Many often question the practicability of doctrine. What does our belief in the Trinity really mean when considering how I live my life? Does the idea that Jesus is fully God and fully man make any practical difference? Is our ecclesiology meaningful in how I live?
These are all important questions. Doctrine influences life in a multitude of ways. It is not simply a set of abstract truths to be assented to. Truth is more than a proposition. Truth, in the Catholic understanding, is ultimately a Person — “I am the way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6) — and therefore is something that is both relational and personal for us, too. Truth is something lived, it seeps into the mind to influence our actions, our habits, our way of being.
This is part of the reason the Fathers of the Church fought so vigorously for orthodoxy. It wasn’t just about truth, but also about a way of living. If, for example, Jesus didn’t have a full humanity like ours, then it effects the structures of grace, the possibility of our redemption, and the ability to live the teachings of the Gospel. Fights against heterodoxy were simply the root problem: heterodoxy would seep into lived Christian life.
Adopted sons and daughters
So, how does Christology positively influence our spiritual lives as Christians? Because Jesus has a humanity like ours in all things but sin, it means that he has now entered our human condition and imbued it with the presence of God, what we call grace. Christian virtue, then, is not so much an effort of personally willing it — as Pelagius attempted to teach us — but rather a participation in Christ. This is the heart of Christian living: that we are adopted sons and daughters of God in Christ. Thus our whole existence and being is a participation in his life, thereby enabling us to become saints.
The fact that Jesus takes on our humanity also reveals something about how God wants to speak and reveal himself to us. It is the Incarnation that is at the heart of the Catholic sacramental vision. By virtue of God taking on our whole humanity, it becomes not only an affirmation of our creatureliness, but even our materiality. As the saying goes: matter matters. God communicates to us in a mode and manner that we can understand. He does it through physical things because our bodily nature is essential to being human, and our humanity is essential to the Incarnation. It thereby lifts up our view of the dignity of the body and of the material world and sees it fundamentally as a gift from God.
Apprehending the spiritual reality
Finally, in our prayer life, contemplation on spiritual things is important, but so too are physical things. This is because we are a creatures comprised of both body and soul. This is why Catholics love physical and tangible objects in prayer. Prayer is not simply contemplating some abstraction we cannot possibly envision, thereby making prayer fruitless. Rather, prayer by reading the Scriptures, participating in liturgy, praying the rosary, looking at icons, and a whole host of other ways is the means by which we come to apprehend the spiritual reality. Just as by seeing the face of Jesus we see the face of the Father (see Jn 14:9), so too through created, material things, do we have access to the divine reality of God. But it is always through and never neglectful of our created reality.
These are just some of ways the Incarnation can affect our spiritual lives. At the heart of it, we see the basis of our whole sacramental system by which we participate in the very life of God, are divinized in Christ, and thereby attain our salvation through the work of His grace. The truths about Christology are the essential underpinnings of a healthy Christian life.
Father Harrison Ayre is a priest of the Diocese of Victoria, British Columbia. Follow him on Twitter at @FrHarrison.