Ven. Mary of Agreda – Absolute Primacy of Christ – Part V

Concerning a doubt: why is there such a diversity of opinion on this doctrine?

Ven. Mary of Agreda, it would seem, was amazed at the doctrine of the absolute primacy of Christ and equally amazed that the primary reason commonly attributed to the Incarnation of the Word was man’s Redemption. She writes:

In regard to the significance of the doctrine contained in the last two Chapters [IV and V] a doubt occurred to me, and I have often heard and been informed by learned persons, that the same is discussed also in the schools. The doubt was as follows: If the principal motive of the incarnation of the Word, was to make Him Head and Firstborn of all creation (Col 1:15) and, through the hypostatic union with human nature, to communicate His attributes and perfections, in a manner befitting His grace and glory, to the predestined; and, if to assume flesh capable of suffering and dying for man was His secondary motive: then, if these assumptions are true, how comes it, that there is such a diversity of opinion in regard to it in the holy Church? The most common assumption is, that the eternal Word descended from Heaven expressly for the purpose of redeeming man through His most holy Passion and Death. (n.72)

Here, for the first time, she uses the term “motive” with regards to the Incarnation. In fact, in the theological schools from the time of Abbot Rupert of Deutz (+1129) and St. Anselm of Canterbury (+1109) there was a great deal of speculation as to the primary motive of the Incarnation. Abbot Rupert favored a motivation apart from sin so that even if Adam had not sinned Christ would have come; whereas St. Anselm in his famous Cur Deus Homo [Why the God-Man] laid out a Christology whereby only a God-Man could repair the sin of Adam and his Christology was so widely read and accepted that it sealed, as it were, the opinion that the primary reason for the Incarnation of the Word was to redeem fallen humanity.

As such the discussion of the primary motivation of the Incarnation, it’s raison d’etre, centered around the discussion of the counterfactual question: “If Adam had not sinned would Christ have come in the flesh.” Note well that both schools debated this using the hypothetical question because it singled out the primary motivation of the Incarnation in our present economy of grace and not because they wanted to know what might have happened. The real question was this: in the actual economy of grace in which we find ourselves, what is the primary motivation for God having willed the Incarnation of the Son of God? The hypothetical question serves only to elucidate this primary motivation. For more on this discussion one can read this post: Scotus’ doctrine of the primacy is ahistorical, counterfactual, and hypothetical in nature?!?

Ven. Mary of Agreda, aware of the many great Saints who did not hold that “the principal motive of the incarnation of the Word was to make Him Head and Firstborn of all creation,” as she so succinctly put it, had a doubt about what had been revealed to her. Personally, I thank God for this doubt which she “proposed humbly to the Lord,” because the response she received was so extraordinary and enlightening. What follows is basically a dictation, that is, a direct revelation from God to the Venerable regarding this doctrine – perhaps the only revelation of its kind on this subject. She writes, “After giving me an understanding and a great enlightenment by which I perceived and understood many mysteries, He condescended to answer me […] His answer was as follows:”

My spouse and dove, hear: for as a Father and a Teacher I will solve thy doubt and instruct thee in thy ignorance. Know, that the principal and legitimate end of the decree, which I had in view in resolving to communicate My Divinity in the hypostatic union of the Word with human nature, was the glory, which would redound to My Name through this communication, and also that which was to redound to the creatures capable thereof. This decree would without doubt have been executed in the Incarnation, even if the first man had not sinned: for it was an express decree, substantially independent of any condition. Therefore, the intention of My will, which was primarily to communicate Myself to the soul and humanity of the Word, was to be efficaciously fulfilled. This was conformable to the justice and rectitude of My works, and, although it was subsequent in its execution, it was nevertheless antecedent in My intention. If I waited before sending my Onlybegotten, it was because I had resolved to prepare for Him beforehand a holy and select congregation of the just, who, presupposing the fall of mankind, would be like roses among the thorns, that is, the sinners. Foreseeing the fall of the human race, I determined, by an express decree, that the Word should come in a form capable of suffering and death for the Redemption of His people, whose head He was to be. Thus My infinite love for man could be so much the more known and manifest and a just satisfaction would be rendered to My equity and justice; and if he, who was to be first in existence, was a sinner: He that was to be first in dignity, would be the Redeemer (1 Cor 15:21). […] (n.73)

First and foremost, we have here a confirmation that the primary motive of the Incarnation was the glory which would redound to the Most Holy Trinity in communicating Itself to the human nature of the Incarnate Word. This decree was “express,” that is, “substantially independent of any condition.” What is more, we have an affirmation of what Scotus taught: what was first in the intention came later in the execution. Note also that while the “substance” of the original decree remains always intact, namely the union of the Divinity with the Humanity in the Person of the Word; nonetheless, due to the foreseen fall of Adam, the “mode” of the Incarnation (a body capable of suffering and death) was determined so as to redeem fallen humanity.

God continues His response to the Venerable:

And in order that thou mayest better understand the answer to thy doubt, remember, that there is neither any succession of time in My decrees, nor any need of it for the perception and the execution of them. Those that say that the Word became incarnate in order to redeem the world, saw well; and those that say, that He would have become incarnate also, if man had not sinned, likewise speak well, only it must be understood in the right way. For if Adam had not sinned, Christ would have descended from Heaven in that form, which would be suitable to the state of man’s innocence; but as Adam sinned, I resolved by the secondary decree, that He should be made of passible nature,; since foreseeing sin, it was proper, that it should be repaired in the way in which He has done it. And as you desire to know, how the mystery of the Incarnation would have taken place, if man had preserved the state of innocence, know, that the human substance would have been essentially the same as now, only it would be clothed with the gifts of impassibility and immortality, such as My Onlybegotten possessed after His Resurrection and before His Ascension. […] (n.74)

Clearly, God willed all of creation simultaneously from Christ the King down to the least element, yet this does not negate a priority in His creative plan. The result is that God did will the Incarnation of the Son of God for our Redemption from the beginning, but as a secondary motivation. Man’s fall, therefore, was not the cause of the Incarnation, but rather of the bitter suffering and shameful death of Jesus Christ. Had the first man not sinned, Christ would have come in human flesh which was impassible and immortal.

