Part I of the rebuttals of the objections given last week. Why did God become a man?
1 However, if one earnestly and devoutly weighs the mysteries of the Incarnation, he will find so great a depth of wisdom that it exceeds human knowledge. In the Apostle’s words: “The foolishness of God is wiser then men” (1 Cor. 1:25). Hence it happens that to him who devoutly considers it, more and more wondrous aspects of this mystery are made manifest.
2 First, then, let this be taken into consideration: The Incarnation of God was the most efficacious assistance to man in his striving for beatitude. For we have shown in Book III, that the perfect beatitude of man consists in the immediate vision of God.
It might, of course, appear to some that man would never have the ability to achieve this state: that the human intellect be united immediately to the divine essence itself as an intellect is to its intelligible; for there is an unmeasured distance between the natures, and thus, in the search for beatitude, a man would grow cold, held back by very desperation.
But the fact that God was willing to unite human nature to Himself personally points out to men with greatest clarity that man can be united to God by intellect, and see Him immediately. It was, then, most suitable for God to assume human nature to stir up man’s hope for beatitude. Hence, after the Incarnation of Christ, men began the more to aspire after heavenly beatitude; as He Himself says: “I have come that they may have life and may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
Notes I find this a very cheering, and convincing, argument.
3 At the same time, too, some obstacles to acquiring beatitude are removed from man. For, since the perfect beatitude of man consists in the enjoyment of God alone, as shown above, necessarily every man is kept from participation in the true beatitude who cleaves as to an end to these things which are less than God.
But man was able to be misled into this clinging as to an end to things less than God in existence by his ignorance of the worthiness of his nature. Thus it happens with some. They look on themselves in their bodily and sentient nature, which they have in common with other animals, and in bodily things and fleshly pleasures they seek out a kind of animal beatitude.
But there have been others who considered the excellence of certain creatures superior to man in some respects. And to the cult of these they bound themselves. They worshiped the universe and its parts because of the greatness of its size and its long temporal duration; or spiritual substances, angels and demons, because they found these greater than man both in immortality and in sharpness of understanding. They judged that in these, as existing above themselves, the beatitude of man should be sought.
Now, although it is true, some conditions considered, that man stands inferior to some creatures, and even that in certain matters he is rendered like to the lowest creatures, nothing stands higher in the order of end than man except God alone, in whom alone man’s perfect beatitude is to be found. Therefore, this dignity of man—namely, that in the immediate vision of God his beatitude is to be found—was most suitably manifested by God by His own immediate assumption of human nature. And we look upon this consequence of God’s Incarnation: a large part of mankind passing by the cult of angels, of demons, and all creatures whatsoever, spurning, indeed, the pleasures of the flesh and all things bodily, have dedicated themselves to the worship of God alone, and in Him only they look for the fulfillment of this beatitude; and so the Apostle exhorts: “Seek the things that are above where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth” (Col. 5:1-2).
Notes Now does not that second paragraph strike home to us in our day? And the third, in our “new” age?
4 Since man’s perfect beatitude, furthermore, consists in the sort of knowledge of God which exceeds the capacity of every created intellect (as was shown in Book III), there had to be a certain foretaste of this sort of knowledge in man which might direct him to that fullness of blessed knowledge; and this is done through faith, as we showed in Book III. But the knowledge by which man is directed to his ultimate end has to be most certain knowledge, because it is the principle of everything ordered to the ultimate end; so, also, the principles naturally known are most certain. But there cannot be a most certain knowledge of something unless the thing be known of itself, as the first principles of demonstration are known to us; or the thing be resolved into what is known of itself, in the way in which the conclusion of a demonstration is most certain for us.
Of course, what is set forth for us to hold about God by faith cannot be known of itself to man, since it exceeds the capacity of the human intellect. Therefore, this had to be made known to man by Him to whom it is. known of itself. And, although to all who see the divine essence this truth is somehow known of itself, nevertheless, in order to have a most certain knowledge there had to be a reduction to the first principle of this knowledge; namely, to God.
