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Jesus Christ is true man

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on Jesus Christ
General Audience, Wednesday 27 January 1988 - in Italian & Spanish  

"Jesus Christ true God is true man: this is the central mystery of our faith and is the key truth of our Christological catecheses. We propose to seek the basis of this truth in Sacred Scripture, especially in the Gospels, and in Christian Tradition.

We have already seen that in the Gospels Jesus Christ revealed himself as God the Son, especially when he said, "I and the Father are one" (Jn 10:30); when he referred to himself the name of God, "I Am" (cf. Jn 8:58), and the divine attributes; and when he claimed that "all power has been given (him) in heaven and on earth" (Mt 28:18). This includes the power to pronounce final judgment on all people; the power over the law (cf. Mt 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44) which comes from God and derives its binding force from him; and finally the power to forgive sins (cf. Jn 20:22-23). Since he received from the Father the power to pronounce the final judgment on the world (cf. Jn 5:22), Jesus came into the world "to seek and to save what was lost" (Lk 19:10).

To confirm his divine power over creation, Jesus worked miracles which are signs that the kingdom of God has come into the world together with him.

2. But this Jesus who, by means of what he did and taught, bore witness to himself as Son of God, at the same time revealed himself as true man. The entire New Testament, and in particular the Gospels testify unequivocally to this truth of which Jesus was most clearly conscious. The apostles and evangelists also recognized it and transmitted it without the slightest shadow of doubt. In the present reflection we will collect and outline at least briefly the Gospel data on this truth, always in connection with what we have previously said about Christ as true God.

This way of presenting the true humanity of the Son of God is absolutely essential today, given the widespread tendency to regard Jesus as only a man, an unusual extraordinary man, but always and merely a man. This tendency characteristic of modern times is in a certain way the antithesis of the Docetism of the early centuries of Christianity. According to the Docetists, Jesus Christ only appeared to be a man; he had the appearance of a man, but he was solely God.

Faced with these opposite tendencies, the Church firmly professes and proclaims the truth that Christ is the God-Man, true God and true man. He is the one divine Person of the Word in two natures, divine and human, as the catechism teaches. It is a profound mystery of our faith, faceted with so many lights.

3. The biblical testimonies about the true humanity of Jesus Christ are numerous and clear. We would like to list them, in order to explain them in later reflections.

The point of departure here is the truth of the incarnation. "Et incarnatus est", we profess in the Creed. This truth is expressed
more strikingly in the prologue of John's Gospel: "And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (Jn 1:14). The Greek word for flesh is sarx, which denotes man as he actually is, with his body, and therefore its insecurity, its weakness, and in a certain sense its transitoriness ("All flesh is grass," as we read in the Book of Isaiah 40:6).

Jesus Christ is a man in this meaning of the word "flesh".

This flesh - and thus human nature - Jesus received from his mother, Mary, the Virgin of Nazareth. If St. Ignatius of Antioch calls Jesus sarkophoros (Ad Smyrn., 5), he indicates delicately with this word his human birth of a woman, who gave him "human flesh". St. Paul had said that "God sent his Son, born of a woman" (Gal 4:4).

4. The evangelist Luke spoke of this birth of a woman when he described the events of the night of Bethlehem: "While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her first-born son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger" (Lk 2:6-7). The same evangelist tells us that on the eighth day after Jesus' birth, the child was circumcised and was "given the name Jesus" (Lk 2:21). On the fortieth day he was presented as the firstborn in the Temple of Jerusalem, according to the Mosaic law (cf. Lk 2:22-24).

Moreover, like every child, "he grew and became strong, filled with wisdom" (Lk 2:40). "Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man" (Lk 2:52).

5. We see him as an adult, as he is more frequently presented in the Gospels. As true man, a man of flesh, Jesus experienced fatigue, hunger and thirst. We read, "He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry" (Mt 4:2). And elsewhere, "Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well.... A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, 'Give me to drink'" (Jn 4:6-7).

Jesus thus had a body subject to fatigue, to suffering, a mortal body. A body that at the end underwent the torture of martyrdom through the scourging, crowning with thorns and, eventually, crucifixion.

During the terrible agony, when dying on the cross, Jesus uttered his "I thirst" (Jn 19:28), in which are contained an ultimate, sorrowful and moving expression of the truth of his humanity.

