No Room for Humility?

One of Fr. Raymond E. Brown’s arguments against the Egyptian Tax census documents being evidence for Joseph traveling to his family’s home in Bethlehem is that there “was no place for them in the inn.” The problem with Fr. Brown’s assessment is that he uses only our English understanding of the term “inn” or doesn’t allow for the broad spectrum of the use of the word katalyma in Greek. Dr. Sri asserts that “the word can refer to a guest room, a house, an inn or simply ‘a place to say.’ It is best to translate this word simply a ‘lodging’ to keep open the various possible settings in which Christ may have entered the world.”[1]

Of course, there could be several different possible explanations, one of the factors is that he alludes to the fact that even if Joseph owned property in Bethlehem, Joseph was still of the lower classes in which all family and animals slept in one space. Furthermore, after child birth, a Jewish woman would have been considered ‘unclean’ until she and the child were presented in the temple.

Furthermore, in regards to Fr. Brown’s explanation that the Gospel writers told the narrative for theological reasons, being born in a manager/cave would denote the King of Israel being born of humble origins. As Dr. Sri reminds us that in the opening of this particular part of the narrative we’re to ”think of the contrast between the two kinds in this scene—Caesar and Jesus.”[2]

 The image that Luke presents to us at the Birth of Christ is one that foretells the reason for Christ coming into this world, “wrapped him in swaddling cloths,”[3] and as Dr. Sri reminds us, “and laid in a tomb after being crucified on Calvary (see Luke 23:53).”[4]

St. Athanasius reminds us of the reason why Christ took human flesh:

For this cause, then, death having gained upon men, and corruption abiding upon them, the race of man was perishing; the rational man made in God’s image was disappearing, and the handiwork of God was in process of dissolution. 2. For death, as I said above, gained from that time forth a legal hold over us, and it was impossible to evade the law, since it had been laid down by God because3 of the transgression, and the result was in truth at once monstrous and unseemly. 3. For it were monstrous, firstly, that God, having spoken, should prove false—that, when once He had ordained that man, if he transgressed the commandment, should die the death, after the transgression man should not die, but God’s word should be broken. For God would not be true, if, when He had said we should die, man died not. 4. Again, it were unseemly that creatures once made rational, and having partaken of the Word, should go to ruin, and turn again toward non-existence by the way of corruption. 5. For it were not worthy of God’s goodness that the things He had made should waste away, because of the deceit practised on men by the devil. Especially it was unseemly to the last degree that God’s handicraft among men should be done away, either because of their own carelessness, or because of the deceitfulness of evil spirits…

 …He takes to Himself a body capable of death, that it, by partaking of the Word Who is above all, might be worthy to die in the stead of all, and might, because of the Word which was come to dwell in it, remain incorruptible, and that thenceforth corruption might be stayed from all by the Grace of the Resurrection. Whence, by offering unto death the body He Himself had taken, as an offering and sacrifice free from any stain, straightway He put away death from all His peers by the offering of an equivalent. 2. For being over all, the Word of God naturally by offering His own temple and corporeal instrument for the life of all satisfied the debt by His death. And thus He, the incorruptible Son of God[5]

 Pope Benedict XVI further illustrates, “in terms of the theology of the Fathers. The child stiffly wrapped in bandages is seen as prefiguring the hour of his death: from the outset, he is the sacrificial victim, as we shall see more closely when we examine the reference to the first-born. The manger, then, was seen as a kind of altar.”[6]

[1] ibid, 74.

[2] Ibid, 75

[3] RSV Lk 2:7.

[4] Sri, 75.

[5] Athanasius of Alexandria, “On the Incarnation of the Word,” in St. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Archibald T. Robertson, vol. 4, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1892), 39.

[6] Pope Benedict XVI, The Infancy Narrative, 68.

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