Advent through the centuries: the twentieth century, part I: 1900-1920

Thursday, December 20, 2013
The twentieth century of the Church.

And we’re almost up to the current day. As there are more days left before Christmas than there are centuries in church history, We’re going to alter slightly here. Today will be the early 20th century, roughly 1900-1920. Tomorrow (the 21st) will be roughly 1920-1945. The 22nd will be roughly 1945-1970, the 23rd will be roughly 1970-1999, and the 24th will be 2000-2014.

Scripture:
John 9:1-7

Now as Jesus was passing by, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who committed the sin that caused him to be born blind, this man or his parents?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but he was born blind so that the acts of God may be revealed through what happens to him. We must perform the deeds of the one who sent me as long as it is daytime. Night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said this, he spat on the ground and made some mud with the saliva. He smeared the mud on the blind man’s eyes and said to him, “Go wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated “sent”). So the blind man went away and washed, and came back seeing.

Reading:

Sergei Bulgakov, Russian Orthodox priest, from his undated work Du verbe incarne’, translated by Andrew Louth in The place of theosis in Orthodox theology

God wants to communicate to the world his divine life and himself to “dwell” in the world, to become human, in order to make of human kind a god too. That transcends the limits of human imagination and daring, it is the mystery of the love of God “hidden from the beginning in God” (Eph 3:9), unknown to the angels themselves (Eph 3:10; 1 Pet 1:12; 1Tim 3:16). The love of God knows no limits and cannot reach its furthest limit in the fullness of the divine abnegation for the sake of the world: the Incarnation. And if the very nature of the world, raised from non-being to its created state, does not appear here as an obstacle, its fallen state is not one either. God comes even to a fallen world; the love of God is not repelled by the powerlessness of the creature, nor by his fallen image, nor even by the sin of the world: the Lamb of God, who voluntarily bears the sins of the world, is manifest in him. In this way, God gives all for the divinization of the world and its salvation, and nothing remains that he has not given. Such is the love of God, such is Love.

Such it is in the interior life of the Trinity, in the reciprocal surrender of the three hypostases, and such it is in the relation of God to the world. If it is in such a way that we are to understand the Incarnation–and Christ himself teaches us to understand it in such a way (Jn 3:16)–there is no longer any room to ask if the Incarnation would have taken place apart from the Fall. The greater contains the lesser, the conclusion presupposes the antecedent, and the concrete includes the general. The love of God for fallen humankind, which finds it in no way repugnant to take the failed nature of Adam, already contains the love of stainless humankind.

And that is expressed in the wisdom of the brief words of the Nicene Creed: “for our sake and for our salvation.” This and, in all the diversity and all the generality of its meaning, contains the theology of the Incarnation. In particular, this and can be taken in the sense of identification (as that is to say). So it is understood by those who consider that salvation is the reason for the Incarnation; in fact, concretely, that is indeed what it signifies for fallen humanity. But this can equally be understood in a distinctive sense (that is to say, “and in particular,” or similar expressions), separating the general from the particular, in other words, without limiting the power of the Incarnation nor exhausting it solely in redemption. The Word became flesh: one must understand this in all the plenitude of of its meaning, from the theological point of view and the cosmic, the anthropological, the Christological and the soteriological. The last, the most concrete, includes and does not exclude the other meanings; so too, the theology of the Incarnation cannot be limited to the bounds of soteriology; that would be, moreover, impossible, as the history of dogma bears witness….

The Incarnation is the interior basis of creation, its final cause. God did not create the world to hold it at a distance from him, at that insurmountable metaphysical distance that separates the Creator from the creation, but in order to surmount that distance and unite himself completely with the world; not only from the outside, as Creator, nor even as providence, but from within: “the Word became flesh”. That is why the Incarnation is already predetermined in human kind.

Christ at the Whipping Post, by George Desvallières, 1910.
Christ at the Whipping Post, by George Desvallières, 1910.

Prayer:
The Litany to the Lamb of God in Time of War. Written in 1915 by, or under the auspices of, Pope Benedict XV in response to World War I.

V. The Lord give you peace;
R. Peace and good will.

O Lord Jesus Christ, Who didst say to Thy Apostles, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you,” look not upon my sins, but upon the faith of Thy Church, and vouchsafe to her that peace and unity which is agreeable to Thy will, Who livest and reignest, God forever and ever. Amen.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy. Jesus hear us.
Jesus, graciously hear us.

By the hymn of the Angels at Thy birth, Grant us peace.
By Thy salutation to the Apostles, Grant us peace.
By Thy voice to the waves of Galilee, Grant us peace.
By Thy blessing to the sinner, Grant us peace.
By Thy prayers for unity among Thy disciples, Grant us peace.
By the love that was to mark Thy followers, Grant us peace.
By the great peace offering of the Cross, Grant us peace.
By Thy parting promise, “My peace I leave you,” Grant us peace.

From the ambition of empire, Deliver us, O Lord.
From the greed for territory, Deliver us, O Lord.
From the blindness that is injustice, Deliver us, O Lord.
From the selfishness that is theft, Deliver us, O Lord.
From the liberty which is license, Deliver us, O Lord.
From the love of money which is idolatry, Deliver us, O Lord.
From the hate that is murder, Deliver us, O Lord.
From the hardness that will not pardon, Deliver us, O Lord.
From the pride that will not ask pardon, Deliver us, O Lord.

By the helpless cry of orphans, We beseech Thee, hear us.
By the anguished tears of widows, We beseech Thee, hear us.
By the groans of the dying, We beseech Thee, hear us.
By the dead in unblessed graves, We beseech Thee, hear us.
That Thou wouldst make all nations to dwell as one, We beseech Thee, hear us.
That the hearts of rulers may be as wax in Thy hands, We beseech Thee, hear us.
That having learned in affliction, we may turn to Thee, We beseech Thee, hear us.
That wars may cease from the earth, We beseech Thee, hear us.
By Thy title, “Prince of Peace,” Lord God of Armies, We beseech Thee, hear us.

Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, Grant us peace.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, Grant us peace.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, Grant us peace.

V. I am the Salvation of the people, saith the Lord;
R. In whatever tribulation they shall cry to Me, I will hear them.

Let Us Pray: Jesus, meek and humble of heart, teach us, who have sinned against Heaven and before Thee, the saving grace of a true humility, that we and all the peoples of this world may acknowledge and bewail that spirit of materialism and self-seeking and lust for power and vengeance which has plunged the family of nations into war, until in Thy just wrath the world suffers that punishment which, by turning from Thee, it has brought upon itself. In humility and penance, may we lessen the guilt and hasten true peace, without victory, save the victory of union with Thee. Amen.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Have mercy on us.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Have mercy on us.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Have mercy on us.

Give peace, O Lord, in our days,
For there is none other that fighteth for us, but only Thou, Our God.

V. Let there be peace in Thy strength, O Lord,
R. And plenty in Thy strong places.

Let Us Pray:  O God, from Whom proceed all holy desires, all right counsels and all just works, grant unto us Thy servants that peace which the world cannot give, that our hearts may be devoted to Thy service, and that being delivered from the fear of our enemies, we may pass our time in peace under Thy protection, through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

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