God had a plan to save us, billions of people, from our alienation from him due to Adam’s sin and due to our personal sins. He asked Mary’s permission. She said yes. Hail Mary, Cause of our Joy!
When Adam sinned, it seemed that he and all his offspring were doomed to lives of futility, cut off from the One, who alone is truly our hearts’ desire. Hadn’t the fallen angels irrevocably sealed their fate by choosing their egos in preference to the infinity of love? What hope could there be for men, who are so much inferior to angels? However, God had a plan. It was a plan, he could not offer the angels, but one he could offer to men, who by nature were so inferior to the angels.
Angels and Men
Angels are pure spirits. Their knowledge is intuitive, so that an angel never reconsiders what he knows from a different perspective. Thus, an angel’s act of will at the level of nature is irrevocable. Also, as pure spirits, the essence of each angel is its substantial form. Thus, each angel differs from another as one species differs from another (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, On Being and Essence, Chapter 5). Consequently, God could not assume the nature of an angel. There would be no principle by which the assumed angelic form could be distinct from the essence of God. God’s assuming of the substantial form of an angel is a self-contradiction. The expression is meaningless.
One human does not differ from another in form, as one angel differs from another. The substantial form of every human is the same. Unlike an angel, whose essence is his form, the essence of man is a composite of his substantial form (his soul) and matter. Thus, there can be many humans, all in form the same, but differing from one another as individuals.
The essences of composite beings are multiplied according to the division of designated matter, because they are received in it. That is why it happens that some beings are specifically the same and numerically diverse. …
Although the soul’s individuation depends upon the body for the occasion of its beginning, since it comes into possession of its individuated act of existing only in the body of which it is the act, it is not necessary that the individuation come to an end when the body is removed. Since its act of existing is independent, once it has acquired an individual act of existing from its being made the form of this particular body, that act of existing always remains individuated.” (On Being and Essence, tr. Armand Maurer , pp. 49, 52)
Consequently, God could become a man, a son of Adam, by the assumption of a created, fully human nature. Yet, this could be only if he received the cooperation of the one from whom he sought permission to be her son, his mother, by her donating the biological matter to achieve the individuation of his created humanity.
The Pride of Sin
There is an aspect of pride in every sin, because sin is one’s choosing his own will and knowledge over the will and knowledge of God. There are two main speculations concerning the sin of the fallen angels. One is that they desired supernatural beatitude through their own natural power. The other is that, given the knowledge of the incarnation, they refused to adore God in his sacred humanity. That would be below their dignity.
Adam’s original sin was clearly an act of pride. He yielded to the temptation that he could be like God, whether we understand God as God or as the gods, the angels.
The Humility of Redemption
We mistakenly think of greatness as possessing the power of material force and implicitly being a threat to others. God knows that this is false.
… Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them,
“Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord — and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (John 13:12-17)
The humility of God is evident in that Jesus permitted men to torture and kill him, out of love for those very men and for all of us as we approve of their actions through our sins. By such utter humility, he triumphed over the pride of sin.
“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.” (John 10:17-18)
Jesus was not an action hero. His humility was not a ploy to entrap his enemies so that he could surprise them by later revealing his power and crush them in the trap. Rather, it was true humility, prompted by his love of those very enemies, whom he would do his best to save:
[Jesus], though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death —
even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)
All Depended Upon the Fiat of Mary
Perhaps the most incredible act of humility by God was asking his servant Mary for permission to become incarnate of her in order to carry out his plan of redemption. Her granting permission was also an act of humility.
Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
The humility of God triumphed over human pride in his asking and in his receiving permission from his humble servant Mary, Cause of our Joy.