Revelations about Proverbs 8:22-31
In the Old Testament there are several passages which speak of Christ as the created Wisdom who was with the Creator when He formed the world. I will not cite the key passages at length here since I simply want to glean from the Mystical City of God what was revealed to Ven. Mary of Agreda regarding the doctrine of the absolute primacy of Christ. However, if one desires to look over those passages the two primary ones are Proverbs 8:22-9:6 and Ecclesiasticus 24 (not to mention the whole notion of the Word Incarnate as the beginning of God’s creation). These passages clearly link with Colossians 1:15 regarding Christ as Head and Firstborn of all creatures.
The Venerable writes:
This is the portion of the Proverbs, of which the Most high gave me understanding. I understood at first, that it treats of the ideas or decrees, which were in the Divine Mind before the creation of the world; and that, in its literal sense, it speaks of the Person of the Incarnate Word and of His most holy Mother, while in its mystical sense it refers to the holy Angels and Prophets. For before decreeing or forming the ideals of the rest of the material creation, He formed and decreed their prototype, the most sacred humanity of Christ and of His purest Mother, and this is indicated by the first words. (n.54)
“The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways” (Prov 8:22) […] In this beginning, before He formed any other ideal in His mind, because He desired to create paths and open ways in His mind for the communication of the Divinity, He decreed, as a beginning, the formation of the humanity of the Word, who was to be the highway, by which the other creatures might come to the Father (cf. Jn 14:6). (n.55)
It is in this way that we must understand Jesus’ own title given in the Apocalypse “the Beginning of the creation of God” (3:14). What Ven. Mary Agreda understood interiorly was not foreign to the deposit of the Faith. In fact many Doctors of the Church had clearly taught that Proverbs 8 specifically refers to the Incarnation (like Ss. Cyril of Alexandria, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, Anselm, etc.).
The fact that the same passage refers to both Jesus and Mary should not surprise us since it is also part of the constant Tradition of the Church, especially in the Liturgy – lex orandi, lex credendi. Back to our Venerable…
Joined with this decree [of the Incarnation] was that of His most holy Mother, through whom His Divinity was to enter into the world, becoming man and being born from her as God and man; therefore it is said: “God possessed me” since both were possessed by His Majesty: for as to His Divinity, He was the possession, the property, and the treasure of the Father without possibility of separation, because Father and Son are One, of the same substance and Divinity with the Holy Ghost; and also as to His humanity, the Father possessed the Son; because He Himself knew and decreed the plenitude of grace and glory, which He was to bestow upon it at the moment of its creation and its hypostatical union. Moreover, as this decree and possession was to be brought about by the mediation of the Mother, who was to conceive and bring forth the Word (since He did not decide to create it out of nothing, nor for His soul and body out of any other material), it followed that He possessed her, who was to give Him the human form.[…] (n.55)
Although this might seem a bit confusing, it is rather simple: in willing the Incarnation both the Mother and the Son were present in the Divine Intellect. In willing the Incarnation the Divinity of Christ was present because One with the Father and the Holy Spirit; the humanity of Christ was present as the “Firstborn of all creatures”, the Alpha, the beginning of His creation; the Mother of God was present as the maternal Mediatrix chosen to bring about this union by the work of the Holy Spirit. In a word, the Virgin Mother of God is part of the decree of the Incarnation, inseparable from the mystery of Christ while remaining subordinate to Him.
The Venerable goes on to comment on the next verse, “Before He made anything from the beginning, I was set up from eternity and of old.” Christ was decreed “of old”, that is, before God created. Hence Christ (and His Mother) stand between eternity and time, between the uncreated Godhead in Himself and the work of creation ad extra. She explains:
Between these two extremes intervened the ideal of the hypostatic union which was to be verified ad extra through the intervention of most holy Mary. Both were ordained together, immediately next to God and before any other creature, and it was the most wonderful decree ever passed or ever to be passed. The first and most admirable image in the mind of God, next to the eternal generation, was that of Christ and next to it, that of His Mother.
