Would Christ Have Become Man If Man Had Not Sinned?
Dr. Taylor Marshall takes up this question in his blog Stay Salty my Friends. He writes:
A common question in scholastic discussions centered on whether the Divine Logos would have become man, even if Adam had not sinned.
Saint Thomas Aquinas discusses this at Summa theologiae III, q. 1, a. 3: “Whether, if man had not sinned, God would have become incarnate?”Saint Thomas follows Saint Augustine in stating that God would not have become incarnate had man not sinned:
“Therefore, if man had not sinned, the Son of Man would not have come”
– St Augustine, De Verbo Apost. 8, 2.
Thomas also cites the traditional blessing of the Paschal candle, which we still recite, as evidence of a conditional incarnation: “O happy fault, that merited such and so great a Redeemer!” Both sources suggest that human sin occasioned the incarnation of Christ.
However, Thomas also adds this: “And yet the power of God is not limited to this; even had sin not existed, God could have become incarnate.”
Saint Thomas Aquinas thus grants that God could have become incarnate regardless of sin. However, it is Thomas’ position that that sin occasioned the incarnation.
I was recently challenged to reassess this on account of something written by Saint Albert the Great – the master and teacher of Aquinas. Saint Albert teaches that the Divine Logos would have become man even if man had not sinned:
“I believe that the Son of God would have become man even if there had been no sin…Nevertheless, on this subject I say nothing in a definitive manner; but I believe that what I said is more in harmony with the piety of faith.”
“Credo quod Filius Dei factus fuisset homo, etiamsi numquam fuisset peccatum…tamen nihil de hoc asserendo dico : sed credo hoc quod dixi, magis concordare pietati fidei.”
– St Albertus Magnus, III In Sententiarum d. 20, a. 4
Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Lawrence of Brindisi (both official doctors of the Catholic Church) also held to the thesis that the Incarnation of Christ would have occurred even if man had never sinned.
They reason there is nature, grace, and glory. God’s assumption of a human nature entails that Christ’s created soul beholds the beatific vision from the moment of its existence. By participating in this reality – the participation of the created in the beatitude of God – angels and men are also able to participate in the divine beatitude.
In this scenario, glory and beatitude depend on the Incarnation. Now if sin was the sole occasion of the incarnation, then sin was necessary – yet this is blasphemy. This also entails that Christ’s humanity is conditioned by rebellion and sin.
We must also ask a few more questions.
Is the light of glory granted to us in and through the created soul of Christ or not? If the light of glory for beatitude is granted to us in and through the soul of Christ, then it seems that the incarnation of Christ is necessary for the beatitude of the angels and the beatitude of humans. If that is the case and if God willed to share His divine beatitude with angels and humans, then the incarnation would have happened whether there was sin or not.
Creation is contingent. The Incarnation is contingent. However, might the creation be ordered to the incarnation? Is not creation created in and through and for Christ? So then, might the goal and purpose of creation be the incarnation and the sharing of beatitude with creatures?
My mind is about to explode. These things are beyond my weak intellect…
Sincerely in Christ through Mary,
PS: If Albert, Scotus, Lawrence, and Francis de Sales are correct about the unconditional incarnation of Christ (that Christ would have become man even if men didn’t sin), then the creation of a human mother of the Divine Word (“Theotokos”) is also something not occasioned by sin. This further elevates that status of the Blessed Mother and highlights her place in the eternal plan of God.
PPS: The “happy fault” or “felix culpa” formula of the Paschal candle blessing may be interpreted as referring to meriting the the incarnate Christ as “Redeemer” – not necessarily the incarnation of Christ as man per se. Some may not find this satisfactory, but it certainly doesn’t do violence to the text of the Exultet.
[Dr. Marshall is correct on the interpretation of the Exultet. This is discussed more indepth where I treat of the “Felix culpa – O happy fault” – scroll down to “O happy fault!”]
Thank you Dr. Marshall!
Ss. Albert the Great, Francis de Sales and Lawrence of Brindisi, pray for us!
In Corde Matris,
fr maximilian mary dean, F.I.