From Emile Mersch's The Theology of the Mystical Body,

pages 357-374



1. Introduction: the question and the method of solution. These testimonies of Scripture and tradition raise a problem. How are we to conceive the existence of a special and real relation of adoptive sons with the true Son and, through Him, with the Father and the Spirit, without disregarding the solidly established principle of theology that divine works ad extra are common to the three divine persons? In divinis omnia sunt unum ubi non obstat relationis oppositio. (153) (Council of Florence, Decretum pro Jacobitis (Denz., 703))

In our opinion, scholastic theologians have not solved this problem, at least so far as we know, with the success that has crowned their efforts in so many other lines of investigation. They were not fully at home with the doctrine of the mystical body; and this is the doctrine that yields and even imposes the solution. If we study the Incarnation and reflect how it sanctifies the assumed human nature and the whole human race, we shall discover the relation it establishes between men and the divine persons.

2. The subsistence of Christ's humanity in the Son. The Incarnation can be considered from two points of view: as an action that produces a result and as the result produced by the action: quasi in fieri and quasi in facto esse. (154) (Cf. St. Thomas, Summa, IIIa, q.2, a.8: "Assumption implies becoming (sicut in fieri), whereas union implies having become (sicut in facto esse).") In other words, we may regard it in its principle and in its term. This term, furthermore, can be the integral, total term, that is, the God-man as assuming the human nature, or else it can be the human nature as assumed and as intrinsically elevated by the assumption. This distinction between the action and the result will govern the exposition. (155) (Cf. F. M. Catherinet, "La Sainte Trinité et notre filiation adoptive," Vie spirituelle, XXXIX (1934), 113.)

Regarded as an action, the Incarnation is common to the three divine persons. It is a work ad extra, and every such work is common to the Three. However we shall have to come back to this assertion and clarify it; that task we reserve for the next chapter. For the moment, the best thing is to leave it as it stands.

But the Incarnation regarded in its term and result, the union of a human nature with a divine person, belongs strictly to the Son. The three divine persons have incarnated; the Second alone is incarnate. This result, however, is not an activity but a way of existing, the way of existing that is realized in the assumed humanity and that causes the humanity to subsist in the Word and accordingly adapts it to such subsistence.

A passage from the De fide catholica will help to fix this distinction. We have only to read the selection to perceive that it opens the door to the distinction in question and to the consequences that can flow therefrom.

As there is one deity, nature, and substance in the three divine persons, so there is one indivisible operation by which the Most Holy Trinity establishes, disposes, and governs all things outside it. For the divine persons act ad extra, not individually, but so far as in their essence, will, and power they are one God, one source of all things.

If anyone should maintain that creation or any other action of God that terminates in creatures, is proper to one divine person in such a way as not to be one, undivided, and common to all of them, let him be anathema. (156) (Chapter I and canon I, 4; Mansi, Amplissima collectio conciliorum, LIII, 294, 298.)

We observe that the doctrine concerns such of God's actions as terminate in creatures, ad extra. Consequently it does not touch something else that is quite different from an operation, especially an operation ad extra. Nothing is said about a subsistence in one of the divine persons ad intra or about the possible result of such subsistence, understanding this not of a result produced ad extra, but, if the case is verified, of a manner of existing that pertains exclusively to subsistence in one divine person ad intra.

Now the man Jesus Christ is the Son, and no one else than the Son; He is not the Father or the Spirit. This is the very essence of Christian teaching. Jesus Christ is literally the Son. We beg pardon for our insistence; but we believe that insistence is indispensable, just as we found it indispensable to insist, in an earlier chapter, on the reality of the union between the two natures. As truly as this man is God, He is the Son. And He is the Son, not by any mere figure of speech or by juridical imputation, not by a kind of possession or a grant of nobility, not by virtue of a simple decree or a contract of association. (157) (Council of Ephesus, Anathematismi 3, 8; Second Council of Constantinople, canons 4, 5 (Denz., 115, 120, 216, 217).) He is the Son simply because He is truly and ontologically the Son. The proposition has to be taken in its full, realistic, and mysterious sense; otherwise the whole of Christianity vanishes like a mist. The pages to follow are based exclusively on this foundation.

