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!
(Theotokion Hymn of the Orthodox Church)
It has been celebrated in Liturgy and hymnology by Christians from the beginning of our Church. In the Christmas season we contemplate two of the most fundamental mysteries of Christianity: the incarnation of God in Christ and the Holy Eucharist in which bread and wine become that same Body and Blood of the Incarnate Lord.
Mystery reveals what we can know but also reveals there are things we don’t know or understand or even that we cannot know. We proclaim that God’s plan of salvation hidden from all eternity is now revealed in the Incarnation. Yet we can only marvel at how the Eternal God can be a little child or how God is contained in the Virgin’s womb.
We believe also that the Eucharist is Christ’s Body and Blood, and yet the truth is found in a mystery, for which there is no scientific explanation and is encountered only in faith. God is being revealed to us but it is a marvelous wonder as to how this is possible. God the creator of all that is brings into existence that which is “not-God” and then through the Incarnation becomes “not God” uniting all things divine and created, heaven and earth.
St. Irenaeus of Lyons (d.202AD) writes:
“If, therefore, even with respect to creation, there are some things [the knowledge of] Which belongs only to God, and others which come with in the range of our own knowledge, what ground is there for complaint, if, in regard to those things which we investigate in the Scriptures (which are throughout spiritual), we are able by the grace of God to explain some of them, while we must leave others in the hands of God, and that not only in the present world, but also in that which is to come, so that God should for ever teach, and man should for ever learn the things taught him by God?” (Irenaeus- Against Heresies and Fragments, Kindle Loc. 3153-57)
Some knowledge is given to us about God, about God’s plan of salvation, about the scriptural revelation, and about creation. Some knowledge will always be beyond us. St. Irenaeus says that knowledge belongs only to God. Scriptures give us spiritual knowledge, but sometimes that knowledge is hidden in mystery. Irenaeus is comfortable with the fact that we may never fully know these truths even in the age to come.
St. Maximos the Confessor (d. 662AD) says the Incarnation of the Word is both mystery and revealer of mysteries:
“The mystery of the incarnation of the Logos is the key to all the arcane symbolism and typology in the Scriptures, and in addition gives us knowledge of created things, both visible and intelligible.” (St. Maximos the Confessor, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 14432-34)
St. Maximos says the truth of the Jewish Scriptures remained hidden in mystery until the coming of Christ in the incarnation. Scripture reveals and Scripture conceals for Scripture is both part of the mystery of God and a record of the revelation of this mystery. God keeps some knowledge in mystery, revealing mystery to us so that we are attracted to Him to come to know all the spiritual truth He has placed at our disposal.
But St. Maximos doesn’t limit the revelation of the incarnation to spiritual truths only for it also gives us knowledge of created things. The mystery revealed in Scripture does give us knowledge of the created world.
Science for its part is ever trying to reveal the mysteries accessible to us and the knowledge they contain. As we sing in the Akathist, “Glory to God for All Things””:
The breath of Your Holy Spirit inspires artists, poets, scientists. The power of Your supreme knowledge makes them prophets and interpreters of Your laws, who reveal the depths of Your creative wisdom. Their works speak unwittingly of You. How great are You in Your creation! How great are You in man!
Scientists don’t debunk mysteries but reveal them as much as they are able. In those scientific revelations we are awed by what we can know and tantalized by what knowledge is beyond our reach.
For example in the science magazine, DISCOVER, The Year in Science: Top 100 Stories of 2012 Issue, we read about the newness of discovery in science and the awe it inspires:
“… physicists at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva announced that they had discovered the Higgs boson, a particle so fundamental that without it there would be no atoms in the universe – and therefore no stars, no planets, and no one to wonder about it all. ‘It’s kind of profound,’ says Joe Incandela, a physicist at the University of California… ‘We’re still absorbing it ourselves. We’ve touched on something now that really is way beyond anything we’ve done before.” (“Higgs: What Causes the Weight of the World”)
In the universe as we know it, nothing material could exist without this Higgs particle which physicists have only this year found the hard evidence for existence. Nothing physical could exist without the mysterious and minute Higgs particle. No stars, planets or people – no incarnate Word, no Jesus Christ, no Christmas. The Incarnation has everything to do with the physical universe, and so physics is revealing the intricate mysteries of the Incarnation and the very nature of the created world.
“God does not need space in order to exist… Human beings, however, need physical space to move around in, to live in.” (Adolfo Roitman, ENVISIONING THE TEMPLE: SCROLLS, STONES, AND SYMBOLS, p 11)
God doesn’t need space to exist – until the Incarnation at which point God takes on a new relationship to both space and time. As one of the hymns from the prefeast of Christmas says:
THE INFINITE GOD AS A MAN GROWS IN SPACE AND TIME:
Science is studying the same world which God so loved that He became part of this world. Science is helping us to appreciate with awe the universe of mystery so that we can praise the Creator.
Next: The Incarnation: Science, Mystery, Truth