Fr. Frederick Faber – A Thoroughgoing Scotist

2 weeks ago I shared a post from The Amish Catholic by Rick Yoder. He also has a marvelous post on the life and teaching of Fr. Frederick Faber and gave me permission to repost it. If you want to see the original post just click HERE. I have also posted on Fr. Faber’s position on the absolute primacy of Christ in the past with citations from his books and from a conference of Msgr. Arthur B. Calkins which can be found at this link.

From the Amish Catholic…


Faberesque religious art. (Source)

The Church offers us the way of salvation. She declares the destination, Heaven; she notes our provenance, the bondage of our sinful nature. And she furnishes a route from the latter up to the former. Or, I might say, “routes.” For while the Cruciform road to Heaven may appear singular from afar, anyone who enters the Journey will find that it is in fact composed of many different paths. The holy diversity of the Church is one testament of its Catholicity. Like a great Cathedral or Basilica that appears as one massive edifice from the street but harbors dozens of little side-altars within, each distinctly the Table of the Lord, the Church offers more streams of spirituality than we can discern. Some flow still in our midst, giving life to multitudes. Others run dry. And some thought long-extinct may suddenly spring forth in new vim and vigor.

It is only a natural and concurrent fact that the Church should likewise offer her children a diverse array of spiritual writers. There is the beautiful, mysterious Areopagite; the mighty, noble St. Augustine; the dazzlingly imaginative St. Ephrem the Syrian; the logical, pacific Aquinas; the bloody consolations of Dame Julian; the gleaming shadows of St. John of the Cross; the brooding brilliance of Pascal; the soaring eloquence of Bossuet; the roseate cheer of St. Thérèse of Lisieux; the luminous fragmentation of T.S. Eliot; the Gothic grotesquerie of Flannery O’Connor. The list goes on and on.

The English Catholic Revival was a fertile time for spiritual writers. At the fountainhead of the entire movement stands Cardinal Newman, whose massive influence is still being felt by theologians and writers today. The founder of the English Oratory was a masterful stylist, so much so that James Joyce considered him the greatest master of English prose. Every ecclesiastical development proves that Newman’s theology is more timely than ever. He has been lauded by subsequent generations, and rightly so. When he is eventually canonized, he will certainly be declared a Doctor of the Church for his labors.

But he has, sadly, overshadowed another figure, one no less deserving of praise for his own work on behalf of the Gospel. That man is Fr. Frederick William Faber, the founder of the London Oratory.


Fr. Frederick William Faber, Father of the Brompton Oratory. (Source)

Faber was an Oxford convert like Newman. After leaving the University, he first served as an Anglican parish priest in Northamptonshire. He would later bring eleven men with him across the Tiber when he resigned his post. After shepherding the community for a short time, he eventually joined forces with Newman and co-founded the English Oratory. They split the country. Newman went to Birmingham, and Faber went to London. In the course of his time there, he gained notoriety as a preacher of remarkable versatility and power, a widely-respected hymnodist, a constant friend of the poor, and an authoritative teacher of the spiritual life. As one source has it, his written works

…are a mine of spiritual gold of the highest purity, refined and drawn from Faber’s deep understanding of Catholic spiritual theology. For he had delved deeply, not only into the standard Scholastic philosophy and theology, but especially into the mystical schools. Father Faber was a brilliant man whose theology of the Absolute Primacy of Christ and Mary is grounded in that of the Subtle Doctor, Blessed John Duns Scotus (1266-1308), all recast in simple ordinary English. (174).

When he died, all the great Catholics of England honored his memory. In France, even the formidable abbot of Solesmes, Dom Prosper Guéranger, admired his writings and wrote of him fondly.

But Faber is a largely forgotten figure today, at least among American Catholics. While most have probably heard at least one or two of his hymns, such as “Faith of Our Fathers,” few read more deeply into his life or thought. Why? What has caused this lacuna in our collective memory?

There are, I think, two primary reasons.

The first is that he is eclipsed by Newman. The two had differences in their own day. Newman was resolutely opposed to the pretensions of Ultramonatism; Faber, like Cardinal Manning, was a strong advocate of Rome’s prerogatives. Newman always wanted to return to Oxford and restore some traces of his old, academic life; Faber was content to build the finest church of Great Britain in London, to better minister to the poor. Newman was always a little wary about Marian titles and devotions; Faber practically bathed in them. As Monsignor Rondald Knox writes in 1945,

While Faber is introducing the British public to the most luscious legends of the Counter-Reformation, Newman is still concerned over the difficulties of Anglicans, still asking how and in what sense Catholic doctrine has developed, still cautiously delimiting the spheres of faith and reason. (“The Conversions of Newman and Faber,” Pastoral and Occasional Sermons, 875).

The tensions surrounding Faber’s spirituality eventually led Newman to formally, judicially separate the two houses. Sadly, “While Newman visited Faber shortly before his death, the two men were not able to fully resolve their differences.”

The second, related to the first, is part stylistic, part spiritual. Consider an analogy. Among the Metaphysical Poets, the meditative Donne has always outshone the ebullient Crashaw. Logos is easy to parse. Its analysis is a straightforward, if sometimes arduous task. Pathos, however, is a more slippery beast altogether, and one less communicable and less persistent than we should like to think. It may fire one breast and repel another. Not all hearts chime the same tune in the same wind. Likewise, Newman’s depth, intellect, and style have garnered more attention than Faber’s flowery devotions. His devotional prose is as purple as it gets. Consider the following passage, taken from Part I of “The Mystery of the Precious Blood.”

SALVATION! What music is there in that word – music that never tires but is always new, that always rouses yet always rests us! It holds in itself all that our hearts would say. It is sweet vigor to us in the morning, and in the evening it is contented peace. It is a song that is always singing itself deep down in the delighted soul. Angelic ears are ravished by it up in Heaven; and our Eternal Father Himself listens to it with adorable complacency. It is sweet even to Him out of Whose mind is the music of a thousand worlds. To be saved! What is it to be saved? Who can tell? Eye has not seen, nor ear heard. It is a rescue, and from such a shipwreck. It is a rest, and in such an unimaginable home. It is to lie down forever in the bosom of God in an endless rapture of insatiable contentment. (“The Mystery of the Precious Blood“)

Or, later in the same volume, when he writes the following passage.

Green Nazareth was not a closer hiding-place than the risen glory of the Forty Days. As of old, the Precious Blood clung round the sinless Mother. Like a stream that will not leave its parent chain of mountains, but laves them incessantly with many an obstinate meandering, so did the Blood of Jesus, shed for all hearts of men, haunt the single heart of Mary. Fifteen times, or more in those Forty Days, it came out from under the shadow of Mary’s gladness and gleamed forth in beautiful apparitions. Each of them is a history in itself, and a mystery, and a revelation. Never did the Sacred Heart say or do such ravishing things as those Forty Days of its Risen Life. The Precious Blood had almost grown more human from having been three days in the keeping of the Angels. But, as it had mounted Calvary on Good Friday, so now it mounts Olivet on Ascension Thursday, and disappears into Heaven amidst the whiteness of the silver clouds. It had been but a decree in Heaven before, a Divine idea, an eternal compassion, an inexplicable complacency of the life of God. It returns thither a Human Life, and is throned at the Right Hand of the Father forever in right of its inalienable union with the Person of the Word. There is no change in the Unchangeable. But in Heaven there had never been change like this before, nor ever will be again. The changes of the Great Doom can be nothing compared to the exaltation of the Sacred Humanity of the Eternal Word. The very worship of the glorious spirits was changed, so changed that the Angels themselves cannot say how it is that no change has passed on God. Somehow the look of change has enhanced the magnificence of the Divine immutability, and has given a new gladness to their adoration of its unspeakable tranquility (“The History of the Precious Blood“).

Or this passage from The Blessed Sacrament, taken from a friend who posted it on Facebook for the Nativity of Mary.

Let us mount higher still. Earth never broke forth with so gay and glad fountain as when the Babe Mary, the infant who was the joy of the whole world, the flower of God’s invisible creation, and the perfection of the invisible and hitherto queenless angels of His court, came like the richest fruit, ready-ripe and golden, of the world’s most memorable September. There is hardly a feast in the year so gay and bright as this of her Nativity, right in the heart of the happy harvest, as though she were, as indeed she was, earth’s heavenliest growth, whose cradle was to rock to the measures of the worlds vintage songs; for she had come who was the true harvest-home that homeless world.

His devotion to Our Lady was legendary. He was, in fact, the first English translator of St. Louis de Montfort’s famous text, True Devotion to Mary…and that even before he had become an Oratorian! He was also probably the first English author to think of Mary as Co-Redemptrix. In one of his hymns, he declares:

Mother of God! we hail thy heart,
Throned in the azure skies,
While far and wide within its charm
The whole creation lies.
O sinless heart, all hail!
God’s dear delight, all hail!
Our home, our home is deep in thee,
Eternally, eternally.


Lace holy card of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Extremely Fr. Faber’s aesthetic. (Source)

Fr. Faber’s devotion to Our Lady extended beyond his prolific writings. He not only translated St. Louis’s book. In 1846, he undertook his own Marian consecration in the Holy House of Loreto. He had a tendency to refer to the Mother of God as “Mama.” A famous episode related by Monsignor Knox depicts Fr. Faber at one of his more florid moments. After a particularly high Marian procession at the Oratory, he was observed weeping. Without any care for who heard, he cried out, “Won’t Mamma be pleased?” (“The Conversion of Faber,” Pastoral and Occasional Sermons, 891).

None of this spirituality or the writing in which it comes to us fits our modern tastes. It is too perfumed, too sickly-sweet, too campy, too Victorian, too decadent, too redolent of pastel holy cards mouldering in antique prayer books. One critic puts it thus:

There are great slabs of passages, sometimes chapters at a time, which glow with ethereal light but have little content. Hypnotized by his own fluency Faber flows on and on, melodious and tedious…There are awful lapses of taste. (Chapman, quoted here).

And certainly, Faber cared not one shred for taste. The only thing that mattered was the salvation and sanctification of souls. Knox tells us that “‘Art for art’s sake’ had no meaning for him…if a bad verse would have more chance of winning souls than a good verse, down the bad verse would go” (“The Conversion of Faber,” Pastoral and Occasional Sermons, 891). There is much to criticize in this tendency from a purely aesthetic standpoint. Christians should commit themselves to the highest standards in all artistic and literary endeavors.

But it is hard not to like the man weeping after the procession; it is harder still to feel totally averse to passages that glow purple as the evening sky. One has the sense that Fr. Faber would have been a remarkable presence today, if only because his emotionalism and baroque, slightly kitschy aesthetic would have made him an ironic celebrity on Weird Catholic Twitter. Imagine what he would have done with memes!


Santa Maria Bambina, Southern Italy. (Source)

Yet he would also be a sign of contradiction. We have seen a renewed emphasis on Muscular Christianity, with a proliferation of websites, associations, and thinkpieces all dedicated to restoring “authentic masculinity” and resisting the “feminization” of the liturgy. This is a particularly popular movement within the larger Traditionalist wing of the Church. In brief, the narrative usually runs as follows:

1) After Vatican II, the Novus Ordo initiated a new, “feminine” form of the Mass.
2) This innovation was a substantive capitulation to the Sexual Revolution.
3) Men don’t want to serve a feminized Church in a feminized liturgy, with altar girls, felt banners, versus populum, happy-clappy music, etc.
4) The vocations crisis of the last 30-40 years ensues.
5) As such, we need to restore more pronounced gender binaries and hierarchies along with the Usus Antiquior.

Some of this narrative may be correct. I refrain from judging its particular historical claims, social implications, or theological presuppositions.


Midnight Mass at the Brompton Oratory. (Source)

Nevertheless, Fr. Faber confounds that entire way of thinking. He was anything but a “Muscular” Christian. His personality, style, and spirituality were so clearly “feminine” that his own nephew, the publisher Geoffrey Faber, considered him a probable closet case (see David Hilliard’s famous essay “UnEnglish and Unmanly,” page 5). Whether or not his (disputed) conclusions about the priest (and all the leaders of the Oxford Movement) are true, it suffices to say that Fr. Faber was far from the “authentically masculine” man fetishized by the new Muscular Christianity. Yet liturgically he was known as one of the highest of the high, and his sons at the Brompton Oratory continue that admirable tradition. If nothing else, Fr. Faber’s legacy is the Oratory that still stand as a landmark of reverence, beauty, and transcendent holiness in the midst of postconciliar banality.

What’s more, Fr. Faber is not just a fine hymnodist and devotional writer. He penetrated deep mysteries of the faith. A thoroughgoing Scotist, he advocated the thesis (shared by this author) that Christ probably would have been incarnated anyway even if Adam had never fallen. And as the Church’s Mariology continues to develop, his arguments on behalf of Our Lady’s Co-Redemption may yet prove invaluable. Sophiologists should take note. Here is a man after our own heart.


