Pope Benedict XVI: Reason for the Incarnation according to Abbott Rupert of Deutz

Fr. Tim Finnigan is Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Southwark, parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary, Blackfen, visiting tutor in Sacramental Theology at St John’s Seminary Wonersh, and tutor in Dogmatic Theology at St Hugh’s Charterhouse, Parkminster.

Here is a post from Fr. Tim Finigan’s website “The hermeneutic of continuity” [please note that all comments and links in brackets are my addition]

Pope Benedict on the motive of the Incarnation
in the thought of Rupert of Deutz

Another theme in today’s [Wednesday, 9 December 2009] General Audience was the motive of the incarnation. Here is a passage which I have translated from the address:

“Like other theologians of the Middle Ages, Rupert also asked: why was the Word of God, the Son of God, made man? Some, many, responded, explaining the incarnation of the Word with the urgency of repairing the sin of man. Rupert on the other hand, with a christocentric vision of the history of salvation, enlarged the perspective, and in a work of his entitled “The Glorification of the Trinity” held the position that the Incarnation, the central event of all history, was foreseen from all eternity, even independently of the sin of man, so that all creation could give praise to God the Father and love Him as a unique family gathered around Christ, the Son of God. He therefore saw in the pregnant woman of the apocalypse the whole history of humanity which is oriented to Christ, just as conception is oriented to birth; a perspective which would be developed by other thinkers and enriched also by contemporary theology, which affirms that the whole history of the world and of humanity is a conception oriented to the birth of Christ.”

The thesis that the incarnation was predestined even apart from sin is usually attributed to the Blessed John Duns Scotus who defended it against the Dominicans; it is often called the “Franciscan Thesis”. It is fascinating that a Benedictine theologian, writing a century and a half earlier, promoted the same perspective on the incarnation. One can find evidence of the same view in Maximus the Confessor [more on St. Maximus] and, arguably, in St Irenaeus and St Paul, but it is significant that Pope Benedict seems to speak in favour this view as well. [i.e. Pope Benedict’s General Audience of July 7th, 2010]

The thesis is particularly taught in the Faith Movement as part of an overall perspective on creation and the incarnation, and much scholarly work has been done by the Franciscans of the Immaculate, especially relating to the Blessed John Duns Scotus himself.

[To learn more about Abbott Rupert of Deutz’s position on the Incarnation and that of Bishop Robert Grosseteste one can read this piece by Fr. Daniel Horan, OFM]

I have translated a passage of Abbott Rupert of Deutz here.

Christ, the Beginning of Creation – Conclusion

Christ, the Beginning of Creation – Conclusion

by Fr. Maximilian M. Dean

[To see the full article on one page visit Appendix: Christ the Beginning]

Everything has been made by means of Christ

Returning, then, to the words of the Evangelist we see that all of this corresponds to the flow of the Prologue. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God; and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was made nothing that has been made” (Jn 1:1-3). The revelation here is that everything had been made through Jesus Christ.

That the entire universe was made by God is logical. Every work of God ad extra, in fact, is always a work of the entire Trinity, even if at times certain works may be attributed to only One of the Divine Persons. Creation is a work of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and is sometimes attributed to the Father, sometimes to the Son and sometimes to the Spirit (i.e. Veni Creator Spiritus), but it remains always a work of God Three in One.

However, in this verse St. John wants to make us understand that the creative work of God was accomplished through Christ, “the Beginning of the creation of God” (Apoc 3:14). St. Paul had already written this a number of times before St. John wrote his Gospel. In his letter to the Hebrews Paul wrote that “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all in these days has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the world” (Heb 1:1-2). God, through Christ, made the world, that is, through Him who “effected man’s purgation from sin” (v.3), namely the Word made flesh (in fact this entire first chapter – the “Prologue” – of the Epistle to the Hebrews is speaking of the Word Incarnate who now sits “at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much superior to the Angels…” and in this passage Christ, as we have already seen earlier, is called by God Himself the “Beginning”).

Paul also affirms this when writing to the Colossians. Christ, “in whom we have our redemption, the remission of our sins” (1:14), thus the Word Incarnate, “is the Image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature. For in Him were created all things in the heavens and on earth […] All things have been created through and unto Him” (1:14-16).[1]

In this regard Augustine emphasizes the fact that John in the third verse of the Prologue would be speaking “uselessly of the Divinity of the Word if he meant to be silent about the humanity of that same Word”.[2] This follows from the fact that Christ is “insinuated” in the Prologue in two modes: on the level of His predestination ante assumptionem carnis and on the level of His manifestation cum assumpta carne, but whether speaking of Christ’s predestination or manifestation he is always referring to Christ, the Word made flesh.[3]

The Prologue then says that John the Baptist gave witness to Christ, to Him who “was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world knew Him not. And He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” (Jn 1:10-11). Christ “was in the world.” Christ “came unto his own.” The world, therefore, “was made through Him,” through Christ.

