Interpreting Religious Statistics

Check out this post by James Chastek on interpreting religious statistics. He makes three points: (1) An evaluation of religious statistics that looks only to the last 50 years is short-sighted in comparison with the long-term nature of movements in religious convictions; (2) people leaving the Church is an ambiguous statistic; it could be a sign of a spiritual good, namely a greater appreciation that belonging to the Church and church attendence should be connected with the truth–having previously accepted the Church not as true, but simply as a part of culture; (3) the statistics often rely on non-objective methods to determine the numbers of members of the Church; e.g., simply asking them whether they are "Catholic".

I have often made the second point in response to what I sometimes see as an exaggerated concern with statistics of church membership, expressed on the occasion of hearing the numbers of persons leaving the Church. While it is better to be a Catholic and live as one than not, it is also better to be honestly not a Catholic than to be dishonestly a Catholic.

One must admit, however, that while cultural christianity never saved anyone, it can be an occasion for a real encounter with Christ, who is the Savior of all men.

Who is the New Eve?

To whom does the title New Eve refer? To Mary, or to the Church? And is one of these usages in a meaningful way older than the other?

I'm not aware of any study that seeks whether one of these analogies historically depends more on or derives from the other than conversely (e.g., whether the title of Church as New Eve derives to a significant extent from the understanding of Mary as New Eve, or whether conversely, the title of Mary as New Eve derives to a significant extent from the understanding of the Church as New Eve)–though see the citation from the New Catholic Encyclopedia below. In any case, both of these analogies (Mary as New Eve and the Church as New Eve) seem to be proximately and firmly rooted in the Scriptures, and are theologically almost inseparable. That Mary, Mother and Type of the Church, has the role of the New Eve, is intimately bound up with the nature of the Church as the New Eve.

Both analogies are clearly found in the Fathers:

Mary as New Eve

Just as Eve … being disobedient, became a cause of death for herself and the whole human race: so Mary … being obedient, became a cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race (St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III, xxii, 4).

Christ became man by the Virgin that the disobedience which issued from the serpent might be destroyed in the same way it originated. Eve was still an undefiled virgin when she conceived the word of the serpent and brought forth disobedience and death. But the Virgin received faith and joy, at the announcement of the angel Gabriel…and she replied, "Be it done to me according you your word". So through the mediation of the Virgin he came into the world, through whom God would crush the serpent (St. Justin Martyr, Apologia, ch. 100).

Church as New Eve

As Adam was a figure of Christ, Adam’s sleep shadowed out the death of Christ… that from the wound inflicted on His side might, in like manner (as Eve was formed), be typified the church, the true mother of the living. (Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul, ch. 43).

The apostle directly referred to Christ the words which had been spoken of Adam. For thus will it be most certainly agreed that the Church is formed out of His bones and flesh; and it was for this cause that the Word, leaving His Father in heaven, came down to be “joined to His wife;” and slept in the trance of His passion, and willingly suffered death for her, that He might present the Church to Himself glorious and blameless, having cleansed her by the laver, for the receiving of the spiritual and blessed seed, which is sown by Him who with whispers implants it in the depths of the mind; and is conceived and formed by the Church, as by a woman. so as to give birth and nourishment to virtue….

[When Paul] was grown to a man, and was built up, then being molded to spiritual perfection, he was made the help-meet and bride of the Word; and receiving and conceiving the seeds of life, he who was before a child, becomes a church and a mother, himself laboring in birth of those who, through him, believed in the Lord, until Christ was formed and born in them also. For he says, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you; “ and again, “In Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel.”

It is evident, then, that the statement respecting Eve and Adam is to be referred to the Church and Christ. (St. Methodius, The Banquet of the Ten Virgins, Discourse 3, Ch. 8-9.)

Adam sleeps that Eve may be formed; Christ dies that the Church may be
formed. Eve is formed from the side of the sleeping Adam; the side of the dead
Christ is pierced by the lance, so that the Sacraments may flow out, of which the
Church is formed. Is there anyone to whom it is not obvious that future events
are represented by the things done then, since the Apostle says that Adam himself
was the figure of Him that was to come? (St. Augustine, In Ioannis evangelium tractatus 9, 10; translated by W. A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. 3 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1979), 117.