Now the Most High speaks of the difference in opinion largely due to the limited knowledge given to each person while in this earthly life:

The existence of different opinions regarding these sacraments and other mysteries of the Church, arises from the fact that I manifest and give light concerning one set of mysteries to some teachers, and illumine others concerning other mysteries; for mortals are not capable of receiving all the light. It is not expedient that the knowledge of all things be given to one man, as long as men are viators. For also in the state of comprehensors, they obtain them in parts and according to the state and the merits of each. But the plenitude of all gifts is due only to the humanity of My Onlybegotten and to His Mother in proper proportion. […] (n.75)

Some of the revealed reasons for this:
1. Redemption consummated and mentioned frequently in Sacred Scripture

One of the reasons why the opinion, that the Word came from Heaven mainly for the sake of redeeming the world, is more common can be partly explained by the fact, that the mystery of the Redemption with its object has already been consummated and has been mentioned so often in Scriptures, thus causing it to be better understood and manifested. The impassibility of Christ on the contrary was neither effected, nor was it simply and absolutely decreed. All that pertained to this state remains concealed and nobody could be sure of it, except those particular ones, whom I select for the reception of that light, and for the revelation of this decree of My love for man. And although this would certainly be capable of moving men, if they would ponder over it and penetrate it; yet the decree and the work of his Redemption from sin is more powerful and efficacious to move them toward some acknowledgment and return of My immense love; for this is the end, which prompts My works. […] (n.76)

2. Two results from one work

Advert also, that in one work two results can well be intended, when one of them is conditional. Thus it was that the Word would not have descended in passible flesh, if man had not sinned, and if he would sin, He would come in a body capable of suffering: whatever would happen the decree of the Incarnation would not be left unfulfilled. I desire, that the sacraments of the Redemption be recognized and held in esteem and that they be always remembered, in order that they may bring the proper fruit. But just as much I desire, that the mortals recognize the Word as their Head and as the final Object of all creation and of all the rest of the human race. For, conjointly with My own kindness, His formation was the principal motive for giving existence to the creatures. Therefore He should be honored, not only because He has redeemed the human race, but also because He furnished the motive for its creation. (n.76)

3. God permits varying opinions because the resulting discussions serve as a stimulus for better grasping the truths of Faith

Take notice also, My spouse, that very often I permit and cause differences of opinions among the doctors and teachers. […] By this varied light, truth is traced, and the mysteries of faith become more manifest. Doubt serves as a stimulus to the understanding for the investigation of truth. Therefore controversies of the teachers fulfill a proper and holy end. […] (n.77)

God concludes at length with showing how all of this is a work of His providence and how the “real science dwells in My Church more than in the combined study of all the holy and perfect teachers” (n.77).

There is more in the Venerable’s writings, but I fear that I will not be able to post these insights until October. At any rate, what has been posted is abundantly rich and anyone who simply cannot wait, the remaining sections are from Book I, Ch.VII-XIII which are probably even available online.

Ven. Mary of Agreda – Absolute Primacy of Christ – Part IV

Revelations about Proverbs 8:22-31

In the Old Testament there are several passages which speak of Christ as the created Wisdom who was with the Creator when He formed the world. I will not cite the key passages at length here since I simply want to glean from the Mystical City of God what was revealed to Ven. Mary of Agreda regarding the doctrine of the absolute primacy of Christ. However, if one desires to look over those passages the two primary ones are Proverbs 8:22-9:6 and Ecclesiasticus 24 (not to mention the whole notion of the Word Incarnate as the beginning of God’s creation). These passages clearly link with Colossians 1:15 regarding Christ as Head and Firstborn of all creatures.

The Venerable writes:

This is the portion of the Proverbs, of which the Most high gave me understanding. I understood at first, that it treats of the ideas or decrees, which were in the Divine Mind before the creation of the world; and that, in its literal sense, it speaks of the Person of the Incarnate Word and of His most holy Mother, while in its mystical sense it refers to the holy Angels and Prophets. For before decreeing or forming the ideals of the rest of the material creation, He formed and decreed their prototype, the most sacred humanity of Christ and of His purest Mother, and this is indicated by the first words. (n.54)
“The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways” (Prov 8:22) […] In this beginning, before He formed any other ideal in His mind, because He desired to create paths and open ways in His mind for the communication of the Divinity, He decreed, as a beginning, the formation of the humanity of the Word, who was to be the highway, by which the other creatures might come to the Father (cf. Jn 14:6). (n.55)

It is in this way that we must understand Jesus’ own title given in the Apocalypse “the Beginning of the creation of God” (3:14). What Ven. Mary Agreda understood interiorly was not foreign to the deposit of the Faith. In fact many Doctors of the Church had clearly taught that Proverbs 8 specifically refers to the Incarnation (like Ss. Cyril of Alexandria, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, Anselm, etc.).

The fact that the same passage refers to both Jesus and Mary should not surprise us since it is also part of the constant Tradition of the Church, especially in the Liturgy – lex orandi, lex credendi. Back to our Venerable…

Joined with this decree [of the Incarnation] was that of His most holy Mother, through whom His Divinity was to enter into the world, becoming man and being born from her as God and man; therefore it is said: “God possessed me” since both were possessed by His Majesty: for as to His Divinity, He was the possession, the property, and the treasure of the Father without possibility of separation, because Father and Son are One, of the same substance and Divinity with the Holy Ghost; and also as to His humanity, the Father possessed the Son; because He Himself knew and decreed the plenitude of grace and glory, which He was to bestow upon it at the moment of its creation and its hypostatical union. Moreover, as this decree and possession was to be brought about by the mediation of the Mother, who was to conceive and bring forth the Word (since He did not decide to create it out of nothing, nor for His soul and body out of any other material), it followed that He possessed her, who was to give Him the human form.[…] (n.55)

