CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
456 - 483
I. Why did the Word become Flesh?
456 With the Nicene Creed, we answer by confessing: "For us men and for our
salvation He came down from Heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit, He became Incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man".
457 The Word became Flesh for us
in order to save us by reconciling us with God, Who
"loved us and sent His Son to be the expiation for our sins":
"the Father has sent His Son as the Savior of the world",
and "He was revealed to take away sins":
- Sick, our nature demanded to be healed; fallen, to be raised up; dead, to rise again. We had lost the
possession of the good; it was necessary for it to be given back to us. Closed in the darkness, it was necessary to bring us the
Light; captives, we awaited a Savior; prisoners, help; slaves, a Liberator. Are these things minor or insignificant? Did they not move
God to descend to human nature and visit it, since humanity was in so miserable and unhappy a state?
458 The Word became Flesh so
that thus we might know God's Love: "In this the Love of God was made
manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the World, so that we might Live through Him".
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not
perish but have Eternal Life".
459 The Word became Flesh
to be our Model of Holiness: "Take My yoke upon you, and learn from
Me". "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father, but by
Me". On the mountain of the Transfiguration, the
Father Commands: "Listen to Him"!
Jesus is the Model for the Beatitudes and the Norm of the
New Law: "Love one another as I have loved you". This
Love implies an effective offering of oneself, after His example.
460 The Word became Flesh to make
us "partakers of the divine nature": "For this is why the
Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving
Divine Sonship, might become a son of God". "For the Son of God became man so that we
might become God". "The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in His
divinity, assumed our nature, so that He, made man, might make men gods".
II. The Incarnation
461 Taking up Saint 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. In a hymn cited by Saint Paul,
the Church sings the Mystery of the
- Have this mind among yourselves, which is
yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though He
was in the form of God, did not count equality with God, a thing to be grasped, but
emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the
likeness of men. And being found in human form He humbled
himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
462 The Letter to the Hebrews refers to the same Mystery:
- Consequently, when Christ came into the world,
He said, "Sacrifices and offerings You have not desired, but a body have You prepared
for Me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings You have taken no pleasure. Then I said, Lo, I have come to do Your will,
463 Belief in the True Incarnation of the Son of
God is the distinctive sign of Christian Faith: "
By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God".
Such is the Joyous Conviction of the Church
from Her beginning whenever She sings
"the mystery of our religion": "He was manifested in the
III. True God and True Man
464 The unique and altogether singular event of the Incarnation of the
Son of God does not mean that Jesus Christ
is Part God and Part Man, nor does
It imply that He is the result of a
confused-mixture of the Divine and the Human.
He became Truly
Man while remaining Truly God.
Jesus Christ is True
God and True Man.
During the First Centuries, the Church
had to defend and clarify this Truth of Faith against the
Heresies that Falsified It.
465 The First Heresies denied not
so much Christ's Divinity as His
True Humanity (Gnostic Docetism).
From Apostolic Times the Christian Faith has insisted on the
True Incarnation of God's Son "come in
the flesh". But already in the Third Century, the
Church in a Council at Antioch had to affirm against Paul of Samosata
that Jesus Christ is Son of God by
Nature and not by Adoption. The First Ecumenical
Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. confessed in its Creed
that the Son of God is "begotten, not made, of the same
substance (homoousios) as the Father", and
Condemned Arius, who had affirmed that the Son
of God "came to be from things that were not" and that
He was "from another substance" than
that of the Father.
466 The Nestorian Heresy regarded Christ
as a Human Person joined to the Divine Person
of God's Son. Opposing this Heresy,
Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Third Ecumenical Council, at
Ephesus in 431 A.D., confessed "that the Word,
uniting to Himself in His Person the Flesh animated by a Rational Soul, became Man".
Christ's Humanity has no other Subject than the
Divine Person of the Son of God,
Who Assumed It and made It
His Own, from
His Conception. For this reason the Council of Ephesus proclaimed in
431 A.D. that Mary truly became the
Mother of God by the Human
Conception of the Son of God in her
womb: "Mother of God, not that the nature of the Word or His divinity received the
beginning of its existence from the Holy Virgin, but that, since the Holy Body, animated by a Rational Soul, which the Word of God
united to Himself according to the Hypostasis, was born from her, the Word is said to be born according to the flesh".
467 The Monophysites affirmed that the Human
Nature had ceased to exist as such in Christ when the
Divine Person of God's Son assumed
It. Faced with this Heresy, the Fourth Ecumenical Council, at Chalcedon in 451 A.D., confessed:
- Following the Holy Fathers, we unanimously teach and confess one and the same Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ:
the same perfect in Divinity and perfect in Humanity, the same truly God and truly Man, composed of Rational Soul and Body; Consubstantial
with the Father as to His Divinity and Consubstantial with us as to His Humanity; "like us in all things but sin". He was
begotten from the Father before all ages as to His Divinity and in these last days, for us and for our Salvation, was born as to His
Humanity of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.
We confess that One and the Same Christ, Lord, and only-begotten Son, is to be acknowledged in Two (2)
Natures without confusion, change, division or separation. The distinction between the Natures was never abolished by their union, but
rather the character proper to each of the Two (2) Natures was preserved as they came together in One (1) Person (prosopon) and
One (1) Hypostasis.
468 After the Council of Chalcedon, some made of Christ's
Human Nature a kind of Personal Subject. Against them, the
Fifth Ecumenical Council, at Constantinople in 553 A.D., confessed that
"there is but One hypostasis [or person], which is our Lord Jesus Christ, One of the Trinity".
