John Henry Newman.

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carnation of the Eternal Word. Thus briefly and simply does he speak,
as if fearing he should fail in fitting reverence. If any there was who
might seem to have permission to indulge in words on this subject, it
was the beloved disciple, who had heard, and seen, and looked upon,
and handled the Word of Life ; yet, in proportion to the height of his
privilege, was his discernment of the infinite distance between him and
his Creator. Such too was the temper of the Holy Angels, when the
Father " brought in the First-begotten into the world :"* they straight-
way worshipped Him. And such was the feeling of awe and love
mingled together, which remained for a while in the Church after An-
gels had announced His coming, and Evangelists had recorded His
sojourn here and His departure ; " there was silence as it were for half
an hour."f Around the Church, indeed, the voices of blasphemy were
heard, even as when He hung on the cross ; but in the Church there
was light and peace, fear, joy, and holy meditation. Lawless doubt-
ings, importunate inquirings, confident reasonings were not. A
heartfelt adoration, a practical devotion to the Ever-blessed Son, pre-
cluded difficulties in faith, and sheltered the Church from the necessity
of speaking.

He who had seen the Lord Jesus with a pure mind, attending him
from the lake of Gennesareth to Calvary, and from the Sepulchre to
Mount Olivet, where He left this scene of His humiliation ; he who
had been put in charge with His Virgin Mother, and heard from her
what she alone could tell of the Mystery to which she had ministered ;

* Hcb. i. 6, t Rev. viii. 1.


and they who had heard it from his mouth, and those again whom these
have taujrht, the first generations of the Church needed no explicit
declarations concerning His Sacred Person. Sight and hearing super-
seded the multitude of words ; faith dispensed with the aid of length-
ened Creeds and Confessions. There was silence. " The Word was
made flesh ;" " I believe in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord ;" sen-
tences such as these conveyed every thing, yet were officious in no-
thing. But when the light of His advent faded, and love waxed cold,
then there was an opening for objection and discussion, and a difficulty
in answering. Then misconceptions had to be explained, doubts al-
layed, questions set at rest, innovators silenced. Christians were forced
to speak against their will, lest heretics should speak instead of them.

Such is the difference between our own state and that of the early
Church, which the present Festival especially brings to mind. In the
New Testament we find the doctrine of the Incarnation announced,
clearly indeed, but with a reverent brevity. " The Word was made
flesh." " God was manifest in the flesh." " God was in Christ.''
" Unto us a child is born, the mighty God." " Christ, over all, God,
blessed for ever." " My Lord and my God." " I am Alpha and
Omega, the beginning and the ending, the Almighty." " The Son of
God, the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His Per-
son."* But we are obliged to speak more at length in the Creeds and
in our teaching, to meet the perverse ingenuity of those who, when the
Apostles were removed, could with impunity insult and misinterpret
the letter of their writings.

Nay, further, so circumstanced are we, as to be obliged not only
thus to guard the Truth, but even to give the reason of our guarding
it. For they who would steal away the Lord from us, not content with
forcing us to measures of protection, even go on to bring us to account
for adopting them ; and demand that we should put aside whatever
stands between them and their heretical purposes. Therefore it is
necessary to state clearly, as I have already done, why the Church has
lengthened her statements of Christian doctrine. Another reason of
these statements is as follows : time having proceeded, and the true
traditions of our Lord's ministry being lost to us, the Object of our
faith is but faintly reflected on our minds, compared with the vivid
picture which His presence impressed upon the early Christians. True
is it the Gospels will do very much by way of realizing for us the
incarnation of the Son of God, if studied in faith and love. But the

* 1 Tim. iii. 16. 2 Cor. v. 19. Isai. ix. 6, Rom. ix. 5, John xx. 28. Rev. i.
8. Heb. i. 2, 3.


