The Mystery of the Incarnation

“For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”   (Ephesians 6:12) the Nativity Story in the Gospel According to St. Matthew we encounter King Herod who is disturbed by the news of the birth of the Christ child and plots to murder the child.  The baby Jesus is saved because Herod does not know exactly where the child is.

Herod was not alone according to some ancient traditions in wanting to destroy the Christ.  Since the salvation of the human race was being opposed by the forces of evil in the universe, all manners of evil spiritual powers were arrayed looking to disrupt God’s plan of salvation.  This is St. Paul’s point in the quote above – ultimately it is the spiritual powers who array themselves against God’s people.  However,  God Himself is able to keep from the eyes of these powers His plan of salvation so that they cannot disrupt His plan.  Salvation is being worked out in and through the people on earth and it is among people that the powers of darkness can work.  But these powers are not omniscient.  God’s plan remains a mystery, hidden from His enemies’ eyes,  until it was revealed to Magi, shepherds, and angels in and through the Virgin Birth and incarnation of the Word.

“One of the first characteristics of Jewish Christian Christology is that the mystery of the descent of the Son was hidden from the angels. The most primitive form of this idea is probably preserved in the Physiologos. The text runs as follows:

So our Savior, the spiritual lion sent by the Eternal Father, hid the signs of His spiritual being, that is His divinity. With the Angels He became an Angel, with the Thrones a Throne, with the Powers a Power, with men a man during his descent. For he descended into the womb of Mary, to save the race of human souls that had strayed. Consequently, they did not recognize Him in his descent from on high, and they said: ‘Who is this King of Glory?’ Then the Holy Spirit answered: ‘The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of Glory.’

This text is interesting because it gathers together all the themes to be found in any of the various texts where this conception appears. Attention should drawn first of all to the idea that the Word, descending to earth to take flesh, passes successively through all the orders of angels, a feature which is also present in the Ascension of Isaiah. The theological point is that the Incarnation remained hidden from the Angels, and this seems to have been a characteristic emphasis of Jewish Christian thinking. It is already to be found in St. Paul (1 Cor. 2:8, Eph. 3:10-12), and occurs again in a famous passage of Ignatius of Antioch (d. 107AD):

‘And hidden from the prince of this world were the virginity of Mary and her child-bearing and likewise also the death of the Lord – three mysteries to be cried aloud – the which were wrought in the silence of God’ (Eph. XIX, I).

Irenaeus (d. 202AD) was to say the same, with an allusion to the angels: ‘But because the Word came down invisible to creatures, He was not known to them in His descent’.”(Jean Danielou, The Theology of Jewish Christianity, pgs. 206-207)

The Mystery hidden from eternity

And unknown to the angels

Is manifested to those on earth through you, Theotokos!

God being incarnate of you by union without confusion,

And raising the first-formed man,

Has saved our souls from death!

(Theotokian for the Feast of St. Nicholas)

Links to all of this year’s blogs related to the Nativity of Christ can be found at Christmas Blogs 2012.

5 thoughts on “The Mystery of the Incarnation

  1. Pingback: Orthodox Collective

  2. Pingback: Recommended reading for December 7th, 2012. | Near Emmaus

  3. Pingback: Nativity Blogs 2012 | Fr. Ted's Blog

  4. Pingback: The Incarnation: Science, Mystery, Truth | Fr. Ted's Blog

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