VII. -- O ADMIRABILE COMMERCIUM!
by Abbot Marmion, O.S.B.
SUMMARY. -- The mystery of the Incarnation is a wonderful exchange
between divinity and humanity. -- I. The Eternal Word asks of us a
human nature in order to unite it to Himself by a personal union:
Creator... animatum corpus sumens. -- II. In becoming Incarnate,
the Word brings us, in return, a share in His Divinity: Largitus
est nobis suam deitatem. -- III. This exchange appears still more
wonderful when we consider the manner in which it is wrought. The
Incarnation renders God visible so that we may hear and imitate
Him. -- IV. It renders God passible, capable of expiating our sins
by His sufferings and of healing us by His humiliations. -- V. We
are to take our part in this exchange by faith: those who receive
the Word-made-flesh by believing in Him have "power to be made the
sons of God."
The coming of the Son of God upon earth is so great an event that
God willed to prepare the way for it during centuries. He made
rites and sacrifices, figures and symbols, all converge towards
Christ; He foretold Him, announced Him by the mouth of the
prophets who succeeded one another from generation to generation.
And now it is the very Son of God Who comes to instruct us:
Multifariam multisque modis olim Deus loquens patribus...
novissime locutus est nobis in Filio (Heb 1:1,2). For Christ is
not only born for the Jews of Judea who lived in His time. It is
for us all, for all mankind, that He came down from Heaven:
Propter nos et propter nostram salutem descendit de caelis. He
wills to distribute to every soul the grace that He merited by His
This is why the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, appropriates to
herself, in order to place them upon our lips and with them to
fill our hearts, the longings of the patriarchs, the aspirations
of the just of ancient times, and the desires of the Chosen
People. She wills to prepare us for Christ's coming, as if this
Nativity was about to be renewed before our eyes.
See how when she commemorates the coming of her Divine Bridegroom
upon earth, she displays the splendour of her solemnities, and
makes her altars brilliant with lights to celebrate the Birth of
the "Prince of Peace" (Is 9:6), the "Sun of Justice" (Mal 4:2),
Who rises in the midst of our darkness to enlighten "every man
that cometh into this world" (Jn 1:5, 9). She grants her priests
the privilege, almost unique in the year, of thrice offering the
Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
These feasts are magnificent, they are likewise full of charm. The
Church evokes the remembrance of the Angels singing in the sky the
glory of the new-born Babe; of the Shepherds who come to adore at
the manger; of the Magi who hasten from the East to offer Him
their adorations and rich presents.
And yet, like every feast here below, this solemnity, even with
the prolongation of its octave, is ephemeral: it passes by. Is it
for the feast of a day, howsoever splendid it may be, that the
Church requires such a long preparation from us? Certainly not!
Why then? Because she knows that the contemplation of this mystery
contains a special and choice grace for our souls.
I said at the beginning of these conferences that each one of
Christ's mysteries constitutes not only a historical fact which
takes place in time, but contains a grace proper to itself
wherewith our souls are to be nourished so as to live thereby.
Now what is the intimate grace of the mystery of the Nativity?
What is the grace for the reception of which the Church takes so
much care to dispose us? What is the fruit that we ought to gather
from the contemplation of the Christ Child?
The Church herself indicates this at the first Mass, that of
midnight. After having offered the bread and wine which, in a few
moments, are to be changed, by the consecration, into the Body and
Blood of Jesus Christ, she sums up her desires in this prayer:
"Grant, O Lord, that the oblation which in we offer to-day's
festival may be acceptable unto Thee, and, by Thy grace, through
this most sacred and holy intercourse, may we be found like unto
Him in Whom is our substance united to Thee." (Accepta tibi sit,
Domine, quaesumus, hodiernae festivitatis oblatio: ut tua gratia
largiente, per haec sacrosancta commercia, in illiusi nveniamur
forma, in quo tecum est nostra substantia. Secret of the Midnight
Mass. The word forma is here taken in the sense of "nature,"
"condition" natura, as in the text of St Paul: Christus cum in
forma Dei esset... exinanivit semetipsum formam servi accipiens et
habitu inventus ut homo.)
We ask to be partakers of that divinity to which our humanity is
united. It is like an exchange. God, in becoming incarnate, takes
our human nature and gives us, in return, a participation in His
This thought, so concise in its form, is more explicitly expressed
in the secret of the second Mass: "Grant, O Lord, that our
offerings may be conformed to the mysteries of this day's
Nativity, that as He Who is born as man is also God made manifest,
so this earthly substance (which He unites to Himself) may confer
upon us that which is divine." (Munera rostra, quaesumus, Domine,
nativitatis hodiernae mysteriis apta proveniant, ut sicut homo
genitus idem refulsit et Deus, sic nobis haec terrena substantia
conferat quod divinum est. Secret of the Mass st Break of Day.)
