Ontology of Incarnation
December 13, 2021

What are the general ontological foundations of the incarnation? asks Sergius Bulgakov in a dense paragraph of The Lamb of God (171-2). “In what does the inexorable predeterminedness of the Incarnation consist?”

Negatively, he writes, it’s “erroneous to limit the theology of the incarnation to soteriology.” The incarnation isn’t merely a response to the fall.

Positively, his answer is: The predeterminedness of the incarnation flows from God’s general relation to creation, which is a relation of love. And the love of God for His creation is always, Bulgakov stresses, sacrificial love.

In love, God repeatedly renounces Himself for the sake of the world. He renounces His solitude. At first, there is only God. By creating, He “posits the beginning of the world alongside God, making God correlative to the world.”

He renounces Himself by creating man in His own image. Before creation, the only Godlike being was God Himself, the only Son the eternal Son. God makes man a being like Himself; the Son carries out the will of the Father in making a created son, both a little brother and a potential rival.

God, finally, renounces Himself by entering “into personal communion with man.” He doesn’t create a puppet but “wants to communicate His divine life to the world and to make His abode in the world.”

All this is true before and apart from the incarnation, but the incarnation is the climactic expression of God’s self-renouncing love. God becomes man “in order to make man god.” He gives up being only-God in order to become God-and-man. He gives up being only-Creator to become also-a-creature.

The order of creation is no obstacle to God’s sacrificial love. Neither is the fallen state of the world: “God’s love is repulsed neither by the infirmity of the creature nor by its fallen image.” He doesn’t recoil from our sin. Quite the contrary: He takes the sins of the world upon Himself.

Self-renouncing, sacrificial love is the love of the Triune communion: “Such is God’s love; such is love. Such is love in the intratrinitarian life, in the mutual giving of the three hypostases; such is love in the relation of God to the world.”

If this is the basis of the incarnation, then the question of whether the incarnation would have happened without the fall answers itself. “The greater includes the lesser,” and thus “God’s love for fallen man, which is so great that He even assumes Adam’s fallen essence, certainly already includes love for the incorrupted man.”

The incarnation isn’t only as a saving act. It’s a revelation of God, a demonstration of His love for the cosmos, an unveiling of the nature of man in His relation to the Son of the Father. It expresses God's love for creation; it expresses the love God is to creation.

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