A holy card of Santa Maria Bambina. (Source)

Fr. Faber writes of Our Lady’s suffering in a passage worth quoting at length:

But this is not all. She co-operated with our Lord in the redemption of the world in quite a different sense, a sense which can never be more than figuratively true of the Saints. Her free consent was necessary to the Incarnation, as necessary as free will is to merit according to the counsels of God. She gave Him the pure blood, out of which the Holy Ghost fashioned His Flesh and bone and Blood. She bore Him in her womb for nine months, feeding Him with her own substance. Of her was He born, and to her He owed all those maternal offices which, according to common laws, were necessary for the preservation of His inestimable life. She exercised over Him the plenitude of parental jurisdiction. She consented to His Passion; and if she could not in reality have withheld her consent, because it was already involved in her original consent to the Incarnation, nevertheless she did not in fact withhold it, and so He went to Calvary as her free-will offering to the Father. Now, this is co-operation in a different sense from the former, and if we compare it with the co-operation of the Saints, their own co-operation, in which Mary herself alone surpassed them all, we shall see that this other peculiar co-operation of hers was indispensable to the redemption of the world as effected on the Cross. Souls could be saved without the co-operation of the Saints. The soul of the penitent thief was saved with no other co-operation than that of Mary, and, if our Blessed Lord had so willed it, could have been saved without even that. But the co-operation of the Divine Maternity was indispensable. Without it our Lord would not have been born when and as He was; He would not have had that Body to suffer in; the whole series of the Divine purposes would have been turned aside, and either frustrated, or diverted into another channel. It was through the free will and blissful consent of Mary that they flowed as God would have them flow. Bethlehem, and Nazareth, and Calvary, came out of her consent, a consent which God did in no wise constrain. But not only is the co-operation of the Saints not indispensable of itself, but no one Saint by himself is indispensable to that co-operation. Another Apostle might have fallen, half the Martyrs might have sacrificed to idols, the Saints in each century might have been a third fewer in number than they were, and yet the co-operation of the Saints would not have been destroyed, though its magnificence would have been impaired. Its existence depends on the body, not on the separate individuals. No one Saint who can be named, unless perhaps it were in some sense St. Peter, was necessary to the work, so necessary that without him the work could not have been accomplished. But in this co-operation of Mary she herself was indispensable. It depended upon her individually. Without her the work could not have been accomplished. Lastly, it was a co-operation of a totally different kind from that of the Saints. Theirs was but the continuation and application of a sufficient redemption already accomplished, while hers was a condition requisite to the accomplishment of that redemption. One was a mere consequence of an event which the other actually secured, and which only became an event by means of it. Hence it was more real, more present, more intimate, more personal, and with somewhat of the nature of a cause in it, which cannot in any way be predicated of the co-operation of the Saints. And all this is true of the co-operation of Mary, without any reference to the dolors at all…Our Lord had taken a created nature, in order that by its means He might accomplish that great work; so it seemed as if the highest honor and the closest union of a sinless creature with Himself should be expressed in the title of co-redemptress. In fact, there is no other single word in which the truth could be expressed; and, far off from His sole and sufficient redemption as Mary’s co-operation lies, her co-operation stands alone and aloof from all the co-operation of the elect of God. This, like some other prerogatives of our Blessed Lady, cannot have justice done it by the mere mention of it. We must make it our own by meditation before we can understand all that it involves. But neither the Immaculate Conception nor the Assumption will give us a higher idea of Mary’s exaltation than this title of co-redemptress, when we have theologically ascertained its significance. Mary is vast on every side, and, as our knowledge and appreciation of God grow, so also will grow our knowledge and appreciation of her His chosen creature. No one thinks unworthily of Mary, except because he thinks unworthily of God. Devotion to the Attributes of God is the best school in which to learn the theology of Mary; and the reward of our study of Mary lies in a thousand new vistas that are opened to us in the Divine Perfections, into which except from her heights we never could have seen at all.
(“The Compassion of Mary,” emphases in source.)

There is much in this text, and in so many like it, to warm a Catholic’s flagging devotion to the Mother of God. For that treasure alone, we should be grateful.


A Marian Holy Card. (Source)

As his writing on this subject demonstrates, Father Faber was in all things the most enthusiastic and the most Roman of Catholics. Yet his prodigious work on behalf of the Gospel, and the ardor with which he was wont to express himself, made him a popular figure even among Protestants. His hymns are sung by traditional and mainline Protestant churches even today.

A.W. Tozer held him in high esteem, going so far as to write:

Spinoza wrote of the intellectual love of God, and he had a measure of truth there; but the highest love of God is not intellectual, it is spiritual. God is spirit and only the spirit of man can know Him really. In the deep spirit of a man the fire must glow or his love is not the true love of God. The great of the Kingdom have been those who loved God more than others did. We all know who they have been and gladly pay tribute to the depths and sincerity of their devotion. We have but to pause for a moment and their names come trooping past us smelling of myrrh and aloes and cassia out of the ivory palaces. Frederick Faber was one whose soul panted after God as the roe pants after the water brook, and the measure in which God revealed Himself to his seeking heart set the good man’s whole life afire with a burning adoration rivaling that of the seraphim before the throne. His love for God extended to the three Persons of the Godhead equally, yet he seemed to feel for each One a special kind of love reserved for Him alone. The Pursuit of God, p. 40 (quoted here)

If a modern master of Protestant spirituality can appreciate the peculiar wisdom of this effusive little man, then what excuse do we have? The Church has entrusted him to our memory and will, I hope, some day do so formally at the altar of God.

I began this essay describing the various spiritualities that have animated the Church from its earliest days. Some remain vital, others have disappeared, and some may yet come back from quietude. The strange and fragrant spirituality Father Faber let out into the world may appear as one of those dried-up streams, never again to impart life to the desert of our world. We are not Victorians. Yet this great Oratorian offers his gift to us still. We are the ones who must accept it. I have little doubt that his life, example, and thought are welcome aids in our pursuit of Heaven.

Fr. Peter Fehlner and the Franciscan Thesis

On May 8th, 2018, Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner passed on to his eternal reward. I am personally grateful to God for the gift that Fr. Peter was to me as professor, spiritual father, superior, confessor and friend over the past 26 years, and in a particular way for his love and insights into the absolute predestination of Jesus and Mary according to the teaching of Bl. John Duns Scotus and the Franciscan Thesis. Fr. Peter penetrated into the revealed mystery of the absolute primacy of Jesus Christ and its implications more than any person I have known or read and, genius that he was, I can still remember in the seminary how he would often find difficulty expressing in human words these profound truths to the point where his tongue would literally get tied up in enthusiastically trying to communicate these realities to us.

Today, as his funeral takes place in the Basilica of St. Stanislaus in Chicopee, MA, [Fr. James McCurry’s Requiem homily can be viewed HERE] I thought it appropriate to post a conference of Msgr. Arthur B. Calkins on Fr. Peter’s teachings regarding the Franciscan thesis (textual highlights of the conference are underneath the video as well).

Requiescat in pace.

Below is the portion of Msgr. Calkins’ talk covering Fr. Peter Fehlner and the Franciscan Thesis:

  1. The Franciscan Thesis as Articulated by Father Peter Damian

In the course of almost thirty years I have learned a great deal about Mariology from Father Peter Damian Fehlner. He is a disciple and master of that uniquely Franciscan approach to the doctrine of the joint predestination of Jesus and Mary known as the Franciscan thesis. His exposition of this doctrine on the Mariology and scholarly achievement of Father Juniper B. Carol (1911-1990) at the convention of the Mariological Society of America in 1992[1] made a deep impression on me. In introducing the contribution of Juniper Carol, he found it appropriate to treat of the accomplishment of Father Juniper’s master and guide in the field of Franciscan Mariology, Father Karlo Balić (1899-1977):

Fr. Balić’s contribution to Mariology is, therefore, unabashedly Franciscan in inspiration. It takes its cue from the so-called Franciscan thesis: the absolute primacy of the Word Incarnate (Kingship of Christ) and his Blessed Mother’s association uno eodemque decreto in that primacy (qua Immaculate Queen of Heaven and Earth), an association particularly evident at three points in the life of the Virgin: her conception, her cooperation in the work of salvation, her triumph in Heaven or put doctrinally: the Immaculate Conception; the universal maternal mediation of Mary; and her glorious Assumption and Coronation in heaven as Queen of the Universe.[2]

The allusion, of course, to uno eodemque decreto is a shorthand reference to the famous text wherein the Franciscan thesis passed into the papal magisterium in Blessed Pius IX’s Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus in which he solemnly declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. In that authoritative document Pius stated that God

by one and the same decree, had established the origin of Mary and the Incarnation of Divine Wisdom [ad illius Virginis primordia transferre, quæ uno eodemque decreto cum divinæ Sapientiæ incarnatione fuerant præstituta.][3]

This is to say that from all eternity in willing the Incarnation of the Word, the second person of the Most Blessed Trinity, God also willed Mary. This may seem to be a simple and obvious statement in itself until one begins to realize that God could have brought the Incarnation about in any way that he wished since he needed no one to accomplish it, but he willed to “need” Mary. This position in based on the union of the woman of Genesis 3:15 with her offspring. Together, though not on an equal par, they will overcome the serpent. But first of all, they are willed for themselves as the crown of the material creation. Thus, as Father Peter Damian tells us, the joint predestination of Jesus and Mary is “at the very center of the divine counsels of salvation”[4] and for this reason “the mode of the Incarnation is Marian, not only in its first moment, but in every moment, above all the last.”[5] This statement, then, by Blessed Pius IX in Ineffabilis Deus marks the first time that this position, long sustained and taught by Franciscan theologians, entered into the papal magisterium. This theological conviction in fact is not original to Franciscan theologians because, as Father Peter Damian explains, its roots

antedate both Scotus and Francis himself. It is Franciscan, not by reason of origin (in this it is rather Catholic), but by reason of its promotion, of its being rendered more explicit and then more effectively incorporated into the life of the Church, as St. Maximilian Kolbe would say.[6]

The statement that Father Peter makes in parenthesis is very important. This position is ultimately Catholic and we owe our gratitude to the Franciscan family for having consistently sustained it and taught it. Ultimately, as he explains:

Mary in some intrinsic manner pertains as no other person to the order of the hypostatic union, the grace of graces and source of all order and intelligibility both in the economy of salvation and in creation. To this fact and to the special place enjoyed by Mary in the economy of salvation, both in relation to the mystery of Jesus and of the Church (cf. Lumen Gentium, ch. 8, title), the whole of revelation affords abundant witness (as sketched out in Lumen Gentium, nn. 55ff).[7]

In the first part of his magisterial article, “The Predestination of the Virgin Mother and Her Immaculate Conception” in the Mariology volume edited by Mark Miravalle Father Peter laments the fact that treatment of the predestination of Mary has all but disappeared from Mariological study.[8] We are grateful that his study in that volume once more presents it to a wide audience. From the perspective of Blessed John Duns Scotus (c. 1266-1308), whose faithful disciple Father Peter has ever remained, he explains that

Whereas the fullness of grace in Mary is in view of the foreseen merits of her Son, the participation in grace by all others is in view of the mediation of Jesus and Mary. Because of the fact of sin on the part of Adam and Eve, that mediation of Christ, when realized historically after the tragic event of original sin and the fall of the angels, is in fact redemptive as well as saving: preservatively in Mary (and in a subordinate way in the angels who did not fall) and liberatively in all others. In Mary redemption is her Immaculate Conception; in us it is our liberation from sin. In both cases redemption is the term of divine mercy: more perfectly, however, in Mary than in us, and in us dependently on its realization in the Immaculate.[9]

Father Peter goes on to underscore a point often overlooked by the critics of Scotus.

In the joint predestination of Jesus and Mary, the distinctive personal roles of Jesus and Mary are not confused, nor does their coordination with a single work of mediation put Mary on a par with Jesus, any more than the capacity of the blessed to think and love in the mode of divine persons (a kind of coordination, anticipated in the divine indwelling by grace) put them on a par with the divine persons. Such coordination, heart of the supernatural order of grace, rests ever on a radical subordination. In this joint predestination Jesus is ordained absolutely for his own sake, and Mary for the sake of Jesus and no other, not even herself. Yet in virtue of the very grace of the Immaculate Conception whereby she totally belongs to Jesus and to the Church as Mother, she is ennobled in a most personal way, thereby revealing how grace transforms and perfects the person.[10]

While it would be possible to outline Father Peter Damian’s thought on this topic more extensively, I trust that this serves as a useful foundation. One can find more in the vast number of his Mariological works, especially in his article in Mariology

[The final paragraph from the Conclusion of Msgr. Calkins conference:]

After Fathers Karlo Balić, O.F.M., Juniper Carol, O.F.M. and their colleagues of the past, I believe that Father Peter Damian Fehlner, F.I. has done more to make the present generation aware of this Franciscan contribution to Christology and Mariology than anyone else, especially in the English-speaking world. In what is perhaps his single major contribution on this matter he tells us candidly that “treatment of the predestination of Mary has disappeared from Mariological study” , but largely thanks to him that is no longer the case.

[1] Peter Damian Fehlner, “Fr. Juniper B. Carol, O.F.M.: His Mariology and Scholarly Achievement” in Marian Studies XLIII (1992) 17-59.

[2] Ibid., 22.

[3] Pii IX Pontificis Maximi Acta I: (Graz, Austria: Akademische Druck – n. Verlagsanstalt, 1971) 599; Our Lady: Papal Teachings trans. Daughters of St. Paul (Boston: St. Paul Editions1961) [= OL] #34].

[4] Fehlner, “Immaculata Mediatrix – Toward a Dogmatic Definition of the Coredemption” in Mark I. Miravalle, S.T.D., (ed.), Mary Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate, Theological Foundations II: Papal, Pneumatological, Ecumenical (Santa Barbara, CA: Queenship Publishing Company, 1997) 285.

[5] Ibid., 284.

[6] Fehlner, “Fr. Juniper B. Carol, O.F.M.” 27. In his last major work, Why Jesus Christ?

Thomistic, Scotistic and Conciliatory Perspectives (Manassas, VA: Trinity Communications, 1986) Fr. Carol carefully documented the sustainers of this position from earliest times.