To be made partakers of the Divinity to which our humanity was
united in the Person of Christ, and to receive this Divine gift
through this humanity itself,--such is the grace attached to the
celebration of to-day's mystery.
Our offerings will be "conformed to the mysteries of this day's
Nativity," according to the words of the above quoted secret, if-
by the contemplation of the Divine work at Bethlehem and the
reception of the Eucharistic Sacrament,--we participate in the
eternal life that Christ wills to communicate to us by His
"O admirable exchange," we shall sing on the octave day, "the
Creator of the human race, taking upon Himself a body and a soul,
has vouchsafed to be born of a Virgin, and, appearing here below
as man, has made us partakers of His Divinity": O admirabile
commercium! CREATOR generis human), ANIMATUM CORPUS SUMENS, de
virgine nasci dignatus est; et procedens homo sine semine,
LARGITUS EST NOBIS SUAM DEITATEM (Antiphon of the Octave of
Let us, therefore, stay for a few moments to admire, with the
Church, this exchange between the creature and the Creator between
heaven and earth, an exchange upon which all the mystery of the
Nativity is based. Let us consider what are the acts and the
matter of it;-under what form it is wrought;--we will afterwards
see what fruits are to be derived from it for us;--and to what it
Let us transport ourselves to the stable-cave at Bethlehem; let us
behold the Child lying upon the straw. What is He in the sight of
the profane, in the sight of an inhabitant of the little city who
might happen to come there after the Birth of Jesus?
Only a new-born Babe to Whom a woman of Nazareth had given birth;
only a son of Adam like unto us, for His parents have Him
inscribed upon the register of enrolment; the details of His
genealogy can be followed. There He lies upon the straw, a weak
Babe Whose life is sustained by a little milk. Many Jews saw
nothing more in Him than this. Later on you will hear His
compatriots, astonished at His wisdom, ask themselves where He
could have learnt it, for, in their eyes, He had never been
anything but "the son of a carpenter": Nonne hic est fabri
filius?... (Mt 13:55; cf. Mk 6:3; Lk 4:22).
But to the eyes of faith, a life higher than the human life
animates this Child: He possesses Divine life. What does faith,
indeed, tell us on this subject? What revelation does it give us?
Faith tells us that this Child is God's own Son. He is the Word,
the Second Person of the Adorable Trinity; He is the Son Who
receives Divine life from His Father, by an ineffable
communication: Sicut Pater habet vitam in semetipso, sic dedit et
Filio habere vitam in semetipso (Lk 4:22). He possesses the Divine
nature, with all its infinite perfections. In the heavenly
splendours, in splendoribus sanctorum (Ps 109:3). God begets this
Son by an eternal generation.
It is to this Divine Sonship in the bosom of the Father that our
adoration turns first of all; it is this Sonship that we extol in
the midnight Mass. At day-break, the Holy Sacrifice will celebrate
the Nativity of Christ according to the flesh, His Birth, at
Bethlehem, of the Virgin Mary; finally, the third Mass will be in
honour of Christ's coming into our souls.
The Mass of the night, all enveloped with mystery, begins with
these solemn words: Dominus dixit ad me: Filius meus es tu, ego
hodie genui te (Introit of the Mass of Midnight), This cry that
escapes from the soul of Christ united to the Yerson of the Word,
reveals to earth for the first time that which the heavens hear
from all eternity . "The Lord hath said to Me: Thou art My Son:
this day have I begotten Thee." "This day" is first of all the day
of eternity, a day without dawn or decline.
The Heavenly Father now contemplates His Incarnate Son. The Word,
although made man, nevertheless remains God. Become the Son of
man, He is still the Son of God. The first glance that falls upon
Christ, the first love wherewith He is surrounded, is the glance,
the love of His Father. Diliget me, Pater (Jn 15:9). What
contemplation and what love! Christ is the Only-begotten Son of
the Father; therein lies His essential glory. He is equal to and
"consubstantial with the Father, God of God, Light of Light... by
Whom all things were made," "and without Him was made nothing that
was made." It is of this Son that these words were spoken: "Thou
in the beginning, O Lord, didst found the earth, and the works of
Thy hands are the heavens. They shall perish, but Thou shalt
continue; and they shall all grow old as a garment; and as a
vesture shalt Thou change them, and they shall be changed; but
Thou art the self-same, and Thy years shall not fail!" (Epistle
for the Mass of Christmas Day.)
And this "Word was made Flesh": Et Verbum caro factum est.