6. Only a true man could have suffered as Jesus suffered on Golgotha. Only a true man could have died as Jesus truly died. This death was observed by many eyewitnesses, not merely from among his friends and disciples. St. John's Gospel tells us that the soldiers "came to Jesus, and seeing that he was already dead, did not break his legs, but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out" (19:33-34).

"He was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried." In these words of the Apostles' Creed, the Church professes the truth of Jesus' birth and death. The truth of the resurrection is attested to immediately afterward in the words, "the third day he rose again from the dead."

7. The resurrection reconfirms, in a new way, that Jesus is truly man: if the Verb was born in time "by becoming flesh," when he was resurrected he took his own body of man.

Only a true man could suffer and die on the cross, and only a true man could rise from the dead. To rise again means to return to life in the body. Although transformed, endowed with new qualities and powers, and also glorified (as at Christ's ascension and in the future resurrection of the dead), it is a truly human body. The risen Christ made contact with the apostles; they saw him, looked at him and touched the wounds which remained after the crucifixion. He not only spoke to them and stayed with them, but he also accepted some of their food. "They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them" (Lk 24:42-43). Finally, it was in this body, risen and glorified, but always the body of a true man, that Christ ascended into heaven, to sit "at the right hand of the Father."

8. Therefore, he is true God and true man, not a man merely in appearance, not a phantasm, but a true man. This is how the apostles and the group of believers of the early Church knew him. This is the testimony that they passed on to us.

We note that there is no opposition in Christ between what is divine and what is human. If man, from the very beginning, was made in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:27; 5:1), and therefore what is human can also manifest what is divine, how much more so could this be verified in Christ. He revealed his divinity through his humanity, through a genuinely human life. His humanity served to reveal his divinity: his Person of the Word-Son.

At the same time, as God the Son, he was not on that account "less man." To reveal himself as God, he was not obliged to be "less" man. Indeed, by this very fact he was "fully" man, for in assuming human nature in the unity of the divine Person of the Word, he achieved the fullness of human perfection. This is an anthropological dimension of Christology to which we must return later.


After the Catechesis, Pope John Paul II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai gruppi di lingua francese 

Chers Frères et Soeurs

Je suis heureux de vous accueillir ici, chers pèlerins et visiteurs de langue française. Je vous souhaite un fructueux séjour dans cette ville de Rome où abondent les souvenirs des premiers témoins du Christ, et je vous bénis de grand cœur.

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters.

My cordial greetings go to all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims, especially to the groups from Denmark, Australia and the United States. I assure you of my prayers and I willingly impart to all of you and your loved ones my Apostolic Blessing.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola 

Amadísimos Hermanos y Hermanas,

Me es grato saludar cordialmente a los peregrinos de lengua española presentes en esta Audiencia, procedentes de España y de América Latina. Que vuestra visita a Roma os llene de la misma fe y valentía que el Apóstol Pedro, para profesar y proclamar que Jesús, verdadero hombre, es también el Hijo de Dios vivo.

A todos imparto con afecto mi Bendición Apostólica. 

Ai fedeli polacchi 

Pozdrawiam serdecznie wszystkich pielgrzymów z Polski, zarówno z kraju, jak i spoza kraju, z emigracji, uczestników grup turystycznych, w szczególności zaś pielgrzymkę z archidiecezji warszawskiej. 

Ai vari gruppi di lingua italiana 

Desidero ora porgere il mio saluto ai Signori Ufficiali partecipanti al LXXI corso promosso dal Collegio di Difesa NATO, al Comandante Generale Antoon Everaert, ai Vice Comandanti ed a tutti i collaboratori con l’augurio cordiale che il periodo di permanenza in Italia, oltre a giovare all’approfondimento delle specifiche competenze in vista delle future mansioni, valga a favorire uno stimolante contatto sia con le gloriose vestigia della Roma imperiale, sia con le sempre vive memorie della Roma cristiana, illustrata dal sangue dei martiri e dalla testimonianza di una meravigliosa fioritura di Santi. 

* * * 

Un cordiale saluto rivolgo poi al folto gruppo di Militari provenienti dalla Scuola di Artiglieria Controaerea di Sabaudia, che sono presenti all’udienza insieme con i Superiori e col Cappellano.