[7] Fehlner, “The Predestination of the Virgin Mother and Her Immaculate Conception” in Mark Miravalle (ed.), Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons (Goleta, CA: Seat of Wisdom Books, 2008) 218.

[8] Cf. Ibid., 213.

[9] Ibid., 225.

[10] Ibid., 226.

Fr. Sean Kopczynski, MSJB – Easter Sunday Shows Forth the Absolute Primacy of Christ

Did you know that the events on Easter Sunday show forth the absolute primacy of Christ? Fr. Sean Kopczynski, MSJB, delivered a most awe-inspiring homily on this subject in one of his recent sermons. Listen to the homily (HIGHLY recommended – less than 15 minutes).

Fr. Kopczynski was gracious enough to give me permission to post his homily notes as well. While the notes are helpful for remembering his key points, they are no substitute for listening to the homily itself. Here are his notes…

Easter Sunday and the Primacy of Christ

“…very early in the morning, the first day of the week, they came to the
sepulcher, the sun being now risen…”

1. Our Blessed Lord rose on the morning of the first day of the week just
before dawn. The Psalms speak of this as Our Lord arousing the dawn… “I
will rise up early” (cf. Psalm 56:9). This fact and many others that
occurred on Easter Sunday symbolize His absolute primacy. This absolute
primacy basically means … when God contemplated creation He wanted
first and foremost to join Himself to Creation in a Hypostatic Union. This
He would do in Christ. He did this because such a Union with His creation
would bring Him the most glory and He would be perfectly known and
loved in His Creation by the Christ. Thus, St. Paul tells us that He is “the
first born of all Creation.” A summary of the Scripture: “Christ yesterday
and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega, all time belongs
to Him and all the ages, to Him be glory and dominion, through every age
forever. Amen.” (prayer over Easter Candle from the 1955 ritual). St.
Peter: “Foreknown indeed before the foundation of the world, but
manifested in the last times for you…” (1 Pet 1:20).

2. What is more, God would make all things through Him and for Him such
that He would have the primacy in everything. God made Him the
Exemplar Cause… the Blueprint. In order for the Christ to come at the
fullness of time, God then willed at the same time, in “one and the same
decree” that He have a Mother. Thus, the second born of all creation, we
could say, is Our Lady. They were both willed by God before the angels
and man and all the rest of creation (here describe the famous image of
Adam’s creation on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel). This is one reason
why Our Lady is without any sin (original or actual). Along with the
Christ, She was willed before the angels as well as before Adam and his sin. This
is why Our Lord and Our Lady had to come to our rescue… because being
without sin, they were the only ones free to save us from sin. This is
sometimes called the “Dual Primacy.”

3. I am bringing this up because Easter Sunday encapsulates these truths in
a remarkable way. He rose before the dawn of the morning of the first
day of the week. Thus, David says in the Psalms, “from the womb before
the day star I begot Thee” (Ps 109:3)… before the first day of Creation
when the light first dawned on the world, God willed Him. Since all things
were somehow made through Him… He had to be in the mind of God first
as the EXEMPLAR Cause of all things. This truth is indicated by the TIME
of His Resurrection. It is saying, since man fell away from the first
creation… God will re-create with the Christ through Whom all things were
made. Thus, we sing of Him as the Morning Star in the Exsultet.

4. Next consider that He rose without anyone around. All was done in
hiddenness… just as things were done before the foundation of the world.
This also shows that there is a deep mystery here. Then what did He do?
He passed out of the tomb without opening it.

5. His Majesty, Jesus the Savior, went to visit the Blessed Virgin Mary
immediately upon coming out of the tomb. He saluted His Mother, saying,
“Peace be with you.” Shedding tears of joy, the Virgin knelt to adore Him,
kissing His hands and feet and saying: “O Blessed Wounds, which have
caused me so much suffering.” O what consolations He must have
bestowed on her. O what a meeting that must have been! Here is the
sign “deep as the nether world.” Our Lady’s prayers brought our Savior
out of the sky and up from the nether world.

6. Why do the Gospels remain silent about this meeting? For one, many
would not be willing to believe the testimony of a mother in regard to her
son… And another reason is that Our Lady asked this to remain hidden. It
was a precious moment…that is best left veiled in mystery and wonder.

7. See how this first visit fits with the dual primacy of Christ and Our Lady?
She comes next! He had to visit her first! This is one reason why she too
is called the Morning Star along with Our Lord. This is one reason why
Saturday belongs to Blessed Mary… she kept vigil on that day, praying.

8. Then what happened? Angels came and opened the tomb. After God
willed the Christ and His Mother, He then willed the angels. The angels
came with the dawn of creation… made first and foremost to glorify Him
and serve His Body the Church… They were made for Him. Thus, at the
dawn of the first day of the week they came and rolled back the stone
and the devils were cast down in defeat. As the Lord Himself points out,
“Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of
God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

9. Then there is the coming of the women and the men who were born in
sin…symbolizing Adam and Eve. There was Mary Magdalene, Mary,
Salome… Peter, John, the Apostles, and the disciples (Road to Emmaus)
with the paralyzed soldiers representing the unbelievers or those still in
their sin. See how Re-Creation parallels Creation! How wonderful is the
Plan of God!!!

10. What does all this mean for us? (i) Easter shows us that first and
foremost all is for Christ. Is He first in our lives? Do we start our
mornings with Him… the first thought out of our minds? Do we start all
works with Him? Clearly this is why the Church obliges us under pain of
grave sin to start our week with Him in attending Mass on Sunday… every
week without exception.

11. (ii) When we make Christ the center of our lives in every way possible,
we must include Our Lady. They are inseparable. Are we devoted to her?
Do we pray her Rosary everyday as she so kindly requested at Fatima
and Lourdes? She is our Mother. Do we love her? Have we consecrated
ourselves to her? Wherever she goes, she always brings Our Lord with
her. Give yourself to her Immaculate Heart and all will go well.

12. Let us keep in mind as a way to remember these important truths that
JOY spells Jesus-Others-Yourself. If we put Our Lord first and ourselves
last, Easter Joy will be truly ours. “Christ yesterday and today, the
beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega, all time belongs to Him and all
the ages, to Him be glory and dominion, through every age forever.

Depictions of Bl. John Duns Scotus

The following is a post that was put up on The Amish Catholic by Rick Yoder. He graciously gave me permission to repost it. If you want to see the original post just click HERE.

From the Amish Catholic…

I’ve taken a major interest in Scotus recently. His Christology and Mariology seem to be treasures that remain largely unexploited by contemporary theologians, in part because he was recognized as being in the right about a doctrine that became dogma almost two hundred years ago. He is at the center of ongoing debates about the advent of secularism and modernity, debates which I am not competent to comment on at this time. Nevertheless, I thought it might be fun to examine some of the ways that Catholics (mostly Franciscans) have memorialized him in art over the course of the last several centuries. In some sense, the variety of depictions here tell a story of a lineage long overshadowed by other, more influential streams of thought. Thomism in particular has had a near perennial appeal within the Church, whereas Scotism, it seems, has largely been a niche concern. After all, Scotus has not yet been canonized or joined the ranks of the Doctors of the Church. This inequity arose from a variety of factors. No doubt, the fate of Scotism has come partially from Scotus’s own difficult style and vast intelligence. There’s a reason he’s called the “Subtle Doctor.”

May my small collection here help rectify that oversight on this, his feast day. [This was originally posted on Nov. 8th, 2017 – the Feast of Bl. John Duns Scotus]

Bl John Duns Scotus-thumb-275x279-4957

John the Scot (c. 1266 – 8 Nov. 1308), appearing in what must be one of his earliest depictions: an illuminated capital. (Source)


A Renaissance portrait of the Blessed John Duns Scotus. One point that people forget about Scotus is that he defended the rights of the Church against Philip IV, who had wanted to tax church properties. For his bold stance, he was exiled for a few years from Paris. (Source)


Perhaps the most famous, a late-Medeival, early-Renaissance portrait of Scotus. The name of the artist escapes me. (Source)


An early modern engraving of Scotus, probably early to mid 15th century. (Source)

St Albert the Great & Bl John Duns Scotus

Here he is with St. Albert the Great, one of the Dominican Doctors. (Source)


Scotus the Scholar. Age and provenance unclear; my guess is late 17th century, though it may be later. (Source)


Scotus receiving a vision of the Christ Child, 17th or 18th century. Although chiefly remembered for his metaphysics and Mariology, Scotus made major contributions to Christology, defending the Patristic idea of Christ’s Absolute Primacy. (Source)


From the early modern period, it became typical to depict Scotus with representations of the Virgin Mary, whose Immaculate Conception he famously defended. This piece, probably from the 18th century, is one such example. It also contains a pretty clear criticism of Aquinas – Scotus looks away from the Summa to gaze lovingly at Mary (Source: this very friendly take on Scotus by a prominent popular Thomist)


A slightly more dramatic iteration of the same theme. Scotus is inspired by the Immaculate Conception. (Source)


My single favorite image of Scotus is this ludicrously over-the-top Rococo depiction of Scotus and the Immaculate Conception triumphing over heresy and sin. He holds the arms (no pun intended) of the Franciscan order. His defense of the Immaculate Conception surpassed the doubts of even his own order’s great luminary, St. Bonaventure. And what a marvellously simple argument it was, too. Remember: POTVIT DECVIT ERGO FECIT. (Source).

Izamal Duns Scotus Adopte rest

Likewise, this totally marvelous Colonial Mexican painting from the Franciscan monastery of Izamal, Yucatan, is something else. Rare is the saint granted wings in traditional iconography, though the trend was not uncommon in early modern Mexican art (Source)

Joannes Pitseus, Scotus 1619

The mystery solved! This version by Johannes Pitseus comes from 1619, and served as a model for the Izamal piece. Here, it’s clearer that the heads represent various heretics, including Pelagius, Arius, and Calvin. (Source)

Landa Duns Scotus

This ceiling relief from Landa, Querétaro, uses the same iconographic lexicon. It seems that the Franciscans of colonial Mexico had a set of stock images to propagate devotion to their own saints. (Source)

huej purisima

Here’s another unusual image of Scotus. In this mural of Mary Immaculate, or La Purísima, we see Scotus alongside St. Thomas Aquinas…and wearing a biretta! A remarkable addition, unique among all other depictions of the Subtle Doctor that I know of. (Source)


Moving away from Mexico, we come to this rather uninteresting French portrait of Scotus. Not all 18th century portraits of the man are elaborate bits of Franciscan propaganda. (Source)

unknown artist; John Duns Scotus (1266-1308)

A late 18th or early 19th century depiction of Bl. John Duns Scotus. If this is in fact an English painting, its creation at a time of high and dry Anglican Protestantism poses interesting questions about the use of Scotus as a figure of national pride. (Source)


I’m unsure of how old this image is; my guess, however, is that it represents a 19th century imitation of late Medieval and Renaissance style. (Source)

Albert Küchler (Brother Peter of Copenhagen) - Immaculate Conception with St. Bonaventure, Francis, Anthony and Blessed John Duns Scotus - Rome - Pontifical University Antonianum

A great 19th century painting of the Immaculate Conception by Danish Franciscan Albert Küchler. Scotus, who is on the bottom right, is here depicted alongside other Franciscan saints – S.s. Francis of Assisi, Anthony of Padua, and Bonaventure. (Source)


This looks like a Harry Clarke window, though it may just resemble his style. In anyway, we see here Scotus holding a scroll with his famous argument for the Immaculate Conception epitomized – “He could do it, It was fitting He should do it, so He did it.” (Source)


John Duns Scotus, once again contemplating the Immaculate Virgin and offering his mighty works to her. (Source)


Another stained glass window, this time indubitably from the 20th century. We see here Scotus worshiping the Christ Child and his Immaculate Mother. (Source)


Scotus depicted in on the door of a Cologne Cathedral, 1948. He represents the supernatural gift of Understanding. (Source)


A contemporary statue of Scotus. (Source)


Scotus with a modification of the Benedictine phrase. “Pray and Think. Think and Pray.” Not a bad motto. (Source)


A 20th or 21st century image of the Blessed Scotus (Source).

Summary of Bishop Robert Grosseteste by Fr. Eric Wood

Summary of the Primacy of Christ according to Bishop Robert Grosseteste (ca. 1175-1253) by Fr. Eric Wood

(The following passage is taken from Fr. Eric Wood’s Master’s Degree Thesis at the Athenaeum of Ohio. The full document with footnotes – which is well worth reading – can be found HERE).

The debate over the primacy of Christ began in Anselm and Rupert [of Deutz] as a discussion concerning the necessity of Christ’s Incarnation and passion. The issue continued to be developed for the most part through the work of theologians within the Franciscan Order who tended to affirm the position of Rupert, though not universally. The non-universality of the thesis within the Order notwithstanding, Rupert’s position nevertheless became known as the Franciscan thesis. One of the first who influenced the Order, to begin dealing with the issue was Robert Grosseteste. Grosseteste was the chancellor of the University of Oxford, bishop of Lincoln, and the first instructor of the friars in England. Like Rupert he looked at the issue as a question concerning the necessity of the Incarnation, and as a counterfactual claim which he believed could help us understand certain aspects of the present economy of salvation. Though Grosseteste is not given enough credit for the part he plays, there are indications that he had an influence on other Franciscan thinkers, including the two main luminaries, Bonaventure and Scotus.

