Mystery of the Incarnation of Christ

By Bishop Theophilos of Campania

1. The Mystery of the Incarnation. God who is All-Powerful could have liberated the human race from the hands of the Devil by a single command. Had he done that, however, we would have known only his All-Powerfulness, which we already knew. We would not have known his Compassion and Love in spite of the fact that we are hostile to him.

The Incarnation (literally Ensarkosis = “En-flesh-ment”) of the Son of God is called such because of his extreme condescension and because it was out of love that He who is not separated from the Father came down to the lowest point, i.e. to the “flesh,” although when we speak about “flesh” here we understand the whole man who is denoted by the partial element of the “flesh.”
The Incarnation of the Son of God is the supreme dogma of the Christian Faith, because it was by these means that we were saved “by grace.” The whole Son of God became Man, personally (literally hypostatically = existentially). In other words, he was perfect God and perfect man, with two natures, Godhead and manhood, and one person (hypostasis), the divine.

This mystery, says Dionysios (the Areopagite) remains ineffable, although we denote it with words. It is also unknowable, although we put it in our mind. God Himself said to Moses: “Go down and solemnly charge the people, lest at any time they draw nigh to God to gaze, and a multitude of them fall” (Ex. 19:21), i.e., those who try to investigate God’s nature and mysteries fall into perplexity. This is why Gregory the Theologian says, “Before you grasp Him run away, and before you put Him in your mind escape”. Indeed he goes on to call those who try to investigate the mysteries babblers, imprudent, uncontrollable and chatterers.

2. Why Did the Incarnation Take Place at That Time? No one should examine why the Incarnation took place then, and not earlier or later, because only he knows it. He was incarnated “from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary” because there was never before, nor will there appear again, such a Virgin in the human race as immaculate as the Virgin Mary, sanctified in the flesh and worthy to be united with the Godhead of the Son of God, the Son of God who assumed the entire man from her pure and immaculate blood.

As she conceived without a sperm, so Christ was born without corruption. In other words, the Holy Mary and Theotokos, who was a Virgin before the birth, remained a Virgin even after the birth. Thus Christ came out of her womb in an ineffable manner, just as he entered into her in a manner, which involved no passion and cannot be explained.

This is exactly what Ezekiel’s prophesy stresses: “Son of Man, this Gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened; and no one shall pass through it, for the Lord God of Israel shall enter by it and come out of it and the Gate shall remain shut” (Ezekiel 44:2).

3. This Mystery of the Incarnation is inconceivable according to the prophet Jeremiah who says: “And he is a man, and who shall know Him?” (Jer. 17:9). The great Paul also declares the same: “And without doubt the Mystery of our piety is Great: God appeared in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16). Through communion with the Godhead the entire man was deified “in Christ.” The humanity of Christ enjoyed all the charismas and benefits of the Godhead, since Christ is perfect God and perfect man after the union. This is similar to the initial light, which God created and which fell on the sun’s disk and the entire disk became full of dazzling light.

This Mystery of the Incarnation is inconceivable both to Angels and human beings. God Himself revealed it to Moses, when he showed him through an opening his back parts, namely His Incarnation. He did not show him his person, i.e. His Godhead, which no man can ever see, not even an angel. At the Incarnation, then, God did not change what he was, since he is unchangeable; rather he assumed what he was not because he is a lover of man.

One may ask, how did the humanity receive the Godhead without being burnt out? But is this not also the case with the burning Bush, which was not burnt out? Where God is at work whatever is impossible becomes possible. The burning iron receives the entire nature of fire, and yet the iron remains iron and the fire, fire. It burns like fire, and like iron it undergoes changes, which an iron undergoes and has a cutting edge when it is used.

4. The Godhead deified the Human Nature, which is now deified together with its soul, which is endowed with mind, reason, will and energy. As a man, Christ was exposed to the so-called natural but blameless passions. In others words, he felt pain, thirst, weariness, even faintheartedness in a natural way. He did not display, however, any blameworthy passions, i.e. those deriving from evil choice. This was the case because he was united with God, who was the leader of his rational soul and preserved Christ sinless.

Some of the Fathers say that the babe was perfect already inside the belly of his mother. Others, however, say that he grew gradually like all babes. This is a matter of opinion and not a heresy that has an effect on the Mystery. The point is that just as Adam was made from the soil, so Christ was made from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. The Holy Spirit gave birth to the soul of Christ while his flesh was made from the blood of the Virgin.

5. The Manner of the Incarnation. Saint Maximus says that the Angels knew the impending Incarnation of the Son of God for the salvation of human beings. What however, escaped their perception were the unthinkable Conception and the manner of the Incarnation. How he could be entirely in the Father and entirely inside all things which he fulfilled, and also entirely inside the belly of the Virgin!

