Carmelites on the Absolute Primacy of Christ

Like all of the Religious Orders you will find Carmelites on both sides of the fence when it comes to the absolute vs. relative primacy of Christ. I know that in Divine Intimacy Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene, O.C.D., clearly stands with the thomistic school – no sin, no Incarnation. But there are some noteworthy voices from the Carmelite Order who would beg to differ.

St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi says:  “If Adam had not sinned, the Word would have become incarnate just the same.”[Oeuvres…, p.3, c.3 (trans. from the Italian by A. Bruniaux; Paris, 1873) II, 35]. Leave it to a Mystic to state it so succinctly 🙂

St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, O.C.D., although not explicit on this point, nonetheless shares the same feast day as Bl. John Duns Scotus (November 8th) and repeatedly reflects on her eternal predestination in Christ according to St. Paul’s stupendous canticle in Eph. 1:3-10 (you can see my commentary on this passage here). She underscores the fact that we must always live in His presence and that we must do this in Love, namely in Him who is Love. She says that this call “in Him” is the “divine and eternal unchanging plan” (Last Retreat – 2nd day) – a turn of phrase which would indicate that our predestination in Christ is not conditioned, but divine, eternal and immutable simply because it is His plan from the beginning.

My all time favorite is the line of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, O.C.D. (a.k.a. Edith Stein). I read this in the National Catholic Register back in 1998 at the time of her beatification. After translating several volumes of St. Thomas Aquinas into German, one of the nuns of her community asked the Saint during recreation what she thought of St. Thomas’ writings. She responded more or less like this, “I agree with him in everything; but when it comes to the Incarnation, I follow Scotus.”

St. John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church, gives us a unique view into the primary motive of the Incarnation in his usual poetic and mystical style. He wrote a series of “Romances” describing the inner life of the Trinity, creation and the Incarnation. Here are some of the pertinent verses:

“My Son, I wish to give you
a bride who will love you.
Because of you she will deserve
to share our company,

and eat at our table,
the same bread I eat,
that she may know the good
I have in such a Son;
and rejoice with me
in your grace and fullness.”

“I am very grateful,”
the Son answered;
“I will show my brightness
to the bride you give me,

so that by it she may see
how great my Father is,
and how I have received
my being from your being.

I will hold her in my arms
and she will burn with your love,
and with eternal delight
she will exalt your goodness.”

In Romance 7 on the Incarnation he continues:

“Now you see, Son, that your bride
was made in your image,
and so far as she is like you
she will suit you well;

yet she is different, in her flesh,
which your simple being does not have.
In perfect love
this law holds:
that the lover become
like the one he loves;
for the greater their likeness
the greater their delight.

Surely your bride’s delight
would greatly increase
were she to see you like her,
in her own flesh.”
“My will is yours,”
the Son replied…

In this beautiful series of poems we have a mystical, poetic expression of a Doctor of the Church on the inner life of the Trinity, the creation of the universe as willed by the Father to be the Bride of the Son (so all things exist for Christ prior to any consideration of sin) and so that He can share with creation the joy that He finds in His Only-Begotten, the Incarnation as the coming of the Bridegroom who ever wishes to become “like the one He loves” and to consummate the mystical espousals with His Bride. Obviously St. John does not neglect the Redemption nor downplay it, put simply squares it away in the framework of the immutable divine decree to so love the Son as to create the world (and more specifically the Church) as His Bride and to so love the world as to send His Only-Begotten Son so as to delight the beautiful Bride who, after the fall, is stained with sin and must be sanctified by the Son delivering Himself up for her, “cleansing her in the bath of water by means of the word; in order that He might present to Himself the Church in all her glory, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:26-27).

This dogmatic poetry of St. John of the Cross, while having unique nuances of its own, clearly syncs up with the Franciscan school. From the first moment of creation everything is directed towards Christ the King who will be born of a Virgin at Bethlehem; from the first matrimony of Adam and Eve every marriage is to be a reflection of “the great mystery” of the nuptials of Christ with His Bride the Church (Eph 5:21ff).

Θεοσις – Sin or no sin, God’s plan was to make us partakers of the divine nature in Christ

St. Maximus the Confessor, a prominent Greek Father of the Church (d. 662), in his Questiones ad Thalassium (q.22) argues that all of history is rooted in the Incarnation because that is when our divinization (or deification) took place. The truth of our divinization in Christ is prominent in the writings of the Greek Fathers and is called theosis (in Greek – Θεοσις). Although the Western Church tends to focus on adoptive sonship, the Catechism of the Catholic Church cites divinization as one of the motives of the Incarnation and ties it in with divine sonship (#460):

“The Word became flesh to make us ‘partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Pt 1:4). ‘For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.’ (St. Irenaeus, Adv. Haeres. 3,19,1; PG 7/1, 939). ‘For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.’ (St. Athanasius, De Inc. 54,3; PG 25, 1928). ‘The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that He, made man, might make men gods.’ (St. Thomas Aquinas, Opusc. 57, 1-4).”

