A READING FROM THE FIVE ‘CENTURIES’ OF ST MAXIMUS THE CONFESSOR
The Word of God, born once on the level of the flesh, is always born willingly for those who desire it on the level of the spirit, because of his love for men. He becomes an infant, forming himself in them by the virtues; he manifests himself in just the measure of which he knows the one who is receiving him is capable. It is not through any ill-will that he diminishes the manifestation of his own majesty; it is rather that he weighs the capacity of those who desire to see him. And so, though the Word of God is always manifested in the life of those who share in him, yet because the mystery is transcendent, he remains always invisible to all.
Thus the holy Apostle, in wise consideration of the meaning of the mystery, says: ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever’ – he knows that the mystery is always new, that the mind in understanding it will never deprive it of its freshness.
Christ God is born, made man by the assumption of flesh endowed with an intelligent soul, he who brought things from nothing into existence. A star from the east appears by day and guides the Magi to the place the Word has taken flesh. This conveys a hidden meaning: it shows that the word of the law and the prophets surpasses the experience of the senses, and guides the gentiles to the greatest light of knowledge. The word of the law and the prophets, like a star devoutly observed, is a clear guide to the knowledge of the incarnate Word for those who are called according to God’s purpose by the power of grace.
God becomes perfect man, then, leaving aside no element of nature – except sin, and this does not belong to nature. He offered his flesh as a bait, to provoke the insatiable dragon to devour the flesh which he was greedily pursuing. This flesh would be poison to the dragon, destroying him utterly by the power of the divinity in it. But it would be a medicine for human nature, restoring it to its original grace by the power of the divinity in it.
By smearing the tree of knowledge with his poison of evil, the dragon destroyed man when he tasted it. But having chosen to devour the Lord’s flesh, he too was destroyed, by the power of the divinity in it.
The great mystery of the divine incarnation always remains a mystery. In his essence the Word exists personally in the Father to the full: how is he in his person essentially in the flesh? How can the same person be God by nature and become fully man by nature, in no way deprived in either nature, neither in the divine nature by which he is God, nor in ours by which he became man?
Only faith can grasp these mysteries, since it is the substance of things which are beyond intelligence and reason.
St Maximus the Confessor, Cent. 1, 8-13, from The Divine Office Vol. I