Eloquent is her expression: the decree of the Incarnation which is the bridge between eternity and time, the Creator and the creature, “was the most wonderful decree ever passed or ever to be passed.” First Christ, then the rest of the universe in Him and for Him, and this indeed is the most wonderful decree possible.
It was for this reason that Bl. John Duns Scotus declared that it was absurd to say that God’s Masterpiece, the Incarnation, was occasioned by man’s need for a remedy for sin. He wrote: “If the fall were the reason for Christ’s predestination, it would follow that the greatest work of God [summum opus Dei—namely, the Incarnation] was essentially occasioned: greatest work, because the glory of all creation is not as great in intensity as is the glory of Christ. Hence, it seems very absurd to claim that God would have left so great a work [i.e. the Incarnation] undone on account of a good deed performed by Adam, such as Adam’s not sinning. Therefore, I declare the following: First, God loves Himself. Secondly, He loves Himself for others, and this is an ordered love. Thirdly, He wishes to be loved by Him who can love Him with the greatest love—speaking of the love of someone who is extrinsic to Himself. And fourthly, He foresees the union of that nature that must love Him with the greatest love even if no one had fallen.” (Opus Parisiense, Lib III, d.7, q.4)
Once again our Venerable notes that in the eternity of God there is no succession of moments or thoughts, yet there is supreme order and the hypostatic union has the primacy in God’s plan for creation:
And what other order could there be in God, in whom all that pertains to Him is present at one and the same time, so that no part of His being must await the perfection of another, or one perfection ever need succeed upon others? All is well ordered in His eternal nature, and so it was and will be forever. The new ordainment, however, was that the Person of the Son should become incarnate and that from His deified humanity should begin the order of God’s desires and of His decrees ad extra. He was to be the Head and Ideal of all other men and creatures; for this was the most appropriate order and harmony to be instituted among creatures, that they have One, who is the first and the highest, and that from Him should descend the order of all nature, and in a special manner, of the mortals. First among them all, however, was the Mother of the Man-God, as the supreme among mere creatures, following immediately upon Christ, and, through Him, upon the Divinity. Thus the conduits, which led the crystalline fountains of the Divinity from the eternal throne, meet first in the humanity of the Word and immediately thereafter in His holy Mother in the degree and in the manner, as it was possible for amere creature, and as it was proper for the mother of the Creator. […] This then was the order, so well instituted by the eternal wisdom: that all was to commence with Christ and His Mother. (n.57)
We see from the thought of Ven. Mary of Agreda that this divine design placed Christ first without any consideration of Adam’s sin. In God’s plan Christ has absolute primacy and it was “from His deified humanity” that the entire order of the cosmos should have its beginning. With Christ, yet subordinate to Him, the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God was willed. With Jesus and Mary, yet subordinate to Them, all of the elect – both Angels and Saints – were willed.
This order is also expressed by the order of predestination: first, the humanity of Christ is predestined to the maximum grace and glory through the hypostatic union; with and subordinate to Him is predestined the Holy Mother of God through her divine maternity; then the Angels are predestined to glory in Christ; and finally the Saints are predestined, chosen “in Him before the foundations of the world” (see the commentary on Eph 1:4). If we are predestined to be God’s adopted children in Christ Jesus it is not because of sin, but because of God’s good pleasure.
Our Venerable continues her commentary:
“Before the earth was made; and the depths were not as yet and I was already conceived.” This earth was that of the first Adam; for before his creation was decreed, and before the abysses of the ideas ad extra were formed in the divine mind, the likenesses of Christ and of His Mother were already conceived.[…] Not only was the Word conceived before all these by eternal generation from the Father, but His temporal generation from the Virgin Mother full of grace, had already been decreed and conceived in the divine mind. (n.58) Before them [the Saints] the divine mind had conceived the most holy humanity united hypostatically with the Divine Word, and the Mother, who bore it. The Son and the Mother were conceived before the hierarchies of the angelic host […] Let all understand and know, that there is a God-man, who is above all angels and men, and that all are His inferiors and His servants, for being the first of men, He is God at the same time. He is the first in the divine mind and in the divine will, and with Him is associated and inseparably connected, one Woman and Virgin, His Mother, the exalted Queen of all creation. (n.60) And if man […] was crowned with glory and was constituted above all the works of the hand of the Lord, it was because the God-man, His Chief, had merited both this crown, and also that, which is borne by the angels. (n.61)
The glory and grace of man flows from the merits of Jesus Christ. From this perspective we can see that all graces, including the grace which Adam and Eve had in the state of original justice before the fall, are graces flowing from the Sacred Heart of Christ and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In other words, God willed one economy of grace from the beginning as opposed to a generic economy of grace before the fall and then a better one after the fall. This is an important distinction to note, because if Christ’s coming was due to man’s sin, then we would have to speak of two economies of grace and we would have to exclude the Angels from the grace of Christ since His coming would have been occasioned by Adam’s fall and not willed absolutely. For more on this subject of the economy of divine grace from the Franciscan vs. the Thomistic point of view, one can read the discussions here and here and here.
