Fr. Frederick Faber on the absolute primacy of Christ

Fr. Frederick Faber (1814-1863): convert to Catholicism from the Anglican ecclesial community, poet and songwriter (ie. Faith of our Fathers), author of many profound volumes both devotional and doctrinal on the Catholic Faith. Fr. Faber held the Franciscan position of Bl. John Duns Scotus on the Incarnation, namely that Christ has absolute primacy in God’s plan quite apart from any consideration of sin and, with and subordinate to Christ, Mary was predestined to be the Mother of God (Theotokos) with a subordinate primacy above all men and angels. The following is a snippet from a conference given by Msgr. Arthur B. Calkins where he shows the eloquent expressions of Fr. Faber illustrating the absolute primacy of Christ Jesus:

[…]It should be noted that, while Faber did not hesitate to employ the hypothetical mode of defending the Scotist position, his aim always went beyond such a limited formulation. What he underscored was that “Jesus was decreed before all creatures, and therefore before the permission of sin”.

Faber clearly saw the implications of the Scotist thesis in establishing the predestination and primacy of Christ. Here is how he put the matter in his last work and masterpiece, Bethlehem:

What then was the first aspect of creation in the divine mind, if we may use the word “first”, of that which was eternal? There may at least be a priority of order, even though there be no priority of time. There is precedence in decrees, even where there is not succession. The first aspect of creation, as it lay in the mind of God, was a created nature assumed to his own uncreated nature in a Divine Person. In other words, the first sight in creation was the Babe of Bethlehem. The first step outside of God, the first standing-point in creation, is the created nature assumed to a Divine Person. Through this, as it were, lay the passage from the Creator to creatures. This was the point of union, the junction between the finite and the Infinite, the creature blending unconfusedly with the Creator. This first-born creature, this Sacred Humanity, was not only the primal creature, but it was also the cause of all other creatures whatsoever. … Its predestination is the fountain of all other predestinations. The whole meaning of creation, equally with the destinies of each individual creature, is bound up with this created Nature assumed to a Divine Person. [40]

Consistent expositor of the Scotistic thesis that Faber was, he recognized that it provides a marvellous key for entering into the mystery that “all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:16-17). “This means”, as Juniper Carol put it, “that in the divine mind from all eternity the creation of the universe and everything in it was based on Christ, had Christ as its foundation, fulcrum and support.” [41] Faber also rightly dwelt on the biblical datum that the Father “chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He predestined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:4-5). Thus the predestination of the elect is conditioned on Christ, and not the other way around. It presupposes the existence of Christ present to the mind of God in His eternal plans. [42]

In no human creature is predestination in Christ illustrated to greater perfection than in Mary. In willing the Incarnation, God willed Mary. Here is how Faber put it in Bethlehem:

Mary thus lies high up in the very fountain-head of creation. She was the choice of God himself, and he chose her to be his Mother. She was the gate by which the Creator entered into his own creation. She ministered to him in a way and for an end unlike those of any other creature whatsoever. … When we have said that Mary was the Word’s eternal choice, we have said that which already involves all the doctrine of the Church about her, and all the homage of Christians to her. … What more can be said? She fulfilled his idea, or rather she did not so much suit his idea, but she was herself the idea, and his idea of her was the cause of her creation. The whole theology of Mary lies in this eternal and efficacious choice of her in the Bosom of the Father. [43]

It is precisely on this basis that Faber speaks constantly in all of his books about “the predestination of Jesus and Mary” and “the mysteries of Jesus and Mary”. Even though Jesus is God and Mary is only a human creature, in willing the Incarnation, God also willed and predestined Mary.

It was, in fact, only in Faber’s lifetime that the supreme authority of the Church solemnly ratified this foundational datum of what has come to be called the “Franciscan thesis” on the joint predestination of Jesus and Mary. The roots of this thesis, as Father Peter Damian Fehlner tells us

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. [44]

The specific intervention on the part of the magisterium was the statement to be found in Ineffabilis Deus, Pius IX’s Bull defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception: “God, by one and the same decree, had established the origin of Mary and the Incarnation of Divine Wisdom.” [45] On the basis of this principle, subsequently re-confirmed by the papal magisterium, [46] Mary’s intimate association with Jesus in the work of the redemption is also axiomatic and, thus, Pius IX declared in the same Apostolic Constitution:

Hence, just as Christ, the Mediator between God and man, assumed human nature, blotted the handwriting of the decree that stood against us, and fastened it triumphantly to the cross, so the most holy Virgin, united with Him by a most intimate and indissoluble bond [uno eodemque decreto], was, with Him and through Him, eternally at enmity with the evil serpent, and most completely triumphed over him, and thus crushed his head with her immaculate foot. [47]

Mary at the Foot of the Cross: Acts of the International Symposium on Marian Coredemption ^ | March 7, 2002 | Msgr. Arthur B. Calkins
Another quote of Fr. Faber on the subject can be found in his book The Blessed Sacrament, written in 1854:

The third view of the Incarnation, and the one assumed throughout this treatise to be true, is the view taken by the Scotists, and by Suarez, and many other theologians both ancient and modern. It teaches, that our Lord came principally to save fallen man, that for this end He came in passible flesh; but that even if Adam had not fallen He would have come, and by Mary, in impassible flesh, that He was predestinated the first-born of creatures before the decree which permitted sin, that the Incarnation was from the first an intentional part of the immense mercy of creation, and did not merely take occasion from sin, which only caused Him to come in a particular way in which He came, and was not the cause of His coming altogether. …

Those who hold it (this view) dwell very much on the doctrine that Jesus was decreed before all creatures, and therefore before the permission of sin. Thus we read in Scripture, I came out of the mouth of the Most High, the first-born before all creatures. And St. Paul, speaking of our Lord, says to the Colossians, that He 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, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominations, or principalities, or powers. All things were created by Him and in Him, and He is before all, and by Him all things consist. And He is the Head of the Body, the Church, who is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in all things He may hold the primacy…

From these and a host of similar authorities, the Scotists, with Suarez and others, particularly Franciscans and Jesuits, consider that it follows that all men came because of Christ, not Christ because of them, that all creation was for Him, and was not only decreed subsequently to His predestination, but for His sole sake. …

Both the Thomist and Scotist views of the Incarnation are free opinions in the schools; and I have only dwelt more at length on the last because it is the one I have all along assumed to be true, and because I think Suarez does not succeed in making a harmony of the two: and as I have mainly followed St. Thomas in the other questions which have been touched upon in this book, it seemed necessary to confess to this somewhat notable exception.

From The Blessed Sacrament (Philadelphia: The Peter Reilly Co., 1958) 336-337, 339