Once again, the Apostle Paul preceded the Evangelist in maintaining that all things exist in virtue of the Christ: “for us there is only one God, the Father from whom are all things, and we unto Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through Him” (1 Cor 8:6).

In conclusion, following the norm lex orand, lex credendi, there is a clear affirmation in the Eucharistic Prayer II of the present Roman Missal which is not a recent invention, but rather a continuity of Tradition. Eucharistic Prayer II, which has its own preface, is based on the Anaphora composed by St. Hippolytus in 215, and for this reason it is strictly connected with his preface. In this preface the Church prays thus, that is that is it right and just to give thanks and praise to You “Father most holy, through Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, Your Word through whom you made all things, whom You sent as our Savior and Redeemer, incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin.”

“Ante me factus est” (Jn 1:30)

Yet another confirmation of Christ as the Beginning comes from the testimony of John the Baptist which is recorded after the Prologue. He says, “This is He of whom I said, ‘After me there comes One who has been set above me, because He was before me.’” (Jn 1:30). We do well to look at the text in Latin: Post me venit vir, qui ante me factus est, quia prior me erat.” Some English translations (like the Confraternity which I use) translate vir (ἀνὴρ in Greek) with “one,” but the literal translation reads, After me comes the man who was made [factum est] before me, because He has been set above me.” The point here is that the Baptist is giving witness to the man Jesus Christ – this is as clear as the day. But the question is how can he say that Jesus was made before him? That ante me factus est cannot be applied to the Word in Himself, because the Eternal Word was not made, but begotten. The Baptist is always bearing witness to the Verbum caro factum est – the Word made flesh (1:14). Here is St. Augustine’s comment: “Christ created John [the Baptist] himself, after whom was created Christ who was Creator and creature…”[1]

Note well that St. Paul had already employed this terminology in strict reference to the Incarnation: God sent His Son factum ex muliere – made of the woman (Gal 4:4). Even St. Luke recounted how the shepherds, after the vision of the Angels and the hearing of that “good news of great joy,” said among themselves: “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, [videamus hoc Verbum, quod factum est] which the Lord has made known to us” (Lk 2:15).

The Baptist, therefore, was giving witness to the Word made man. But we all know that historically Christ was not made (temporal conception and birth) before the Baptist, but six months after him (cf. Lk 1:36). Jesus was conceived and born after him. This means that the Baptist, even if in a subtle way, was witnessing to Christ as the Beginning of every creature that existed; Christ was that Beginning in the mind of God before the foundation of the world. In fact, this is the only way in which Christ could be said to have been factum est before John the Baptist.

Otherwise this would mean that the Baptist was giving witness either to the creation of the Word in Himself (the Word was made – factum est – before the Incarnation!?!) or to the pre-existence of the humanity of Christ (in which case we would have an eternal creature!?! Equally heretical). These two heresies have been condemned repeatedly by the Church: namely, that the Eternal Word was created or that His humanity pre-existed. No, the Church has constantly professed that the Eternal Word was not created and that His humanity did not pre-exist.

Rather, Christ – as the Beginning – was always the firstborn in God’s decree of creation because Christ was foreseen and predestined in the beginning. Hence the Baptist was correct in saying that this Man comes after him, yet was set above him because He was before him. In other words: “After me comes the Christ [the Man], the Beginning in which God created all things, who was made before me in the divine decrees precisely because He preceded me in the divine design.”


In the end we profess and believe that God is God, Three and One, eternal, without beginning and outside of time, and that God freely willed to create. The first creature to be willed by the Lord was Christ, and He willed that Christ’s human nature be united in soul and body to the divine Nature in the divine Person of the Son. We joyfully profess that Jesus Christ was the “Beginning of the creation of God” (Apoc 3:14) in whom all things were created, and this without exception (cf. Jn 1:3). In fact, all of the elect were chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4) and were created by means of Him and with a view to Him who is the Beginning of creation. In other words, Christ was the start of creation (and thus of time itself) and was the creative principle of everything. Time finds its beginning in God’s decree to communicate Himself to the humanity of Christ in the Incarnation[2] and this decree is the source from which all other creatures come forth.

The arguments of Scotus on the primacy of Christ can be reduced to two. The first is his perspicacious teaching of the ordinate volens[3] which maintains that God’s will unfolds in a most orderly fashion. After His Divine Essence (Scotus speaks of God as first ‘willing Himself’ – in modern English we might say: first, God is God, then…), God willed that which was most perfect, that which was closest to this end, namely the soul of Christ.[4] Then, through Christ, God willed everything else.

