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Incarnation

Incarnation


From the Latin noun caro, or carnis, meaning "flesh," the term incarnation was appropriated by Christianity to designate its belief that in the historical existence of the man Jesus, known to Christians as the Christ, the very being of God has entered fully into human history and the created universe. The incarnation of God implies for believers not only that the person of Christ is the dwelling place of God, his human nature held to be substantially united with the Logos (the eternal Word) of God, but that by extension the entire material cosmos is the domicile of God.

In the history of religions, representations of incarnate deities have been a powerful way of communicating a common human intuition that the realm of the sacred is not separate or remote from the empirically given world and that the tangible world is embedded in a mysterious dimension of divine depth. In fact the idea of a divine incarnation is itself a specification of the more generically sacramental character of religions as such. Religions have almost always had a sacramental aspect, by which is meant that their devotees grasp the presence of God or the sacred primordially through the mediation of concrete things, events, or persons that function as revelatory symbols of the divine. The natural world in particular, with its sunlight, flowing water, fertility, life, oceans, mountains, and storms has provided a rich array of symbols by which the sense of a sacred mystery has been communicated to religious awareness. The idea of a divine incarnation in a human being may be understood in the context of the richly sacramental character of religions.


Incarnation in Christian doctrine

A sacrament is any property of the visible world through which humans have gathered the impression that the sacred or the divine is expressing itself in an especially intense way. In Christianity, for example, the person of Christ is taken to be the primary symbol or sacrament of God. Theological reflection has even led to the Christian conviction that the fullness of the Godhead has disclosed itself incarnately through the compassion and self-sacrifice of Jesus. Early Christian controversies about how to understand the incarnation led to the teachings of the early Ecumenical Councils (especially First Nicea in 325 and Chalcedon in 451) that Jesus is the incarnate Logos or "Word" of God.

It was an arduous and politically tumultuous process that led to the Christian doctrinal formulations surrounding the incarnation. Denials of Christ's divine nature in the early centuries took the form of Arianism and Nestorianism, both eventually condemned as heretical. And at the other extreme, the humanity of Christ was dissolved into his divinity, in a heresy known as monophysitism (literally, "having a single nature"). Christianity has never been completely divested of the tendency to deny that Jesus was fully human, and in recent centuries a decidedly monophysitic leaning has shaped much Christian spirituality. A case can be made that this monophysitic bias has brought needless complications into the dialogue between religion and science.

At the heart of Christian quarrels about the incarnation was the question of how the unchanging, eternal, and almighty God could coherently be said to be fully present in a finite man, one vulnerable enough to be killed by crucifixion. The doctrine of God's incarnation coincides at this point with the shocking idea of a divine kenosis, according to which the infinite God empties out the divine substance into the finite world in self-sacrificing love. The God-human paradox of Christ is one that subsequent centuries and contemporary theological discussion have not yet reduced to clarity. Moreover, attempts to clarify the so-called "mystery" of the incarnation have usually led either to the nonacceptance of Christ's divinity or to the suppression of a sense of his humanity. In either case the rejection of a divine incarnation entails a denial of the divine kenosis. The notion of a self-emptying God is one that even Christians have not yet come to terms with, even though it is an idea that can possibly contribute much to the reconciliation of religion and science.

Incarnation in the age of evolutionary science

In this age of evolutionary science, theological reflection on the doctrine of the incarnation has led to speculation that in God's taking on the corporeal reality of Christ the whole universe is, by extension, taken into the divine life. The physical body of Christ is, like every other living organism, the outcome of a cosmic and biological evolution. Hence one may conjecture theologically that the story of the entire universe is inseparable from the existence of the incarnate God. The cosmic story itself, therefore, becomes sacramentally the revelation of God. In light of the idea of God's incarnation in matter the notion of "revelation" can no longer be restricted simply to a brief series of salvific events in the narrow province of terrestrial human history as recorded in the Bible. Rather, the universe as a whole is now seen by many to be the sacramental disclosure of the incarnate God. To some Christian thinkers, especially the Jesuit geologist and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (18811955), the epic of evolution is endowed with the deeper meaning that it is from start to finish the process in which God becomes increasingly incarnate in matter, clothing the divine being in the stuff of the universe.