Although this might seem a bit confusing, it is rather simple: in willing the Incarnation both the Mother and the Son were present in the Divine Intellect. In willing the Incarnation the Divinity of Christ was present because One with the Father and the Holy Spirit; the humanity of Christ was present as the “Firstborn of all creatures”, the Alpha, the beginning of His creation; the Mother of God was present as the maternal Mediatrix chosen to bring about this union by the work of the Holy Spirit. In a word, the Virgin Mother of God is part of the decree of the Incarnation, inseparable from the mystery of Christ while remaining subordinate to Him.
The Venerable goes on to comment on the next verse, “Before He made anything from the beginning, I was set up from eternity and of old.” Christ was decreed “of old”, that is, before God created. Hence Christ (and His Mother) stand between eternity and time, between the uncreated Godhead in Himself and the work of creation ad extra. She explains:

Between these two extremes intervened the ideal of the hypostatic union which was to be verified ad extra through the intervention of most holy Mary. Both were ordained together, immediately next to God and before any other creature, and it was the most wonderful decree ever passed or ever to be passed. The first and most admirable image in the mind of God, next to the eternal generation, was that of Christ and next to it, that of His Mother.

Eloquent is her expression: the decree of the Incarnation which is the bridge between eternity and time, the Creator and the creature, “was the most wonderful decree ever passed or ever to be passed.” First Christ, then the rest of the universe in Him and for Him, and this indeed is the most wonderful decree possible.

It was for this reason that Bl. John Duns Scotus declared that it was absurd to say that God’s Masterpiece, the Incarnation, was occasioned by man’s need for a remedy for sin. He wrote: “If the fall were the reason for Christ’s predestination, it would follow that the greatest work of God [summum opus Dei—namely, the Incarnation] was essentially occasioned: greatest work, because the glory of all creation is not as great in intensity as is the glory of Christ. Hence, it seems very absurd to claim that God would have left so great a work [i.e. the Incarnation] undone on account of a good deed performed by Adam, such as Adam’s not sinning. Therefore, I declare the following: First, God loves Himself. Secondly, He loves Himself for others, and this is an ordered love. Thirdly, He wishes to be loved by Him who can love Him with the greatest love—speaking of the love of someone who is extrinsic to Himself. And fourthly, He foresees the union of that nature that must love Him with the greatest love even if no one had fallen.” (Opus Parisiense, Lib III, d.7, q.4)
Once again our Venerable notes that in the eternity of God there is no succession of moments or thoughts, yet there is supreme order and the hypostatic union has the primacy in God’s plan for creation:

And what other order could there be in God, in whom all that pertains to Him is present at one and the same time, so that no part of His being must await the perfection of another, or one perfection ever need succeed upon others? All is well ordered in His eternal nature, and so it was and will be forever. The new ordainment, however, was that the Person of the Son should become incarnate and that from His deified humanity should begin the order of God’s desires and of His decrees ad extra. He was to be the Head and Ideal of all other men and creatures; for this was the most appropriate order and harmony to be instituted among creatures, that they have One, who is the first and the highest, and that from Him should descend the order of all nature, and in a special manner, of the mortals. First among them all, however, was the Mother of the Man-God, as the supreme among mere creatures, following immediately upon Christ, and, through Him, upon the Divinity. Thus the conduits, which led the crystalline fountains of the Divinity from the eternal throne, meet first in the humanity of the Word and immediately thereafter in His holy Mother in the degree and in the manner, as it was possible for amere creature, and as it was proper for the mother of the Creator. […] This then was the order, so well instituted by the eternal wisdom: that all was to commence with Christ and His Mother. (n.57)

We see from the thought of Ven. Mary of Agreda that this divine design placed Christ first without any consideration of Adam’s sin. In God’s plan Christ has absolute primacy and it was “from His deified humanity” that the entire order of the cosmos should have its beginning. With Christ, yet subordinate to Him, the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God was willed. With Jesus and Mary, yet subordinate to Them, all of the elect – both Angels and Saints – were willed.
This order is also expressed by the order of predestination: first, the humanity of Christ is predestined to the maximum grace and glory through the hypostatic union; with and subordinate to Him is predestined the Holy Mother of God through her divine maternity; then the Angels are predestined to glory in Christ; and finally the Saints are predestined, chosen “in Him before the foundations of the world” (see the commentary on Eph 1:4). If we are predestined to be God’s adopted children in Christ Jesus it is not because of sin, but because of God’s good pleasure.

Our Venerable continues her commentary:

“Before the earth was made; and the depths were not as yet and I was already conceived.” This earth was that of the first Adam; for before his creation was decreed, and before the abysses of the ideas ad extra were formed in the divine mind, the likenesses of Christ and of His Mother were already conceived.[…] Not only was the Word conceived before all these by eternal generation from the Father, but His temporal generation from the Virgin Mother full of grace, had already been decreed and conceived in the divine mind. (n.58) Before them [the Saints] the divine mind had conceived the most holy humanity united hypostatically with the Divine Word, and the Mother, who bore it. The Son and the Mother were conceived before the hierarchies of the angelic host […] Let all understand and know, that there is a God-man, who is above all angels and men, and that all are His inferiors and His servants, for being the first of men, He is God at the same time. He is the first in the divine mind and in the divine will, and with Him is associated and inseparably connected, one Woman and Virgin, His Mother, the exalted Queen of all creation. (n.60) And if man […] was crowned with glory and was constituted above all the works of the hand of the Lord, it was because the God-man, His Chief, had merited both this crown, and also that, which is borne by the angels. (n.61)

The glory and grace of man flows from the merits of Jesus Christ. From this perspective we can see that all graces, including the grace which Adam and Eve had in the state of original justice before the fall, are graces flowing from the Sacred Heart of Christ and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In other words, God willed one economy of grace from the beginning as opposed to a generic economy of grace before the fall and then a better one after the fall. This is an important distinction to note, because if Christ’s coming was due to man’s sin, then we would have to speak of two economies of grace and we would have to exclude the Angels from the grace of Christ since His coming would have been occasioned by Adam’s fall and not willed absolutely. For more on this subject of the economy of divine grace from the Franciscan vs. the Thomistic point of view, one can read the discussions here and here and here.