Something more has to be said: Christ is God by being the Son. The truth is that He is God because He is the Son, not that He is the Son because He is God. And this too is essential to Christian faith; otherwise we should have to say that the Incarnation was accomplished in the divine nature rather than in a divine person, and consequently that all three persons became incarnate. Accordingly the God-man is truly and exclusively the Son. But the Son exists only in that relation to the Father which is the eternal, passive generation, and in that relation to the Spirit, which is active co-spiration. He exists only in the Trinity and with the Trinity. Therefore the God-man is God and is Himself only in the Trinity.

A conclusion universal in its bearing results from this truth. When the Incarnation took place, the Son as Son, God as revealed in the mystery of the Trinity, was given to a creature before God as considered in His nature was thus given; this priority is manifestly logical and not chronological. In other words, the God of the Incarnation is God as attained by faith alone, rather than God as known analogically by our unaided intellect. Therefore the Incarnation is a communication of the Godhead as Trinity rather than as simple Godhead, and the Christian as Christian knows God because he knows the Trinity, not vice versa; he knows God through the Son in the Father and the Spirit, and not in the reflection of God in the things he may reason about; he knows the living God in His life, and not merely the God of the philosophers. Of course this supernatural knowledge enables him to possess his natural knowledge of God more securely.

From the instant the Son was made flesh, the human race has included an individual who was a divine person, one whose existence is in relation to the other two divine persons. Beginning with this instant an instrumental cause of redemption, sanctification, and divinization has been within mankind and will always belong to mankind. The action of this cause was the action of the Word and of absolutely no one else than the Word. A single principle of eternal, theandric life has appeared in the midst of mankind, and this principle was the Son of God.

For the whole of Christianity contains Christ; the whole of humanity that is now regenerated contains Christ. It contains Him, not as a part properly so called, but as the source of its supernatural life, as the one through whom the whole "body" lives. And Christ is the Son. Through the Incarnation, therefore, humanity and Christianity contain the Son.

Such is Christianity in its source; must we not conceive that it remains the same throughout its growth? Must we not say that Christianity is "filial," if we may use the expression, and also Trinitarian? It is filial; that is, it has an essential and intimate relation to the Son, for Christ is its source and ultimate basis. It is also Trinitarian, for it is the result of a communication of the Trinity and is knowable only in function of the Trinity. The pages that follow will bring out this truth more clearly.

When we said, some lines above, that this communication of God was inaugurated at the instant of the Incarnation, we did not mean to imply that it did not take place before. For, as we mentioned earlier, from the time of the Fall mankind was intrinsically constituted the race of Christ by the divine promise, and by that very fact was made the race of the Son. If God, in His original creative plan, wished mankind to be the object of His infinite mercy in Christ, He thereby also wished it to be so in the Son.

If this is the case, God gave to the work at its inception a relation to the Trinity in the Word, and consequently faith and the supernatural life had a relation to the Trinity. Of course this was not known explicitly. Indeed, was it even known that there was a Son of God in the strict sense and that the Messias was to be God? But men believed in the one who was to come from God, and through this envoy, although men were unaware of it, faith bore on the Trinity. St. Gregory of Nazianzus says: "This is the way the matter stands: the Old Testament announced the Father clearly and the Son obscurely. The New Testament has openly shown us the Son and has given us indications of the divinity of the Spirit. But now the Spirit dwells in our midst and makes Himself known more clearly." (158) (St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oratio theologica, V, 26 (PG, XXXVI, 161).)

For, as St. Gregory goes on to explain, men had to be prepared by gradual stages for a complete revelation. And in fact, progress in the revelation of this truth is manifest. Indeed, we should even be inclined to submit that the development is slower than St. Gregory suggests, and that the point of departure is more remote. For, to tell the truth, the Old Testament did not reveal the Father as Father; otherwise it would have had to reveal the Son. But we must recall that for the Greek Fathers, including St. Gregory, the word "Father" also designated God in general; and in this sense the Old Testament proclaims Him clearly. Since the object of faith is the living God, the mystery of God's interior life, which is the mystery of the Trinity, was implicitly contained in it. But Christ, who already numbered just men among His members, guided their human faith, which was as yet very indecisive in their minds, to the inner life of God.

