Friday, August 7, 2009

Quoted Post: Why God Became Man

Have you ever run into something and you keep reading and rereading, and rereading it because you can feel there's some important concept in there *just* outside of your grasp?

I'm having one of those moments, so I foist it off on the rest of you. :)

I found this at A Catechumen's Tale, which is a blog I have newly discovered. Very interesting stuff. I'd even ask the poster for clarification of the point, if I knew what point it was that was just out of my reach! *grr*

The following is by Saint Maximos the Confessor, and is from his Fourth Century of Various Texts, found in volume two of the Philokalia.

Once human nature had submitted to the syndrome of pleasure freely chosen
followed by pain imposed against one's will, it would have been completely
impossible for it to be restored to its original life had the Creator not become
man and accepted by His own free choice the pain intended as a chastisement for
man's freely chosen pleasure. But in His case the pain was not preceded by
generation according to the rule of pleasure. In this way, by accepting a birth
which did not originate in pleasure, it was possible for Him to liberate birth
from the penalty imposed on it.

After the fall the generation of every man was by nature impassioned and preceded by pleasure. From this rule no one was exempt. On the contrary, as if discharging a natural debt, all underwent sufferings and the death that comes from them. None could find the way to freedom, for all were under the tyranny of ill-gotten pleasure, and so subject to justly deserved sufferings and the sill more justly deserved death which they engender. Because of this, another kind of suffering and death had to be conceived, first to destroy the ill-gotten pleasure and the justly deserved sufferings consequent on it - sufferings which have pitiably brought about man's disintegration, since his life originates in the corruption that comes from his generation through pleasure and ends in the corruption that comes through death; and, second, to restore suffering human nature. This other kind of suffering and death was both unjust and undeserved: undeserved because it was in no way generated by preceding pleasure, and unjust because it was not the consequence of any passion-dominated life. This other kind of suffering and death, however, had to be devised so that, intervening between ill-gotten pleasure and justly deserved suffering and death, it would completely abolish the pleasure-provoked origin of human life and its consequent termination in death, and thus free it from the pleasure-pain syndrome. It would then recover its original blessedness, unpolluted by any of the characteristics inherent in beings subject to generation and decay.

This is why the Logos of God, being by nature fully God, became fully man, with a nature constituted like ours of a soul endowed with intellect and a body capable of suffering; only in His case this nature was without sin, because His birth in time from a woman was not preceded by the slightest trace of that pleasure arising from the primal disobedience. In His love He deliberately accepted the painful death which, because of pleasure, terminates human life, so that by suffering unjustly He might abolish the pleasure-provoked and unjust origin by which this life is dominated. For, unlike that of everyone else, the Lord's death was not the payment of a debt incurred because of pleasure, but was on the contrary a challenge thrown down to pleasure; and so through this death He utterly destroys that justly deserved death which ends human life. For the cause of His being was not the illicit pleasure, justly punished by death, through which death entered into human life.

The Lord is wise, just and mighty by nature. Because He is wise, He could not be ignorant of the way in which to heal human nature. Because He is just, He could not save man, whose will was in the grip of sin, in a tyrannical fashion. Because He is almighty, He could not prove unequal to the task of completing His healing mission.

The wisdom of God is revealed in His becoming by nature a true man. His justice is shown by His assumption, at His nativity, of a passible nature identical to our own. His might is shown by His creation, through His suffering and death, of a life that is by nature eternal and of a state of dispassion that is immutable.

The Lord revealed His wisdom by the way in which He healed man, becoming man without the slightest change or mutation. He demonstrated the equity of justice when in His self-abasement He submitted deliberately to the sentence to which what is passible in human nature is subject, and made that sentence a weapon for the destruction of sin and of the death which comes through sin - that is, for the destruction of pleasure and of the pain which pleasure engenders. It was in this pleasure-pain syndrome that the dominion of sin and death lay: the tyranny of sin committed in pursuit of pleasure, and the lordship of the painful death consequent upon sin. For the dominion of pleasure and pain clearly applies to what is passible in human nature. And we seek how to alleviate through pleasure the penalty of pain, thus in the nature of things increasing the penalty. For in our desire to escape pain we seek refuge in pleasure, and so try to bring relief to our nature, hard pressed as it is by the torment of pain. But through trying in this way to blunt pain with pleasure, we but increase our sum of debts, for we cannot enjoy pleasure that does not lead to pain and suffering.

