Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Fr Georges Massouh on God's Generosity

Arabic original here.

Divine Generosity

For Muslim theologians, the question of Christian belief in the Holy Trinity is not the fundamental dilemma hindering Muslim-Christian dialog on the dogmatic level. Rather, the dilemma is found in Christian belief in the dogma of the divine incarnation. That is, in the Son of God or the Word of God becoming human. In contemporary Islamic thought, efforts are put forward to admit that Christian belief is monotheist, since when Christians mention the three hypostases: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, they affirm that they are one God.

In the Arabic Christian tradition, we find many texts that attempt to defend belief in the incarnation, relying on the concept of "divine generosity." Paul, the 12th century Orthodox bishop of Sidon, believes that God's generosity was manifested in His Word's dwelling in man, the most noble of God's creatures. He says, "Because God is generous, He must be generous with the most exalted thing in existence. There is nothing in existence better than His Word, that is His reason. For this reason, He must be generous with His Word, so that He will be the most generous. He was generous with the best thing in existence (...) Since among the things He created there was nothing nobler than man, He took on human nature from Our Pure Lady Mary, chosen over the women of the world." Ammar al-Basri (a little-known writer of the 9th century) adds on the very same topic, "God's generosity, munificence, goodness, and might, which called Him to create and to bring forth His creation are what finally called Him to complete His benevolence by becoming incarnate as a human."

The Arabic Christian tradition criticizes those who deny the incarnation and judges their position to stem from "man's miserliness" which rejects God's generosity and rejects God's honoring him.  The Syriac philosopher Abu Zakariya Yahya ibn Adi al-Tikriti (d. 974) says, "If it is possible for Him to unite to us, where for us in it is the ultimate  and for Him in it is the perfection of generosity, nothing would prevent it other than weakness or miserliness. They are attributes of imperfection and He is above both of them. Thus He must unite to us."

Theodore Abu Qurrah (9th century) believes that the primary reason for the incarnation is for God to draw near to man, which allows man to come to know God. The second reason, which is no less important, is to redeem man and save him from Satan's influence. For this reason "God sent His Word and Spirit to the pure Virgin Mary. She bore the light of God which is of God and He appeared incarnate (...) the Word of God came to be like man without sin, though He is God."

Abu Qurrah confirms Christ's divinity when he says, "Christ, the spirit of God and His Word, is of His essence and His substance, Creator and not creature." Here it should be mentioned that Theodore says that Christ is "the Word and spirit of God" because the Qur'an says this of Christ. In this way Theodore uses the Muslims' expressions and Qur'anic verses in order to show the the Christian faith and to eliminate any possible confusion.

The Son of God honored all humanity when He visited us in the body and dwelt among us. He did not want to remain above, but rather made Himself humble to the point of accepting the cross, the peak of divine generosity, "And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:8-7). Divine generosity and its fruit, the incarnation, is the perfection and definitive proof of love.

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