3. The resulting "filial" perfection. Such, then, was the gift of the Trinity in Christ. Up to now we have considered nothing but its exterior aspect; we must go on to see how, in laying hold of the sacred humanity, it perfected that humanity interiorly.

God, who is Being, gives Himself by conferring being, not by causing this man to possess God but – we are inevitably led back to this point – by causing this man to "be" truly God.

Therefore let us study the Savior's human nature. A previous chapter showed that the subsistential amelioration which the sacred humanity receives from its hypostatic union with the Godhead requires a corresponding amelioration that is accidental and intrinsic to it and that divinizes it in itself, inasmuch as it is the human nature of God.

We perceive by now that Christ's human nature is united to the Godhead because it is united to the Second Person. The subsistential amelioration is primarily the dignity of subsisting in this divine person, and consequently the accidental amelioration it requires and evokes must be a perfection that corresponds to subsistence in the Son; it must be a "filial" amelioration.

To be literally and strictly the Son is something that concerns the subsistence, the personality which the sacred humanity receives, and not its nature. But we think that the fact of possessing such a subsistence must call forth a correlative amelioration and elevation in the human nature that receives this subsistence. Clearly, this elevation is not and cannot be the Son Himself or the Son's subsistence, for the Son is not a factor of the human nature; yet it is an adaptation of the nature to the subsistence thus received, an adaptation caused and required by this subsistence, hence a "filial" adaptation.

When a single word of God is launched forth into the void, it causes the whole universe to rise up in response; and the universe is exactly as God's word summons it to be. Can we suppose that nothing is produced when the very Word and Son gives Himself completely and forever to a creature? To become the human nature of the Son, must not the sacred humanity become "filial"? The perfection bestowed on that human nature is designed to fit it to be the Son's humanity, to equip it to act in a way that is becoming to the Son while yet acting in accordance with its own nature; how could such a perfection be other than "filial"? The divinization conferred on the human nature is produced exclusively by its union with God, which is exclusively a union with the Son; how could that divinization fail to be a relation to the Son and hence "filial"?

On the side of this human nature, the hypostatic union is a relation of personal unity with the Son alone. The immediate and real foundation of this relation in the humanity must be something that corresponds to the Son alone. Otherwise the union of the human nature with the Son alone would be purely extrinsic. This foundation is the "drawing to the Word" (tractio ad Verbum), the "passive conjunction with the Word" (coniunctio passiva ad Verbum), and is something that truly resides in the human nature. Consequently it must be a perfecting of the human nature, a new way of existing that the human nature takes on. In any case, this new way of existing is referred to the Son and is "filial."

The union of the sacred humanity with the person of the Son is neither the Son Himself nor the Godhead. As St. Thomas says, it is something pertaining to the humanity which is united to the Son. "The union implies a relation between the divine nature and the human nature, according as they come together in one person; but every relation that begins in time is caused by some change." (159) (Summa, IIIa, q.2, a.8.) Either this change (mutatio) has no meaning, or else it is relative to the Son alone and is "filial."

St. John says, in a text previously quoted, (l60) (John 1: 14) that the humanity assumed by the Word appeared resplendent with glory, and that this was a glory which such a Son ought to receive from such a Father. Is not this the same as saying that it was a "filial" glory?

What this "filial" character may be, can hardly be stated with precision. And that is understandable; is it easy to explain what the Son Himself is and how He was begotten? The first point to note is that this manner of filial existence, which is an adaptation to the union with the Son and the formal effect of subsistence in the Son, can be neither grasped nor explained except in terms of the Son. When men speak of Him, they are constrained to borrow metaphors from affairs that take place among them, in family life, between a father and his children. These images are as accurate as they can be in such matters, and they are authentic images suggested by God Himself. But they are no more than images. The prototype, the model imparting whatever value the imitation may have, is not human sonship but the eternal sonship of the Only-begotten. Jesus has given us an example of the way in which a human nature can express this sonship through the power of God. If we study His actions as recounted in the Gospel, especially if we meditate, in the light of His Spirit, on the dispositions of His heart and try to realize in ourselves the attitude of soul existing in Him, we can form some notion of what is involved in a human nature of the Son.