From the article on Mariology in the New Catholic Encyclopedia:

Mary’s spiritual motherhood of the members of the Mystical Body appears clearly only in the 12th century, e.g., in Hermann of Tournai. A factor here is the mutual enrichment of Mariology and the theology about the Church. The maternal meaning that has always been part of the concept of the Church as new Eve is applied now also to Our Lady as new Eve. ‘‘Like the Church of which she is the figure, Mary is mother of all those who are born again to life’’ (Guerric of Igny, d. 1155; Patrologia Latina, 185:188).

… The National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) in the pastoral on the Blessed Virgin Mary points out: ‘‘Even more anciently, the Church was regarded as the ‘New Eve.’ The Church is the bride of Christ, formed from his side in the sleep of death on the cross, as the first Eve was formed by God from the side of the sleeping Adam’’ (NCCB 41).  ("Mariology", edited by E. R. Carroll and F. M. Jelly, New Catholic Encyclopedia).

Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus

Pope Boniface VIII proclaimed in the Bull Unam Sanctam in 1302 that "Urged by faith, we are obliged to believe and to maintain that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and also apostolic. We believe in her firmly and we confess with simplicity that outside of her there is neither salvation nor the remission of sins… Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary to salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff."

One hundred and forty years later, 1442, the Council of Florence proclaimed in its Bull of Union with the Copts that the Church "firmly believes, professes and preaches that all those who are outside the catholic church, not only pagans but also Jews or heretics and schismatics, cannot share in eternal life and will go into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless they are joined to the catholic church before the end of their lives."

Some recent free-thinking theologians have understood these decrees to mean that, as a matter of fact, no one is ultimately saved who is not a member of the Catholic Church at the time of his death. When one examines these decrees in their historic context, this interpretation is highly questionable. The Bull Unam Sanctam affirms that there is no "remission of sins" outside the Church, that is to say, it is not talking only about ultimate salvation, but about sanctifying grace. Examining the decrees prior to the Council of Florence, as well as noting that the Council of Florence's decree draws heavily upon Fulgentius (who held the necessity of being in the Church for grace as well as for salvation), it is probable that the Council of Florence intended to affirm the same: not only the necessity of being in the Church for ultimate salvation, but also for grace. Now, the common teaching at that time was that sanctifying grace can, as a matter of fact, be possessed by those who are, in fact, outside the Church, as in the case of persons baptized in a heretical or schismatic sect, or have not yet come to recognize the error of their sect, and are thus not culpable for their separation from the Church. Consequently, to do justice to these decrees, they have to be understood to mean that God presents man with no other alternative for grace and salvation than incorporation into Christ, in his Church, and yet, in his will for the salvation of all, he in fact saves men who are in invincible ignorance of the necessity of belonging to the Catholic Church for salvation.

To attain, by historical investigation, complete historical certainty regarding the meaning of the decrees may require more inquiry than has been done until now on this matter. However, even granting that the historical data leaves the matter ambiguous, granting that either the superficial interpretation or the context-based interpretation is a possible one, for the Catholic there is another, very important hermeneutic principle: "This dogma [outside the Church there is no salvation] must be understood in that sense in which the Church herself understands it. For, it was not to private judgments that our Savior gave for explanation those things that are contained in the deposit of faith, but to the teaching authority of the Church" (Letter of the Holy Office to the Archbishop of Boston, August 8, 1949).

How does the Church understand this dogma? Pius IX makes three statements that imply interpretations of it or of its consequences:

It must, of course, be held as a matter of faith that outside the apostolic Roman Church no one can be saved, that the Church is the only ark of salvation, and that whoever does not enter it will perish in the flood. On the other hand, it must likewise be held certain that those who are affected by ignorance of the true religion, if it is invincible ignorance, are not subject to any guilt in this matter before the eyes of the Lord. (Allocution Singulari quadam, December 9, 1854)

There is only one true, holy, Catholic church, which is the Apostolic Roman Church. There is only one See founded in Peter by the word of the Lord, outside of which we cannot find either true faith or eternal salvation…. The Church clearly declares that the only hope of salvation for mankind is placed in the Christian faith, which teaches the truth, scatters the darkness of ignorance by the splendor of its light, and works through love. This hope of salvation is placed in the Catholic Church which, in preserving the true worship, is the solid home of this faith and the temple of God. Outside of the Church, nobody can hope for life or salvation unless he is excused through invincible ignorance. (Encyclical Singulari quidem, March 17, 1856)