Grosseteste employed a very similar method as Rupert, though there is little evidence he knew much of what Rupert had to say on the question. For in the areas of his
theological teaching, Grosseteste, as a magister in sacra pagina, was known for his adherence to the Scriptures. It makes sense, observes Daniel Horan, that the Scriptures would be a “starting point for Grosseteste’s exploration of the necessity of the Incarnation. However, it should also be noted that, according James Ginther, Grosseteste believed it was the “responsibility of the speculative theologian to provide a rational account of what was gained from the study of Scripture.” This is what led Grosseteste to operate not just as a scriptural exegete but also as a speculative theologian in his study of the question concerning the necessity of the Incarnation. Due to his turn to more speculative or philosophical explanations, Grosseteste becomes very hesitant to push forward his opinion as the authentic teaching of the Church. Only those aspects which he definitively takes from the Scriptures does he present with any authority. Nevertheless, he is the first to use speculative/theological explanations in favor of the Franciscan school of thought, and can be seen as a bridge between Rupert and later defenders of the position.

Grosseteste takes up the question of the necessity of Christ’s Incarnation mainly in De Cessatione Legalium, Exiit Edictum
(a Christmas homily), and Hexaemeron. His arguments from Scripture deal specifically with Old Testament themes in which he attempts to present Christ, the God-man, as the only possible fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and blessings. While it may seem from this that his motivation was to counter Jewish attacks against the faith, James Ginther believes there is very little evidence to support this statement. Rather, he suggests Grosseteste’s motivation was simply to understand the place of the Old law within the context of Christ and the New law.

Greater importance is attributed to Grosseteste’s arguments of a more speculative nature, for it is here that he employs the hypothetical statement in question. Though
Grosseteste acknowledges that Fathers such as St. Gregory, St. Augustine, and St. Anselm all declared that the human race could only be saved through the God-man, he does not believe it had occurred to these men to ask whether or not the Incarnation would have taken place had the human race not sinned (though there is evidence to suggest otherwise). While it may seem odd that such medieval thinkers would put so much effort into a counter-factual claim, James Ginther offers an explanation as to why Grosseteste believed it was important to consider. First of all, Grosseteste uses the hypothetical in order to “highlight specific true conditions of the world as it is now.” Secondly, he is using the hypothetical to prove a greater thesis; to show how sin cannot be the direct cause of the Incarnation, so as to establish “reasons for the Incarnation that not only function in a world as it is now, but also in a world devoid of all sin. Grosseteste’s aim is not to separate the Incarnation from Christ’s saving work, but rather to elucidate its twofold role.”

In this effort Grosseteste offers five different arguments all supported by a theology rooted in Pseudo-Dionysius and the Neo-platonic tradition. The first is based
upon the goodness of God and makes use of St. Anselm’s definition of God as a “greater Good than can even be thought.” The argument also draws upon the Pseudo-Dionysian concept of the good being self-diffusive. God created the world in such a way that it would be capable of receiving God’s goodness in the highest possible way. As Grosseteste states, “supreme goodness [God] pours in as great a good as it is capable of. But the universe is capable of this good, namely, that it have a part of itself as the God-man. There is nothing that can exist in the universe if the universe is incapable of containing it; and the universe already has this good. Therefore, it is capable of this good, and was not made capable of this good by the fall of man.” The fact that God is the supreme good and the universe is capable of the God-man leads him to say that the God-man would have come despite the fall. Thus the world would have been created in such a way so as to receive the greatest good, which Grosseteste says can only be the Incarnate God.

The second argument is based upon the idea that the hypostatic union of the Word of God was achieved primarily through the intellectum or “intellect,” a position he takes from Peter Lombard and John Damascene. From this, Grosseteste will say that the human flesh was equally assumable, if not more, considering the weakening of the intellect due to sin, prior to the fall as it was after man had sinned. “Either the assumption of the flesh by the Word through the mediation of the soul [intellect] was more possible when man was in Paradise [prior to the fall] than it would be now [after the fall], or at least it was as possible as it would be now.” At this point Grosseteste returns to his first argument by stating it makes sense to say that God would have become incarnate, considering it would have been just as possible if not more, even if we had not sinned because the whole of creation is better “than it could in any way be without this good [the God-man]… Either, then one must say that God would have become man even if man had not fallen, or that the whole of creation is now inestimably better than it would have been if man had not fallen.”

The third argument is based upon a distinction which Grosseteste makes in his understanding of justice and sanctification. Put simply, he argues that the human race, even apart from the fall, is in need of the Incarnation for the sake of sanctification (though not justice). For only in the God-man can the human race be sanctified and lifted up as children of the most high God. In this, Grosseteste does not believe being sanctified is the same as being justified.

The fourth argument arises from Grosseteste’s reading of Ephesians 1:22 and 5:23. According to these passages Christ is meant to be head of the Church apart from any act of sin on humanity’s part. That such a holy institution as the Church should be dependent on the sin of the human race makes no sense to Grosseteste for this very reason. Thus, he concludes that the Incarnation was always intended because Christ was predestined to a nuptial relationship with the Church. “Before he fell, Adam prophesied the marriage of Christ and the Church. . .”

In many ways, the fifth and final explanation brings us to the heart of Grosseteste’s theology and what is characteristic of the Franciscan mindset. The argument is based upon the understanding of the universe as a unified creation, with Christ (the Incarnate God) as the unifying principle. Such a principle could not be accomplished in man alone (apart from his union with the Word of God). The unifying principle, according to Grosseteste, must be more worthy than all other creatures, and thus it can only be the God-man. As Horan describes it, “The Incarnation was necessary to unify all parts of creation and to complete the capacity for fulfillment God intended for the universe

Despite his hesitancy to enter into the area of speculative thought, Grosseteste’s use of Pseudo-Dionysius to support a christocentric view of creation breaks new ground in the development of the Church’s understanding of the primacy of Christ. Ginther argues, “The question [the hypothetical] had been posed before, but Grosseteste is the first to address the problem with such intensity that it created a new topic for scholastic theologians to examine for the rest of the century.” Because his arguments in favor of Rupert’s thesis were speculative and theological, Grosseteste influenced a list of other theologians including Alexander of Hales, St. Bonaventure, and Bl. John Duns Scotus, all of whom express very similar christocentric theological systems. These men, specifically the latter two, will become the great thinkers of the Middle Ages who will provide the most profound developments in our understanding of Christ’s primacy.

Bishop Grosseteste (+1253) – 16 arguments for the Incarnation even if Adam had not sinned

Bishop Robert Grosseteste (+1253) was an amazing figure in England during the scholastic period, both as Bishop of Lincoln and Professor of Theology at Oxford University. If you want to learn more about him or look up his writings (in Latin), there is an amazing website you can visit called Electronic Grosseteste.

In Part III of his volume De cessatione legalium – “On the Cessation of the Laws” he gives sixteen arguments for the Incarnation even if Adam had not sinned. As much as I would like to post all of his arguments here, it seems best to limit myself to a few highlights. Thanks to Dr. Stephen Hildebrand and CUA Press anyone who would like to read Bishop Grosseteste’s full presentation on the subject can purchase the English translation of this work here.

From the pen of Grosseteste:

“… let us suppose that man had not fallen and that God did not become man; the created universe would not be as good, as perfect, as beautiful as it is now, would it? …” (P.III, Ch.1, n.8)

“Again, when God, who is supremely generous and from whom envy is supremely banished, creates every kind of creature that can exist (in order to show that He, who must be participated in by every possible nature, Himself shares with each inasmuch as its nature can receive it), and does not leave even the nature of the insect or of some kind of fly or reptile uncreated, how will He not all the more make one Person to be God and man, that is, one Christ, because one Christ, God and man, is an incomparably greater good than all of creation by itself? He does not omit the nature of the insect lest the whole of creation be imperfect and less honorable; would He omit Christ, the greatest honor for all creation [if Adam had not sinned]? … How could He [Christ], being such, be omitted in such a way that He would never have existed if man had not sinned, when even the lowest species of reptile would not have been omitted?” (P.III, Ch.1, n.9)

“In addition, if there were not one Christ, that is, God and man in one Person, the Church would not have the head which it now has, nor would it be as the Apostle says, ‘The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church’ (Eph 5:23); and again, the head of man is Christ, and the head of Christ is God, but the Church would be headless and so would man.” (P.III, Ch.1, n.10)

“In addition, if the God-man, who suffered, through Himself justifies fallen man, and if this cause is precisely proportionate to this effect, then, if you take away the ‘fallen’ and ‘suffering,’ the precise cause of man’s justification, the God-man, will, it seems, remain. For if man had not sinned, he still would not be able to be just by himself, but would always need someone who is just by nature to justify him.” (P.III, Ch.1, n.11)

“What the Apostle says about Christ seems to contradict this line of thought [that we are justified by God, not the God-man], that for us He was made by God to be wisdom, justice, holiness and redemption (cf. 1 Cor 1:30). Therefore, He redeems, sanctifies, and infuses justice and wisdom according to His becoming [man], not because as God He infuses holiness, justice, and wisdom; rather, He does this only through the assumed man, because of whom He is the mediator between God and man (cf. 1 Tm 2:5)…” (P.III, Ch.1, n.13)

“So then, if the formation of justice always happens in one way, because the cause of one thing is always one, justice always and simply descends from God through Christ, the God-man, into every rational creature who is made just. On account of this, it seems, angels and men are not justified from the beginning except through the Son of God, God and man…” (P.III, Ch.1, n.14).

A summary of Bishop Robert Grosseteste’s position on the primacy of Christ By Fr. Eric Wood will be posted soon…

Rev. Chris Webb – Christ in All Scriptures

In an earlier post I highlighted some inspired insights of Rev. Chris Webb (see HERE), an Anglican priest who embraces the Benedictine spirituality and promotes in a particular way the Lectio Divina. What is unique about Rev. Webb’s approach to reading the Bible is his Scotistic Christocentricism. He recently posted a piece called “Christ in All Scriptures” at Renovaré and gave me permission to repost it for your perusal. The following are his reflections:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. —Colossians 1:15-16

If the whole of creation entirely centered on Jesus, then we might reasonably expect to discover that Scripture is equally Christocentric. Not only that, but the idea of the Absolute Primacy of Christ could then become a compelling starting point for our interpretation of Scripture, especially when we approach Scripture with the desire, above all else, to find in it an encounter with God in Christ.

And in fact this was the way most Christians read the Bible for much of the Church’s two millennia long history. During one of his sermons on the Psalms, the fifth century African bishop Augustine of Hippo exhorted his congregation to “remember that God speaks only a single word throughout the length of Scripture, and that only one Word is heard from the many mouths of the sacred writers—the Word that was in the beginning, God with God.” Six centuries later the hugely influential Parisian abbot Hugh of St. Victor would write: “All sacred Scripture is but one book, and that one book is Christ, because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ.”

These writers were developing a tradition that reaches right back to the New Testament period. Throughout the Gospels, the epistles, and the book of Revelation we see Jesus presented as the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures. We have often narrowed that focus by affirming that in Christ a specific collection of ancient biblical prophecies about the future came to pass; some even claim to be able to enumerate the number and sequence of such prophecies. But the apostles and the New Testament writers asserted so much more: for them, Jesus was the completion and fulfillment of all Scripture, of the whole Bible in its many varied aspects.

Think, for example, of Peter’s first sermon on the day of Pentecost. These few brief words draw together a collection of different texts from the Hebrew Bible—a passage from Joel and quotations from a couple of Psalms—and apply them all to Jesus. Two chapters later in Acts, Peter is confronting the Sanhedrin and quotes from another Psalm (“the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the chief cornerstone,” Psalm 118:22) which, he asserts, speaks directly of Christ. In a prayer later in the same chapter the disciples apply yet another Psalm to Jesus, while in chapter seven Stephen, during his trial, draws whole sweeps of the Old Testament narrative into his interpretation of the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection. Philip hears an Ethiopian official reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah while traveling on the road to Gaza—“starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35). This same pattern continues throughout Acts: the Old Testament is constantly referred to as a text which speaks of Christ.

If anything, the picture becomes even richer as we turn to the New Testament letters. Paul, in particular, seems to see Jesus everywhere he looks in Scripture. Christ is portrayed as a new Adam, a descendant of the first man who overturns the tragic results of the first sin in Eden (Romans 5:12-21). Abraham’s unwavering faith in God’s promise makes him the spiritual ancestor of those who will place their faith in Christ’s resurrection (Acts 4:1-25). Sarah and Hagar become allegories of the challenging choice presented by Christ: between living under the law of Sinai or in the freedom of the new Jerusalem (Galatians 4:21-5:1). In one text Jesus is linked to the entire story of the exodus—to the “baptism” in the Red Sea, the leadership of Moses, the miraculous food and drink provided in the wilderness—leading to the startling assertion that Jesus was present to the Israelites throughout their wanderings: “they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:5). And so it continues throughout Paul’s letters—it seems that he is able to discern the presence of Christ in almost any biblical text.

The letter to the Hebrews draws on the Old Testament in a remarkable way to expound on the significance of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. After a short, breathless introduction in the first four verses (just a single sentence in the Greek original) the letter launches into a whirlwind tour of the Hebrew Scriptures: quotations from right across the Psalter; excerpts from books as diverse as Deuteronomy, Proverbs, Isaiah, and Jeremiah; allusions to the meeting between Abraham and Melchizedek, the giving of the law at Sinai, Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, the design and structure of the temple, the rules governing the priesthood and the sacrificial system laid out in Leviticus, and the prophetic promise of a new heart covenant between God and his people. The eleventh chapter famously presents a panorama of Old Testament heroes, calling to mind the examples of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Barak, Samson … the list is overwhelming. And all this is offered as one great and glorious witness to Jesus—Jesus who is greater than the angels, who mediates a better covenant than Moses, who embodies the Sabbath rest of the covenant, who fulfills the great priesthood of Melchizedek, who ministers in the true heavenly sanctuary of which the earthly temple is simply an imitation, who offers the supreme and final sacrifice, and who establishes the foundations of the heavenly Jerusalem.

