Who is conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.
It is necessary for a Christian not only to believe in the Son of God,
as shown in the preceding, but also one must believe in his incarnation.
Therefore blessed John, after he had written many nuanced and demanding
insights about the Word of God, appropriately suggests his incarnation
when he says: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” [1:14]. And
that the reader might grasp something from this, I will highlight two comparisons.
(1) Let us grant that the Son of God resembles nothing so much as the
word conceived in our heart, but not expressed. No one, however, knows
the word while it remains in the human heart, but the one who conceived
it. It is then first known when it is expressed. Similarly, the Word of
God, while in the heart of the Father, was not known except by the Father
alone. But, then clothed with flesh, the Word is first made manifest and
known: "After this he was seen on earth, and he conversed with human beings”
and so forth (Bar. [3:38]).
(2) Another example. Although the expressed word is known through hearing,
nonetheless it is not seen nor touched. When it is written on paper, however,
then it is seen and touched. Similarly, the Word of God is made visible
and palpable, when written as it were in real flesh. Just as the paper
on which the word of the king is written is called the word of the king,
so the one in whom the Word of God is [written] is called the Son of God:
“Take up a great book, and write in it [in the style of humankind]” and
so forth (Is. [8:1]). And therefore the holy apostles said [in the creed]:
“Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.”
In this matter many people have erred. Thus the holy fathers added in
the other symbol, in the Nicene council, many phrases through which all
these errors were overcome. Origen said that Christ was born for this reason
and came into the world that he might also save the demons. Origen said
that all of the demons would be saved at the end of the world. But this
is opposed to sacred Scripture, for Matthew says: “[Then he said to those
on his left]: ‘Depart from me, you wicked ones, [into eternal fire, which
has been prepared for the devil and his angels]" and so forth [25:41].
And thus to remove this error they [the holy fathers] added [in the Nicene
creed] “Who on account of us all,” not on account of demons, “and on account
of our salvation,” in which indeed the love of God for us emerges.
Photinus maintained that Christ was indeed born of the Virgin, but he
added that he was merely a man; nonetheless, by living well and doing the
will of God, he merited to become a son of God just as other holy men.
But this position is opposed to the authority of the Lord in John: “I came
down from heaven not that I might do my own will, [but the will of him
who sent me]” [6:38]. It is a fact that he would not have come down from
heaven unless he would have been there. If he was merely a man, he would
not have been in heaven. And so to overcome this position [of Photinus]
they [the Nicene council fathers] added, “He came down from heaven.”
Manicheus said this: Although the Son of God always was and came down
from heaven, nevertheless he did not have real flesh, but apparent flesh.
But this is false, for it is unseemly for the teacher of the truth to have
any falsity. Therefore he had real flesh just as he appeared to have. Thus
Jesus himself said to the disciples: “Touch and see, [for a spirit does
not have flesh and bones, as you see that I have]” (Luke [24:39]). And
so to overcome this position [of Manicheus] they [the Nicene council fathers]
added, “And was enfleshed.”
Ebion, however, who was of the Jewish race, said that Christ was born
of the blessed Virgin, but by male seed from the intercourse of a man.
But this is false, because the angel said: “For what is born in her [is
by the Holy Spirit]” and so forth [Mt. 1:20]. And so to overcome this position
[of Ebion] the holy fathers [of the Nicene council] added, “by the Holy
Valentinus, however, although he confessed that Christ was conceived
by the Holy Spirit, nonetheless maintained that the Spirit transported
a heavenly body and placed it in the blessed Virgin, and that became the
body of Christ. Consequently, the blessed Virgin contributed nothing except
a place for him. Thus it was said that the body of Christ passed through
the blessed Virgin as through a conduit. But this is in error, for the
angel said: “From you will be born the holy one” and so forth [Luke 1:35];
and in Galatians: “And when the fullness of time came, [God sent his own
Son,] born of a woman,” and so forth [4:4]. And therefore they [the Nicene
council fathers] added, “born of Mary.”