Nevertheless, Christ’s becoming man differs from that of all other human beings. He is substantially a perfect man, yet he differs because he is seedless, and because he falls under a different law from that which pertains to the nature of composite beings. The Word of God was conjoined with the flesh by means of assuming it in an ineffable manner.

Thus, only when Christ was born was the message heard, “Peace on earth and good will among men” (Luke 2:14). God had granted his peace many times and had called many human beings his sons. There was only one Person, however, in whom he “was well-pleased” and only one Peace that was perfect and saving for all human beings along with his perfect good-pleasure.

6. The Name “Jesus” and the Greek Alphabet. The Name Jesus, which is “the Name above every other name” (Phil. 2:9), means Savior for the Jews and healer (iomenos) for the Greeks. And indeed, Christ is the Healer of our souls and of the bodies of those who believe in him. The curious point here, however, is that this great and divine Name was indicated before hand through the Greek Alphabet, which consists of 24 letters!

As is known, the first eight letters of this Alphabet from A to Θ specify 8 monads. The following eight letters from I to Π specify 8 decades, and the following eight letters from P to Ω specify 8 hundreds. If we add them all up we form the number 888. The same applies, however, if we add the numbers which are specified by the letters of the Name JESUS: I(=10)+ Η(=8)+ Σ(=200)+ Ο(=70)+ Υ(=400)+ Σ(=200)=888. Τhis is exactly what the following verse stresses: “For if eight monads are to be added to eight decades and these to eight hundreds they will denote to the human unbelievers the Name of their Savior” (Oracula Sibyllina).

7. Witnesses of the Gentiles about the God-Man. Witnesses to Christ being God and Man are also found among many Gentiles:

a) Josephus. The Jewish historian Josephus says this about Christ: “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works –a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and other wonderful mysteries concerning him; and the tribe of the Christians, so named from him are not extinct at this day” (Antiquitates Judaicae, Book 18,64.2). In other words, Josephus wonders whether Jesus was only a man, since he did so many incredible things and taught in such a way that he made many Jews and Greeks believe in him. Also, when the leaders of the Jews delivered him to Pilate to be crucified, his disciples did not reject him, for he was resurrected on the third day and appeared to them according to the predictions of the prophets who had spoken about this and many more mysteries concerning his person. Indeed his followers took his name and came to be called Christians and their race has not ceased to exist to this day.

B) The Roman Emperor Augustus. Eusebius of Pamphilos (Metropolitan of Caesarea in Palestine) reports that the Roman Caesar Augustus went to the Oracle of Delphi and offered sacrifice there as a Greek in order to ask Pythia who gave the oracles to tell him who would reign after him. Pythia gave him the following oracle: “A Hebrew child, who will reign over the blessed gods, orders me to leave this altar and return to Hades again. Depart, therefore, silent from my altars” (Oracula, or Suda, Lexicon alpha). When Caesar Augustus heard these things, he returned to Rome and erected an altar on which he inscribed: “An Altar to the firstborn God” (Johannes Malalas, Chronographia or Suda, Lexicon, alpha). It is truly amazing to think that the demon was forced by the divine power to witness to the Gentiles the divine birth of Christ the God-man!

C) Porphyry. The opponent of the Christians Porphyry says the following: “But now [the Gentiles] marvel how the disease has befallen the city for so many years and there has been no intervention either from Asclepius (the god of health) or from any other gods. Because the honor offered to Jesus did not leave room for any common help from the gods” (Porphyrius, Contra Christianos 80.3, or Eusebius, Preparatio Evangelica V.1.10).

Their oracles ceased and their divinations from their false gods, the demons. What else did the thoughtless and blind gentiles wish to see in order to understand that the mighty power of the Lord and God Jesus Christ? But the sages of the Greeks had proclaimed Christ even before his incarnation.

D) Orpheus. Orpheus says: “Voice, I attest you, of the Father, which he uttered first. When he established the world on his own will” (Justin Martyr, Cohortatio ad Gentiles, 16). And the next verse says: “and when you look at the divine word, attach yourself to him” (Ibid. De Monarchia, and Clement Alexandrinus Protrepticus and Stromata).

Just as the birth of Christ was seedless, so also the divine generation was without birth pangs. It is a mistake to speak of the birth pangs of the holy Virgin, i.e. that the feast on the day after Christmas is connected with greeting the mother that recovers from the birth pangs.

