Friday, February 29, 2008
29 February - A Leap Year Church Father
Known more for his transmission of the wisdom of the Desert Fathers and his influence on St. Benedict (The Rule of Benedict), John Cassian is remembered on this day, especially in the East. The excerpt below is from his On the Incarnation of the Lord, where he responds to Nestorius at the request of the Archdeacon, who later became Pope Leo the Great.
"In the meanwhile we will now prove by Divine testimonies that Christ is God, and that Mary is the Mother of God. Hear then how the angel of God speaks to the Shepherds of the birth of God. "There is born," he says, "to you this day in the city of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:11 In order that you may not take Christ for a mere man, he adds the name of Lord and Saviour, on purpose that you may have no doubt that He whom you acknowledge as Saviour is God, and that (as the office of saving belongs only to Divine power) you may not question that He is of Divine power, in whom you have learned that the power to save resides. But perhaps this is not enough to convince your unbelief, as the angel of the Lord termed Him Lord and Saviour rather than God or the Son of God, as you certainly most wickedly deny Him to be God, whom you acknowledge to be Saviour. Hear then what the archangel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary. "The Holy Ghost," he says, "shall come upon you, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God." Luke 1:35 Do you see how, when he is going to point out the nativity of God, he first speaks of a work of Divinity. For "the Holy Ghost," he says, "shall come upon you, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you." Admirably did the angel speak, and explain the majesty of the Divine work by the Divine character of his words. For the Holy Ghost sanctified the Virgin's womb, and breathed into it by the power of His Divinity, and thus imparted and communicated Himself to human nature; and made His own what was before foreign to Him, taking it to Himself by His own power and majesty. And lest the weakness of human nature should not be able to bear the entrance of Divinity the power of the Most High strengthened the ever to be honoured Virgin, so that it supported her bodily weakness by embracing it with overshadowing protection, and human weakness was not insufficient for the consummation of the ineffable mystery of the holy conception, since it was supported by the Divine overshadowing. "Therefore," he says, "the Holy Ghost shall come upon you, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you." If only a mere man was to be born of a pure virgin why should there be such careful mention of the Divine Advent? Why such intervention of Divinity itself? Certainly if only a man was to be born from man, and flesh from flesh, a command alone might have done it, or the Divine will. For if the will of God alone, and His command sufficed to fashion the heavens, form the earth, create the sea, thrones, and seats, and angels, and archangels, and principalities, and powers, and in a word to create all the armies of heaven, and those countless thousands of thousands of the Divine hosts ("For He spoke and they were made, He commanded and they were created"), why was it that that was insufficient for the creation of (according to you) a single man, which was sufficient for the production of all things divine, and that the power and majesty of God did not entrust that with the birth of a single infant, which had availed to fashion all things earthly and heavenly? But certainly the reason why all those works were performed by the command of God, but the nativity was only accomplished by His coming was because God could not be conceived by man unless He allowed it, nor be born unless He Himself entered in; and therefore the archangel pointed out that the sacred majesty would come upon the Virgin, I mean that as so great an event could not be brought about by human appointment, he announced that there would be present at the conception the glory of Him who was to be born. And so the Word, the Son, descended: the majesty of the Holy Ghost was present: the power of the Father was overshadowing; that in the mystery of the holy conception the whole Trinity might cooperate. "Therefore," he says, "also that holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God." Admirably does he add "Therefore," in order to show that this would therefore follow because that had gone before; and that because God had come upon her at the conception therefore God would be present at the birth. And when the maiden understood not, he gave a reason for this great thing, saying: "Because the Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and because the power of the Most High shall overshadow you, therefore also that holy thing which shall be born shall be called the Son of God;" that is to say: That you may not be ignorant of the provision for so great a work, and the mystery of this great secret, the majesty of God shall therefore come upon you completely; because the Son of God shall be born of you. What further doubt can there be about this? or what is there further to be said? He said that God would come upon her; that the Son of God would be born. Ask now, if you like, how the Son of God can help being God, or how she who brought forth God can fail to be Theotocos, i.e., the Mother of God? This alone ought to be enough for you; aye this ought to be amply sufficient for you . . . Therefore all grace, power, might, Divinity, aye, and the fulness of actual Divinity and glory have ever existed together with Him and in Him, whether in heaven or in earth or in the womb or at His birth. Nothing that is proper to God was ever wanting to God. For the Godhead was ever present with God, no where and at no time severed from Him. For everywhere God is present in His completeness and in His perfection. He suffers no division or change or diminution; for nothing can be either added to God or taken away from Him, for He is subject to no diminution of Divinity, as to no increase of It. He was the same Person then on earth who was also in heaven: the same Person in His low estate who was also in the highest: the same Person in the littleness of manhood as in the glory of the Godhead. And so the Apostle was right in speaking of the grace of Christ when He meant the grace of God. For Christ was everything that God is. At the very time of His conception as man there came all the power of God, all the fulness of the Godhead; for thence came all the perfection of the Godhead, whence was His origin. Nor was that Human nature of His ever without the Deity as it received from Deity the very fact of its existence. And so, to begin with, whether you like it or no, you cannot deny this; viz., that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God, especially as the archangel declares in the gospels: "That holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God." But when this is established then remember that whatever you read of Christ you read of the Son of God: whatever you read of the Lord or Jesus belongs to the Son of God. And so when you recognize a title of Divinity in all these terms which you hear uttered, as you see that in each case you ought to understand that the Son of God is meant, prove to me, if you like, how you can separate the Godhead from the Son of God."
- John Cassian (ca. 360-435)(On the Incarnation, Book II, Chs. II & VII, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/35092.htm)