Friday, March 16, 2012

God the Father loved the world, but why did he not give us himself together with his Son?


Laetare Sunday, John 3:14-21
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.
The love of God is proved in this, that while we were yet sinners he sent his only Son to die in our behalf. But we also know that a man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friend.
From his death upon the Cross, we see clearly the infinite riches of the love and mercy of God the Son – for each of us can say, “He loved me and gave himself up for me.” Surely, likewise, we see the love of God the Father, for he did not spare his only Son, but gave him up for us all.
Still, while we do not doubt that the death of God the Son manifests the love of the whole Trinity, we may yet question whether it would have been a greater sign of love for God the Father to also become incarnate and die in our behalf together with his Son.
Put simply: Could God the Father have given us a greater sign of his love?

Each and all of the Divine Persons could have become incarnate
First, we must note that it would have been possible for any of the Divine Persons to have become incarnate. Either the Father or the Holy Spirit could have become man. Further, in fact, all three could have (theoretically) become incarnate, either in three human natures or all in one single human nature. This is the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas (cf. ST III, q.3, aa. 5-7 [here]).
That any of the Persons could become incarnate, though never magisterially declared as “de fidei”, follows from the dogmas of our Faith. If the Son is not greater than the Father, nor the Father greater than the Son, then all that the Son can do, the Father can likewise do. Thus, if the Son can become incarnate, so too can the Father become incarnate.
In all things, the Father and the Son are equal, remembering only that the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father. Thus, the one thing which the Son cannot do is to generate another Divine Person, and the one thing which the Father cannot do is to be generated by another Divine Person. Both the Son and the Father, of course, are capable of spirating (“breathing forth”) the Holy Spirit; which is why the Latin tradition of the filioque is correct.
Hence, the Father could have done more than sending only his Son. He could have sent the Holy Spirit also, and even become incarnate himself. All three Divine Persons could have died in our behalf (theoretically).
Only the Son suffered on the Cross
However, only the Son was sent and only the Son suffered and died on the Cross. It is a heresy to claim that the Father suffered “in” or “with” the Son. For the Father is not the Son, nor is the Son the Father. Thus, although God did indeed die on the Cross, the Father did not die, nor the Holy Spirit; but God the Son alone died.
There are many reasons why it was fitting that the Son be sent and become incarnate (cf. ST III, q.3, a.8 [here]):
1) Because the Word of God is, as it were, an exemplar likeness of the world – for God the Father created the world (and man in particular) according to the image of his Son.
2) Further, it is fitting because, by the grace of adoption, we become sons of God. Thus, it is well that the natural Son of God should be he who reconciles us as sons.
3) Finally, we recall that the first sin of Adam was in seeking knowledge (that is, eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil). Now, the Word proceeds from God the Father as thought proceeds from intellect; hence, he is called the Wisdom of God. Thus, it is fitting that Divine Wisdom redeem those who fell through an inordinate thirst for knowledge.
And beyond this, there are innumerable other reasons beyond human comprehension.
In giving his Son, the Father gives all
From what we have said, it is clear that God the Father could have become incarnate and died for us, but that he chose not to. Rather, it was fitting that the Son should take on our nature and be given up for us all.
And so, we are led back to Jesus’ most often-quoted words: For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting. (John 3:16)
Would it have added anything for God the Father to also die, together with his Son? We answer, No. There could be no greater love, nor any greater sign of love, than what has been given in Christ. Though the Father could have died likewise, this would not have added anything to the gift of love which he has given us in his Son’s death and resurrection.
Among men, it would be greater for a man to give not only his own son but also himself; but this is not the case for God. Because the Father and the Son are of the same Essence, when God the Father gave his Son (in whom the fullness of Godhead dwells) he gave all goodness.
Because the whole Godhead dwells wholly in each of the Divine Persons – such that the Father is not merely a part of God and the Son another part and the Spirit another part, but all three Persons are the whole God – then we must say that the whole Divine Essence was present in God the Son. There was nothing held back or retained by God the Father, for he gave the whole Divinity in giving his Son.
Only this remains: That the Son is not the Father and the Father did not die on the Cross. But God did die on the Cross and the whole of Godhead was given up on the Cross in the Person of the Son. The Divine Essence was not given in the Person of the Father or in the Person of the Holy Spirit, but in the Person of the Son only. Still, there is no Divine Essence which remained or was not given: For in him (that is, in the Son) the fullness of divinity was pleased to dwell. And this fullness was wholly given upon the Cross.
The Father did not suffer, but (in a manner) he did give his own Person
While we said above that the Father did not become incarnate, nor did he suffer and die, we nevertheless maintain that (in a certain manner) God the Father did indeed give his own Person in the Person of the Son.
For, in the Trinity, Person and Nature are identical – such that each Person (and all three together) is the Divine Nature and the Nature is each Person. There is no “Nature” separate from the “Persons”, and there are no “Persons” separate from “Nature” – for there is no fourth reality in the Trinity.
Hear the words of Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide:
“You may further urge, God gave not His own Person, but His Essence only: and that He would have given more if He had given His Person also. I answer by denying the conclusion. Because Person is God is in reality the same as Essence; for it adds nothing to His Essence except relatively, and the idea of distinction from the other Persons: also because the Person of the Son is as worthy as the Person of the Father. For all the three Divine Persons are co-equal in all things, as the Athanasian Creed saith.
“Besides, the Father in giving the Person of His Son, gave us also His own Person, as well as the Person of the Holy Ghost. Because the Father is in the Son, and both are in the Holy Ghost. And again the Son is in the Father, and the Holy Ghost in the Father and the Son.”
And thus we see that, although the Father and Holy Spirit could have become incarnate and died together with the Son, there is no greater love nor any greater sign of love than that by which the Father gave up his only Son as ransom for us all.

