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Chapter V from
The Sermon-Conferences of St. Thomas Aquinas
On the Apostles' Creed
Translated from the Leonine Edition and edited and introduced by
Nicholas Ayo, C.S.C.
Copyright 1988 by University of Notre Dame Press, All Rights Reserved.
Used with the permission of The University of Notre Dame Press.
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 Spirit.”

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 sin.

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 human being].

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:[7]); “Why do you seek to kill [me], a human being [who spoke the truth to you, which I heard from God]” (John 8:[40]).

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.