Dumb ox or dunce – Part II C

Aquinas’ third argument in favor of Scotus’ position, and his response to the contrary:

Objection 3. Further, human nature has not been made more capable of grace by sin. But after sin it is capable of the grace of union, which is the greatest grace. Therefore, if man had not sinned, human nature would have been capable of this grace; nor would God have withheld from human nature any good it was capable of. Therefore, if man had not sinned, God would have become incarnate.

His response:

Reply to Objection 3. A double capability may be remarked in human nature: one, in respect of the order of natural power, and this is always fulfilled by God, Who apportions to each according to its natural capability; the other in respect to the order of the Divine power, which all creatures implicitly obey; and the capability we speak of pertains to this. But God does not fulfil all such capabilities, otherwise God could do only what He has done in creatures, and this is false, as stated above (I, 105, 6). But there is no reason why human nature should not have been raised to something greater after sin. For God allows evils to happen in order to bring a greater good therefrom; hence it is written (Romans 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!”

This response of St. Thomas sends the Subtle Doctor and his followers into a tizzy.

First, note that for the Angelic Doctor without the fall of Adam man is naturally capax Dei – capable of God and would have continued under the original economy of grace (according to this opinion) which is the gratia Dei. In other words, man would have been capable of the grace of union with God without the Incarnation. After the fall that capacity is restored through the Redemption. For Scotus the capax Dei is not natural to man before the fall, but a gift we receive through Christ the Incarnate Word. We have here a clear division between the thomistic school of thought and the Franciscan, scotistic school. For the latter, there is only one order of grace, the gratia Christi. In other words, sin does not make us more capable of grace, but less capable. For the Franciscan school, the grace of union with God through, with and in Christ, which is indeed the greatest of graces for us, is not occasioned by sin, but hindered by it – hence the need for the Redemption. And furthermore, from the scotistic point of view, had Adam not sinned we would have been capable of corresponding to this grace in Christ more readily, as in the case of the Virgin Mary who was, by a singular grace, preserved from the contamination of original sin and was thus able to correspond more fully to this grace of union in Christ. We see here the christocentric perspective of St. Francis and the Franciscans – Christ is the center and not an add-on or an afterthought.

Second, the logic of Thomas’ objection in favor of an Incarnation without sin does not correspond fully to the position taken up by Scotus, hence, Thomas’ refutal does not debunk the arguments that Scotus will present decades after him. Specifically, Scotus never argues that God would have become incarnate to fulfill a human capacity of grace, the grace of union. For the Subtle Doctor the Incarnation is not occasioned by any benefit rendered to other creatures, but is simply willed for its own sake as God’s supreme communication of His love, grace and glory to a created nature (the Humanity of Christ) and His will to receive the maximum love and glory ad extra from the Heart of Jesus. That Angels and men have been “blessed with every spiritual blessing on high in Christ” (Eph 1:3) is divine revelation; but that does not mean that the Incarnation was willed primarily for our benefit, let alone for our Redemption. Let us repeat what was stated before, we exist for Christ and not Him for us (cfr. 1 Cor 3:23; Col 1:16; Rm 14:8; etc.). Since, for Scotus, the Incarnation is not occasioned or conditioned by any creature but is simply a pure act of divine love and generosity, Aquinas’ argument that God is not bound to fulfill all human capabilities does not even enter the discussion because, for Scotus, Christ is willed first in the order of things, and man is willed second, so that the Incarnation (sin or no sin) does not depend on man’s needs or capabilities. Christ comes for the glory of God and God wills to bless us in Him.

What is irksome about the final part of the Angelic Doctor’s response is that he is claiming that we are more blessed because of the sin of Adam than if he had not sinned at all, that the new economy of grace with man’s sin is better than God’s original economy of grace without sin, that we should rejoice in the fall of Adam because this caused the Incarnation, that God would have left out his Masterpiece in all creation, the summum opus Dei, if Adam had been a “good boy” and behaved himself, but since he was a “naughty boy” God chose to accomplish a better plan. For Scotus, and I quote:

“If the fall were the reason for Christ’s predestination, it would follow that the greatest work of God [summum opus Dei—namely, the Incarnation] was essentially occasioned: greatest work, because the glory of all creation is not as great in intensity as is the glory of Christ.  Hence, it seems very absurd to claim that God would have left so great a work [i.e. the Incarnation] undone on account of a good deed performed by Adam, such as Adam’s not sinning” (Opus Parisiense, Lib III, d.7, q.4).

For those who follow Aquinas in the “no sin, no Incarnation” opinion, it seems inevitable that they conclude that evil leads to a greater good.  The Angelic Doctor defends his thesis precisely in this fashion:

“For God allows evils to happen in order to bring a greater good therefrom; hence it is written (Romans 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!”

We have two texts here being interpreted as confirmations that God allows evil so as to bring about a greater good. But St. Paul makes it clear that he does not mean this statement as a cause and effect – namely, because sin and evil and wickedness abound (cause), therefore grace and good and blessing abound the more (effect). “What then shall we say? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means.” (Rm 6:1). I would propose that we interpret the Pauline passage as a primacy of grace over sin as opposed to a response to sin: grace is more powerful and towers above sin so that even if sin abounds, grace abounds all the more; in this way we say that grace, a positive gift of God, is sublime in itself and does not abound because of sin, but superabounds because God’s goodness cannot be eclipsed or outdone by evil. If grace abounded because of sin, then the absurd conclusion would follow that we should promote sin: pornography, abortion, divorce, stealing, homosexuality, murdur, greed, hatred, war, etc. because, after all, the more sin abounds, the more grace will abound – absurd! And yet the “no sin, no Incarnation” opinion leads us precisely to this conclusion that we should thank God for sin because we are now blessed with a better economy of grace in Christ Jesus. Actually, they would have us conclude that Christ Himself should thank Adam for sinning since, according to this opinion, Christ’s predestination to union, grace and glory depends on the fall of the human race and without sin the Sacred Heart of Jesus would not even have existed and been united to the Divine Person of the Word.

To the contrary, Scotus writes:

“Therefore, since the positive act of the divine will regarding the predestined in common precedes all the acts of His will concerning either the reprobate or the fall of anyone whatever, it does not seem that the predestination of Christ to be the Head of the heavenly court was occasioned by the fall or by the demerit of the reprobate.  Therefore, God first loves Himself, and nearest in relation to this is his love for the soul of Christ that is to have the greatest glory in the world.  And among all created things to be willed, this was first willed—an existence foreseen prior to all merit and hence prior to all demerit.” (Reportatio Barcinonensis, II, d.7, q.3)

Regarding the Exultet, I have already dealt at length with this in the section on Romans 8 (scroll down to “O happy fault”). For convenience I will put the video on the subject here as well:


Fr. Maximilian M. Dean