The second argument is his teaching on Christ’s predestination to the maximum grace and glory possible in the created world. His is a predestination which is not occasionata, not conditioned, not relative, but willed first as the summum opus Dei – the greatest work of God.[5]

But as we have seen in this study, the Scripture and Tradition attest that Jesus Christ is the Beginning of God’s creative activity. And since the Beginning must be the first, and not the second or third, this means that to the two principal arguments of Scotus we can add this datum of divine revelation that from the beginning God had Jesus Christ before Him as the cause and beginning of His designs to create. Therefore, the Incarnation was an immutable decree of the Divinity, a decree willed in an absolute manner, independently of anything which is outside of God. To sum it up: “Dico tamen quod lapsus non fuit causa praedestinationis Christi. Immo etsi nec homo nec angelus fuisset lapsus, nec plures homines creandi quam solus Christus, adhuc fuisset Christus praedestinatus sic.[6]


Ave Maria!



[1] St. Augustine, Sermo 290, c.2, n.2 (PL 38, 1313).

[2] Cf. St. Francis de Sales, The Treatise on Divine Love, L.II, c.IV.

[3] Bl. John Duns Scotus, Ordinatio, III, d.7, q.3; Opus Parisiense, Lib III, d.7, q.4.

[4] Bl. John Duns Scotus, Reportatio Barcinonensis, II, d.7, q.3.

[5] Bl. John Duns Scotus, Ordinatio, III, d.7, q.3; Opus Parisiense, Lib III, d.7, q.4.

[6] Bl. John Duns Scotus, Opus Parisiense, Lib III, d.7, q.4.



[1] Cf. Fr. Maximilian M. Dean, A Primer on the Absolute Primer of Christ, pp. 67-90, for a more detailed sutdy of Col 1:15-20.

[2] St. Augustine, Sermo 341 (PL 39, 1494).

[3] Cfr. Fr. Ruggero Rosini, op. cit., p.120, nota 223.

In italiano: Cristo, il Principio del creato – VIII parte

Cristo, il Principio del creato – VIII parte

P. Maximilian M. Dean, FI

In Cristo Dio creò il cielo e la terra (Gn 1,1)

Abbiamo già notato in modo generale e fatto qualche allusione particolare al vincolo stretto fra Genesi 1,1 e Giovanni 1,1. Adesso vogliamo stabilire dai Santi Padri e Dottori della Chiesa che, secondo la Sacra Tradizione, il principio di cui parla la Genesi e in cui Dio creò fu proprio Gesù Cristo[1]. Vuol dire che “In principio Dio creò il cielo e la terra” significa precisamente che Dio creò in Cristo quale Principio ditutto il creato.

Ecco soltanto qualche esempio tratto dai Santi Padri:

– San Zeno dichiara distintamente: “Carissimi fratelli, ‘in principio’ vuol dire, senza dubbio, Cristo nostro Signore”[2].

– San Girolamo afferma che Cristo è il principio di cui parla la Genesi: “Più secondo il senso che per la traduzione delle parole, per ‘in principio’ si può intendere il Cristo”[3].

– Nella sua Liturgia San Cirillo di Alessandria parla a Dio così: “Tu creasti tutto in Gesù Cristo, nostro Salvatore e Re”[4].

– San Gregorio di Tours insegna: “In principio il Signore formò il cielo e la terra nel Suo Cristo che è ogni principio, ossia nel Figlio Suo”[5].

– Il venerabile San Beda sostiene: “Il principio è Cristo”[6].

Come se non fosse sufficiente tutto ciò, il Serafico Dottore ci dà una conferma chiara: “Se qualcuno vuole pervenire alla sapienza cristiana, deve necessariamente iniziare da Cristo… dal quale iniziarono i due più grandi sapienti, cioè Mosè, iniziatore della sapienza di Dio, e Giovanni, che ne è il termine. Il primo disse: ‘In principio Dio creò il cielo e la terra’, cioè nel Figlio…; e Giovanni: ‘In principio era il Verbo…’.[7]

Come si vede, se la Genesi sta parlando di Cristo quale Principio in cui tutto fu creato, così anche l’Evangelista nel suo Prologo. Siccome Giovanni vincolava fortemente il suo Prologo alla Genesi, occorre intendere che parla anche lui di Cristo e non soltanto del Verbo in Sé, quando scrive: “In principio era il Verbo…”

Su questo argomento, non possiamo omettere l’insegnamento di Sant’Agostino, che lo ha proposto più volte nei suoi scritti e sermoni. Come autorità su questo, vale la pena citarlo a lungo nella sua difesa della vera dottrina contro i manichei:

“Che cosa ribatteranno [i manichei] quando avrò risposto che il ‘Principio’ è lo stesso Figlio di Dio, nel quale la Genesi afferma che Dio ha fatto il cielo e la terra? Non ho difficoltà a provarlo, sapendo di avere a disposizione dei testimoni dallo stesso Nuovo Testamento, a cui, volenti o nolenti, spezzato il collo della superbia, sottostanno anch’essi. Disse pertanto il Signore agli increduli giudei: ‘Se aveste creduto a Mosè, credereste anche a Me; perché egli ha scritto di Me’ (Gv 5,46). Come non vederci lo stesso Signore, nel quale principio Dio Padre ha fatto il cielo e la terra? Infatti la frase: ‘In principio Dio ha fatto il cielo e la terra’, l’ha scritta proprio Mosè, che l’autorità dello stesso Signore ha confermato averla scritta riferendola a lui. O forse neanche Lui è il ‘Principio’? Non c’è possibilità di dubitarne: il Vangelo dice chiaro che avendo i giudei domandato al Signore chi fosse, Lui rispose: ‘Il Principio, lo stesso che parlo a voi’ (Gv 8,25). Ecco in quale Principio Dio ha fatto il cielo e la terra. Dio perciò ha fatto il cielo e la terra nel Figlio, per mezzo del quale sono state fatte tutte le cose e senza il quale niente è stato fatto. Così, concordando il Vangelo con la Genesi, conserviamo l’eredità secondo il consenso di ambedue i Testamenti e lasciamo le pretestuose calunnie agli eretici discreditati”[8].


[1] Cfr. P. Chrysostomus Urrutibéhéty, op. cit., cap. I, pp.43-49; cfr. anche P. Ruggero Rosini, op. cit., pp.111-117.

[2] San Zeno, Sermones, i.2, tr.3 (PL 11, 392).

[3] San Girolamo, Lib. Hebr. Quaest. In Gen, c.1 (PL t.23, p.938).

[4] San Cirillo, Liturgiae anaphora (PG 77, 1294).

[5] San Gregorio di Tours, Hist. Franc, L.I, n.1 (PL 71, 163).

[6] San Beda, Liber de sex dierum creatione (PL 93, 218).

[7] San Bonaventura, Collationes in Hexaemeron, I, n.10.

[8] Sant’Agostino, Sermo I, c.2 (PL 38, 24); altrove dice: “A costoro [ossia i manichei] fu Dio a creare il cielo e la terra nel principio, ma non al principio del tempo, ma in Cristo, essendo Egli col Padre il Verbo per mezzo del quale e nel quale è stata creata ogni cosa” De Genesi contra Manichaeos, L.1, c.22, n.33 (PL 34, 189).

Christ, the Beginning of Creation – Part VIII

Christ, the Beginning of Creation – Part VIII

by Fr. Maximilian M. Dean

[To see the full article on one page visit Appendix: Christ the Beginning]

God created the heavens and the earth in Christ (Gn 1:1)

We have already pointed out in general and even made some specific allusions to that strict bond between Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1. What we want to do now is to establish from the Holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church that, according to Sacred Tradition, the beginning to which Genesis is referring and in which God created the universe was Jesus Christ Himself.[1] In other words, “In the beginning God created heaven and earth” means precisely that God created all things in Christ who is the Beginning of all of creation (cfr. Apoc3:14).

Here are just a few examples drawn from the Church Fathers:

– St. Zeno distinctly asserts: “My dearest brothers, ‘in principio’ – ‘in the beginning’ without any doubt means Christ our Lord.”[2]

– St. Jerome maintains that Christ is the Beginning referred to in Genesis: “More from the sense [of the text] than from the translation of the words one can understand in principio – ‘in the beginning’ to be Christ.”[3]

– In the Divine Liturgy (Mass) written by St. Cyril of Alexandria God is addressed in this fashion: “You created all in Jesus Christ, our Savior and King.”[4]

– St. Gregory of Tours teaches: “In the beginning our Lord formed heaven and earth in His Christ who is the beginning of all, namely in His Son.”[5]

– Venerable Bede affirms: “The beginning is Christ.”[6]

As if all of these affirmations were not enough, the Seraphic Doctor gives a clear confirmation: “If anyone desires to attain Christian wisdom, he must necessarily start with Christ… where the two great ‘wise men,’ namely Moses – the initiator of God’s wisdom [Genesis] – and John who is its completion, started. The former said, ‘In the beginning God created heaven and earth,’ that is in the Son…; and John: ‘In the beginning was the Word…’.”[7]

As is evident, if Genesis is speaking of Christ as the Beginning in which all things were created, then the Prologue of the Evangelist is also referring to Him as well. Since St. John decisively links his Prologue to Genesis, it is necessary that one grasp that he too is speaking of Christ, and not just the Word in Himself as God, when he writes; “In the beginning was the Word…”

On this point we cannot leave out the illustrious teaching of St. Augustine who reiterated it over and over in his writings and sermons. Given his authority on the subject matter, we do well to cite at length his defense of the true doctrine of Christ against the Manicheans:

How will they [the Manicheans] respond when I will have told them that the ‘Beginning’ is the very Son of God in whom Genesis states that God made the heaven and the earth? I have no difficulty in proving this since I know that I have witnesses available from the New Testament itself which, willing or not – their stubborn pride broken – they too submit to. Thus our Lord said to the unbelieving Jews: ‘For if you believed Moses you would believe me also, for he wrote of me’ (Jn 5:46). How can we not see that this very Lord [is the Beginning], in whom God the Father made heaven and earth? In fact, the phrase ‘In the beginning God made heaven and earth,’ was written precisely by Moses, and the authority of our Lord Himself confirmed that he had written with reference to Him. Or is He not perhaps the ‘Beginning’? It is not possible to doubt this: the Gospel clearly says that the Jews, after having asked our Lord who He was, He responded, ‘The beginning, who also speak unto you’ (Jn 8:25). Behold the Beginning in which God made heaven and earth. God, therefore, made heaven and earth in the Son through whom he made all things and without whom nothing exists. In this way, harmonizing the Gospel with Genesis, we preserve the heritage according to the consensus of both Testaments and we leave the self-serving calumnies to the discredited heretics.”[8]

To be continued…


[1] Cfr. P. Chrysostomus Urrutibéhéty, op. cit., cap. I, pp.43-49; cfr. anche P. Ruggero Rosini, op. cit., pp.111-117.

[2] St. Zeno, Sermons, i.2, tr.3 (PL 11, 392).

[3] St. Jerome, Lib. Hebr. Quaest. In Gen, c.1 (PL t.23, p.938).

[4] St. Cyril, Liturgiae anaphora (PG 77, 1294).

[5] St. Gregory of Tours, Hist. Franc, L.I, n.1 (PL 71, 163).

[6] St. Bede, Liber de sex dierum creatione (PL 93, 218).

[7] St. Bonaventure, Collationes in Hexaemeron, I, n.10.

[8] St. Augustine, Sermo I, c.2 (PL 38, 24); elsewhere he writes: “it was God who created heaven and earth in the beginning, but not the beginning of time, but in Christ, since He was with the Father: the Word through whom and in whom everything has been made” De Genesi contra Manichaeos, L.1, c.22, n.33 (PL 34, 189).

Scotus’ doctrine of the primacy is ahistorical, counterfactual, and hypothetical in nature?!?

Ave Maria!

I recently ran across an article by Fr. John Gavin, SJ, in Faith Magazine which merits some comment. Before commenting on the article, however, let me say that Faith Magazine is one of the very few groups who through the internet and the printed word are taking seriously the doctrine of the absolute primacy of Christ in all of creation and simultaneously not compromising the Catholic Faith in all of its fullness. Their magazine was strongly recommended recently by Fr. Z’s blog and I second that recommendation.

The article in question, The Primacy of Christ and the Cross: Some Considerations from Ambrose of Milan, (Sept.-Oct. 2010) starts off with a solid summary of Scotus and the primacy of Christ in all creation. Fr. Gavin writes:

Today, when many speak of the primacy of Christ in creation, they are referring to the Scotist interpretation of the divine motive for the Incarnation: the Incarnation is the primary end of all creation.[1] Thus, if man had not fallen into sin, the Incarnation would have still taken place. This view is not lacking in Scriptural support: “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him” {Col. 1:16). One can also consider the teachings of such Fathers of the Church as St. Irenaeus of Lyons or St. Maximus the Confessor, and such later thinkers as Henri de Lubac or Hans Urs von Balthasar. In fact, one may argue that it is the predominant viewpoint in contemporary theology.

Whether it is the predominant viewpoint in contemporary theology or not is definitely debatable; but the synthesis of the doctrine is concise and accurate. He also notes how this doctrine underscores man’s divinization in Christ and the fact that the whole universe (and the sciences that study it) only makes sense in the light of Christ:

This perspective has much to commend it. First, it demonstrates that the Incarnation took place for man’s deificatio, the union of man with the divine nature. The primary end of the Word’s enfleshment is divine adoption and union: “God became man, in order that man might become God” (St. Athanasius). Second, some believe this understanding of primacy allows for a Christological framework conducive to the contemporary scientific conception of the universe. In a sense, Christ provides the grand unifying theory long sought by physicists, since creation unfolds within the Word’s dynamic and personal assumption of human nature, “the microcosmos”. All things exist in order to be united and transformed in Christ, and Christ serves as the key for understanding the end of the universe.

Let me note, however, that for Scotus the primary end of the Incarnation is not man’s deificatio or divinization; but rather, the maximum glory of God. According to Scotus the Incarnation is not occasioned by anything in the created world – neither man’s need for Redemption nor man’s divinization. God simply willed it first – primarily – and this without condition. Scotus writes: “In fact, even if no man or angel had fallen, nor any man but Christ were to be created, Christ would still have been predestined this way… Therefore, after first willing those objects intrinsic to Himself, God willed this glory for Christ.  Therefore, before any merit or demerit, He foresaw that Christ would be united with Him in the oneness of Person.” [you might want to take a look at the fuller context of these quotation of Scotus’ Opus Parisiense]. While this is a subtle aspect of the Subtle Doctor, it is worth mentioning. 🙂

At any rate, after his synthesis the article makes a disconcerting about-face. Fr. Gavin gives the impression that this doctrine, namely that “the Incarnation is the primary end of all creation,” is dangerous and even out of touch with reality.