Let us adore this Word become Incarnate for us: Christus natus est
nobis, venite adoremus (Invitatory for Christmas Matins.)... A God
takes our humanity: conceived by the mysterious operation of the
Holy Ghost in Mary's womb, Christ is born of the most pure
substance of the blood of the Virgin, and the life that He has
from her makes Him like unto us! Creator generis human) de virgine
nasci dignatus est, et procedens homo sine semine.
This is what faith tells us: this Child is the Incarnate Word of
God; He is the Creator of the human race become man. Creator
generis human); if He needs a little milk to nourish Him, it is by
His hand that the birds of heaven are fed.
Parvoque lacte pastus est Per quem nec ales esurit (Hymn of
Let us contemplate this Infant lying in the manger. His eyes are
closed, He sleeps, He does not manifest outwardly what He is. In
appearance, He is only like all other infants, and yet, being God,
being the Eternal Word, He, at this moment, is judging the souls
that appear before Him. "He lies upon straw, and as God, He
sustains the universe and reigns in heaven": Jacet in praesepio et
in caelis regnat (12th response at Matins on the Sunday of the
Octave of Christmas), This Child, just beginning to grow, Puer
crescebat... et proficiebat aetate (Lk 2:40, 52), is the Eternal
Whose divine nature knows no change: Tu idem ipse es, et anni tui
non deficient. He Who is born in time is likewise He Who is before
all time; He Who manifests Himself to the shepherds of Bethlehem
is He Who, out of nothing, created the nations that, "are before
Him as if they had no being at all" (Is 40:17).
Palamque fit pastoribus Pastor creator omnium (Hymn of Christmas
To the eyes of faith there are two lives in this Babe; two lives
indissolubly united in an ineffable manner, for the Human Nature
belongs to the Word in such wise that there is but a single
Person, that of the Word, Who sustains the Human Nature by His own
Undoubtedly, this human nature is perfect: perfectus homo (Creed
attributed to St. Athanasius): nothing of that which belongs to
its essence is lacking to Him. This Babe has a soul like to ours;
He has faculties: --intelligence, will, imagination, sensibility--
like ours. He is truly one of our own race Whose existence will be
revealed, during thirty three years, as authentically human. Sin,
alone, will be unknown to Him. Debuit per omnia fratribus similar)
(Heb 2:17) ...absque peccato (Ibid. 4:15). Perfect in itself, this
human nature will keep its own activity, its native splendour.
Between these two lives of Christ-the Divine, which He ever
possesses by His eternal birth in the bosom of the Father; the
human which He has begun to possess by His Incarnation in the
bosom of a Virgin--there is neither mingling nor confusion. The
Word, in becoming man, remains what He was; that which He was not,
He has taken from our race; but the divine in Him does not absorb
the human, the human does not lessen the divine. The union is
such, as I have often said, that there is however but a single
Person--the Divine Person,--and that the human nature belongs to
the Word, is the Word's own humanity: Mirabile mysterium
declaratur hodie: innovantur naturae, Deus homo factus est; id
quod fuit permansit et quod non erat assumpsit, non commixtionem
passus neque divisionem (Antiphon of Lauds in the Octave of
This then, if I may so express myself, is one of the acts of the
contract. God takes our nature so as to unite it to Himself in a
What is the other act? What is God going to give us in return? Not
that He owes us anything: Bonorum meorum non eges (Ps 15:2). But
as He does all things with wisdom, He could not take upon Himself
our nature without a motive worthy of Him.
What the Word Incarnate gives in return to humanity is an
incomprehensible gift; it is a participation, real and intimate,
in His Divine nature: Largitus est nobis suam deitatem. In
exchange for the humanity which He takes, the Incarnate Word gives
us a share in His Divinity; He makes us partakers of His Divine
Nature. And thus is accomplished the most wonderful exchange which
could be made.
Doubtless, as you know, this participation had already been
offered and given, from the creation, to Adam, the first man. The
gift of grace, with all its splendid train of privileges, made
Adam like to God. But the sin of the first man, the head of the
human race, destroyed and rendered this ineffable participation
impossible on the part of the creature.
