Advent – A Franciscan Perspective (conclusion)

The Mystery of the Incarnation as Revealed to Adam Before the Fall (conclusion)

We have seen from St. Jerome, St. Augustine, Tertullian, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure and implicitly St. John of the Cross how Adam knew of the mystery of the Incarnation before the fall. We now briefly turn to St. John Paul II who in his theology of the body focuses on the “beginning” and the “mystery” of God’s plan. He sees man as being elected in Christ “before sin.” I will not be able to examine his whole corpus on the theology of the body, but will simply draw out this point from one of his teachings on Ephesians 5, that of his Wednesday Audience of October 6, 1982. Here are some of the more pertinent passages:

On the contrary, before sin, man bore in his soul the fruit of eternal election in Christ, the eternal Son of the Father… Comparing the testimony of the “beginning” found in the first chapters of Genesis, with the testimony of the Letter to the Ephesians, one must deduce that the reality of man’s creation was already imbued by the perennial election of man in Christ. Man is called to sanctity through the grace of the adoption as sons. “He destined us to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (Eph 1:5-6).

These statements presume the doctrine of the absolute primacy of Christ. He is making a point about marriage as instituted by God in “the beginning” and as such Adam and Eve (and all marriages after) are to be a reflection of the love of Christ the Divine Bridegroom and His Bride, the Church. Further on, St. John Paul confirms yet again that man’s election in Christ was prior to the fall:

Man, male and female, shared from the beginning in this supernatural gift. This bounty was granted in consideration of him, who from eternity was beloved as Son, even though—according to the dimensions of time and history—it had preceded the Incarnation of this beloved Son and also the redemption which we have in him through his blood (cf. Eph 1:7). The redemption was to become the source of man’s supernatural endowment after sin and, in a certain sense, in spite of sin. This supernatural endowment, which took place before original sin, that is, the grace of justice and original innocence—an endowment which was the fruit of man’s election in Christ before the ages—was accomplished precisely in reference to him, to the beloved One, while anticipating chronologically his coming in the body. In the dimensions of the mystery of creation the election to the dignity of adopted sonship was proper only to the first Adam, that is, to the man created in the image and likeness of God, male and female.

From this it seems clear enough that Christ’s coming is not conditioned by sin. Man’s election to adoptive sonship – sin or no sin – is in Christ, the beloved Son of the Father, and this “from eternity” and “before the ages.” While St. John Paul II’s corpus has many other gems to offer, let these thoughts suffice for our purpose of saying that all of creation exists for Christ; that Adam and Eve were created with Christ in mind and chosen to reflect in their marriage the love of Christ for His Church and the Church for Christ. Related to our present reflection, St. John Paul II’s teaching implies, obviously, what we have stated earlier: namely, that Adam knew of his election in Christ and hence the mystery of the Incarnation prior to sin.

All of these confirmations (from Genesis to John Paul II) that Adam and Eve knew about the coming birth of Christ the King before original sin, that their election, therefore, was in Christ prior to any consideration of the fall, all of these make for a marvelous meditation in preparation for Christmas. Fr. Dominic Unger is right in saying that “it would seem most natural to argue that if Adam had knowledge of the Incarnation before his fall, as a very great good and as the means of his grace and glory, then Christ was not dependent on the fall…”

The result is that all of history up to the Holy Night was a prolonged Advent of divine preparations for the coming of the central mystery and masterpiece of all God’s creative handiwork. As I write the Marches of Italy are covered with snow on this vigil of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, but I’m dreaming less of a white Christmas than a Franciscan Christmas: a true celebration of the birth of Christ the King, the fulfillment of God’s “dream,” so to speak, for His Son and for us. My prayer is that all will one day recognize Christ’s absolute primacy.

May this Christmas be the holiest of your life so far! May the Immaculate Mother of God give you her love for the Infant Jesus and prepare your heart to be a fitting cradle for His Nativity.

In Corde Matris,

fr maximilian mary dean