Creeds are an additional help this way. The declarations made in
them, the distinctions, cautions, and the like, supported and illuminated
by Scripture, draw down, as it were, from heaven, the image of Him
who is on God's right hand, preserve us from an indolent use of words
without apprehending them, and rouse in us those mingled feelings of
fear and confidence, affection and devotion towards Him, which are
implied in the belief of a personal advent of God in our nature, and
which were originally derived to the Ciiurch from the very sigh of

And we may say further still, these statements, such, for instance,
as occur in the Te Deum and Athanasian Creed, are especially suit-
able in divine worship, inasmuch as they kindle and elevate the reli-
gious affections. They are hymns of praise and thanksgiving ; they
give glory to God as revealed in the Gospel, just as David's Psalms
magnify His Attributes as displayed in nature. His wonderful works in
the creation of the world, and His mercies towards the house of Israel.

With these objects, then, it may be useful, on to-day's Festival, to
call your attention to the Catholic doctrine of the Incarnation.

The Word was from the beginning, the only begotten Son of God.
Before all worlds were created, while as yet time was not. He was in
existence, in the bosom of the Eternal Father, God from God, and
Light from Light, supremely blessed in knowing and being known of
Him, and receiving all divine perfections from Him, yet ever One
■with Him who begat Him. As it is said in the opening of the Gospel ;
" In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and
the Word was God." If we may dare conjecture. He is called the
Word of God, as mediating between the Father and all creatures ;
bringing them into being, fashioning them, giving the world its laws,
imparting reason and conscience to creatures of a higher order, and
revealing to them in due season the knowledge of God's will. And to
ns Christians He is especially the Word in that great Mystery com-
memorated to-day, whereby He became flesh, and redeemed us from a
world of sin.

He, indeed, when man fell, might have remained in the glory which
He had with the Father before the world was. But that unsearchable
Love, which showed itself in our original creation, rested not content
with a frustrated work, but brought Him down again from His Father's
bosom to do His will, and repair the evil which sin had caused. And
with a wonderful condescension He came, not as before in power, but
in weakness, in the form of a servant, in the likeness of that fallen
creature whom He purposed to restore. So He humbled Himself;
.suffering all the infirmities of our nature in the likeness of sinful flesh,

Vol. I.— 15


all but a sinner,— pure from all sin, yet subjected to all temptation,—
and at length becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the

I have said that when the Only-begotten Son stooped to take upon
Him our nature, He had no fellowship with sin. It was impossible
that He should. Therefore, since our nature was corrupt since Adam's
fall, He did not come in the way of nature, He did not clothe Himself
in that corrupt flesh which Adam's race inherits. He came by mira-
cle, so as to take on Him our imperfection without having any share in
our sinfulness. He was not born as other men are ; for " that which
is born of the flesh is flesh."*

All Adam's children are children of wrath ; so our Lord came as
the Son of Man, but not the son of sinful Adam. He had no earthly
father ; He abhorred to have one. The thought may not be suftcred
that He should have been the son of shame and guilt. He came by a
new and living way ; not, indeed, formed out of the ground, as Adam
was at the first, lest he should miss the participation of our nature, but
selecting and purifying unto Himself a tabernacle out of that which
existed. As in the beginning, woman was formed out of man by Al-
mighty power, so now, by a like mystery, but a reverse order, the new
Adam was fashioned from the woman. He was, as had been foretold,
the immaculate " seed of the woman," deriving His manhood from the
substance of the Virgin Mary ; as it is expressed in the articles of the
Creed,-" conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary."

Thus the Son of God became the Son of Man ; mortal, but not a
sinner ; heir of our infirmities, not of our guiltiness ; the offspring of
the old race, yet " the beginning of the " new " creation of God."^
Mary, His mother, was a sinner as others, and born of sinners ; but
she was set apart, " as a garden inclosed, a spring shut up, a fountain
sealed," to yield a created nature to Him who was her Creator. Thus
He came into this world, not in the clouds of heaven, but born into it,
born of a woman ; He, the Son of Mary, and she (if it may be said),
the Mother of God. Thus He came, selecting and setting apart for
Himself the elements of body and soul ; then, uniting them to Himself
from their first origin of existence, pervading them, hallowing them by
His own Divinity, spiritualizing them, and filling them with light and
purity, the while they continued to be human, and for a time mortal
and exposed to infirmity. And, as they grew from day to day in their
holy union. His Eternal Essence still was one with them, exalting
them, acting in them, manifesting Itself through them, so that He was

* John iii. 6.


truly God and Man, One Person, — as we are soul and body, yet one
man, so truly God and man are not two, but One Christ. Thus did
the Son of God enter this mortal world ; and when He had reached
man's estate. He began His ministry, preached the Gospel, chose His
Apostles, suffered on the cross, died, and was buried, rose again and
ascended on high, there to reign till the day when He comes again to
judge the world. This is the All-gracious Mystery of the Incarnation,
good to look into, good to adore ; according to the saying in the text,
— "the Word was made flesh, — and dwelt among us."

