Rev. Chris Webb: Absolute Primacy of Christ is Key to Understanding the Bible

The Fire of the Word by the Anglican Priest, Rev. Chris Webb

I recently read The Fire of the Word: Meeting God on Holy Ground, by the Anglican priest, Rev. Chris Webb (published in 2011 by InterVarsity Press, Illinois). What a fantastic book! In speaking about it he says, “I wrote The Fire of the Word to help you fall in love with the Bible again, to give you a fresh perspective on this beautiful book.” And he was successful. His book will be of great assistance for those who regularly read the Scripture and will be a great remedy for those who have left the leatherbound love letters of God in some corner to gather dust.

In one section of his book Rev. Webb offers some surprising insights about Bl. John Duns Scotus and the absolute primacy of Christ as key to encountering Christ in the whole of Scriptures – from Genesis to the Apocalypse. However, before I launch into this, let me take a moment to underscore a fundamental point which Rev. Webb makes about reading the Bible. He makes a distinction, one which I had always insisted upon in my 7 years as the Director of Postulants and continue to insist upon as a superior, spiritual director and preacher: namely, that “Bible study” and praying the Bible are not the same thing. We can study Sacred Scripture and all of theology for information (as “theorists,” as Webb puts it), but we should primarily approach the Sacred Page for transformation (as “lovers”). Why? Because these are God’s love letters to us… personally. Our informational reading can and should lead us to a personal, transformational encounter with the living God Himself. Our head knowledge must be geared towards the union of the heart with Him, what St. John of the Cross would call the “transforming union” of our souls with Jesus the Beloved. After all, doesn’t St. Paul himself write in this fashion? “For I betrothed you to one Spouse, that I might present you a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Cor 11:2); and again, “He who cleaves to the Lord is one spirit with Him” (1 Cor 6:17).

This insight should also apply to our study and reflection upon the absolute primacy of Jesus; namely, grasping the primary position of Christ in God’s creative design as the “chief cornerstone” (Eph 2:20) should lead us to encountering Him as the “Alpha and Omega” (Apoc 21:6) of our own personal lives. We should study and contemplate the mystery of Christ in order to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you were called” (Eph 4:1); in a word, theology for the sake of sanctification.

The vantage point for reading Sacred Scripture

Rev. Webb points out that in our human experience we are often blind to what is really going on because we lack the right perspective for understanding it. That perspective is what makes it possible to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together in a coherent fashion. Consider his example:

This also happens every time we read a detective story or a mystery novel. At first we are confronted with a seemingly unfathomable sequence of events: some violent crime, perhaps, or a spectacular theft. A diverse collection of characters are caught up in the orbit of these events, each with their own pecularities and problems. We know, as we read, that at least one of these people is involved in this crime–perhaps some shocking murder–but which one? And how? As their tangled tales begin to unravel we find ourselves suspecting first one person, then another; in a well-written novel (rather unlike real life) we may eventually find that almost everyone has had the motive and opportunity to commit the murder, and the complexity is overwhelming. But the great detective, of course, is not as nonplussed as we are. Just when everything seems insoluble a revelation strikes as some vital clue is uncovered. The final scene is set and in a dramatic denouement the detective unmasks the villain, showing how the trail of evidence leads uniquely to him or her, while explaining all the red herrings and blind alleys. And we, hopefully, close the book with a feeling of rich satisfaction, nodding sagely as we way to ourselves, “Of course–it all makes sense!”

Now imagine going back to the book for a second time. Returning to the first page, we already know how the entire story will unfold. When we first meet the murderer, we know he is the murderer. At the first mention of a vital clue, we already know its significance. Hints are dropped about dark secrets–but we already know what those secrets are. For us, the whole book has changed. The story still unwinds along the same course; the detective still reaches the same conclusions. But our reading is so different. Events and remarks we hadn’t noticed the first time take on a fresh significance. Characters emerge in a new light. We have been given an oracular knowledge: we still may not understand everything, but we have seen enough of the way this story unfolds to grasp it more fully than those who participate in it. We see what the detective and the other characters cannot see, what even a first reader of the text cannot see. We have the key.

What if we could read Scripture in this way? This was the beguiling idea which enchanted the minds of some of the greatest thinkers, writers and biblical scholars in the history of the church. And no one articulated the ideas that lay at the heart of their thinking more compellingly than a young Scottish priest named John Duns Scotus. (pp.127-129)

You have to admit, Rev. Webb sure has a gripping way of driving the point home! And the point is this: If we have the key to the entire history of the universe, if we know the “mystery which has been hidden for eternity in God” (Eph 3:9; cfr. Col 1:26; Rm 16:25; 1 Cor 2:7; Eph 1:9; etc.), then we can see all of creation and all of its history from a new, more accurate perspective. And this is precisely what the doctrine of the absolute primacy of Christ does for us. It gives us the key to open up and penetrate the whole of the Bible, the whole of salvation history, the whole of creation, the whole of our life. For those who are not familiar with this doctrine, it might well be “a Copernican revolution,” to use the phrase of Dr. Mark Miravalle, which radically changes our perspective. It may become the secret to unraveling the ultimate “detective story” of divine revelation and give us an entirely new angle on salvation history, from Adam to the Parousia, from creation to its consummation. The absolute primacy of Jesus is the vantage point for reading Sacred Scripture.

The Subtle Doctor

After describing the unique historical context of Bl. John Duns Scotus’ arrival at Oxford University, Rev. Webb writes:

Even in this rarified atmosphere, John quickly established himself as one of the most brilliant minds of his generation. Probably only in his early thirties when he began giving lectures–maybe even his late twenties–he showed a precocious genius for philosophical analysis. His ability to work with the most obscure and abstract concepts, to draw keen distinctions and to develop a wide-ranging web of ideas into a complex but coherent philosophy later earned him the nickname Doctor Subtilis, the “subtle doctor”–a name not always applied in a complimentary fashion. John could be so hard to follow, some of his later critics convinced themselves that his apparently impenetrable writing was simply a smokescreen covering the mundane thinking of a mediocre mind. But history judged them to be wrong. John Duns Scotus is now celebrated as one of the most fascinating, if difficult, of all medieval thinkers. (pp.129-130)

It is important to consider Bl. John in this light, and not be misdirected by the derogatory use of his name in punishing misbehaving or less intelligent students as the “dunce,” or the unfounded accusation that he is the “father of Voluntarism,” an error which the Blessed would abhor outright. Pope Benedict XVI has held up the life and teaching of Bl. John Duns Scotus as vital and important for the entire Church (see his Wednesday Audience text of July 7, 2010 and even the video in English).

What was the primary motive of the Incarnation?

Rev. Webb goes on to examine Scotus’ treatment of why “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). He writes:

Among the contemporary theological questions that fascinated John was this: Why did Christ become a human being? (That’s a question which may not seem to have much to do with reading and interpreting the Bible–but, as we shall see, the implications of John’s response cut right to the heart of the way we approach Scripture.) Thirteen hundred years before John began teaching, a Jewish child had been born in the most humble of circumstances in the back streets of Bethlehem, itself an insignificant town in a minor Roman province. For centuries the Christian Church had taught that this child was God incarnate, the immeasurable deity responsible for all creation somehow compressed into a tiny human form. What could possible have motivated God to take such an extraordinary step: to allow himself to become so vulnerable, so limited, so small? Of all the ways God could have chosen to interact with humanity, why this one? (p.130)

The author briefly describes the “textbook answer” of St. Anselm: man offended the infinite majesty of God; therefore, to redeem man’s infinite affront it was necessary that there be a God-Man. “In short, Anselm said, Jesus came on a rescue mission to save the lost” (p.131).

He then continues:

But John profoundly disagreed. Not with every part of Anselm’s thinking: he didn’t take issue with the idea that Jesus’ sacrificial death on Calvary brough salvation for humanity. But he did question Anselm’s ideas about what motivated God to become human in the first place. How is it possible, John asked, that the most wonderful event in human history–when God stepped into the material cosmos in physical form, sharing our life with us, revealing himself to us as never before, coming into close communion with ordinary people in a way they could never have imagined–how could this magnificent intervention into history have been prompted solely by the most appalling and degrading human truth: our utter sinfulness? How could the greatest good be caused by the greatest evil? To believe that Jesus came and saved sinners is a central Christian doctrine, John said. But to believe that he came only because we had sinned is monstrous. It suggests that we somehow forced God’s hand, cornering him by our depravity into his single most beautiful expression of love…

John looked at the entire universe and the great sweep of history across the millennia, and began with a simple assumption: this is all about Christ.

All creation was made for Christ, John taught, echoing an idea we already find in Paul’s earliest letters: “in [Christ] all things in heaven and earth were created… all things have been created through him and for him” (Col 1:16) (p.131-132)

“There was always going to be an Incarnation”

After citing the poetic, biblical expression of this truth in Proverbs 8:27-31, Rev. Webb wraps up his synopsis, saying:

And from the beginning, John asserted, it was God’s intention that Christ should take human form, living among those in whom he so delighted and participating directly in the created order…

But there is an important implication in all of this: there was always going to be an incarnation. Human sin changed the nature of that divine participation: certainly without the Fall there would have been no need for the brutal events of Good Friday. But our brokenness did not provoke Bethlehem. Sin is not the fundamental fact of the universe, the primal reality of our existence. Christ is the foundation, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. The cosmos is shaped around Jesus. We are made in his image. He is the determining force behind all reality, all history, our entire human experience. And he is the goal, the destination, the endpoint toward which all history tends. In short, said John, Jesus is everything. (pp.132-133)

Indeed “our brokenness did not provoke Bethlehem,” but it did cause Calvary. In other words, the Incarnation was willed by God quite apart from any consideration from sin; whereas the Redemption was willed as the foreseen remedy to sin. After reading Rev. Webb’s clear and inspired explanation, I would invite you to read Scotus’ own words in his Opus Parisiense (or Reportatio Parisiensis). “Be not afraid!” His writings on the absolute primacy of Christ are not as difficult as, for example, his concepts of haecceitas or the formal distinction.

Let me conclude with a quote from Fr. Frederick Faber from his classic book Bethlehem:

What then was the first aspect of creation in the divine mind, if we may use the word “first”, of that which was eternal? There may at least be a priority of order, even though there be no priority of time. There is precedence in decrees, even where there is not succession. The first aspect of creation, as it lay in the mind of God, was a created nature assumed to his own uncreated nature in a Divine Person. In other words, the first sight in creation was the Babe of Bethlehem. The first step outside of God, the first standing-point in creation, is the created nature assumed to a Divine Person. Through this, as it were, lay the passage from the Creator to creatures. This was the point of union, the junction between the finite and the Infinite, the creature blending unconfusedly with the Creator. This first-born creature, this Sacred Humanity, was not only the primal creature, but it was also the cause of all other creatures whatsoever. … Its predestination is the fountain of all other predestinations. The whole meaning of creation, equally with the destinies of each individual creature, is bound up with this created Nature assumed to a Divine Person. (Philadelphia: The Peter Reilly Co., 1957; pp.26-27)

Blessings to you and your loved ones!

fr maximilian mary dean, F.I.

Is Discussion of the Absolute Primacy of Christ Passé?

Is Discussion of the Absolute Primacy of Christ Passé?

Shortly after the Academy of the Immaculate published my primer on the Primacy and produced my series The Cornerstone there was a bit of a resurgence in the blogosphere and in written publications about the rarely discussed discussion of Bl. John Duns Scotus’ doctrine and the Franciscan thesis regarding the absolute primacy of Christ and the opposing position of St. Thomas Aquinas. This, from my perspective, confirms that the discussion is anything but outdated; rather it is fresh and invigorating – and this because it is the doctrine which puts Christ at the center of the universe and of our own personal lives regardless of sin. Jesus redeems us from sin; but He is not just a remedy for our sinfulness. Rather He is the Alpha and Omega for whom, from whom and in whom all things exist.

What about the discussions (sometimes very heated!)… Here are some samples from the Orthodox/Catholic blogosphere:

Perhaps the most surprising discussions, however, were those in the Protestant blogosphere. In 2008 Philip Yancey presented, in a popular style, a piece called “Would Christmas have come even if we had not sinned?” While it is clear that Yancey had not read Scotus himself (i.e. Scotus alludes to Scripture, but never cites any passage in presenting this doctrine; moreover, it is the Franciscan school – not Scotus – that will dub it the “doctrine of the absolute primacy of Christ the King,” whereas Scotus just presents the principle arguments: Christ’s predestination and God’s orderly willing), nonetheless, Yancey did grasp, present and encourage discussion on the subject. Here is a sampling of what ensued (please keep in mind that I may not be fully in accord with the presentations/discussions listed, but simply want to show that the discussion is alive and well):

Besides all of the blogosphere discussion, a number of books and articles have been popping up on the subject. Here are three examples from Protestant circles:

Obviously this is just a smattering of examples; but they should suffice to show how important the subject continues to be in theology and even at a popular level. After all, Christ is the King of kings and we can never reflect enough about His primacy in our own lives and in the entire universe which God created for Him, in Him and through Him, as the Bible so clearly tells us.

Let us continue to reflect on the importance of this truth in our own lives and in the world around us. Where Christ reigns as King, there is peace!

In Corde Matris,

fr maximilian mary dean, F.I.

Part III – Bl. Gabriel Allegra, OFM: The Primacy of Christ in St. Paul & Duns Scotus

“I see Scotus as the Doctor of the Immaculate Conception, of Christ as King of the universe, of the Church as the bride of Christ, as a defender of Christ’s Vicar on earth, as a theologian of the mystery of the Eucharist.”

— Bl. Gabriel M. Allegra, OFM

Ave Maria!
Behold, the Third Part! Here the grand Scotist in Bl. Gabriel Allegra shines forth. In explaining Bl. John Duns Scotus’ doctrine of the absolute primacy of Christ the King in creation he makes every effort not to isolate it from the whole of Scotus’ Christology which, obviously, includes Christ’s redeeming work on the Cross. What he shows is that according to the Franciscan thesis we are even more indebted to Jesus the Redeemer because His work of Redemption was a supreme, free act of pure and ardent love.

To accomplish his task, Bl. Gabriel Allegra isolates five Latin quotes of Bl. John Duns Scotus and comments on each of them. So this section will be broken down into 5 chapters.


