What is the Incarnation?
An Article by Scott Windsor
I'm sure that most of you, at first thought, (as did I) answer “The Incarnation is when God became Man.” And you would be correct – but not wholly correct! Yes, the Incarnation, if we think of it soley as a regular noun, it is defined as:
1. a. The act of incarnating.
b. The condition of being incarnated.
And “incarnate” is defined as:
1. a. Invested with bodily nature and form: an incarnate spirit.
b. Embodied in human form; personified: a villain who is evil incarnate.
tr.v. in·car·nat·ed, in·car·nat·ing, in·car·nates
1. a. To give bodily, especially human, form to.
b. To personify.
Now, going back to the first reference, the next definition is:
2. Incarnation Christianity The doctrine that the Son of God was conceived in the womb of Mary and that Jesus is true God and true man.
So far, it's just as we thought – that one action of God becoming Man, even as a proper noun, the reference (which is to The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000), is still speaking of that one event, but really it is so much more!
The Incarnation of God, as an act of God is an eternal act. It “happened” in time as we see it, during that remarkable event of the Holy Ghost coming upon the Blessed Virgin after she gave her fiat, “Be it done to me according to Thy Will,” and that event is summed up in John 1:14, “And the Word was made Flesh, and dwelt among us” (here, during the liturgy, we all genuflect or bow in respect and awe of God becoming Man). But, as an eternal act of God, it continues to “happen” outside of time, as we perceive it. So, this “once in time” act – actually continues to this day, and we are witness to that Act at each and every valid Mass! When the priest declares (in persona christi) “This IS My Body...” it IS His Body! We are there, at the Incarnation, witnessing the Incarnation! What's more is that the Incarnation is not merely the point in time when God became Man, but it is that point in history wherein God became Man, was born, lived, died and was resurrected! It is through the Incarnation that God redeemed mankind.
The Incarnation is the single event in history which truly changed the world. No other event has had so much impact on all of society as this one Act of God! This is clearly exemplified in the fact that the calendar, used throughout the world (with few exceptions) is based on “A.D.” which is the Latin abbreviation for “Anno Domini” - and translated that is “the year of Our Lord.” To limit the Incarnation to that single point in Mary's life robs us of the true significance of the Incarnation. God merely becoming Man is a great event, but if that's ALL that happened, it would not be so remarkable; afterall, such “incarnations” are part of several religious beliefs. What made The Incarnation so remarkable was that not only did God become Man, but God took upon Himself our sins. He submitted Himself to death and died in our behalf so that we might live again. Then He conquered death and rose again! That is The Incarnation! Not only has The Incarnation happened, it continues to “happen” at every valid Mass. It continues to bring to the present that God became Man and dwells among us, that he lived and died and rose again. That is The Incarnation! That is the great Mysterium Fidei, (Mystery of Faith) which we celebrate through the Mass.
The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia says it this way:
Thus incarnation does not merely concern the conception or birth of the Savior, but the entire redemptive history of the Word made flesh. Moreover, it is human life in all its grandeur and vulnerability that is assumed. As a result, inseparably connected with the understanding of incarnation, is the recognition of kenosis, the self-emptying of God into human form, even unto death. (p. 422, The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia, Michael Glazier, Monika K. Hellwig, editors, copyright 1994, nihil obstat, Robert C. Harren, Censor deputatus; imprimatur, +Jerome Hanus, Bishop of St. Cloud, Minnesota, June 10, 1994).
Anne W. Carrol, in her book, Christ the King: Lord of History, states:
So to find the most important event in the history of the world, we must find an event that had a great influence at the time it occurred, that is still influencing history at the present time, and that even made a difference in history before it occurred.
There is only one event that meets all these requirements. That event is what Christians call the Incarnation: the birth, life, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, who was both God and man. (pp. 8-9, Christ the King: Lord of History, Trinity Communications, 1986).
In summary, when asked what is the greatest event in all of history – our answer is “The Incarnation.” What we mean by “The Incarnation,” is not merely that point in time in which God became Man, but His entire life, death and Resurrection, and that “event” continues to this day in every valid Mass (and Divine Liturgy). It is through this Incarnation in which God redeemed the world, and it is through the Mass that this Act is still manifest for us to witness to this day, until He returns in glory.