Scotus’ doctrine on the primacy: dangerous?

He writes, “But this position is not without its dangers.” Question: If this doctrine is true, can we call it dangerous? I suppose this might have been one of the many objections to Scotus’ teaching on the Immaculate Conception: it was considered “dangerous” to say that Our Lady was preserved from all taint of sin because this might somehow threaten the key doctrine that Jesus is Redeemer of all. But in the end the Church acknowledged that Mary was immaculately conceived and this by way of a preservative redemption in view of the foreseen merits of Jesus Christ.

His doctrine is not dangerous. What is dangerous is the wrong interpretations and applications of the doctrine, and this holds for all Catholic doctrine, all revealed truth. This is why Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to the Church: the Pope and the Magisterium who are our sure guide. If we remain with the Church in her profession of Faith then there is no danger. The Franciscan school has always upheld the doctrine of Scotus on the absolute primacy of Christ sub ductum Ecclesiae – under the guidance of the Church. And, as a matter of fact, the present Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, has even promoted discussion in this area by commending Bl. John Duns Scotus christocentric view of the universe and the unconditional decree of the Incarnation [The 1 minute video of the Pope’s address about Scotus in English is worth watching]

Scotus’ perspective is a-historical, counter-factual, hypothetical in nature?!?

After saying that the scotistic position is inherently dangerous, the article continues:

The Scotist position, as one might call it, often leads to an a-historicism that reduces the person of Jesus Christ to alpha and omega points that enclose the divine economy. In fact, this perspective itself is a-historical and counterfactual, as evinced by the very hypothetical nature of the proposition: if man had not fallen, the Incarnation would have still taken place. While a hypothetical stance allows us to perceive important aspects of the divine plan (e.g., the deificatio of man), it unfortunately requires a certain abstraction from the Jesus of history, from our own reality as sinful creatures, and from the salvation won for us upon the Cross.

It is known that Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., was guilty of such things, but then again, he never claimed to be a follower of Scotus. [Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand gives a solid evaluation of him]. In fact it was the Scotist, Bl. Gabriel M. Allegra, OFM, who read his books, dialogued with him at length about the doctrine of Bl. John Duns Scotus, and all along maintained the censure of these books. If Fr. Chardin had embraced the doctrine of Scotus, and this sub ductum Ecclesiae, then perhaps he might have avoided some of the pitfalls in his writings which tended to confuse science with philosophy and theology without making proper distinctions, tended to see theology as being in contradiction with the reality of science, which failed to speak properly of original sin and man’s redemption, etc. Scotus, on the other hand, never used this terminology: “alpha and omega point of the divine economy.” To my knowledge, he himself never makes reference to Christ as the Alpha and Omega in asserting the absolute, unconditional predestination of Christ.

Be that as it may, Scotus was by no stretch of the imagination out of touch with reality (“a-historical”). The Incarnation is real history, indeed the center of the real, factual history of the universe. His doctrine on the predestination of Christ – often dubbed the “Franciscan thesis” – cannot but lead one to adore Christ, the historical Christ, who is true God and true man. Franciscans, after all, are famous for spreading the Christmas creche and for promoting the Stations of the Cross. There is nothing “counter-factual” in asserting that Christ’s predestination is absolute: sin or no sin. Rather, Scotus (and many others before and after him) are pondering about the motive of the actual Incarnation. The Word became flesh – fact – but why did He become flesh? The hypothetical question of the Medeival Theologians served only to reflect on the reason why God willed the Incarnation in the first place. By no means were their responses divorced from the historical fact of the Incarnation. As I wrote in my book A Primer on the Absolute Primacy of Christ [here’s the weblink to the passage]:

In reflecting on the reason for the Incarnation, keep in mind that we are not considering a hypothetical question of what might or might not have happened if Adam had not sinned. Rather, faced with the fact of the Incarnation we are seeking—with our human intelligence (philosophy) and through divine revelation (theology)—“to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know Christ’s love which surpasses all knowledge, in order that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:18-19).

Scotus: the best synthesis of Christ’s primacy and His redeeming mission

Scotus and the Franciscan school never in the slightest deny or downplay, but rather affirm and adore Jesus as described by Fr. Gavin in his beautiful words: “Jesus of Nazareth, the Word incarnate, who was born, grew in strength and wisdom, preached and performed mighty signs, freely gave his life on the cross, was raised and is now seated at the right hand of the Father.” Hence, I do not agree with his conclusion that “One must say, therefore, that God made this universe on the basis of the free and loving sacrifice of Jesus, not solely on the basis of a vision of the cosmic Christ.”