The Lord gave clear evidence of His supreme power in what He endured from hostile forces when He endowed human nature with an incorruptible form of generation. For through His passion He conferred dispassion, through suffering repose, and through death eternal life. By His privations in the flesh He re-establsihed and renewed the human state, and by His own incarnation He bestowed on human nature the supranatural grace of deification.

God became true man and bestowed on human nature a new or second form of generation leading us through suffering to the pleasure of the life held in store for us. FOr when our forefather Adam broke the divine commandment, in the place of the original form of generation he conceived and introduced into human nature, at the prompting of the serpent, another form, originating in pleasure and terminating through suffering in death. This pleasure was not the consequence of antecedent suffering but, rather, resulted in suffering. And because he introduced this ill-gotten pleasure-provoked form of generation, he deservedly brought on himself, and on all men born in the flesh from him, the doom of death through suffering. Thus, when the Lord became man and created in human nature a new form of generation, accomplished by the Holy Spirit, He accepted that death through suffering, justly deserved in the case of Adam, but in His case not deserved at all because His own generation was not provoked by the ill-gotten pleasure introduced by our forefather through his disobedience; and by doing so He destroyed whatever in the origin and doom of human generation according to Adam was not intiially from God, and made all those who were reborn spiritually from Him free from its guilt.


  1. I am not nearly as intellectual as you. I don't read stuff like this .... you see how simple my blog posts and readings are. I tried to get the gist of this and all I could come up with is that pleasure (sex) is wrong.


  2. this is all extremely philosophical,and also the product of a thinker in another time, another culture, who is trying to figure out and make sense of the incarnation and perhaps answer the question "why".

    I think there are numerous Fathers of the early Church who somehow conflate the original sin in the garden with sexual pleasure, but we must remember that our Lord blessed marriage with his first miracle at Cana.

    I don't think that the idea that there has to be a "balance" between pleasure and suffering in the sense that pleasure will always result in suffering is necessarily something that is a mainstream idea in Orthodoxy. But we do use the phrase that by Christ's passionless passion He destroys our passions.

    Food for thought.

  3. Susanne,

    Hush! I'm not intellectual at all. I mostly stumble into stuff way over my head and frown at it alot. I love your posts!

    Just from my understanding, I don't (believe) that the point is that sex is wrong.

  4. Alana,

    As you so rightly point out, it's a philosopher trying to make sense of something that (in my humble opinion) can never be entirely understood. Plus, I don't have the surrounding text, or a familiarity with this particular Father, so I'm likely missing key info.

    From my (headachingly numerous :)) readings, I didn't get the impression that he was condemning sex out of hand. I, and perhaps I was reading into it my own opinions, thought that it was the pursuit of pleasure as our goal in life that he was condemning.

    Sex, which is quite necessary for procreation (which was, going back to the beginning, the first command God ever gave to mankind) has always been blessed, in it's proper context. It's the seeking of pleasure (sexual and otherwise) for the *sake* of it, to the exclusion of out responsibilities to God and our fellow man and the earth that is condemned.

    I can follow the pleasure/suffering to an extent, but again, I'm thinking of pleasure that's become the purpose of a person's life, as opposed to the pleasure we're rightly meant to have. I hardly think God meant us to live dull, enjoymentless lives.

    I still get the impression there's a *concept* there that I'm failing to grasp. Of course, I could have just jumped off the deep end again. *has a disturbing tendency to do so at times*

    "Christ's passionless passion He destroys our passions."

    Hmm. Indeed. *totters off to ponder*

  5. Did you ever figure it out??? :-)

  6. Nope. I've decided to lay this one aside and come back to it after I've learned a bit more about the theology of the Orthodox. I may be able to lay my finger on it then, or realize that I was reading too much into it. *shrug* It happens. :)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...