7. And here, beloved Sons and Venerable Brothers, We should mention again and censure a very grave error in which some Catholics are unhappily engaged, who believe that men living in error, and separated from the true faith and from Catholic unity, can attain eternal life. It is known to Us and to you that they who labor in invincible ignorance of our most holy religion and who, zealously keeping the natural law and its precepts engraved in the hearts of all by God, and being ready to obey God, live an honest and upright life, can, by the operating power of divine light and grace, attain eternal life, since God Who clearly beholds, searches, and knows the minds, souls, thoughts, and habits of all men, because of His great goodness and mercy, will by no means allow anyone to be punished with eternal torment who has not the guilt of deliberate sin.
8. But, the Catholic dogma that no one can be saved outside the Catholic Church is well-known; and also that those who are obstinate toward the authority and definitions of the same Church, and who stubbornly separate themselves from the unity of the Church, and from the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter, to whom "the guardianship of the vine has been entrusted by the Savior," cannot obtain eternal salvation. (Encyclical Quanto conficiamur moerore, August 10, 1863)

In the first text the Pope affirms that those who are in invincible ignorance of the fact that the Catholic Church is the Sacrament of Salvation established by God, are not subject to guilt on account of their not entering or not being in the Church. This does not directly imply that these persons can be saved. However, inasmuch as he is clearly making reference to the dogma "Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus", it gives a certain indication of how the dogma is to be understood, suggesting that in some sense it doesn't apply to those in invincible ignorance (a complete argument for this implication would, again, involve examining the historical meaning and application of the dogma.)

In the second text the pope, again in the context of the dogma Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus, qualifies the impossibility for life (sanctifying grace) or salvation outside the Church to apply to those who are not in invincible ignorance of the necessity of the Church.

In the third text the pope affirms positively that persons in invincible ignorance of the necessity of the Catholic Church for salvation "can be saved", and in recalling the dogma Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus, applies it to those who obstinately and stubbornly are separate from the Church.

Pope Pius XII in Mystici Corporis implies a slightly different, though related, interpretation of the dogma: the Church is necessary for salvation, not in such a way that everyone as a matter of fact must belong to the Church to be saved, but in such a way that also those can be saved who belong to the Church only by an implicit desire, inasmuch as they wish to be conformed to the will of God, though without knowing that God's will is for all to enter into the unity of the Catholic Church.

The Holy Office in its Letter to the Archbishop of Boston interprets the dogma in two senses: first as the implication of the command of Christ to be incorporated into the Church by baptism and to adhere to Christ and to his Vicar, so that "no one will be saved who, knowing the Church to have been divinely instituted by Christ, refuses to submit to the Church or withholds obedience to the Roman Pontiff"; secondly, as referring to the fact that the Church is a necessary means of salvation, where the qualification is made that "God, in his infinite mercy, willed that the effects, necessary for one to be saved, of those helps to salvation which are directed toward man’s final end, not by intrinsic necessity, but only by divine institution, can also be obtained in certain circumstances when those helps are used only in desire and longing;" the Council of Trent made this qualification with regard to baptism and penance, and the Holy Office declares that the same thing must be understood of the Church as well: "that one may obtain eternal salvation, it is not always required that he be incorporated into the Church actually as a member, but it is necessary that at least he be united to her by desire and longing." It cites Pius XII and Pius IX as magisterial confirmation of this view.

Vatican II in Lumen Gentium also takes up these two sense of the dogma:

14… Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.

15. The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter…. Likewise we can say that in some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power.

16. Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God….Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. [Vatican II here footnotes the letter of the Holy Office.]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church formally takes up the question of how the doctrine Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus is to be understood: "How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers?" (CCC 846) It first states the positive meaning: "Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body." It cites Lumen Gentium 14 as an explication of this principle and the consequence of it, then rejects an interpretation of this affirmation as referring to those in invincible ignorance: "This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church," (CCC 847) and cites Lumen Gentium 16 in explication of how these persons can obtain salvation.

The same doctrine is taught by the Catechism in its section on baptism. An important principle is there articulated, "God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments" (CCC 1257), which is also relevant to the necessity of explicit faith in Christ and membership in the Church:

1260 "Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery" (GS 22 § 5). Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.

The CDF's declaration Dominus Iesus, 2000, also referring to the Letter of the Holy Office to the Archbishop of Boston, explicitly declares that the formula "extra Ecclesiam nullus omnino salvatur" is to be interpreted in the sense that, for those who are not formally and visibly members of the Church, salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace that comes from Christ, and that has a mysterious relationship to the Church. (Dominus Iesus, n. 20, footnote 82).

