Christ, the Beginning of Creation – Part III

Christ, the Beginning of Creation – Part III

by Fr. Maximilian M. Dean

[To see the full article on one page visit Appendix: Christ the Beginning]

Christ as the Beginning: A doctrinal premise

Before exposing that Christ is the Beginning, we do well to establish a few things so as not to stray from true doctrine.

First and foremost, even if we might beg to differ with the first interpretation of the Prologue reported above whereby the Father is the Beginning, nonetheless, all of the doctrine presented by our Doctors – Cyril, Augustine and Bonaventure – in their commentaries on John must be accepted; namely, that the Word in Himself is eternal, uncreated and divine; that He is in the Father by virtue of the same divine nature and that He is at the same time distinct from the Father in His Person.

Moreover, when we say that Christ is the Beginning we absolutely do not mean that the Word in Himself was created. Nor does this mean that the Word had a human nature before the Incarnation or even before the creation of the world. No, what is meant is that God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – willed the Incarnation of the Son first, that is, predestined the Sacred Humanity of Christ to the hypostatic union “before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4) and predestined Him as the “firstborn of every creature” and “before all creatures” (Col 1:15,17) in His intention to create. In the divine design Christ was willed as the “Beginning of the creation of God” (Apoc 3:14) and then God willed all of the rest of creation in Christ, through Christ and unto Christ. After this Beginning, that is, after having willed the Incarnation of the Word in the womb of the Virgin Mary, there begins the execution of God’s design: the creation of the world and, in the end, the full realization of His creative design, the Incarnation itself where God recapitulates or sums up all things under the headship of Christ.

In order to better understand the distinction between intention and execution in the creative plan of God,[1] a teaching very dear to the Subtle Doctor,[2] let us examine the illuminating teaching of Augustine who distinguishes the realization of a project (execution) from the idea to be realized (intention): “If, for example, you must build an edifice, if you must to realize something which is grand, first you conceive the idea in your mind. The idea is already born… Others admire your project and await its wonderful construction; they remain full of admiration before that which they see and love that which they still cannot see: who, in fact, can see an idea? If, therefore, the idea of a man before its grandiose realization can be praised, do you want to measure the greatness of God’s idea which is the Lord Jesus Christ, that is the Word of God?”[3] Even if Augustine does not arrive at the idea of God being the Word Incarnate in the beginning, his thought gives us the possibility of distinguishing God’s idea in creating the world from its realization. It is a philosophical principle which goes back to Aristotle: “That which is first in the intention is last in the execution.”[4] Yet the project is the same whether in the intention or the execution.

What this means is that in the mind of God Christ, His creative Masterpiece,[5] existed before as the idea, as the intention, and then in time this was accomplished when the Word became flesh; first there was the predestination of Christ to glory, then the creation of all things in view of Him and through Him which lead to the full realization of that predestination, namely the Incarnation.[6]

I suppose this could be a cause of confusion to think that Christ, “the Beginning,” comes on the scene not only after the temporal beginning of creation, but even towards the end. And yet that is the fact. St. Peter explains: “Foreknown, indeed, before the foundation of the world, He has been manifested in the last times for your sakes” (1 Pt 1:20). Before His manifestation He was always present in the mind of God as the idea, as created Wisdom, as the intention, as the first predestined, the firstborn, the first one willed. Fr. Ruggero Rosini writes on this point: “For us it is difficult to understand how a future action could influence a present action. For God such a difficulty does not exist: for Him everything is in the present. It was not a difficulty for Him, in fact, to preserve Mary from original sin in view of the future merits of Christ’s death. We must believe, therefore, that for Him there is no difficulty in creating ‘everything by means of Christ’ from the beginning of time.”[7]

To facilitate an understanding of this (and in order not to get lost in the labyrinth of profound thoughts which will be presented), it would be a good idea to utilize this this diagram as a type of ‘roadmap’ [I’ll continue to put it at the end of each post]:

To be continued…

[1] Cfr. Fr. Maximilian M. Dean, A Primer on the Absolute Primacy of Christ, (Academy of the Immaculate, New Bedford 2006) pp.27-29; 56-57; 91-94.

[2] Scotus, when he wrote about the Incarnation not being occasioned by sin, he spoke of the “ordinate volens” where one begins with the imperfect [unrealized] in the intention and finishes with the perfect in the execution. Cfr. Ordinatio, III, d.7, q.3; Opus Parisiense, Lib III, d.7, q.4.

[3] Augustine, Commento al Vangelo di Giovanni, I, n.9 (Città Nuova Editrice, Roma 2005, p.84-85).

[4] Aristotle, Metaphysica, VI, t.7, c.23.

[5] Cfr. Scotus, Opus Parisiense, L. III, d. 7, q. 4, where he calls Christ (the Word Incarnate) the “summum opus Dei” who cannot be “occasionatum” by sin, but rather who was decreed and predestined for the maximum glory of God before any consideration of man’s redemption from sin.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Rosini, op. cit. p.130