No wonder, then, that the author of this letter calls Jesus “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). He is the beginning and the end, the one who participates in creation with God at the dawn of time and draws it to its conclusion at the end of days. His presence can be felt on every page, during every incident, through every prophecy, in every life. Jesus is not simply a character who appears in the Bible somewhere towards the end, drawing together the threads of a rambling and complex story. Jesus is the central character from the first page to the last. The Bible is, above all else, the book of Christ.

Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P. – In Defense of St. Thomas Aquinas

Fr. Reginald Marie Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. (+1964) was a French Catholic theologian of the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans) who was renowned as a leading neo-Thomist of the 20th century. In commenting on the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas he expanded upon the Angelic Doctor’s response to the question “If Man Had Not Sinned, Would God Have Become Incarnate?” To follow his commentary below it would be helpful to refer to the original thought of St. Thomas in his Summa III, C.3, Q.1, art. 3 (see here) first.

Here I will post his commentary without comment. If anyone follows the position of Bl. John Duns Scotus on the absolute primacy of Christ (sin or no sin) it is extremely useful to understand and consider the contrary position. In the end, as I’m sure Fr. Reginald would agree, what matters is the truth – veritas. So studying both positions helps one to have a fuller understanding of what the truth indeed is. Fr. Reginald, like St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas, St. Bonaventure, and Bl. John Duns Scotus, was versed in both schools

From the pen of Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P….

For these reasons [he’s referring to the “objections” listed by Aquinas in the Summa], Alexander of Hales, St. Albert, and later on Scotus deemed it more probable that the Word would have become incarnate even if man had not sinned.

This question assumes no less importance if it be proposed as follows: What is the fundamental trait of Christ? Is it to be the Savior and victim, or preferably to be the teacher, King of kings, Lord of all? Is it only of secondary importance that He is the Savior and victim?

St. Thomas’ conclusion in the body of this article is the following. “It is more fitting to say that the work of the Incarnation was ordained by God as a remedy for sin, so that, had sin not existed, the Incarnation would not have been. And yet the power of God is not limited to this; even had sin not existed, God could have become incarnate.”

St. Thomas in one of his earlier works[284] gives this opinion as probable, in fact, as more probable. Similarly, in another of his commentaries, he says: “We do not know what God would have ordained (by another decree) if He had not foreknown the sin of man. Nevertheless, authoritative writers seem to state expressly that God would not have become incarnate if man had not sinned. I incline more to this view.”[285]

Proof. St. Thomas proves his conclusion by one argument, for, as we shall immediately see, there is no distinction between the argument “sed contra” and the argument in the body of this article, but he combines them into one argument, which may be presented by the following syllogism.

What depends solely on the will of God, and beyond all to which the creature is entitled, can be made known to us only inasmuch as it is contained in Sacred Scripture.

But everywhere in Sacred Scripture the sin of the first man is assigned as the reason for the Incarnation.

Therefore it is more fitting to say, since it seems to be more in accordance with the meaning of Sacred Scripture, that the sin of the first man is the reason of the Incarnation. This conclusion is both more and less than a theological conclusion. It is more because it appears to be the meaning of Sacred Scripture; it is less because it is not absolutely certain.

The major is evident, because what depends on the most free will of God is known only to Himself, nor is there any other way by which supernatural gifts[286] can be made known except through revelation, which is contained in Sacred Scripture and also in tradition. Hence the Scripture says: “For who among men is he that can know the counsel of God? Or who can think what the will of God is.”[287]

Proof of minor. Christ Himself testifies, saying: “They that are whole, need not the physician, but they that are sick. I came not to call the just, but sinners to penance.”[288] And again: “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”[289] St. Paul says: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”[290] Elsewhere he writes: “God sent His Son made of a woman, made under the law, that He might redeem those who were under the law.”[291] The beloved Apostle testifies: “God so loved the world, as to send His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him may not perish, but may have life everlasting.”[292] St. John the Baptist on seeing Jesus, says: “Behold the Lamb of God… who taketh away the sin of the world.”[293] Likewise the Old Testament assigns the healing of the contrite of heart and the abolition of iniquity from the land, as the only reasons for the promise and expectation of the[294] Moreover, the name Jesus signifies Savior.[295]

But Sacred Scripture does not say explicitly that this reason for the Incarnation is the only possible one, and it speaks with reference to us men and our salvation. Hence the argument from this point of view is not apodictic.

But this argument drawn from Sacred Scripture is fully confirmed by tradition. The Council of Nicaea, in the symbol which, too, the Church sings, says: “Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven. And was made flesh by the Holy Ghost, and was made man.”[296] Likewise, in the Council of Sens and by Innocent II, Abelard’s proposition was condemned, which said: “Christ did not assume our human nature in order to deliver us from the devil’s yoke.”[297]

The Fathers insist upon the above-quoted passages when speaking about the motive of the Incarnation.

St. Irenaeus says: “If no flesh had to be saved, the Word of God would not at all have become flesh.”[298]

St. Cyril of Alexandria remarks: “If we had not sinned, the Son of God would not have become like unto us.”[299]

Other Fathers may be quoted. Thus, St. Athanasius writes: “The Word by no means would have become man unless the necessity of mankind had been the cause.”[300]

St. Gregory Nazianzen declares: “But what was the reason for God to assume our human nature for our sake? Assuredly that He might prepare the way to heaven for us; for what other reason can there be?”[301]

St. Chrysostom, the head of the Greek Church, likewise says: “He assumed this human nature of ours solely on account of His mercy, that He might have mercy on us; there is no other reason whatever than this alone for dispensing us from our obligation.”[302] This means to say that the proximate motive of the efficacious decree of the Incarnation was formally the motive of mercy.

Finally also St. Augustine, the head of the Latin Church, is quoted in the counterargument of this article, who says: “If man had not sinned, the Son of man would not have come.” And elsewhere he says: “Since Adam was made, namely, a righteous man, there was no need of a mediator. But when sins had separated the human race far from God, it was necessary for us to be reconciled to God through a mediator.”[303] The testimony of the gloss, quoted in the counterargument, must be added to the above quotations, namely: “Take away diseases, take away wounds, and there is no need of medicine.”[304]

The Scotists say that these texts from Sacred Scripture and the Fathers prove only that, if Adam had not sinned, Christ would not have come in passible flesh, or as the physician and Savior.

The Thomists reply that in such a case the statements of the Fathers, asserting absolutely, simply, and without restrictions, that Christ would not have come if Adam had not sinned, would be false; or there would certainly be much equivocation concealed in their words. Thus the following affirmation would be false. Christ is not in the Eucharist meaning: He is not in the Eucharist in passible flesh.

But St. Augustine says, as quoted above: “If man had not sinned, the Son of man would not have come,” whereas he ought to have said: He would have come indeed but not in passible flesh, as the Redeemer.

The Scotists also appeal to the words of St. Paul, who says of Christ: “Who is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of every creature, for in Him were all things created in heaven and on earth…. Al] things were created by Him and in Him. And He is before all, and by Him all things consist.”[305]

Concerning this text the Thomists remark that, even if these words refer not only to the Word before the Incarnation, but also to Christ, yet they do not express the proximate motive of the Incarnation, but that Christ is above every creature, by reason of His personality.

Hence many authors say that the opinion of St. Thomas and of St. Bonaventure has its foundation more in the testimony of the Scripture and the Fathers.[306]

Therefore, because of this fundamental argument, St. Thomas rightly says in his conclusion: “Hence, since everywhere in the Sacred Scripture the sin of the first man is assigned as the reason of the Incarnation, it is more in accordance with this to say that the work of the Incarnation was ordained by God as a remedy for sin; so that, had sin not existed, the Incarnation would not have been,”[307] at least in virtue of the present decree; but it could have been regardless of sin in virtue of another decree. This means that the proximate motive of the Incarnation was formally the motive of mercy, namely, to alleviate the misery of the human race.

Confirmation. The Thomists present a second argument which serves as a complete corroboration of the preceding.

Since God’s efficacious decrees are not modified by Him, but from eternity include also all the circumstances of the thing to be produced, the present efficacious decree of the Incarnation from eternity includes the passibility of the flesh. But, as the Scotists concede, the incarnation in passible flesh, supposes the fall. Therefore, in virtue of the present decree, the Word incarnate would not have existed if man had not sinned.

Explanation of the major. God’s efficacious decree includes all the circumstances of the things to be produced, because it is an act of most perfect prudence, which attends to all the circumstances of the object, inasmuch as it is concerned with all the particulars that can and must be done right at the moment. The difference between God and us consists in this, that we intend many things even as much as these efficaciously be in our power, although we do not attend to all the detailed circumstances, because these do not come under our observation simultaneously but successively, nor can we foresee with certainty the absolutely fortuitous circumstances even of the morrow. On the contrary, God knows all future things from eternity, and nothing happens without either a positive or permissive decree of His will, positive as regards that which is real and good, permissive as regards evil. Hence God’s positive efficacious decree, since it is most prudent, includes all the circumstances of the thing to be produced. Hence God, different from us, does not modify His efficacious decrees, and consequently the efficacious decree of the Incarnation in passible flesh, so that de facto the Incarnation takes place, is the only one issued by God, and this decree, as the Scotists concede, supposes the fall of the human race. Therefore, in virtue of the present efficacious decree, if man had not sinned, the Word would not have become incarnate.

Therefore the Scotists ought to say that the decree of the Incarnation considered in itself and not in passible flesh is a conditional and inefficacious decree, like God’s antecedent will of saving the human race, because it is directed to something considered in itself, abstracting, as it were, from particular circumstances of time and place. But it must be added in virtue of the present inefficacious decree, nothing comes into being, for no being or anything good is produced, because these can be produced only according to conditions right at the moment, and at the moment nothing is realized,[308] for the conditional and inefficacious decree does not refer to the existence of things. Hence, in virtue of this particular, inefficacious decree, the Word de facto would not, right in the present circumstances, have become incarnate either in passible or in impassible flesh.

Instance. But perhaps this argument proves only that the reparation of sin was an indispensable condition for the coming of Christ. It does not follow as an immediate consequence that this indispensable condition was the proximate motive of the Incarnation, because not every indispensable condition is the motive of one’s action.

Reply. We say that the Scripture assigns this condition as the motive, and no other proximate motive is assigned to this condition, except the common and ultimate motive in all God’s works, which is the manifestation of His goodness or His glory.

This argument is most forceful. In fact, it appears to be apodictic, inasmuch as it is equivalent to saying that God, unlike us, does not afterward make a change in what He has efficaciously decreed to bring into being. These decrees are, from the moment of their utterance, most perfect and include future circumstances even to the least detail. Thus, in like manner it was decreed by God that Peter was to attain eternal glory only by way of penance after his threefold denial, which was permitted by God. This argument holds good against the opinion of Suarez.[309]

Objection. The election of Peter to heaven is an efficacious decree. But this decree does not include in its object all the circumstances, for instance, whether Peter will reach heaven by means of martyrdom, for this pertains to a subsequent decree. Therefore not every efficacious decree includes all the circumstances.

Reply. I distinguish the major. The election of Peter to heaven is an efficacious decree of the end, this I concede; of the means, this I deny.

I contradistinguish the minor. That the decree does not include all the circumstances of the means, this I concede; of the end, this I deny. Although the decree concerning the end virtually contains the decree concerning the means.

Thus Peter’s election to heaven includes a certain degree of glory for this individual person, together with all the associated circumstances. Similarly, therefore, the decree of the Incarnation ought to terminate in the individual Christ, right now to be born of the Virgin Mary, in passible flesh, just as it actually happened.

The Scotists insist saying: I can decree efficaciously that someone must be paid a debt of one hundred dollars, not considering whether this debt is to be paid in gold or silver.


1. We mortals can certainly do so, for our decrees are from the beginning imperfect, often vaguely expressed, especially if they concern something to be fulfilled in the future.

2. Moreover, the aforesaid decree concerns the end, namely, the price to be paid, not the means by which it is to be paid.

3. This decree does not concern the production of the thing, but the use of a thing already produced, namely, of a sum of gold or silver. On the contrary, the efficacious decree of the Incarnation concerns a thing to be produced right now, hence in passible flesh, as it actually happened. Therefore this argument rests on very solid grounds, that is, after the Incarnation has become an accomplished fact.

Confirmation of proof. St. Thomas confirms his proof by the solution of the objections which he placed at the beginning of this, his third article.

The first objection was proposed by St. Augustine,[310] who says: “Many other things are to be considered in the Incarnation of Christ besides absolution from sin.”

Reply to first objection. “All the other causes which are assigned in the preceding article have to do with a remedy for sin,” since, by the Incarnation man is withdrawn from evil and given the greatest of incentives to practice the virtues of faith, hope, and charity.

We must also concede that God, in the decree of the Incarnation, besides the redemption of the human race, had in mind as the ultimate and common end of all His works, the manifestation of His goodness or of His glory; but now it is a question of the proximate motive of the Incarnation, namely, whether it is connected with sin.

The second objection was: It belongs to God’s omnipotence to manifest Himself by some infinite effect.

Reply to second objection. “The infinity of divine power is shown in the mode of production of things from nothing. Again, it suffices for the perfection of the universe that the creature be ordained in a natural manner to God as to an end (that is, in the purely natural state). But that a creature should be united to God in person exceeds the limits of the perfection of nature.” Therefore, this constitutes the object of a most free decree, the motive of which is made manifest only by revelation.