However, as Teilhard de Chardin repeatedly emphasized, "true union differentiates." God's incarnate union with the world is one in which the world becomes even more, not less, distinct from God. Incarnation implies that God foregoes any annihilating relationship to the world. The doctrine of the incarnation, at least as understood by the Council of Chalcedon, implies that God wants to relate to a world that is "other" than God. In order to constitute such a relationship to the universe, however, the presence of God to the world cannot be one in which the divine presence dissolves the world. To seek such an annihilating union of the world in God is an expression of monophysitism, the view that the distinctively human nature of Christ loses itself in the divine nature.

A case could be made that the longing on the part of some anti-Darwinian theists to have a world carefully designed by God, rather than one that evolves more self-creatively and spontaneously, is by implication indicative of a hidden longing for a divine presence that abolishes the world's distinctness from its divine ground. Beneath much current religious anxiety about the implications of Darwinian evolution perhaps there is evidence of a persistent monophysitic hankering for a kind of divine union with the world that melts the world into God.

Any concept of God that theology hopes to reconcile with biological and cosmic evolution, however, would not obliterate the cosmos or human existence in freedom, but would allow for a world that could become increasingly independent. Today a number of Christian theologians see in the doctrine of divine incarnation the basis for such an understanding of the relationship of God to the world.


See also Christology; Embodiment; Kenosis; Revelation; Teihard de Chardin, Pierre


Bibliography

brown, raymond e. jesus, god, and man: modern biblical reflections. milwaukee, wis.: bruce, 1967.


grillmeier, aloys. christ in christian tradition, trans. john bowden. atlanta, ga.: john knox press, 1975.

pannenberg, wolfhart. jesus, god and man, trans. lewis l. wilkins and duane a. priebe. philadelphia: westminster press, 1977.

rahner, karl. foundations of christian faith, trans. william v. dych. new york: crossroad, 1978.

teilhard de chardin, pierre. christianity and evolution,trans. rene hague. new york: harcourt, 1969.

john haught

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incarnate

in·car·nate • adj. / inˈkärnit; -ˌnāt/ (esp. of a deity or spirit) embodied in flesh; in human form: God incarnate he chose to be incarnate as a man. ∎  represented in the ultimate or most extreme form: here is capitalism incarnate. • v. / -ˌnāt/ [tr.] embody or represent (a deity or spirit) in human form: the idea that God incarnates himself in man. ∎  put (an idea or other abstract concept) into concrete form: a desire to make things which will incarnate their personality. ∎  (of a person) be the living embodiment of (a quality): the man who incarnates the suffering which has affected every single Mozambican. ORIGIN: late Middle English: from ecclesiastical Latin incarnat- ‘made flesh,’ from the verb incarnare, from in- ‘into’ + caro, carn- ‘flesh.’

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"incarnate." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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incarnation

incarnation, the assumption of human form by a god, an idea common in religion. In early times the idea was expressed in the belief that certain living men, often kings or priests, were divine incarnations. India and Egypt were especially rich in forms of incarnation in men as well as in beasts. Incarnation is found in various phases of Greek religion, in which the human body of a god was a disguise or a temporary means of communication. Among western cultures the most widely accepted belief in incarnation is in that of Jesus, held by Christians to be God in the flesh, partaking wholly both of divinity and of humanity, except in so far as human beings have a propensity to sin. This is the accepted understanding of the biblical "The Word was made flesh." See avatara.