In Corde Matris,
Fr. Maximilian M. Dean

Il primato di Cristo in San Paolo e Duns Scoto

(Edizioni Porziuncola, 2011)
by Blessed Gabriel M. Allegra, OFM

Translation of pertinent passages:

Section III

The key phrases [of Scotus] on the doctrine of the absolute Primacy of Christ and of the Redemption as a work of pure, ardent love are:


[1. The greatest work of God cannot be occasioned/conditoned]

I. Regarding the first assertion, which to me is as clear as the sun… please allow me to read the judgment of the Anglican convert, Fr. Faber: “If Christ was decreed after us, three monstrous consequences would follow: first , that Christ would have a debt of gratitude to us; second, that in certain aspects we would be greater than Him; third, that sin was necessary for His existence.”

I would add that if sin and its consequent redemption is the occasion, or as they say, the motive of the Incarnation, it would follow that the entire activity of God ad extra converges on man. Thus the end of God’s activity ad extra would not be the manifestation and communication of His goodness, but the salvation of the human race, as if God could not accomplish His external glorification except through the praise and love of the human creature. But what is the love of all of the Angels and Saints in comparison to Christ’s love for the Father? to the glory which the Heart of Christ renders to the Father? to His adoration?

Ven. John Scotus says: The glory of all the others put together does not equal that of the glory of Christ, that is, the glory which Christ gives to God the Father. To say that God would have neglected to bring about such a great work in the hypothesis that Adam had not sinned seems extremely irrational (videtur valde irrationabile). And if St. Paul, by way of hypothesis, were to descend from Heaven and we were to ask him: For what reason did the Incarnation take place? Would he who preached that in all things Christ has the Primacy ever respond that the Word was incarnate only to redeem humanity and that without sin we would not have the Christ of whom he says, like God the Father, He must be all in all things, whose “fullness” is the very fullness of God?


[2. God willed to be loved by another who in himself was capable of loving in the highest degree, in the sense of the love of someone extrinsic to Himself]

II.  …In a word, anyone who loves understands: “Da mihi amantem et novit quid dico” (St. Augustine); and it is not a coincidence that the mystics and Saints are moved in a particular way by this principle in order to accept and live the doctrine of the primacy of Christ. This principle, for me, is the most logical outcome of the other: God is Infinite Love; Christ was willed by God the Father because, being Infinite Love, He desires infinite love. If all of creation is soaked in love, if the creation of intelligent creatures is, besides being an act of love, a desire to receive love, as St. Bonaventure says, if the highest love towards God-Charity could only be rendered by the Word Incarnate as the only one capable of loving and glorifying God in the highest degree, that is, in a measure which is adequate, infinite, worthy of the Father who is totius bonitatis, then it is necessary that Christ be the primum volitum inter omnia creata volita, that He be the foundation and raison d’étre of the counsel of the Eternal which unfurls and actualizes the universe…


[3. All of the authorities/authors – auctoritates – can be explained in this way: Christ would not have come as Redeemer if man had not fallen…]

III.  On to the third assertion of Scotus: “The entire witness of the Scriptures and the Fathers which seem to confirm the contrary, namely that Christ would not have been incarnate if Adam had not sinned, can be understood in the sense that Christ would not have come as Redeemer if man had not fallen; perhaps in such a case He would not have come in passible flesh, it not being necessary for Christ’s soul – glorious from the beginning and preordained by God to such a great glory – to have been united to a passible body.” In this assertion, I say, we have the synthesis of the two revealed data: the absolute Primacy of Christ (the primary end of the Incarnation) and the Redemption of the human race (a secondary end). But this synthesis had already been made by St. Paul in his prophetic-oracular style;  during that time he was the preacher of Christ, Rex totius universitatis, and the preacher of Jesus, and Him crucified.


If it were necessary to comment on Scotus, a comment which, nonetheless, as Grabmann notes, is valid for the whole scholastic world, it is the fact that he has recourse to theological reason rather than insisting upon and proving his assumption starting with the Scripture and Tradition; however, it would be incorrect to forget that this ratio teologica is the essence of his diuturnal and sublime meditations on the Bible and the Fathers. Only in the 16th century do his disciples begin to use a positive method of biblical-patristic research, a method which up to now has not been completely utilized, although here and there one can observe with satisfaction that it is bearing fruits. There comes to mind two writings, that of Lattanzi: Il Primato di Cristo nelle Sacre Scritture, and another by Hausherr, Un Precurseur de Scot: Isac Ninivite.


[4. Thus I maintain that all of the things which Christ accomplished for our Redemption were not necessary except for what concerns the preexistent, divine decree – nisi praesupposita ordinatione divina – which decreed/ordered that it be done in this way, and therefore Christ’s suffering was only necessary by way of a necessity of consequence… and therefore we are greatly indebted to Him – multum tenemur Ei. In fact, since man could have been redeemed in another manner and nonetheless God, in His free will, redeemed us in this way, we are much more indebted to Him for this than if we necessarily had to be redeemed in this fashion with no other alternative; He did this above all, as I believe, in order to attract us to His love and because He willed that man be even more bound to God.]

In this [assertion of Scotus] Christian anthropology and the mystery of the Cross are, in my opinion, integrally kept intact – no part of the revealed truth is lost or mitigated. Rather, the mystery of the Cross is actually immersed in the most ardent and tender flames of divine love. This is how Scotus argues, like a new John of Patmos: Given that a finite being cannot, in sinning, commit an offense which has an infinite malice; given that the abasement of the Incarnation in passible flesh was sufficient to reconcile us with God, or further still, that had God disposed it differently the satisfaction given by an Angel or man himself, strengthened anew by grace, would have been sufficient, it follows that the sorrows of the Son of God crucified were willed by God: ad alliciendum nos ad amore suum… et quia voluit hominem amplius teneri Deo, that is, these unspeakable sorrows were willed by the heavenly Father in order to attract us to His love and so that man might love God all the more. Therefore, Scotus continues, no grace which concerns salvation is given to man as wayfarer by the most Holy Trinity except through the merit of this oblation of Christ, consummated on the Cross, through a most beloved Person – the Son – and through the maximum love – the love of the Son.


Following this synthesis of Christology Christ is always the First, the One who is above all – proteuon en pasin. In the most tender and delightful mysteries: Bethlehem, Nazareth, Calvary, the Eucharist, and in His most glorious mysteries: the Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost, the glory of His Immaculate Mother and that of His Church, His Sacred Humanity irresistably draws hearts to the love of the Father, of His Christ, of Mary and of His Church. And this is because: ad alliciendum nos ad amorem suum sic fecit… et quia voluit nos amplius teneri Deo… ideo multum tenemur Ei.


[5. Therefore, the Trinity did not lend any help for the salvation of the wayfarer except in virtue of Christ’s offering made on the Cross through a most loved Person and through the maximum love.]

…In the light of this doctrine, which always has for its setting the Christocentric thesis, the drama of Redemption changes from a drama of justice to a drama of most pure and ardent love. It seems to me, and I would like to have the grace to write something on this argument, that a plan of justice would thus be replaced by a perfect plan of salvation which is removed from all external influence and rooted exclusively in the Father’s love for the Son and the love of the Incarnate Son, the Christ, for the Father and for mankind.


And in believing in this doctrine St. Paul comes to my aid. He says that Jesus “who for the joy set before Him, endured a Cross, despising the shame” (Heb 12:2). Furthermore, it seems to me that in the light of this doctrine of Christocentrism and Redemption for pure love, Mary’s Immaculate Conception and the value of her Compassion as Coredemptrix would follow logically.  And finally, I deduce from this that for man nothing else remains but to realize that corollary – simple as it is demanding : ideo multum tenemur Ei. For this reason we are deeply indebted to Christ: we could have been redeemed in a different manner, and yet He willed to redeem us in this fashion! “In fact, since man could have been redeemed in another manner and nonetheless God, in His free will, redeemed us in this way, we are much more indebted to Him for this than if we necessarily had to be redeemed in this fashion with no other alternative; He did this above all, as I believe, in order to attract us to His love and because He willed that man be even more bound to God.”

p. 71

…Although in scholastic terminology, I have laid out how Scotus would speak of Christ as Alpha and Omega and as the Crucified Redeemer. It seems to me that he firmly maintains the two links of the chain; it seems to me that He brings about the powerful synthesis of the two truths which, in the end, form but one heavenly mystery of Christ.

Part II – Bl. Gabriel Allegra, OFM: The Primacy of Christ in St. Paul & Duns Scotus

“I see Scotus as the Doctor of the Immaculate Conception, of Christ as King of the universe, of the Church as the bride of Christ, as a defender of Christ’s Vicar on earth, as a theologian of the mystery of the Eucharist.”

— Bl. Gabriel M. Allegra, OFM

Ave Maria!
Here is Part II which is largely a scriptural presentation of the doctrine of the absolute primacy of Christ. The third part will be the pure ratio theologica of Bl. John Duns Scotus.


In Corde Matris,
Fr. Maximilian M. Dean

Il primato di Cristo in San Paolo e Duns Scoto

(Edizioni Porziuncola, 2011)
by Blessed Gabriel M. Allegra, OFM

Translation of pertinent passages:

Section II


St. Paul, just as he writes that in all things God the Creator and Father is all in all (1 Cor 15:28), so he adopts the same phrase in reference to Christ when he says to the Colossians (3:11), “Christ is all things and in all.” So too St. John speaks of God the Creator and Father as the Alpha and Omega (Apoc 1:8) and at the same time affirms this of Christ. Here are the two principle texts: In the Apocalypse (1:18) Jesus speaks thus to the Apostle: “Do not be afraid, I am the First and the Last, and He who lives; I was dead, and behold, I am living forevermore”; and in chapter 22:12-13 of the same mysterious book Jesus once again speaks: “Behold, I come quickly! And my reward is with Me, to render to each one according to his works. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first ant the last, the beginning and the end!”

Regarding St. Paul, I do not want to insist upon the text from the letter to the Colossians (3:11) where, in my opinion, the obvious sense would be as follows: as the head is everything for the body, so much so that the body without it cannot live, so it is with the members of the mystical body of Christ who, without distinction of race or social condition, each have in the body the dignity of being children of adoption; without Christ their head, from whom they receive grace upon grace, without remaining united to Him and living in Him and He in them, they are not alive, but dead, condemned to death. At any rate, if we reflect upon the psychological laws of the language and the author who makes use of it, I would have to say, with P. Bover, that it is not insignificant that Paul might be speaking of Christ in the same way as He speaks of God the Father. Stronger still, it would seem to me, is St. John’s position which gives the title of Alpha and Omega both to God the Creator and Father and to Christ.

Christ the Alpha: in the sense of the other denomination which is always read in the Apocalypse (3:14): E archè tes ktiseos tou Theou – the beginning of the creation of God; Christ the Omega: in the sense that He is the end for which everything was made and towards which the ages and all things tend…


But in order to return to St. Paul through St. John I would like to point out that the well beloved Apostle, in writing to the Churches of Asia that Christ is “the beginning of the creation of God,” is himself referring to the teaching which St. Paul had given to the Ephesians and, in a particular way, to the Colossians in the letter he wrote from his benevolent imprisonment in Rome. If you will permit me, I’d like to read the pericope of Col 1:15-20 and give a brief explanation of it which, following many exegetes, seems to me to be the most evident meaning. I cannot, however, overlook the fact that there is a strong exegetical current (dominated by the authority of St. Thomas, Prince of Theologians, and by the illustrious commentator on St. Paul’s Epistles, Estius) which would give an explanation which is different from that which I, with modesty, would like to propose, but also with a Pauline parresia [NT Greek: confidence/courage].

In this powerful and enlightening passage (Col 1:15-20) St. Paul speaks of Christ in relation to God, to creatures and to the Church. In relation to God, Christ is the living image of the invisible Father who dwells in inaccessible light: he who sees Christ, no so much with the eyes of the body, but with the eyes of the Faith, sees the Father.

In relation to creatures Christ is called by Paul: the Firstborn. The Patristic explanation of this title in comparison with the other title – the only Begotten – is, practically speaking, part of tradition. He is called only Begotten in so far as He is the Son of God; He is called Firstborn in so far as He is the Son of man: Mediator Dei et hominum homo Christus Jesus (1 Tm 2:5).

p. 45-6

He is Firstborn not so much by His unique excellence which derives from the hypostatic Union, but because He is the Beginning of the ways of God, that is, of the action of God extra sé, the First One willed among all created beings.  Actually, all beings have been willed and created for Him, in view of Him, and in Him they have their consistency: Kai ta panta en auto sunesteken.

With regards to the Church, He is the Head, the communicating Principle of the divine life because in Him dwells the fullness of the divinity and grace and because with His blood He obtained, continues to purify and sanctifies His beloved Bride.

To say, as many exegetes do – most of them, in fact – that St. Paul is speaking first of the pre-existent Word of God and then of the Word Incarnate seems to me to do violence to the Greek syntax and, above all, to the thought of the Apostle.  No, Paul speaks of the Son of God as Incarnate and Redeemer, absolutely willed by God the Father before the world was founded, as the Apostle teaches in his letter to the Ephesians; he speaks of the “Beloved” (egapemenos) in whom, before the world existed, we were blessed, chosen, predestined as adopted children, enriched which grace – even the fullness of Christ; in whom, by virtue of His Blood, we have received Redemption, the remission of our sins, the revelation of the mystery hidden in ages past, and the promised Holy Spirit: all unto the praise of the glory of Christ (Eph 1:1-14).

Christ’s entrance into the created universe was not occasioned [caused] by Adam’s sin, but to the contrary the universe exists for Christ and in view of Him.