The third objection was: Human nature has not been made more capable of the grace of the hypostatic union by sin. Therefore, if man had not sinned, God would have willed the Incarnation.

Reply to third objection. St. Thomas concedes the antecedent. He distinguishes the consequent, and concedes that, if man had not sinned, human nature was capable obedientially of the Incarnation; that it would de facto have been raised to the dignity of the hypostatic union in virtue of the present decree, this he denies.

The whole of this beautiful reply to the third objection must be read, because it is of great importance.

There are two things to be noted in this reply.

1) The obediential power concerns a supernatural agent, namely, God whom it obeys; but God, who is absolutely free, does not always complete this obediential power, though He sometimes does so, and gratuitously.

2) “But there is no reason,” says St. Thomas, “why human nature should not have been raised to something greater (de facto) after sin. God allows evils to happen in order to bring a greater good therefrom. Hence it is written (Rom. 5:20): ‘Where sin abounded grace did more abound.’ Hence too, in the blessing of the paschal candle, we say: ‘O happy fault, that merited such and so great a Redeemer. ”

Thus it is confirmed that the motive of the Incarnation was formally the motive of mercy, and, moreover, it is evident that God permitted original sin for a greater good, which is the redemptive Incarnation. Thus causes are to each other causes, though in a different order. In the order of material cause to be perfected, the merciful uplifting of the fallen human race precedes the redemptive Incarnation; but this latter precedes the fall in the order of final cause or of greater good for which reason sin of the first man is permitted. Thus the body of this particular embryo in the order of material cause to be perfected precedes the creation and infusion of this particular soul, and yet this latter precedes the embryo in the order of final cause, for this soul would not be created unless the embryo were disposed to receive it.

Several Thomists insist on this point, as we shall see, such as Godoi, Gonet, Salmanticenses, whose interpretation is already contained in this reply to the third objection, which was not sufficiently considered by John of St. Thomas and Billuart.

The fourth objection was: Christ as man was eternally predestined to be the natural Son of God.[311] But predestination is always fulfilled. Therefore even before sin, it was necessary for the Son of God to become incarnate.

St. Thomas replies: “Predestination presupposes the foreknowledge of future things; and hence, as God predestines the salvation of anyone (for example, of Augustine, to be brought about by the prayers of others, for example, of St. Monica), so also He predestined the work of the Incarnation to be the remedy of human sin.”

This reply of St. Thomas to the fourth objection requires a brief explanation. “Predestination,” says St. Thomas, “presupposes the foreknowledge of future things,” not indeed of all future things. Certainly St. Thomas does not mean that it presupposes the foreknowledge of merits, for then he would contradict himself;[312] but predestination presupposes the foreknowledge of certain future things. Thus, when God predestines Peter, He first wills him eternal life in the order of final cause, but previously in the order of material cause He wills him individuation by means of matter by which he is constituted as Peter. Similarly, when it is a question of the whole human race and of Christ’s predestination as the Redeemer of the human race, this predestination presupposes the foreseeing of Adam’s sin in the order of material cause only. Likewise a foreseen persecution is the occasion for someone being predestined to the grace of martyrdom. The Thomists consider the person of the predestined, native talents, and other natural gifts, temperament, to be effects postulated by predestination, which follow it in the order of final cause. And as Augustine would not have attained eternal life if St. Monica had not prayed for him, so if man had not sinned, the Word would not have become incarnate.

This reply must be correctly understood, so that it be not interpreted as contrary to a previous conclusion,[313]. which stated that the foreknowledge of merits is not the cause of predestination, because the merits of the elect are, on the contrary, the effects of their predestination.

Cajetan explains this point well. He remarks that, when St. Thomas says in his reply to the fourth objection that “predestination presupposes the foreknowledge of future things,” he does not mean “of all future things,” for Peter’s predestination does not presuppose the foreknowledge of Peter’s future eternal happiness, but, on the contrary, the foreknowledge of Peter’s future eternal happiness presupposes Peter’s predestination to eternal happiness, inasmuch as God foresees future things in the decrees of His will. But St. Thomas means in this case that “predestination presupposes the foreknowledge of some future things which are presupposed by predestination.”[314]

Thus St. Thomas considers that Christ’s predestination to natural divine sonship presupposes the foreknowledge of sin, since it was to repair this offense that Christ was predestined; for, as Cajetan observes, the ordering of medicine presupposes knowledge of the disease.[315]

But the difficulty is not solved, for Scotus will argue that this dependence of the Incarnation on sin holds good in the order of execution but not in the order of intention of Christ’s predestination.[316] For the orderly way of willing for anyone is to will the end and those things nearer to the end, than other inferior things. Thus God wills for anyone, such as Adam, before He saw either His merits or a fortiori His demerits. Therefore a fortiori God wills divine natural sonship to Christ before having foreseen Adam’s demerit.

In answer to this objection it can be said, in accordance with the reply to the third objection, what St. Thomas means is that, even in the order of intention, Christ’s predestination is dependent on the foreseeing of Adam’s sin, not indeed that it is dependent on this latter as being the final cause, but as being the material cause that is to be perfected.[317]

Thus, when God predestines Peter, He first wills him eternal happiness in the order of final cause, and He first wills him individuation from matter already qualified in the embryo, in the order of material cause; and “to them that love God all things work together unto good.”[318] He also wills them their physical temperament.

Likewise, when it is a question of the whole human race, and of Christ’s predestination as the Redeemer of the human race, this predestination presupposes the foreseeing of Adam’s sin in the order of material cause only.

This distinction is made by Cajetan on this point,[319] and, although not everything that he says here on the ordering of the divine decrees concerning the three orders of nature, grace, and the hypostatic union are true perhaps, nevertheless this distinction must be and is upheld by subsequent Thomists.[320]

For Cajetan replies by distinguishing the antecedent as follows: in the order of final cause, one who wills methodically, wills the end before other things, this I concede; that one does so in the order of disposing cause, which reduces itself to material cause, this I deny

Thus we will first and preferably health to purification in the order of final cause; contrary to this, however, in the order of material or disposing cause we will purification as a means to health.

This distinction has its foundation in the principle that causes mutually interact, and the application of this principle is afterward developed by the Salmanticenses and Gonet, whose interpretation differs somewhat from Cajetan’s, as will be stated farther on.

Cajetan concludes: “It is evident that the Incarnation can be willed by God, without such an occasion (i. e., Adam’s sin), but it is not evident that it is de facto willed by God independent of such occasion…. We must turn to the Scripture if we wish to know that de facto God ordained that the Incarnation will come to pass, whether Adam did or did not sin. Rut because from the Scripture we have knowledge only of a redemptive Incarnation, we say, although God could have willed the Incarnation even without a future redemption, de facto He willed it only in the redemption; because by revelation, He did not reveal things otherwise to us, and it is only by revelation that we can know His will…. The conclusion is that God willed the greatest good only in conjunction with such less good.”[321] Thus, although God could have willed efficaciously the salvation of the whole human race (which to us appears better), it is certain that He willed efficaciously that many be saved, but not all.[322]

Likewise, as Cajetan says: “It is not derogatory to God’s wisdom to have disposed things so that He will effect so sublime a good as that (of the Incarnation), sin being only the occasion that urged Him to have mercy…. Therefore we must not on this account rejoice at another’s fall (that is, Adam’s), but at the mercy of God, who causes the foreseen fall of one to redound to another’s good.”[323] Hence we conclude that the motive of the Incarnation was formally the motive of mercy, since our salvation was the motive, as stated in the Nicene Creed.

Fifth objection. St. Thomas states that the mystery of the Incarnation was revealed to man in a state of innocence without any reference to future sin. Therefore it has no connection with this sin.

Reply to fifth objection. St. Thomas says: “Nothing prevents an effect from being revealed to one to whom the cause is not revealed.”

What Is Precisely The View Of Scotus?[324]

The question whether Christ was predestined to be the Son of God, affords Scotus the occasion to discuss the problem of the motive of the Incarnation. After replying to the first question in the affirmative, he goes on to show that Christ was predestined as man to the grace of the hypostatic union and to glory independently of the foreseeing of Adam’s sin. Scotus proves his point by seven arguments that have been splendidly reproduced by Cajetan.[325] We shall give here the principal arguments with Cajetan’s replies.

First argument. The predestination of any person whatever to glory precedes naturally, on the part of the object, the foreknowledge of sin or of the damnation of any man whatever. Therefore with far greater reason this is true concerning the predestination of Christ’s soul to supreme glory.

Cajetan replies.[326] He denies the antecedent, because he holds that the foreseeing of sin pertains to the order of general providence, presupposed by the ordering of predestination. But this reply gives rise to many difficulties, since the permission of sin in the life of the predestined, for example, and therefore in the life of Adam himself, is the effect not only of general providence, but also of the predestination of these elect, which itself presupposes the predestination of Christ.[327] Hence theologians in general, and even subsequent Thomists, do not uphold Cajetan in this reply.

But very many Thomists reply as follows. They concede that Christ’s predestination precedes by nature the foreseeing of Adam’s sin in the order of final cause; they deny that it precedes in the order of material or disposing cause.

Thus they concede that Peter’s predestination to glory precedes by nature the foreseeing of his individuation, in the order of final cause; they deny this precedence in the order of material cause. Likewise, one is predestined to the grace of martyrdom, on the occasion of a foreseen persecution.

Second argument. The orderly way of willing is for one to will first the end, and then those things more immediate to the end. Thus God first wills to give heavenly glory to one before grace, and He first wills this to Christ, and then to the predestined as subordinated to Christ. Moreover, God first wills anyone heavenly glory and grace which He may foresee are in opposition because of sin and its consequences. Therefore God first wills heavenly glory to Christ previous to foreseeing Adam’s fall.

Cajetan replies,[328] and this reply is upheld by subsequent Thomists. He distinguishes the major: that the orderly way of willing is for one first to will the end in the order of final cause, this he concedes; in the order of material and disposing cause, this he denies.

By way of example: someone might wish to build the Collegio Angelico in Rome, but has not yet found a suitable place and, having found such a place, his wish of having this college built is realized, or the opportunity offers itself, because he has received the necessary money. Similarly God wills first the soul in the order of final cause, and first the body in the order of material cause, and this particular soul would not be created right at this moment, if this embryonic body were not disposed to receive it. Likewise the Word would not have become incarnate, in virtue of the present decree, unless man had sinned or the human race had to be redeemed.

But you insist. Causes do not mutually interact in the same order. However, this would be the case here in the same order of final cause, if sin is permitted because of this greater good of the Incarnation, and if the Incarnation is willed for our redemption.

Reply. The causes are not in the same order, for sin is permitted because of this greater good of the Incarnation considered as the end for which it is decreed; whereas, on the contrary, the human race to be redeemed stands in relation to the Incarnation in the order of material cause to be perfected, or is the subject to whom the redemptive Incarnation is beneficial. Hence the human race is not called the end for whose sake the Incarnation is decreed, but the end to whom it is beneficial. Therefore the causes are not mutually interactive in the same order. And this very redemption of ours as willed by God, presupposes as a prior requisite in the order of material cause the human race to be redeemed.

So also let us take as example one who saves the life of a boy who, because of his imprudence, falls into the river. The rescuer first wills to save the boy’s life in the order of final cause, but he would not save the boy’s life unless the boy had fallen into the river, and thus had afforded the other the opportunity to come to his rescue. In like manner, the more solemn dogmatic definitions of the Church are always given on the occasion of some error that must be rejected, because it is endangering the freedom of souls.

Third argument. Redemption or the heavenly glory of a soul to be redeemed is not so great a good as the glory of Christ’s soul. Therefore the Redemption does not seem to be the sole reason why God predestined Christ’s soul to so great glory.

Cajetan replies:[329] God could have willed indeed this great good (of Christ’s glory) without its being connected with a less good; but from Sacred Scripture it is evident that He willed this greatest good only as connected with such less good. It is not therefore a question of a possibility, but of a fact. God could have willed efficaciously to save the whole human race, for instance, but from Sacred Scripture it is evident that not all are saved,[330] although, by God’s help, the fulfillment of His commands is always possible. Herein lies a mystery that must be believed according to the testimony of Sacred Scripture and not to be determined in human fashion by a priori reasoning.

Fourth argument. It is not very likely that a less good is the only reason for the existence of so supreme a good.

Reply. The Thomists say that the Incarnation is not an incidental good in the strict sense, but it is only improperly so called. For that which the agent does not intend and which happens by chance, is called strictly incidental; such is the case when one digs a grave, and finds a treasure, or when one rescues a boy accidentally who happens to fall into the river. That is improperly said to be occasioned which depends on some incident, although it be intended by the agent, as the rescuing of a boy who fell into the river. Thus the Incarnation is an incidental good, and it is fitting that evil be the occasion of eliciting from God so great a good, namely, a good that results from His liberality and mercy, because misery is the reason for commiserating.

Scotus overlooks the fact that many of the finer things in life are improperly incidental, especially many heroic acts, such as saving another’s life with danger to one’s own, as in the case of shipwreck or of fire. Such are heroic acts performed in defense of one’s country, on the occasion of an unjust aggressor; hence the glory acquired by many soldiers is thus incidental. Also incidental are heroic acts in defense of one’s faith, such as martyrdom on the occasion of a persecution. The most beautiful dogmatic definitions uttered by the Church on the occasion of the refutation of an error that is threatening to enslave souls, belong to this class. So it was on the occasion of the rise of Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism, that St. Augustine wrote his books On Grace.