In the Trinity; the Son is a subsistent relation that refers the Second Person to the Father and the Spirit, just as the Father and the Spirit have reference to the Son. Therefore the "filial" character in the assumed humanity will be a participation of the relation to the Father and the Spirit. It will be a filial attitude, a reception of life, an attitude of envoy and of one who receives, a possession of the Spirit, an assurance of being led by Him and of being able to give Him, an interior and exterior life unfolding in a mission that is the mission of the Son in the mission of the Spirit.

This is a relative entity, indeed; but we- should not think of it as we think of relative entities found on our earth, wholly superficial and almost external as they are. The relations implied in the sonship of the Word are identical with the infinity of being that is the Godhead; they express the ultimate depths of being. The "filial" character we are speaking about is relative in a way that calls these immensities to mind, because it is an adaptation to them and because, in its human fashion – for it is something human – it bears the stamp of greatness, since it is the pure effect of union with divine majesty.

To tell the truth, however, it is not so much a relation as an intrinsic union that conforms the human nature to the relations that are in Christ and the Son. It is that by which this particular humanity becomes the humanity of the subsistent relation that is the Word.

Nothing can be added to the relations that constitute the Trinity; there is nothing in the Blessed Trinity except them, and they are eternally unalterable. But one of these relations becomes the subsistence of a human nature, and in consequence this human nature is made to form a single person with it. Through the hypostatic union, therefore, this human nature has the same relations as the Second Person has. For the splendid simplicity of God cannot be tampered with; a reduced model of the Trinity, drawn to the scale of human convenience, is absurd and impossible. The sacred humanity possesses, in the Word, all the relations of the Word.

But the point to be stressed here is that, if the human nature possesses these relations because they are possessed by the Word, which is its person, it must be made subsistent in the Word and therefore must be subsistent in these relations. To possess these relations, the human nature must undergo a change; and this change is the effect wrought in the human nature by the hypostatic union and the adaptation of the human nature to this union.

This internal perfecting is not devoid of analogy with the quality of adoptive sonship that is given to Christians, as we shall see presently. It contains all that is implied in this quality, and in a far higher way. Essentially, however, it is not an adoption. For its essence consists in fitting this man who is Christ to be strictly and truly the only Son of God; hence it renders Him incapable of being an adopted son.

The supernatural excellence required for constituting adoptive sonship is not lacking; the perfection in question includes all the gifts, and much more besides, which adoptive sonship confers on us. But the subsistence proper to the assumed humanity absolutely precludes adoption. The only person who subsists in Christ is the only-begotten Son.

The case is different as regards divinization and grace. The perfection conferred by the hypostatic union is an attribute of nature, and the fact that the person in Christ is strictly God does not prevent the divinization of His human nature but on the contrary requires it. Sonship is a characteristic of the person; everything "filial" that the human nature can have, unites the nature to the sonship of the Son, so that Christ is exclusively the person of the Son by nature, and is not in any sense an adoptive son.

This observation has its own importance for refuting the adoptionist heresy in all its forms as well as the theological errors and rash opinions attaching to it. As truly as Christ is but one person, so also He is no one but the only-begotten Son. The same remark has the further value of preparing the way for the deductions to follow. This character that is found in Christ is shared by all Christians by their incorporation into this Man who is the Son. In order that this participation may impart to them their true character of sons and may produce in them a real adoption, that is, a union, wrought by grace, with Christ's literal sonship, this trebly holy Man must in all truth be the Son.

The "filial" character we are speaking of must first reside in what theology calls the grace of union that is found in the sacred humanity. The formula can bear several meanings; here we take it to mean the humanity's possession of the Son's personality in unity of hypostasis. This is an absolute consecration, a dignity flowing directly from the dignity of the Word.

