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"When St. Thomas Aquinas considers the Incarnation, he evokes the words of the fifth- century Syrian monk, Dionysius, “God’s very nature is goodness” as well as Dionysius’ famous statement, “Goodness is self-diffusive,” goodness must give itself (3a. 1, 1)[1].

God, who is good, always gave Himself. God’s preparations for the Incarnation of His Son run through the history of Israel, with the Covenant made with Abraham and the promises made to David. Just as God carefully interacted with Abraham and David, God fashioned Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, blessing her with graces and protecting her from sin.

We might think that God’s preparations for the coming of His Son actually broke down as the time arrived for the birth of the Son. When Mary was about to give birth, Joseph and Mary had traveled to Bethlehem to be enrolled in a census. The Child was born in a manger for animals “because here was no room for them in the inn” (Lk 2:7).

God told Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts and My ways are not your ways” (Is 55:8). The inconveniences and poverty of the birth were also part of God’s plan.

We might expect that the birth of Jesus should have taken place in circumstances that were appropriate to His dignity as Son of God. Yet, Thomas asserts that if His identity had been recognized, the crucifixion would never have happened. He recalls the words of St Paul, “If they had known, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:8). Thomas affirms: “This would have been a hindrance to our redemption, which was accomplished on the Cross” (3a. 36, 1).

St. Thomas says that if Jesus was welcomed with glory, we would not need faith, which is a prerequisite for righteousness: “… the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom 3:22).

Thomas states, “For if, when Christ was born, His birth had been made manifest to all by evident signs, the very nature of faith would have been destroyed, since faith “is the evidence of things that appear not” (Heb 11:1) (3a. 36, 1).

It is true that all people should be called to faith in Jesus as the Savior but not at His birth (3a. 36, 1, ad 2).

According to Thomas, if Jesus’s birth was manifested in a glorious way, we might have believed in His divinity at the expense of belief in His humanity:

"Christ’s birth was ordered to our salvation, which is by faith. Saving faith confesses Christ’s Godhead and humanity. Therefore, Christ’s birth had to be known in such a way that proof of His Godhead should not be detrimental to faith in His human nature. But this took place while Christ presented a likeness to human weakness and yet, by means of God’s creatures He showed the power of the Godhead in Himself therefore Christ made His birth known not by Himself, but certain other creatures" (3a. 36, 4).

The variety of people who visited Jesus in His birth demonstrates the variety of those whom He came to save:

"Salvation that was to be accomplished by Christ concerns all sorts and conditions of people… And in order that this might be foreshadowed b Christ birth, He was made known to men of all conditions… the Wise Men were wise and powerful, the shepherds were simple and lowly… He was made known to men and to women, namely Anna – so as to show no condition of people is to be excluded" (3a. 36, 3).

Thomas observes the visitors signified those who would eventually receive the grace of His coming:

That manifestation of Christ’s birth was a kind of foretaste of the full manifestation which was to come. And as in the later manifestation the first announcement of the grace of Christ was made by Him and His apostles to the Jews and afterwards to the Gentiles, so the first to come to Christ were the shepherds, who were the first-fruits of the Jews, as being near to Him; and afterwards came the Wise Men from afar…" (3a. 36, 3, ad 1).

Thomas notices that the shepherds must have told what they saw since “all wondered at what the shepherds told them” (Lk 2:18). Thomas compares this way by which Jesus birth was made known to some with the Resurrection that was transmitted through certain witnesses.

Thomas explains that it would not be faith if the significance of Jesus’ birth was purely evident nor would it be faith if it were completely hidden so tht no one could know: “His birth was consistent with the Resurrection, so it was known not to all but to some through whom it was made known to others, for faith comes from hearing (Rom 10:17) ” (3a. 36, 2)

Although the birth was hidden, “It was given to Mary and Joseph to show reverence to the Child and to serve Him even before he was born” (3. 36, 2, ad 2)

There have been times when the Church was a strong presence in the world. Surely, the Church was able to do much good. At other times, the Church is smaller and has less influence. In a certain way, the Church resembles Christ who came in poverty.

 

[1] References are to the Summa Theologica, trans. English Dominicans (New York: Benziger Brothers, Inc, 1947), pp. 2025-2027. The citations give the part of the Summa, the question and the article. In this case, it is the third part, the first question and the first article in that question.