But the difference between God and man is that man could not infallibly foresee the occasion that prompted these heroic acts, and so he does them unforeseen. Other arguments of Scotus presented in different aspects repeat the same objection.

The Scotists insist. They say, with Father Chrysostom,[331] that the material cause is not the end (of the Incarnation), nor is the material element in the Incarnation its motive. Therefore the difficulty remains.

Reply. The material element that enters into the redemptive Incarnation is the reason for the Incarnation, since “the alleviation of misery is the reason for commiseration.”[332] Thus in this third article, St. Thomas is able to say: “Redemption is the reason for the Incarnation,”[333] although the Incarnation is not subordinated to the redemption.

All these objections can be reduced to the following syllogistic argument: God cannot will that the higher order should be subjected to the lower, for this would be the inversion of order, or perversion.

But our redemption is inferior to the Incarnation.

Therefore God cannot will the Incarnation to be for our redemption.

Reply. I distinguish the major. That God cannot will the higher order to be subjected to the lower, as being the perfective and ultimate end, this I concede; that God cannot will the higher for the lower, as being the end that must be perfected or repaired from a motive of mercy, this I deny. For the alleviating of misery, is the reason for commiseration. I concede the minor.

I distinguish the conclusion. That God cannot will the higher order to be subjected to the lower on account of this latter being the perfective and especially the ultimate end, this I concede; as being the end that must be perfected or repaired from a motive of mercy, this I deny.

Thus the Thomists say that the redemption of the human race is not the end for the sake of which the Incarnation is decreed, but it is the material element that enters into the motive of the redemptive Incarnation, or the end for which the Incarnation is beneficial. Thus a doctor visits a sick person, or a priest says Mass for the restoration of somebody’s health, for the common good and the glory of God.

Therefore the whole teaching of St. Thomas, of St. Bonaventure, and others is summed up in these words: the motive of the Incarnation was formally the motive of mercy. As the Psalmist says: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak.”[334] “Have mercy on me, for I am poor.”[335] “Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am afflicted.”[336]

Cajetan replies most appropriately: “It is not unbefitting God’s wisdom that He was disposed to perform so great a good, only because sin was the occasion that urged Him to be merciful.”[337] “It is because the alleviation of misery is the reason for commiseration,”[338] and divine mercy, alleviating the misery of the human race, is the greatest manifestation of divine goodness and omnipotence. If God’s omnipotence is already made manifest in the creation of a grain of sand from nothing, a fortiori it is shown when He brings good out of evil, and so great a good as eternal life of those justified. St. Thomas says: “In itself mercy is the greatest of virtues (and so it is in God, but not in us, because we have someone above us, who must be honored by the practice of virtues); for it belongs to mercy to be bountiful to others, and, what is more, to succor others in their wants. And this pertains especially to the one who is above others; hence mercy is accounted as being proper to God, and therein His omnipotence is declared to be chiefly manifested.”[339] St. Augustine likewise says: “The justification of the sinner is greater than the creation of heaven and earth; for heaven and earth shall pass away, but the justification of the ungodly shall endure.”[340] But since misery is the reason for having mercy, the alleviation of misery is more the matter about which mercy is concerned; it is the motive of mercy, not indeed as constituting the perfective end, but as being the end in the order of redemption.

In this there is no inversion of orders. There would indeed be a perversion of orders if the higher were ordained for the lower, as if this latter were the ultimate and perfective end; but not, if by way of mercy, the higher is ordered to the lower end for its perfection or reparation.

Thus it is that the Son of God through His incarnation certainly stoops down to us with sublime mercy, so that the saints are moved to tears at the thought of it. But by thus lowering Himself, He in no way subordinates Himself to us; on the contrary, in alleviating our misery, He restores the original subordination, by making us again subordinate to Himself and God the Father. Thus God, by mercifully lowering Himself, has most splendidly made manifest His goodness and omnipotence, since “to have mercy belongs especially to one who is above others.”[341]

In God, inasmuch as He has nobody above Him to whom He would owe allegiance, the greatest of all virtues is mercy, and misery is the reason for being merciful.[342] Thus the beginning of a certain collect reads: “O God, who, more than in all things else, showest forth Thine almighty power by sparing and by having mercy.”[343] Therefore Scotus did not destroy the demonstrative middle term of this article.[344]

The preceding doctrine is certainly what St. Thomas taught. On this point, he wrote: “God therefore did not assume human nature because He loved man, absolutely speaking, more than angels; but because the needs of man were greater; just as the master of a house may give to a sick servant some costly delicacy that he does not give to his own son in sound health.”[345] He also says: “Nor did anything of Christ’s excellence diminish when God delivered Him up to death for the salvation of the human race; rather did He become thereby a glorious conqueror”[346] Of sin, the devil, and death.

The thesis of St. Thomas, as proposed by him, is most convincing inasmuch as he declares mercy to be the motive of the Incarnation; wherefore Christ was the first of the predestined, but He was predestined as Savior and victim, as the victor of sin, the devil, and death. This title of Savior belongs primarily to Christ, as expressed in the name Jesus, which signifies Savior. This title belongs more fundamentally to Him than do such titles as Doctor, or King of kings, Lord of lords.

Christian faith itself seems to teach this doctrine, although the Scripture does not say that mercy was the indispensable motive of the Incarnation. This doctrine is also most beneficial in the spiritual order. urging us to imitate Christ and show zeal for souls.

Cajetan remarks[347] that, as in the act of hope I desire God for myself, because God is my final end (since God is the ultimate end of this act of hope), so Christ is given to us (for our sake or as our end), for the glorification of God (who is the ultimate end for which God performs all His works). Thus the Incarnation is not subordinated to our redemption,[348] but is its eminent cause. Thus contemplation is not subordinated to apostolic action, which must result from the fullness of contemplation, this being its higher source, as St. Thomas points out.[349] Therefore, no matter what the Scotists may say, the words of St. Paul still apply, who says: “For all are yours. And you are Christ’s. And Christ is God’s”[350] In this Thomistic thesis, Christ is not subordinated to us, but we are subordinated to Him.

Agreement and disagreement between Thomists. They all agree upon the principal conclusion as explicitly formulated by St. Thomas, which is: If Adam had not sinned, the Word would not have become incarnate.

But they are not altogether in agreement concerning a secondary issue.

Several Thomists, adopting the views of Cajetan, such as John of St. Thomas and Billuart, refuse to answer the question, why God permitted Adam’s sin and original sin. Moreover, they multiply divine conditional decrees. According to their views: (1) God willed the natural order; (2) the elevation of the human race to the supernatural order; (3) He permitted the sin of the first man; (4) He decreed the redemptive Incarnation in passible flesh.

Other Thomists, such as the Salmanticenses, Godoy, Gonet, and very many of more recent times, insisting on what St. Thomas remarks in this article, and elsewhere, say:[351] Certainly God permits evil only because of a greater good. This doctrine is certain and de fide, otherwise God’s permission of sin would not be a holy act. It cannot indeed be said a priori that God permitted original sin because of some greater good, but, after the fact of the Incarnation, it appears that God permitted original sin because of the redemptive Incarnation, so that the redemption of the fallen human race is prior in the order of material cause to be perfected, and the redemptive Incarnation is prior in the order of final cause. This distinction is made by Cajetan in his commentary on this article, but much of its force is lost inasmuch as he multiplies exceedingly the divine decrees, so different from what he wrote earlier in his commentary.[352]

Moreover, these Thomists say that divine conditional decrees must not be multiplied, for this multiplication results from the weakness of our intellect, and we must do our best to overcome this defect. Hence God, previous to any decree, saw by His knowledge of simple intelligence all possible worlds with all their contents, just as the architect has in mind various possible houses and all their component parts. Thus God had in mind a sinless world not in need of redemption, but brought to perfection by the example of the Word incarnate; also another possible world, in which man sinned, and which was perfected by the redemptive Incarnation. God chose de facto, by a single decree, this latter, in which, therefore, the redemptive Incarnation is prior in the order of final causality (as the soul is prior to the body), and the reparation of the fallen human race is prior in the order of material causality to be perfected, as the body is prior to the soul.[353]

This second interpretation is entirely in conformity with the reply given by St. Thomas to the third objection of this article, and also with a previous statement in his Summa, in which he says: “God loves Christ not only more than He loves the whole human race, but more than He loves the entire created universe, because He willed for Him the greater good in giving Him a name that is above all names, so far as He was true God. Nor did anything of His excellence diminish when God delivered Him up to death for the salvation of the human race; rather did He become thereby a glorious conqueror,”[354] namely, of sin, the devil, and death.

This reply of these Thomists is also precisely what St. Thomas says in his reply to the third objection of this article, in which he quotes the words of St. Paul: “Where sin abounded, grace did more abound,”[355] and of the liturgy: “O happy fault, that merited such and so great a Redeemer!”[356]

And St. Augustine says in his commentary on the forty-seventh psalm: “Therefore Adam fell for our resurrection,”[357] which means that God permitted Adam’s sin for this greater good of the redemptive Incarnation.

Moreover, the divine decrees must not be multiplied without necessity; for this frequency of recourse to divine decrees has its foundation in the imperfection of our manner of understanding the divine decrees. In fact, it is evident that various events of the natural order, such as the death of a good person from some disease, which at first sight seems to depend solely on natural causes and the general provisions of Providence, are to be attributed to the supernatural operation of predestination.[358] Therefore it is apparent that God, by a single decree, willed this present world with its three orders of nature, grace, and the hypostatic union.

The Liberty Of The Decree Concerning The Incarnation: A Comparison Between The Doctrine Of St. Thomas And That Of Scotus

On first consideration, it is surprising that St. Thomas, who is an intellectualist, should say: Since the Incarnation is a most free and absolutely gratuitous gift of God, its motive can be known only by revelation; whereas Scotus, who is a voluntarist inclined to liberalism, wishes to establish this motive of the Incarnation by arguments or quasi a priori reasonings, as the extreme intellectualists do, such as Leibnitz and Malebranche, who say that the Incarnation is morally necessary so that the world may be the best of all possible worlds.

The reason for this difference of opinion between St. Thomas and Scotus seems to consist in this, that St. Thomas, because of his moderate intellectualism, distinguished exactly between the order of nature and the order of grace, by establishing the proper object of the created intellect, whether human or angelic.[359] Hence St. Thomas fully acknowledges God’s perfect liberty in elevating the human nature (or the angelic) to the order of grace, and a fortiori to the hypostatic union. Thus his moderate intellectualism most correctly acknowledges the rights of divine liberty.

On the contrary, Scotus, in virtue of his voluntarism does not succeed in distinguishing so exactly between the orders of nature and of grace; he says that there is in our nature an innate appetite and not merely one that is elicited for the beatific vision, and he adds that, if God had so willed, the beatific vision would be natural for us.

Hence he is inclined to regard the supernatural order as the complement of the natural order, and the hypostatic order as the complement and quasi-normal consummation of the supernatural order. Thus he does not acknowledge sufficiently the rights of divine liberty as regards this twofold elevation; and he speaks finally, almost like the absolute intellectualists of the Leibnitz type, who think that the Incarnation is morally necessary for the world to be the best of all possible worlds. Thus extremes meet.

Absolute intellectualism reduces to an ideal right the accomplished fact. Absolute libertism reduces the right itself to an accomplished fact.

These two systems are in the inverse order, but practically they meet, because both admit that the accomplished fact is the same as the ideal right, and success is identical with morality; yet the followers of the former system insist on the right, whereas the followers of the latter system insist on the accomplished fact. But moderate intellectualism lies between these two extremes, because it safeguards both the validity of the first principles of reason and true liberty, which latter is denied by absolute intellectualism.

Thus in Thomism the Incarnation is seen to be the supreme fact of the entire universe, but it is a contingent fact in which God’s most free and gratuitous love for us is made manifest by way of mercy. “For God so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son.”[360]

Thus this thesis of St. Thomas, if we compare it with his other theses on moderate intellectualism and liberty, has a deep significance, for it means that, in the supernatural order, inasmuch as this order is gratuitous, divine liberty reigns supreme and its predilection is most free, the motive of which can be known only by revelation. But the discarding of this principle results in the incomplete understanding of several fundamental utterances in the supernatural order, suck as the following words of St. Paul: “But the foolish things of the world hath God chosen that He may confound the wise;… and things that are not, that He might bring to nought things that are.”[361]

But these questions are most profound, and their solution has caused great intellects to take opposite views.

Spiritual corollaries. These corollaries are developed in another book,[362] in which the doctrine of St. Thomas on the motive of the Incarnation is explained not so much scholastically as spiritually. These corollaries are as follows:

1) It follows from this doctrine that it is not something accidental that Christ is the Savior, both priest and victim. This is the dominant trait of Jesus, as the name indicates. Jesus is not especially King of kings and sublime Doctor who happened to become the Savior of humanity and victim on account of the fall of the human race. No, but in virtue of the present decree He came principally and primarily as the Savior of men. His entire life was directed to this final end, namely, the sacrifice on the cross.

2) Christ thus appears nobler, and the unity of His life is better made manifest, since it is the unity of the Savior’s life, who is merciful and also victorious over sin, the devil, and death.[363]

3) Wherefore Christ calls the hour of the Passion “My hour” as if it were pre-eminently this.

