn.  The Angels sing.  The archangels blend their voice in harmony.  The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise.  The Seraphim exalt His glory.  All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven.  He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.  Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of Justice.  And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields.  For He willed, He had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things move in obedience to God.  This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not.  For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His.   Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, become of impassibility, remaining unchanged.”

  (St. John Chrysostom)

See Quote 5

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