In his General Audience of July 7th, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI praised the Doctor Subtilis, Bl. John Duns Scotus, and gave special mention to Scotus’ position which held that the Incarnation is the summum opus Dei, that is, “the greatest and most beautiful work of the entire history of salvation, that it is not conditioned by any contingent fact…” Here we only report the Pope’s comments regarding the primacy of Christ; for the full text you can go to the Vatican website and read the Pope’s concise presentation of Scotus’ life and thought or even watch the video. The pertinent text follows:
First of all he meditated on the Mystery of the Incarnation and, unlike many Christian thinkers of the time, held that the Son of God would have been made man even if humanity had not sinned. He says in his “Reportatio Parisiensis”: “To think that God would have given up such a task had Adam not sinned would be quite unreasonable! I say, therefore, that the fall was not the cause of Christ’s predestination and that if no one had fallen, neither the angel nor man in this hypothesis Christ would still have been predestined in the same way” (in III Sent., d. 7, 4). This perhaps somewhat surprising thought crystallized because, in the opinion of Duns Scotus the Incarnation of the Son of God, planned from all eternity by God the Father at the level of love is the fulfilment of creation and enables every creature, in Christ and through Christ, to be filled with grace and to praise and glorify God in eternity. Although Duns Scotus was aware that in fact, because of original sin, Christ redeemed us with his Passion, Death and Resurrection, he reaffirmed that the Incarnation is the greatest and most beautiful work of the entire history of salvation, that it is not conditioned by any contingent fact but is God’s original idea of ultimately uniting with himself the whole of creation, in the Person and Flesh of the Son.
This is a stupendous synthesis of the Franciscan thesis on the absolute primacy of Christ as expressed by Bl. Duns Scotus which was not available when I wrote my book on the absolute primacy of Christ. Note the following points:
- The Sacred Humanity of Christ was “predestined in this way” indepedent of any consideration of sin. In other words, the Masterpiece of God’s creative plan, the Incarnation, was at the center of His design – man’s sin (as well as the Angel’s) was a refusal to conform to God’s plan and hence the need for the Passion.
- The thought of Scotus is centered on God as charity (cfr. I Jn 4:8-9), hence the Incarnation is a work of divine love and not just a remedy for sin.
- The Incarnation “is the greatest and most beautiful work” of the Creator – what Scotus calls the summum opus Dei, and to say that this was “occasioned” or “conditioned” by sin or any other “contingent fact”, for the Subtle Doctor, was “quite unreasonable” (or, in another place, Scotus says “absurd”)
- The hypothetical conclusion “that the Son of God would have been made man even if humanity had not sinned“ is NOT just hypothetical hype, but a thought “crystallized because, in the opinion of Duns Scotus the Incarnation of the Son of God, planned from all eternity by God the Father at the level of love is the fulfilment of creation and enables every creature, in Christ and through Christ, to be filled with grace and to praise and glorify God in eternity.” In other words, the question serves not to “guess” what God would or could have done, but to “crystallize” a position that this was God’s eternal plan, regardless of man’s sin, namely, that every creature “be filled with grace and… praise and glorify God in eternity” – “in Christ and through Christ”. This phrase, in fact, calls to mind the per ipsum of the Holy Mass: “Through Him, with Him and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor are Yours Almighty Father forever and ever. Amen.” Note well, that many dismiss the argument of Scotus superficially with “oh, it’s just a bunch of hypothetical hogwash.” But none of the scholastic theologians ignored this: St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, etc. all dealt with this question in order to “crystallize” their position on the Incarnation of Christ as conditioned/relative or unconditioned/absolute.
Praised be Jesus Christ!
fr. maximilian mary dean, F.I.