Excerpts From
Cranmer's Godly Order
by Michael Davies

Et Incarnatus Est

CARDINAL NEWMAN has written that if asked to select one doctrine as the basis of our Faith: ". . . I should myself call the Incarnation the central aspect of Christianity, out of which the three main aspects of its teaching take their rise, the Sacramental, the hierarchical, and the ascetic." l

God the Son united His Divine with our human nature so that, as a beautiful Offertory prayer expresses it, "we may be made partakers of His Divinity." Catholic theology lays great stress on the fact that the Incarnation was made dependent upon the co-operation of Our Lady. The Sin of Adam had turned man against God and lost us the right to Heaven. Mary's "Fiat" set in motion the train of events which would reverse this situation. Through this "Fiat" Our Lord Jesus Christ entered this lowly world, explains Pope St. Leo: "coming down from His heavenly throne yet not leaving His Father's glory, born in a new order of being, by a new birth. He was born in a new order because, invisible in His own essence, He made Himself visible to us: incomprehensible, He willed to be comprehended; subsisting before time existed He began to be in time; Lord of all things, He took on the form of a servant, dimming the glory of His majesty; God impervious to suffering, He did not disdain to become a man who could suffer, and immortal though He was, to submit to the laws of death." 2

Everything connected with the Incarnation is a mystery, as Dom Gueranger makes clear. "The Word of God Whose generation 'is before the day star' is born in time-----a child is God
-----a Virgin becomes a Mother and remains a virgin-----things Divine are commingled with those that are human-----and the sublime, the ineffable antithesis, expressed by the Beloved Disciple in those words of his gospel, ET VERBUM CARO FACTUM EST, is repeated in a thousand different ways in all the prayers of the Church;-----and rightly, for it admirably embodies the whole of the portent, which unites in one Person the nature of Man and the nature of God." 3

"The Christian religion is founded upon the reality of the Incarnation as an historical fact. Remove that reality and nothing remains, as Cardinal Newman makes clear: "The Incarnation is the antecedent of the doctrine of Mediation, and the archetype both of the Sacramental principle and of the merits of the Saints. From the doctrine of Mediation follows the Atonement, the Mass, the merits of Martyrs and Saints, their invocation and cultus. From the Sacramental Principle come the Sacraments properly so called; the unity of the Church, and the Holy See as its type and centre; the authority of Councils; the sanctity of rites; the veneration of holy places, shrines, images, vessels, furniture and vestments . .  . You must accept the whole or reject the whole; attenuation does but enfeeble, and amputation mutilate." 4

The Christian religion stands or falls upon the historical fact that at a given moment in time the Word of God took to Himself our humanity, our poverty, our nothingness, to give us in exchange the power to be made sons of God. This is teaching upon which both Catholic and Protestant would be in accord, presuming neither had succumbed to the Modernism infecting both communions, a Modernism which has the reality of the Incarnation as its principal target, having correctly assessed that it is the cornerstone of the entire fabric of Christian doctrine, whether Catholic or Protestant. Where non-Modernist Catholics and Protestants would disagree is on the emphasis to be placed on the role of Mary in the Incarnation-----but on the historical reality of the Incarnation and its role as the foundation of our religion they would be in accord.


Just as non-Modernist Catholics and Protestants agree on the reality and the importance of the Incarnation they would also agree that the Incarnate Word redeemed mankind by offering His life upon the Cross of Calvary. Sin is a culpable rejection of the grace which God offers gratuitously to man. It is more than an offence, it is a perversion of nature for it is intrinsically unnatural for the creature to reject the Creator's will. The meaning of Redemption can be traced back to two Hebrew roots which signify the buying back of a loved one from slavery. 5 All mankind has stood and stands in need of redemption, both as a result of Original Sin and of the guilt incurred by each individual when he accepted the godlessness of his fallen state by personal sin. Western theology holds that Jesus Christ has made superabundant satisfaction for sinners by dying for all. St. Thomas teaches that: "He properly atones for an offence who offers something which the offended one loves equally or even more than the detested offence. But by suffering out of love and obedience Christ gave more to God than was required to compensate for the offence of the whole human race." 6 Scripture and all Christian tradition consider that the Passion of Christ is the one atoning sacrifice by which the world is saved.

