Saturday, March 25, 2017

St. John Damascene: The Annunciation and Incarnation

Concerning the manner in which the Word was conceived, and concerning His divine incarnation.

THE angel of the Lord was sent to the holy Virgin, who was descended from David's line. (Lk 1:27) For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah, of which tribe no one turned his attention to the altar (Heb 7:14), as the divine apostle said: but about this we will speak more accurately later. And bearing glad tidings to her, he said, Hail thou highly favoured one, the Lord is with you. (Lk 1:28) And she was troubled at his word, and the angel said to her, Fear not, Mary, for you have found favour with God, and shall bring forth a Son and shall call His name Jesus ; for He shall save His people from their sins. (Mt 1:21) Hence it comes that Jesus has the interpretation Saviour. And when she asked in her perplexity, How can this be, seeing I know not a man? (Lk 1:34) The angel again answered her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you. Therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God. (Lk 1:35) And she said to him, Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it unto me according to Your word.

So then, after the assent of the holy Virgin, the Holy Spirit descended on her, according to the word of the Lord which the angel spoke, purifying her, and granting her power to receive the divinity of the Word, and likewise power to bring forth. And then was she overshadowed by the enhypostatic Wisdom and Power of the most high God, the Son of God Who is of like essence with the Father as of Divine seed, and from her holy and most pure blood He formed flesh animated with the spirit of reason and thought, the first-fruits of our compound nature : not by procreation but by creation through the Holy Spirit: not developing the fashion of the body by gradual additions but perfecting it at once, He Himself, the very Word of God, standing to the flesh in the relation of subsistence. For the divine Word was not made one with flesh that had an independent pre-existence, but taking up His abode in the womb of the holy Virgin, He unreservedly in His own subsistence took upon Himself through the pure blood of the eternal Virgin a body of flesh animated with the spirit of reason and thought, thus assuming to Himself the first-fruits of man's compound nature, Himself, the Word, having become a subsistence in the flesh. So that He is at once flesh, and at the same time flesh of God the Word, and likewise flesh animated, possessing both reason and thought. Wherefore we speak not of man as having become God, but of God as having become Man. For being by nature perfect God, He naturally became likewise perfect Man: and did not change His nature nor make the dispensation an empty show, but became, without confusion or change or division, one in subsistence with the flesh, which was conceived of the holy Virgin, and animated with reason and thought, and had found existence in Him, while He did not change the nature of His divinity into the essence of flesh, nor the essence of flesh into the nature of His divinity, and did not make one compound nature out of His divine nature and the human nature He had assumed.

─St. John Damascene: Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book III, Chap. 2.

Annunciation, by Fra Angelico.
Tempera on wood, 1433-341; Museo Diocesano, Cortona.

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