When St. Thomas Aquinas considers the Incarnation, he evokes the words of the fifth- century Syrian monk, Dionysius, “God’s very nature is goodness” as well as Dionysius’ famous statement, “Goodness is self-diffusive,” goodness must give itself (3a. 1, 1)[1].

God, who is good, always gave Himself. God’s preparations for the Incarnation of His Son run through the history of Israel, with the Covenant made with Abraham and the promises made to David. Just as God carefully interacted with Abraham and David, God fashioned Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, blessing her with graces and protecting her from sin.

We might think that God’s preparations for the coming of His Son actually broke down as the time arrived for the birth of the Son. When Mary was about to give birth, Joseph and Mary had traveled to Bethlehem to be enrolled in a census. The Child was born in a manger for animals “because here was no room for them in the inn” (Lk 2:7).

God told Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts and My ways are not your ways” (Is 55:8). The inconveniences and poverty of the birth were also part of God’s plan.

We might expect that the birth of Jesus should have taken place in circumstances that were appropriate to His dignity as Son of God. Yet, Thomas asserts that if His identity had been recognized, the crucifixion would never have happened. He recalls the words of St Paul, “If they had known, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:8). Thomas affirms: “This would have been a hindrance to our redemption, which was accomplished on the Cross” (3a. 36, 1).

St. Thomas says that if Jesus was welcomed with glory, we would not need faith, which is a prerequisite for righteousness: “… the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom 3:22).

Thomas states, “For if, when Christ was born, His birth had been made manifest to all by evident signs, the very nature of faith would have been destroyed, since faith “is the evidence of things that appear not” (Heb 11:1) (3a. 36, 1).

It is true that all people should be called to faith in Jesus as the Savior but not at His birth (3a. 36, 1, ad 2).

According to Thomas, if Jesus’s birth was manifested in a glorious way, we might have believed in His divinity at the expense of belief in His humanity:

Christ’s birth was ordered to our salvation, which is by faith. Saving faith confesses Christ’s Godhead and humanity. Therefore, Christ’s birth had to be known in such a way that proof of His Godhead should not be detrimental to faith in His human nature. But this took place while Christ presented a likeness to human weakness and yet, by means of God’s creatures He showed the power of the Godhead in Himself therefore Christ made His birth known not by Himself, but certain other creatures (3a. 36, 4)

The variety of people who visited Jesus in His birth demonstrates the variety of those whom He came to save:

Salvation that was to be accomplished by Christ concerns all sorts and conditions of people… And in order that this might be foreshadowed b Christ birth, He was made known to men of all conditions… the Wise Men were wise and powerful, the shepherds were simple and lowly… He was made known to men and to women, namely Anna – so as to show no condition of people is to be excluded (3a. 36, 3).

Thomas observes the visitors signified those who would eventually receive the grace of His coming:

"That manifestation of Christ’s birth was a kind of foretaste of the full manifestation which was to come. And as in the later manifestation the first announcement of the grace of Christ was made by Him and His apostles to the Jews and afterwards to the Gentiles, so the first to come to Christ were the shepherds, who were the first-fruits of the Jews, as being near to Him; and afterwards came the Wise Men from afar…" (3a. 36, 3, ad 1).

Thomas notices that the shepherds must have told what they saw since “all wondered at what the shepherds told them” (Lk 2:18). Thomas compares this way by which Jesus birth was made known to some with the Resurrection that was transmitted through certain witnesses.

Thomas explains that it would not be faith if the significance of Jesus’ birth was purely evident nor would it be faith if it were completely hidden so tht no one could know: “His birth was consistent with the Resurrection, so it was known not to all but to some through whom it was made known to others, for faith comes from hearing (Rom 10:17) ” (3a. 36, 2)

Although the birth was hidden, “It was given to Mary and Joseph to show reverence to the Child and to serve Him even before he was born” (3. 36, 2, ad 2)

There have been times when the Church was a strong presence in the world. Surely, the Church was able to do much good. At other times, the Church is smaller and has less influence. In a certain way, the Church resembles Christ who came in poverty.

 

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

 

[1] References are to the Summa Theologica, trans. English Dominicans (New York: Benziger Brothers, Inc, 1947), pp. 2025-2027. The citations give the part of the Summa, the question and the article. In this case, it is the third part, the first question and the first article in that question.