Incarnation, which literally means enfleshment, refers to the conception, and live birth of a sentient creature (generally human) who is the material manifestation of an entity or force whose original nature is immaterial. Incarnation should be carefully distinguished from the phenomenon of apotheosis, which is the temporary manifestation of a divine or archetypal force, entity or energy within and through a human being during the course of ritual, religious exercise, meditation, or other spiritual activities.
While Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism are perhaps the most widely-known traditions to employ this concept within the context of their respective belief systems, they are by no means the only ones to do so.
In Akilattirattu Ammanai the holy script of Ayyavazhi, the events are split into three sections.They are Pre-Incarnational Events, Incarnation, and Post-Incarnational Events. Here Incarnation represents the event of transformation of Muthukutty’s soul and Lord Narayana incarnated as Ayya Vaikundar in the sea.
In the Buddhist tradition, an incarnation is a person believed to be the next rebirth of someone deceased, in most cases a lama or other important master/teacher. This concept differs however from reincarnation, since Buddhist teachings imply that there is no fixed soul that could move from one life to another.
See also: Rebirth (Buddhist)
The doctrine of the Incarnation of Christ is central to the traditional Christian faith as held by the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and most Protestants.
Briefly, it is the belief that the Second Person of the Christian Godhead, also known as the Son or the Logos (Word), “became flesh” when he was miraculously conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary. In the Incarnation, the divine nature of the Son was perfectly united with human nature in one divine Person. This person, Jesus Christ, was both truly God and truly man. The incarnation is commemorated and celebrated each year at the Feast of the Incarnation, also known as Annunciation.
Importance of the doctrine
In the early Christian era there was considerable disagreement regarding the nature of Christ’s incarnation. Christians believed that He was the Son of God. The exact nature of his Sonship, however, was contested.
Eventually, the doctrine of Christ being fully God and fully Man simultaneously grew to become the dominant doctrine of the Roman Catholic church, and all competing beliefs were labeled heresies. The most well known of these are Gnosticism, which stated that Jesus was a divine being that took on human appearance but not flesh, Arianism which held that Christ was a created being, similar in concept to an Angel, and Nestorianism, which held that the Son of God, and the man, Jesus, shared the same body but retained two separate personhoods.
The final definitions of the incarnation and the nature of Jesus were made by the early church at the Council of Ephesus, the Council of Chalcedon and the First Council of Nicaea. These councils declared that Jesus was both fully God, begotten from the Father; and fully man, taking His flesh and human nature from the Virgin Mary. These two natures, human and divine, were hypostatically united into the one personhood of Jesus Christ. This official ruling allowed the church to effectively suppress all other views of the Incarnation and cement thier control over the church.
The significance of the Incarnation has been extensively written-upon throughout Christian history, and is the subject of countless hymns and prayers. For instance, the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, as used by Orthodox and Byzantine Catholics, includes the “Hymn to the Only Begotten Son”:
- O only begotten Son and Word of God,
- Who, being immortal,
- deigned for our salvation
- to become incarnate
- of the holy Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary,
- and became man without change;
- You were also crucified,
- O Christ our God,
- and by death have trampled Death,
- being One of the Holy Trinity,
- glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit—
- Save us!
The Athanasian Creed contains what may be considered a comprehensive definition of the Incarnation.
For discussion of the incarnation concept in Hinduism, see avatar.
For the Rastafari movement, Haile Selassie is God incarnate in flesh, much in the same way as seen by Christians with Jesus, and dealing with the same problem of how someone can be human and God at the same time for Rastas Selassie is a reincarnation of Jesus Christ.
Menschwerdung Gottes Encarnación Incarnation Incarnatie 受肉 Inkarnacja Encarnação (religião) Inkarnation