Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Incarnation without the need for Salvation? Which of us is the heretic?

I decided to open a post solely dedicated to our discussion of the Incarnation in order organize our conversation, and to make it easier for others to understand the argument at hand.

The question is as follows: Would Christ has become Man and came down to earth – i.e. the Incarnation – if Man had not sinned; if there were no need for Salvation?

Basil has boldly presented the possibility of saying “yes” to this question. He, I believe, thinks that the Incarnation was bound up in God’s plan for us from the beginning, and is not contingent upon man’s sin. The Incarnation is the best (as far as we can imagine) example and fulfillment of God’s desire to commune and be with Man; as such, it is at the heart of Basil’s Communion Theology. [I apologize if I stated any opinion of Basil improperly.]

I, on the other hand, disagree. Since the CCC states, “Taking up St. John's expression, ‘The Word became flesh,’ the Church calls ‘Incarnation’ the fact that the Son of God assumed a human nature in order to accomplish our salvation in it,” I see the Incarnation as being contingent upon Man’s need for salvation. There are other reasons discussed for the Incarnation in the CCC, but this seems the prominent one – and the one bound up in the definition of the Incarnation itself. On top of that, Man’s fall (sin) separated us from a direct connection to God. Sin is/caused this separation. I conclude that pre-Fall there was a direct connection between God and Man; but pre-Fall is also pre-Incarnation. Therefore, there was no need for the Incarnation pre-Fall.

One (or both!) of us are preaching heresy. Let this post be a place for us to a) point fingers and say who is the heretic, using our own ideas and use of theology/philosophy; and b) post any hint of what the Church preaches on this subject.


  1. Here is a Catholic article on the exact issue. From what I can gather (which isn’t all that much), there is no exact Catholic teaching either way. Aquinas said no, Christ would not have Incarnated if we hadn’t sinned; but Duns Scotus disagreed with him. This article agrees with Scotus and Basil.


  2. My dear Jonas,
    I respond to your mention of the CCC by quoting an earlier comment of my own:
    "In reading the CCC, I think I could still say the Incarnation was not ALTOGETHER contingent upon us falling, tho I'm not positive. The CCC gives 4 reasons after introducing the topic :For us men AND for our salvation- this to me implies the Word became flesh for our salvation, but also "for us men", a phrase whose simplicity points to its iconic volume.
    the 4 reasons: 1)in order to save us by reconciling us with God,2)that thus we might know God's love,3)to be our model of holiness, 4)to make us "partakers of the divine nature".
    I have no doubt that my lack of awareness of my own sin makes it easy for me to focus more on the communion aspects of redemption than on the sacrificial ransom aspects."
    The CCC gives multiple reasons for the Incarnation. As far as heresy goes, even if one of us is wrong in our view, I wouldn't call that heresy, as it doesn't deny an essential truth of the faith.

  3. I remember these lines of yours, Basil, about the other reasons CCC gives for the Incarnation. However, because the Church chooses to DEFINE the Incarnation as the “fact that the Son of God assumed a human nature in order to accomplish our salvation in it” is my point. Yes, there are other reasons; but the fact that the Church uses Salvation in its definition of the Incarnation is poignant, as if this is the overarching reason for Christ’s assuming of humanity. It makes me think that whoever wrote the definition would not agree with you, or else they would have used different wording. Maybe I’m assuming too much here… Either way, that doesn’t mean I’m correct, though.

    What say you to my argument about the Pre-Fall connection we had with God (pre-Fall assumes Pre-Incarnation)?

    What are your reasons, by the way, for believing what you do?

    My final thought is thus: I don’t know if we can deal with hypotheticals in matters such as this. I don’t know whether we can say that initially Christ planned on coming down in human form, and then because we sinned He needed to add onto to his plan for the Incarnation – tacking “Salvation” on His to-do list. Hypotheticals such as this derive from our temporality, our dasein, our being-in-time. That doesn’t mean I’m right or you’re right; it just means that this isn’t an argument that we can solve – or, perhaps closer to what I mean: maybe it’s an argument that has no meaning.

  4. Just to add to the final paragraph in my previous comment: perhaps this is why the Church does not have one blanket thought on this topic. Perhaps either its insolvability or its ultimate meaninglessness as a question (not that the Incarnation or Salvation is meaningless, but instead asking specific questions about either of them hypothetically may be) is the reason the CCC does not have a definite answer.

  5. PS I jest about the heresy. Of course, heresy is no jesting matter, and perhaps that is my mistake. In all seriousness, I would agree that this argument is NOT a matter of accepting or rejecting essential truths. However, the Incarnation and Salvation are essential truths…but that doesn’t entail that everything related to them is essential.