The notion of theosis [Θεοσις] is, of course, rooted in Scripture and Tradition. St. Peter is cited in the Catechism above (cf. 2 Pt 1:4). St. Paul alludes to this truth when he writes, “For you know the graciousness of our Lord Jesus Christ – how, being rich, He became poor for your sakes, that by His poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). Christ’s wealth is His Divinity and He becomes “poor” by assuming our human nature, all of this so that by His “poverty” (viz. His Sacred Humanity) we might become “rich” by partaking of the divine nature. And St. John tells us that “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us… And of His fullness we have all received grace for grace” (Jn 1:14,16) which ties in nicely with Paul’s text to the Colossians, “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodliy, and in Him who is the head of every Principality and Power you have received of that fullness” (Col 2:9-10).

St. Athanasius (besides the quote cited in the Catechism above) wrote, “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.). This sublime teaching 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).

For St. Maximus all of salvation history can be divided into two periods: the time preparing for the Divinity to take on human nature in the hypostatic union and the period thereafter wherein humanity is invited to partake of the divine nature. I will conclude this post with his teaching which I believe speaks for itself:

Q. If in the coming ages God will show His riches (Eph 2:7), how is it that the end of the ages has come upon us (1 Cor 10:11)?

R. He who, by the sheer inclination of His will, established the beginning of all creation, seen and unseen, before all the ages and before that beginning of created beings, had an ineffably good plan for those creatures. The plan was for Him to mingle, without change on his part, with human nature by true hypostatic union, to unite human nature to Himself while remaining immutable, so that He might become a man, as He alone knew how, and so that He might deify humanity in union with Himself. Also, according to this plan, it is clear that God wisely divided “the ages” between those intended for God to become human, and those intended for humanity to become divine.

Thus the end of those ages predetermined for God to become human has already come upon us, since God’s purpose was fulfilled in the very events of His Incarnation. The divine Apostle, having fully examined this fact […], and observing that the end of the ages intended for God’s becoming human had already arrived through the very Incarnation of the divine Logos, said that the end of the ages has come upon us (1 Cor 10:11). Yet by “ages” he meant not ages as we normally conceive them, but clearly the ages intended to bring about the mystery of His embodiment, which have already come to term according to God’s purpose.

Since, therefore, the ages predetermined in God’s purpose for the realization of His becoming man have reached their end for us, and God has undertaken and in fact achieved His own perfect Incarnation, the other “ages” – those which are to come about for the realization of the mystical and ineffable deification of humanity – must follow henceforth. In these new ages God will show the immeasurable riches of His goodness to us (Eph 2:7), having completely realized this deification in those who are worthy. For if He has brought to completion His mystical work of becoming man, having become like us in every way save without sin (cf. Heb 4:15), and even descended into the lower regions of the earth where the tyranny of sin compelled humanity, then God will also completely fulfill the goal of His mystical work of deifying humanity in every respect, of course, short of an identity of essence with God; and He will assimilate humanity to Himself and elevate us to a position above all the heavens. It is to this exalted position that the natural magnitude of God’s grace summons lowly humanity, out of a goodness that is infinite. The great Apostle is mystically teaching us about this when he says that in the ages to come the immeasurable riches of His goodness will be shown to us (Eph 2:7).

We too should therefore divide the “ages” conceptually, and distinguish between those intended for the myster of teh divine Incarnation and those intended for the grace of human deification, and we shall discover that the former have already reached their proper end while the latter have not yet arrived. In short, the former have to do with God’ descent to human beings, while the latter have to do with humanity’s ascent to God. By interpreting the texts thus, we do not falter in teh obscurity of the divine words of the Scripture, nor assume that the divine Apostle had lapsed into this same mistake.

St. John Chrysostom on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians

St. John Chrysostom, Doctor of the Church (+407), wrote and preached extensively on the mystery of Christ as revealed in Scripture and Tradition. In his Homilies on Ephesians he comments on our predestination in Christ before the foundation of the world and how this economy of grace was foreordained. He also speaks of the immutable purpose of God and how all things, including the Angels, are under the headship of Christ.

Ironically, while he illustrates so many points that confirm the Franciscan perspective (which is the perspective of St. Paul, indeed of God Himself! – one can read my own exposition of the Pauline perspective here), St. John frequently speaks as if Christ’s coming was occasioned by sin. Here is but one example: “It was well near come to this, that man had been made in vain, brought into the world in vain, nay, rather to his ruin; when all were absolutely perishing, more fearfully than in the deluge, He devised this dispensation, that is by grace; that it might not be in vain, might not be to no purpose that man was created.” One senses from these words that Christ is a sort of “plan B” which God devised to salvage man. Although Chrysostom does not seem to have held what is today called the “absolute” primacy of Christ (sin or no sin), nonetheless, he offers many insights which clearly uphold the position of Christ’s absolute predestination and primacy.