To Him this truth is naturally known of itself, and from Him it becomes known to all. And just so the certitude of a science is had only by resolution into the first indemonstrable principles. Therefore, man, to achieve perfect certitude about the truth of faith, had to be instructed by God Himself made man, that man might in the human fashion grasp the divine instruction. And this is what John (1: 18) says: “No man has seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him: And our Lord Himself says: “For this was I born and for this came I into the world, that I should give testimony to the truth” (John 18:37). And for this reason we see that after Christ’s Incarnation men were the more evidently and the more surely instructed in the divine knowledge; as Isaiah (11:9) has it: “The earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord.”
5 Again, since man’s perfect beatitude consists in the enjoyment of divinity, man’s love had to be disposed toward a desire for the enjoyment of divinity, as we see that there is naturally in man a desire of beatitude. But the desire to enjoy anything is caused by love of that thing. Therefore, man, tending to perfect beatitude, needed inducement to the divine love. Nothing, of course, so induces us to love one as the experience of his love for us. But God’s love for men could be demonstrated to man in no way more effective than this: He willed to be united to man in person, for it is proper to love to unite the lover with the beloved so far as possible. Therefore, it was necessary for man tending to perfect beatitude that God become man.
6 Furthermore, since friendship consists in a certain equality, things greatly unequal seem unable to be coupled in friendship. Therefore, to get greater familiarity in friendship between man and God it was helpful for man that God became man, since even by nature man is man’s friend;” and so in this way, “while we know God visibly, we may [through Him] be home to love of things invisible.”
7 In like fashion, too, it is clear that beatitude is the reward of virtue. Therefore, they who tend to beatitude must be virtuously disposed. But we are stimulated to virtue both by words and by examples. Of course, his examples and words of whose goodness we have the more solid opinion induce us the more effectively to virtue. But an infallible opinion of goodness about any pure man was never tenable— even the holiest of men, one finds, have failed in some things. Hence, it was necessary for man to be solidly grounded in virtue to receive from God made human both the teaching and the examples of virtue. For this reason our Lord Himself says: “I have given you an example that as I have done to you do also” (John 13:15).
8 By virtues, again, man is disposed to beatitude, and so by sin he is blocked therefrom. Sin, of course, the contrary of virtue, constitutes an obstacle to beatitude; it not only induces a kind of disorder in the soul by seducing it from its due end, but it also offends God to whom we look for the reward of beatitude, in that God has the custody of human acts. And sin is the contrary of divine charity, as we showed more fully in Book III.
What is more, man, being aware of this offense, loses by sin that confidence in approaching God which is necessary to achieve beatitude. Therefore, the human race, which abounds in sins, needed to have some remedy against sin applied to it. But this remedy can be applied only by God, who can move the will of man to good and bring it back to the order due; who can, as well, remit the offense committed against Him, for an offense is not remitted except by him against whom the offense is committed.
But, if man is to be freed from awareness of past offense, he must know clearly that God has remitted his offense. But man cannot be clear on this with certainty unless God gives him certainty of it. Therefore, it was suitable and helpful to the human race for achieving beatitude that God should become man; as a result, man not only receives the remission of sins through God, but also the certitude of this remission through the man-God. Hence, our Lord Himself says: “But that you may know that the Son of Man has power to forgive sins” (Mat. 9:6), and the rest; and the Apostle says that “the blood of Christ will cleanse our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb. 9:14).
9 The tradition of the Church, moreover, teaches us that the whole human race was infected by sin. But the order of divine justice, as is clear from the foregoing, requires that God should not remit sin without satisfaction. But to satisfy for the sin of the whole human race was beyond the power of any pure man, because any pure man is something less than the whole human race in its entirety. Therefore, in order to free the human race from its common sin, someone had to satisfy who was both man and so proportioned to the satisfaction, and something above man that the merit might be enough to satisfy for the sin of the whole human race. But there is no greater than man in the order of beatitude, except God, for angels, although superior to man in the condition of nature, are not superior in the order of end, because the same end beatifies them.
Therefore, it was necessary for man’s achievement of beatitude that God should become man to take away the sin of the human race. And this is what John the Baptist said of Christ: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:79). And the Apostle says: “As by the offense of one, unto all men to condemnation; so also by the justice of one, unto all men to justification” (Rom. 5:16).
10 These points, then, and similar ones make us able too conceive that it was not out of harmony with the divine goodness for God to become man, but extremely helpful for human salvation.