Carissimi, sono lieto di questo incontro che mi consente di esprimervi il mio compiacimento per le iniziative, promosse nella vostra scuola in occasione dell’Anno Mariano. Benedico volentieri la statua lignea della Vergine Santissima che avete portato con voi, con l’intenzione di collocarla poi nella vostra cappella. Amate la Madonna, pregatela, imitatene le virtù. Ella vi sarà sempre vicina per soccorrervi con la sua materna protezione in ogni circostanza della vita. Non passi giorno senza che una preghiera salga dal vostro cuore verso di Lei. È la consegna che lascio a tutti voi con tanto affetto. 

* * * 

Saluto inoltre il gruppo dei Missionari Oblati di Maria Immacolata convenuti a Roma da varie parti, per un incontro di studio sullo specifico carisma della loro Congregazione. Ad essi l’augurio che il ritorno alle fonti ed allo spirito originario della loro Comunità ravvivi e sostenga la volontà di perseverare nel fervoroso annuncio del Cristo a tutti i popoli. 

* * * 

Il mio pensiero va poi al numeroso gruppo dei dirigenti, docenti, allievi ed addetti ai servizi del Centro Formazione Professionale “Teresa Gerini”, dell’Istituto Salesiano di Roma, che intendono con questa loro visita sottolineare l’anno centenario di Don Bosco, patrono degli apprendisti.

Cari giovani! A tutti voi l’invito a prepararvi al vostro futuro lavoro con serenità ed impegno irrobustendo al tempo stesso la vostra fede per essere in grado, domani, di testimoniare, secondo gli insegnamenti e gli esempi di Don Bosco, il vostro amore a Cristo e la fedele adesione al suo Vangelo. 

* * * 

Rivolgo, infine, una parola di ringraziamento e di plauso ai componenti del Circo “Embell-Riva”. Auspico per tutti loro la costante protezione del Signore sulle attività che svolgono, con la viva speranza che nella loro comunità regnino sempre spirito fraterno, armoniosa collaborazione e costante fedeltà a tutti i valori morali che fanno bella e nobile la vita.

A tutti il mio cordiale saluto e la mia Benedizione. 

Ai giovani 

Rivolgo ora un saluto particolarmente affettuoso ai ragazzi e alle ragazze, ai giovani e alle giovani, che prendono parte a questa udienza, conferendole una nota gioiosa. 

Carissimi, mi è sempre motivo di speranza vedervi in questi incontri settimanali, perché mi offrite viva testimonianza della vostra fede e del vostro impegno ecclesiale. Il Signore vi faccia crescere, come dice di lui adolescente il Vangelo, “in sapienza, età e grazia davanti a Dio e agli uomini”  vi auguro che possiate essere autentici portatori della fede e della carità cristiana in tutti gli ambienti, in cui venite a trovarvi, e che possiate essere costruttori di quella pace vera che viene da Cristo, ma passa per le mani della sua Madre, “Regina della Pace”. Invocatela nei momenti di dissidio interiore: Ella non mancherà di esaudirvi e di indicarvi le soluzioni, perché - come ho detto nel recente Messaggio per la Giornata Mondiale della Gioventù - Ella è “vostra Madre e Maestra”. Vi benedico tutti di cuore. 

Agli ammalati 

Anche a voi, miei cari ammalati, che partecipate alle sofferenze redentrici di Cristo, rivolgo il mio saluto e la mia parola di conforto. Ricordatevi sempre che il Signore ha riscattato il dolore, rendendolo salvifico e che, quindi, nessuna lacrima è versata invano e nessun grido si perde nel vuoto. Ma tutto può servire per la redenzione degli uomini, se Vissuto in questa prospettiva soprannaturale. Coraggio, abbiate fiducia: il Signore conta molto su di voi. Vi benedico tutti con profondo affetto. 

Agli sposi novelli 

Ed infine a voi, sposi novelli, il mio saluto beneaugurante. Con la vostra vita matrimoniale, consacrata davanti all’altare, date esempio di come vada vissuta la comunione familiare nella gioia e nell’armonia; testimoniate con la vostra vita cristiana la nuova Alleanza tra Dio e l’uomo. Il Signore vi conservi nel suo amore! Vi benedico e vi assicuro le mie preghiere.

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