It is Christ, I would say, who is the occasion [cause] of the existence of the universe which has its consistency [existence] in Him. He is the Revealer, He the Glorifier of the Father, He the Head of all creation, and in virtue of His Incarnation He was consecrated and continues to be consecrated by the Church which is a continuation of Christ, transcending time and space; or further still, drawing out the extreme consequences of Pauline thought: Creation is perennially consecrated by the Eucharist both with regards to the sacrifice which mystically perpetuates the oblation of Calvary and to the Sacrament which mystically perpetuates His presence until the Lord’s coming and which is the great sign of His presence, the indisputable pledge of His being Emmanuel: our God with us!…


The Incarnation is the greatest work of God, and thus irrepeatable, towards which everything converges: time and space; now the Word Incarnate holds the Primacy over all things which, each according to its own nature, owes its existence, grace and glory to Him: whether they dwell on our planet or our solar system or in some distant astral system at the farthest reaches of some distant galaxy; whether they are angels, men, irrational beings – even if they are different than us. The recapitulation – an unhappy translation of the Greek word – should not, it seems to me, be intended in the merely soteriological sense, but in the cosmic sense (Eph 1:10) and I find this same doctrine in the prologue to the Letter to the Hebrews where the Apostle teaches: “God… has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the world; who, being the brightness of His glory and the image of His substance, and upholding all things by the words of his power, has effected man’s purgation from sin and taken His seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb 1:1-3)…


But I hear that exegesis and biblical Theology are on the verge of directing themselves twoards the doctrine of the absolute Primacy of Christ and that they will be forced to do so by the more accurate study of Wisdom in the Old Testament, by the harmony between the two Testaments, and, in the end, even by the research regarding the Gnosticism and Stoicism of the Christian Era. And who knows, perhaps there are even certain rabbinical texts which maintain that God had created the universe for the Messiah and with Him in mind; better studies could demonstrate that Paul, the disciple of the Rabbi Gamaliel, after being struck by lightning at Damascus and taken up later to the third heaven, possessed a powerful, supernatural vision which gave him the vigor and strength to contemplate the mystery of Christ, hidden in ages past, and reveal Him to us. I would also like to add that if Theologians will follow, even from a distance, even as amateurs, the prestigious progress of the sciences, they will have to give much attention to the doctrine of Christ as the Alpha and Omega, of Christ as King of the Universe, as Christ the all in all – like the Father, as St. Paul preached: ina genetai en pasin autos proteuon – “that in all things He may have the first place” (Col 1:18).


In the field of theology the Pauline-Johanine Christocentrism and Christofinalism should not supplant, but rather integrate the doctrinal, soteriological system by way of a larger and more worthy vision of Christ’s mission. In this integration traditional soteriology would not only remain intact, but would present to us – and of this I am sure – Christ’s love for the Father and for his brothers, humanity, in a more dazzling and ardent manner. What is needed, therefore, is to bring together a harmonious synthesis of all of the data of Revelation: the dogma of the Trinity, the inner life of God, the absolute Primacy of Christ and the mystery of the Cross, with another light, divine as well, which emanates from science. Perhaps that which the great Scholastics attempted and, in the field of the upholders of the absolute Primacy of Christ, Scotus, St. Bernardine, St. Lawrence of Brindisi, and St. Francis de Sales attempted would, today, given the immense extension of scientific research, be frightful or at least seem impossible; and yet the construction of a complete theological system which does not concentrate solely on one aspect, but all of the aspects of Revelation, the entire “truth which elevates us so much,” is the inevitable task of Theology in the near future.

Part I – Bl. Gabriel Allegra, OFM: The Primacy of Christ in St. Paul & Duns Scotus

“I see Scotus as the Doctor of the Immaculate Conception, of Christ as King of the universe, of the Church as the bride of Christ, as a defender of Christ’s Vicar on earth, as a theologian of the mystery of the Eucharist.”

—  Bl. Gabriel M. Allegra, OFM

With the recent beatification of Fr. Gabriel Mary Allegra, OFM, I have taken it upon myself to translate some pertinent passages from the Italian original of his book on the absolute primacy of Christ Il primato di Cristo in San Paolo e Duns Scoto (Edizioni Porziuncola, 2011) from dialogues he had with Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., in 1942-1945; the text was first published in 1966. I have limited myself to the passages directly related to the primacy and have deliberately left out the sections on Dante Alighieri and the conversational parts with Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., both for the sake of brevity and clarity. I have included page numbers of the original Italian text in case anyone needs the references. [Regarding Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., I would highly recommend a reading of Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand’s solid evaluation]

Enjoy Bl. Gabriel Allegra’s pedagogical presentation of the doctrine of the absolute primacy of Christ which is both profound and simple!

In Corde Matris,
Fr. Maximilian M. Dean


Il primato di Cristo in San Paolo e Duns Scoto

(Edizioni Porziuncola, 2011)
by Blessed Gabriel M. Allegra, OFM

Translation of pertinent passages:

Section I


If I am not mistaken, the Franciscans have remained almost the only ones in the defense of the absolute Primacy of Christ, or rather of the doctrine of the Incarnation not occasioned by sin. A few years ago our Father General [Fr. Ephrem Longpré, OFM] sent out an Encyclical Letter to the entire Order in which, besides exposing this heavenly doctrine, he invited the Friars Minor once again to teach, propagate and defend it. This Letter is enriched with erudite and solid footnotes which give further evidence as to how there has never been lacking at the side of the manualistic teachings, nor shall there be lacking today in the Church, thinkers, mystics and saints who accept and defend the Kingship or Absolute Primacy of Christ; I have found that even Anglican exegetes, like the renowned Wescott, based on the words of Scripture, and especially those of St. Paul, uphold this and are moved with enthusiasm…

Here is what I can say regarding the Orthodox Theologians, or better Fathers, based on the citations of the Encyclical Letter of my Father General: because of their theory of the deification of humanity through the Incarnation, they either clearly or implicitly subordinate the Redemption to the Incarnation, since the Incarnation itself gives glory to God and divinizes the cosmos…


…the doctrine of the absolute Primacy of Christ is not as rare as the Dogmatic Manuals are teaching; to the contrary, it is anchored in the great Tradition of the ancient Church. Illustrious Fathers like St. Irenaeus, St. Athanasius, St. John Chrysostom, St. Cyril of Alexandria, Anastasius of Sinai, Isaac of Nineveh… have upheld it. But as I see it many of these famous witnesses of Tradition, and I place among them the greatest of them all, St. Augustine, did not make a synthesis of the doctrine of the Incarnation independent of sin and that of the redemptive Incarnation, with the exception of the attempt of that powerful genius Rupert of Deutz.

Unfortunately, after Rupert the doctrine of the absolute Primacy of Christ was proposed, not as a revealed datum, but rather as a hypothesis: If Adam had not sinned, would the Word have become incarnate? And to this question the greatest luminaries of the Scholastic period, Ss. Thomas and Bonaventure, opposing their respective Masters St. Albert the Great and Alexander of Hales, responded no, even if both of them championed the principles which, solicited and pushed to their legitimate consequences, would postulate the doctrine of the Primacy…


If one now reflects on the influence which is exercised especially by St. Thomas in Catholic Schools, one cannot be but surprised at the levity with which the discussion is treated by the authors of the manuals. They frequently give the impression that they do not suspect that anything more is being dealt with than a mere question of devotion, as opposed to dealing with the greatest glory of Christ and most probably – for me it is certain – a revealed datum found in the Sacred Scriptures and the Holy Fathers and Doctors.


The Sacred Scripture teaches the absolute Primacy of Christ just as it teaches the existence of another end of the Incarnation, namely the Redemption of the human race. The Fathers sustained the Primacy and the Redemption without attempting a synthesis, that is, without coordinating a harmonious system of the two truths… St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure taught that the primary end of the Incarnation was that of the Redemption and their authority, especially that of St. Thomas, has indeed made such a doctrine become quasi-official. Venerable John Duns Scotus, just as he did with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, rose up against many Masters and attempted a synthesis. It seems to me that no one who has followed him has really added anything new to the arguments of the Marian Doctor, although admittedly the French School of Spirituality has treated of the extreme consequences of the brilliant Scotistic sentence: Deus voluit ab alio summe diligi, and St. Francis de Sales has dealt with the extreme consequences of that other Scotistic principle: Deus est formaliter charitas.

Critique of Fr. Teilhard de Chardin by Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand

Ave Maria!

While he may have been sympathetic toward an unconditional Incarnation, Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., was not a Scotist. At any rate, since his name comes up in discussing the primacy of Christ, especially when using the biblical titles of Alpha and Omega, we do well to keep the solid reflections of the great Catholic philosopher Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand in mind. I post it here in full.

Fr. Maximilian M. Dean


Teilhard de Chardin: A False Prophet

From: Trojan Horse in the City of God,
by Dietrich von Hildebrand
(Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago, Illinois, 1967.
Sophia Institute Press, Manchester, New Hampshire, 1993.)

I MET TEILHARD DE CHARDIN in 1949 at a dinner arranged by Father Robert Gannon, S.J., then president of Fordham University. Previously, the noted scholars Father Henri de Lubac and Msgr. Bruno de Solages had highly recommended him to me. I was, therefore, full of expectations. After the meal, Father Teilhard delivered a long exposition of his views.

Teilhard’s lecture was a great disappointment, for it mani­fested utter philosophical confusion, especially in his conception of the human person. I was even more upset by his theological primitiveness. He ignored completely the decisive difference between nature and supernature. After a lively discussion in which I ventured a criticism of his ideas, I had an opportunity to speak to Teilhard privately. When our talk touched on St. Augustine, he exclaimed violently: “Don’t mention that unfortunate man; he spoiled everything by introducing the supernatural.” This remark confirmed the impression I had gained of the crass naturalism of his views, but it also struck me in another way. The criticism of St. Augustine, the greatest of the Fathers of the Church, betrayed Teilhard’s lack of a genuine sense of intellectual and spiritual grandeur.

It was only after reading several of Teilhard’s work’s, however, that I fully realized the catastrophic implications of his philosophical ideas and the absolute incompatibility of his theology fiction (as Etienne Gilson calls it) with Christian revelation and the doctrine of the Church.

Teilhard was not a careful scientist
Many Catholics view Teilhard de Chardin as a great scientist who has reconciled science with the Christian faith by introducing a grandiose new theology and metaphysics that take modern scientific findings into account and thus fit into our scientific age. Although I am not a competent judge of Teilhard as a scientist, this opinion may be questioned without expertise. For one thing, every careful thinker knows that a reconciliation of science and the Christian faith has never been needed, because true science (in contradistinction to false philosophies disguised in scientific garments) can never be incompatible with Christian faith. Science can neither prove nor disprove the truth of the faith. Let us also note several judgments of Teilhard by outstanding scientists.

Jean Rostand has said of Teilhard’s works: “I have argued that Teilhard did not cast the slightest light on the great problem of organic evolution.” Sir Peter Medawar, the No­bel Prize winner, speaks of Teilhard’s mental confusion and the exaggerated expression that borders, he says, on hysteria. He insists that The Phenomenon of Man is unscientific in its procedure. Sir Peter adds that Teilhard’s works in general lack scientific structure, that his competence in his field is modest, that he neither knows what a logical argument is nor what a scientific proof is, that he does not respect the norms required for scientific scholarship.

Thus, since the halo surrounding Teilhard is not unrelated to the opinion that he was a great scientist, it should be noted that his scientific accomplishments are, at the very least, controversial. My purpose here, however, is to examine Teilhard’s philosophical and theological thought and its bearings on Christian revelation and the doctrine of the Church. I wish to make it clear from the beginning that writing on Teilhard is no easy matter. I do not know of another thinker who so artfully jumps from one position to another contradictory one, without being disturbed by the jump or even noticing it. One is driven therefore to speak of the underlying trend of his thought, to identify the logical consequences of the core of his doctrine – of what was dearest to him.

Teilhard fails to grasp the nature of the person
One of the most striking philosophical shortcomings of Teilhard’s system is his conception of man. It is a great irony that the author of The Phenomenon of Man should completely miss the nature of man as a person. He fails to recognize the abyss separating a person from the entire impersonal world around him, the wholly new dimension of being that a person implies.

Teilhard sees “self-consciousness” as the only difference between man and a highly developed animal. But a comparison of the limited type of consciousness that can be observed in animals with the manifold aspects of a person’s consciousness shows instantly how wrong it is to regard the latter as merely an addition of self-consciousness. Personal consciousness actualizes itself in knowledge – in the luminous consciousness of an object that reveals itself to our mind, in the capacity to adapt our mind to the nature of the object (adequatio intellectus ad rem), in an understanding of the object’s nature. It also actualizes itself in the process of inference, in the capacity to ask questions, to pursue truth, and last, but not least, in the capacity to develop an I-thou communion with another person. All of this implies a completely new type of consciousness, an entirely new dimension of being.

But this marvel of the human mind, which is also revealed in language and in man’s role as homo pictor (imaginative man, man as artist),is altogether lost on Teilhard because he insists on viewing human consciousness as merely an awareness of self that has gradually developed out of animal consciousness.

The schol­astics, on the other hand, accurately grasped the dimensions of personal consciousness by calling the person a being that possesses itself. Compared with the person, every impersonal being sleeps, as it were; it simply endures its existence. Only in the human person do we find an awakened being, a being truly possessing itself, notwithstanding its contingency.

Teilhardian “fusion” of persons is impossible
Teilhard’s failure to appreciate the person again comes to the fore when he claims in The Phenomenon of Man., that a collective consciousness would constitute a higher state of evolution:

The idea is that of the earth not only becoming covered by myriads of grains of thought but becoming enclosed in a single thinking envelope so as to form, functionally, no more than a single vast grain of thought on the sidereal scale.

Here several grave errors are combined. First, the idea of a non-individual consciousness is contradictory. Second, it is wrong to suppose that this impossible fiction could con­tain something superior to individual personal existence. Third, the idea of a “superconsciousness” is, in fact, a totalitarian ideal: It implies an absolute antithesis to true community, which essentially presupposes individual persons.

The existence of a human person is so essentially individual that the idea of fusing two persons into one or of splitting one person into two is radically impossible. It is also impossible to wish to be another person. We can only wish to be like another person. For at the moment we became the other person we would necessarily cease to exist. It belongs to the very nature of the human being as person that he re­main this one individual being. God could annihilate him, though revelation tells us that this is not God’s intention. But to suppose that a human being could give up his individual character without ceasing to exist, without being annihilated by that act, amounts to blindness to what a person is.

Some men claim to experience a kind of “union with the cosmos” which “enlarges” their individual existence and presents itself as the acquisition of a “superconsciousness.” In reality, however, this union exists only in the consciousness of the individual person who has such an experience. Its content – the feeling of fusion with the cosmos – is in reality the peculiar experience of one concrete person, and in no way implies a collective consciousness.

Our consideration of Teilhard’s ideal of the “col­lective man” reveals that he fails to understand not only the nature of man as person but also the nature of true communion and community. True personal communion, in which we attain union much deeper than any onto­logical fusion, presupposes the favorable individual character of the person. Compared to the union achieved by the conscious interpenetration of souls in mutual love, the fusion of impersonal beings is nothing more than juxtaposition.

Teilhard does not recognize the hierarchy of being
Teilhard’s ideal of “superhumanity” – his totalitarian conception of community – shows the same naive ignorance of the abyss that separates the glorious realm of personal existence from the impersonal world. It also reveals his blindness to the hierarchy of being and to the hierarchy of values. Pascal admirably illuminated the incomparable superiority of one individual person to the entire impersonal world when to his famous remark, “Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature,” he added the words, “but if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him. He knows that he dies, and the advantage which the universe has over him. The universe knows nothing of this.”

