Blessed Fr. Sopocko
Photo: William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825–1905)
God's Mercy in the Mystery of the Incarnation
The following article by Blessed Michael Sopocko was first published in the October-December, 1962 issue of the Marian Helpers Bulletin. Blessed Michael was the confessor and spiritual director of St. Faustina.
"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."
In his first five words, the evangelist expresses the greatest mystery of the Incarnation, which was the beginning and foundation of all the other works of the Divine Mercy in the Incarnation. Let us ponder the infinite bounty of this act.
Some theologians hold that the Incarnation was decided on in the eternal decrees of God, irrespective of the sin of our first parents; and that, in that case too, it would have been an act of the Infinite Mercy of God. Saint Thomas, however, maintains that the Incarnation was planned mainly as a remedy for sin, and that, had there been no original sin, the Incarnation would not have taken place. "Although it is evident that this sets no limits to the omnipotence of God, and that, even had there been no sin, God could have become incarnate" (S.T. 3, q.1, art. 2). Saint Cyril writes: "There was no other way of saving fallen man than for the Eternal Word, the Son of God, to become Man" (Lib. 5, Thes. c,7). The Bible seems rather to confirm the second view: "The Son of man is come to save that which was lost" (Mt 18:11). "For God so loved the world, as to give His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him may not perish but may have life everlasting" (Jn 3:16).
Whichever is right, the first view or the second, the Redemption through the Incarnation of the Eternal Word took place in the manner best befitting the wisdom, power, justice, and especially the Infinite Mercy of God. The power of God is shown in the working of miracles; the wisdom, in the choice of the best possible means of achieving the highest possible end. In the Incarnation we see this highest possible end — the union of two natures in one Person, that other men might be adopted as the sons of God. And what could be more marvelous than that God, should become man, and Man, God? It is the marvel above all marvels. Through the Incarnation, satisfaction is made for the infinite offense against God's majesty — made not by any creature, but by God-Man: we see, too, the infinite malice of sin, in that it needed the Son of God to blot it out and bring about a just settlement and reparation for the insult offered to God.
But, above all, it is through the Incarnation that the Mercy of God is most clearly revealed. There is no gift that could show the great Mercy of God towards human misery so well as the gift of His most dear Son. Nothing more could have been done for us; nothing dearer or more efficacious offered for our salvation. It may seem to some that it would have been an even greater act of Mercy if our sins had been freely forgiven, and all men admitted into Heaven. But in fact there is an even greater compassion in the gift of the Son of God; just as redemption that satisfied justice was more precious than a redemption without any such satisfaction.
If a king takes the status of a servant, to save a man who has been condemned to death, he shows more mercy than if he merely spared his life by exercising his royal prerogative. As far as strict justice went, sinful man deserved to have instant and eternal punishment meted out to him, as it was to the rebellious angels. But God released him both from guilt and punishment, at the cost of His Son's blood, which made full satisfaction to justice. "For you are bought with a great price. Glorify and bear God in your body" (1 Cor 6:20). Finally, through the Incarnation, God ordained an inexhaustible source of salvation for all men, in all ages; and this, but for the Incarnation, we should probably never have possessed.
But the main reason that made it so fitting to save mankind through the Incarnation is this: that under the influence of this mystery our faith, hope, and charity and all other virtues, are strengthened; that, through it, all that exists is raised to a higher dignity, and ransomed man to a higher glory.
Who would not believe a God who, visibly, in human form, taught and worked wonders? Who could doubt of salvation, when God Himself has assured us of an eternal reqard? We are so prone to grow discouraged, to give up trying, when things go wrong. But when we look at the cross and see on it the God-Man, who has already done so much for our salvation, we feel a wave of trust in His help, and with this trust our love deepens and leads us to give ourselves, surrender ourselves, to God. All other moral virtues expand and thrive the more, when we see their supreme example in the incarnate God-man. By His example He draws us on to practice poverty and humility, mortification and purity, obedience and self-denial. Through the Incarnation, our sanctification in the Head of the Mystical Body of which we are members, is more easily achieved.
Since, in the human body, vegetable life and animal life are united, while the angelic life is reflected in the soul of man, so, through the Incarnation, the whole range of beings is raised to higher dignity. For, since one Human Being is united to God, not only by grace, but actually in one Divine Person, all creation rejoices and enjoys the fruits of this union, as the Psalmist says: "Thy judgments are a great deep. Men and beasts though wilt preserve, O Lord. O how hast thou multiplied thy mercy, O God!" And, finally, the Incarnation is the greatest glory of the saints in heaven: they rejoice in the Humanity of Christ, raised to the dignity of the Godhead, more than they rejoice at their own communing with the spirits of Heaven.
From the Mystery of the Incarnation there flows forth to us a great outpouring of merciful goodness, precious alike for the sublimity of the gift itself, for the way in which this gift is given, and for the results that follow it. On this threefold basis the benefits of the Incarnation are boundless. In the first place, the gift of this Incarnation is infinite, for it is the Only-begotten Son of God. If the most perfect angel had become incarnate and dwelt among us, teaching us, guiding us, leading us on to salvation, this too would have been a great act of mercy, comparable with that of some king's son, sent to release a subject who had been taken captive. But behold, God sends His Son; He give Him to us as our own, solely for our good. This surpasses all understanding.
"Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man. He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even death of the cross" (Phil 2: 6-8). In these words, the Apostle shows us the great humility of the Son of God in the Incarnation, in annihilating His Infinite Majesty by taking human nature. A man recoils from putting on the dirty underwear worn by someone else: infinitely more repellent to the Son of God was the human nature with which, solely out of mercy, He united His Divinity in one Divine Person. We should admire a king who, to deliver a servant from bondage, laid aside the dignity of his rank and sold himself, of his own free will to his enemies. How much more should we admire the infinite Mercy of God in the Incarnation of His only-begotten Son!
The least act of humiliation on the part of God means more than the greatest humiliation of the most perfect creatures, who are nothing in comparison with the greatness and infinite perfection of the Creator. But the fact that this infinite greatness took on our nothingness in the Incarnation was not due to any merits of ours, or for the just evaluation of any good that we possess, but solely on account of the Infinite Mercy of God, whom it pleased, even at such a price as this, to save His creation.
As to the results of the Incarnation, they are infinite. For not only were all those graces restored which had been lost by our first parents, but we were granted even more: Our Lord won for us an infinite treasury of merits, from which mankind could draw abundantly, all through the ages, right down to the end of the world. "For thou hast presented him with blessings of sweetness: thou has set on his head a crown of precious stones" (Ps 20:4), cries the Psalmist, as he reflects on the Mercy of God in the Incarnation: and, still more emphatically, in another Psalm: "Lord, thou hast blessed thy land: thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob. Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people: thou has covered all their sins. Thou hast mitigated all thy anger: thou hast turned away from the wrath of thy indignation" (Ps 84:2-4).
"Cursed is the earth in thy work" (Gen 3:17), said God to Adam, when He announced the punishment for his sin. And now, behold, the Son of God descends on earth in the Incarnation, bringing down blessings with Him. "Nature breathes more freely, and through the woods and fields, through the leaves of the trees, there stirs a gentle breeze, like a deep sigh drawn from its breast." But deeper still is the sigh that rises from my soul as I ponder the unfathomable mystery of the Mercy of God.
For more information about Blessed Sopocko, please visit thedivinemercy.org/sopocko.