Carmelites on the Absolute Primacy of Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Romance 7 on the Incarnation he continues:

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

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

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

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

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