A READING FROM A LETTER OF ST LEO THE GREAT
It is of no avail to say that our Lord, the son of the Virgin Mary, was true and perfect man, if he is not believed to be man of that stock from which the Gospel tells us he came. Matthew says: The book of the genealogy of Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. He then follows the order of Christ’s human origin and traces the line of his ancestry down to Joseph, to whom the Lord’s mother was betrothed. Luke, on the other hand, works backwards step by step; and traces his succession to the first of the human race himself, to show that the first Adam and the last Adam were of the same nature.
The almighty Son of God could have come to teach and justify men with only the outward appearance of our humanity, exactly as he appeared to patriarchs and prophets. This he did when he wrestled with Jacob, or entered into conversation, or when he did not refuse hospitable entertainment, and even partook of the food set before him. Those outward appearances pointed to this man. They had a hidden meaning which proclaimed that his reality would be taken from the stock of his forefathers.
Hence God’s plan for our reconciliation, formed before all eternity, was not realized by any of these prefigurations. As yet, the Holy Spirit had not come upon the Virgin nor had the power of the Most High overshadowed her. Only then, would the Word become flesh within her inviolate womb, in which Wisdom would build a house for herself. Then, too, the creator of ages would be born in time and the nature of God would join with the nature of the slave in the unity of one person. He through whom the world was created would himself be brought forth in the midst of all creation.
If the new man, made in the likeness of sinful flesh, had not taken our old nature; if he, one in substance with the Father, had not accepted to be one in substance with the mother; if he who was alone free from sin had not united our nature to himself, – then men would still have been captive under the power of the devil. We would have been incapable of profiting by the victor’s triumph if the battle had been fought outside our nature.
But, by means of this marvellous sharing, the mystery of our rebirth shone out upon us. We are reborn in newness of spirit through the same Spirit through whom Christ was conceived and born. Consequently the evangelist speaks of those who believe as those who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
St Leo the Great, Ep. 31, 2-3, from The Divine Office Vol. I