Who is Jesus, and what did he do?

Jesus the Christ is God made man: He “is God, because He is the only Son of God, having the same Divine nature as His Father ,” and man “because He is the son of the Blessed Virgin Mary and has a body and soul like ours.” 1

In the very beginning, St. John tells us, there was the Logos—and the Logos was with God and was God. He was begotten, not made: The father brought forth “His interior word by communicating to Him His own being, His own substance, which passes over to the Word and places Him in full possession of the very nature that is proper to the Father.” 2 In the fullness of time, this same Logos was incarnate and dwelled among us. 3 He “was conceived and made man by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary”: While “retaining His Divine nature, [He] took to Himself a human nature, that is, a body and soul like ours.” 4 In this great dogma and mystery of our faith, naturally dubbed the incarnation, “the properties of each nature and substance were preserved in their totality, and came together to form one person. Humility was assumed by majesty, weakness by strength, mortality by eternity; and to pay the debt that we had incurred, an inviolable nature was united to a nature that can suffer.” 5 For this reason, Jesus is “[n]ot the supposed Son of God, but true; not adopted, but His own, because never was He alien from the Father because of the human nature which He assumed. … By nature Son to the mother according to humanity, however true Son to the Father in both natures.” 6

That an almighty God could do this is doubted by no one—when the dogma is doubted, the crux and source of that doubt always boils down to this: “But why would he?”

God had created mankind after his own image and likeness, 7 but man was destroyed by the fall, which left us “desperate and undone.” 8 “The devil jumped for joy when he seduced [Adam] and cast him down to death,” 9 for the enemy knew full well that by this victory, man—not just Adam but his progeny—“immediately lost the holiness and justice wherein he had been constituted; and … incurred, through the offence of that prevarication, the wrath and indignation of God, and consequently death … [and] captivity under [the devil’s] power….” 10 The result of what history and theology have given the “hard and bitter” 11 label original sin is that “[o]n account of the sin of Adam, we, his descendants, come into the world deprived of sanctifying grace and inherit his punishment, as we would have inherited his gifts had he been obedient to God.” 12 “[W]e are not corrupted by acquired wickedness, but bring an innate corruption from the very womb” that is antecedent to any personal sin of our own but no less fatal. 13

This catastrophe was to the great dismay of God, who is love and loves us. He desperately wanted to reconcile us to Himself, to reclaim us from death’s dominion. 14 Yet having sinned and fallen from His glory, 15 we were entirely unable to redeem ourselves, for “it is out of all question for a sinner to make satisfaction for the least of all his sins. 16 What he offers as the ground of pardon needs itself to be pardoned.” 17 Here, then, is the problem, in the classic formulation of St. Anselm:

God does nothing by necessity, since he is not compelled or restrained in anything … [y]et we may say, although the whole work which God does for man is of grace, that it is necessary for God, on account of his unchangeable goodness, to complete the work which he has begun. But this cannot be effected, except the price paid to God for the sin of man be something greater than all the universe besides God. Moreover, it is necessary that he who can give God anything of his own which is more valuable than all things in the possession of God, must be greater than all else but God himself. Therefore none but God can make this satisfaction. But none but a man ought to do this, other wise man does not make the satisfaction. If it be necessary, therefore, as it appears, that the heavenly kingdom be made up of men, and this cannot be effected unless the aforesaid satisfaction be made, which none but God can make and none but man ought to make, it is necessary for the God-man to make it. 18

So, what is needed is something impossible: A person both God and man. To do so, it was necessary that God must “clothe Himself with human nature”; it “is not sufficient that a human nature merely lay aside its natural imperfections and be endowed with a likeness of the divine nature. The nature must cease to possess itself, to be its own, to belong to itself.” 19 In the incarnation, one of the most inescapably-supernatural parts of Christian belief, 20 God did precisely this, supplying the Logos made flesh as this God-man. If Adam’s sin divided them, God resolved, He “would send His only son as Reedeemer.” 21

And having assumed the flesh, Jesus “surrendered it to death for all humanity, and offered it to the father. He presented it to the father as an act of pure love for humanity, so that by all dying in him the law concerning the corruption of humanity might be abolished….” 22 In the old testament cultus, “[t]he High Priest was an instrument of the Atonement ritual. Jesus Christ is both High Priest and victim offered as a sacrifice” 23; His atoning sacrifice is “the fulfillment of the old testament cultus.24 As the Epistle to the Hebrews explains:

He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves [as in the old testament cultus,] but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption … so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. … [W]e have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. … [Christ having] offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins.” 25

Thus, “[i]n the cross of Jesus, what the animal sacrifices” of the old testament cultus “had sought in vain to achieve actually occurred: atonement was made for the world. The ‘Lamb of God’ took upon himself the sins of the world and wiped them away. God’s relationship to the world, formerly distorted by sin, was now renewed. Reconciliation had been accomplished.” 26