Another aspect of Teilhard’s blindness to the essentially individual character of the person is his inordinate interest in man as species. Again he overlooks the differences between humans and mere animals. A dominant interest in the species is quite normal as long as one deals with animals, but it becomes grotesque when human beings are involved. Kierke­gaard brought out this point when he stressed the absolute superiority of the individual human being to the human species. Teilhard’s own approach is betrayed by his attitude toward the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The “progress” of humanity which he sees in the invention of nuclear weapons matters more to him than the destruction of in­numerable lives and the most terrible sufferings inflicted on individual persons.

It is true that time and again Teilhard speaks of the per­sonal and of the superiority of the personal over the impersonal. Indeed, he often explicitly rejects the possibility that the existence of the individual person will dissolve. He writes, for instance, in Building the Earth: “Since there is neither fusion nor dissolution of individual persons, the center which they aspire to reach must necessarily be distinct from them, that is, it must have its own personality, its autonomous reality.” Yet just a few pages later we find him rhapsodizing: “And lastly the totalization of the individual in the collective man.” Teilhard then explains how this contradiction will dissolve in the Omega: “All these so-called impossibilities come about under the influence of love.”

Teilhard tries to eliminate antitheses
It has recently become fashionable to accept contradictions as a sign of philosophical depth. Mutually contradictory elements are regarded as antagonistic as long as the discussion remains on a logical level, but are considered unimportant as soon as it reaches the religious sphere. This fashion does not do away with the essential impossibility of combining contradictories. No number of modish paradoxes, of emotional effusions, of exotically capitalized words can conceal Teilhard’s fundamental lack of understanding of the nature of the person. The notion of the “personal” in Teilhard’s system is stripped of any real meaning by the system’s underlying pantheism. In Teilhard’s thought “collective man” and the “totalization” of man represent an ideal that is objectively incompatible with the existence of the individual person – or, rather, that necessarily implies the annihilation of the person.

His monistic tendency leads him to try to liquidate all real antitheses. He wants to keep the integrity of the person, but raves about totalization. He reduces all contraries to different aspects of one and the same thing, and then claims that the antithetical nature of the propositions in question is due merely to the isolation or overemphasis of a single aspect. Yet by reading Teilhard closely, one can always detect his primary concern and see where he is going.

A passage comparing democracy, communism, and fascism in Building the Earth illustrates this. A superficial reading of the passage (which, incidentally, contains several excellent remarks) might give the impression that Teilhard does not deny the individual character of man. A closer, critical study against the background of other passages clearly reveals not only an impossible attempt to link together individuality and totalization, but also Teilhard’s intention, what his main ideal is, where his heart is. It is, once again, with totalization, with superhumanity in the Omega.

Teilhard misunderstands communion and community
The penchant for liquidating antitheses also sheds light on Teilhard’s false conception of the community, of the union of persons. It is all conceived upon the pattern of fusion in the realm of matter, and thus misses the radical difference between unification in the sphere of matter and the spiritual union that comes to pass through real love in the sphere of individual persons. For Teilhard, love is merely cosmic energy: “That energy which, having generally agitated the cosmic mass, emerges from it to form the Noosphere, what name must be given to such an influence? One only – love.” A man who can write that has obviously failed to grasp the nature of this supreme act which, by its very essence, presupposes the existence both of a conscious, personal being and a thou.

Teilhard leaves no place for love
There is no place in the unanimity and harmony of Teilhard’s totalitarian communion for a real giving of oneself in love. This unanimity and harmony is actualized through a convergence into one mind; it thus differs radically from the concordia, from the blissful union of which the Liturgy of the Mandatum speaks: “Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.” (The love of Christ has gathered us into one.) The latter is not a “co-thinking,” but rather a mutual, reciprocal love and a unification in Christ based on the per­sonal love-response which every individual gives to Christ.

In a monistic world, there is absolutely no place for the intentio unionis (the intention of union)and the intentio benevolentiae (good will) proper to real love. For in such a world “cosmic energy” moves everything independently of man’s free response. When we interpret things that are merely analogous as constituting an ontological unity, or when we use as literal and univocal a term that is analogous, we necessarily bar the way to a real understanding of the being in question. Every monism is ultimately nihilistic.

Teilhard misses the difference between matter and spirit
Another grave philosophical error is closely linked to Teilhard’s conception of man: his failure to grasp the radical difference between spirit and matter. Teilhard deals with energy as though it were a genus and then proceeds to make matter and spirit two differentiae specificae (distinct species) in this genus. But there is no genus energy. Energy is a concept applicable to both of these radically different realms of being only in terms of analogy. Teilhard does not understand this; he even speaks of the “spiritual power of matter.”

Teilhard forces reality to fit into his system
Teilhard, then, is the type of thinker who indulges in constructions and hypotheses without caring much about what is “given.” Maritain once said: “The main difference be­tween philosophers is whether they see or do not see.” In Teilhard, there is much imagination but no intuition, no listening to experience. From this comes his attempt to project consciousness into inanimate matter – a project for which there is simply no foundation apart from Teilhard’s desire to erect a monistic system. Instead of listening to experience, to the voice of being, he arbitrarily infuses into the being in question whatever corresponds to his system. It is indeed surprising that a man who attacks traditional philosophy and theology for abstractness and for trying to adjust reality to a closed system should himself offer the most abstract and unrealistic system imaginable into which he attempts to force reality, thereby following the famous example of Procrustes.

The ambiguity underlying Teilhard’s thought also emerges in a passage that accuses Communism of being too materialistic, of striving only for the progress of matter and, consequently, ignoring spiritual progress. His admirers might point to this passage as proof that Teilhard clearly distinguishes between matter and spirit and acknowledges the superiority of the latter.

Actually, it proves no such thing. Teilhard always distinguishes between matter and spirit, but he regards them as merely two stages in the evolutionary process. Physical energy becomes – is transformed into – spiritual energy. But to regard the difference between the two as simply stages of a process – or, as we may put it, to regard the difference as a “gradual” one – is utterly to fail to understand the nature of the spirit. Again, monism prevents an understanding of reality and creates the illusion of being able to combine what cannot be combined.

Teilhard implicitly denies man has free will
Teilhard’s incomprehension of man’s nature is further evidenced in his implicit denial of man’s free will. By grounding man’s spiritual life in an evolutionary process which by definition acts independently of man’s free will and transcends the person, Teilhard clearly denies the decisive role of human freedom. Freedom of will is obviously one of the most significant and deepest marks of a person. Thus, once again, he overlooks the radical difference between man as person and a highly developed animal.

The role of freedom of will emerges decisively in man’s capacity to bear moral values and disvalues. This highest characteristic of man presupposes free will and responsibility. But Teilhard blithely reduces the antithesis between good and evil to mere stages of evolution, to mere degrees of perfection – surely a classic case of philosophical impotence. Moreover, he ignores the critical importance of the moral question, which is strikingly expressed in Socrates’ immortal dictum: “It is better for man to suffer injustice than to commit it.” In Teilhard, the entire drama of man’s existence, the fight between good and evil in his soul, is ignored or, rather, overshadowed by the evolutionary growth toward the Omega.

Teilhardism and Christianity are incompatible
Teilhard’s thought is thus hopelessly at odds with Christianity. Christian revelation presupposes certain basic natural facts, such as the existence of objective truth, the spiritual reality of an individual person, the radical difference between spirit and matter, the difference between body and soul, the unalterable objectivity of moral good and evil, freedom of the will, the immortality of the soul, and, of course, the existence of a personal God. Teilhard’s approach to all of these questions reveals an unbridgeable chasm between his theology fiction and Christian revelation.

Teilhard adapts religion to modern man
This conclusion inescapably follows from Teilhard’s oftrepeated arguments for a “new” interpretation of Christianity. Time and again he argues that we can no longer expect modern man, living in an industrialized world and in the scientific age, to accept Christian doctrine as it has been taught for the last two thousandyears. Teilhard’s new interpretation of Christianity is fashioned by asking, “What fits into our modern world?” This approach combines historical relati­vism and pragmatism with a radical blindness to the very essence of religion.

We have considered the myth of modern man throughout this book. It suffices here to insist that man always remains essentially the same with regard to his moral dangers, his moral obligations, his need of redemption, and the true sources of his happiness. We have also examined the catastrophic error of historical relativism, which confuses the socio-historical aliveness of an idea with its validity and truth. Now, if it is sheer nonsense to claim that a basic natural truth can be true in the Middle Ages but is no longer so in our time, the absurdity is even greater when the subject is religion.

With a religion the only question that can matter is whether or not it is true. The question of whether or not it fits into the mentality of an epoch cannot play any role in the acceptance or the rejection of a religion without betraying the very essence of religion. Even the earnest atheist recognizes this. He will not say that today we can no longer believe in God; he will say that God is and always was a mere illusion. From the position that a religion must be adapted to the spirit of an epoch there is but a short step to the absurd drivel (which we associate with Bertrand Russell or the Nazi ideologist Bergmann) about having to invent a new religion.

In 1952 letterTeilhard wrote: “As I love to say, the synthesis of the Christian God (of the above) and the Marx­ist God (of the forward) – Behold! that is the only God whom henceforth we can adore in spirit and in truth.” In these remarks the abyss separating Teilhard from Christianity is manifest in every word. To speak of a Marxist God is very surprising to say the least, and would never have been accepted by Marx. But the idea of a synthesis of the Christian God with an alleged Marxist God, as well as the simultaneous application of the term God to Christianity and to Marxism, demonstrates the absolute incompatibility of Teilhard’s thought with the doctrine of the Church. Note, moreover, the words “henceforth” and “can.” They are the key to Teilhard’s thinking and expose unmistakably his historical relativism.

Teilhard’s Christ is not the Christ of the Gospels
In Le paysan de la Garonne,Jacques Maritain remarks that Teilhard is most anxious to preserve Christ. But, adds Maritain, “What a Christ!” It is here, indeed, that we find the most radical difference between the doctrine of the Church and Teilhard de Chardin’s theology fiction. Teilhard’s Christ is no longer Jesus, the God-man, the epiphany of God, the Redeemer. Instead, He is the initiator of a purely natural evolutionary process and, simultaneously, its end – the Christ-Omega. An unprejudiced mind cannot but ask: Why should this “cosmic force” be called Christ?

It would be utter naiveté to be misled by the mere fact that Teilhard labels this alleged cosmogenic force Christ or by his desperate effort to wrap this pantheism in traditional Catholic terms. In his basic conception of the world, which does not provide for original sin in the sense the Church gives to this term, there is no place for the Jesus Christ of the Gospels; for if there is no original sin, then the redemption of man through Christ loses its in­ner meaning.

In Christian revelation, the stress is laid on the sancti­fication and salvation of every individual person, leading to the beatific vision and, simultaneously, to the communion of saints. In Teilhard’s theology, the stress is laid on the progress of the earth, the evolution leading to Christ-Omega. There is no place for salvation through Christ’s death on the Cross since man’s destiny is part of pancosmic evolution.

Teilhard redefines basic Christian doctrine
Teilhard’s conception of man and his implicit denial of free will, his tacit amoralism and his totalitarian collectivism cut him off from Christian revelation – and this notwithstanding his efforts to reconcile his views with the Church’s teaching. He writes: “Yes, the moral and social development of humanity is indeed the authentic and natural consequence of organic evolution.” For such a man, original sin, redemption, and sanctification can no longer have any real meaning. Yet Teilhard does not seem quite aware of this incompatibility:

Sometimes I am a bit afraid, when I think of the transposition to which I must submit my mind concerning the vulgar notions of creation, inspiration, miracle, original sin, resurrection, etc., in order to be able to accept them.

That Teilhard applies the term vulgar, even if not in the pejorative sense, to the basic elements of Christian revelation and to their interpretation by the infallible magisterium of the Church should suffice to disclose the gnostic and esoteric character of his thought. He writes to Leontine Zanta:

As you already know, what dominates my interest and my preoccupations is the effort to establish in myself and to spread around a new religion (you may call it a better Christianity) in which the personal God ceases to be the great neolithic proprietor of former times, in order to become the soul of the world; our religious and cultural stage calls for this.

Not only, then, is the Christ of the Gospels replaced by a Christ-Omega, but also the God of the old and new covenants is replaced by a pantheistic God, “the soul of the world” – and again on the strength of the unfortunate argument that God must be adapted to the man of our scientific age.

Teilhard banishes grace and the supernatural
No wonder Teilhard reproaches St. Augustine for introducing the difference between the natural and the supernatural. In Teilhard’s pantheistic and naturalistic “religion” there is no place for the supernatural or the world of grace. For him, union with God consists principally in assimilation into an evolutionary process – not in the super­natural life of grace which is infused in our souls through baptism.

Why does the one tend to exclude the other? If Teilhard’s notion of a participation in an evolutionary process were reality, it could only be a form of concursus divinus. Yet great and mysterious as is the concursus divinus – that is, the support God gives at every moment of our natural existence, without which we would sink back into nothingness – there is an abyss separating this natural metaphysical contact from grace.

Whether or not Teilhard explicitly denies the reality of grace does not matter much: His ecstasy in the presence of the natural contact with God in the alleged evolutionary process clearly discloses the subordinate role, if any, that he assigns to grace. Or, to put it otherwise: After Teilhard has replaced the personal God, Creator of heaven and earth, by God the soul of the world, after he has transformed the Christ of the Gospels into the Christ-Omega, after he has replaced redemption by a natural evolutionary process, what is left for grace? Maritain makes the point admirably. After granting that Teilhard’s spectacle of a divine movement of creation toward God does not lack grandeur, he observes:

But what does he tell us about the secret path that matters more for us than any spectacle? What can he tell us of the essential, the mystery of the Cross and the redeeming blood, as well as of the grace, the presence of which in one single soul has more worth than all of nature? And what of the love that makes us co-redeemers with Christ, what of those blissful tears through which His peace enters into our soul? The new gnosis is, like all other gnoses, ‘a poor gnosis.’

Teilhard inverts the hierarchy of values
In Teilhard we find a complete reversal of the Christian hierarchy of values. For him, cosmic processes rank higher than the individual soul. Research and work rank higher than moral values. Action, as such (that is, any association with the evolutionary process) is more important than contemplation, contrition for our sins, and penance. Progress in the conquest and “totalization” of the world through evolution ranks higher than holiness.