"But God shows His love for us
in that while we were yet sinners
Christ died for us.
Since, therefore, we are now justified by His blood,
much more, now that we are reconciled,
shall we be saved by His life . . .
As one man's trespass
led to condemnation for all men,
so one man's act of righteousness
leads to acquittal and life for all men." (Romans V)

Gabriel Biel who died in 1495 has been termed the last of the medieval doctors. He was the most widely read authority on the Mass at the time of the Reformation and summarised the accepted Christian teaching on the atonement in one of his sermons: "Here we are considering the whole manner of our redemption. When, long ago, Our Lord offered up His passion He redeemed the whole human race once and for all from the wickedness of the devil; He opened the locked gates of Heaven with the key of His Cross; by pouring forth His blood He cleansed all things." 7

There is a difference of opinion between Protestant and Catholic theology not in the fact that Christ atoned for our sins once and for all upon the Cross but in precisely how He did so. The Church has not finally pronounced upon this matter and it has long been a matter for speculation among the different schools of theology within the Church. 8 The principal difference between Catholics and Protestants, particularly at the time of the Reformation, lay in the portrayal by the Reformers of Christ's Passion as a substitutionary punishment demanded by Divine vindicatory justice." This is the most terrible thing of all," wrote Luther, "that Christ was smitten and put to the torture by God, and so took upon Himself God's anger . . . for nothing else could have placated the anger of God but a sacrifice so great as this-----the Son of God." 9 Francis Clark explains that if Christ's sacrifice was essentially a penal substitution which had averted God's anger from the elect to Himself, then it was past. There could only be a thankful memory of such a sacrifice. ". . . the Church could not by a sacramental rite perpetuate its reality nor mediate its efficacy to men." 10

Catholic theology, based on St. Anselm, explains Christ's sacrifice as vicarious satisfaction freely offered by Our Lord, making amends by His personal dignity for offence given by His fellow men to Divine honour.

The moral value of an act before God derives not only from the content of the act but from the dignity of the agent. In this case, the agent being Jesus Christ, both God and Man, the dignity of the act is infinite and Divine, and therefore more than able to compensate for the glory of which God had been deprived through sin. The acceptance of Christ's sacrifice by God as satisfaction for the offence of sin, a fact made clear in numerous scripture references, means that He has redeemed us by offering infinite satisfaction for the sins of the world as the representative of humanity. 11

It was not the physical suffering and death of Christ which was pleasing to God but the love and obedience which inspired His Passion. This was well summarised by St. Bernard when he wrote: "Non mors sed voluntas placuit sponte morientis." 12

Although Christ's Passion was sufficient in itself to atone for the sins of the world and redeem all men it does not follow that all men will be redeemed. A distinction must be made between the sufficiency and efficacy of His great act of atonement. The fruits of the Passion are available to all but they will be efficacious only in the case of those who freely co-operate with Divine grace to achieve their personal salvation. This will be dealt with in more detail in Chapter 11. Explaining the question of sufficiency and efficacy in relation to the consecration of the wine during Mass, the Catechism of the Council of Trent states: "if we look to its value, we must confess that the Redeemer shed His blood for the salvation of all; but if we look to the fruit which mankind have received from it, we shall easily find that it pertains not unto all, but to many of the human race (non ad omnes, sed ad multos)." The Catechism explains that for this reason the form for the consecration of the wine uses the words "pro multis "-----for many. "With reason, therefore, were the words' for all ' (pro universis) not used, as in this place the fruits of the Passion alone are spoken of, and to the elect only did His Passion bring the fruit of salvation." 13