The brief account thus given of the Catholic doctrine of the Incar-
nation of the Eternal Word, may be made more distinct by referring
to some of those modes mentioned in Scripture, in which God has at
divers times condescended to manifest Himself in His creatures, which
come short of it.

1 . God was in the Prophets, but not as He was in Christ. The di-
vine authority, and in one sense, name, may be given to His Ministers,
considered as His representatives. Moses says to the Israelites, " Your
murmurings are not against us, but against the Lord." And St. Paul,
'* He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God."* In this
sense, Rulers and Judges are sometimes called gods, as our Lord Him-
self says.

And further, the Prophets were inspired. Thus John the Baptist is
said to have been filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother's womb,
.^acharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied. In like
manner the Holy Ghost came on the Apostles at Pentecost and at other
times ; and so wonderfully gifted was St. Paul, that " from his body were
brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed
from them, and the evil spirits went of out them."| Now* the character-
istic of this miraculous inspiration was, that the presence of God came
and went. Thus we read in the aforementioned and similar narratives,
of the Prophet or Apostle heing Jilled with the Spirit on a particular occa-
sion ; as again of " the Spirit of the Lord departing from Saul," and an
evil spirit troubling him. Thus this divine inspiration was so far parallel
to demonical possession. We find in the Gospels the devil speaking
with the voice of his victim, so that the tormentor and the tormented
could not be distinguished from each other. They seemed to be one
and the same, though they were not ; as appeared when Christ and
His Apostles cast the devil out. And so again the Jewish Temple was
in one sense inhabited by the presence of God, which came down upon

* Exod. AVI. 8, 1 Thess. iv. 8. t Acts x\x. 12.


it at Solomon's prayer. This was a type of our Lord's manhood dwelt
in by the Word of God as a Temple ; still with this essential difference,
that the Jewish Temple was perishable, and again the Divine Presence
might recede from it. There was no real unity between the one and
the other ; they were separable. But Christ says to the Jews of His
own body, "Destroy this Temple and I will raise it in three days ;" im-
plying in these words, such a unity between the Godhead and the man-
hood, that there could be no real separation, no dissolution. Even when
His body was dead, the Divine Nature was one with it ; in like manner
it was one with His soul in paradise. Soul and body were really one
with the Eternal Word, — not one in name only, — one never to be divi-
ded. Therefore Scripture says that He rose again " according to the
Spirit of holiness ;" and " that it was not possible that He should be
holden of death."*

2. Again, the Gospel teaches us another mode in which man may be
said to be united with Almighty God. It is the peculiar blessedness of
the Christian, as St. Peter tells us, to be "partaker of the Divine Na-
ture."! We believe, and have joy in believing, that the grace of Christ
renews our carnal souls, repairing the eflects of Adam's fall. Where
Adam brought in impurity and unbelief, the power of God infuses faith
and holiness. Thus we have God's perfections communicated to us
anew, and, as being under immediate heavenly influences, are said to
be one with God. And further, we are assured of some real though mys-
tical fellowship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in order to this : so
that both by a real presence in the soul, and by the fruits of grace, God
is one with every believer, as in a consecrated Temple. But still, inex-
pressible as is this gift of Divine Mercy, it were blasphemy not to say
that the in-dwelling of the Father in the Son is infinitely above this, being
quite different in kind ; for He is not merely of a divine nature, divine by
participation of holiness and perfection, but Life and Holiness itself,
such as the Father is, — the Co-eternal Son incarnate, God clothed with
our nature, the Word made flesh.