The vast distance between Teilhard’s world and the Christian world becomes dramatically clear when we compare Cardinal Newman’s priorities with Teilhard’s. Newman says in Discourses to Mixed Congregations:

Saintly purity, saintly poverty, renouncement of the world, the favor of Heaven, the protection of the angels, the smile of the blessed Mary, the gifts of grace, the interposition of miracles, the intercommunion of merits, these are the high and precious things, the things to be looked up to, the things to be reverently spoken of.

But for Teilhard it is otherwise:

To adore once meant to prefer God to things by referring them to Him and by sacrificing them to Him. Adoring today becomes giving oneself body and soul to the creator associating ourselves with the creator in order to give the finishing touch to the world through work and re­search.

Teilhardism is incompatible with Christianity
Teilhard’s ambiguous use of classical Christian terms cannot conceal the basic meaning and direction of his thought. We find it impossible, therefore, to agree with Henri de Lubac that Teilhard’s theology fiction is a “possible” addition to Christian revelation. Rather, the evidence compels our argeement with Philippe de la Trinité that it is “a deformation of Christianity, which is transformed into an evolutionism of the naturalistic, monistic, and pantheistic brand.”

Teilhard’s theories are based in equivocations
In his works, he glides from one notion to another, creating a cult of equivocation deeply linked with his monistic ideal. He systematically blurs all the decisive differences between things: The difference between hope and optimism; the difference between Christian love of neighbor (which is essentially directed to an individual person) and an infatuation with humanity (in which the individual is but a single unit of the species man). And Teilhard ignores the difference between eternity and the earthly future of humanity, both of which he fuses in the totalization of the Christ-Omega. To be sure, there is something touching in Teilhard’s desperate attempt to combine a traditional, emotional attraction to the Church with a theology radically opposed to the Church’s doctrine. But this apparent dedication to Christian terms makes him even more dangerous than Voltaire, Renan, or Nietzsche. His success in wrapping a pantheistic, gnostic monism in Christian garments is perhaps nowhere so evident as in The Divine Milieu.

Teilhard substitutes efficiency for sanctity
To many readers, the terms Teilhard uses sound so familiar that they can exclaim: How can you accuse him of not being an orthodox Christian? Does he not say in The Divine Milieu, “What is it for a person to be a saint if not, in effect, to adhere to God with all his power?” Certainly, this sounds absolutely orthodox. Nonetheless, his notion of adhering to God conceals a shift from the heroic virtues that characterize the saint to a collaboration in an evolutionary process. Attaining holiness in the moral sphere through obeying God’s commands and imitating Christ is tacitly replaced by an emphasis on developing all of man’s faculties with – this seems the appropriate word – efficiency.
This is clearly the case, although Teilhard veils the point in traditional terminology:

What is it to adhere to God fully if not to fulfill in the world organized around Christ the exact function, humble or important, to which nature and supernature destine it?”

For Teilhard, then, the very meaning of the individual person lies in his fulfillment of a function in the whole – in the evolutionary process. The individual is no longer called upon to glorify God through that imitation of Christ which is the one common goal for every true Christian.

Teilhard’s “religion” is worldly
The transposition of the Cross into the Christ-Omega is also wrapped in apparently traditional terms:

Towards the summit, wrapped in mist to our human eyes and to which the Cross invites us, we rise by a path which is the way of universal Progress. The royal road of the Cross is no more nor less than the road of human endeavor supernaturally righted and prolonged.

Here, Christian symbols conceal a radical transformation of Christianity that takes us out of the Christian orbit altogether into a completely different spiritual climate. Sometimes, however, Teilhard does discard the Christian guise, and openly reveals his true stand. In 1934,in China, he wrote:

If in consequence of some inner revolution, I were to lose my faith in Christ, my faith in a personal God, my faith in the spirit, it seems to me that I would continue to have faith in the world. The world (the value, infallibility, and goodness of the world) this is – definitely – the first and only thing in which I believe.

Teilhard’s optimism wins converts to his views
Yet, clear as is the heterodoxy of Teilhard’s theology, some Catholics have elevated him to the rank of a Doctor, indeed, even a Father of the Church. For many unsophisticated Catholics, he has become a kind of prophet. That “progressive” Catholics relish Teilhard is, of course, not surprising. The “new theologians” and the “new moralists” welcome Teilhard’s views because they share his historical relativism – his conviction that faith must be adapted to “modern man.” Indeed, for many “progressive” Catholics, Teilhard’s transposition of Christian revelation does not go far enough.

But it is astonishing, on the other hand, that many faithful Christians are carried away by Teilhard – that they fail to grasp the complete incompatibility of his teaching with the doctrine of the Church. This popularity, however, becomes less surprising when viewed in the context of our contemporary intellectual and moral climate. In a period familiar with Sartre’s “nausea” and Heidegger’s conception of the essentially “homeless” man, Teilhard’s radiant and optimistic outlook on life comes for many as a welcome relief. His claim that we are constantly collaborating with God (whatever we do and however insignificant our role) and that “everything is sacred” understandably exhilarates many depressed souls. Another reason for such enthusiasm – perhaps more important – is that Teilhard is credited with having overcome a narrow asceticism and false supernaturalism.

Teilhard claims Catholicism disparages nature
There is no doubt that in the past many pious Catholics con­sidered natural goods primarily as potential dangers that threatened to divert them from God. Natural goods – even those endowed with high values (such as beauty in nature and in art, natural truth, and human love) – were approached with suspicion. These Catholics overlooked the positive value that natural goods have for man. They frequently advocated the view that natural goods should only be used, that they should never evoke interest and appreciation for their own sake.

But in this view, they forgot the fundamental difference betwen natural goods and wordly goods (such as wealth, fame, or success). They forgot that natural goods, endowed as they are with intrinsic value, should not only be “used,” but appreciated for their own sake – that it is worldly goods that should be “used” only.

It cannot be denied, moreover, that this unfortunate oversimplication often gained currency in seminaries and monasteries, notwithstanding the fact that it was never part of the doctrine of the Church.

This is why Teilhard is able with superficial plausibility to accuse the Catholic tradition of disparaging nature; and because he himself praises nature, it is understandable that for many his thought has seemed to be a just appreciation of natural goods.

Teilhard accuses Christianity of dehumanizing man
And Teilhard’s related claim that traditional Christianity has created a gap between humanness and Christian perfection has also impressed many sincere Catholics. In The Divine Milieu he attributes to traditional Christianity the notion that “men must put off their human garments in order to be Christians.”

Again, it cannot be denied that Jansenism reflects this attitude, or that certain Jansenistic tendencies have crept anonymously into the minds of many Catholics. For instance, the arch-Christian doctrine that insists that we must die to ourselves in order to be transformed in Christ has often been given an unwarranted dehumanizing emphasis in certain religious institutions. The view has been encouraged in some monasteries and seminaries that nature must, in effect, be killed before the supernatural life of grace can blossom. In the official doctrine of the Church, however, such dehumanization is flatly rejected. As Pope Pius XII said:

Grace does not destroy nature; it does not even change it; it transfigures it. Indeed, dehumanization is so far from being required for Christian perfection that this may be said: Only the person who is transformed in Christ em­bodies the true fulfilment of his human personality.

Teilhard’s own theories dehumanize man
Now, the point we wish to make is that Teilhard himself ignores the value of high natural goods and that, contrary to his claim, a real dehumanization takes place in his monistic pantheism. We have seen that his ideal of collective man and superhumanity necessarily implies a blindness to the real nature of the individual person and, derivatively, to all the plenitude of human life. But dehumanization also follows inevitably from his monism which minimizes the real drama of human life – the fight between good and evil – and reduces antithetical differences to mere gradations of a continuum.

Teilhard misses the supernatural aspect of natural goods
Teilhard’s failure to do justice to the true significance of natural goods is clear at the very moment he stresses their importance for eternity. Anyone can see that in dealing with natural goods he is primarily concerned with human activities, with accomplishments in work and research. He does not mention the higher natural goods and the message of God they contain, but only activities, performances, and ac­complishments in the natural field. Teilhard applies to these actions the biblical words “opera ejus sequuntur illos” (His deeds follow them.), but he does so in contradistinction to the original meaning of opera, in which “works” are identical with morally significant deeds.

Still more important is the relation he sees between natural goods as such and God. Teilhard sees no mes­sage of God’s glory in the values contained in these great natural goods; nor does he find in them a personal experience of the voice of God. Instead, he posits an objective and unexperienced link between God and our activities that results from the concursus divinus. He says: “God is, in a way, at the end of my pen, of my pickax, of my paintbrush, of my sewing needle, of my heart, of my thought.”

The real object of Teilhard’s boundless enthusiasm, then, is not natural goods themselves, but an abstraction: the hypothesis of evolution. The nature that moves him is not the colorful, resounding beauty of which all the great poets sing. It is not the nature of Dante, Shakespeare, Keats, Goethe, Hölderlin, Leopardi. It is not the glory of a sunrise or sunset, or the star-studded sky – the evidences of the natural world which Kant regarded, along with the moral law in man’s breast, as the most sublime thing of all.

Teilhard levels the hierarchy of values
There is another way in which Teilhard’s thought necessarily results in a dehumanization of the cosmos and man’s life. In his world view there is no place for an antithesis of values and disvalues. Yet every attempt to deny these ultimately important qualitative antagonisms always produces a kind of leveling, even a nihilism. The same thing happens when the hierarchy of values is overlooked, if only because man then responds to all levels of value with the same degree of enthusiasm.

The principle “everything is sacred,” which sounds so uplifting and exhilarating, is in reality fraught with a nihilistic denial of low and high, of good and evil. This fallacious and treacherous approach of praising everything actually results in denying everything. It reminds me of a remark made by a violinist I once met. “I love music so much,” he said, “that I do not care what kind of music it is, as long as it is music.” This statement, designed to suggest an extraordinary love for music, in fact revealed an absence of any true understanding of music and therefore of any capacity to love music. The same thing happens to man when qualitative distinctions are not made.

Let us now examine a little more closely the Christian view of nature, as compared with that of Teilhard. The revelation of God in nature has always been affirmed by the Christian tradition. The Sanctus says, “pleni suns caeli et terra gloria tua.” The Psalms are filled with praise of God as the Creator of the marvelous features of nature. St. Augustine’s exemplarism emphasizes time and again the message of God in the beauty of nature. The same idea is found in St. Francis’ love of nature.

Teilhard’s nature has no transcendent dimension
But an appreciation of this natural revelation of God implies an “upward direction toward God” – to use Teilhard’s terminology. Natural revelation speaks to us of God by suggesting the admirable wisdom that pervades creation and by providing a reflection, in the values of natural goods, of God’s infinite beauty and glory.

Our response to this revelation is either trembling reverence and wonder for the wisdom manifest in the finality of the cosmos and its mysterious plenitude, a looking up to God the Creator; or, at least, a deep awareness of the beauty of nature and of all the high natural goods. The latter also lifts up our vision. In either case, we are able to grasp the message from above; for all true values are pregnant with a promise of eternity. By lifting up our hearts we are able to understand that these authentic values speak of God’s infinite glory. All of this unmistakably implies an “upward direction.”

But Teilhard’s “nature” is not linked to an “upward direction”; it is not a message from above. Since, for Teilhard, God is behind nature, we are supposed to reach Him in the Christ-Omega by moving in a “forward direction.”

In Teilhard’s forward direction, where everything is involved in an evolutionary movement, natural goods lose their real value. The suggestion they contain of something transcendent is replaced by a merely immanent finality; they become links in the chain of evolution.

When evolution is viewed as the main and decisive reality – when it is, in fact, deified – then every natural good becomes, on the one hand, a mere transitory step in the forward movement of the evolutionary process, and, on the other hand, a mute thing, cut off by a leveling monism from its real, qualitative, inherent importance.

It follows that we can do justice to high natural goods only if we discern in them a reflection of an infinitely higher reality, a reality ontologically different from them. This “message character” of natural goods is admirably expressed in Cardinal Newman’s remarks about music.

Can it be that those mysterious stirrings of the heart, and keen emotion, and strange yearnings after we know not what, and awful impressions from we know not whence, should be brought in us by what is unsubstantial, and comes and goes, and begins and ends in itself? It is not so; it cannot be. No; they have escaped from some higher sphere, they are the outpourings of eternal harmony in the medium of created sound; they are echoes of our home; they are the voice of angels, or the Magnificat of the Saints.

Teilhard overvalues industrialization
Another aspect of this problem deserves notice. The fact that Teilhard sees a higher stage of evolution in today’s industrialized world reveals the lack of a real sense of the beauty of nature and of the qualitative message of God that it bears. Even the most enthusiastic “progressive” cannot deny that industrialization consistently ruins the beauty of nature.

Moreover, industrialization (though perhaps the process is inevitable) certainly cannot be considered a univocal progress, either from the point of view of increasing human happiness or of fostering higher culture and a real humanism. As Gabriel Marcel correctly shows in his Man Against Mass Society,industrialization implies the danger of a progressive dehumanization. The replacement of the “organic” in human life by the artificial – from artificial insemination to social engineering – is symptomatic of this dehumanization.

Yet Teilhard heedlessly jumps from an enthusiasm for nature to elation over the progress of technology and industrialization. We are thus again confronted with his blind­ness to antitheses, with his monistic leveling.

It is clear, nevertheless, that Teilhard’s first love is technological progress. The creation of God has to be completed by man – not in St. Paul’s sense, not by cooperating with nature, but by replacing nature with the machine.

Teilhard does not give the response due to matter and spirit
The poetic expressions that appear when Teilhard presents his vision of evolution and progress make clear that he never saw the authentic poetry of nature or of the classical “forms” of creation. Instead, he tries to project poetry into technology – again revealing a monistic denial of the basic differences between the poetic and prosaic, the organic and the artificial, the sacred and the profane.

To be sure, it is always impressive when a man seems to have achieved a deep vision of being, and, instead of taking it for granted, gives it a full and ardent response. So with Teilhard. We are far from denying that he discovered in matter many aspects which had generally been overlooked. For example, the mysterious structure and the multiplicity of matter, which natural science is increasingly unfolding, call for genuine wonderment about this reality and respect for this creation of God.

But because Teilhard does not recognize the essential differences between spirit and matter and because his response to the spirit is not in proportion to his praise of matter (recall his “prayer” to matter) the advantage of this unusual insight into matter is, for him, quickly lost.