The CDF's Doctrinal Note on some Aspects of Evangelization, 2007, implies the same interpretation:

Although non-Christians can be saved through the grace which God bestows in "ways known to him" (Second Vatican Council, Decree Ad gentes, 7; cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 16; Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, 22), the Church cannot fail to recognize that such persons are lacking a tremendous benefit in this world: to know the true face of God and the friendship of Jesus Christ, God-with-us…. The Kingdom of God is not – as some maintain today – a generic reality above all religious experiences and traditions, to which they tend as a universal and indistinct communion of all those who seek God, but it is, before all else, a person with a name and a face: Jesus of Nazareth, the image of the unseen God.[28] Therefore, every free movement of the human heart towards God and towards his kingdom cannot but by its very nature lead to Christ and be oriented towards entrance into his Church, the efficacious sign of that Kingdom.

The CDF affirms that non-Christians can be saved without (explicitly) "knowing the true face of God and the friendship of Jesus Christ", yet that the grace that is at work in them by its nature leads to Christ and is oriented towards entrance into his Church.

Augustine and Ratzinger on Faith and Salvation

Augustine, arguing against the view that when Christ descended to Hell, he brought salvation (or preached for the first time) to those who died without having the opportunity to know Him, appears to argue that this view, or in general the view that those who die without faith in Christ may be united to him in death, would make faith in Christ useless or worse than useless:

Those who hold this opinion do not consider that the same excuse is available for all those who have, even after Christ’s resurrection, departed this life before the gospel came to them…. But if we accept this opinion, according to which we are warranted in supposing that men who did not believe while they were in life can in hell believe in Christ… [if] it be alleged that in hell those only believe to no purpose and in vain who refused to accept here on earth the gospel preached to them, but that believing will profit those who never despised a gospel which they never had it in their power to hear another still more absurd consequence is involved, namely, that forasmuch as all men shall certainly die, and ought to come to hell wholly free from the guilt of having despised the gospel; since otherwise it can be of no use to them to believe it when they come there, the gospel ought not to be preached on earth, a sentiment not less foolish than profane. (Augustine, Epistle 194, Ch. 4)

Again, arguing for the impossibility of salvation without faith and baptism, he says:

God is not so unjust as to defraud righteous persons of the reward of righteousness, [Augustine may be here speaking in the person of his opponent] because there has not been announced to them the mystery of Christ’s divinity and humanity, which was manifested in the flesh…. before the actual preaching of the gospel reaches the ends of all the earth… what must human nature do, or what has it done — for it had either not heard that all this was to take place, or has not yet learned that it was accomplished — but believe in God who made heaven and earth, by whom also it perceived by nature that it had been itself created, and lead a right life, and thus accomplish His will, uninstructed with any faith in the death and resurrection of Christ? Well, if this could have been done, or can still be done, then for my part I have to say what the apostle said in regard to the law: "Then Christ died in vain." … If, however, Christ did not die in vain, then human nature cannot by any means be justified and redeemed from God’s most righteous wrath — in a word, from punishment — except by faith and the sacrament of the blood of Christ. (Augustine, The Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and On the Baptism of Infants, book 3, ch. 2)

I would like to set these texts in comparison with two statements by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger:

What troubles us is no longer whether and how 'others' will be saved. Through our belief in divine mercy, we now know for certain that they can be saved; but how this can happen is something we trustfully leave to God…. To be a Christian does not mean… to find salvation placed more easily within one's grasp. But it does mean an invitation to greater generosity of heart, to volunteer the service which Jesus Christ gives to all men of all times. We could even say that to be a Christian means above all 'to be for others'… To secure the salvation of all men, the Church has no need to be exteriorly identified with all men. (Ratzinger, "The Church's Mission in the World," in Rethinking the Church, pp. 48, 52, 53, translated from La Fine della Chiesa come Società perfetta, 1968)

We cannot start to set limits on God’s behalf; the very heart of the faith has been lost to anyone who supposes that it is only worthwhile, if it is, so to say, made worthwhile by the damnation of others. Such a way of thinking, which finds the punishment of other people necessary, springs from not having inwardly accepted the faith; from loving only oneself and not God the Creator, to whom his creatures belong. That way of thinking would be like the attitude of those people who could not bear the workers who came last being paid a denarius like the rest; like the attitude of people who feel properly rewarded only if others have received less. This would be the attitude of the son who stayed at home, who could not bear the reconciling kindness of his father. It would be a hardening of our hearts, in which it would become clear that we were only looking out for ourselves and not looking for God; in which it would be clear that we did not love our faith, but merely bore it like a burden. . . . It is a basic element of the biblical message that the Lord died for all—being jealous of salvation is not Christian (Ratzinger, God Is Near Us:The Eucharist, the Heart of Life, trans. Henry Taylor [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003], 35–36).