However, since this grace of union is the principle that requires and produces the second grace of Christ known to theology, that is, grace in the ordinary sense of the word, or habitual grace and the internal, individual sanctification of the assumed humanity, this sanctification and grace, to be adapted to the grace of union, must likewise be "filial." As St. Thomas shows, the habitual grace possessed by Christ is the simple effect of the union and is "natural" to Christ precisely because He is the Word and the true Son of the Father. (161) (Summa, IIIa, q.2, a.12 et ad 3; q.6, a.6.) Must it not, therefore, be a grace such as is fitting for Him who is the Son, a "filial" grace? "And we saw His glory, the glory as it were of the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace" (John I: 14).

We have to go farther and say the same of the third grace which, according to theology, is found in Christ, the grace of headship. For this is nothing else than the habitual grace of Christ, so far as it is made supereminent and superabundant by the grace of union. (162) (Cf. St. Thomas, Summa, IIIa, q.8, a.5.) Since the grace of union and Christ's habitual grace are essentially "filial," the grace of headship must likewise be such. Accordingly Christ will influence the lives of Christians by a grace that is essentially "filial"; to all appearances, the grace thus flowing into us through our union and vital continuity with Christ will also be filial. But we shall take up this question later. (163) (Cf. infra, p. 369.)

If we contemplate the Incarnation, we can dimly perceive that a "filial" character of this sort is not impossible in a creature; anything that would remove impossibility from the one would remove impossibility from the other. What removes impossibility in the creature's case is, as we said above, the fact that creatures are only derived beings, whereas God is pure Being and the archetype of all being; consequently nothing is found in creatures that opposes or can oppose God's action, and therefore union with God can but perfect them according to their nature. What removes impossibility in the case of the Incarnation is the fact that the Son, even as Son, is also pure Being and the Creator and archetype of all being; indeed, God has created everything through Him, and the transcendent archetype of all things is found in Him. "Since God understands Himself and all things in one act, His one Word is expressive not only of the Father but also of creatures." (164) (St. Thomas, Summa, Ia, q.34, a.3; q.37, a.2 ad 3.)

Consequently nothing in any finite being is in any way opposed to God. Hence a finite nature – or at any rate a spiritual nature, for only such a nature is truly a whole – can bear the entire weight of the union and can be adapted to this union, without anything in it being destroyed or altered to the slightest degree. On the contrary, the creature will realize itself more perfectly according to its own type; if we may be allowed the expression, it will be supernaturally natural.

We should note that the amelioration in question is not a complete entity; it exists only through the power and perpetual support of the Son's personality which is given to the assumed humanity. It is the expression, in the humanity and its divinization, of the union with the Word from which this divinization flows; here we can only repeat, and with greater reason, what we have said in the same order of ideas about grace and divinization.

On this subject the Scholastics employ a comparison that is very apt, provided it is conceived in the way they conceived it, without complicating the issue with modern physical theories. They say that the illumination of the air by the sun, by which everything glows with light during the daytime, is a property of the air and is intrinsic to the air. But it exists only when the air is in contact with the sun and is, as it were, penetrated by the sun. The illumination in the air is a sort of diminished continuation and participation of the sun's illumination; it is, so to say, the brilliance of the sun as realized and expressed by the air in its own way. Although the brilliance belongs to the air, it is unceasingly caused by the sun, through a continuous self-communication.

Such is the "filial" perfection we are attributing to the humanity of Christ; it is the continuation in the human nature, adapted to the nature's mode of existence, of what the Son is in Himself. God alone, with the full efficaciousness of action proper to Him, unites this human nature to the only-begotten Son; and this union introduces the perfection in question, or rather necessarily calls it forth and sustains it.

It is a prolongation, continuation, derivation, participation of strict sonship; it is true and efficacious union; to be one with the Word is certainly not nothing. It is a new way of existing which fits the human nature for the union and is sustained by the union, and is impossible without the union of which it is but the expression in the assumed nature. It is a manner of being that makes this particular humanity the humanity of the Word; a manner of being, therefore, that has its cause in the Godhead alone and its internal determining principle in the person of the Word alone, but that is expressed as a new thing, as a reality truly produced in an ennobling and perfecting of the assumed humanity, to constitute it intrinsically as tracta ad Verbum. It is accordingly a special type of being, as we said in an earlier chapter and as we shall explain more fully later.