We must put this question of “matter” in its proper perspective. To overlook the marvels hidden in a creature that ranks lowest in the hierarchy of being is regrettable. But the oversight does not affect our knowledge of higher ranking creatures; it is therefore not a catastrophe.

On the other hand, to grasp the lower while overlooking the higher is to distort our entire world view; and that is a catastrophe. Moreover, to esteem a lower good as a higher is to misunderstand the hierarchical structure of being and thus to lose the basis for property evaluating either higher things or lower things.

Teilhard’s blindness to the real values in, for example, human love is shown in these unfortunate remarks about eros and agape:

Naturally, I agree with you that the solution of the eros-agape problem is simply to be found in the evolutionary trend (dans l’évolutif ),in the genetic, that is to say, in sublimation. [It is to be found in] the spirit emerging from matter through the pancosmic operation.

Teilhard misses the grandeur of conscience and morality
We have already seen that Teilhard’s conception of the moral sphere (virtue and sin) is incompatible with Christian revelation. We may now note that the role he grants to the moral sphere is yet another factor leading to dehumanization.

The unique contact with God that takes place in one’s conscience, in one’s awareness of his moral obligations, plays no role in Teilhard’s system. He does not understand that man in the realm of nature never reaches so intimate a contact with God as he does when he listens to the voice of his conscience and consciously submits to moral obligation. In comparison, how pale – in purely human and natural terms – is Teilhard’s notion of the “conscious” and the “unconscious” participating in a “cosmic progress”!

And how pale are the scope and breadth of cosmic events in contrast with the liberating transcendence of a man authentically contrite! What event could hold more grandeur than David’s response to the challenge of the prophet Nathan? The secondary role which Teilhard assigns to man’s conscious and personal dialogue with Christ – Teilhard’s preference for objective cooperation in the “evolutionary process” – reveals as clearly as anything can the truly dehumanized character of his “new world.”

Many people are impressed by a thinker who constructs a new world out of his own mind in which every thing is interconnected and “explained.” They consider such conceptions the most eminent feat of the human mind. Accordingly, they praise Teilhard as a great synthetic thinker. In truth, however, the measure of a thinker’s greatness is the extent to which he has grasped reality in its plenitude and depth and in its hierarchical structure. If this measure is applied to Teilhard, he obviously cannot be considered a great thinker.

Let us once again dramatize the non-Christian nature of the Teilhardian speculation by comparing his presentation of the meaning and purpose of Christianity with that of Cardinal Newman. Teilhard proclaims that Christ becomes

the flame of human efforts; he reveals himself as the form of faith which is most appropriate for modern needs – a religion for progress, the religion even for progress on earth; I dare say: the religion of evolution.

Cardinal Newman, however, reveals the true purpose of our faith:

St. Paul . . . labored more than all the Apostles; and why? Not to civilize the world, not to smooth the face of society, not to spread abroad knowledge, not to cultivate the reason, not for any great worldly object . . . Not to turn the whole earth into a heaven, but to bring down a heaven upon earth. This has been the real triumph of the Gospel . . . It has made men saints.


Fr. Ruggero Rosini, OFM: The absolute predestination of Jesus and Mary

The following is an excellent exposition of the absolute primacy of Christ by perhaps one of the greatest Scotists of the 20th century who penetrated and proclaimed the exceedingly beautiful Christology and Mariology of Bl. John Duns Scotus. This is my translation of the first chapter of his book “Mariologia del B. Duns Scoto” [a full English translation by Fr. Peter M. Fehlner, F.I. is available in English from the Academy of the Immaculate under the title of “Mariology of Blessed John Duns Scotus”] which lucidly unveils how the doctrine of the absolute primacy of Christ is key to understanding the position of the Blessed Virgin Mary in God’s decree of the Incarnation and grasping the significance of all of her privileges (a point which is emphasized in a particularly way in Ven. Mary of Agreda’s “Mystical City of God” chapters 1-13).

Brief biography of Fr. Ruggero Rosini, OFM (1913-1998)

The author of this treatise, perhaps the only truly comprehensive presentation of Scotus’ Mariology in modern times, Fr. Ruggero Rosini, was born in 1913, in the small town of Zanigrado di Lonche (Villa Decani) near Pola (Pula), then in the Austro-Hungarian empire, annexed to Italy at the end of the first world war, then at the end of the second world war made part of Yugoslavia, now belonging to the Croatian Republic. As a teenager Fr. Ruggero entered the Franciscan Province of Venice, was professed in 1930 and ordained in 1938. He studied under the famed Croatian scotist, Fr. Charles Balic, and after being awarded the doctorate in theology was associated with Fr. Balic in the work of editing the works of Scotus and promoting the cause of Scotus and Mary. He died at the end of 1998 in the hospital of Motta di Livenza. [from Fr. Peter M. Fehlner’s Presentation of the book]

Mary in relation to Christ

When one speaks of John Duns Scotus in relation to Our Lady our thought usually goes immediately to the Immaculate Conception to which his name is commonly linked, so much so that he is called “Doctor of the Immaculate”.

However, this privilege—as Scotus himself will make us understand—does not stand on its own: this too, like all the other marian privileges, presupposes a source or principle that gives them life.  And what is this Principle to which Mary is indebted for all her gifts?

It is easy to specify: it is Christ.

Through this there is formed a most perfect bond between her and Him, between Christ and Mary; this is so true that only in the light of this association can all of the marian privileges be explained.

Our task, then, will be to specify above all the nature and origin of that bond existing between Christ and Mary, following the thought of the Subtle Doctor.  And we will see that this bond has for its foundation the motherhood and grace of Mary.  Both of these privileges, in fact, immediately bind Mary to Christ: the first (motherhood) with natural bonds; the second (grace) with moral bonds.

Yet these two bonds, dependent on Christ, presuppose another bond, one more remote and which depends upon God; hence there is the need to point out that decree of predestination with which Christ and Mary were foreseen together and above all in the divine plan.

Behold, therefore, our outline in this first section: first the predestination, and then follows Mary’s motherhood and her grace.

Chapter I

The predestination of Mary

Duns Scotus does not speak expressly of the predestination of Mary anywhere in his numerous works.  However, his immediate disciples[1] and afterwards his many commentators,[2] in treating of this material, applied to Mary the various principles which Scotus had posed for Christ, placing her, however, immediately after Christ.

They see the two predestinations of Christ and Mary as being intimately connected and correlated: they are interconnected in one and the same decree.  This shall later be seen in the Bull Ineffabilis Deus according to which Christ and Mary were precisely foreseen “uno eodemque decreto” [in one and the same decree].[3]

It should be sufficient, therefore, to find Christ’s position according to the divine plan in order to assign Mary her position.

We must be aware, however, that this doctrine shall be better understood if it is examined not only in relation to Christ’s place, but also in the order of the very nature of predestination itself, as it is understood by our Subtle Doctor.

If predestination is above all, as we shall see, ordered to the end which is glory—according to Scotus—which is the same for all the elect, Christ and Mary included (the only distinctive difference consisting in the ranking of the elect from the highest position to the lowest), then this means that the only distinction admitted from predestination itself is that of anteriority and posteriority: before or after predestined.[4]

Let us examine the nature of predestination according to the thought of Duns Scotus, and then we shall determine the respective places of Christ and Mary.

The nature of predestination

Predestination constitutes the key point of the entire philosophical and theological system of Scotus; that is to say that the Subtle Doctor manifests to us the mode of how he conceives the origins of all things outside of God.[5]

First of all, predestination is characterized by two activities: one eternal regarding the divine intention, the other temporal regarding the realization of the things foreseen.[6]

Obviously among the two activities—that of intention and of execution—the first always precedes and the second follows: the sculptor must first conceive the statue which he intends to produce and then he shall execute the project conceived.  It is logical that the sculptor, in his work, proceeds in a diverse mode than that of intention: from the lesser perfect (the block of marble), he heads towards the more perfect (the statue).  And so it is that that which was first in the intention (the statue), becomes the last in execution.[7]

Hence this process, from the imperfect to the perfect, as it slowly develops, becomes a disposition towards the actualization of the intention and this, in its turn, is moved solely by the end which, in our case, is realized in the glory of the creature.

Every artist who wants to work wisely must first pre-establish the end of the work which he is about to begin.  Certainly God conforms to this rule as well.  In willing to initiate the things outside of Himself (ad extra), He first fixes the end with an act which is called predestination.

Duns Scotus defines predestination as “an act of the divine will, which chooses the intellectual creature for grace and for glory”.[8]  Thus understood, predestination encloses within itself several characteristic marks.

Above all predestination is free because it is “an act of the will”.[9]  The will, and not the intellect, is formally the cause of all contingent things, whether in the natural order or the supernatural order.[10]  This is the point of scotistic doctrine which, besides distinguishing the Subtle Doctor’s entire philosophy and theology from others, marks the primacy of charity in the divine plan of things, now brought into the light by Vatican Council II, especially in its Decrees and its Constitutions.

Moreover, predestination is absolute.  His own goodness[11] is the singular motive for which the divine will moves externally (ad extra), desiring to communicate Himself to other beings.  In fact, it is unthinkable that any creature could have influence over the divine will in the act of predestination of creation itself because at the moment of predestination, not only was there no merit or demerit by any creature, but no creature existed.[12]

Finally, predestination is simultaneous.  One can rightly say that God, with one single act of the will, simultaneously conceived all of the elect to glory.  Consequently, right from the first instant, the number of the elect is complete; therefore, it cannot be either augmentable or diminishable without compromising the very immutability of God.[13]

As a conclusion to this doctrinal point about predestination, we add the following affirmations of the Subtle Doctor.

First, he affirms that since the divine will is the cause of the intrinsic goodness of things,[14] these naturally measure their objective quidditas (thisness) in relation to the “motive” from which they proceed.  Therefore, these will be more or less perfect, more or less good, disposed in various degrees, according to their derivation from a greater or lesser spontaneity of the very will of God.[15]

He also maintains that the predestination of no one was occasioned by any fall: neither that of man by the fall of the angels; nor that of Christ by the fall of man; and this is so ture that no one may rejoice in the fall of another.[16]

Furthermore, he maintains that all of the elect—angels and men—form but one “family”, namely “the heavenly court”, disposed “in certain and fixed ranking”.[17]

Keeping these characteristic notes on predestination in mind, it shall be easier to specify the position of Christ in the first place, and then the position of Mary.

The position of Christ

As we have seen, the entire theology of Scotus is drawn from the nature of predestination which is marked by this thesis, of capital importance, namely that the first free act which is encountered in all of being is an act of love: precisely of that love which from eternity unfolds in the bosom of the Trinity.  Our present subject is this: how is this manifested externally?

And here our Doctor responds: “I say, therefore, God loves Himself in the first place; in the second place He loves Himself in others and this love is holy; in the third place—speaking of love of an extrinsic being—He wills to be loved by Him who can love in the highest degree; and finally, in the fourth place, He foresees the union (to the Word) of that nature which shall love Him in the highest degree, even if no one had fallen”,[18] or even more emphatically, “even if no one but Christ had been created”.

It is clear, therefore, that the Incarnation, the “greatest work of God”, could not possibly be occasioned, nor could it occupy a secondary place in the divine plan.

In fact, if every soul’s predestination to glory precedes the foreknowledge of sin, then it is even more true of that soul which is predestined to the maximum glory.[19]

If He, who wills with order, first wills that which is closest to the end,[20] then it is logical that the first place goes to Christ, predestined precisely to be the Head of the heavenly court.[21]

If all of the elect were foreseen and willed to be “co-loving” (condiligentes),[22] how much more the scope of such foreknowledge for Christ.  He can glorify, and in fact glorifies, the Trinity in a measure greater than all of the other beings put together.  Rather, their praises can rise to God only by means of Christ and with Christ: “co-loving” (loving with Him and not without Him).

Therefore, Christ too has been foreseen like all of the rest of the elect, according to St. Jerome’s expression, “ante fabricam mundi” [before the foundation of the world].[23]  He also proceeds from the divine Goodness which in a singular way desires to communicate Itself externally and therefore makes up part of the absolute predestination: together with all of the elect Christ also is included in the “complete” number of predestination.  What distinguishes Him from the rest of the elect is that of being willed first, being closest to the end.[24]

It must be noted that neither the divine plan—as understood by our Doctor—nor the personage which dominates that plan are simple hypotheses, as some would have us believe.[25]  It is revealed truth that the world was conceived and willed as good (cfr.  Gen 1:1-31), and likewise that this was realized in Christ and through Christ (Jn 1:1-3, Eph 1:3-6, Col 1:15-20, Rm 8:29-30).

Before closing this section it is fitting to point out some points regarding the particular mode of Christ’s predestination, which will have repercussions on various Mariological problems.

In order to be better understood we will present these points in the form of questions.


1) In all creation Christ has the supreme glory; what is the cause of this?  Scotus responds that Christ owes the gift of supreme glory to the fact of the hypostatic union which, in the order of execution, precedes that glory and therefore becomes a disposition to that glory.[26]  He writes that Christ “would not have had such glory, nor would He have been so full of grace and truth, unless His nature had subsisted in the subject [Person] of the Word”.[27]


2) Was Christ predestined first to glory or to the hypostatic union?  It is a question which arises from Scotus himself: “Utrum prius praevidebatur isti naturae unio vel gloria?”[28]  And he responds to that question in this way: “Videtur quod gloria prius…”[29].  Sticking to his principle that predestination first regards the end (which is glory) and then regards the means (the hypostatic union being among these), Christ too, according to the Subtle Doctor, was first predestined to glory and then to union.[30]


3) Did Christ merit for Himself union and grace?  He merited neither the one nor the other for Himself, and this absolutely.  Both of these—union and grace—were conferred without any merit, neither from Himself nor from another.  This is the fundamental privilege which belongs solely to Christ.  On this subject our Doctor is categorical; he maintains: “in the universality of God’s works there was no work of pure grace, if not the Incarnation of the Son of God alone”.[31]  And this is so because such a conferral “had to manifest the supreme mercy of God by giving the supreme good of grace without any merit”.[32]

However, what Christ did not merit for Himself He merited for everyone else, without exception (neither angels nor men), He being the single depository and unique source of grace since God established that “there would be but one Head in the Church, from whom grace would flow into the members”.[33]

Hence “every other glory, of everyone capable of blessedness (angel or man), falls under and is foreseen through merit (not of one’s own, but those of Christ), by which these merits too (of Christ in relation to the blessed), fall under predestination”.[34]

The position of Mary

Having examined the nature of predestination and determined the place which Christ occupies in the divine decrees, we can readily pass to specifying the place which Mary occupies in relation to the same decrees.

