Week 2 (of a few!) refuting arguments claiming Jesus was not the Word Incarnated.
1 There also have been others who denied the truth of the Incarnation and introduced a kind of fictional incarnation. The Manicheans said that God’s Son assumed not a real, but a fantasy, body; thus, He could not be a true man, but only an apparent one. Consequently, the things He did as man—such as being born, eating, drinking, walking, suffering, and being buried—were done not in truth but in a kind of false appearance. Thus, clearly, they reduce the whole mystery of the Incarnation to a fiction.
Notes The Jesus-as-android or robot error.
2 First, of course, this position wipes out the authority of Scripture. Since the likeness of flesh is not flesh, the likeness of walking not walking, and so of the rest, Scripture lies in saying: “The Word was made flesh” (John 1:14)—if it was but fantasy flesh. It also lies when it says that Jesus Christ walked, ate, died, and was buried——if these things took place only in an apparent fantasy. But, if even in a moderate way the authority of Scripture be decried, there will no longer be anything fixed in our faith which depends on sacred Scripture, as in John’s words (20:31): “These are written, that you may believe.”
3 Someone can say, of course, that the truth is certainly not lacking to sacred Scripture when it deals with an appearance as though it were a fact, because the likenesses of things are equivocally and figuratively called by the names of the things themselves; a man in a picture, for example, is called a man equivocally. Sacred Scripture itself is accustomed to this manner of speech; thus the Apostle: “And the rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4). Of course, many bodily things are found to be said of God in Scripture by reason of mere metaphor: so He is named lamb, or lion, or something of the sort.
4 However, although the likenesses of things may at times take the names of things by equivocation, it is nonetheless unsuitable to sacred Scripture to set down the whole story of one event under such an equivocation, and so to do it that from other Scriptural passages the plain truth cannot be had. For from this would follow not men’s instruction, but their deception instead, whereas the Apostle says: “For what things soever were written, were written for our learning” (Rom. 15:4); and in 2 Timothy (3:16): “All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach and to instruct.”
Moreover, the entire Gospel story would be but poetry and fable if it narrated the apparent similarities of things as the things themselves; whereas 2 Peter (1:16) says: “For we have not by following artificial fables made known to you the power of the Lord, Jesus Christ.”
5 But, when the Scriptural narrative is of things which had appearance, but not existence, the very manner of the narration makes us understand this. For Genesis (18:2, 27, 25) says: “And when he” (Abraham) “had lifted up his eyes, there appeared to him three men.” This gives us to understand that they were men by appearance.
And so in them he adored God and acknowledged Divinity, and he said: “I will speak to my Lord whereas I am but dust and ashes”; and again: “This is not beseeming You, You who judge all the earth.” However, the fact that Isaiah and Ezekiel and other Prophets have described some things which were seen in imagination produces no error, for they do not set these things down in the narration of history, but in the description of prophecy. And they nonetheless add something which designates apparition: thus, Isaiah (6:1): “I saw the Lord sitting,” and so forth; Ezekiel (1:3-4; 8:3): “The hand of the Lord was there upon him. And I saw,” and so forth: “The likeness of a hand was put forth and took me and brought me in the vision of God into Jerusalem.”
6 Even the fact that Scripture sometimes speaks of things divine through a comparison cannot produce error, and this both for this reason—the likenesses are taken from things so lowly it is manifest that the passage deals with similitude and not with the existence of things; and for this reason—some things are found said properly in Scripture through which the truth is expressly clarified, and this truth in other places is hidden under similitudes. This, indeed, does not take place in this case, for there is no Scriptural authority touching what is read of Christ’s humanity which precludes the truth of what is said.
7 Perhaps one may say that we are given so to understand by the words of the Apostle: “God sending His own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3). Or by this in Philippians (2:7): “Made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man.” But here the meaning is excluded by what is added, for it does not merely say “in the likeness of flesh,” but adds “sinful,” because Christ had, indeed, true flesh, but not “sinful flesh”, for there was no sin in Him.