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incarnation

incarnation Act of appearing in or assuming bodily form, especially the assumption of human form by a divine being. All orthodox Christians believe that the eternal Son of God, the creator and sole deity, took on bodily form and lived on Earth as a mortal human being, Jesus of Nazareth. The doctrine of the Incarnation was confirmed amid controversy by the first general council of the Church at Nicaea in 325. incest Sexual relations within a family or kinship group, the taboo on which varies between societies. In many countries, incest is a crime that carries a prison sentence. It is likely that the rules of many primitive communities prohibited marriage between close relatives, long before the possible adverse genetic effects of such relationships were realized.

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incarnation

in·car·na·tion / ˌinkärˈnāshən/ • n. 1. a person who embodies in the flesh a deity, spirit, or abstract quality: Rama was Vishnu's incarnation on earth. ∎  (the Incarnation) (in Christian theology) the embodiment of God the Son in human flesh as Jesus Christ. 2. (with reference to reincarnation) one of a series of lifetimes that a person spends on earth: in my next incarnation, I'd like to be the Secretary of Fun. ∎  the form in which a person spends such a lifetime.

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Incarnation

Incarnation (Lat., in carne, ‘in flesh/body’). The belief that God is wholly present to, or in, a human life and body. The term may be used to ‘translate’ the Hindu understanding of avatāra, but is more commonly used of the belief that in Jesus Christ, the divine and human natures were united in one person, and that God was, consequently, in carne, incarnated. See further CHRISTOLOGY.

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"Incarnation." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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incarnate

incarnate embodied in flesh XIV; flesh-coloured XVI. — ecclL. incarnātus, pp. of incarnārī be made flesh, f. IN-1 + carō, carn- flesh; see CARNAL, -ATE2.
So incarnation embodiment in flesh XIII (concr. XVIII); †flesh-colour XV. — (O)F. — ecclL.

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incarnate

incarnateagnate, magnate •incarnate, khanate •impregnate •coordinate, subordinate •decaffeinate • paginate • originate •oxygenate •cachinnate, machinate •pollinate •contaminate, laminate •disseminate, ingeminate, inseminate •discriminate, eliminate, incriminate, recriminate •abominate, dominate, nominate •illuminate, ruminate •fulminate • culminate •exterminate, germinate, terminate, verminate •marinate • peregrinate • indoctrinate •chlorinate • urinate •assassinate, deracinate, fascinate •vaccinate • hallucinate • Latinate •procrastinate • predestinate •agglutinate • rejuvenate • resinate •designate • cognate • neonate •lunate • alienate • carbonate •hibernate • odonate • hyphenate •emanate •impersonate, personate •fractionate • detonate • intonate •consternate • alternate • Italianate •resonate •gamut •imamate, marmot •animate •approximate, proximate •estimate, guesstimate, underestimate •illegitimate, legitimate •intimate •penultimate, ultimate •primate • foumart • consummate •Dermot •discarnate, incarnate •impregnate • rabbinate •coordinate, inordinate, subordinate, superordinate •infinite • laminate • effeminate •discriminate • innominate •determinate • Palatinate • pectinate •obstinate • agglutinate • designate •tribunate • importunate • Arbuthnot •bicarbonate • umbonate • fortunate •pulmonate •compassionate, passionate •affectionate •extortionate, proportionate •sultanate • companionate •principate • Rupert • episcopate •carat, carrot, claret, garret, karat, parrot •emirate • aspirate • vertebrate •levirate •duumvirate, triumvirate •pirate • quadrat • accurate • indurate •obdurate •Meerut, vizierate •priorate • curate • elaborate •deliberate • confederate •considerate, desiderate •immoderate, moderate •ephorate •imperforate, perforate •agglomerate, conglomerate •numerate •degenerate, regenerate •separate • temperate • desperate •disparate • corporate • professorate •commensurate • pastorate •inveterate •directorate, electorate, inspectorate, protectorate, rectorate •illiterate, literate, presbyterate •doctorate • Don Quixote • marquisate •concert • cushat • precipitate

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