Commenting on Eph. 1:4 he writes:

Ver. 4. “Even as,” he [St. Paul] proceeds, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before Him in love.”

His meaning is somewhat of this sort: Through whom He has blessed us, through Him He has also chosen us. And He, then, it is that shall bestow upon us all those rewards hereafter. He is the very Judge that shall say, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Mt 25:34). And again, “I will that where I am they will also be with Me.” (Jn 17:24). And this is a point which he is anxious to prove in almost all his Epistles, that ours is no novel system, but that it had thus been figured from the very first, that it is not the result of any change of purpose, but had been in fact a divine dispensation and fore-ordained. And this is a mark of great solicitude for us.

According to St. John Chrysostom, St. Paul is anxious to drive home the point that all graces, all spiritual blessings come to us from God the Father in Christ: “…ours is no novel system,” he writes, “…it had thus been figured from the very first, that it is not the result of any change of purpose, but had been in fact a divine dispensation and fore-ordained.” This plan to make us His adopted children in Christ was established by God before creation, before any consideration of the fall, and this was not “the result of any change of purpose.” From the Franciscan perspective (which, as one can see, is rooted in Scripture and Tradition) the decree of the Incarnation was an immutable one. Sin or no sin, God wills to bless us in Christ Jesus. Because of sin that purpose remains unaltered; however, as a result of Adam’s sin Christ comes also as Redeemer and manifests not only God’s love for us, but also His infinite mercy.

St. John Chrysostom continues:

What is meant by, “He chose us in Him?” By means of the faith which is in Him, Christ, he means, happily ordered this for us before we were born; nay more, before the foundation of the world. And beautiful is that word “foundation,” as though he were pointing to the world as cast down from some vast height. Yea, vast indeed and ineffable is the height of God, so far removed not in place but in incommunicableness of nature; so wide the distance between creation and Creator! A word which heretics may be ashamed to hear.

And this incommunicability of the divine and human nature, this abyss which separates creation from the Creator on the level of being, does it not make sense that for all of the elect, both the Saints and the Angels, that ontological separation would be bridged by a Mediator? “There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, Himself a man, Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5; cf. Mt. 11:27; Jn. 14:6; 1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 8:6; 9:15; 12:24). Indeed this is what God “happily ordered for us before we were born… before the foundation of the world.”

But wherefore has He chosen us? “That we should be holy and without a blemish before Him.” That you may not then, when you hear that “He has chosen us,” imagine that faith alone is sufficient, he proceeds to add life and conduct. To this end, says he, has He chosen us, and on this condition, “that we should be holy and without blemish.”

The plan is stupendous! But it is not by faith alone that it is accomplished in us. We must correspond to God’s plan for us in Christ by a life of virtue if we are to enter the eternal blessedness of His kingdom. As St. John of the Cross would say, “Love is repaid by love alone.” Chrysostom goes on to say:

Ver. 4, 5. “In love,” says he, “having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto Himself.”

Do you observe how that nothing is done without Christ? Nothing without the Father? The one has predestinated, the other has brought us near. And these words he adds by way of heightening the things which have been done, in the same way as he says also elsewhere, “And not only so, but we also rejoice in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rm 5:11). For great indeed are the blessings bestowed, yet are they made far greater in being bestowed through Christ; because He sent not any servant, though it was to servants He sent, but the Only-begotten Son Himself.

Christ is, to use the expression of Bl. John Duns Scotus, the summum opus Dei – the great Masterpiece of God’s creative hand. The Father does nothing in the universe without Christ, the Word Incarnate. If God gives us every spiritual blessing on high in Christ, as St. Paul says, then this means that God gives no spiritual blessing apart from Christ – whether to Angels or to men. While the blessings are great, they are “far greater in being bestowed through Christ.” Is it even possible to think that this perfect, sublime plan of God in Christ is but a remedy for Adam’s sin? Does Scripture reveal to us a different way, truth and life for the good Angels and for Adam and Eve before the fall? No. Before the foundations of the world God established one economy of grace in Christ.

St. John Chrysostom clarifies what St. Paul means in v.10 by the word ἀνακεφαλαιώσασθαι – often translated to re-establish.

Ver. 10. “Unto a dispensation of the fullness of the times to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens and the things upon the earth, even in Him.”…

The fullness of the times, however, was His coming… [for more on St. Paul’s phrase “the fullness of times” one can read here]

That “He might sum up” [ἀνακεφαλαιώσασθαι] he says.

What is the meaning of this word, “sum up?” It is “to knit together.” Let us, however, endeavor to get near the exact import. With ourselves then, in common conversation, the word means the summing into a brief compass things spoken at length, the concise account of matters described in detail. And it has this meaning. For Christ has gathered up in Himself the dispensations carried on through a lengthened period, that is to say, He has cut them short. For “by finishing His word and cutting it short in righteousness,” (Rm 9:28) He both comprehended former dispensations, and added others beside. This is the meaning of “summing up.”