3. And lastly, we read in the Patriarchal History of various appear-
ances of Angels so remarkaV^le that we can scarcely hesitate to suppose
them to be gracious visions of the Eternal Son. For instance ; it is
said that " the Angel of the Lord appeared unto" Moses " in a flame of
fire out of the midst of a bush ;" yet presently this supernatural Pre-
sence is called " the Lord," and afterwards reveals His name to Moses,
as " the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." On the other hand St.
Stephen speaks of Him as " the Angel which appeared to Moses in the

* Rom. i. 4. Acts ii. 24. t 2 Pet. i. 4.


bush." Again, he says soon after, that Moses v/as "in the Church in
the wilderness with the Angel which spake to him in mount Sina ;" yet
in the book of Exodus we read, " Moses went up unto God, and the
Lord called unto him out of the mountain ;" " God spake all these words
saying ;"* and the like. Now, assuming, as we seem to have reason
to assume, that the Son of God is herein revealed to us, as graciously
ministering to the Patriarchs, Moses, and others, in angelic form, the
question arises, what was the nature of this appearance 1 We are not
informed, nor may we venture to determine ; still, any how, the Angel
was but the temporary outward form which the Eternal Word assumed,
whether it was of a material nature, or a vision. Whether or no it was
really an Angel, or but an appearance existing only for the immediate
purpose ; yet, any how, we could not with propriety say that our Lord
•' took upon Him the nature of Angels."

Now these instances of the indwelling of Almighty God in a created
substance, which I have given by way of contrast to that infinitely
higher and mysterious union which is called the Incarnation, actually
supply the senses in which heretics at various times have perverted our
holy and comfortable doctrine, and which have obliged us to have re-
course to Creeds and Confessions. Rejecting the teaching of the
Church, and dealing rudely Avith the Word of God, they have ventured
to deny that " Jesus Christ is come in the flesh," pretending He
merely showed Himself as a vision or phantom ; — or they have said
that the Son of God merely dwelt in the man Christ Jesus, as the
Shechinah in the Temple, having no real union with the Son of Mary
(as if there were two distinct Beings, the Word and Jesus, even as the
blessed Spirit is distinct from a man's soul ;) — or that Christ was called
God for His great spiritual perfections, and that He gradually attained
them by long practice. All these are words not to be uttered, except
to show what the true doctrine is, and what is the meaning of the lan-
guage of the Church concerning it. For instance, the Athanasian
Creed confesses that Christ is " God of the substance of the Father,
begotten before the worlds, perfect God," lest we should consider His
Divine Nature, like ours, as merely a nature resembling God's holi-
ness ; that He is " Man of the substance of His Mother, born in the
world, perfect man," lest we should think of Him as " not come in the
flesh," a mere Angelic vision ; and " that although He be God and
man, yet He is not two, but One Christ," lest we should fancy that the
Word of God entered into Him and then departed, as the Hjly Ghost
in the Prophets.

* Exod. iii. 2. Acts vii. 35—38. Excd. xix. 3. xx. 1.


Such are the terms in which we are constrained to speak of our
Lord and Saviour, by the craftiness of His enemies and our own infir-
mity ; and we intreat His leave to do so. We intreat His leave, not
as if forgetting that a reverent silence is best on so sacred a subject ;
but, when evil men and seducers abound on every side, and our own
apprehensions of the Truth are dull, using zealous David's argument,
"Is there not a cause" for words? We intreat His leave, and we
humbly pray that what was first our defence against pride and indo-
lence may become an outlet of devotion, a service of worship. Nay,
we surely trust that He will accept mercifully what we offer in faith,
" doing Avhat we can ;" though the ointment of spikenard which we
pour out is nothing to that true Divine Glory which manifested itself
in Him, when the Holy Ghost singled Him out from other men, and
the Father's voice acknowledged Him as His dearly beloved Son.
Surely He will mercifully accept it, if faith offers what the intellect
provides ; if love kindles the sacrifice, zeal fans it, and reverence guards
it. He will illuminate our earthly words from His own Divine Holi-
ness, till they become saving truths to the souls which trust in Him.
He who turned water into wine, and (did He so choose) could make
bread of the hard stone, will sustain us for a brief season on this mortal
fare. And we the while receiving it, will never so forget its imperfec-
tion, as not to look out constantly for the True Beatific Vision ; never
so perversely remember it, as to reject what is necessary for our
present need. The time will come, if we be found worthy, when we,
who now see in a glass darkly, shall see our Lord and Saviour face to
face ; shall behold His countenance beaming with the fulness of Divine
perfections, and bearing its own witness that He is the Son of God.
We shall see Him as He is.

