Christ restores human nature to the dignity it held before the Fall
By Bob Hunt
“He who is the “image of the invisible God” is himself the perfect man who has restored in the children of Adam that likeness to God which had been disfigured ever since the first sin. Human nature, by the very fact that it was assumed, not absorbed, in him, has been raised in us also to a dignity beyond compare. For, by his incarnation, he, the Son of God, has in a certain way united himself with each individual. He worked with human hands, he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin.”
The above is from Gaudium et Spes, the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, promulgated by the bishops at the Second Vatican Council. It offers a profound reflection for Advent and Christmas, for it is during these liturgical seasons that we prepare for and celebrate when “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
“For us men and for our salvation,” the Second Person of the Holy Trinity “came down from heaven, and by the power of the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” This is our Creed. It is the faith of the Church.
But, we have heard the story so often that we risk making too little of it, turning the extraordinary into the banal. We risk, too, neglecting one or the other of that two-part proclamation of faith: that Christ came “for us men and for our salvation.” We risk forgetting, first, how remarkable it is to be human and, second, how much we humans need Christ’s redemptive grace.
We humans are broken by sin, but we are not broken by nature. In the classic movie, “The African Queen,” Charlie Allnut, the rough and gruff sailor played by Humphrey Bogart, is taking Rose Sayer, the prim and proper missionary played by Katherine Hepburn, down the Ulanga River in Africa on their mission to sink a German gunboat.
One night, Charlie gets drunk, and Rose is making him pay for it the next morning with her scorn. Charlie defends himself, “What are you being so mean for, Miss? A man takes a drop too much once in a while, it’s only human nature.” “Nature, Mr. Allnut,” Rose replies, “is what we are put in this world to rise above.”
They are both wrong. It is not human nature to sin. It is broken human nature. We are not here to rise above our human nature, but to fulfill our human nature. Christ came “for us men.” In assuming our humanity, Christ restores human nature to the dignity it held before the Fall. How marvelous to share a nature with the Creator of all things! This is a meaning of Christmas to celebrate.
Christ also came “for our salvation.” A common notion, especially among secularists, is the idea that human nature is not broken at all, that even our sinful actions are good because they are human. But, this is a false notion of what it is to be human, where being human means satiating every desire, whether base or noble. To be truly human is to glorify God with lives that reflect His will and the destiny He designed for us.
“The glory of God,” St. Irenaeus said, “is man, fully human, fully alive!” Christ was fully human in that His humanity perfectly revealed the divine. We are fully human and fully alive when we allow God’s grace to so permeate our lives that, when others see us, they see God’s glory reflected. This is only possible with the grace won for us by Christ’s perfect obedience to the will of the Father, even unto death. Christ does not save us by turning us into something other than what we are. Rather, Christ saves us by restoring us to all we were created to be in the first place.
C.S. Lewis wondered at the dignity of what it means to be human. He wrote, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. … Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your sense.” We would do well to reflect on this mystery this Christmas. Christ became human so that we humans might be raised to glory. Glory to God in the highest!
Bob Hunt is a husband, father, and parishioner at All Saints Catholic Church in Knoxville.