The root of the word ἀνακεφαλαιώσασθαι (anakephalaiosasthai) is κεφαλ- which comes from the Greek word for “head”. The prefix ἀνα- means up or upwards. What the Holy Apostle is literally saying is that God’s dispensation which is realized in the fullness of times is to bring all things – both in Heaven and on earth – under the headship of Christ. “Sum up” is closer to the Greek than the Latin instaurare or the English “re-establish.” The significance of the verb in Greek is clear – God’s will before the creation of the world was that all things be brought under the headship of Christ, summed up in Him. This is dealt with more in-depth in my commentary on the christocentric canticle of Paul in Colossians 1:15-20.

It has also another signification; and of what nature is this? He has set over all one and the same Head, i.e., Christ according to the flesh, alike over Angels and men. That is to say, He has given to Angels and men one and the same government… So also here He has brought all under one and the same Head. For thus will an union be effected, thus will a close bond be effected, if one and all can be brought under one and the same Head, and thus have some constraining bond of union from above. Honored then as we are with so great a blessing, so high a privilege, so great loving-kindness, let us not shame our Benefactor, let us not render in vain so great grace. Let us exemplify the life of Angels, the virtue of Angels, the conversation of Angels, yea, I entreat and conjure you, that all these things turn not to our judgment, nor to our condemnation, but to our enjoyment of those good things, which may God grant we may all attain, in Christ Jesus, our Lord, with whom to the Father, together with the Holy Ghost, be glory, strength, etc. etc.

St. John Chrysostom is only confirming the teachings of St. Paul that Christ is Head of the Angels: “the Head of every Principality and Power.” (Col. 2:10). But how can the God-Man be Head of the good Angels who have no need of Redemption? Because Christ was predestined as Head of the whole Church, of all the elect, before any consideration of sin. Below is a video where I explain this notion of Christ’s headship according to St. Paul.

In conclusion, let us ask St. John Chrysostom to intercede for us and obtain for us the graces to penetrate ever more deeply the wealth of Christology found in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians.

St. Maximus the Confessor – The Mystery of Christ as the blessed end for which all things are ordained

St. Maximus the Confessor, a prominent Greek Father of the Church (d. 662), in his Questiones ad Thalassium (q.60; PG 90; 620-621) comments on God’s foreknowledge of Christ: “Foreknown, indeed, before the foundation of the world, He has been manifested in the last times for your sakes” (1 Pt 1:20).

Below are the pertinent passages (if you are interested in reading more of his Christology I would highly recommend On the Cosmic Mystery of Christ which provides translations from St Maximus’ two main collections of theological reflections, his Ambigua and his Questions to Thalassius, plus one of his Christological opuscula).

From the pen of St. Maximus the Confessor…

The scriptural text calls the mystery of Christ “Christ.” The great Apostle clearly testifies to this when he speaks of the mystery hidden from the ages, having now been manifested (Col 1:26). He is of course referring to Christ, the whole mystery of Christ, which is manifestly the ineffable and incomprehensible hypostatic union between Christ’s divinity and humanity…

This is the great and hidden mystery, at once the blessed end for which all things are ordained. It is the divine purpose conceived before the beginning of created beings. In defining it we would say that this mystery is the preconceived goal for which everything exists, but which itself exists on account of nothing. With a clear view to this end, God created the essences of created beings, and such is, properly speaking, the terminus of His providence and of the things under His providential care. Inasmuch as it leads to God, it is the recapitulation of the things he has created. It is the mystery which circumscribes all the ages, and which reveals the grand plan of God (cf. Eph 1:10-11), a super-infinite plan infinitely preexisting the ages. The Logos, by essence God, became a messenger of this plan (cf. Is 9:5) when He became a man and, if I may rightly say so, established Himself as the innermost depth of the Father’s goodness while also displaying in Himself the very goal for which His creatures manifestly received the beginning of their existence.

Because of Christ – or rather, the whole mystery of Christ – all the ages of time and the beings within those ages have received their beginning and end in Christ. For the union between a limit of ages and limitlessness, between measure and immeasurability, between finitude and infinity, between Creator and creation, between rest and motion, was conceived before the ages. This union has been manifested in Christ at the end of time and in itself brings God’s foreknowledge to fulfillment, in order that naturally mobile creatures might secure themselves around God’s total and essential immobility, desisting altogether from their movement toward themselves and toward each other. The union has been manifested so that they might also acquire, by experience, an active knowledge of Him in whom they were made worthy to find their stability and to have abiding unchangeably in them the enjoyment of this knowledge…

This mystery was known solely to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit before all the ages. It was know to the Father by His approval (ενδοκια), to the Son by His carrying it out (αυτουρια), and to the Holy Spirit by His cooperation (συνεργεια) in it. For there is one knowledge shared by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit because They also share one essence and power. The Father and the Holy Spirit were not ignorant of the Incarnation of the Son because the whole Father is by essence in the whole Son who Himself carried out the mystery of our salvation through His Incarnation. The Father Himself did not become incarnate but rather approved the Incarnation of the Son. Moreover, the whole Holy Spirit exists by essence in the whole Son, but He too did not become incarnate but rather cooperated in the Son’s ineffable Incarnation for our sake. Whether, then, one speaks of “Christ” or the “mystery of Christ,” the Holy Trinity alone – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – foreknew it. And no one should question how Christ, who is one of the Holy Trinity, was foreknown by the Trinity, when recognizing that Christ was foreknown not as God but as man. In other words, it was His Incarnation for humanity’s sake in the economy of salvation that was foreknown. For that which is eternal and forever transcending cause and reason could never be foreknown. Foreknowledge is of being who have a beginning of existence because they have a cause.