Our Venerable observes that before the world was created “the sacred humanity of the Word and the material from which it was to spring, namely the Virgin, was determined upon” (n.62). She goes on to say that “when He prepared and preordained the heaven and the reward, which was to be given to the just sons of the Church after their sojourn upon the earth, then already was decreed the union of the humanity with the Word, thereby meriting grace as their Head” (n.64). First Christ, then everything else in and for Him – this is the constant theme.
But Christ, being willed first in the intention and being brought about later in the execution, was the supreme Model before the divine mind when He created. He was the beginning in which God created all things. Ven. Mary of Agreda confirms this when she comments on the verse, “When He balanced the foundation of the earth I was with Him forming all things.” She explains:
The works ad extra are common to the three divine Persons, for They are one God, one wisdom, one power; therefore it was unavoidably necessary, that the Word, in whom according to the Divinity all things are made, should be in union with the Father in making them. But here more is meant, for also the incarnate Word was already present together with His most holy Mother in the divine will. Thus, just as through the Word, as far as He is God, all things were made, so also for Him, in the first place and because He is the most noble and most worthy end, were created the foundations of the earth and all that is contained in it. (n.67)
Her distinction is subtle, yet essential. Whenever the Scripture refers to Christ before creation, it is not a mere reference to the Divine Word, but to the fact that Jesus with His created Humanity was present to God first. Some examples:
- “Even as He chose us in Him [Jesus Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish in His sight in love” (Eph 1:4). In order for us to predestined in Jesus before the creation of the world it is clear that Christ, with His Sacred Humanity, was already decreed.
- “For those whom He has foreknown He has also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He should be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rm 8:29). Again, the foreknown are predestined to be conformed to Christ who is the “firstborn” in the divine plan, not in chronological history. That this is a reference to Christ, the Word made flesh, is clearly demonstrated here.
- “He [Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature. For in Him [Christ] were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether Thrones, or Dominations, or Principalities, or Powers. All things have been created through and unto Him [Christ], and He [Christ] is before all creatures, and in Him all things hold together” (Col 1:15-17ff). This Christological hymn of St. Paul makes no sense unless Christ was willed first with an absolute primacy. It is for this very reason that the Thomists have had to reinterpret Paul’s canticle as having two subjects: Christ in the flesh and the Eternal Word apart from the Incarnation. This canticle of Colossians is treated in depth here.
- “Thus says the Amen, the faithful and true witness, who is the beginning of the creation of God” (Apoc 3:14). Jesus Christ in His Sacred Humanity is the beginning in which God the Trinity created the universe. Here is a diagram with many Scriptural references of Christ as the beginning.
Many other examples could be cited, but these are more than sufficient to see that if one does not accept the absolute primacy and predestination of Christ first in the divine designs, then the interpretation of these passages becomes riddled with difficulties and even contradictions.
While these are but the highlights of the Venerables commentary, nonetheless they capture the profound insight which was given to her regarding the absolute primacy of Christ. In the concluding paragraph of this Chapter she writes, “All His works, and the disposition of them as they were to be called into being, the Lord had in His mind ab initio, and He numbered and weighed them according to His equity and rectitude. He knew the constitution of the world before its creation, as it is written in the book of Wisdom (7,18 ff.).
More to come…