8. God Became Man in order to Conquer the Devil as Man. Since he was born in an ineffable manner, and received the homage of the Magi, and that unusual star appeared in the sky, and he was fed with human milk, and grew up, and went to the desert and fasted for forty days, the Devil thought that he was only a man and could fall if tempted with hunger and so he started tempting him hard. But Christ rebutted the enemy, putting forth the light of Scripture, not using the power and authority of his Godhead, but following the natural sequence of humanity. It was as a man, then, and not as God that Christ conquered the Devil, because the Devil had conquered the first man at the beginning not as God but as man. It was necessary, then, that the Devil should be conquered by man. This is why the divine Dionysius the Areopagite and Gregory the Theologian say, that “Christ conquered the Devil not by power but by right judgment and righteousness” (Dionysius, De ecclesiasticae Hierarchia). Luke the Evangelist says that Christ sustained all temptations, because he scored victories over the three capital ones, gluttony, vainglory and avarice, which give birth to all others. Thus He put the Devil to shame.

9. The Public Ministry of the God-Man and its Conclusion in the Resurrection. When Christ came down from the desert and gathered together his disciples, he preached to the world for three years and produced many miracles, having first completed the thirtieth year of his age. After all these things his disciple Judas sold him by treachery, and Christ accepted it, because he wanted to redeem us, human beings, who had been sold to the Devil through sin. He deliberately handed Himself over to those who pursued him, because he wanted to complete the divine economy and redeem the human race. He was crucified, died and buried, and the Third Day he rose and appeared to his disciples and to the women. Then, forty days later he blessed his disciples, and having taught them about peace, he ascended into heaven and sat at the right hand of the Father having fulfilled all things and having deified man.

Before the Resurrection of Christ took place, three human beings appear in the Old Testament to have been risen from the dead. The first one is the son of the widow from Zarephath or Sarepta (cf. Luke 4:26) who was raised by Elijah. The second was the son of the Somanite woman who was raised by Elisha (cf. 4 Kings 4:32ff). And the third is the case of the soldier who was buried near the tomb of Elisha and was raised from the dead (4 Kings 13:21). In the New Testament there are four cases of human beings who were raised from the dead by Christ: the daughter of the leader of the synagogue (Luke 8:49ff), the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11ff), Lazarus who had been buried for four days (John 11:43f) and those who arose at the resurrection of Christ (cf. Matth. 27:52f). All of these died again. Christ, however, who is the eighth case of a man that rose from the dead, is the only one who does not die again because death has no dominion over him. We too will rise again, on that Eighth Day, which has no end, without dying again.

10. Epilogue From the Words of Dionysius the Areopagite. We shall let Dionysius the Areopagite to close this chapter. And first of all we shall recall what he says about the darkness, which occurred when Christ was crucified. There is, he says, the witness of the Greek astronomer Phlegon who said: “In the second year of the 202nd Olympiad a major eclipse of the Sun occurred, the like of which had not been seen earlier,” so that the stars appeared in the sky” (Johannes Malalas, Chronographia). This is one additional witness of the Greeks, which is connected with the Crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is in this way, then, that we should believe in and worship Jesus Christ, as God who became man, because the Son and Word of God remains inseparable from his humanity. As God He is other than the Flesh, but also as Flesh He is other than the Word. Since, however, the Word of the Father, who is from God, Himself became man as well, this is not the case of “an other and an other” because of the indescribable union and summit. Thus, the Son is called: One and Only, both before the summit of the Incarnation and after His union with the Flesh. It is exactly for this reason that he said to the man who had been previously blind and was healed by Him: “Do you believe in the Son of man?” (John 9:35). And he answered, “And who is he Lord, that I might believe in Him” (John 9:36). And then, Christ said to Him, “And you have seen Him and He who is speaking with you, He is the one” (John 9:38). He speaks as man, He appears as man, and He is believed to be a God-Man, God’s Son Himself!

Truly, how incomprehensible and lofty is this Mystery of the Incarnation of Christ! Yet it is an absolute confirmation and revelation of God’s infinite love for us human beings.


-------------------------- [1] Bishop Theophilos of Campania (1749-1795) was one of the brightest figures of the Church in the 18th century; distinguished for his theological and canonical expertise. He was born in Ioannina and became a Bishop in Campania, the area to the west of Thessaloniki and opposite Chalkidiki. He was probably a sytudent of the famous teacher Eugenios Voulgaris and is particularly known for his book Tameion Orthodoxias, which run through eight editions from 1780 to 1939. [2] References to the texts cited by the author were not included in the original edition and were provided by the translator.   Translated and annotated[2] from the original Greek by Fr GEORGE DION DRAGAS PhD, DD Protopresbyter

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