It is to restore this participation that the Word becomes
Incarnate; it is to reopen to us the way to heaven that God is
made man. For this Child, being God's own Son, has Divine life,
like His Father, with His Father. In this Child "dwelleth all the
fulness of the Godhead corporeally" (Col 2:9); in Him are laid up
all the treasures of the divinity (Cf. Ibid. 3). But He does not
possess them for Himself alone. He infinitely desires to
communicate to us the Divine life that He Himself is: Ego sum vita
(Jn 14:6). It is for this that He comes: Ego vend UT vitam habeant
(Ibid. 10:10). It is for us that a Child is born; it is to us that
a Son is given: Puer natus est NOBIS et Filius datus est nobis
(Introit of the Mass of the day). In making us share in His
condition of Son, He will make us children of God. "When the
fulness of time was come, God sent His Son, made of a woman,...
that we might receive the adoption of sons (Gal 4:4-5). "What
Christ is by nature, that is to say the Son of God, we are to be
by grace; the Incarnate Word, the Son of God made man is to become
the author of our divine generation: Natus hodie Salvator mundi
DIVINAE NOBIS GENERATIONIS est auctor (Postcommunion of the Mass
of Christmas Day). So that, although He be the Only-begotten Son,
He will become the First-born of many brethren: UT sit IPSE
PRIMOGENITUS in multis fratribus (Rom 8:29).
Such are the two acts of the wonderful "bargain" that God makes
with us: He takes our nature in order to communicate to us His
divinity; He takes a human life so as to make us partakers of His
divine life: He is made man so as to make us gods: Factus est Deus
homo, ut homo fieret Deus (Sermon attributed to St. Augustine,
number 128 in the appendix to his works). And His human Birth
becomes the means of our birth to the divine life.
In us likewise there will be henceforth two lives. The one,
natural, which we have by our birth according to the flesh, but
which, in God's sight, is not only without merit but, before
baptism, is stained in consequence of original sin; which makes us
enemies of God, worthy of His wrath: we are born filii irae (Eph
2:3). The other life, supernatural, infinitely above the rights
and exigencies of our nature. It is this life that God
communicates to us by His grace, since the Incarnate Word merited
it for us.
God begets us to this life by His Word and the infusion of His
Spirit, in the baptismal font: Genuit nos Verbo veritatis (Jac
1:18)... Per lavacrum regenerationis et renovationis Spiritus
Sancti (Tit 3); it is a new life that is superadded to our natural
life, surpassing and crowning it; In Christo nova creatura (2 Cor
5:17; Gal 6:15). It makes us children of God, brothers and sisters
of Jesus Christ, worthy of one day partaking of His beatitude and
Of these two lives, in us as in Christ, it is the divine that
ought to dominate, although in the Child Christ it is not as yet
manifested, and in us it remains ever veiled under the outward
appearance of our ordinary existence. It is the divine life of
grace that ought to rule and govern, and make agreeable to our
Lord, all our natural activity, thus deified in its root.
Oh! if the contemplation of the Birth of Jesus and participation
in this mystery by the reception of the Bread of Life would bring
us to free ourselves, once and for all, from everything that
destroys and lessens the divine life within us; from sin,
wherefrom Christ comes to deliver us: Cujus nativitas humanam
repulit vetustatem (Postcommunion for the Mass of Day-break); from
all infidelity and al1 attachment to creatures; from the
irregulated care for passing things: Abnegantes saecularia
desideria (Tit 2:12; Epistle for the mdnight Mass); from the
trying preoccupations of our vain self love!...
If we could thus be brought to give ourselves entirely to God,
according to the promises of our baptism when we were born to the
divine life; to yield ourselves up to the accomplishment of His
will and good pleasure, as did the Incarnate Word in entering into
tnis world: Ecce venio... ut faciam Deus voluntatem tuam (Heb
10:7); to abound in those good works which make us pleasing to
God: Populum acceptabilem, sectatorem bonorum operum (Tit 2:14.
Epistle for the midnight Mass.)!
Then the divine life brought to us by Jesus would meet with no
more obstacles and would freely expand for the glory of our
Heavenly Father; then "we who are bathed in the new light of the
Incarnate Word should shew forth in our deeds what by faith
shineth in our minds" (Da nobis quaesumus omnipotens Deus; ut qui
nova incarnati Verbi tui luce perfundimur, hoc in nostro
resplendeat opere, quod per fidem fulget in mente. Collect for the
Mass at Daybreak); then, "our offerings would befit the mysteries
of this day's Nativity". Munera nostra nativitatis hodiernae
mysteriis apta proveniant (Secret for the Mass at Day-break):
What further renders this exchange "admirable" is the manner in
which it is effected, the form wherein it is accomplished. How is
it accomplished? How does this Child, Who is the Incarnate Word,
make us partakers of His divine life? By His Humanity. The
humanity that the Word takes from us is to serve Him as the
instrument for communicating His divine life to us; and this for
two reasons wherein eternal wisdom infinitely shines out; the
humanity renders God visible; it renders God passible.
It renders Him visible.
The Church, using the words of St. Paul, celebrates with delight
this "appearing" of God amongst us: Apparuit gratia Dei Salvatoris
nostri omnibus hominibus (Tit 2:11. Epistle for the midnight
Mass): "The grace of God our Saviour hath appeared to all men"
Apparuit benignitas et humanitas Salvatoris nostri Dei (Tit 3:4,
Epistle for the Mass at Day-break). ``The goodness and kindness of
God our Saviour hath appeared."