4) Therefore in the present economy of salvation, it is not something accidental in the sanctification of souls, that they must carry their cross daily in union with our Savior, as He Himself says.[364]

5) Hence for sanctity, even great sanctity, learning is not necessary, nor the performance of many external works; it suffices for a person to be conformed to the image of Christ crucified, as in the case of St. Benedict Joseph Labre of the seventeenth century, who showed himself a living image of Christ in his poverty and love of the cross.[365]

6) Finally it follows, as St. Thomas explains in his treatise on the effects of baptism,[366] that sanctifying grace in the redeemed is strictly the grace of Christ, for it is not only a participation of the divine nature as in Adam and the angels before the Fall, but it makes us conformable to Christ the Redeemer, and by it we are made living members of His mystical body. Wherefore this grace, inasmuch as it is the grace of Christ, disposes us to live in Christ the Redeemer by a love of the cross, for it disposes us to make reparation for our own sins and the sins of others, inasmuch as the living members of Christ must help one another in the attainment of salvation.

Therefore, it is only after a period of painful probation that any Christian ideal and any Christian society produces true fruits of salvation, for our Lord says: “Unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, itself remaineth alone. But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”[367]

Thus Christians are made conformable to Christ, who said of Himself to the disciples on the way to Emmaus: “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so to enter into His glory?”[368] Hence St. Paul says: “We are heirs indeed of God and joint heirs with Christ; yet so, if we suffer with Him that we may be also glorified with Him.”[369]

These spiritual corollaries are deduced from this teaching.

A certain special opinion. It has been held by some in recent times[370] that so far the question is always presented unfavorably since it always appears in a hypothetical form, namely, “Whether, if man had not sinned, God would have become incarnate.” “For,” as they say, “if man had not sinned (or in this supposition), there would be another order absolutely different from the present order, and what would have happened in such an order God alone can know.” The proper way of positing the question, according to these theologians, must be by presenting it in the form of a positive and universal proposition, that is, “What is the adequate universal reason for the Incarnation in the present order?” Father Roschini[371] replies to this question as follows: “The primary reason of the Incarnation is God’s free election from all eternity of the present order with all that is included in it; inasmuch as only the present order exactly corresponds to the measure and mode likewise freely prearranged by God, by which He willed to bestow His goodness ad extra and hence procure extrinsic glory.”

An answer to Father Roschini’s view appeared in the Angelicum;[372] its gist is as follows: The question posited by the Scholastics concerns the present order, and a new way of presenting the question is outside the scope of the present problem, and brings us only to the common truth that is admitted by all schools of thought. It is most certain to all theologians that the Incarnation depends on God’s free choice of the present order, and what He has ordained for the manifestation of His goodness. This is God’s supreme reason, but, now the question is, what is His proximate reason?

Evidently the hypothetical question put by the great Scholastics concerns the present order; namely, in virtue of the present decree, if we make abstraction of the sin of the first man, would the Word have become incarnate? This abstraction is not a lie, nor does it change the order of the thing considered. It is the same as asking: Would the soul of this particular man have been created if his body in his mother’s womb was not sufficiently developed to be informed by it? Or we might ask: Will this temple remain intact if this particular column is removed? The truth of a conditional proposition, as logic teaches, depends solely on the connection between the condition and the conditioned.

Hence in replying to the objection, we say: If man had not sinned, the present order of things would be changed, I distinguish: if it meant there would be a change in virtue of another decree, this I concede; in virtue of the present decree, this I deny.

As stated in the above-mentioned reply to Father Roschini: “The reasoning of the Scholastics is not, and cannot be, other than this, otherwise how are we to explain the fact that those doctors are so eager in their futile search, concerning which nothing for certain can ever be known?… Without saying, then, what to attribute to those ponderous and so circumspect theologians, with St. Thomas as their leader, a general view of the case would justify us in considering them at least as scholars.”

St. Thomas would have improperly stated the question, or would not have corrected the question improperly stated, a question that is even useless, and of course quite irrelevant.

But it is true to say, with the holy Doctor, that in speaking of another order of things, “We do not know what (God) would have ordained, if He had not had previous knowledge of sin.”[373] St. Thomas says the same in the present article, for he writes: “And yet the power of God is not limited to this; even had sin not existed, God could have become incarnate, namely, in another order of things.”

Final Conclusion: The Motive Of The Incarnation

Therefore it must simply be said that God willed the Incarnation for the manifestation of His goodness by way of mercy for the redemption of the human race, or “for our salvation,” as stated in the Creed.

Those who admit, as the Thomists do, one efficacious decree concerning the redemptive Incarnation in passible flesh, by this very fact must say with St. Thomas that, in virtue of the present decree, “if Adam had not sinned, the Word would not have become incarnate,” or, expressed affirmatively, it must be said that, in the present decree, the redemptive Incarnation supposes the fall of the human race to be redeemed, although this fall was permitted for a greater good, which is the redemptive Incarnation. Thus the creation of the soul presupposes that the embryonic body is sufficiently disposed, and this sufficient predisposition was willed and produced by God for the soul. Causes mutually interact though in a different order, without implying a vicious circle. It would be a vicious circle if we were to say that the permission of Adam’s sin was on account of the Incarnation, and that the Incarnation took place because of the permission of Adam’s sin. The truth is that the Incarnation took place, not on account of the permission of sin, but for its reparation.

It would likewise be a vicious circle to say that men are for the sake of Christ, and in the same way Christ is for the sake of men. But it is true to say that Christ is the destined end of men, and men are the end to whom the redemptive Incarnation is beneficial.

Hence the truth of the assertion is established, that God willed the Incarnation as a manifestation of His goodness by showing His mercy toward men for their redemption, or “for our salvation,” as stated in the Creed.[374]

[A heartfelt congratulations if you read this to the end! If you want to read a scholarly defense of the Franciscan position – on par with Fr. Reginald Marie Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. – then you can read “Franciscan Christology” by Fr. Dominic Unger, O.F.M. Cap. Although in a more popular style, you can also read where I have commented directly on St. Thomas Aquinas’ position in the Summa Theologica in my posts entitled “The Dumb Ox or the Dunce?“]

The Socratic Catholic: St. Francis De Sales and the Franciscan Thesis

Lucas Westman at The Socratic Catholic created a post on the Franciscan school of philosophical and theological thought. He cites Dr. J. Isaac Goff:

Discovering St. Bonaventure and Bl. John Duns Scotus, the two great intellectual lights of the Lesser Brothers, early on in my theological and philosophical studies, I was immediately taken by the integrity, versatility, depth, width, breadth and beauty of the theologico-mystical vision out lined by these early intellectual and spiritual successors of the Poor Man from Assisi. Their common emphasis upon charity, person and wisdom, unmistakable in what became the two defining pillars of the Franciscan vision of the economy or theologia de contingentibus – the Absolute Predestination of Jesus Christ and His Mother as the Immaculate Conception – prompted me to seek to better understand their undersanding of such loving goodness and beauty: the Deum esse et trinum.

In a follow up The Socratic Catholic recently posted the passage from the Treatise on Divine Love (Book II, Ch. IV) on the essential reason God willed the Incarnation.

St. Francis De Sales (+1622), Bishop and Doctor of the Church, was known for his zealous defense of the Catholic Faith (The Controversies) at a time when heresy was spreading like wildfire, for his pastoral genius in guiding souls (Introduction to the Devout Life, Spiritual Conferences and his Letters), and for his ability to articulate the origins of Divine Love, the divine plan for creation, and how we are called to correspond to that loving plan (Treatise on Divine Love). In the latter work he clearly upholds the Franciscan thesis regarding the Incarnation.

Before citing the passage from St. Francis De Sales, The Socratic Catholic offers a brief introduction which is as precise as it is profound and is worthy of our attention. He writes:

Saint Anselm once asked the question, Cur Deus Homo? Why the God-man? The Franciscan thesis on this matter, systematically articulated by Bl. John Duns Scotus, is that the Incarnate Christ, the God-man would have taken place in salvific history with or without sin the sin of Adam. That is, the Incarnation is not contingent upon the fall of man in the Garden of Eden.

Saint Francis de Sales offered his support to the Franciscan thesis in his book, Treatise on the Love of God:

“All of God’s works are ordained to the salvation of men and angels; and the order of his providence is this, as far as, by attention to the Holy Scriptures and the doctrine of the Fathers, we are able to discover and our weakness permits us to describe it.

God knew from all eternity that he could make an innumerable multitude of creatures with divers perfections and qualities, to whom he might communicate himself, and considering that amongst all the different communications there was none so excellent as that of uniting himself to some created nature, in such sort that the creature might be engrafted and implanted in the divinity, and become one single person with it, his infinite goodness, which of itself and by itself tends towards communication, resolved and determined to communicate himself in this manner. So that, as eternally there is an essential communication in God by which the Father communicates all his infinite and indivisible divinity to the Son in producing him, and the Father and the Son together producing the Holy Ghost communicate to him also their own singular divinity; – so this sovereign sweetness was so perfectly communicated externally to a creature, that the created nature and the divinity, retaining each of them its own properties, were notwithstanding so united together that they were but one same person.

Now of all the creatures which that sovereign omnipotence could produce, he thought good to make choice of the same humanity which afterwards in effect was united to the person of God the Son; to which he destined that incomparable honor of personal union with his divine Majesty, to the end that for all eternity it might enjoy by excellence the treasures of his infinite glory. Then having selected for this happiness the sacred humanity of our Savior, the supreme providence decreed not to restrain his goodness to the only person of his well-beloved Son, but for his sake to pour it out upon divers other creatures, and out of the mass of that innumerable quantity of things which he could produce, he chose to create men and angels to accompany his Son, participate in his graces and glory, adore and praise him for ever. And inasmuch as he saw that he could in various manners form the humanity of this Son, while making him true man, as for example by creating him out of nothing, not only in regard of the soul but also in regard of the body; or again by forming the body of some previously existing matter as he did that of Adam and Eve, or by way of ordinary human birth, or finally be extraordinary birth from a woman without man, he determined that the work should be effected by the last way, and of all the women he might have chosen to this end he made choice of the most holy virgin Our Lady, through whom the Savior of our souls should not only be man, but the child of the human race.”

One can see the passage of St. Francis De Sales in its entirety here or even access the entire Treatise here. The question of St. Anselm, Cur Deus-Homo?, continues to be an important one as the reflections of Dr. J. Isaac Goff, Lucas Westman and St. Francis De Sales make manifest.

The Franciscan thesis upholds that Christ came primarily to glorify the Father and be glorified by the Father, as He Himself says in His priestly prayer in the Cenacle: “I have glorified Thee on earth; I have accomplished the work that Thou hast given Me to do. And now do Thou, Father, glorify Me with Thyself, with the glory that I had with Thee before the world existed” (Jn. 17:5). One can read more about this here or watch this little video:

May Christ our King reign in our hearts!

Fr. Alexander of Hales, O.F.M. – “Doctor Doctorum” (+1245) – on the appropriateness of the Incarnation, sin or no sin

The Franciscan Fr. Alexander of Hales (+1245) has been called the Doctor Doctorum because he was the Master and Professor of the likes of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure during his time at the University of Paris. He was also called the Doctor Irrefragibilis by Pope Alexander IV in the Bull De Fontibus Paradisi, as well as the Theologorum Monarcha. Obviously St. Thomas did not find him “irrefutable” since he uses Fr. Alexander’s argument of Good being diffusive of itself as a reason for the Incarnation even if there were no sin and then tries to refute it! (cf. St. Thomas’ Summa Theo. P.3, Q.I, art. I). At any rate, I have found three of Fr. Alexander’s arguments on this topic and translated them into English. They all come from his own Summa Theolog. P.III, Q.III, memb.XIII. Since I found these passages in secondary sources, I’m not sure which order they appear in his Summa; but each argument stands on its own, so the order does not matter. Here are some of his arguments (my translation):

Consequently, one asks about the appropriateness [convenientia] of the Incarnation if human nature had not fallen by sin, that is, whether there would be a reason and appropriateness for the Incarnation. And this is shown as follows:

Without conceding to prejudice, even if human nature had not fallen there would have been an appropriateness for the Incarnation; according to what blessed Bernard says about Jonas 1:12: ‘For my sake this great tempest is upon you’ – he asserts that this word is about the Son of God by saying that Lucifer foresaw the rational creature being assumed in the unity of the Person of the Son of God; he saw this and envied. Hence envy was the cause in the devil’s case and it moved him to tempt man whose felicity he envied so that by sin he might demerit the assumption of human nature and its unification with God. From this it is clear that Lucifer understood this union of the human nature [with God], and he thought to make it fall in order to impede this union; for this reason he procures the fall. This being the case, therefore, setting aside the fall it would be appropriate for the Incarnation to have taken place.

Dionysius said: Good is diffusive of itself; thus we say that in God the Father pours out His goodness in the Son by generation and from both of Them it is poured out in the Holy Spirit by procession; and this outpouring is in the Trinity and this is the greatest outpouring, the creature not existing. Therefore, if the highest Good – once a creature exists – did not pour Himself out into the creature, it would be possible to imagine a greater outpouring [i.e. ad extra as well as ad intra] than that of His own outpouring [i.e. ad intra only]. If He must be the greatest outpouring because He is the highest Good, it would be appropriate for Him to pour Himself out in the creature; but this outpouring could not be understood as the greatest unless He united Himself to the creature… Therefore, I assert that without the fall man would have been united to the highest Good.

Moreover, there is no beatitude except in God and the rational creature is fully capable of beatitude; but the rational creature which is man has a twofold cognition, that is, the sensible and intellectual, and he has pleasure in both of these. If, therefore, man is fully capable of beatitude according to the senses and the intellect, it would thus be proper that man be blessed in God in both of these. But God considered in His own Nature can not beatify the senses, but only the intellect, because the senses do not find blessing or delight except in the sensible alone or in that which is corporal. If, therefore, the whole man must be beatified in God, it would be appropriate that in God there be the corporal and sensible.