Our Venerable observes that before the world was created “the sacred humanity of the Word and the material from which it was to spring, namely the Virgin, was determined upon” (n.62). She goes on to say that “when He prepared and preordained the heaven and the reward, which was to be given to the just sons of the Church after their sojourn upon the earth, then already was decreed the union of the humanity with the Word, thereby meriting grace as their Head” (n.64). First Christ, then everything else in and for Him – this is the constant theme.

But Christ, being willed first in the intention and being brought about later in the execution, was the supreme Model before the divine mind when He created. He was the beginning in which God created all things. Ven. Mary of Agreda confirms this when she comments on the verse, “When He balanced the foundation of the earth I was with Him forming all things.” She explains:

The works ad extra are common to the three divine Persons, for They are one God, one wisdom, one power; therefore it was unavoidably necessary, that the Word, in whom according to the Divinity all things are made, should be in union with the Father in making them. But here more is meant, for also the incarnate Word was already present together with His most holy Mother in the divine will. Thus, just as through the Word, as far as He is God, all things were made, so also for Him, in the first place and because He is the most noble and most worthy end, were created the foundations of the earth and all that is contained in it. (n.67)

Her distinction is subtle, yet essential. Whenever the Scripture refers to Christ before creation, it is not a mere reference to the Divine Word, but to the fact that Jesus with His created Humanity was present to God first. Some examples:

  • “Even as He chose us in Him [Jesus Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish in His sight in love” (Eph 1:4). In order for us to predestined in Jesus before the creation of the world it is clear that Christ, with His Sacred Humanity, was already decreed.
  • “For those whom He has foreknown He has also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He should be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rm 8:29). Again, the foreknown are predestined to be conformed to Christ who is the “firstborn” in the divine plan, not in chronological history. That this is a reference to Christ, the Word made flesh, is clearly demonstrated here.
  • “He [Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature. For in Him [Christ] were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether Thrones, or Dominations, or Principalities, or Powers. All things have been created through and unto Him [Christ], and He [Christ] is before all creatures, and in Him all things hold together” (Col 1:15-17ff). This Christological hymn of St. Paul makes no sense unless Christ was willed first with an absolute primacy. It is for this very reason that the Thomists have had to reinterpret Paul’s canticle as having two subjects: Christ in the flesh and the Eternal Word apart from the Incarnation. This canticle of Colossians is treated in depth here.
  • “Thus says the Amen, the faithful and true witness, who is the beginning of the creation of God” (Apoc 3:14). Jesus Christ in His Sacred Humanity is the beginning in which God the Trinity created the universe. Here is a diagram with many Scriptural references of Christ as the beginning.

Many other examples could be cited, but these are more than sufficient to see that if one does not accept the absolute primacy and predestination of Christ first in the divine designs, then the interpretation of these passages becomes riddled with difficulties and even contradictions.

While these are but the highlights of the Venerables commentary, nonetheless they capture the profound insight which was given to her regarding the absolute primacy of Christ. In the concluding paragraph of this Chapter she writes, “All His works, and the disposition of them as they were to be called into being, the Lord had in His mind ab initio, and He numbered and weighed them according to His equity and rectitude. He knew the constitution of the world before its creation, as it is written in the book of Wisdom (7,18 ff.).

More to come…

Ven. Mary of Agreda – Absolute Primacy of Christ – Part III

The divine decrees classified according to “instances”

Ven. Mother Mary of Agreda, after her vision of the Trinity in His eternal beatitude, speaks of God’s decision to create. As we have noted, she expresses this decision to create as His decree “to communicate His perfections as a free gift” ad extra. God is love, and God wants to communicate that love outside of Himself. Ergo, creation.

Within this plan of creation there is a hierarchy, a priority. Although the entire plan is willed at once, nonetheless, not all of creation is willed with the same dignity and importance and role. In order to speak of this priority in God’s creative plan, we must use human terminology (like “before”, “after”, “first”, “then”, etc.). The Venerable, after noting that God knows everything “conjointly all at once, without before or after” (n.31), writes:

In this knowledge of God… we must… not overlook a certain succession, not indeed of time, but of nature. Hence we perceive that the act of intelligence preceded by its nature the act of the will… In this first stage or instant the three Persons through an act of intelligence confirmed the opportuneness of the work ad extra and of all creatures, which have been, are, and are to be. (n.32)

At this point the Venerable, humbly but boldly, petitioned Our Lord to know the position of the Mother of God in the divine intelligence. He deigned to answer her, and in order to express this knowledge she employs the terminology “moments” or “instants”. Here is her explanation:

I will state what He answered me and manifested to me and I will also say something of the order which I perceived by the help of God in these ideas. I divide them according to moments or instants, for it is impossible to accommodate the knowledge of this divine science to our capacity in any other way. (n.33)

Again she explains:

Although this divine knowledge is one, most simple and indivisible, nevertheless, since the things which I see are many, and since there is a certain order, by which some are first and some come after, it is necessary to divide the knowledge of God’s intelligence and the knowledge of His will into many instants, or into many different acts, according as they correspond to the diverse orders of created things. (n.34)

What we have here is a mystic who has seen a vision of God’s intention in creating. While the intention is all at once, there are priorities in that intention. The example which I have frequently made use of is the sculptor who decides to carve a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. When he forms this intention he wills the statue in its final, perfect form; he wills the masterpiece; but he also wills everything that is included in making the statue – finding the wood, tools, carving, etc. He also wills all that will surround his masterpiece and be subordinate to it, like the niche, the lighting, etc. In a word, the artist wills the entire project all at once when he forms the intention to create his masterpiece, yet there is a succession in the execution and a hierarchy – the statue is primary, first, everything else is secondary and subordinate. While the analogy has its limits, nonetheless it can help to understand what our Venerable is trying to communicate to us. She writes: “Accordingly we say that God intended and decreed this before that, the one on account of the other; and that if He had not desired or included in the science of vision the one, He would not have desired the other” (n.34).

So, as Bl. John Duns Scotus emphasizes, God wills in an orderly fashion – ordinate volens (Ordinatio, III, d.7, q.3; Opus Parisiense, Lib III, d.7, q.4). And Ven. Mary of Agreda will now explain this order with the term “instants”.