Lux fulgebit hodie super nos, quia natus est nobis Dominus
(Introit of the Mass at Day-break): "a light shall shine upon us
this day: for our Lord is born to us"; Verbum caro factum est et
habitavit in nobis: "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us."
The Incarnate Word brings about this marvel: men have seen God
Himself abiding in the midst of them.
St. John loves to dwell upon this side of the mystery. "That which
was from the beginning, 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. For the life was manifested; and we
have seen and do bear witness and declare unto you the Life
Eternal which was with the Father, and hath appeared in us. That
which we have seen and have heard, we declare unto you that...
your joy may be full" (1 Jn 1:1-4).
What joy indeed, to see God manifesting Himself to us. not in the
dazzling splendour of His omnipotence, nor in the unspeakable
glory of His sovereignty, but under the veil of humble, poor, weak
humanity, which we can see and touch!
We might have been afraid of the dreadful majesty of God: the
Israelites fell on their faces to the ground, full of terror and
fear, when God spoke to Moses upon Sinai, in the midst of
lightnings. We are drawn by the charms of a God become a Babe. The
Babe in the Crib seems to say to us: "You are afraid of God? You
are wrong: Qui videt me, videt et Patrem (Jn 14:9). Do not heed
your imagination, do not form yourselves a God from the deductions
of philosophy, nor ask of science to make My perfections known to
you. The true Almighty God is the God that I am and reveal; the
true God is I Who come to you in poverty, humility and infancy,
but Who will one day give My life for you. I am "the brightness of
[the Father's] glory, and the figure of His substance" (Heb 1:3).
His Only-begotten Son, God as He is; in Me you shall learn to know
His perfections, His wisdom and His goodness, His love towards men
and His mercy in regard to sinners: Illuxit in cordibus nostris...
in facie Christi Jesu (2 Cor 4:6). Come unto Me, for, God as I am,
I have willed to be a man like you, and I do not reject those who
draw near to Me with confidence: Sicut homo genitus IDEM refulsit
Why did God thus deign to render Himself visible?
First of all so as to instruct us: Apparuit erudiens nos. It is
indeed God Who will henceforth speak to us by His own Son: Locutus
est nobis in Filio (Heb 1:2); we have but to listen to this
beloved Son in order to know what God wills of us. The Heavenly
Father Himself tells us so: Hic est Filius meus dilectus: ipsum
audite (Mt 17:5); and Jesus delights in repeating to us that His
doctrine is that of His Father: Mea doctrina non est mea, sed ejus
qui misit me (Jn 7:16).
Next the Word renders Himself visible to our sight so as to become
the Example that we are to follow.
We have only to watch this Child grow, only to contemplate Him
living in the midst of us, living like us as man, in order to know
how we ought to live in the sight of God, as children of God: for
all that He does will be pleasing to His Father: Quae placita sunt
ei, facto semper (Ibid. 7:29).
Being the Truth Who has come to teach us, He will point out the
way by His example; if we live in His light, if we follow this
way, we shall have life: Ego sum via, et veritas et vita (Ibid.
14:6). Thus, in knowing God manifested in the midst of us, we
shall be drawn by Him to the love of invisible things: Ut dum
VISIBILITER Deum cognoscimus, PER HUNC in invisibilium amorem
rapiamur (Preface for Christmas).
The humanity of Christ renders God visible, and above all-and it
is in this that Divine Wisdom is shown to be "admirable"--it
renders God passible.
Sin which destroyed the divine life within us demands a
satisfaction, an expiation without which it would be impossible
for divine life to be restored to us. Being a mere creature, man
cannot give this satisfaction for an offence of infinite malice,
and, on the other hand, the Divinity can neither suffer nor
expiate. God cannot communicate His life to us unless sin be
blotted out; by an immutable decree of Divine Wisdom, sin can only
be blotted out if it be expiated in an adequate manner. How is
this problem to be solved?
The Incarnation gives us the answer. Consider the Babe of
Bethlehem. He is the Word made flesh. The humanity that the Word
makes His own is passible; it is this humanity which will suffer,
will expiate. These sufferings, these expiations will belong,
however, to the Word, as this humanity itself does; they will take
from the Divine Person an infinite value which will suffice to
redeem the world, to destroy sin, to make grace superabound in
souls like an impetuous and fructifying river: Fluminus impetus
laetificat civitatem Dei (Ps 65:5).