But His was similar to “sinful flesh,” for His was the captive of suffering, and such did the flesh of man become through sin. In the same way, a fictional understanding is excluded from the saying, “Made in the likeness of men,” by the addition: “taking the form of a servant.” It is clear that “form” is put here in place of nature rather than of likeness because he had said: “Who being in the form of God” (Phil. 7:6). There, for nature, “form” is put, for the words do not assert that Christ was God by some mere similarity. Further exclusion of fictional understanding is in the addition: “Becoming obedient even unto death” (Phil. 2:8). Likeness is not, therefore, taken for the likeness of an appearance, but for natural likeness of the species; as all men are said to he alike in species.
8 But sacred Scripture more expressly excludes the suspicion of apparition. For we read in Matthew (14:26-27) that the disciples, seeing Jesus “walking upon the sea, were troubled, saying: It is an apparition. And they cried out for fear.” This very suspicion of theirs our Lord consequently took away; and so the addition: “And immediately Jesus spoke to them saying: Be of good heart; it is I, fear not.” However one takes it, this appears irrational: that it should escape the disciples’ notice that He had assumed but a fantasy body, since He had chosen them to give testimony of the truth about Him from what they “had seen and heard” (Acts 4:20); or, if it did not escape their notice, then the thought of an apparition should not have stricken them with fear.
9 But again, more expressly, the suspicion of a fantasy body was removed from the minds of the disciples by our Lord after the resurrection. For we read in Luke (24:37-39) that the disciples, “being troubled and frightened, supposed that they saw a spirit,” namely, when they saw Jesus. “And He said to them: Why are you troubled and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? See My hands and feet, that it is I Myself. Handle and see: for a spirit has not flesh and bones, as you see Me to have.” For in vain did He offer Himself to be touched, if he had had none but a fantasy body
10 Again, the Apostles show themselves suitable witnesses of Christ, for Peter says: “Him,” namely, Jesus, “God raised up the third day, and gave Him to be made manifest. Not to all the people, but to witnesses preordained by God, even to us, who did eat and drink with Him after He arose again from the dead” (Acts 10:40-41). And John the Apostle, at the beginning of his Epistle, says: “That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the word of life: we witness” (1 John 1:1-2).
But there can be no efficacy in witness to the truth based on things done, not in real existence, but in appearance only. If, therefore, the body of Christ was a fantasy and He did not truly eat and drink, and if He was not truly seen and handled, but in fantasy only, no fitness is found in the testimony of the Apostles about Christ. And thus, “vain is their preaching, and our faith is vain,” as Paul says (1 Cor. 15:14).
11 But, again, if Christ had no true body, He did not truly die. Therefore, neither is He truly risen. Therefore, the Apostles are false witnesses of Christ when they preach to the world that He has risen. Hence, the Apostle says in the same place: “We are found false witnesses of God: because we have given testimony against God, that He has raised up Christ; whom He has not raised up” (1 Cor. 15:15).
12 What is more, falsity is not a suitable way to the truth. As Sirach (34:4) has it: “What truth can come from that which is false?” But Christ’s coming into the world was for the manifestation of truth. He Himself says: ‘Tor this was I born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the truth” (John 18:37). There was not then, any falsity in Christ. But there would have been if what He says of Himself had been about mere appearance, for the “false is that which is not as it seems.” Therefore, everything said of Christ was in accord with real existence.
13 Moreover, we read in Romans (5:9) that “we are justified by His blood” and in the Apocalypse (5:9): “You have redeemed us, O Lord, in your blood.” Therefore, if Christ did not have true blood, He did not truly shed it for us. Therefore, we are neither truly justified nor truly redeemed. Therefore, there is no usefulness to being in Christ.
14 Again, if there is nothing but apparition to be understood of Christ’s coming into the world, nothing new took place in Christ’s coming. For, in the Old Testament, God appeared to Moses and the Prophets under multiple figures, as even the writings of the New Testament witness. Yet this position wipes out the whole teaching of the New Testament. Therefore, it was not a fantasy body, but a true one, which the Son of God assumed.