Let us then according to the light given us, praise and bless Him in
the Church below, whom Angels in heaven see and adore. Let us
bless Him for His .surpassing loving-kindness in taking upon Him our
infirmities to redeem us, when He dwelt in the innermost love of the
Everlasting Father, in the glory which He had with Him before the
world was. He came in lowliness and want ; born amid the tumults
of a mixed and busy multitude, cast aside into the outhouse of a
crowded inn, laid to His first rest among the brute cattle. He grew
up, as if the native of a despised city, and was bred to a humble craft.
He bore to live in a world that slighted Him, for he lived in it, in order
in due time to die for it. He came, as the appointed Priest, to offer
sacrifice for those who took no part in the act of worship ; He came to
offer up for sinners that precious blood which was meritorious by virtue
of His Divine Anointing. He died, to rise again the third day, the


Sun of Righteousness, fully displaying that splendour which had hith-
erto been concealed by the morning clouds. He rose again, to ascend
to the right hand of God, there to plead His sacred wounds in token of
our forgiveness, to rule and guide His ransomed people, and from His
pierced side to pour forth His choicest blessings upon them. He
ascended, thence to descend again in due season to judge the world
which he has redeemed. — Great is our Lord, and great is His power,
Jesus the Son of God and Son of man. ^en thousand times more
dazzling bright than the highest Archangel, is our Lord and Christ.
By birth the Only-begotten and Express Image of God ; and in taking
our flesh, not sullied thereby, but raising human nature with Him, as
He rose from the lowly manger to the right hand of power, — raising
human nature, for Man has redeemed us, Man is set above all creatures,
as one with the Creator, Man shall judge man at the last day. So
honoured is this earth, that no stranger shall judge us, but He who is our
fellow, who will sustain our interests, and has full sympathy in all our
imperfections. He who loved us, even to die for us, is graciously ap-
pointed to assign the final measurement and price upon His own work.
He who best knows by infirmity to take the part of the infirm, He who
would fain reap the full fruit of His passion. He will separate the wheat
from the chati', so that not a grain shall fall to the ground. He who
has given us to share His own spiritual nature. He from whom we have
drawn the life's blood of our souls, He our brother will decide about his
brethren. In that His second coming, may He in His grace and loving
pity remember us, who is our only hope, our only salvation !



Hebrews xi. 37.

They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with
the sword.

St. Stephen, who was one of the seven Deacons, is called the Proto-
martyr, as having first suffered death in the cause of the Gospel. Let
mo take the opportunity of his festival to make some remarks upon
martyrdom generally.

232 ST. STEPHEN. [Sbrm;.

The word Martyr properly means " a witness" but is used to denote
exclusively one who has suffered death for the Christian faith. Those
who have witnessed for Christ without suffering death, are called Con-
fessors ; a title which the early Martyrs often made their own, before
their last solemn confession unto death, or Martyrdom. Our Lord
Jesus Christ is the chief and most glorious of Martyrs, as having
" before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession ;"* but we do not
call Him a Martyr, as bei% much more than a Martyr. True it is,
He died for the Truth ; but that was not the chief purpose of His death.
He died to save us sinners from the wrath of God. He was not only a
Martyr ; He was an Atoning Sacrifice.

He is the supreme object of our love, gratitude, and reverence. Next
to Him we honour the noble army of Martyrs ; not indeed comparing
them with Him, " who is above all, God blessed for ever," or as if they
in suffering had any part in the work of reconciliation, but because they
have approached most closely to His pattern of all His servants. They
have shed their blood for the Church, fulfilling the text, " He laid down
His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren ^^\
They have followed His steps, and claim our grateful remembrance.
Had St. Stephen shrunk from the trial put upon him, and recanted to
save his life, no one can estimate the consequences of such a defection.
Perhaps (humanly speaking) the cause of the Gospel would have been

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 26 of 76)