O admirable exchange! Do not let us stay to wonder by what other
means God might have brought it about, but let us contemplate the
way wherein He has done so. The word asks of us a human nature to
find in it wherewith to suffer, to expiate, to merit, to heap
graces upon us. It is through the flesh that man turns away from
God: it is in becoming flesh that God delivers man:
Beatus auctor saeculi Servile corpus induit Ut carne carnem
liberans Ne perderet quos condidit (Hymn for Lauds at Christmas.)
The flesh that the Word of God takes upon Himself, is to become
the instrument of salvation for all flesh. O admirabile
Doubtless, as you know, it was necessary to await the immolation
of Calvary for the expiation to be complete; but, as St. Paul
teaches us, it was from the first moment of His Incarnation that
Christ accepted to accomplish His Father's will and to offer
Himself as Victim for the human race: Ideo ingrediens mundum
dicit: Hostiam et oblationem noluisti: CORPUS autem aptasti
mihi... Et tune dixit: Ecce venio... ut faciam Deus voluntatem
tuam (Heb 10:5, 7. Cf. Ps 39:8). It is by this oblation that
Christ begins to sanctify us: In qua voluntate sanctificati sumus
(Heb 10:10).. It is from the Crib that He inaugurates this life of
suffering such as He willed to live for our salvation, this life
of which the term is at Golgotha, and that, in destroying sin, is
to restore to us the friendship of His Father. The Crib is
certainly only the first stage, but it radically contains all the
This is why, in the Christmas solemnities, the Church attributes
our salvation to the temporal Birth itself of the Son of God.
"Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that the new Birth of Thine
Only-begotten Son in the fiesh may deliver us who are held captive
by the old bondage under the yoke of sin" (Concede quaesumus,
omnipotens Deus, ut nos Unigeniti tui nova per carnem nativitas
liberet, quos sub peccati jugo vetuita servitus tenet. Collect for
the Mass of Christmas Day.). This is why, from that moment,
"deliverance, redemption, salvation, eternal life," will be spoken
of constantly. It is by His Humanity that Christ, High Priest and
Mediator, binds us to God; but it is at Bethlehem that He appears
to us in this Humanity.
See, too, how from the moment of His Birth, He fulfils His
What is it that causes us to lose divine life?
It is pride. Because they believed that they would be like unto
God, having the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve lost, for
themselves and for their race, the friendship of God. Christ, the
new Adam, redeems us, brings us back to God, by the humility of
His Incarnation. Although He was God, He annihilated in taking the
condition of the creature, in making Himself like unto men; He
manifested Himself as man according to all appearances (Phil 2:6-
7).. What a humiliation was that! Later, it is true, the Church
will exalt to the highest heavens His dazzling glory as the
conqueror over sin and death; but now, Christ knows only self-
abasement and weakness. When our gaze rests upon this little
Child, Who is in no way distinguished from others, when we think
that He is God, and that in Him are hidden all the treasures of
wisdom and of knowledge, we feel our souls deeply moved, and our
vain pride is confounded in the face of such abasement.
And what besides pride? Our refusal to obey. See what an example
of wonderful obedience the Son of God gives. With the simplicity
of little children, He yields Himself up into the hands of His
parents; He allows Himself to be touched, taken up and carried
about; and all His Childhood, all His Boyhood and Youth are summed
up in the Gospel in these few words which tell how He was subject
to Mary and Joseph: Et erat subditus illis (Cf. Lk 2:51).
And next there is our covetousness "the concupiscence of the eyes"
(1 Jn 2:16), all that appears, glitters, fascinates and seduces;
the essential inanity of the passing trifles that we prefer to
God. The Word is made flesh; but He is born in poverty and
abjection. Propter nos egenus factus est cum esset dives (2 Cor
8:9). "Being rich, He became poor." Although He is "the King of
ages" (1 Tim 1:17), although He is the One Who drew all creation
out of nothing by a word, and has only to open His hand to fill
"with blessing every living creature" (Ps 144:16), He is not born
in a palace; His Mother, finding no room in the inn, had to take
refuge in a stable cave: the Son of God, Eternal Wisdom, willed to
be born in destitution and laid upon straw.
If with faith and love we contemplate the Child Jesus in His Crib,
we shall find in Him the Divine Example of many virtues; if we
know how to lend the ear of our hearts to what He says to us, we
shall learn many things; if we refiect upon the circumstances of
His Birth, we shall see how the Humanity serves the Word as the
instrument to instruct us, but likewise to raise us, to quicken
us, to make us pleasing to His Father, to detach us from passing
things, to lift us up even to Himself.