Thus Christ was foreknown not as what He was in Himself by nature but as what He manifested when, in the economy of salvation, He subsequently became human on our behalf. For truly He who is the Creator of the essence of created beings by nature had also to become the very Author of the deification of creatures by grace, in order that the Giver of well-being might appear also as the gracious Giver of eternal well-being. Since, therefore, no created being knows what itself of any other being absolutely is in its essence, it only follows that no created being by nature has foreknowledge of any future beings. Only God, who transcends created beings, and who knows what He Himself is in essence, foreknows the existence of all His creatures even before their creation. And in the future He will by grace confer on those created beings the knowledge of what they themselves and other beings are in essence, and manifest the principles of their origin which preexist uniformly in Him.

Indeed, we reject the argument of some who say that Christ was foreknown before the foundation of the world to those to whom He was later manifested at the end of time, as though those beings were themselves present with the foreknown Christ before the foundation of the world, and as though the scriptural Word were running awry from the truth and suggesting that the essence of rational beings is coeternal with God. For it is impossible to be completely coexistent with Christ, just as it is furthermore impossible ever to depart from Him entirely, since the termination of time is fixed within Christ, as the stability (στασις) of mobile created beings, as stability wherein no created being will know any change at all.

Creed – For us Men AND for our Salvation

The Emperor Constantine with the Bishops of the 1st Council of Nicaea (325), holding the Nicene–Constantinopolitan Creed of 381

One of the common objections to the notion of an unconditional Incarnation is the phrase from the Nicene-Constantinople Creed: “For us men and for our salvation He came down from Heaven…” On the surface it appears to be stating that the motive of the Incarnation is for the salvation of mankind. Since this is from the Councils of the Church one would cease to be a Catholic and begin to be a heretic by not embracing this revealed truth.

There are at least two ways that the Creed can be seen as coherent with the Franciscan thesis of the absolute primacy of Christ. The first is by following along the lines of St. Irenaeus, namely, that the term “salvation” is not restricted to redeeming man from sin, but is a much broader term which includes man’s salvation from sin, viz. Redemption. Salvation comes by justification through faith in Jesus – St. Paul repeats this tirelessly in his Epistles – and this justification makes us children of God, that is, it elevates us from the natural plane (creatures) to a supernatural plane (children of God). I maintain that this economy of grace is the economy of grace established by God from the beginning for Angels and Saints and that this economy is not contingent upon sin. Fr. Alessandro M. Apollonio, FI, explains this more in depth (see here) and I have also dealt with this topic in commenting on Eph. 1:7.

The second way that our Profession “for us men and for our salvation” can be seen as not only coherent, but even affirming the absolute primacy of Christ is by seeing this as two distinct motives: Christ came 1) for us men  AND  2) for our salvation. In this case salvation would be equivalent to Redemption. Christ comes for us men – to bring us into the divine life of grace as adopted children; because of Adam’s sin, Christ also comes for our salvation – to repair the fall and restore us to divine grace. There is a concise explanation of this by a blogger named “Johannes”. In response to the question, “Does Catholic doctrine teach that the Incarnation would have taken place regardless of Adam’s decision?” (original post is here) he writes:

…the open status of the issue within Catholic doctrinal orthodoxy is clear at the beginning of St. Thomas Aquinas’ answer to the corresponding question in his Summa Theologica (ST III, q.1, a.3), by the way he describes his position:

I answer that, There are different opinions about this question. For some say that even if man had not sinned, the Son of Man would have become incarnate. Others assert the contrary, and seemingly our assent ought rather to be given to this opinion.

Notably, a most authoritative text that is compatible with the position of “unconditional Incarnation” of the Son when rightly understood is the Nicene creed, where we profess that:

For us men and for our salvation He came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.

Salvation, in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theologies, does not carry a purely negative meaning of taking out sin, but also, and most importantly, a positive meaning of making men “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pe 1:4), a notion the Greek call “theosis”. Though RCs and EOs differ in the way this is achieved (whether by sanctifying grace and charity or by the divine energies), they agree that it implies the elevation of human nature to a super-natural plane (= above the purely natural plane) and that it is a divine work different from the creation of human nature.

