Thoughts Concerning the Conception, Birth and Glorification of Jesus Christ
by Rt. Rev. George deCharms
[We here review a] thesis concerning the glorification of the Lord, namely that: When the Lord said to His apostles on the first Easter Sunday:
He did not mean, as is commonly supposed, that the material substances with which His earthly body had been clothed were actually transmuted into the Infinite. But let us examine the evidence revealed in the Writings concerning the conception, birth and glorification of Jesus Christ.
This is the most abstruse and astounding of all Divine miracles. Yet the Writings state that it was accomplished incomplete accord with the laws of Divine order which have governed the universe from the beginning. This is contrary to the appearance because in nature all the propagation of living organisms has always taken place through the conjunction of male and female, but in the conception of the Lord there was no human father. The seeming discrepancy arises from a misconception as to the real function of the male seed. It is not, as has been universally supposed, the vital element in the process of conception. All conception results from the influx of life from Jehovah God. The male seed is only a vessel through which and by means of which the Lord creates living organisms, including human beings. But what the Lord does by means of it differs greatly according to the form of use He has in view. As we have seen, His purpose in creating a human being is to produce an angel who can perform an eternal use in the kingdom of heaven. We have noted the part that the paternal seed plays in the achievement of this goal. What then does the Word teach concerning the conception of Jesus Christ?
That such a "coming" would be necessary was foreseen from the time of the "fall." By the promise of it hope was kept alive in the hearts of men, and an ever-declining remnant of true religion was preserved through countless ages. To do this was the purpose for the sake of which the written Word was given. By means of it the Lord retained His contact with the human race.
By means of the Word men were prepared to recognize the Lord at His coming, and receive Him with joy. This was the whole purpose of Divine prophecy. Some idea of God as a Being Divinely "Human," a Being infinitely loving and infinitely wise could be preserved and cherished in human hearts. It was this "Word" which "was in the beginning with God, and which was God" (John 1:1) which must be "made flesh" to "dwell" among men, that they might "behold His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).
Faith in this "Word" was the only means whereby men could be regenerated and prepared for heaven. Because of this we read: "By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth" (Psalm 33:6). Through all the ages, the Lord remained present with the angels by means of His Word. He was present not only with those who were in the celestial heaven, but also with those who were in the spiritual heaven, and in the natural heaven. His Word was accommodated to those dwelling in each of these heavens, wherefore it is said that "He bowed the heavens and came down" (Psalm 18:9). So doing, He took nothing from the "proprium" of the angels, but only the Word Itself as accommodated to their mind and understanding. This is the "Word" which "was made flesh, and dwelt among us."
It was foreseen and prophesied that this conception must be by means of a virgin mother.
With the rapid advance of scientific thought, the possibility of such a miracle has come to be viewed either with profound skepticism or with complete denial. To New Churchmen the Writings have restored an unquestioning faith. Nevertheless, the teaching now given concerning it appears abstract and difficult to understand. We find it hard to think apart from material ideas of space and time. We cannot think of the Lord's earthly body apart from the mineral substances with which it was clothed.
The embryo in the womb of Mary was in very truth the "Son of God." It was "the Word made flesh." In this respect it was completely different from any other human embryo. It was created for an entirely different purpose, or "use." It was not designed to become an angel, capable of performing an eternal use in the kingdom of heaven. It was created instead to become the embodiment of Divine love and wisdom, through which the Lord Himself might speak in human language to men on earth, teaching them and leading them once more into the way of life from which they had strayed so far. This use, like that of every living organism, had to be clothed with substances and matters from the mineral kingdom in order that it might be "fixed and permanent." But in itself, the embryo of Jesus Christ was a form of Divine "use" utterly unique.
