Article 45 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 470-478 Word Became Flesh
Every neighborhood has witnessed a child throwing a ball and accidentally breaking a window. The neighbor with the broken window often wants compensation without turning it into a police matter. Instead they go to an arbiter (a third neutral party). When they meet, an arrangement is generally made for the youth to do something specific like mow the neighbor’s lawn, rake leaves or shovel snow for a certain amount of time until the window is paid off. In short, arbitration gives one or both a condition that they must follow as a way to make up for or satisfy the injured party.
Two thousand years ago, arbitration of a different kind occurred between the omnipotent Creator of the world and sinful humanity. Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, the perfect arbitrator, achieved humanity’s reconciliation to God by complete satisfaction for the sin of Adam and Eve.
We have seen how our first parents, representatives of the human race, revolted against God. But God, who is all love and mercy, desired a reconciliation. So he sent his own divine Son, the perfect Arbitrator, since He is both God and Man. The Athanasian Creed expresses the teaching of the Church regarding the nature of Jesus Christ: “He is God from the substance of his Father, begotten before all ages; and man from the substance of his mother, born in time; perfect God, perfect man.” This is the mystery of the Incarnation: the eternal Word of God is incarnated or takes on flesh.
The Son of God took to himself our human nature in such a manner that it became his own. The divine Person, in whom the divine nature is complete, united to the divine nature in that one Person the nature of man. Jesus Christ is both human and divine. Though God from all eternity, He clothed Himself with a human nature, a human body and soul, in order that He might suffer and die for us. His human nature, though distinct, was so united in time with His divine nature as to form one Person, one God-Man. Since He is both God and Man, Jesus Christ is the perfect Arbitrator! An arbitration like one between the ball wielding youth and the homeowner with a broken window is often an amicable one but every arbitration is not so easily settled. Certain parties involved in an arbitration often argue that the arbiter does not understand the circumstances of the dispute. No one can say this of Jesus Christ. God’s infinite love found a way to reconcile us perfectly. Of course, God knew from all eternity our nature and our needs. He created us and gave us our very existence. But when He sent us an arbitrator, He sent His own Son to actually become a man. In this way Christ was able to experience our needs as we do, and He lived what He taught. No wonder the first paragraph in this section of the Catechism quotes the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution of the Church with its tender message: “The Son of God. . . 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 to us in all things except sin” (ccc 470).
The Church teaches that the eternal Son of God has a rational, human soul with true human knowledge “exercised in the historical conditions of his existence” (ccc 472). This is why the Jesus could, when he became man, “increase in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man” as stated in the Gospel of Saint Luke 2:52. This corresponds to his voluntary emptying of himself, taking “the form of a slave” as outlined in Saint Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 2:7.
The Catechism points out that this truly “human knowledge” of God’s Son at the same time expressed the divine life of his person: “The human nature of God’s Son, not by itself but by its union with the Word, knew and showed forth in itself everything that pertains to God” (ccc 473). Throughout the Gospels, for example, we hear Jesus tell the disciples about the circumstances of his upcoming suffering and death. Thus, the Catechism asserts, “Christ enjoyed in his human knowledge the fullness of understanding of the eternal plans he had come to reveal” (ccc 474).
Further clarification is given in the next paragraph when the Catechism explains that “Christ possesses two wills and two natural operations, divine and human” (ccc 475). These, however, “are not opposed to each other, but cooperate in such a way that the Word made flesh willed humanly in obedience to his Father all that he had decided divinely with the Father and the Holy Spirit for our salvation” (ccc 475). The ecstatic sentiments associated with the mystery of the Incarnation are almost felt when we read that “in the body of Jesus we see our God made visible and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see” (ccc 477). The final paragraph captures and summarizes the amazing extent of God’s love for each of us. “Jesus knew and loved us each and all during his life, his agony and his Passion,” the Catechism tells us, “and gave himself up for each one of us” (ccc 478). Thus, the love with which Christ, our divine Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father is, without exception, the way he loves “all human beings” (ccc 478). No doubt this perfect love made him the perfect arbitrator to achieve humanity’s reconciliation to God.
Father John G. Hillier, Ph.D., serves as Assistant Chancellor to the Bishop and the bishop’s liaison to persons with disabilities.