The Malta Independent 18 February 2020, Tuesday

O Admirabile Commercium

Sunday, 30 December 2018, 08:37 Last update: about 2 years ago

Days before Christmas, I was graced by a retreat led by the Maltese Society of Patristics which I gladly attended.

In the input, fluently given by Rev. Prof. Hector Scerri, I was struck by the Latin phrase he used: O Admirabile Commercium. Obviously, the latter term has nothing to do with economics at all. In fact, this theological term focuses on that meeting when the heavenly realities meet the earthly ones. St John Chrysostom’s eleventh homily on the Gospel of John deals precisely with this point at some length when it says: “Having declared that they who received Him were born of God, and had become sons of God, he adds the cause and reason of this unspeakable honour. It is that the Word became Flesh, that the Master took on Him the form of a servant. For He became Son of man, who was God’s own Son, in order that He might make the sons of men to be children of God. For when the high associates with the low, it touches not at all its own honour, while it raises up the other from its excessive lowness; and even thus it was with the Lord. He in nothing diminished His own Nature by this condescension, but raised us, who had always sat in disgrace and darkness, to glory unspeakable. Thus it may be, a king, conversing with interest and kindness with a poor mean man, does not at all shame himself yet makes the other observed by all and illustrious. […]”


This is the kind of God you and I adore, revere and follow. A God who made himself a human being like us, except for sin. A God, whose praise we find proclaimed joyfully at the end of the Christmas Octave. “O admirabile commercium: O marvellous exchange! Man’s Creator has become man, born of a virgin. We have been made sharers in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity”.

Even the Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say on this marvellous exchange between God and man: “To become a child in relation to God is the condition for entering the kingdom. For this, we must humble ourselves and become little. Even more: to become ‘children of God’ we must be ‘born from above’ or ‘born of God’. Only when Christ is formed in us will the mystery of Christmas be fulfilled in us. Christmas is the mystery of this ‘marvellous exchange’” (nro. 526).

But what does this marvellous exchange between God, in the person of Jesus Christ, His Son and our Elder Brother, and us, fallen human beings, practically mean? The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes on to explain this exchange in number 460:

“‘The Word became flesh to make us ‘partakers of the divine nature[2 Pt 1:4]: ‘For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God’ [Irenaeus, Adversus haereses 3.19.1]. ‘For the Son of God became man so that we might become God’ [Athanasius, De Incarnatione §54.3]. ‘The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods’ [Thomas Aquinas, Opusculum §57.1-4].”

Hans Urs von Balthasar explains the sadness when such love is not appreciated and returned by us, the sons and daughters of God. In his book Heart of the World, the Swiss theologian writes: “The Word, then, came into the world – came to what was his, but those who were his did not receive him. He beamed into the gloom, but the darkness turned away. Thus had love's revelation to choose a struggle of life and death. God came into the world, but a bristling barrier of spears and shields was his welcome. His grace began to trickle, but the world made itself supple and impenetrable, and the drops fell to the ground.”

His grace has fallen at the door of your and my heart. Are we ready to let Him in this Christmas? Are we bold enough to humble ourselves before Him and become obedient to Him? He, who has defeated evil by becoming like us, a human being?

O admirabile commercium!


Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap


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