The "soul" of Jesus Christ was Jehovah God. Of this stupendous truth, however, the infant Jesus was born completely ignorant. Like every infant, He was wakened to consciousness through physical sensation. His body was provided with organs of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch similar to those of every human infant. But consciousness is not a function of physical organs. The eye does not see, the ear does not hear, the skin does not feel. All sensation arises from within, by influx from the soul. It is due to an act of will, whereby attention is focused upon some object or event in the environment. The "will" is the "love." The love into which Jesus Christ was created was the love of God. His Soul was Divine Love Itself. But aside from this He derived from His mother Mary an hereditary tendency to love God. It could not be otherwise, for Mary was a good woman. Although she inherited a tendency to all the evils of her race, she preserved throughout her life a simple faith in the Word, and a love of Jehovah, her invisible God.
The Writings distinctly teach us that we derive from our parents not only a tendency to evil but also a tendency to good. This tendency is only an external emotion, the quality of which is not known. It is not a rational good, or one that can lead to regeneration. Yet we are told that those who are married in conjugial love impart to their children a "tendency" toward the conjugial. Unless Mary had loved God, and this from the heart, she could by no means have become the mother of the Lord.
Because of an hereditary tendency to love God, when Jehovah appeared at the first awakening to consciousness of the infant Jesus, there was in Him an emotional response of joy. From this began a return of love from Jesus Christ to God the Father. It was at first without understanding, for Jesus was born into complete ignorance. But as He grew, understanding gradually developed, and as it did so, the love of Jehovah God became with Him what the Writings call the "Human Essence." This is what was progressively glorified and at last united with the "Divine Essence" which was His infinite Soul.
In order that such an embryo might be created, it was essential that there should be no human father. The reason for this becomes clear when we consider what the Writings teach concerning the conception of all human beings. As already said, the "primitive of man" is an "inmost vessel receptive of life from God." This vessel, we are told, is of three degrees: the two interior degrees are "in the order and form of heaven; but the third degree is in an order contrary to the form of heaven."
How can we understand this? We are told that the creation of an individual human being is a complete, though minute, replica of the creation of the entire universe. Man is a "microcosm" or minute image of the "macrocosm" or universe. The first of creation was the sun of heaven, from which there proceeded in order three discrete degrees or atmospheres, carrying the heat and light of that sun to the angels of all the heavens. The spiritual sun and the natural sun were created simultaneously. From the natural sun there proceeded in order three natural atmospheres, one embracing the entire planetary system; the "ether" which surrounds the earth, extending for a considerable distance into space; and the air, by means of which the heat and light of the sun are accommodated to reception by all living organisms on the surface of the planet.
From this teaching I have drawn the conclusion that the two interior degrees of the "primitive of man" are to the human microcosm what the spiritual sun is to the macrocosm. It is the source of all spiritual love and wisdom to which human beings may aspire, and these produce the rational mind that lives after death, and makes man an angel of heaven. This "inmost vessel of life" described as two interior degrees of spiritual creation is the "presence of the Lord with man." It is completely above man's consciousness, and remains with him, unchanged, to eternity. It is a form of love and wisdom which causes each one to be an individual, forever distinct from every other human being. From it is derived all one's ability to love, to think, to understand, and to act.
The third degree is formed in the mind of a human father. It is formed in the image of his ruling love, together with the loves of all his ancestors, whence comes what is called the "paternal heredity." This is a tendency to all the evils of the race. This paternal heredity appears to man to be his very self, for which reason it has been called "human nature." It is so deeply imbedded in man's consciousness that it can never be totally eradicated. It remains even with the angels of heaven, and they must be perpetually protected from it by the secret operation of the Divine Providence. For this reason, in the conception of Jesus Christ there could be no human father. He was born "a celestial-spiritual man." He did inherit a tendency to evil from Mary, but this did not appear to be His own. He perceived it as the evil of the race, against which He was called upon to fight. Of this we shall speak presently; but in spite of there being no human father, the conception of Jesus Christ was in complete accord with the Divine order, according to which all conception of living organisms takes place. Consider: All conception is effected by means of the Word, wherefore we read:
The form of the male seed differs in every individual case. It is the form of a particular use. The Divine love operates through it with infinite wisdom to produce an organism minutely adapted to that special use. Such a vessel, formed in the mind of a human father, would not be conducive to the creation of Jesus Christ. For this reason it was omitted, and in every other respect, the Divine order of conception was observed. For the same reason, the form of every other male seed was omitted in the case of every conception, because it would not be conducive to the use intended. The Word Itself was the seed of Jesus Christ, and this is meant by the words of the angel to Mary:
In Jesus Christ the Word was indeed "made flesh." For this reason the flesh and blood of the embryo formed in Mary's womb were utterly unique. They were entirely different in inmost form and structure from those of any other human embryo. They were so created that, unlike the flesh and blood of other human beings, they might be glorified, and completely united with the infinite soul of the Father. In spite of this, the infant Jesus was to all outward appearance indistinguishable from any other infant. It was essential that this should be so because the Divine within must be completely hidden, not only from the eyes of men and spirits but from Jesus Christ Himself. If His Divine nature should have been openly revealed, all men would have been compelled to believe in Him. Evil spirits could not possibly have drawn near to tempt Him. Jesus Himself could not freely have returned the love of the Infinite Father, and the whole purpose of the advent would have been negated.
This is the reason why Jesus Christ had to be alternately in two opposite states - that of glorification and that of temptation. In states of glorification Jehovah appeared to Him, teaching, inspiring, and infilling His mind with a sense of power and of glory. But in states of temptation He felt utterly alone. God seemed to have forsaken Him. He was surrounded and attacked by all the evils of mankind. He prayed to the Father as to another, outside of Himself. But then by His own will and power, He did what Jehovah had commanded, with unswerving faith and trust in the Divine wisdom of the Word. By this He overcame every attack from the hells.
The Lord's awareness of the Divine within Him was progressive. When Jehovah first appeared, Jesus did not know Him, but perceived Him as His ancestor Abram had thought of his tribal god Shaddai. Inflowing love can be felt, but it cannot be seen and understood except by means of sensations and knowledges derived from sensation. So also the light of the natural sun cannot be seen except as reflected from objects on earth, or from tiny particles of matter in the atmosphere. This is why the infant Jesus had to grow by means of knowledges gathered from His natural environment by eagerly reaching out to learn. The command to do this He received from the Father. This is what is meant by the command given by Jehovah at His first appearing: "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee" (Genesis 12:1). The "land of Canaan" which Jesus was to seek was the land of rational understanding and spiritual perception, that is, of intelligence and wisdom. This is the journey on which every infant must be inspired to embark. But Jesus Christ, because His love was so great and His delight in learning was so intense, advanced far more quickly in the understanding of the Word than other human children can. He may be compared to a "genius," that is, one who is born with such an outstanding love for some particular subject that he learns that subject much more quickly than others. In the case of Jesus Christ we are told that He sought no wisdom except that of the Word. As a result He attained to the opening of the rational degree of the mind at the age of twelve. He was lost to His parents for three days in the city of Jerusalem, but they found Him in the temple: "And all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers".
In spite of this rapid advance in learning, because of the magnitude of His Divine mission, He had to spend the first thirty years of His life on earth in seclusion, in the city of Nazareth, undergoing temptations secretly within Himself, before He was prepared to enter upon His public ministry. Even then He had to reveal His Divine nature very gradually in order to preserve man's freedom either to accept or reject Him. As to these periods of preparation in Nazareth, we can learn only from the internal sense of Genesis and the books of Moses. What was taking place during these years could not be revealed in the New Testament, because it was utterly unknown to the evangelists. What a store of Divine wisdom awaits future discovery by New Church scholars!
Looking at the Lord's body not as a collection of chemicals but as a form of use, what bearing does all this have upon our idea of the Lord's glorification? To answer this question we must return to the scene of the Lord's resurrection, spoken of at the very beginning of this study. What did the Lord really mean when He said to His disciples on the first Easter day:
The apostles were all natural men. They could not raise their thoughts above the things of space and time. It was inevitable therefore that they should interpret the Lord's words as meaning that the very material elements with which His body had been clothed had been somehow transmuted into the Infinite. This material clothing was the only thing by which they had known Him. They could not think of Him apart from it. Without this they could not recognize Him. But it was absolutely essential that they should recognize Him if they were to continue to believe in Him. Their limitations in this respect were shared by all who later came to belong to the Primitive Christian Church. That church never did understand what was involved in the Lord's glorification. Although they worshipped Jesus Christ as God, they never really saw His Divine Human. This is why the Writings tell us that the Christian Church, in its integrity, was very similar internally to the Ancient Church. They saw the Lord representatively, even as the ancients had seen the angel of Jehovah. The union of the Father and the Son was beyond their comprehension. That is the reason why the trinity in God was divided by the church councils. It is the reason why in the Catholic Church worship was centered upon the crucified Christ, rather than upon the risen Lord. And it is the reason why the bread and wine of the Holy Supper was identified with the physical body and blood of Jesus Christ. In spite of this, the Lord has preserved with many people a simple faith by means of which they will eventually be saved. Nevertheless, it was this lack of understanding of the glorification that made necessary the Second Coming of the Lord.
The idea that the material clothing of the Lord's body was resurrected was permitted because without this idea, the worship of Jesus Christ as God would have been impossible. It is still necessary for the sake of children, and for the sake of all who are in child-like states. In the New Church also, it has been accepted as the only true interpretation of the Lord's words to His disciples on the day of His resurrection. It must be protected, and by no means must it be condemned. But we have come to believe that those who would enter more deeply into the teaching of the Heavenly Doctrine must seek to transcend that idea. I personally have not transcended it, and I go back to it constantly as the basic foundation of my faith in the Divinity of Jesus Christ. But I see things in the Writings that lead me to believe that there is a more spiritual and more satisfying concept of the Lord's resurrection. Time and again I go back in thought to what the angel said to the women at the sepulchre: "Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, He is risen as He said.
I reflect also on what the Writings say concerning the last words of Jesus Christ on the cross, even as He "gave up the spirit." "It is finished" means that the last of His temptations had been undergone, that the victory over hell was completed, that the hereditary from the mother had been completely cast out, to the point that Mary was no longer His mother, and that He was not only conceived of Jehovah but also born of Him. After all this we are told that "what was material was dissipated in the tomb." What was this? It was not the maternal heredity, for this had already been cast out.
Again we read in the Arcana, number 10252:7
As we have seen, the bodies of men are very different from those of animals; and the body of the Lord was very different from that of any man. What was the difference? It was the use for which each was created. The body of a natural man is created for the life of the natural world; it is not intended to partake of the life after death. Only the mind formed within it survives. But the body of the Lord was created to be resurrected. It was created to be united with the infinite soul of the Father. It had to be one with the "Human Essence" which was the reciprocal love of Jesus Christ for the Father. I cannot conceive of how this could be said of the dead material elements drawn from the mineral kingdom, which of necessity formed a clothing for the Lord's body. It could, however, be said of the "ultimate sensuous" which with the Lord was different from that of any mortal man.
I present these ideas for your consideration with no insistence that they be accepted. I believe that question is left in the Writings so problematic in order to preserve man's freedom, and to protect the faith of the simple. I question whether, at least in our day, it can or should be solved for everyone. But is there not here a vast field for exploration? Nothing is more important in the long run than to understand the glorification of the Lord, for only to this extent can we really perceive the Divine Human.
Creation of plants and animals. DLW 340, 346 Material substances as clothing. HH 108,453; DLW 165, 302, 310, 315
Matter to fix and make permanent. DLW 370; AE 1218
Union of the Human Essence and Divine Essence. AC 3737 Maternal dissipated in the tomb. Ath. 160, 161
Editor's note: Paragraph numbering is not inserted in editions of Athanasian Creed available to most of our readers. For nos. 160, 161, see the last volume of Apocalypse Explained page 519.
-New Church Life 1981;91:603-615