Thus everything in Christ's Human Nature is
to be attributed to His Divine Person as Its
Proper Subject, not only His Miracles but also
His Sufferings and even
His Death: "He Who was Crucified in
the Flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ, is True God, Lord of Glory, and One of the Holy Trinity".
469 The Church thus confesses that Jesus
is inseparably True God and True
Man. He is
Truly the Son of God Who, without ceasing to be
God and Lord, became a Man
and our Brother:
- "What He was, He remained and what He was not, He assumed", sings the Roman
Liturgy. And the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom proclaims and sings: "O only-begotten
Son and Word of God, immortal being, You Who deigned for our Salvation to become Incarnate of the Holy Mother of God and ever-virgin
Mary, You Who without change became man and were crucified, O Christ our God, You Who by Your death have crushed death, You Who are One of the
Holy Trinity, glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit, save us"!
IV. How is the Son of God Man?
470 Because "human nature was assumed, not absorbed", in the
Mysterious Union of the Incarnation, the
Church was led over the Course of Centuries to confess the full
reality of Christ's Human Soul, with Its
Operations of Intellect and Will, and of
His Human Body. In parallel fashion,
She had to recall on each occasion that Christ's
Human Nature belongs, as His
Own, to the Divine Person of the Son of
God, Who assumed It. Everything
that Christ is and does in this Nature
derives from "One of the Trinity". The Son of God
therefore communicates to His Humanity
His Own Personal Mode of Existence in the
Trinity. In His Soul as in
His Body, Christ thus
expresses Humanly the Divine Ways of the
- The Son of God. . . worked with Human Hands; He thought with a Human Mind. He acted with a
Human Will, and with a Human Heart He Loved. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like to us in all things
Christ's Soul and His Human Knowledge
471 Apollinarius of Laodicaea asserted that in
Christ the Divine Word had replaced the
Soul or Spirit. Against this Error
the Church confessed that the Eternal Son also
Assumed a Rational, Human
472 This Human Soul that the
Son of God Assumed is endowed with a True Human
Knowledge. As such, this Knowledge could
not in Itself be Unlimited:
It was exercised in the historical conditions of His
existence in Space and Time. This is why the Son of God could, when
He became Man, "increase in Wisdom and
in stature, and in favor with God and man", and would even have to inquire for
Himself about what one in the Human Condition can learn only from experience.
This corresponded to the reality of His voluntary emptying of
Himself, taking "the form of a slave".
473 But at the same time, this Truly Human
Knowledge of God's Son expressed the
Divine Life of His Person. "The Human Nature
of God's Son, not by itself but by its Union with the Word, knew and showed forth in itself everything that pertains to God".
Such is first-of-all the case with the intimate and immediate Knowledge that the
Son of God made Man has of
His Father. The Son in His
Human Knowledge also showed the
Divine penetration He had into the Secret
Thoughts of Human Hearts.
474 By its Union to the Divine Wisdom in the
Person of the Word Incarnate,
Christ enjoyed in His
Human Knowledge the Fullness of Understanding of
the Eternal Plans He had come to reveal. What
He admitted to not knowing in this area, He
elsewhere declared Himself not sent to reveal.
Christ's Human Will
475 Similarly, at the Sixth Ecumenical Council, Constantinople III in
681 A.D., the Church confessed that
Christ possesses Two (2)
Wills and Two (2) Natural Operations,
Divine and Human. They are
not Opposed to each other, but Cooperate in such a way that the Word
made Flesh Willed
Humanly in Obedience to His Father
all that He had decided Divinely with the
Father and the Holy Spirit for our
Human Will "does not resist or oppose
but rather submits to His Divine and Almighty Will".
Christ's True Body
476 Since the Word became Flesh in
assuming a True Humanity,
Christ's Body was Finite. Therefore the Human
Face of Jesus can be Portrayed; at the
Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicaea II in
787 A.D.) the Church recognized Its
Representation in Holy Images to be Legitimate.
477 At the same time the Church has always acknowledged that in the
Body of Jesus
"we see our God made visible and so are caught up in Love of the God we cannot see". The
individual characteristics of Christ's Body express the
Divine Person of God's Son.
He has made the features of His
Human Body His Own, to the
point that they can be Venerated when portrayed in a Holy Image, for the Believer
"who venerates the Icon is venerating in it the Person of the One depicted".
The Heart of the Incarnate Word
478 Jesus knew and Loved us each
and all during His Life,
His Agony and His
Passion, and gave Himself up for each one of
us: "The Son of God . . . loved me and gave Himself for me".
He has loved us all with a
Human Heart. For this reason, the
Sacred Heart of Jesus, Pierced by our
Sins and for our Salvation, "is quite rightly
considered the chief sign and symbol of that . . . love with which the Divine Redeemer continually loves the Eternal Father and
all human beings" without exception.
479 At the time appointed by God, the only Son of
the Father, the Eternal Word,
that is, the Word and Substantial Image
of the Father, became Incarnate; without
losing His Divine Nature He has Assumed Human Nature.
480 Jesus Christ is True
God and True Man,
in the Unity of His Divine Person; for this reason
He is the One-and-Only Mediator between
God and Men.
481 Jesus Christ possesses Two (2)
Natures, One (1) Divine and
the Other (1) Human, not confused, but
United in the One (1)
Person of God's Son.
482 Christ, being True God and
True Man, has a
Human Intellect and Will,
Perfectly attuned and subject to His Divine Intellect
and Divine Will, which He has in common with
the Father and the Holy Spirit.
483 The Incarnation is therefore the Mystery
of the wonderful Union of the Divine and
Human Natures in the One (1)
Person of the Word.