"Divinity is clad in our mortal fiesh... and because God humbles
Himself to live a human life, man is raised towards divine
things": Dum divinitas defectum nostrae carnes suscepit, humanum
genus lumen, quod amiserat, recepit. Unde enim Deus humana
patitur, inde homo ad divina sublevatur (S. Gregor. Homil. I, in
Thus from whatever side our faith contemplates this exchange, and
whatever be the details of it that we examine, it appears
admirable to us.
Is not this child-bearing of a virgin indeed admirable: Natus
ineffabiliter ex virgine? (Antiphon for the Octave of Christmas).
"A young Maiden has brought forth the King Whose name is Eternal:
to the honour of virginity she unites the joys of motherhood;
before her, the like was never seen, nor shall it ever be so
again" (Genuit puerpera regem, cui nomen aeternum, et gaudia
matris habens cum virginitatis honore, nec priman similem visa
est, nec habere sequentem. Antiphon for Lauds at Christmas.)
"Daughters of Jerusalem, why do you admire me? This mystery that
you behold in me is truly divine" (Filiae Jerusalem, quid me
admiramini? Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis. Antiphon for
the Feast of the Expectatio partus virginis, Dec. 18).
Admirable is this indissoluble union, that is yet without
confusion, of the divinity with the humanity in the one Person of
the Word: Mirabile mysterium: innovantur naturae. Admirable is
this exchange, by the contrasts of its realisation: God gives us a
share in His divinity, but the humanity that He takes from us in
order to communicate His divine life to us is a suffering
humanity, "acquainted with infirmity," homo sciens infirmitatem
(Is 53:3), that will undergo death and, by death, will restore
life to us.
Admirable is this exchange in its source which is none other than
God's infinite love for us. Sic Deus dilexit mundum, ut Filium
suum Unigenitum daret (Jn 3:16). "God so loved the world as to
give His Only-begotten Son." Let us, then, yield up our souls to
joy and sing with the Church: Parvulus natus est nobis et filius
DATUS est NOBIS. And how is He given? "In the likeness of sinful
flesh." This is why the love that thus gives Him to us in our
passible humanity, in order to expiate sin, is a measureless love:
Propter NIMIAM caritatem suam, qua dilexit nos Deus, misit Filium
suum in similitudinem carnis peccati (Antiphon for the Octave of
Admirable, finally, in its fruits and effects. By this exchange,
God again gives us His friendship, He restores to us the right of
entering into possession of the eternal inheritance; He looks anew
upon humanity with love and complacency.
Therefore, joy is one of the most marked characteristics of the
celebration of this mystery. The Church constantly invites us to
it, remembering the words of the angel to the shepherds: "Behold,
I bring you tidings of great joy... for this day is born to you a
Saviour" (Lk 2:10-11). It is the joy of deliverance, of the
inheritance regained, of peace found once again, and, above all,
of the vision of God Himself given to men: Et vocabitur nomen ejus
Emmanuel (Is 7:14; cf. Mt 1:23).
But this joy will only be assured if we remain firm in the grace
that comes to us from the Saviour and makes us His brethren. "O
Christian", exclaims St. Leo, in a sermon that the Church reads
during this holy night, "recognise thy dignity: Agnosce, O
Christiane, dignitatem tuam. And made a partaker of the divinity,
take care not to fall back from so sublime a state" (Sermo I de
"If thou didst know the gift of God" (Jn 4:10), said our Lord
Himself. If thou didst know all that this Son is Who is given to
thee! If, above all, we were to receive Him as we ought to receive
Him! Let it not be said of us: In propria venit, et sui eum non
receperunt (Gospel for the Mass on Christmas Day). "He came unto
His own, and His own received Him not." By our creation, all of us
are "His own"; we belong to God; but there are some who have not
received Him upon this earth. How many Jews, how many pagans have
rejected Christ, because He has appeared in the humility of
passible flesh! Souls sunk in the darkness of pride and
sensuality: Lux in tenebris lucet, et tenebrae eam non
And how ought we to receive Him ? By faith: His qui credunt in
nomine ejus. It is to those who--believing in His Person, in His
word, in His works,--have received this Child as God, that it has
been given, in return, to become themselves children of God: Ex
Deo nati sunt.
Such is, in fact, the fundamental disposition that we must have so
that this "admirable exchange" may produce in us all its fruits.
Faith alone teaches us how it is brought about; wherein it is
realised; faith alone gives us a true knowledge of it and one
worthy of God.
For there are many modes and degrees of knowledge.
"The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his Master's Crib," wrote
Isaias, in speaking of this mystery (Is 1:3). They saw the Child
lying in the crib. But what could they see? As much as an animal
could see: the form, the size, the colour, the movement,--an
entirely rudimentary knowledge that does not pass the boundary
line of sensation. Nothing more.