Just as the Incarnation was not strictly necessary for God to forgive men’s sins, but was the most fitting way to do it, neither was the Incarnation strictly necessary for God to make men partakers of the divine nature even in the absence of sin, yet, IMO, it was the most fitting way to do it.

Therefore, with “salvation” understood in its positive sense, unconditional Incarnation is wholly compatible with the Son becoming man “for us men and for our salvation”, even if Adam had not sinned.

Bl. Gabriele M. Allegra – absolute primacy of Christ central to understanding the Scripture

I found a concise biographical description of Bl. Gabriele Maria Allegra here and thought I’d repost the text. The original link has a number of photos, including his grave. I have translated some of his pertinent writings on the Franciscan thesis here, here and here.

Bl. Gabriele M. Allegra

Bl. Gabriele M. Allegra (December 26, 1907–January 26, 1976) was a Franciscan Friar and Scripture scholar. He is best known for performing the first complete translation of the Catholic Bible into the Chinese language and is popularly known as the “St. Jerome of China.”

As a Franciscan, missionary and biblical scholar, he saw the doctrine of the absolute primacy of Christ as being central to understanding Sacred Scripture and God’s design in creating and redeeming the universe.

He was renowned for his knowledge of the theology and philosophy of Bl. John Duns Scotus. His Studium Biblicum Translation is often considered the definitive Chinese Bible among Catholics.

Fr. Jack Wintz, OFM – John Duns Scotus: His View of Christ

Below is a delightful synopsis of the Subtle Doctor’s doctrine on the primacy of Christ by Fr. Jack Wintz, OFM. The original post can be found here. Fr. Jack mentions Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, as holding the Franciscan perspective, but it should be noted that 1) Chardin did not embrace the metaphysics or theology of Bl. John Duns Scotus (although Bl. Gabriele M. Allegra, OFM, did try to dialogue with Fr. Chardin on these points and published a book on his dialogues: I have translated excerpts of Bl. Gabriele Allegra’s explanations of the primacy of Christ according to Scotus and posted them here, here and here) and 2) that Chardin’s books were riddled with theological and philosophical errors (which can be seen from this piece by Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand and this piece posted by the Kolbe Center for Creation). Chardin aside, Fr. Jack was able to summarize the Franciscan view of Christ and the universe in a way that any reader can grasp… and summarizing the Subtle Doctor so that the average person can understand it can be challenging, to say the least.


From the pen of Fr. Jack Wintz, OFM:

Fr. Jack Wintz, OFM

John Duns Scotus was born in Scotland in 1266 and educated at England’s Oxford University. He was ordained a priest in 1291. Scotus also studied at the University of Paris and returned to lecture at Oxford and Cambridge. In turn, Scotus went back to teach at the University of Paris.

Eventually, the Franciscan Minister General assigned Scotus to the Franciscan School in Cologne, Germany. Scotus died there in 1308.He is buried in the Franciscan church near the famous Cologne Cathedral. Known as the “Subtle Doctor,” Scotus was beatified in 1993. His beatification is rightly seen as a belated vote of confidence by the church regarding his holiness and virtue, as well as a vote of confidence in Scotus’ theological contributions.

The Word of God

A key point of the Franciscan/Scotistic view, which catches many people by surprise, is this: The Word of God did not become a creature, a human being, because Adam and Eve sinned. Rather, the Divine Word became flesh because, from all eternity, God wanted Jesus Christ to be creation’s most perfect work. Christ was to be the model and crown of creation and of humanity — the glorious destination toward which all creation is straining. In short, the Word would have been incarnated in Christ even if the first man and woman had never sinned.

Scotus’ viewpoint has gained prominence in recent times. It has been adopted by such notable Catholic thinkers as Gerard Manley Hopkins, the Jesuit poet; Thomas Merton, the Trappist writer; and Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit-priest-anthropologist. “Christ is not an afterthought in the divine place,” writes Chardin. “He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of all things.”

Not an Afterthought of God

According to Scotus, God’s first intention — from all eternity — was that human nature be glorified by being united to the divine Word. And this was to happen regardless of the first humans’ innocence or sinfulness. To say that the Incarnation of Christ was an afterthought of God, dependent on Adam and Eve’s fall, would be to base the rich Christian theology of Incarnation on sin! Theologians could do better than that — and Duns Scotus did.

Given humanity’s sin, the way Christ eventually came was in the form of a savior whose great act of love and self-surrender set us free.

In Scotus’ view, however, the God-man would have entered creation and human history as the perfect model of the human being fully alive under any circumstance. It was not Adam who provided the blueprint or pattern that God used in shaping the humanity of Christ.

It was the other way around, insists Scotus: Christ was the model in God’s mind according to which Adam and Eve, as well as the rest of the human race, were created. We can rightly say, therefore, that the Incarnation was not simply some kind of “Plan B arrangement,” or “last-minute cure,” to offset the sin of Adam and Eve. On the contrary, it was God’s Plan A from the beginning.