The first “instant”:

I understood that this order comprises the following instants. The first instant is: God recognizing His infinite attributes and perfections together with the propensity and the ineffable inclination to communicate Himself outwardly. This knowledge of God as being communicative ad extra comes first. The Majesty of God, beholding the nature of His infinite perfections, their virtue and efficacy operating with magnificence, saw that it was just and most proper, and, as it were, a duty and a necessity, to communicate Himself and to follow that inclination of imparting and exercising His liberality and mercy, by distributing outside of Himself with magnificence the plenitude of the infinite treasures, contained in the Divinity. […] All this did God see in the first instant after the communication ad intra by means of the eternal emanations (n.35-36)

The second “instant”:

The second instant was to confirm and determine the object and intention of this communication of the Divinity ad extra, namely, that it should redound to His greater glory and to the exaltation of His Majesty and the manifestation of His greatness. This, His own exaltation, God saw as the end, for which He would communicate Himself, make Himself known by His liberality in the distribution of His attributes, and set in motion His Omnipotence in order that He might be known, praised and glorified. (n.38)

Note the raison d’etre of all creation: the greater glory of God. God, in creating, wishes to communicate His grace and glory to His creatures and wishes to be glorified by them. In creation, what would be the most perfect way that the Divinity could communicate His divine life and receive the maximum glory?

The third “instant”:

The third instant consisted in selecting and determining the order and arrangement, or the mode of this communication, so as to realize in an adequate manner the most exalted ends. The order namely, which it is proper should be maintained in regard to the communications of the Godhead and its divine attributes; so that this activity of the Lord may have its proper reasons and objects, and so that it might proceed with the most beautiful and admirable sequence, harmony and subordination. In this instant was decreed first of all, that the divine Word should assume flesh and should become visible. The perfection and the composition of the most holy Humanity of Christ our Lord was decreed and modeled in the divine intelligence. Secondarily, also were formed the ideals of the rest of men in imitation of the First. The divine mind prearranged the harmony and adornment of the human nature composed of an organic body and a vivifying soul, endowed with faculties to know and enjoy its Creator, to discern between good and evil, and with a free will to love that same Lord. (n.39) [emphasis added]

Ven. Mary of Agreda is emphatic on this point, as we shall see. This is partly so because it is so controversial. She sought confirmation in prayer and was given divine insight into Proverbs 8:22ff (Chapter V). She even petitioned Our Lord as to why so many great Doctors, Saints and theologians of Holy Mother Church were not given to understand this fundamental truth of the absolute primacy of Christ in creation (Chapter VI). So her explanations will be ample and the confirmations from “on high” will be multiplied. At any rate, after noting this primacy of Christ in creation in the “third instant”, she gives a marvelous explanation of why this is so. I quote her at length:

This hypostatic union of the second Person of the most holy Trinity I understood necessarily to have been the first incentive and object on account of which, before all others, the divine intelligence and will issued ad extra; and the reasons are most exalted, so that I cannot explain. One of these reasons is, that God, having in Himself known and loved Himself, should, according to right order, know and love that, which approaches most intimately to His Divinity, as is the case in the hypostatic union. Another reason is, that the Divinity, having communicated Itself ad intra, should also communicate Itself ad extra; for thus the divine will and intention would begin to execute its works with the highest end in view, and His attributes would be communicated in the most beautiful order. The fire of the Divinity expended itself in its fullest measure on that which was most immediately connected with It, namely, the hypostatically united humanity; and His Divinity communicated Itself in the highest and most excellent degree to Him, who was to be closest to God in divine knowledge and love, and share the works and the glory of the Deity. For God (speaking according to our lowly comprehension) could not endanger the attainment of this end, since He alone could be an object proportionate and worthy of so wonderful an operation. It was also befitting and, as it were, necessary, that if God should create many creatures, He should create them in such harmony and subordination, as would be the most admirable and glorious within the reach of possibility. In conformity with this therefore, they must be subordinate to a supreme Chief, who should be as far as possible united immediately with God, so that through Him they may have communication and connection with His Divinity. For these and for other reasons (which I cannot explain), the dignity of the works of God could be provided for only by the Incarnation of the Word; through Him creation should possess the most beautiful order, which without Him was impossible. (n.40)

Before continuing with the next “instant” which speaks of the gifts bestowed upon the Sacred Humanity of Our Lord, we do well to note the terminology of the Venerable “intention” and “execution”. This was the terminology utilized by the Subtle Doctor to explain why Christ, the first willed by God in all creation, came “in the last times” (Heb 1:2; cf. 1 Pt 1:20). His explanation, simplified, is that what is first in the intention is last in the execution. Like the example of the sculptor who intends to carve a statue of the Sacred Heart: he begins first with the masterpiece in his mind (primacy!), then he starts the execution of the work. God, the Divine Artist, first wills and sees the Word Incarnate, then He begins creating with Christ in mind. This theme is also developed here and here.

The fourth “instant”:

The fourth instant was to determine the gifts and graces, which were to be conferred upon the humanity of Christ, our Lord, in union with the Divinity. here the Most High opened the liberal hands of His Omnipotence and His other attributes, in order to enrich the most sacred humanity and the soul of Christ with the highest possible plenitude of His gifts and graces. Then was fulfilled what afterward David said: “The stream of the river maketh the city of God joyful” (Ps 45:5). When the stream of His gifts flowed toward the humanity of the Word, communicating to it all the infused science, the grace and goodness of which his blessed soul was capable, and which fitted that Being, which was to be God and true man, and at the same time, the Head of all creatures capable of grace and glory, in order that from this impetuous stream they might partake in the manner in which it afterwards really happened. (n.41)

Here the Venerable confirms yet another aspect of the Franciscan school, namely, that all creatures capable of grace and glory are under the headship of Christ. This point is important in that the good Angels, if they are under the headship of Christ, are so not because of any need for Redemption, but simply because God willed Christ as King first, then He willed Angels and men to be blessed in and through Him. This is clearly the teaching of St. Paul who notes that all of the Angels are subject to Christ. This discussion is developed here.

At this point, we have, in a certain sense found what we were looking for. But we do well to complete the picture. To this fourth “instant”, Ven. Mary Agreda explains,”also, and, as it were, in natural sequence, pertain the decree and predestination of the Mother of the Divine Word Incarnate; for here, I understand, was ordained that pure creature before aught else whatever” (n.42). Thus she found what she was looking for… and wept for joy at the gift and in sorrow for man’s ingratitude. Interestingly, the doctrine of the joint predestination of Jesus and Mary has been repeated by the Magisterium frequently in the last two centuries. Perhaps the two most solemn statements are that of Bl. Pius IX in Ineffabilis Deus in 1854 where he writes, “And hence the very words with which the Sacred Scriptures speak of Uncreated Wisdom and set forth his eternal origin, the Church, both in its ecclesiastical offices and in its liturgy, has been wont to apply likewise to the origin of the Blessed Virgin, inasmuch as God, by one and the same decree, had established the origin of Mary and the Incarnation of Divine Wisdom.” In confirmation of the Tradition we find this beautiful statement regarding Our Lady in Lumen Gentium: “Predestined from eternity by that decree of divine providence which determined the incarnation of the Word to be the Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin was on this earth the virgin Mother of the Redeemer, and above all others and in a singular way the generous associate and humble handmaid of the Lord” (n.61).

The “fifth” instant:

I pass over to the fifth instant, although in reality I have found that, which I sought. In this fifth decree the creation of the angelic nature which is more excellent and more like unto the spiritual being of the Divinity, was determined upon, and at the same time the division or arrangement of the angelic hosts into nine choirs and three hierarchies, was provided and decreed. As they are created first of all for the glory of God, to assist before His divine Majesty and to know and love Him, so secondarily they are ordained to assist, glorify and honor, reverence and serve the deified humanity of the eternal Word, recognizing Him as Head, and honoring Him also in His Mother, the most holy Mary, Queen of these same Angels.

Implicitly we see here that the test of the Angels was in serving Jesus and Mary. This is developed more at length in the section on Colossians and the headship of Christ over them.

And finally, the sixth “instant” (mankind, obviously, but also the fall is foreseen and its remedy decreed):

In the sixth instant was decreed the creation of a people and congregation of men for Christ, who was already formed in the divine mind and will, and according to whose image and likeness man was to be made, in order, that the incarnate Word might find brethren, similar but inferior to Himself and a people of His own nature, of whom He might be the Head. In this instant was determined the order of the creation of the whole human race, which was to begin from one man and woman and propagate itself, until the Virgin and her Son should be born in the predestined order. On account of the merits of Christ, our Savior, the graces and gifts were prearranged, and also original justice, if they would only preserve it. The fall of Adam was foreseen and in him that of all others, except of the Queen, who did not enter into this decree. As a remedy was it ordained, that the most holy humanity should be capable of suffering.

As we can see, God’s plan for creation starts with the Incarnation of the Word and finishes with the foreseen fall of Adam and the choice to remedy that fall by sending Christ in passible flesh so “that the most holy humanity should be capable of suffering” and of death. Scotus speculates that had Adam not sinned and lost the state of original justice, then Christ would have come just the same (uniting the human and divine natures in His divine Person), but in a glorious mode: “And He would not have come as a suffering and redeeming Mediator unless someone had first sinned; nor would the glory of the body have been delayed unless there were people to be redeemed. Rather the whole Christ would have been immediately glorified” (Opus Parisiense, Lib III, d.7, q.4).

Be that as it may, the point here is that while God foresaw the fall of Adam and His need for Redemption, this was not the primary motive of the Incarnation. The primary motive was the maximum glory of God and for this reason the Incarnation was willed first and in sui juris – for its own sake. As Scotus points out, “I declare, however, that the fall was not the cause of Christ’s predestination. 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” (Lib III, d.7, q.4).

Let me conclude this post by repeating that in order to speak intelligently about God’s plan for sending His only begotten (whether primarily for the maximum glory of God or primarily for the Redemption of man), both St. Thomas Aquinas and Bl. John Duns Scotus have to speak of order or priority in God’s decree (what Ven. Mary of Agreda has expressed by using the term “instants”).

It goes without saying – as the Venerable points out at length – that there is no “first” and “second” and “third” and “then” in God who is outside of time. This is true indeed; however, there is priority in God’s plan and we simply have to use human terms to communicate this, terms like “first”, “before”, “then”, “after”. While St. Thomas Aquinas and Bl. John Duns Scotus both speak of a priority in the divine decree of creation, they are also both fully aware that God did not “think out” His plan of creation in successive moments because God transcends time. Both Doctors are agreed that God willed in an orderly fashion without succession of moments; however, they disagree about what that orderly fashion is. For more on this one can read the post: Dumb ox or dunce – Part II D.

Ven. Mary of Agreda – Absolute Primacy of Christ – Part II

God ab intra first, then His creation ad extra

Before looking directly at Ven. Mary of Agreda’s writings, we do well to underscore the divine vantage point from which flows the doctrine of the absolute primacy of Christ. In this way we will be in a better position to appreciate more fully the revelations of the Venerable. In my treatise on the absolute primacy of Christ according to the teachings of Bl. John Duns Scotus I wrote:

As we shall see, one of the most beautiful aspects of the Subtle Doctor’s teaching on the absolute primacy of Christ is that it begins from above (with God’s plan), and not from below (with man’s need). Scotus’ theology seeks to see the created world from God’s point of view, ad mentem Dei, and not to subordinate His eternal decrees to man’s temporal and spiritual needs. God’s works are not conditioned. God is God; then God, in His goodness, freely wills to create the universe according to a fixed plan.

It is a fact that dogmatic theology tends to go in this order: God the Trinity, creation, the fall, then Christology. Why? Because it is presupposed (clearly a thomistic presupposition) that Christ comes as a remedy for man’s sin. But from the Franciscan perspective this is putting the cart before the horse.