And that is the “significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection for the Christian faith.” [Editor’s note: One of the sub-questions posed for this assignment.] To be sure, “[i]n the course of His public ministry Jesus Christ gave us an example of great virtue, preached the message of salvation, proved the truth of His message through miracles and prophecies, and established the Church with its sacrifice and sacraments for the salvation of men until the end of time.” 27 Of course He is “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” 28 But it is, paradoxically, his death that is the outstanding element of his life. “Jesus Christ has come not to advise, or urge, or woo, or help him to save himself; but to save him,” 29 says B.B. Warfield; says Horatius Bonar, “[t]he very essence of Christ’s deliverance is the substitution of Himself for us, His life for ours. He did not come to risk His life; He came to die!” 30 “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received,” writes St. Paul: “That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” 31 The gospel, the “good news of Christ Jesus,” reduced so a single sentence, is this: Although we had separated ourselves from God, He nevertheless so loved us that he sent to atone for our sin His only son, Jesus the Christ, of necessity true God and true man, who offered himself as an atoning sacrifice in order that by his wounds, those who confess and follow him may be restored to the company of heaven. 32 R.A. Torrey astutely observes that

[i]f it had not been for the love of God, the Father, looking down upon me in my lost condition, yes, anticipating my fall and ruin, and sending His only begotten Son to make full atonement for my sin, I should have been a lost man today. If it had not been for the love of the eternal Word of God, coming down into this world in obedience to the Father’s commandment and laying down His life as an atoning sacrifice for my sin on the cross of Calvary, I should have been a lost man today. 33

Amen. Me too.

In the fall, man “withdrew his allegiance to God, [and] was deprived of the spiritual gifts by which he had been raised to the hope of eternal salvation,” becoming “an exile from the kingdom of God.” 34 But in Jesus the Christ, “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” 35 We “who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” 36 God’s work has been done; amen, amen, can we say that His Logos has not gone forth from His mouth only to return to Him void, but has accomplished that which He pleased, 37 “deliver[ing] us from the domain of darkness and transferr[ing] us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” 38.

This assignment asked us to consider: “Who is Jesus? What were the outstanding elements of his life? Why was Jesus killed? And what is the significance of Jesus death and resurrection for the Christian faith?” The reflections above have answered all of these, but we might turn to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s recent declaration on Jesus for a pithy summation on which to close:

The doctrine of faith must be firmly believed which proclaims that Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, and he alone, is the Son and the Word of the Father. The Word, which was in the beginning with God is the same as he who became flesh. In Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God, the whole fullness of divinity dwells in bodily form. He is the only begotten Son of the Father, who is in the bosom of the Father, his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption… In him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him, God was pleased to reconcile all things to himself, on earth and in the heavens, making peace by the blood of his Cross. … As an innocent lamb he merited life for us by his blood which he freely shed. In him God reconciled us to himself and to one another, freeing us from the bondage of the devil and of sin, so that each one of us could say with the apostle: the Son of God loved me and gave himself up for me. 39

 

 

Notes:

  1. The Baltimore Catechism, qq.79-81 (1885), available at http://www.catholicity.com/baltimore-catechism (last visited Oct. 29, 2014) (hereinafter “BC”).
  2. Matthias Scheeben, The Mysteries of Christianity 87 (Vollert, trns., 1946).
  3. Jn 1:14.
  4. BC 85-86.
  5. St. Leo the Great, quoted in Alister McGrath, The Christian Theology Reader 267 (2d ed. 2001).
  6. Henry Denzinger, Sources of Catholic Dogma 125 (Deferarri, trns. 1957) (emphases added). He is, therefore, true God and true Son of God, Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma 127 (1954), having assumed not only a body but a rational soul, id., at 141, one person having two natures, one divine and one human, united hypostatically in one person, id., at 144, a human will “in harmony with and in free subordination to, the Divine will. Id., at 148.
  7. Gen 1:27.
  8. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 251 (Beveridge, trns., 1559), available at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes (last visited Oct. 31, 2014); accord Catechism of the Council of Trent 37 (Donovan, trns. 1833) (noting “the ruin brought on man by his fall from that most happy state in which God had placed our first parents”).
  9. St. Augustine of Hippo, quoted in McGrath, supra note 5, at 338.
  10. Canons and Decrees of the Sacred and Ecumenical Council of Trent 22 (Waterworth, ed. 1848) (5th Sess., 1546); accord Calvin, supra note 7, at 214.
  11. Matthias Premm, Dogmatic Theology for the Laity 123 (Heimann, trns. 1977).
  12. BC 57; accord Rom 5:12; Longer Catechism of St. Philaret, q.168 (1830) (“[b]ecause all have come of Adam since his infection by sin, and all sin themselves. As from an infected source there naturally flows an infected stream, so from a father infected with sin, and consequently mortal, there naturally proceeds a posterity infected like him with sin, and like him mortal”), available at http://www.pravoslavieto.com/docs/eng/Orthodox_Catechism_of_Philaret.htm (last visited Oct. 31, 2014).
  13. Calvin, at 214 (emphases added); see BC 63 et seq.; Rom 6:23.
  14. Cf. 2 Pet 3:9.
  15. Rom 3:23.
  16. Ott, supra note 6, at 178.
  17. 2 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology 485 (1871), available at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/hodge/theology2.ii.html (last visited Oct. 30, 2014).
  18. St. Anselm of Canterbury, Cur Deus Homo cc.5-6 (1098) (responses omitted), available at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/anselm-curdeus.asp (last visited Oct. 27, 2014).
  19. Scheeben, supra note 2, at 317.
  20. Cf. id..
  21. Premm, supra note 11, at 126-27; accord St. Athanasius, On Luke 10:22 and Matthew 11:27, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2805.htm (last visited Nov. 4, 2014) (“For whereas man sinned, and is fallen, and by his fall all things are in confusion: death prevailed from Adam to Moses, the earth was cursed, Hades was opened, Paradise shut, Heaven offended, man, lastly, corrupted and brutalised, while the devil was exulting against us—then God, in His loving-kindness, not willing man made in His own image to perish, said, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go?’  But while all held their peace, the Son said, ‘Here am I, send Me.’ And then it was that, saying ‘Go,’ He ‘delivered’ to Him man, that the Word Himself might be made Flesh, and by taking the Flesh, restore it wholly. … He bore the indignation [of God] which [hitherto] lay upon us” (citations deleted)). It should be remarked that “This adds up to a staggering notion: The incomprehensibly-mighty creator of a universe that is incomprehensibly large resolved to die at the hands of His creations in order to repair our relationship with Him. What wondrous, incomprehensible love is this!” Simon J. Dodd, The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, pp.22-33, May 31, 2013, http://simondodd.org/docs/Simon%20Dodd,%20The%20Holy%20Sacrifice%20of%20the%20Mass%20-%20final.pdf (last visited Oct. 30, 2014).
  22. St. Athanasius, quoted in McGrath, supra note 5, at 331; accord Phil 2:8; cf. Novatian, Treatise concerning the Trinity, http://newadvent.org/fathers/0511.htm (“blood flowed forth from His hands and feet, and from His very side, so that He might be proved to be a sharer in our body by dying according to the laws of our dissolution”) (last visited Oct. 30, 2014).
  23. Fr. Vladimir Berzonsky, Jesus Christ, Our High Priest, July 11, 2004, http://oca.org/reflections/berzonsky/jesus-christ-our-high-priest (last visited Oct. 30, 2014).
  24. Dodd, supra note 21, p.23. This is not, of course, to deny that there were human, worldly reasons for the actions of those human actors through whose agency the crucifixion took place, but rather to stress their relative unimportance. Those who killed Jesus may have been motivated by political and religious fear, but while these impulses may have been a convenient mask behind which God hid his purpose, they were not the reason for the crucifixion. Cf. Acts 2:23; CCC ¶ 599. Surely it did not occur to the high priest, Caiphas, that he provided the prophetic bridge between these two realities when he said, both with eternal truth and transient venality, that “it is better … that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” Jn 11:50.
  25. Heb 9:11-15, 10:10 et seq.; accord Catechism of Trent, supra note 8, at 109 (“The manner too, in which God, in the fullness of His paternal clemency resolved to cancel the sins of the world must powerfully move the faithful to contemplate the greatness of this blessing. It was His will that our offences should be expiated by the blood of His Only­begotten Son; that His Son should voluntarily assume the imputability of our sins, and suffer a most cruel death, the just for the unjust, the innocent for the guilty. ¶ When, therefore, we reflect that we were not redeemed with corruptible things, as gold or silver, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb unspotted and undefiled, we are naturally led to conclude that we could have received no gift more salutary than this power of forgiving sins, which proclaims the ineffable Providence of God and the excess of His love towards us.”).
  26. 2 Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth 230 (2011).
  27. BC 89c.
  28. Is 9:6; see also Catechism of Trent, supra note 8, at 41 (He “was the great Prophet and Teacher, from whom we have learned the will of God and by whom the world has been taught the knowledge of the heavenly Father”).
  29. B.B. Warfield, The Theology of John Calvin (1909), available at https://web.archive.org/web/20040225070911/http://homepage.mac.com/shanerosenthal/reformationink/bbwcalvin2.htm (last visited Nov. 4, 2011).
  30. Horatius Bonar, God’s Way of Peace 60 (1870).
  31. 1 Cor 15:3 (emphasis added).
  32. Cf. Rom 5:8; Eph 2:5; 1 Jn 4:10; Jn 3:16; Lk 19:10; Is 53:5; 1 Pet 2:24.
  33. Torrey, The Personality and Deity of the Holy Spirit in 1 The Fundamentals 55, 59 (Dixon & Torrey, eds. 1917).
  34. Calvin, supra note 7, at 233.
  35. Eph 1:7.
  36. Eph 2:13.
  37. Is 55:11.
  38. Col 1:13-14.
  39. Decl. Dominus Iesus, no. 10 (CDF, 2000), available at http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000806_dominus-iesus_en.html (last visited Oct. 31, 2014) (internal quotation marks and parenthetical citations deleted).