It exists only in the union, through the union, for the union; it is in truth an "entity of union."

All this is primarily verified in the sacred humanity of Christ; our next step is to extend it to all humanity, so far as we may. We must apply to the whole Christ what we have said of the individual Christ. Here more than anywhere else our argumentation is based on the close, supernatural, and very perfect union existing between Christ and Christians. This union does not prevent Christians from being distinct persons; but it does prevent them from being separated persons.

The Son alone among the divine persons has taken a physical body. Consequently He alone has taken a mystical body, for the latter is but a prolongation of the former. Therefore the mystical body is the body of the Son, not of the Father or the Spirit. The Father and the Spirit have been no less active than the Son in the production of the mystical body and its union with the Word, just as they were active in the formation of Christ's physical body and in endowing it with the hypostatic union. But the Son alone possesses the mystical body and makes it alive in Himself, in the same way as He alone possesses His physical body and gives it life, as He Himself has life from the Father.

Assuredly Christ is head of the mystical body through His human nature, and when Christians are incorporated into Him they are first incorporated into His human nature. But this human nature belongs solely to the Son and subsists solely in the Son. Union with it and incorporation into it mean union with Him who is the Son. Furthermore the sacred humanity mystically includes Christians because it is united to the Son, for it includes them because it is united to God; and it is united to God because it is united to the Son. (166) (On this conception of the character of headship, see supra, p. 242, and also what St. Thomas has to say about the gratia capitis, Summa, IIIa, q.8, a.5.) Hence Christians are truly received into union with the Son; how, then, could anyone maintain that they are not included in His sonship?

To state the case in a few words, Christians must be truly one with the Son to the same degree as they are truly one with Christ. Christ would not fully be the Son if the whole Christ, head and body, were not the Son. We have to add that, to this same degree, something "filial" must be found in them, as it is in the sacred humanity of Christ. And this "filial" something has its cause and meaning in the sacred humanity's "filial" character which, in turn, has its cause and meaning in the sonship of the Son. Through the grace of the Incarnation, the Son, the assumed human nature, and the regenerated human race are all united.

The grace of divinization flows to Christians from Christ and hence from the Son. That is the constitution and essence of grace. Must it not, accordingly, be an adopting grace, a grace belonging to a son adopted in the only Son? We do not in the least deny that the usual teaching assigns a filial character to grace, for grace as ordinarily described gives a right to an eternal inheritance and confers a resemblance to the divine nature, and has also been merited by the Son. But we wish to restrict our discussion here to adoptive sonship regarded as sharing in strict sonship; this consideration excels and eclipses all other points of view. (166) (In this connection we should not overlook the texts quoted from St. Thomas on pp. 353-56.)

The filial character found in the sacred humanity of Christ has to be communicated to the members of Christ. We may recall what was said above: the perfection conferred on Christ's human nature, which is social, unites it supernaturally to all human natures; and since it comes from the union with God and the Son, it divinizes Christ's human nature by making it "filial." Consequently this "filial" character may be extended to all men; it is designed, by its structure, to be communicated and to express its infinity even in human nature, according to the capacity of human nature. (167) (167 See what we have written about the grace of headship, p. 242.)

Since men are divinized by being members of Him who is the Son, must they not have a divinization that is intrinsically related to the Son? This divinization can come only from their union with God, and they are united to God through Christ's humanity, which in turn is united to God by being united to the Son. Therefore the divinization possessed by men comes from their union with the Son, and in the Son with God. This divinization must have a "filial" character and must sanctify men by fulfilling its sole purpose, which is to make them worthy members of Him who is the Son.

Men possess this quality of sons and of divinized beings, not, like Christ, because of their persons, but because of their union through grace with the person of Christ and the Son. They are divinized by grace and are sons by adoption. Yet they must be sons and must be Godlike as sons; otherwise their union with Christ and His sonship has no meaning.