Franciscans and the ‘Primacy of Christ’

Most Franciscans have, in one way or another, embraced this vision. Whether conscious of it or not, we tend to see all created things as pieces of a beautiful puzzle that only makes sense when fitted into the larger framework, that is, into the image of Christ.

For several years, I’ve kept an audiotape on Saint Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and Colossians by Stephen Doyle, OFM, a well-known Franciscan Scripture scholar and popular preacher. I’ve often listened to these tapes because I find in them an engaging explanation of the Franciscan/Scotist approach to the primacy of Christ. Franciscan spirituality simply exudes naturally from this friar as he talks about Paul’s view of Christ, “the firstborn of all creation.”

According to Father Stephen, “There is nothing in this world that makes sense apart from Jesus Christ” and “whatever exists in this world was made for the sake of Jesus Christ.”

He waxes poetic: “If we looked around and listened to this world about us, and if the singing birds could be formed into a chorus and the rustling breeze and tinkling rain could have a voice and the roar of the ocean could be put into words, they would all have one thing to say: ‘We were made for the sake of Jesus Christ.’”

More from Father Stephen

The friar also offers a good answer to the riddle: How can it be that Christ, who came after Adam and Eve, nonetheless came before them in the mind of God? How can the Incarnate Word be first and last at the same time? Borrowing a popular analogy found in Saint Francis de Sales’ Treatise on the Love of God, Father Stephen explains:

If you wanted to make wine, what would you do? First of all, you would have to plant a vineyard. Then you would have to fertilize the vines. You would have to trim them, pick the grapes and let them ferment. Finally, you would get some wine.

What was the first thing on your mind? The wine. What was the last thing you got? The wine.

In the same way, Jesus’ late arrival on the scene, notes Father Stephen, does not contradict his holding first place in God’s mind at the creation of the universe. Christ is the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega.

I hope my two blogs help explain John Duns Scotus’ awesome view of Christ as the “head over all things” (Ephesians 1:22) and the glorious destination toward which all creation is straining.

All Road Leads to God

Similarly, in the ongoing process of creation, there are many elements: minerals, plants, animals, and human persons. In the Christian view, as Saint Paul expresses so well, all these elements and individuals are coming to a culmination in Jesus Christ. God’s plan, indeed, is “to bring everything together under Christ as head” (see Ephesians 1:10, Jerusalem Bible).

It is as though each one of us plays a part in that one sacred Word, that one mysterious drama of love, present in the mind of God from all eternity.

It’s a beautiful, developing drama, a beauty whose end we cannot see. Starting with the first day of creation, the Word of God—the co-eternal mirror of the Father—has been slowly emerging down the ages. The Word has become visible in the Incarnation and will reach its full revelation when Jesus returns in glory on the last day.

Fr. Jack Wintz, OFM

Lady Poverty – How the scandals will help purify the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church

“For covetousness is the root of all evils, and some in their eagerness to get rich have strayed from the Faith and have involved themselves in many troubles.” (1 Tm 6:10)

When I was studying theology as a seminarian in the late 90s with the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate my professor in dogmatic theology, Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner, made an unusual comment about the problems plaguing the Church. “It will be a wonderful day when the Church is broke,” he exclaimed. Why? Because, in his opinion, it was money that kept all of the dissenters in the Church. In other words, if there were no paychecks they would pack their bags and go elsewhere.

Well that day seems to have arrived for the Catholic Church in the USA. Since 1950 over $4 billion dollars have been paid out (legal fees, settlements, etc.) for sexually abusive priests and 14 Dioceses have filed bankruptcy since 2002. Because of the Mccarrick scandal and the PA grand jury discoveries many people, including myself, have come out publicly to share our own stories of abuse and harassment (I have posted mine here). Consequently, we can expect that there will be many more legal expenses and settlements in the wake of these enormous scandals.

Perhaps the most important element of creating a “poor Church” is the financial support of the lay faithful. The Cardinals and Bishops by brushing aside victims of priestly sexual abuse and defending and reassigning the predators (like Cardinals Law, Mahoney, Mccarrick and Wuerl), by disregarding the root problem of the majority of the scandals (namely, active homosexuals and homosexual activists in the clerical state – see this interview with Cardinal Burke and this article from an EWTN panel discussion), by working strenuously to protect their own reputation, by guarding their own positions and seeking to advance their ecclesiastical careers, by thwarting their good priests and advancing their bad priests, by neglecting the salvation of souls, etc. etc. have lost the trust of the faithful. “Not one more penny,” is the cry from the laity, “until you reform yourselves, the seminaries and the priests in your dioceses!” I can assure you that this will be extremely effective if done consistently over a period of time and coupled with prayer and penance. Actually, this may be the only way to oust the gay network from the Church. They will retaliate in diabolical ways – sometimes in subtle and covert ways, other times in blatant and obvious ones. The lavender mafia is strong and insidious. They will resist tooth and nail. But if the funds stop rolling in, if the lawsuits and investigations continue to pile up and to expose the guilty, and if the faithful continue their rightful demands for chaste and holy Bishops and priests, then things will begin to move in the right direction. The ranks of the Bishops will be purified and will begin to purify the seminaries and the ranks of the priests.