From the sound perspective of Scotus, if we are going to understand the “why” of the Incarnation we must start from the divine plan and not from man’s need after sin; we must start from above, and not from below. The reason for the Incarnation must be found in God’s will. This is not a divorce from reality, history or facts; rather, it is THE reality, THE center of history, THE fact that guides the creative and redeeming hand of God.

It is for this reason that I wholeheartedly agree with the marvelous synthesis of the Christology of Scotus made by Bl. Gabriel M. Allegra (+1976). It is in this fuller Christological perspective that the assertions of Scotus make sense. In fact, as Bl. Gabriel repeatedly points out, it is precisely the perspective of Scotus that keeps both the key elements intact, namely, the universal primacy of Christ in all of creation and the Redemption of the human race. Bl. Allegra writes: “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.”

In all truth, the doctrine of the absolute primacy of Jesus of Nazareth (sin or no sin) is both factual and historical. It is the Thomistic position which infers the hypothetical, counterfactual: If Adam had not sinned, there would be no Incarnation. Now that’s extremely hypothetical!

Thus the conclusion of Fr. Gavin seems actually to find its solution in the very doctrine he criticizes. He writes: “Thus, a teaching regarding the primacy of Christ must not limit itself to a hypothetical stance that, despite its importance, runs the risk of reducing Christ to a final cause or to a unifying theory. It must balance such a view with the tradition that highlights the crucified and risen Lord of history, Jesus of Nazareth, who came that we might be saved (“O felix culpa!”).” But it is precisely Scotus who balances both of these elements without reducing Jesus either to a “unifying theory” à la Chardin or to a “divine scapegoat theory” à la Calvin.

As for the felix culpa, well, as Scotus puts it: “Christ would not have come as Redeemer if man had not fallen” – this is true – but it does not follow that He would not have become Incarnate at all. I have commented elsewhere more extensively on the “Oh happy fault” of the Exultet. The Church is by no means rejoicing over the fall of Adam, but in God’s victory over sin through the Paschal mystery.

In Corde Matris,
fr maximilian mary dean

Msgr. Arthur B. Calkins: Primacy of Christ is “the teaching that comes to us from the Word of God”

Below is the Foreward to the Primer on the Absolute Primacy of Christ written by Msgr. Arthur B. Calkins. With the exception of the biographical section on Bl. John Duns Scotus (not posted on this website because there are plenty of biographical sketches on the web and because it is basically a translation of Fr. Diomede Scaramuzzi, OFM, with some additions from the biography written by Fr. Stefano M. Manelli, FI, both of which present details which are controversial and off our subject here), the entire book is posted here on the static pages of the website. In a certain sense posting Msgr. Calkins Foreword is like serving the best wine last – it has been in reserve for this moment!

Foreward to the Primer on the Absolute Primacy of Christ

by Msgr. Arthur B. Calkins

It is a joy and a privilege for me to offer a word of introduction to this little book by Father Maximilian Mary Dean, F.I. for a variety of reasons.  First of all, I am happy to do so because of my close association with the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate from the very beginnings of their existence as a new religious community sprung from the Marian charism of Saint Francis of Assisi as lived by Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe and Saint Pio of Pietrelcina.  My relationship with them has been a source of countless blessings for me and has given me an ever greater appreciation of the Franciscan heritage in theology and spirituality which enshrines what Saint Maximilian Kolbe referred to as the “golden thread” of the Immaculate.  Further, and as an integral component of that fundamental Franciscan-Marian charism, I am especially pleased to share my conviction about the inestimable value of the contribution of Blessed John Duns Scotus to Catholic theology and spirituality and hence to the useful introduction to this master with which Father Maximilian Mary has provided us.

I can trace my own attraction to the Subtle Doctor, as Scotus is known, to three specific stages in the course of my own intellectual and spiritual formation besides the on-going influence of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate.  The first was my initiation into scotistic studies, even if at a very elementary level, in the mid 1980s through the good offices of Father James McCurry, O.F.M. Conv. and my fascination with the last great work of the late Father Juniper Carol, O.F.M., Why Jesus Christ?[1] which the author kindly autographed for me “with best Scotistic wishes”!  The second was my visit to the tomb of Blessed John Duns Scotus in Cologne after the Mariological Congress at Kevelaer on 21 September 1987 in the company of Father McCurry.  (One must never discount the efficacy of contact with the relics of holy persons.)  I still remember the pithy Latin inscription on the tomb:  Scotia me genuit.  Anglia me docuit.  Gallia me accepit.  Colonia me tenet.  [Scotland gave me birth.  England taught me.  France received me.  Cologne holds me.]  The third was my presence in the Vatican Basilica on 20 March 1993 for the confirmation of the cultus of John Duns Scotus and the beatification of Dina Bélanger, another one of my heavenly friends in whose life the Marian imprint is also very strong.  Because of complex historical vicissitudes, the process of the “equivalent beatification” of Scotus had been arrived at only after the solemn promulgation of the Decree Qui docti fuerint in the presence of the Holy Father on 6 July 1991 which authoritatively affirmed that “The reputation for sanctity and heroic virtues of the Servant of God John Duns Scotus as well as the cultus offered to him from time immemorial are established with certainty.”  (Just as in the case of venerating relics, I believe that there are special graces which come through the intercession of Saints and Blesseds when they are being elevated to the honors of the altar.)

What I arrived at by degrees – and I believe by intervention of divine providence – Father Maximilian Mary has arranged for us in an orderly fashion.  As one meditates on the insights of Scotus – and these can readily serve as the theme of our prayer as well as of our study – one begins to see not only the depths of the Subtle Doctor’s thought, but even more, the depths of God’s divine plan for creation.  For this reason, it is a tragedy that such immense prejudice has been shown to the insights of Scotus in the course of the centuries.  One can more readily understand the animus against him by English Protestants because of his identification with the Catholic doctrine on the Eucharist and loyalty to the Successor of St. Peter (which issued in his name, “dunce,” becoming a synonym for fool) than the incredible bigotry against him which I have personally met in Catholics who seem otherwise to be well educated.  The principal reason for this discrimination among Catholic intellectuals, I fear, should not be attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas, but rather to many of his lesser disciples.[2]

What are Scotus’ insights, then?  The principal ones have to do precisely with Jesus Christ as the absolute center of the created universe and His Mother as next to him in the hierarchy of created being.  They have to do with God’s eternal plan before time began and before his taking into account – we are speaking in a human way here – the reality of man’s fall from grace.  As Father Maximilian points out with great skill, this is precisely the vision which St. Paul communicates in his great Christological hymns found in Ephesians 1:3-10 and Colossians 1:12-20.  It is a marvelously optimistic view of the immensity of God’s goodness and of the role of the created human nature of the Son of God, a vision of creation worthy of being drawn out and substantiated by a spiritual son of the saint who chanted the Canticle of Brother Sun.

It was in fact the bold philosophical thought of Scotus which overcame the objections to Mary’s Immaculate Conception.  God, who could foresee the fruits of the redemption wrought by Christ, could communicate them in advance to the New Eve so that she could collaborate in the redemption of the rest of us.  This is an amazing insight into the divine purposes which Blessed Pius IX codified, so to speak, in Ineffabilis Deus, the Apostolic Constitution proclaiming the Immaculate Conception, by stating that “God, by one and the same decree, had established the origin of Mary and the Incarnation of Divine Wisdom.”  This, in effect, was a confirmation of the thesis sustained by Scotus and his followers for centuries.  The late Pope John Paul II beautifully corroborated this fact in his Marian encyclical Redemptoris Mater by stating of Mary that

In the mystery of Christ she is present even “before the creation of the world,” as the one whom the Father “has chosen” as Mother of his Son in the Incarnation.  And, what is more, together with the Father, the Son has chosen her, entrusting her eternally to the Spirit of holiness.  In an entirely special and exceptional way Mary is united to Christ, and similarly she is eternally loved in this “beloved Son,” this Son who is of one being with the Father, in whom is concentrated all the “glory of grace” [Redemptoris Mater #8]

In this vision Jesus and Mary are part of God’s eternal plan as the crown of creation even before the prevision of original sin.  True, they are not on the same level because Jesus is the God-man whereas Mary is only a human creature, but a creature unlike any other.  The attentive reader will note that Father Maximilian draws out the unique mediatorial role of Mary – always subordinate to that of Jesus – which, in this line of thought, anticipates her role in the distribution of graces deriving from her unique function in the working out of our redemption.

Meditating on these mysteries of faith over the years, I have become a convinced Scotist with regard to the motive of the Incarnation, the Immaculate Conception and the absolute primacy of Christ from which Mary’s “subordinate primacy” cannot be separated.  At least on the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, St. Thomas’ followers have had to concede the point after the solemn definition of the doctrine in 1854, although probably most of them would continue to put up stiff resistance on the other two matters.  Nonetheless I continue to believe that these points, so faithfully attested to by Blessed John Duns Scotus and his disciples and so admirably elucidated by Father Maximilian in this little book, are not simply the intellectual heritage of Franciscans, but belong to all Christians because they are the teaching that comes to us from the Word of God.

 by  Monsignor Arthur Burton Calkins (2006)

[1] Juniper B. Carol, O.F.M., Why Jesus Christ?  Thomistic, Scotistic and Conciliatory Perspectives (Manassas, VA:  Trinity Communications, 1986).  For an excellent appreciation of this work, cf. Peter Damian Fehlner, O.F.M. Conv., “Fr. Juniper Carol, O.F.M.:  His Mariology and Scholarly Achievement,” Marian Studies XLIII (1992) 38-42.

[2] Stefano Cecchin, O.F.M., L’Immacolata Concezione.  Breve storia del dogma (Vatican City:  Pontificia Academia Mariana Internationalis “Studi Mariologici #5,” 2003) 75-99.