Through the Incarnation of God the Son, men became His brethren according to the flesh and were able to regain their lost inheritance when, by means of His great redemptive act upon the Cross, He not only placated the outraged justice of the Father but merited an immense treasury of graces for mankind. It was stated above that Catholic and Protestant alike are agreed that the merits of Christ's Passion were sufficient to redeem all men once and for all. It is on the question of how these merits were to be applied to men that a radical difference of opinion arose between the Reformers and the Catholic Church. It is this question which lies at the basis of the Reformation and it is vital to realise that the Reformation was essentially a dispute concerning doctrine. Those who study the writings of the Reformers will find that it is questions of belief rather than questions of conduct which concern them. There is no question as to the fact that the Church was in need of reform in the sixteenth century, as it has been so many times during its history-----the concern of some of the most saintly Popes, such as Gregory the Great, has been to bring the members of Christ's Mystical Body to practise a manner of living which conformed in the closest possible manner to the pattern set by and required by their Head. 14

But although the Reformers attacked the abuses which existed within the Church this was done mainly from a propaganda standpoint: their principal attack, the raison d'etre for their new religion, was their refusal to accept fundamental Catholic teaching.

God can bestow the merits won by Christ directly upon individual men without the use of any intermediary, but His plan is that these merits should normally be distributed by means of His visible Church, a Mystical Body in which Christ is the Head and the Holy Ghost the soul, giving the human members the grace required to co-operate with their Head in His redemptive work. God has chosen to redeem us by the means of the Incarnation which required the co-operation of Mary's "Fiat." He could have redeemed us in some other way which would not have required human co-operation-----but it was His will that He should redeem us by means of the Incarnation. Reflecting upon the Incarnation makes it easier to understand what Pius XII explains as one of the most perplexing aspects of the mystery of the Church. Pope Pius writes that it is certain, surprising though it may seem, "that Christ requires His members." He makes it clear that Christ requires this help not by necessity but by choice (just as He chose to become incarnate with the co-operation of Mary). ". . . our Saviour wants to be helped by the members of His Mystical Body in carrying out the work of Redemption. This is not due to any need or insufficiency in Him, but rather because He has so ordained it for the greater honour of His immaculate Bride. Dying on the Cross, He bestowed upon His Church the boundless treasure of the Redemption without any co-operation on her part; but in the distribution of that treasure He not only shares this work of sanctification with His spotless Bride, but wills it to arise in a certain manner out of Her labour." 15

The Catholic conception of the Christian religion can aptly be described as "incarnational." 16 Christ's means of applying the merits of His Passion is to continue the Incarnation throughout time until He comes again. He does this not simply through the effects of the Incarnation but by prolonging the Incarnation Itself-----and this prolongation of the Incarnation is the Church, Christ's Mystical Body which is Christ Himself living and acting through His members who transform the world by the Divine life of Grace which flows to the Church through Christ Her Head. Christ has communicated not only His holiness and merits but His powers of sanctification to His hierarchical Church. "Endowed with Christ's priesthood, the Church through Her ministers has the function of mediating to all men the fruits of Christ's all-sufficient work of salvation. This is the 'work,' the opus operatum of the Sacramental system." 17 It is this concept of the Church and Her priests mediating between God and man, dispensing the Grace won on the Cross by means of the Sacraments, which evoked the wrath of the Protestant heresiarchs. It is therefore important that Catholics have a clear understanding of the concept of the opus operatum.


The Sacramental system, the opus operatum, imparts grace directly from God. The Sacraments themselves are the source of the grace they convey providing they are administered by an authorised minister who intends to do what the Church intends and observes the correct ritual. This automatic transmission of grace by a correctly administered Sacrament is referred to as grace received ex opere operato. It is made possible because Christ Himself is the true minister of all the Sacraments, the human ministers only acting as His instruments. We receive the grace of the Sacraments directly from Christ no matter how unworthy the intermediary. It would, of course, be a grave sin on the part of the minister to administer a Sacrament while conscious of unabsolved mortal sin, indeed it would be a sacrilege. But if, for example, a priest offered Mass or heard confessions while in a state of mortal sin this would not prevent the faithful receiving the Sacramental grace which comes to them from Christ.