The Franciscan scheme of things would look like this: God the Trinity, Christ, the rest of creation in and for Christ, the fall, then soteriology. God, knows and loves Himself ab intra in the eternal now of His divine beatitude. Then (we are speaking of priority, not of time) He wills to communicate His love and truth ad extra in the most perfect way possible, namely by uniting a created nature to the Divinity in the Incarnation of the Word. Christ indeed is the beginning of God’s creation. After Christ, but in the same decree, God wills and predestines the Virgin Mary to be His Mother and the elect to be His Angels and Saints (filial adoption: He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world… to be His children. See Eph 1:4). In other words, creation hinges upon the predestination of Christ to grace and glory; everything is created for Him (Col 1:16-17). It is in the context of the absolute primacy of Christ that the Franciscan school speaks of the fall and the Redemption, whereas the thomistic school would speak of Christ’s coming and primacy within the context of the fall and man’s need for Redemption.

Here are two pertinent quotes of Scotus showing the priority of the Incarnation in the divine decree of creation (prior to any consideration of man’s sin):

“I prove this as follows: because everyone who wills in an orderly manner, wills first the end, then more immediately those things which are closer to the end; but God wills in a most orderly manner; therefore, that is the way He wills.  In the first place, then, He wills Himself, and immediately after Him, ad extra, is the soul of Christ.  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.” (Opus Parisiense, Lib III, d.7, q.4)

And again:

“Therefore, since the positive act of the divine will regarding the predestined in common precedes all the acts of His will concerning either the reprobate or the fall of anyone whatever, it does not seem that the predestination of Christ to be the Head of the heavenly court was occasioned by the fall or by the demerit of the reprobate. Therefore, God first loves Himself, and nearest in relation to this is his love for the soul of Christ that is to have the greatest glory in the world. And among all created things to be willed, this was first willed—an existence foreseen prior to all merit and hence prior to all demerit.” (Reportatio Barcinonensis, II, d.7, q.3)

In Ven. Mary of Agreda’s first book on Mary’s Conception, after describing the reason that she, an “ignorant woman” as she calls herself, would dare to write on the life and privileges of the Blessed Virgin Mary, she plunges into the most sublime theology: the divine Trinity in Himself, whose ways are inscrutable. She describes, with a theological precision that is astonishing, the life of the Blessed Trinity ab intra. “I saw the Lord as He was before He had created anything,” she writes (n.30). And here is what she saw (and I quote at length):

“I saw the Most High, at the same time understanding how His Majesty is in Himself; I received a clear intelligence and a true perception of what is meant by a God, infinite in His substance and attributes, eternal, exalted above all, being three in Person, and one true God. Three in Person, because of the three activities of knowing, comprehending and loving each other; one, so as to secure the boon of eternal unity. It is the Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. The Father is not made, nor created, nor begotten, nor can He be generated or have a beginning. I perceived that the Son derives His origin from the Father alone by eternal generation; and that They are equal in their duration from eternity; and that He is begotten by the fecundity of the intelligence of the Father. The Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son through love. In their indivisible Trinity there is nothing which can be called first or last, greater or smaller: all three Persons are equally eternal and eternally equal; there is unity of essence in a trinity of Persons. Nor are the Persons mingled in order to form one God, nor the divine substance separated or divided in order to form three Persons, being distinct as the Father, as the Son and as the Holy Ghost. They are nevertheless one and the same Divinity, equal in Each is the glory, and majesty, the power, the eternity, the immensity, the wisdom and sanctity, and all the attributes. And though there are three Persons, in whom these infinite perfections subsist, He is the one and true God, the Holy, the Just, the powerful, the Eternal and Measureless. (n.27)

It is in this context – God knowing, comprehending and loving within Himself – that the decree of creation issues forth. Notice the motivation for creating in the Venerable’s description:

“I understood that the Most High was in the quiescent state of His own Being, when the three Persons (according to our way of understanding things), decreed to communicate His perfections as a free gift. For greater clearness, I must remark, that God comprehends in Himself all things by one indivisible, most simple and instantaneous act. He does not go on from the understanding of one thing to the understanding of another like we do, distinguishing and perceiving first one thing by an act of understanding, and after that proceeding to the knowledge of others by their connection with those already known. God knows them conjointly all at once, without before or after, since all are together and at once contained in the divine and uncreated knowledge and science, just as they are comprehended and enclosed in His infinite Being, as in their first beginning. (n.31)

Note two things: First, she affirms that creation was “decreed to communicate His perfections as a free gift.” God, in His love and goodness, wills creation so as to communicate Himself ad extra. And the most perfect way to communicate Himself would be??? Ah, yes, by the Incarnation! But I anticipate (this is precisely what St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church, taught, by the way).

Secondly, she struggles to deal with the problem of God’s timelessness and the priority He had in creating. Priority, while it does not imply time, can only be expressed by us using limited human language. So while God wills everything simultaneously, there is a priority of importance, a primacy, and the absolute primacy in God’s creative plan is Jesus Christ.

This latter point is very important because many who oppose the Franciscan thesis use this as an escape hatch to avoid the argument at hand. They say that God is outside of time and would have foreseen Adam’s sin and hence could have willed Christ even before Adam’s fall because God foresaw His fall outside of time. But the thing they don’t acknowledge is that in saying that Christ came primarily as a remedy for sin they themselves are speaking of a priority in God’s creative plan – it’s a different priority, but a priority nonetheless. So no matter how you slice it (thomistically or scotistically), one has to speak of priority in the divine plan. What was God’s primary reason in creating, in willing the Incarnation? Both schools of thought have an answer and both acknowledge that God is outside of time and foresaw everything. So there is no escape hatch; either Christ was willed first and absolutely, or He was willed as a remedy to man’s sin and thus relative to man’s need for Redemption.

Because this is essential to grasping the “divine instances” revealed to Ven. Mary of Agreda, you might want to take a look at this before plunging into Part III…

Ven. Mary of Agreda – Absolute Primacy of Christ – Part I

Ven. Mary of Agreda and the Absolute Primacy of Christ

In the spiritual life we say ad Jesum per Mariam (To Jesus through Mary) because, as we know, Jesus is the sole Mediator between God and man (cf. 1 Tm 2:5) and therefore Mary’s role in the spiritual life is to lead us to union with God in Christ Jesus. She facilitates this communion with Our Lord by her maternal mediation, just as Christ facilitates our union with the entire Trinity by His priestly mediation.

However, when it comes to understanding the role and position of the Blessed Virgin Mary in God’s plan the approach is vice versa: ad Mariam per Jesum (To Mary through Jesus). The study of Mary – a.k.a. Mariology – is a department of Christology. In other words, we cannot know who Mary is in God’s plan without first grasping who Christ is. The result is that we have to establish the position of Jesus in the divine economy if we are going to understand Mary’s position. It was precisely for this reason that the Apostles and early Christian writers, while never denying or downplaying Mary’s role, were primarily focused on proclaiming Christ to a non-Christian world (Gentiles and Jews alike). We can only understand who Mary is through first understanding who Jesus is.

This is precisely what Ven. Mary of Agreda was inspired to do in writing about Our Lady. Her eight books on the life of the Virgin Mary, entitled the Mystical City of God (usually printed in 4 volumes in English), began with divine revelations on the absolute primacy of Christ. Then, within this framework, she penetrated into the life and virtues of the Virgin Mary from her Immaculate Conception to her Coronation in Heaven.

It is a fact that when one denies the absolute primacy of Christ (namely, to deny that the Incarnation is willed apart from any consideration of sin), then theologians conclude that her role in salvation history is the direct result of Adam and Eve’s original sin – they say that she is indebted to Adam’s sin for being chosen to be the Theotokos, that she solely exists for sinners and owes all of her greatness to man’s fall, and they even arrive at saying that she owes her very existence to original sin [this is one of the weaknesses, in my opinion, of the Thomistic position (St. Thomas held no sin, no Incarnation)].

That said, establishing the absolute primacy of Christ is of great importance to understanding everything in creation. If creation was made with Christ in mind, then Christ (and specifically His Sacred Humanity, since His Divine Person is uncreated) was willed first by God and everything else was created in and for Him. A beautiful example of this is found in the work of Fr. Gabriel Amorth An Exorcist Tells His Story where, before speaking of the evil spirits and his personal encounters with them, he establishes their relation to Christ. Their rebellion, according to Fr. Amorth, was precisely against Jesus.

The posts that will follow, then, will be focused on the revelations given to Ven. Mary of Agreda found in Book 1, Chapters 3-13 about God’s immutable decree which willed the Incarnation of the Word absolutely and unconditionally. We will also see God’s explanation to her of why so many – even great Doctor’s of the Church – were wrong on this point (like St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Alphonsus Liguori, just to name two of the greats).

Christ the King… even if Adam had not sinned!

St. Francis of Assisi spoke of how we were made in the image of Christ in his fifth Admonition:

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.

This dignity of man in view of the Incarnation is a seminal affirmation of what would be developed scholastically by Bl. John Duns Scotus and would be championed by the Franciscan school of theology, namely, that the primacy of Christ in all creation (especially seen in St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians, Romans, and Ephesians) is absolute. In other words, in God’s initial plan the “chief cornerstone”, as it were, of His work of creation was always Christ. Sin or no sin, Christ was willed to recapulate all creation in Himself and offer perfect praise and glory to the Most Holy Trinity as high priest and mediator on behalf of and in union with all of creation.

Bl. John Duns Scotus expresses it in this way:

“At this point, however, two questions arise. First, whether this predestination [of Christ] necessarily presupposes the fall of human nature; which is what many authorities seem to be saying, to the effect that the Son of God would never have become incarnate if man had not fallen.

“Without attempting to settle the matter dogmatically, one may state in accord with the last mentioned opinion in distinction 41 of the First Book [of Sentences] that, in so far as the objects intended by God are concerned, since the predestination in general of anyone to glory is prior by nature to the prevision of anyone’s sin or damnation, this is all the more so true of the predestination of that soul chosen for the greatest glory. For it appears to be universally true that He who wills in an orderly manner intends first that which is nearest the end. And so just as He first intends one to have glory before grace, so also among those predestined to glory, He who wills in an orderly fashion would seem to intend first the glory of the one He wishes to be nearest the end. Thus, He wills glory for this soul before He wills glory for any other soul, and for every other soul He wills glory and grace before He foresees those things which are the opposite of these habits [i.e. sin or damnation]…

“If man had not sinned, there would have been no need for our redemption. But that God predestined this soul [of Christ] to so great a glory does not seem to be only on account of that [redemption], since the redemption or the glory of the soul to be redeemed is not comparable to the glory of Christ’s soul. Neither is it likely that the highest good in creation is something that was merely occasioned only because of some lesser good; nor is it likely that He predestined Adam to such good before He predestined Christ; and yet this would follow [were the Incarnation occasioned by Adam’s sin]. In fact, if the predestination of Christ’s soul was for the sole purpose of redeeming others, something even more absurd would follow, namely, that in predestining Adam to glory, He would have foreseen him as having fallen into sin before He predestined Christ to glory.

“It can be said, therefore, that with a priority of nature God chose for His heavenly court all the angels and men He wished to have with their various degrees of perfection before He foresaw either sin or the punishment for sinners; and no one has been predestined only because somebody else’s sin was foreseen, lest anyone have reason to rejoice over the fall of another.”

(All of Scotus’ writings on this topic can be found here).

Because of sin we had need of Redemption, without which we could never have profited from the Incarnation of Christ in the womb of the ever Virgin Mary. Scotus maintains that if man not sinned, Christ would not have come as Redeemer, but that He would have come nonetheless as King and Mediator. Sin did not change the substance of God’s eternal decree which willed Christ first and then all creation in and for Him. After the fall of Adam and Eve the plan remains the same, but now God manifests His “most ardent and tender flames of divine love” in the Passion.

Ven. Mary of Jesus of Agreda

While there are many Saints and theologians who uphold and proclaim the absolute primacy of Christ, I would like to draw attention in the next few posts to a mystic whose revelations about the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary affirm that the Incarnation was an immutable decree of God before any consideration of sin. Before studying these revelations more in-depth, this video explains well the amazing story of her books known as the “The Mystical City of God” and why they are of such great value to the patrimony of the Church. May she be beatified and canonized soon!