Cardinal Ratzinger surely does not intend to affirm that St. Augustine lost "the very heart of the faith", but may intend to make a criticism of certain elements in St. Augustine, and likely intends to reject a certain way of interpreting or using Augustine and his teachings on grace.

Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue Speaks on Koran Burning

The Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue released a statement a few hours ago on the "Koran Burning Day" planned by the pastor of a small christian community for the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, which has been being talked about on the Internet for some time now. The members of the Council may have originally felt the best thing was to avoid publicizing the event any further, even by way of criticism, and decided to do so as it came to be more widely talked about anyway.

The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue received with great concern the news of the proposed "Koran Burning Day" on the occasion of the Anniversary of the September 11th tragic terrorist attacks in 2001 which resulted in the loss of many innocent lives and considerable material damage.

These deplorable acts of violence, in fact, cannot be counteracted by an outrageous and grave gesture against a book considered sacred by a religious community. Each religion, with its respective sacred books, places of worship and symbols, has the right to respect and protection. We are speaking about the respect to be accorded the dignity of the person who is an adherent of that religion and his/her free choice in religious matters.

The reflection which necessarily should be fostered on the occasion of the remembrance of 11 September would be, first of all, to offer our deep sentiments of solidarity with those who were struck by these horrendous terrorist attacks. To this feeling of solidarity we join our prayers for them and their loved ones who lost their lives.

Each religious leader and believer is also called to renew the firm condemnation of all forms of violence, in particular those committed in the name of religion. Pope John Paul II affirmed: 'Recourse to violence in the name of religious belief is a perversion of the very teachings of the major religions' (address to the new ambassador of Pakistan, 16 December 1999). His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI similarly expressed, 'violence as a response to offences can never be justified, for this type of response is incompatible with the sacred principles of religion' (address of His Holiness Benedict XVI, to the new ambassador of Morocco, 6 February 2006)

The statement, perhaps deliberately, states the principles pertinent to respect for religion somewhat vaguely. Does the last sentence of the first paragraph provide backup for the first claim, saying in effect simply that "each religion… has the right to respect and protection" because the dignity of the person who adheres to that religion requires it? Or is it qualifying or restricting the first claim, saying that each religion has the right to respect and protection to the extent that this follows from respect for the dignity of the person (but that a religion need not be protected to the extent that it promotes murder, injustice, etc.)?

In the end there isn't all that much difference between what's affirmed according to each of these interpretations. If respect for human persons is the reason for respect for a religion (supposing that one either considers the religion incorrect or holds a neutral judgment about it), then it must also be a measure of respect for that religion.

Instead of making such distinctions at the abstract level, the statement addresses the concrete issue of violence committed in the name of religion, condemning it. In a similar vein, the Holy See is apparently also seeking to prevent the stoning of an Iranian widow convicted of adultery.

Change to WordPress Completed

I have changed the backend of this blog to WordPress. The occasion for this change was the announcement that Blogger will soon no longer be supporting blogs hosted via FTP, as this blog was. In any case, I think WordPress is all round a better system, so I use this opportunity to switch over. The blog will continue to be accessible at the same internet address:

For those subscribed with a feedreader (Google reader, Thunderbird, Firefox, etc.), you should continue to receive posts without making any change, as I will insert a directive to the server to forward the feed to the new location. If, however, you don't get a post announcing the completed change within a day of this post, you may want to change your feed location manually, to:

Question for readers

I know there are quite a few readers who use various newsreaders (Google reader, Thunderbird, Opera, etc), to read this blog. I myself use Thunderbird to read the feeds of the blogs I follow. For us who have a feed reader, regular days of posting don't matter so much.

But are there many other readers of this blog who use a regular web browser, who need to come to the website to see if there is a new post, and for whom it would be helpful if at least one post were on a regular day of the week? (I couldn't necessarily write on that day, but I could try using the post scheduling feature, assuming it works.) Feel feel to write a note here if you would like to see that kind of regularity.

Creation of the World – Hugh Owen's Response

Hugh Owen again took the time to make a (from my point of view very long) reply to my response to him. I wasn't able to post it with the formatting in Blogger, and it would be too confusing to take away the formatting, so I've put it on a separate page.

Scripture and the Fathers on Creation – Hugh Owen's Response

I don't know when I will have time to respond to it, but feel free to comment here if you like.

Christmas Sermon 25 of Leo the Great

Leo the Great

Sermon 25

The Nativity of the Lord

Translated by Joseph Bolin


My beloved people, although the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which he clothed himself with the flesh of our nature, is ineffable, I make bold to speak, not trusting in my skill, but relying on his inspiration, so that in this way, on the day which was chosen for the mystery [sacrament] of the restoration of man, we may offer something that can edify those who hear it. For the fact that the greater part of the Church of God already understands what it believes, does not make it unnecessary to repeat things that have already been said, for since we owe our office of speaking to many who are new in the faith, it is better to bore those who have been taught with things they already known, then to defraud those as yet unlearned. Therefore that the Son of God, who is not the same person as the Father and the Holy Spirit, but is one in essence with them, deigned to become a partaker of our lowliness, and willed to be one of us corruptible, of us mortal ones, is so sacred and wonderful, that the reason of the divine counsel cannot be seen by the wise of this world, unless the true light has scattered the darkness of human ignorance. For not only in the work of the virtues, or in the observance of the commandments, but also in the course of faith “hard and narrow is the way that leads to life” (Mat 7:14), and it needs great labor and great discernment, among the dubious opinions of the ignorant and the falsehoods that have the appearance of truth, to walk the one path of sound doctrine without stumbling, and though the snares of error are all around, to avoid all danger of deception. For who is suited for this, if he is not taught and led by the spirit of God? As the Apostle says, “We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God” (1 Cor 2:12), and David sings, “Blessed is the man whom thou dost educate, O Lord, and whom thou dost teach out of thy law” (Psalm 94:12).


Therefore, beloved, having the protection of truth among the dangers of error, and taught not with words of human wisdom, but by the teaching of the Holy Spirit, we believe what we have learned, and preach what we believe, that the Son of God, begotten before the ages by the Father, and eternal with the Father and coeternal in consubstantial equality, came into this world through the womb of the Virgin in this sacrament of chosen tenderness, in which and from which “Wisdom has built herself a home” (Prov 9:1), and the unchangeable Divinity of the Word fitted for itself the form of a slave, in the likeness of sinful flesh, being in no way before himself and the Father and Holy Spirit less in glory, since the nature of the supreme and eternal essence cannot be diminished or changed. But on account of our weakness he diminished himself, and veiled with his body the splendor of his majesty, which human sight could not bear. Hence also he is said to have emptied himself (Phil 2:7), as though pouring himself out by his own power, in that in this humility by which he looked out for us, he became not only lower than the Father, but than himself. Yet by this bending down nothing was taken away from that which he has in common with the Father and the Holy Spirit, i.e., being, understanding this to pertain to omnipotence, that he who according to our nature [secundum nostra] is less, is not less according to his own. For since light regards the blinded, strength the weak, mercy the miserable, it was a deed of great power, that the Son of God received human substance and position, in order to restore the nature which he created, and to do away with the death which he did not make.


Therefore having put away and entirely rejected all the opinions of the wicked, according to which Christ is either a scandal or folly, the faith of right minds exults, and understands the one true Son of God, not only according to the Deity by which he was begotten from the Father, but also according to the humanity by which he was born from the Virgin Mother. For he is both in our humility and in the divine majesty, true man and true God; eternal in his own nature, temporal in ours; one with the Father in substance, which was never less than the Father, one with his Father in the body which he created. Indeed by the taking on of our nature, the step was made for us, by which we can ascend to him through him. For that essence which is always and everywhere in its entirety, did not need to descend locally, and it was as proper to it to be joined in its entirety to man, as it is proper to him not to be divided from the Father. Therefore it remains, that “in the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1), and nothing accrues to him so that what he is, he sometime was not. For the Son is eternally Son, and the Father, eternally Father. Hence also the Son himself says, “He who sees me, sees the Father too” (John 14:9). Your impiety, heretic, has blinded, so that you who have not seen the Son’s majesty, do not see the Father’s glory; for by saying that he who was not was begotten, you assert that the Son is temporal, and asserting that the Son is temporal, you believe that the Father is changeable. For not only is that which decreases changeable, but also whatever increases; thus if, as it seems to you, the Begotten is unequal to the Father because, in generating him who was not, the essence also of the generator was also imperfect, in that by generating it progressed to having that which it did not have. But the catholic faith detests and condemns this impious perversity of yours; it admits nothing of temporality in true Deity, but confesses both the Father and the Son to be of one eternity, since the splendor born from a light is not posterior to the light, and the true light was never lacking its splendor, the substantial always having its shining, just as the substantial always has its existing. But the manifestation of this splendor is called mission, by which Christ appeared to the world. He who always filled all things with his invisible majesty, still, as though from a most remote and high secret place, came to those to whom he was unknown, when he took away the blindness of ignorance, and, as has been written, “To those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, a light has shone” (Isa 9:2).


For although the light of truth was also sent in previous ages to illuminate the holy fathers and prophets, as David saids, “Send forth your light and your truth” (Psa 43:3), and in different ways and by many signs the Deity of the Son declared the works of his presence, still all those significations, and all the miracles, were testimonies of that mission of which the Apostle says, “When the fullness of time came, God sent his son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Gal 4:4). What is this, but that the Word becomes flesh, the creator of the world is born from the womb of the Virgin, the Lord of majesty makes for himself a human beginning, and although no earthly seed was involved in that spiritual conception, takes a nature from his Mother to receive only the substance of true flesh? By this mission, bu which God was united to man, the Son is unequal to the Father, not in that which is from the Father, but in that which was made from man. For the humanity does not destroy the equality, which his Deity has inviolably, and the descent of the Creator to the creature, is the promotion of believers to eternal things. “For since,” as the Apostle says, “in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Cor 1:21). To the world therefore, i.e., to the wise of the world, its wisdom became blindness, nor could they recognize God, to the knowledge of whom one attains only in his wisdom. And therefore, since the world boasted of the vanity of its doctrines, the Lord established the faith of those to be saved in that which seemed unworthy and foolish, so that, all presumptuous opinions being of no avail, the grace of God alone should reveal what human intelligence could not comprehend.


Therefore the catholic faith acknowledges the Lord’s glory in his humility, and the Church, which is the body of Christ, rejoices in the sacraments of its salvation; for if the Word of God had not become flesh and dwelt among us, if the Creator had not descended to communion with the creature, and recalled the old man to a beginning in his birth, death would have reigned from Adam (Cf. Rom 5:14) until the end, and condemnation would have remained indestructibly on all man, when by the condition of birth, there is one cause of perishing for all. And so among the sons of men, the Lord Jesus alone was born innocent, since he alone was conceived without the pollution of carnal concupiscence. He became a man of our race, so that we might be able to be partakers of the divine nature. He took an origin in the womb of the Virgin, was placed in the baptismal font; he gave to the water, what he gave to his mother; for the power of the Most High and the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, which worked that Mary gave birth to the Savior, also worked that water regenerate the believer. For what was more suited to heal the sick, enlighten the blind, give life to the dead, than that the wounds of pride be cured by the remedies of humility? Adam, neglecting God’s precepts, brought in the condemnation of sin; Jesus, born under the law, restored the freedom of righteousness. The former, obeying the devil unto transgression, merited that in him all death; the latter, obeying the Father unto the cross, worked that in him all be made alive. The former, desiring angelic honor, ruined the dignity of his nature; the latter, receiving the condition of our weakness, on account of whom he descended to hell, by the same [act] placed [it] in heaven. Finally, to the former, fallen through extolling itself, it was said: “You are earth, and to earth you will return” (Gen 3:19); to the latter, exalted through subjection, it was said: “Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool” (Psalm 110:1).


These works of our Lord, beloved, are not only useful to us in the manner of a sacrament, but also by offering an example for imitation, if these remedies are transferred into a discipline, and what is done in the mysteries, is also of value for morals, so that we remind ourselves that we should live in the humility and meekness of the Redeemer; for as the Apostle says, “if we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him” (Rom 8:17). For in vain are we called Christians, if we are not imitators of Christ, who said that he is the way (Joh 14:6) so that the teacher’s way of living might be a model for the disciplines, and the servant might choose that humility embraced by the Lord, who lives and reigns forever and ever.