10 comments:

Marko Ivančičević said...

Hello Father.
Question immediately comes to my head?

If "the Father is in the Son, and both are in the Holy Ghost. And again the Son is in the Father, and the Holy Ghost in the Father and the Son." in what manner are the other two Divine Persons, namely the Father and the Holy Spirit present in the Eucharist?
In what manner is each Person present in the other Person generally speaking?

Mark Duch said...

This seems sort of analogous to Jesus Christ being sacramentally present in each species, standing alone. I.e., we consume the whole Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity, by only consuming, for example, the consecrated host.

Anonymous said...

The Eucharist is a "sacred mystery." What God is, is certainly above our comprehension. Why don't we just leave it at that?

Robert

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Robert,
About those sacred mysteries we love most, we speak very carefully.

This is why the saints have all rejoiced to try to explain some aspect of the Trinity.

It's strange you would make your comment on the feast of St. Patrick ... you do remember the shamrock, yes?

Anonymous said...

Dear Father Ryan:

The point of view that I was trying to address comes from, for example, Book 4, Chapter 18 of "The Imitation of Christ"...the idea of vain curiosity and better to walk by faith.

"BEWARE of curious and vain examination of this most profound Sacrament, if you do not wish to be plunged into the depths of doubt. He who scrutinizes its majesty too closely will be overwhelmed by its glory.

God can do more than man can understand. A pious and humble search for truth He will allow, a search that is ever ready to learn and that seeks to walk in the reasonable doctrine of the fathers.

Blest is the simplicity that leaves the difficult way of dispute and goes forward on the level, firm path of God’s commandments. Many have lost devotion because they wished to search into things beyond them.

Faith is required of you, and a sincere life, not a lofty intellect nor a delving into the mysteries of God. If you neither know nor understand things beneath you, how can you comprehend what is above you?...

...For in this most holy and supremely excellent Sacrament, faith and love take precedence and work in a hidden manner.

God, eternal, incomprehensible, and infinitely powerful, does great and inscrutable things in heaven and on earth, and there is no searching into His marvelous works. If all the works of God were such that human reason could easily grasp them, they would not be called wonderful or beyond the power of words to tell."

Robert

Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful and touching piece of theology and explains much for me.
We have often heard that when a son dies prematurely the parent says "I would have died in his place", or a "Mother should not bury her son but the son should bury his mother." So the father values the life of his son over his own. Bob

Alessandro said...

@ Robert
You wrote:
"A pious and humble search for truth He will allow, a search that is ever ready to learn and that seeks to walk in the reasonable doctrine of the fathers."

I think that studying these mysteries (such as the way Christ is sacramentally present in the Eucharist) is done exactly on the grounds of a pious and humble search for truth. It is pious because it helps to clear out the errors of the heretics (claiming either a symbolical or material presence of Christ in the host) and also to help the mind make the Real Presence more acceptable to reason: when reason assists the faith, the latter can do nothing but grow, and in fact the main problem of religion is that it sounds "unreasonable" in a typically positivist era. But this study is clearly also humble on at least two grounds: the first, as it isn't the human mind of theologians who defines the doctrines, but the Holy Spirit who guides the Church; the second, as the definition doesn't come from a mere speculation on unknown things, but on the contrary on the definition of what is wrong. In other words, our definition of transubstantiation isn't a forgery of the human intellect, but the result of a clear and infallibly inspired understanding of errors and heresies. I think the vain curiosity addressed in the Imitation of Christ is the one coming from mere speculation - such as counting the number of angels in the heavenly host... that's indeed vain curiosity and not theology proper. This is, at least, my opinion.

Marko Ivančičević said...

Please Father could you answer my question?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Marko,
By what the theologians call "circumcissio" or "perichoresis" the Divine Persons are present in one another.
The union of the Three is greater than any union imaginable ... it is greater than any created union.
The distinction of the Three is greater than any distinction imaginable ... greater than any created distinction.

United but not mixed, distinct but not separate.

As I say in the article, the Persons are present in one another by virtue of the single divine Essence, which is each of the Persons and all of them together. Beyond this, it is extremely difficult to find the right words ...

Marko Ivančičević said...

Thank you father. You cleared it a big deal for me by mentioning union and distinction. :)

Thanks again.
Vale+

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