As members of Christ they are members of the Son; we cannot escape this conclusion. We may and we must make distinctions; but we may admit no separation. Christ's divinity is not His humanity; person is distinct from nature, virtually in God, really in man; the person of Christ is not the person of Christians. Yet all these are united, without confusion or change but also without division or separation, not only in Christ but also, though in a different way, in the fullness of Christ which is the mystical body. Are not Christians one in Him, as He is one with the Father? If we separate them from Him, do we not rend Christ asunder? (168) (John 17:11, 21ff.; I Cor. 1:13.)

The objection may be raised that, although our adoption has a relation to strict sonship, this relation lies outside the adoption and is found in the person of Christ; consequently this relation is predicated of our adoption by a purely extrinsic denomination, according to a way of speaking that is far-fetched and open to misunderstanding. We reply that such would be the case if a body were extrinsic to its members and if life were outside the living person. If there were question of anyone else than Christ, if we were to say that all Frenchmen are emperors because Charlemagne was an emperor, our language would be pompous and absurd. But we are now dealing with the mystery of union. Branches are nothing, as branches, unless they are in the vine, and members, as members, are nothing unless they are in the body; likewise Christians are nothing unless they are in Christ, abiding in Him as He abides in them, according to the words He Himself addressed to them. (169) (John 6:57; 15:2-7; I John 2:24-28; 3:24.)

There is an extrinsic aspect, certainly; all that we have, we have in Him. But there are also supremely intrinsic features; Christ is more interior to us than we ourselves are; He is the source of our life, He is our head and our all. (170) (John 3:15 f.; Col. 1:18; 3:3 f., 18.) Our incorporation into Him endows our personality with its most intimate and supernatural depths. We are never so much ourselves as when we are in Him, and therefore nothing is so intrinsically ours as what is ours in Him.

This is exactly what St. Cyril of Alexandria says in the text quoted and emphasized in the preceding section. "In Him and through Him we are made sons of God both by nature and by grace: by nature, in Him alone; by participation and grace, through Him in the Spirit." (171) (De recta fide ad Theodosium, 30 (PG, LXXVI, 1177); see the preceding section, p. 348.) This is what we have been contending. Christ alone is the Son; but we are united to Him. What He is in Himself, we must likewise be, but only through Him. In one sense we are He and in another sense we are not He; we are that which, left to ourselves, we could not be; we are He, but only in Him; yet surely, as members of Christ, we are truly in Him.

On the nature of our "filial" character we must here repeat, with proper adjustments, what we said about the filial character of Christ's humanity. Our filial character is an entity of a unique and special type. It is an intrinsic reality, but exists only through another's action. It is an amelioration, a change pertaining to the absolute order and is truly inherent in the soul, although it is only the consequence of a relation, namely, of our union with Christ and the Son, and has the sole function of being the real foundation of this relation. It is a perfection that is the simple prolongation in Christ's members of the personal union with God and the Son that is fully realized in the head and that affects the members according to the measure of their union with the head.

It is something that pertains to our humanity, resides in it, and perfects it, according to the humanity's capacity. But it proceeds from the Godhead and has no other source within the human race than the Son; for the Son alone among the divine persons is a man, just as, alone among men, Christ is God. Although it is wrought by the three divine persons together, it subsists through Christ in the Son alone; and in Christ it has its "filial" character from the sonship of the Son.

We must point out that expressions of this sort are not common in theology. The reason is simply that theology, in general, hardly treats of this particular subject, as specified by us. Theology considers adoption from the viewpoint of the action that produces it, and prescinds from any question of incorporation in Christ. But we have been regarding it from the viewpoint of the state it confers and the incorporation into Christ by which it exists. Since the object of discourse is not the same in the two cases, divergence in the formulas need cause no disquiet.

As the Fathers repeat so often, we become by grace what Christ is by nature. Christ is the Son by nature, and He is God because He is the Son. The grace we receive ought to make us sons, that is, adopted sons, who are divinized because we are adopted. Our divinization comes from our adoption, and our adoption is no less sublime than our divinization; the excellence of both is derived from that of the sonship of God the Son.