We must recall that as the characteristics of predestination according to Scotus concern all of the blessed equally, Christ included, they concern Mary as well.  Hence she too was foreseen with Christ and with all of the other blessed “before the foundation world was made”,[35] independently of any personal merit or demerit whatsoever; she too, like Christ and the blessed, was uniquely willed in order “to love”, namely to be “co-loving”;[36] she too, like Christ and all of the blessed, makes up part of that “heavenly court”, divided into various degrees where Christ is the “Head”;[37] in summary, she too belongs to that absolute and simultaneous predestination in so far as it is formally an “act of the divine will”.[38]

Once predestination is seen from this angle the formula of Ineffabilis Deus , “uno eodemque decreto”,[39] not only holds for Christ and Mary, but for all of the blessed as well who are predestined with them for glory.  In other words the Bull expresses that Mary was not foreseen first (before sin) and Christ after (after sin).  In that case we would have two separate decrees.  Rather all were predestined with one and the same decree which—according to the scotistic understanding—cannot be other than absolute and simultaneous, Christ, Mary, and all the other blessed included: one and the same decree for all, foreseen before sin.

With regards to the end, namely glory, we have perfect unity.  Glory by its nature is one and the same for all since it is a gift which excludes any personal merit whatsoever by the blessed; this is so true that not even Christ—as we have said—merits glory for Himself.  Therefore, the distinction of that same glory into various degrees is to be sought in relation to the proximity to that same end.

Indeed our Doctor writes thus: “In general, he who wills with order, first wills that which is closest to the end”.[40]

It is from this principle that all the degrees of predestination are revealed: from the highest to the lowest.  Naturally, the highest is assigned to Christ; Scotus holds, “God first wills the glory of Christ’s soul, and not the glory of another soul”;[41] this is so because Christ’s soul is closer to the end by virtue of His union to the Person of the Word.

From this highest rank there descend all the other rankings in conformity with their proximity to the end.  And who shall be, after Christ, closest to the end?  The answer can be none other than this: Mary.

We are not dealing here with a simple deduction, but rather a logical consequence.  No creature—angelic or human—can have or even claim to have a more intimate proximity to Christ than that which existed between Him and her by virtue of her maternity.[42]  Therefore, if the Master’s principle, “In general, he who wills with order, first wills that which is closest to the end”, helps us to locate the transcendence of Christ in predestination, above all other creatures, likewise it can help us, rather it must help us, to locate Mary immediately after Christ.  She, after Him, is the one creature closest to the end intended by God in predestination.

It follows that while Christ owes—as we have said—everything (glory, grace and hypostatic union) to the pure and simple liberality of God, Mary, for her part, owes—as we shall see—everything (glory, grace and maternity) to the pure and simple liberality of the Son.  Thus in the divine plan as understood by Scotus, Christ is “the greatest good of God”[43] and Mary is “the greatest good of the Mediator”.[44]


[1] Cf., e.g., John Basseolis, III Sent., d. 1, q. 5 (Paris 1516) fol. 20 R, who places the Virgin “in second place after Christ”.

[2] Cf. W. Sebastian, De beata Virgine Maria universali gratiarum Mediatrice, Romae 1952, pp. 39-55, where the author reviews various scotistic commentators on the predestination of Mary; A. M. Blasucci, La dottrina scotista della predestinazione assoluta di Maria, in Virgo Immaculata, IX (Romae 1957) pp. 124-163, who also cites many scotists. [In English cf. Maximilian M. Dean,  A Primer on the Absolute Primacy of Christ: Bl. John Duns Scotus and the Franciscan Thesis, (Academy of the Immaculate, New Bedford, 2006), pp.105-109]

[3] Cf. A. Tondini, Le Encicliche Mariane, Roma 1952, II, p. 32.

[4] On the phrase “before and after” see Scotus, Lectura II, d. 20, q. 1, n. 22 (Vat. XIX, 195): “God wills in a supremely ordered way and the end first willed by Him, is Himself.  But what He immediately wills thereafter, is created blessedness for a created nature capable of beatitude (in so far as we may speak there [in God] in terms of before and after)”.

[5] Lectura, II, d. 20, q. 1, n. 22 (Vat. XIX, 195): “(Predestination means) to will for someone (the predestined) blessedness (whence predestination is the first action “without”) and after willing predestination (God) wills that person grace and nature, and finally wills him to be born for this and that task”.  Hence, predestination primarily involves intellectual beings and only secondarily the irrational, [and intellectual beings] first in the supernatural and then in the natural order; cf. Reportata, III, d. 32, n. 11 (Vivès 23, 508): “Next comes the conferral of grace and other supernatural gifts… and thereafter this sensible world and other visible creatures, which exist to serve men.”  [On the scotistic notion of predestination in general and that of Christ and Mary in particular cf. Maximilian M. Dean,  A Primer…, cit., in corpore, but especially pp.27-124]

[6] When a creature falls into two categories, as disparate as eternal and temporal, should that creature be considered necessary or contingent?  Here is the answer of pseudo-Scotus, given in the form of a “rule”.  He writes: “The rule is that any statement involving contingent and necessary is contingent, and any statement involving eternal and temporal is temporal.  Creation, then, although it implies an eternal action on the part of God… is simply temporal.” (De rerum principio, q. 4, n. 36, 4, 317 b).  Although this work is not an authentic work of Scotus, nonetheless it reflects the views of Scotus.

[7] Cf. note 3 of the Introduction concerning Aristotle’s principle: “first in intention, last in execution”, a principle dominating the entire teaching of Scotus on predestination.  In regard to the two elements making up the content of predestination: end and means to the end, one should take special note of how the end is nobler than the means.

[8] Ordinatio, I, d. 40, q. un., n. 4 (Vat. VI, 310).

[9] Ibid.: “Predestination properly speaking expresses an act of the divine will”, a definition differing from that of St. Thomas who makes predestination consist in the divine “foreknowledge” (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 23, a. 2, in corpore).

[10] Cf. Theologiae Marianae Elementa, 181: “Predestination according to the order of intention first regards the supernatural end and then the natural.”

[11] Elementa, 14: “First God loves Himself, and second loves Himself for others.”  Other texts can be found in my study, Il Cristocentrismo di Giovanni Duns Scoto e la dottrina del Vaticano secondo, Roma 1967, p. 26, note 32.

[12] Ordinatio, I, d. 41, a. un., n. 40 (Vat. VI, 32): “For predestination itself, even from the perspective of the predestined, there is no reason or ultimate purpose”.  For other scholastics, instead, the reason for the existence of Christ, and therefore of His predestination, is found in the fact of sin, St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae III, q. 1, a. 3, in corpore, says:  “Were it not for sin, the Incarnation would not have been”, and hence “God… predestined the work of the Incarnation as a remedy for human sin” (ibid., ad 4).  St. Bonaventure, III Sent., d. 1, a. 2, q. 2 (III, 24 a) writes: “The principle reason for the Incarnation was the reparation of the human race… unless the human race had fallen, the Word of God would not have become Incarnate”.

[13] Lectura, I, d. 39, q. 1-5, n. 53 (Vat. XCII, 496): “The divine will cannot have but a single volition”; hence “the number of the elect is complete before anyone is reprobated” (Ordinatio, I, d. 41, “App.”: Vat. VI, 445); Ordinatio I, d. 45, q. un., n. 3 (Vat. VI, 373): “Had not God willed from all eternity, then He would not have willed at all, because in that case He would have been changeable.”

[14] “The created will”, Scotus says, “finds its reason for loving rightly in the good as  intrinsically loveable for its own sake”.  Instead, “this is not the case for the uncreated will in regard to any good other than its own essence”.  In fact, “no other good, therefore, precisely as good, is loved by the divine will, but vice versa [because God loves it, it is good]” (Ordinatio I, d. 41, q. un., n. 54: Vat. VI, 338).

[15] Ordinatio, IV, d. 42, q. 2, n. 10 (Vivès 17, 568): “What is simply more fitting for perfection, is simply more perfect”; whence “the complete notion [of goodness] under every aspect consists in the will of God accepting this and not that in such and such a degree, so that such things are good on those terms and not vice-versa” (Ordinatio, III, d. 32, n. 6 [Vivés 15, 432]).

[16] Ordinatio, I, d. 41, q. un., n. 9, “App. A” (Vat. VI, 445): “No one blessed can or should rejoice over the damnation of anyone as though he had been chosen to take the place of the damned, because all the blessed were predestined before anyone was damned… No one is predestined because of the fall of another, nor is anyone’s salvation occasioned by something else; nor was Christ’s Incarnation occasioned by sin”; Rep. Barcinon., III, d. 7, q. 3 (Elementa, 182): “Men’s predestination was not on account of the fall of the angels, nor Christ’s on account of the fall of men”.  His teaching here is directly contrary to St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, I, q. 23, a. 6, ad 1: “Men were substituted for the fallen angels, and Gentiles for the Jews”; ibid., in corpore: “As many men are saved as angels fell”.

[17] Ordinatio, III, d. 7, q. 3, n. 4 (Vivès 14, 355): “God chose beforehand those angels and men He wished in the heavenly court, according to a certain and fixed ranking”; Rep. Barcinon., ibid. (Elementa, 183): “He willed, therefore those whom He had chosen to be as it were His family…”

[18] Rep., III, d. 7, q. 4, n. 5 (Vivès, 303 b): Ordinatio, ibid., 23, n. 3 (Vivés 14, 354 b; d. 32, q. un., n. 6 (Vivès 15, 433 a).  “I say, therefore, that the fall was not the cause of the predestination of Christ; indeed, even had neither angel nor man fallen, Christ would still have been predestined in the same way, indeed, even if no one but Christ had been created” (Rep., ibid., n. 4).

[19] Ordinatio, III, d. 7, q. 3, n. 3 (Vivès 14, 354): “Since anyone’s predestination to glory precedes… foreknowledge of sin…, so much the more is this true of the soul (of Christ) predestined to the highest glory”.

[20] Ibid.: “In general, anyone willing in an orderly manner first wills what is closest to the end”.

[21] Rep.Barcinon., III, d. 7, q. 3 (Elementa, 183): “it does not seem that the predestination of Christ, who was predestined to be Head of the heavenly court, was occasioned by the fall or demerit of the damned.  God, then, first loves Himself and then what is nearest to this love, to wit, He loves that the soul of Christ should have the highest glory in the Word.  This, then, was the first object willed among all the creatures willed by God”.

[22] Ordinatio, III, d. 32, q. un., n. 6 (Vivès 15, 433; cod. Ass. fol. 174 rb): “God loves Himself first…, second He wills to have colovers, which is to will others to have His love in them”;  on this cf. R. Rosini, Le virtù cristiane nel pensiero di Duns Scoto, tra i documenti (doc. IV) nella Positio super cultu… atque virtutibus Ioannis Duns Scoti, Romae 1988, p. 510.

[23] St. Jerome, In Epistulam ad Ephesios, 1. 1, c. 1, n. 552.

[24] Cf. supra, notes 19-21.

[25] Cf. B. H. Merkelbach,  O.P., Mariologia, Parisiis 1939, p. 95: “theologians ask… whether Christ, had Adam not sinned, still have come with the Mother of God”. He then goes on to explain, suddenly shifting terminology: “Would God, on the hypothesis that He wished to create a world different from the present one and in accord with the providence governing such a hypothesis, have decreed an Incarnation?   This is a ridiculous question, nor do theologians deal with it, since it is a mere hypothesis, and therefore unsolvable”.  Clearly the author either never read or never understood what Scotus actually said, and hence it is rather this theologian’s argumentation that is “ridiculous”.  The Subtle Doctor is discussing the “real” world, not a “hypothetical” one.  He is talking about a world which as it was “conceived”, such was it “created”, so did it “exist”.   That afterwards sin should have affected its existence, was neither the will of God nor something brought to pass by God.  Hence, the divine plan, according to the Subtle Doctor, regards before all else the predestination to glory of all the elect (cf. note 19) and first among these is Christ (ibid.), even before the world came to be (cf. note 23) and therefore, all the more before sin entered in.  I do not question Fr. Merkelbach’s contribution to Mariology, nor his sincerity in pursuit of the truth.  But like so many neo-thomist theologians he pays little attention to what Scotus actually thought and wrote, and bases his very negative assessment on seriously inaccurate and sometimes uncharitable secondary literature.

[26] Scotus, Lectura completa, III, d. 7, q. 3 (Elementa 188): “Christ would not have had such glory, nor would He have been so full of grace and truth, unless His nature had subsisted in the subject [person] of the Word”; Rep. Barcinon., III, d. 7, q. 3 (Elementa, 180): “And thus there existed something appropriately disposing [Christ] to such great glory, and this [hypostatic] union was that something so disposing”.

[27] Ibid., Lectura; Rep. Barcinon., ibid.: “because in all action there exists an inverse order governing intention and execution”.

[28] Lectura completa, ibid. (Elementa, 189): “whether the union of this nature to the Word was first ordained, or its destination to glory”.

[29] Reportata Valentiniensia, III, d. 6, q. 5 (Elementa, 176): “Christ’s predestination to glory was prior to that union, because intending an end is prior to intending those things which are a means to that end”.  On this question, much discussed among scotists, cf. R. Rosini, Il Cristocentrismo…, p. 45, note 19.

[30] Lectura, III, d. 7, q. 3 (Elementa, 189): “As any agent acting rationally first intends the end and then the means to that end, so God when predestining someone, first wills that person’s end and thereafter those things which are means to that end.  The end of someone predestined, however, is blessedness and glory, and therefore this is what God first ordained in predestining, and only in a second moment ordained so to unite that nature [hypostatically] as make it fit for such glory”; Ordinatio, III, d. 7, q. 3, n. 5 (Vivès 14, 358 a-b).

[31] Ordinatio, IV, d. 2, q. 1, n. 11 (Vivès 248 b); Rep. Barcinon., III, d. 7, q. 3 (Elementa, 180): “The glory of Christ was such that it could not be within the capacity of a created nature to merit”.  To the objection: “it is more glorious to have a reward via merit, than without it” (cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, III, q. 19, a. 4, in corpore), Scotus replies: “I maintain that this is true of a reward, which can be had via merits: but this union of the soul of Christ with God in the act of enjoyment was so great and so excellent, that merit could not precede it, and in this case it is nobler to enjoy an activity, which is beyond the range of prior merit, in virtue of the liberality of the donor, than to enjoy a lesser activity as the fruit of much prior merit”; (Ordinatio,III, d. 18, q. un., n. 13; Vivès 14, 683 b).

