Annotations to the Heidelberg Catechism - Lord's Day 14
Lord's Day 14
What do you confess when you say:
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary?
The eternal Son of God,
who is and remains true and eternal God,
took upon Himself true human nature
from the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary,
through the working of the Holy Spirit.
Thus He is also the true seed of David,
and like His brothers in every respect,
yet without sin.
What benefit do you receive
from the holy conception and birth of Christ?
He is our Mediator,
and with His innocence and perfect holiness
covers, in the sight of God,
my sin, in which I was conceived and born.
Q. & A. 35 – 36 Born of Woman
- The human birth of our Lord Jesus Christ places us before the ultimate miracle. He who lacked a mother in heaven, lacked a father on earth. For the angel gave this message to Maria (Lk 1:35): "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God."
Further, Jesus' birth was not like ours, his lot. Rather, it was his deed! Phil 2:7 says that he: ". . . emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men."
The Saviour also said constantly: I have come. What love! He wanted to enter into our filthy existence and assume our lot of curse and shame. How zealous he was for God's justice, saying in Ps. 40:7-8: "Lo, I come . . . to do thy will, O my God."
- Born as man, he was like man in every respect. The Catechism emphasizes that he assumed the true human nature from the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary. Article 18 of the BC also strongly emphasizes this when it states: "He truly assumed a real human nature with all its infirmities."
And Rom 8:3 says that he was sent “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” The gospel portrays the Lord as true man. Even his contemporaries said: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” (Mk 6:3). To be rejected, therefore, is the Anabaptist belief that Jesus brought his human nature with him from heaven and merely passed through Mary in his human form, as light passes through a window. Already the apostle John fought against the Docetists, who maintained that Jesus only had the appearance of a body. (See 1 Jn 4:2-3).
- While maintaining the foregoing, we must quickly add that he was “without sin.” Heb 4:15 says: "For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin."
He did not have original sin. For, being in the bosom of the Father, he did not fall along with mankind when they fell in Adam. Nor did he have actual sins.
- His divinity was not changed into human nature at his birth. He remained what he was (God) and he became what he, until then, was not (man). The divine person of the Son, who is God from eternity, also took upon himself human existence at his birth. From then on, the two natures existed in the one person.
Thus, everything that the Mediator did in his human nature was the work of the Son of God. This imparted a divine and everlasting value to his work. 1 Jn 1:7b states: ". . . the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin." (See CD II, 4).
- He is also the true seed of David, by being born of Mary and by being acknowledged as son by Joseph. Lk 1:32b says:". . . and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David."
Thus, it is he to whom and by whom all the promises made in the OT to David and his descendants will be fulfilled. (Read Ps 72 in this context).
- We already discussed the necessity of his birth in connection with LD 5, Q&A 12-15 and LD 6, Q&A 16-17.
- In Q. 36 the Catechism again asks about the benefit. Note the personal tone of the A.: “. . . my sin, in which I was conceived and born.” But, while my conception was already wrong because of Adam's sin, which is also mine, Jesus restored Everything that I did wrong, even my conception. And he covers my unrighteousness with his righteousness.
B. Cross References
- Art. 18 of the BC speaks extensively about the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
- Art. 19 of the BC gives a broad discussion of the union of and the distinction between the two natures of Christ in the one person of the Son.
- The Mediator unites the two natures (divine and human) in the one (divine) person of the Son. Both natures retain their distinct properties. The divine nature remained uncreated, eternal, omnipresent. The human nature remained created, temporal, finite. While Christ's human nature obtained immortality by his resurrection, it remained a true human nature.
Concerning the union of these two natures (at Christ's birth), we confess that they are so closely united that they were not even separated by his death. The divine nature always remained united with the human nature, even when he lay in the grave.
In this union the natures (according to the Council of Chalcedon, AD 451) remained:
a. without confusion: each nature remains independent;
b. without change: each nature retains its own properties;
c. without separation: they are always and for eternity united in one person; and
d. without division: the whole human nature and the whole divine nature remain joined together.
Points a. and b. were directed against Eutyches (abbot of a monastery at Constantinople), who taught that after his incarnation Christ had only one nature (the two natures, when united in the incarnation, were “melted down” into a new “divine-human nature”), so that his human nature was not like ours (water mixed with wine). This idea was incorporated in the Lutheran and the ethical theologies.
Point c. was directed against Nestorius (patriarch of Constantinople), who separated the two natures of Christ to such an extent that the unity of the person was in danger of being lost (water mixed with oil).
Point d. was directed against Apollinaris, according to whom the Son merely assumed our body.
Thus, the Council of Chalcedon only rejected the heresies and declared how the union of the natures did not take place. How the union did take place exceeds our understanding.
The Roman doctrine of Mary's immaculate conception is in conflict with, inter alia, Lk 1:47, in which Mary informs us that she needs a Saviour.
Christ did not become man in order to bridge the “contrast” between God and man, between time and eternity, so that he would also have come in our nature apart from the fall. There was no contrast between God and man originally. There was distance, but not a distance which was not bridged by the covenant. Christ became man to save sinners
D. Questions (Introduction; Q&A 35-36)
- What does the concept of a person's “state” denote? What determines a person's state?
- What are the states of the Mediator? How did he stand towards God in the state of humiliation and in the state of exaltation, respectively?
- Which stages do we distinguish in the state of humiliation?
- Who was Jesus' Father? Was Jesus' birth his deed?
- What do Lk 1:35, Phil 2:7 and Heb 4:15, respectively, say?
- What did the Docetists and the Anabaptists, respectively, teach about Jesus' human nature?
- Did Jesus have communion with sin through his birth?
- Was his divinity changed into human nature? How do we say that the two natures are united?
- What does it mean that he is the true seed of David?
- Why was it necessary that Jesus became man?
- What benefit do we receive from the holy conception and birth of Christ?