If we understand the doctrine as thus proposed, we may, in our opinion, uphold along with all theology the incontestable axiom that divine works ad extra are common to the Trinity, and still say, following the suggestions of Scripture and tradition, that our adoptive sonship, as a state though not as an operation, has a real relation to the Son alone. Accordingly adoption is not simply and purely ad extra; viewed as we have described it, it is a share in a new way of being that was inaugurated by the Incarnation.

The Incarnation essentially consists in a union between a person ad intra and a nature ad extra. Hence the new order it establishes cannot be defined simply by the opposition between ad intra and ad extra. Regarded in itself, the sacred humanity in which the Word becomes incarnate is wholly ad extra. But the Incarnation causes it to subsist exclusively in the Word who is ad intra. Through its subsistence, therefore, the humanity ceases to be something ad extra.

In this respect the Incarnation differs radically from creation, with a difference that amounts to contrast. This is true unless, to be sure, we envisage creation as being, in God's designs, the first step in the preparation of a human nature for the Word and hence as the remote inception of the Incarnation. In itself, creation is the production of the order ad extra. By creation God produces the creature in its own subsistence, outside of Himself, and gives existence to a being that is not Himself. The Incarnation, on the contrary, is the taking up of a creature into the Word ad intra, so that it may subsist not in itself but in Him, and that through His subsistence it may be the human nature of God. As regards the distinction between ad intra and ad extra, the direction of the two works is diametrically opposed. The first has an external terminus, the second has an internal terminus; the first causes the order ad extra, the second causes, not the order ad intra, which would be an absurd conception, but the order of that which is "interiorized," if we may use the expression; that is, the order of what, left to itself, would undoubtedly be ad extra but which God causes to subsist in His Word ad intra, and which in this sense is ad intra.

We beg the reader to excuse the term, "order of that which is interiorized"; we have to express these notions as best we may. But does not the expression convey, with regard to the correlatives ad intra and ad extra, what the terms "assumed" and "divinized" denote in function of the terms "assumption" and "divinity"? Is there not some advantage in having a word to designate the way of existing called forth by God when He causes something that in itself would be ad extra to pertain strictly to one of the divine persons ad intra?

This order is inaugurated and summed up in the human nature assumed by the Son of God, and has its full meaning only in the assumption of that human nature. But it includes all that is contained in the assumed humanity.

The "filial" perfection found in the assumed nature, this same perfection that is extended through adoption to the members of the sacred humanity, would be wholly ad extra if it constituted a complete and isolated being, such as is human nature in itself. But if it is no more than an "entity of union," an entity that exists in a nature ad extra only when the latter subsists in a person ad intra, we should be guilty of defining it by a mere part of it were we to define it from the standpoint of ad extra. By its very essence, it exists only by taking root in the order ad intra through the personality of which it is the effect. How else can we conceive it except in the union of the two, in the order of the Incarnation, as belonging to the order of the "interiorized"?

Although different words are employed, the doctrine is the same as that set forth when we were speaking of the "entity of union" and of the perfection resulting from union. This entity is found in a nature solely as a consequence of union with another being, and has the purpose of adapting it to the union, of making it internally united, and of being the foundation of the relation which arises. To perceive that the term "interiorized" automatically becomes a commentary on the term "entity of union," all we have to do is to conceive that such a union with another nature is not realized except in the union with a person ad intra.

Thus we men, who used to be afar off, have been made to come near; (172) (Cf. Eph. 2:13.) we who were strangers and outsiders have been brought inside and welcomed as members of the family. (173) (Cf. ibid., 2:19). Such is the superabundant riches of God's grace that is given to us in the bountiful generosity He has toward us in Christ Jesus. (174) (Ibid., 2:7.) He has made us His own beloved children (175) (Ibid., 5:1) by sanctifying us in His well-beloved Son. (176) (Ibid., 1:6.)



Emile Mersch: The Teaching of Philosophy on Man and his Unity

Emile Mersch: The Human Consciousness of Christ and the Consciousness of Christians

Emile Mersch: The Perfecting of Christ's Human Nature by the Incarnation