Although the grace of the Sacraments is made available automatically, ex opere operato, its fruitfulness in those who have reached the age of reason is affected to some extent by their dispositions. As we are told in the Lauda Sion, the sequence for Corpus Christi, the same Sacrament can have the opposite effect, life for some and death for others. This is the teaching of St. Paul: "For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord". (1 Cor. 11: 29) The influence of the dispositions of the recipient upon
the fruits of the Sacrament is referred to as ex opere operantis. It is of the very greatest importance to stress that in no way at all is the grace of a Sacrament ever produced ex opere operantis, the dispositions of the recipient can only help to determine its effectiveness, they are never the cause or source of grace, which only comes from Christ Himself.

Because the Church is nothing less than the extension of the Incarnation throughout the ages and throughout the nations, because the Church is Christ saving and sanctifying His elect, it is clear that the Mystical Body is to be the normal channel of grace, above all through the seven sacraments. It is, however, important to realise that God is not bound by the Sacramental system even though He instituted it, and that He can and does give grace in other ways to those who do not have access to the Sacraments and who have never had the saving word of faith proclaimed to them. "Is a man in Persia acceptable to God?" asks St. John Chrysostom. "If he is worthy, then he is acceptable, by being found worthy of the Faith. That is why the Ethiopian eunuch was acceptable and was not overlooked. But what about the good men who are overlooked? Out upon you; no man is overlooked if he be devout." (PG 60: 178).

The axiom "outside the Church there is no salvation" was well explained by Cardinal Bourne in his introduction to the Catholic Truth Society edition of Pope Pius XI's Encyclical on True Religious Unity (Mortalium Animos). While this axiom is perfectly true, the Cardinal explains, "it is equally true that without the deliberate act of the will there can be neither fault nor sin, so evidently this axiom applies only to those who are outside the Church knowingly, deliberately and willfully.

"And this is the doctrine of the Catholic Church on this often misunderstood and misrepresented aphorism. There are the covenanted and the uncovenanted dealings of God with His creatures, and no creature is outside His fatherly care. There are millions-----even at this day the vast majority of mankind
-----who are still unreached or unaffected by the message of Christianity in any shape or form. There are large numbers who are persuaded that the old covenant still prevails and are perfectly sincere and conscientious in their observance of the Jewish law. And there are millions who accept some form of Christian teaching who have never adverted to the idea of Unity as I have described it, and have no thought that they are obliged in conscience to accept the teaching and to submit to the authority of the Catholic Church. All such, whether separated wholly from acceptance of Christ and His teaching or accepting that teaching only to the extent to which they have perceived it, will be judged on their own merits. They are bound to accept and follow God's teaching so far as their reason rightly used shall lead them. They must obey the dictates of the moral law which their conscience imposes upon them. They must regret before God, and endeavour to undo, the faults and sins that they commit against their reason and their conscience. And they are bound at all cost to enter within the Unity of the Church as soon as they realise that that obligation is incumbent upon them."

1. DCD, Ch. I, Sect. I, 3.
2. Roman Breviary, Feast of the Annunciation, II Nocturn, Lesson vi.
3. The Liturgical Year, trans. Dom Laurence Shepherd (Dublin, 1968), vol. I, p. 7.
4. DCD, Ch. II, Sect. III, 2.
5. CDT, see entries: Atonement, Redemption and Satisfaction.
6. ST, III, Q. XLVIII, art n.
7. ESR, p. 554.
8. The various theories are summarised in the CDT entry: Atonement.
9. Commentary on Isaias 53.5.10; cited in ESR, p. 109.
10. ESR, p. 109, 110.
11. CTD, see entry Satisfaction.
12. De erroribus Abaelardi,  no  21 (P.L. CLXXXII, col. 1070).
13. CCT, p. 227.
14. The most comprehensive history of the Reformation in Britain is the three volume study by Mgr. Philip Hughes (RIE). The author makes no attempt to hide the serious shortcomings in the state of the Church but shows clearly that the Protestant Reformation was concerned essentially with doctrinal issues.
15. Encyclical Letter, The Mystical Body of Jesus Christ (C.T.S., London), p. 27.
16. ESR, p. 103; TCC, p. 693.
17. ESR, p. 103.

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