The passers-by, the curious, who approached the stable-cave saw
the Child; but for them He was like all others. They did not go
beyond this purely natural knowledge. Perhaps they were struck by
the Child's loveliness. Perhaps they pitied His destitution. But
this feeling did not last and was soon replaced by indifference.
There were the Shepherds, simple-hearted men, enlightened by a ray
from on high: Claritas Dei circumfulsit illos (Lk 2:9), They
certainly understood more; they recognised in this Child the
promised Messias, long awaited, the Exicctatio gentium (Gen
49:10); they paid Him their homage, and their souls were for a
long time full of joy and peace.
The Angels likewise contemplated the New-born Babe, the Word made
Flesh. They saw in Him their God; this knowledge threw these pure
spirits into awe and wonderment at such incomprehensible self-
abasement: for it was not to their nature that He willed to unite
Himself: Nusquam angelos, but to human nature, sed semen Abrahae
apprehendit (Heb 2:16).
What shall we say of the Blessed Virgin when she looked upon
Jesus? Into what depths of the mystery did her gaze penetrate--
that gaze so pure, so humble, so tender, so full of bliss? Who
shall be able to express with what lights the soul of Jesus
inundated His Mother, and what perfect homage Mary rendered to her
Son, to her God, to all the states and all the mysteries whereof
the Incarnation is the substance and the root.
There is finally--but this is beyond description--the gaze of the
Father contemplating His Son made flesh for mankind. The Heavenly
Father saw that which never man, nor angel, nor Mary herself could
comprehend: the infinite perfections of the Divinity hidden in a
Babe... And this contemplation was the source of unspeakable
rapture: Thou art My Son, My beloved Son, the Son of My direction
in Whom I have placed all My delights (Mk 1:2; Lk 3:22)...
When we contemplate the Incarnate Word at Bethlehem, let us rise
above the things of sense so as to gaze upon Him with the eyes of
faith alone. Faith makes us share here below in the knowledge that
the Divine Persons have of One Another. There is no exaggeration
in this. Sanctifying grace makes us indeed partakers of the divine
nature. Now, the activity of the divine nature consists in the
knowledge that the Divine Persons have the One of the Other, and
the love that they have One for the Other. We participate
therefore in this knowledge and in this love. And in the same way
as sanctifying grace having its fruition in glory will give us the
right of seeing God as He sees Himself, so, upon earth, in the
shadows of faith, grace enables us to behold deep down into these
mysteries through the eyes of God: Lux tuae claritatis infulsit
(Preface for Christmas).
When our faith is intense and perfect, we do not stay to look only
at the outside of the mystery, but we go deeply into it; we pass
through the Humanity to penetrate as far as the Godhead which the
Humanity at the same time hides and reveals; we behold divine
mysteries in the divine light.
And ravished, astounded at such prodigious abasement, the soul,
vivified by this faith, falls prostrate in adoration and yields
herself up entirely to procure the glory of a God Who, from love
for His creature, thus veils the native splendour of His
unfathomable perfections. She can never rest until she has given
all, in return, to fill up her part in the exchange that He
desires to contract with her, until she has brought herself wholly
into subjection to this " King of Peace Who comes with so much
magnificence" (Antiphon at Vespers on Christmas Day) to save,
sanctify and, as it were, to deify her.
Let us then draw near to the Child God with great faith. We may
wish to have been at Bethlehem to receive Him. Yet He is here
giving Himself to us in Holy Communion with as much reality
although our senses are less able to find Him. In the Tabernacle
as in the Crib, it is the same God full of power, the same Saviour
full of tender mercy.
If we will have it so, the admirable exchange still continues. For
it is likewise through His Humanity that Christ infuses divine
life into us at the Holy Table. It is in eating His Flesh and
drinking His Blood, in uniting ourselves to His Humanity, that we
draw at the very wellspring of everlasting life: Qui manducat meam
carnem, et bibit meum sanguinem, habet vitam aeternam (Jn 6:55)...
Thus, each day, the union established between man and God in the
Incarnation, is continued and made closer. In giving Himself in
Communion, Christ increases the life of grace in the generous and
faithful soul, making this life develop more freely and expand
with more strength; He even bestows upon such a soul the pledge of
that blessed immortality of which grace is the germ and whereby
God will communicate Himself to us fully and unveiled: Ut natus
hodie Salvator mundi, sicut divinae nobis generationis cst auctor,
ita et immortalitatis sit IPSE largitor (Postcommunion of
This will be the consummation, magnificent and glorious, of the
exchange inaugurated at Bethlehem in the poverty and humiliations
of the Crib.
From Christ in His Mysteries, Abbot Marmion, O.S.B.
Copyright © 1996 Catholic Information Network (CIN) - December 23,