[32] Ordinatio, III, d. 13, q. 4, n. 9 (Vivès 14, 463 b).  Two points should be made more precise. 1) “Mercy”, according to Scotus, must be understood, not in relation to “pardon” (or to the demerit of a creature), but in relation to the “gift”, apart from any consideration of a creature’s merit or demerit.  Thus, the greatness of mercy is measured by the “gratuity” of the gift: “Mercy cannot be fully explained, unless the highest gift is given without any merit” (Rep., III, d. 13, q. 3, n. 14, Vivès 23, 337 b).  2)  Basing himself on St. Augustine, De Trinitate, 13, c. 9, n. 24 (PL 42, 1033), Scotus defines in what the highest grace consists: “The highest grace is that man be joined to God in the unity of person, and although (Augustine) speaks of grace of union, i.e., the gracious will of God effecting this union, nonetheless concomitantly with this union follows the grace of fruition de facto; therefore”, Scotus concludes, “there existed the highest grace without prior merits” (Ordinatio III, d. 18, q. un., n. 12, 14, Vivès 683 b).

[33] Ordinatio, III, d. 13, q. 4, n. 8 (Vivès 14, 461 b): “No other nature could be head of those possessing grace, because there could not be two heads, as neither could there be two sovereigns in the same order… (therefore) in accord with the laws laid down by divine wisdom, there would be but one Head in the Church, from whom grace would flow into the members”.

[34] Rep. Barcinon., III, d. 7, q. 3 (Elementa, 180).  The reasoning behind such a doctrine is to be sought precisely in the “means” which dispose to glory.  In the blessed, grace constitutes the means, which is subject to merit and in fact is subject to the extrinsic merit (of Christ).  In Christ, instead, the hypostatic union constitutes the means.  That union being the principle of merit, it cannot be the subject of merit in any way.

[35] Cf. supra, note 23.  In addition, St. Augustine, In Ioannis Evangelium, tr. 105, n. 6 (PL 35, 1910): “In virtue of this predestination (Christ) was already glorified before the world came into existence”.  [On the joint predestination of Mary with Christ and her place in God’s eternal decrees cf. Maximilian M. Dean,  A Primer…, cit., pp.105-109]

[36] Cf. supra, note 22.

[37] Cf. supra, notes 17 and 21.

[38] Cf. supra, notes 9 and 13.

[39] Cf. supra, note 4: Pseudo-Augustine, De Praedestinatione et gratia, c. 5 (PL 45, 1668): “We were made within the world, and chosen before the world: and at one and the same time, neither passing nor coming to be, but a continuous duration.”

[40] Ordinatio, III, d. 7, q. 3(Vivès 14, 354 b).  As to the “means” to the end, ours differing from that of Christ, see above, note 34.

[41] Ordinatio, ibid., 355.  We note that: 1) various steps precede the prevision of sin (note 17); 2) these are intimately linked by an intrinsic goodness communicated them by the will of God (note 15); 3) they are ranked from greatest to least, where the first in rank is absolutely independent of the other grades, the lesser depending on the higher and not vice-versa, such that the greatest may exist without the other grades (note 18), and “even had no man or angel fallen, nor had many men been created other than Christ, Christ would still have been predestined” (Elementa, 6).

[42] Later we will see how Scotus considers Mary linked to Christ via the “natural” bond of motherhood.

[43] Ordinatio, III, d. 7, q. 3 (Elementa, 6).

[44] Ordinatio, III, d. 3, q. 1 (Elementa, 26).  Cf. Merkelbach, Mariologia, p. 97, where is found a conclusion far distant from ours.  He writes: “Hence, there is no reason why Christ and the Blessed Virgin cannot be the final, formal and efficient cause of our salvation in general, and yet also depend on us and on our sin as condition, and the material and dispositive cause.  Nor is it irrational to refer the perfect to the imperfect…” (sic! Self-explanatory.).

St. Francis of Assisi & the absolute primacy of Christ

Franciscan Christology starts with St. Francis

In the 28 Admonitions of St. Francis of Assisi, the Seraphic Father makes a subtle point which underscores that man was created for Christ, that man was created in the image of Christ. The theological implications of his teaching verify the truth of the doctrine of the absolute primacy of Jesus Christ.

First let us see his text (the important Christocentric phrase is emphasized), then we can draw out some if its implications, tying it in with Sacred Scripture, especially St. Paul.

Admonition 5: That no one should glory save in the Cross of the Lord

Consider, O man, how great the excellence in which the Lord has placed you because He has created and formed you to the image of His beloved Son according to the body and to His own likeness according to the spirit. And all the creatures that are under heaven serve and know and obey their Creator in their own way better than you. And even the demons did not crucify Him, but you together with them crucified Him and still crucify Him by taking delight in vices and sins. Wherefore then can you glory For if you were so clever and wise that you possessed all science, and if you knew how to interpret every form of language and to investigate heavenly things minutely, you could not glory in all this, because one demon has known more of heavenly things and still knows more of earthly things than all men, although there may be some man who has received from the Lord a special knowledge of sovereign wisdom. In like manner, if you were handsomer and richer than all others, and even if you could work wonders and put the demons to flight, all these things are hurtful to you and in nowise belong to you, and in them you cannot glory; that, however, in which we may glory is in our infirmities, and in bearing daily the holy cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Obviously the central point of the Poverello is that no one should glory (like a demon) in anything except the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ, but should humbly acknowledge that he, through his sins, has crucified the Lord of glory.

The sublte Christological point that we want to consider briefly here is the fact that St. Francis, in making this admonition, presumes that man’s excellence consists in having been created and formed according to the image of the Word Incarnate – “His Beloved Son according to the body.”

This phrase, if it is true, bores a hole in the Thomistic position on the Incarnation (namely, that the primary motive of the Incarnation is to redeem man from sin and, therefore, if Adam had never sinned Christ would never have come). Why does this ruin their argument? Because the position of St. Thomas would fall into what is called a circular argument (circulus in probando). Here’s why: If, as the Thomists maintain (and some of them dogmatically!), the Incarnation of the Word was willed primarily as a remedy for sin (so man in the divine priority is foreseen and willed by God first, then in foreseeing man’s sin Christ is willed by God as a remedy). But if man “before the creation of the world” (Eph 1:4) was created in the image of Christ, the Incarnate Word, then we would have a logical impossibility: God wills to create man in the image of Christ “according to the body”, but foreseeing the sin of man He wills Christ as the remedy of sin, yet had Adam not sinned Christ would not come, but that would mean that man would not have been created in the image of Christ to start with. If all of this is confusing to you, then you have followed my point well because the Thomist argument has a hole in it.

The Franciscan school on this point, it would seem to me, is more scriptural and logical. Scriptural because it lines up with the creation account, the Wisdom literature, the Pauline Epistles and even the scriptural interpretations of Bl. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body; logical because it just makes sense. 🙂

With regards to the Scripture, St. Paul gives us the hermeneutic (the interpretative key) for understanding Genesis 1 & 2. How do we interpret correctly the creation of man ad imaginem et similitudinem nostram (Gn 1:26)? Very simply put, since God first and foremost willed the Incarnation – His Masterpiece, the summum opus Dei as Bl. John Duns Scotus puts it– and then wills everything else in view of the Incarnate Word, it follows that God made us in His image and likeness because we are made in the image likeness of Christ: “He has created and formed you to the image of His beloved Son according to the body and to His own likeness according to the spirit,” as St. Francis states.

Examine, for example, St. Paul’s teaching on Christ. Christ, the Incarnate Word, “is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). Therefore, as I wrote in my book on the absolute primacy:

The Eternal Word [not Incarnate] is not the image of the invisible Godhead because He Himself is the invisible God—“God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God… one in being with the Father.” Furthermore, the Apostle indicates by the word “invisible” that this “image of the invisible God” is a visible image; otherwise the verse makes no sense. So he is referring to the Word Incarnate as the visible image of the invisible God. In describing to the Corinthians the Gospel he preaches and mentioning those who are perishing, he adds: “In their case, the god of this world has blinded their unbelieving minds, that they should not see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). Notice who the image of God is — Christ!

The Greek word that is translated ‘image’ is eikon. Since we are familiar with icons in the Eastern Churches, perhaps Paul’s meaning is more clear if we translate “He is the image of the invisible God” as, “He is the icon (eikon) of the invisible God.” Now an icon implies two things. The first is representation. In this case the sacred humanity of Christ re-presents to us the Divinity. As the Church teaches, “Everything in Christ’s human nature is to be attributed to His Divine Person as its proper subject.” Thus the Christ re-presents the Godhead to us in flesh and blood, “For in Him dwells all the fullness of Godhead bodily.” (Col. 2:9).

Another aspect of an icon is manifestation. The humanity of Christ is the icon that visibly manifests God in the created universe. In fact, St. John’s Prologue, after declaring that “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14), goes on to announce, “No one has at any time seen God. The only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has revealed Him.” (Jn. 1:18). Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate, reveals the invisible God to us in His sacred humanity. “He who sees Me, sees Him who sent Me.” (Jn. 12:45). Hence, He is the visible, manifesting icon of the invisible God.

What follows is this:

the Franciscan view of the creation of man: “Let Us make man to Our image and likeness.” (Gen. 1:26). According to the Franciscan thesis, when God creates He already foresees the Heart of Jesus—Christ is the ‘first predestined’ before the foundations of the world. He sees Jesus and He wills Him to be the perfect image and likeness of the invisible Godhead in the created universe by means of the Incarnation; then, beholding the excellence and perfection of Jesus Christ from all eternity, He creates the world. Christ is thus the Exemplar, the Model, the Alpha, the First. So God makes men according to His image and likeness with Christ in mind. Christ is the Prototype and we are modeled on Him. Consequently, when Adam falls and mars man’s likeness to God, Christ repairs what was lost by His redemption so that we can indeed be conformed to Him. Is this not what Paul indicated in Romans? “For those whom He has foreknown He has also predestined to become conformed to the image of the Son.” (Rom. 8:29). According to the Franciscan thesis, then, Jesus Christ is truly the raison d’être of all creation, of all that is not God.

This interpretation of Christ as the image of the invisible Godhead, foreknown before the creation of the universe, is found in the Church Fathers when they comment on the Wisdom passages of the Old Testament. For example they consistently interpret Proverbs 8:22-9:6 as referring to the Incarnate Word: “I [the Word made flesh] was set up from eternity… when He prepared the heavens, I was present… when He balanced the foundations of the earth, I was with Him forming all things, and was delighted every day, playing before Him at all times; playing in the world. And My delights were to be with the children of men…” That God had Incarnate Wisdom before Him when creating the universe according to this passage was held by St. Justin Martyr, St. Athanasius, St. Gregory of Nazianzen, St. Ambrose, St. John Chrysostom, St. Jerome, and many others as well.


If, as St. Francis says, we are “created and formed you to the image of His beloved Son according to the body,” what logically flows is that God first willed Christ, predestining His Sacred Humanity to grace and glory, and then predestined us “in Christ before the creation of the world” (Eph 1:4). That fact of sin created the need for our Redemption; but had man not sinned, he would always have been made in the image and likeness of God according to the image of Christ – “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; cfr. Col 1:15).

This insight is but the tip of the iceburg. The Seraphic Saint of Assisi indicated in many ways that he held the doctrine of the absolute primacy of Christ to be true, even if he did not use our present terminology in expressing it. This can be clearly seen in Fr. Johannes Schneider’s conference (audio and written), which we hope to post here soon.

Pax et bonum!

St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us!
In Corde Matris,

Fr. Maximilian M. Dean

Angel of God, my Guardian dear…

Ave Maria!

“Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.” St. Basil the Great

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Guardian Angels. Angels, as we know, are creatures endowed with intellect and will; they can, therefore, as personal creatures, know and love God. They already possess the Beatific Vision of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in glory and are faithful, humble servants of Christ the King and Mary the Queen.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Jesus Christ is the center of the entire angelic world. They were created through Him and for Him – the Alpha and Omega of all creation. It is the Franciscan tradition that the test of the Angels where they freely chose to love and serve God forever in Heaven was a vision or infused knowledge of the Incarnation of the Word in the womb of the ever Virgin Mary, Mother of God. At this knowledge they had an immediate, but eternal choice: humbly serve Jesus and Mary or reject God’s plan. We know the response of Satan and his minions: Non serviam! Whereas the Holy Angels, like St. Michael, marvelled at God’s designs to elevate all of creation to Himself through the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and said: “Who is like God!?!”

[VIDEO on the test of the Angels]

What a privilege, then, for us to know that day and night that our glorious Guardian Angels “in Heaven always behold the face of My Father in Heaven” (Mt 18:10). Why is it that the Angels render such service to us when beholding the face of God unveiled? The answer lies in the fact that they exist for Christ. Their role as Guardians can be seen in two ways: they serve Christ in us; they serve us in Christ.

Serving Christ in us: We are made in Christ’s image. As St. Francis of Assisi states in his Admonitions to the Friars: “Consider, O man, how great the excellence in which the Lord has placed you because He has created and formed you to the image of His beloved Son according to the body and to His own likeness according to the spirit.” When God created us, He created us in view of Christ (Col 1:16) and with Him as our Head. And in our Baptism we were incorporated into Christ’s Mystical Body. Hence the Holy Angels are sent to serve Christ which they see in us. While they never abandon us, one thing is for sure, their service of Christ in us becomes more powerful the more we resemble Christ. They want us to grow in union with Christ, to arrive at the full stature of Christ – in mensuram aetatis plenitudinis Christi (Eph 4:13), and the more they see Christ in us the more complete their service to us, especially in our tempations (Jesus in the desert – Mt 4:11), agonies and death (Jesus in Gethsemani – Lk 22:43), and finally in rising to glory (Jesus Risen from the tomb – Mt 28:5).

Serving us in Christ: Since they are forever united to God through, with and in Christ, they serve us in Him. In a particular way, while they cannot imitate Christ in the flesh, they can and do imitate Him in being sent by God. Christ was sent by God the Father; the Angels, in joyful imitation of the humility and obedience of Christ, rejoice to be sent in our service in imitation of Him who came to serve, and not to be served (cfr. Mt. 20:28).

May these, our precious companions, find us docile to their guidance and inspiration. May we, like them, seek to serve Christ in others and be Christ for others so that Jesus may be “all in all” (Col 3:11).

In Corde Matris,

Fr. Maximilian M. Dean