Pope Benedict XVI, Scotus, the Incarnation

Ave Maria!

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.

St. Lawrence of Brindisi, Doctor of the Church – Christ willed “for His own sake”

A noteworthy quote of St. Lawrence of Brindisi (+1619), Doctor of the Church, was posted at AirMaria.com a few years ago here. It gives marvelous insight into the Franciscan thesis which says that the Incarnation of Christ was willed for its own sake and not primarily as a remedy to Adam’s fall. St. Lawrence says,

God is love, and all His operations proceed from love. Once He wills to manifest that goodness by sharing His love outside Himself, then the Incarnation becomes the supreme manifestation of His goodness and love and glory. So, Christ was intended before all other creatures and for His own sake. For Him all things were created and to Him all things must be subject, and God loves all creatures in and because of Christ. Christ is the first-born of every creature, and the whole of humanity as well as the created world finds its foundation and meaning in Him. Moreover, this would have been the case even if Adam had not sinned.

I have translated a few other quotes pertinent to the primacy of Christ from the Latin Mariale of the Saint which can be found at this link. I consider St. Lawrence of Brindisi a “heavyweight” when it comes to the Franciscan thesis because of his theological erudition and his deeply contemplative and penitential spirit as part of the Capuchin reform.

St. Athanasius – Christ before the ages

In his 2nd Discourse against the Arians (nn.75-76) St. Athanasius, based on Prov 8:23-25, 2 Tim 1:8-10 and Eph 1:3-5, clearly affirms our predestination in Christ before the world was created. Although he doesn’t draw the same conclusion as St. Maximus and Bl. John Duns Scotus, namely, the absolute predestination of Christ even if Adam had not sinned, nonetheless he confirms that the tradition of the early Church Fathers always held the predestination of Christ prior to the fall, prior to creation itself. If we were predestined in Christ Jesus to be God’s adopted children before the creation of the world, before the ages, and thus before the fall, then it is reasonable to say that the Sacred Humanity of Christ was predestined to the glory of the hypostatic union prior to any consideration of sin. Here is the text of St. Athanasius of Alexandria (+373):

75. Nor let the words ‘before the world’ and ‘before He made the earth’ and ‘before the mountains were settled’ disturb any one; for they very well accord with ‘founded’ and ‘created;’ for here again allusion is made to the Economy according to the flesh. For though the grace which came to us from the Saviour appeared, as the Apostle says, just now, and has come when He sojourned among us; yet this grace had been prepared even before we came into being, nay, before the foundation of the world  […] He [the Christ] should have been created for us ‘a beginning of the ways,’ and He who was the ‘First-born of creation’ should become ‘first-born’ of the ‘brethren,’ and again should rise ‘first-fruits of the dead.’ This Paul the blessed Apostle teaches in his writings; for, as interpreting the words of the Proverbs ‘before the world’ and ‘before the earth was,’ he thus speaks to Timothy ; ‘Be partaker of the afflictions of the Gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who has abolished death, and brought to light life’ (2 Tm 1:8-10). And to the Ephesians; ‘Blessed be God even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, according as He has chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestinated us to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself’ (Eph 1:3-5).

76. How then has He chosen us, before we came into existence, but that, as he says himself, in Him we were represented beforehand? And how at all, before men were created, did He predestinate us unto adoption, but that the Son Himself was ‘founded before the world,’ taking on Him that economy which was for our sake? Or how, as the Apostle goes on to say, have we ‘an inheritance being predestinated,’ but that the Lord Himself was founded ‘before the world,’ inasmuch as He had a purpose, for our sakes, to take on Him through the flesh all that inheritance of judgment which lay against us, and we henceforth were made sons in Him? And how did we receive it ‘before the world was,’ when we were not yet in being, but afterwards in time, but that in Christ was stored the grace which has reached us? Wherefore also in the Judgment, when every one shall receive according to his conduct, He says, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’ (Mt 25:34). How then, or in whom, was it prepared before we came to be, save in the Lord who ‘before the world’ was founded for this purpose; that we, as built upon Him, might partake, as well-compacted stones, the life and grace which is from Him? And this took place, as naturally suggests itself to the religious mind, that, as I said, we, rising after our brief death, may be capable of an eternal life, of which we had not been capable , men as we are, formed of earth, but that ‘before the world’ there had been prepared for us in Christ the hope of life and salvation. Therefore reason is there that the Word, on coming into our flesh, and being created in it as ‘a beginning of ways for His works,’ is laid as a foundation according as the Father’s will was in Him before the world, as has been said, and before land was, and before the mountains were settled, and before the fountains burst forth; that, though the earth and the mountains and the shapes of visible nature pass away in the fullness of the present age, we on the contrary may not grow old after their pattern, but may be able to live after them, having the spiritual life and blessing which before these things have been prepared for us in the Word Himself according to election. For thus we shall be capable of a life not temporary, but ever afterwards abide and live in Christ; since even before this our life had been founded and prepared in Christ Jesus.

Although St. Athanasius indicates that the Incarnation of the Word was occasioned by sin (the divine architect foreseeing the need for reparation), nonetheless he also points out theosis (or divinization) as another motive of the Incarnation, one which is so dear to the Orthodox. He writes, “For He was made man that we might be made God” (On the Incarnation, sect. 54); and again, “for as the Lord, putting on the body, became man, so we men are deified by the Word as being taken to Him through His flesh” (3rd Discourse Against the Arians, n.34). He, in essence, is reiterating the words of St. Irenaeus: “If the Word has been made man, it is so that men may be made gods” (Adv. Haer V, Pref.). The teaching of theosis is rooted in the apostolic teaching itself (cf. 2 Pt 1:4; Rm 8:9) and is exquisitely expressed in the Divine Liturgy of the East and West in the prayer during the mingling of the water and wine: “By the mystery of this water in wine, may we come to share in the Divinity of Christ, who humbled Himself to share in our humanity” (Roman Missal – deacon or priest at the Preparation of the Gifts); “You have united, O Lord, Your Divinity with our humanity and our humanity with Your Divinity; Your life with our mortality and our mortality with Your life. You have assumed what is ours and You have given us what is Yours for the life and salvation of our souls. To You be glory forever” (Rite of Intinction – Maronite Rite).