Questions Answered – February 2023

God “Breaks Into” Time

Question: Why do we say that God is breaking into human history when speaking of Jesus? What is God breaking into? The Heaven-Earth divide?

Answer: This term, which comes to us from contemporary theology, is actually a new way of expressing an old idea. The breaking into human history is another way of expressing the place of the Incarnation in time. To understand this, a crash course in the relationship of man to God is necessary.

Before the sin, Adam was created in the image and likeness of God. This means first that on a natural level he had a spirit as well as a body and that spirit was composed of an intellect and will. This also means that on a supernatural level he was in the state of grace from the moment of his creation. This was necessary for human perfection. Since Adam had an intellect, if he could not experience the perfection of the intellect, his creation would have been in vain. He could not merit this or demand it in any sense as a matter of justice but looked to God to receive the ability to perfect his intellect by the vision of God through the gift of grace.

According to Aristotle, all men by nature desire to know and this desire extends to the Uncaused Cause of all the effects which man experiences in his five senses on a daily basis. Christianity has identified this with God and grace as the means to arrive at it. Once one begins to know a relationship of cause and effect, the dynamism of the intellect cannot be perfected until the vision of God, which requires grace to attain. As Aquinas says: “We are endowed with principles by which we can prepare for that perfect knowledge of separate substances (the angels and the disembodied soul) but not with principles by which to reach it. For even though by his nature man is inclined to his ultimate end, he cannot reach it by nature but only by grace, and this owing to the loftiness of that end” (In Comm. Boethius de Trinitate, 6, 4 ad 5) Man therefore is called by nature to be united to God in nature by grace.

Such a calling was compromised in the Original Sin. Since it was the intention of God in creating the world to people heaven, the sin gave rise to a greater mercy, the Incarnation. This was expressed in the unique unity of God with man in Christ: man is not just united to God in nature, but now in person by a miracle. This was for the purpose of the atonement. As this is a singular grace unique to Christ, and by it the world is sent back on the path of development in time, the glorification of God in Christ, God is said to “break into” history. The unity of God with the person of the Word is now a unique relationship, a miracle which can only result from grace, and thus shows God breaking into history.

Between the Resurrection and the Ascension

Question: Where was the Lord during the 40 days after the Resurrection? Why is this waiting for 40 days?

Answer: The Scriptures tell us that after his resurrection Christ came back to evangelize the earth for 40 days. There are several important reasons for this. First, Our Lord has predicted his resurrection a number of times. Though the resurrection is a mystery of faith which necessarily is open to reason, no one has ever seen a risen body except those who experienced the risen Lord. Even then, the fact of the realized mystery was so stupendous that some of those who experienced the mystery still doubted when Jesus returned in his body to heaven. Each of the post-Resurrection experiences showed the wisdom of the divine pedagogy.

In appearances like the one Our Lord did on the road to Emmaus, one sees both the realization of the mystery and the divine teacher explaining it fully now that the fact of the resurrection is plainly before their eyes. Yet, although “their hearts burned within them” as he taught them, they still did not believe until the personal experience of sharing the breaking of the bread.

Even the principles of Greek philosophy would lead a person to affirm that the necessity of resurrection is most reasonable. If, as Aristotle maintained against Plato, the soul and the body are in a substantial relationship with each other, and if the soul is immortal, then the eternal separation of the soul from the body was unnatural. Aristotle also had a principle that an unnatural condition cannot endure for eternity. If this is true, then the body should rise again. Aristotle knew there was no power in the body or the soul to accomplish this. Pagan man goes away sad as does Israel. Man is not finally experiences. Human perfection eludes philosophy.

In the forty days Jesus spent on earth, he needed time to convince his hearers that nature was now realized because the fact and nature of the risen body was evident to their five senses; and Jesus as the great teacher connected all his previous explanation about the redemption with that fact. The gates of Limbo were opened in the Atonement but now man is invited to walk out. Forty days were needed to reinforce this truth which is most difficult to believe. Jesus could then ascend in his body into heaven after he had explained and exemplified, in his own body, the truth of the final purpose of man.

In traditional catechesis, preparation to be a Catholic does not end with the resurrection but with the Ascension because only then is the truth finally complete. The time after Easter is taken up with the nature of the spiritual life based on the inner transformation of grace. This is called the “mystagogical catechesis” and is necessary for the complete instruction in the Christian life of grace.

Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, “Questions Answered.”

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