Arius and Apollinarius both said that although Christ is the Word of
God and born of the Virgin Mary, nonetheless he did not have a soul, but
the divinity was there in place of the soul. But this is opposed to Scripture,
because Christ said: “My soul is troubled” (John [12:27]), and “My soul
is sad [even unto death]” (Mt. [26:38]). And so to overcome this error
[of Arius and Apollinarius] the holy fathers [of the Nicene council] added,
“And was made man.” A man, however, consists of body and soul, and thus
Christ would most genuinely have everything that a genuine man has, except
In that phrase, “And was made man,” all the errors listed above are
overcome, as well as all other errors that might be voiced. In particular
the error of Eutyches is overcome, who said Christ was made by a commingling,
partly from divine nature and partly from human, into a single nature that
was neither God nor merely human. But this is wrong, because then he would
not be human. And in opposition to this is said: “And was made man” [a
The error of Nestorius is also overcome, who said the Son of God was
joined to the human through indwelling alone. But this is wrong, because
then he would not be a human being, but in a human being. That he [Christ]
is human is evident: [But he emptied himself, accepting the form of a servant,
made in the likeness of humankind], found in a human condition” (Phil.
2:); “Why do you seek to kill [me], a human being [who spoke the truth
to you, which I heard from God]” (John 8:).
We can gather some insights for the instruction of our own lives from
the disputes above. (1) Our faith is confirmed from these. If anyone were
to say something about any distant land, and they themselves had not been
there, they would not be believed as though they had been. Yet, before
Christ came into the world, the patriarchs, prophets, and John the Baptist
spoke to us of the things of God. Nonetheless, we do not believe these
people in the same way as we believe Christ, who came in the company of
God and moreover was one with God himself. Thus the faith handed down to
us from Christ himself is quite strong: “No one has ever seen God; but
the only-begotten Son, [who is in the bosom of the Father, he has given
an account]” and so forth (John [1:18]). And thus it is that many secrets
of the faith, which previously were hidden, are made manifest to us after
the coming of Christ.
(2) Our hope is raised from these considerations. Let us grant that
Christ the Son of God came to us and assumed our flesh, not for a small
but a great benefit to us. That is why he accomplished such an exchange,
assuming a living body from the Virgin and consenting to be born, so that
he might lavish his divinity upon us. Christ thus became man so that he
might make man God: “Justified therefore by faith [we have peace with God
through our Lord Jesus Christ]” and so forth “through whom we have access
[through faith to that grace, in which we stand, and we glory in the hope
of the glory of the sons of God]” and so forth (Rom. [5:1-2]).
(3) Charity is enkindled. There is no clearer sign of divine love than
that God the creator of all things has been made a creature, that the Lord
has been made a servant, and that the Son of God has been made the son
of man: “For God so loved the world [that he would give his only-begotten
Son, so that everyone who believed in him would not perish, but have life
everlasting]” and so forth (John [3:16]). Thus, through considerations
of this sort our love towards God ought to be again enkindled.
(4) We are drawn to consider our nature in and of itself. Insofar as
it was a nature accepted for companionship with a divine person, it was
a nature ennobled and exalted from its involvement with God. Thus it is
that after the incarnation, an angel was unwilling to allow blessed John
to adore him, which hitherto the angel had allowed even the great patriarchs.
Therefore human beings, prizing themselves with the dignity of this exaltation,
ought to disdain to make themselves and their nature vile by sin. Thus
blessed Peter says: “By which” he has given “to us” good things “[enormous
and precious promises, so that through them you may become] sharers of
the divine nature, escaping [the corruption which is in this world because
of concupiscence]” and so forth [2 Pet 1:4].
(5) Our desire to draw close to Christ is enkindled. If there were a
king and his brother, who was far away from him, that brother would desire
to draw near, and to be with the king. Since Christ is our brother, we
should desire to be with him and to be together with him: “Wherever the
body might be, [there the eagles will gather)” and so forth (Mt. [24:28)].
And St. Paul: “Having the desire to be dissolved [and to be with Christ,
which is by far the better thing]” and so forth [Phil. 1:23]. Surely this
desire grows in us, as we ponder the incarnation of Christ.
Let us pray to the Lord, and so forth.