Many active homosexuals and homosexual activists teach in Seminaries, work in Chanceries, and run parishes across the country… If there is no paycheck then they have a choice, to serve God or mammon. The mammon-servers will leave. Take, for example, the priest in the Diocese of Syracuse who went public as being an active homosexual, Fr. Fred Daley. Not only has he been permitted to continue as a priest and pastor during these past 14 years (which means all of the perks: salary, insurance, food, lodging, etc.), he was even reassigned from his parish in Utica to a parish in Syracuse itself! When he first came out of the closet in 2004 I immediately wrote a personal letter marked “confidential” to the Bishop about how this was creating scandal and confusion among the laity and asked the Bishop if he was going to say or do something, and the response? Crickets. If priests (and Bishops, for that matter) were reduced to the poor stable of Bethlehem or the Holy House at Nazareth or the poverty of the Cross on Calvary, would they continue? Would they stay? If they did, it would have to be out of love for Christ, His Church, and the souls entrusted to them.

I’m not saying that money cannot be used for noble, holy endeavors, but I’m simply making the point that serving Christ and His Church – the Church that teaches that sodomy is morally wrong, that homosexuality is an intrinsic disorder – means leading a life of prayer and sacrifice. If the Church becomes truly penniless the clergy will be forced to serve God for the right reason – for the pure love of Him – and to seek that treasure which is in Heaven.

A poor and purified Church would also be genuinely concerned with the poor and vulnerable – like the victims of priestly sexual abuse and those who could be potentially abused in the future, like the seminarians who want and need solid formation, like the laity who want and need the unadulterated truth of the Catholic Faith and need chaste, dedicated priests to assist them along the way. Many of the Bishops, to date, have shown by their actions that they have been more concerned with the finances and reputation of their Dioceses (and themselves) than the eternal salvation of the souls entrusted to their care. This is frustrating and infuriating. There are many ways of giving in the Church without enabling the gay mafia; there is also the possibility of setting aside one’s offerings and retaining them until one is sure the funds will be used properly. Whatever method is used, the reason for it needs to be communicated to the priests and Bishops (like printing out a slip of paper saying “Dear Bishop, Not another penny until you get rid of the homosexual priests in the Diocese,” putting that into the parish offering envelope, and dropping it into the collection basket). They will get the message loud and clear.

The entire situation in which we find ourselves today reminds me of the sobering question of Our Lord: “Yet when the Son of Man comes, will He find, do you think, faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8). And the explanation of St. Paul regarding the end times, “Let know one deceive you in any way, for the day of the Lord will not come unless the apostasy comes first…” (2 Thes 2:3). Whether what we are currently experiencing is the great apostasy or not remains to be seen; but there is indeed a great apostasy and therefore a tremendous need for purification in the House of God – starting with my own sinful soul. “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” May her Immaculate Heart triumph in my heart, your heart and in all hearts that beat upon the face of the earth.


Dr. Mark Miravalle – Franciscan Thesis and the Test of the Angels

Dr. Mark Miravalle, one of my professors of Theology when I was an undergraduate student at Franciscan University of Steubenville, speaks of the moral test of the Angels. Why are there Holy Angels and fallen angels? What proved the good Angels to be “good” and the fallen angels to be “evil”? Why is there a spiritual war raging between Lucifer and St. Michael?

From beginning to end the Bible tells us that the battle has to do with the Woman and her Offspring (cf. Gen 3:15 and Apoc 12). The Evil One, “that great dragon…, that old serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, who seduceth the whole world… stood before the Woman who was ready to be delivered; that, when she should be delivered, he might devour her Son” (Apoc 12:7,4) – spiritual warfare is centered on the mystery of the Incarnation.

This is not a coincidence. According to the Franciscan school Satan (and a third of the angelic host with him) was condemned to Hell forever and lost his glorious light because he refused to serve Christ as King and Our Lady as Queen: non serviam! I even wonder if this is the reason that he goes after Eve, the first woman, instead of Adam in the garden of Eden… he either suspected her to be “the Woman” or despised her because she represented that Woman. Although I treat of this and draw upon the writings of Fr. Gabriel Amorth and the Ven. Mother Mary of Agreda here, here and here, nonetheless, the topic is always fresh and worthy of further meditation. I am posting a 10 minute presentation where Dr. Miravalle gives insights into Mary’s role as Queen of the Angels. After the introduction to the topic he speaks of the Franciscan thesis and how the Incarnation of Christ and the divine maternity of Mary were presented to the Angels, that it was revealed to them that they would have the joy and privilege of serving Christ as King and Mary as Queen if they accepted God’s marvelous plan. The Holy Angels are the ones who embraced the will of God and make up the nine choirs of Angels in Heaven. Here is Dr. Miravalle’s reflection: