While translating a treatise on the Mariology of Blessed John Duns Scotus,[1] it became evident to me that no one would understand Scotus’ Mariology well without first understanding his doctrine on the absolute primacy of Christ.  And it is this doctrine that answers the most fundamental question, ‘Why does Christ exist?’  Indeed, Blessed John’s doctrine of Christ’s primacy is the basis for understanding all Mariology and also, without exaggeration, the ultimate explanation for all of creation, everything that exists outside of God the most Holy Trinity.

Amazingly, in searching for works in the English language on this most important doctrine of the primacy of Christ, I found the resources to be old, scarce, and often too lofty for the average practicing Catholic to understand (or young religious, for that matter).  This is ironic in that Bl. John Duns Scotus was from Scotland (hence Scotus) and taught at Oxford and, of course, he was Franciscan.  Thus one would expect to find ample materials in English and presentations of this important doctrine in layman’s terms since the absolute primacy of Christ is inherently simple!

The purpose of this invigorating study of the scotistic doctrine on Christ’s absolute predestination to grace and glory is to help the English speaking world, in some small but real way, to encounter firsthand the thought of the Subtle Doctor, Bl. John Duns Scotus.  To this end many of the actual writings of Scotus on the subject are included and, with references to the Church Fathers and other reputable theologians, I have commented on these texts in the light of several passages from St. Paul’s Epistles in order to underscore the profound insights of Bl. John and draw out some of the implications of this doctrine.  I have also included a brief biographical sketch of Scotus’ life.

For those who, like myself, are not “professional” theologians in the speculative realm, the present volume will certainly shed new lights on the mystery of Christ Jesus and deepen any reader’s love for the Incarnate Word.  The topic will be helpful in striving to become better theologians in the contemplative realm (theology, which is the study and knowledge of God, is primarily acquired on one’s knees; although the ascetical dimension of intellectual pursuit is indispensable for founding one’s devotion upon sound doctrine).

For the theologian this work should suffice as an authentic introduction to the Subtle Doctor’s Christology.  However, for a more in-depth study in English I would direct you to Fr. Juniper Carol’s exhaustive work Why Jesus Christ?[2] and the brief but concentrated synopsis of Fr. Dominic Unger, Franciscan Christology: Absolute and Universal Primacy of Christ.[3]

If catechesis means “to reveal in the Person of Christ the whole of God’s eternal design reaching fulfillment in that Person,”[4] then pondering the divine plan and purpose in willing the Incarnation will enrich our catechesis and make us more effective evangelists. Since the Church has not definitively made any pronouncement on the primary reason for the Incarnation, [let it be known, however, that Pope Benedict XVI as a private theologian upholds the position of Bl. John Duns Scotus on the Incarnation] she allows and even encourages the faithful to reflect on why God decreed that the Word become flesh.

Pondering the divine plan in this way one will find many hints in the Magisterium, since the days of Pope Sixtus IV, responsible in great part for the present liturgy of the Immaculate Conception, that there is much in the deposit of faith to favor the Franciscan thesis.  This is particularly the case with the Popes since Bl. Pius IX in the Bull of definition of the Immaculate Conception Ineffabilis Deus, Pius XI in the Encyclical Quas primas on the absolute Kingship of Christ, Pius XII in the Bull of definition of the Assumption, Munificentissimus Deus, and in the documents of Vatican II, to mention but a few.  The Franciscan thesis of the absolute primacy of Christ (versus what is called the thomistic thesis) has innumerable implications which should spark the interest of any true follower of Jesus.

Discovering the primary reason for the Incarnation will affect our view of God:  Did He will creation and salvation history in an intelligent, ordered way with Christ as the chief cornerstone?  Or did He will one economy of grace for angels and our first parents, and then a better economy of grace in Christ for man as a remedy for sin?

It will affect our view of Jesus and His Mother:  Are God’s two greatest creative works willed first, before anything else is considered?  Are they willed for Their own sake?  Do They have priority in the divine scheme of things?  Or do the divine Masterpieces of creation owe Their existence to Adam’s fall?

It will affect our view of the angels and demons:  Did God from all eternity predestine the good angels in, through and for the Incarnate Word—their Mediator of grace and glory—and condemn the demons because they refused to serve the mystery of Christ?  Or are the angels created apart from the mystery of the Incarnation and, therefore, not under (at least per se) Christ’s headship as the God-Man?

It will affect our view of man:  Is the original dignity and sublime calling of man (Adam and Eve included) that of being elevated in Christ Jesus—a predestination of the elect to be God’s adopted children in Him, a predestination prior to any consideration of sin?  Or could the dignity and predestination of the elect in Christ Jesus be merely a consequence of original sin?

Finally, it will affect our spiritual outlook as well:  Did God will from all eternity that man’s spiritual journey be centered in the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, sin or no sin?  Or is the sweet journey of the saints to God through Jesus and Mary the result of man’s need for redemption?

Please note that throughout this study titles like Jesus, Incarnate Word, Christ, Sacred Heart, Word made flesh, sacred humanity, and God-Man refer to the mystery of the Incarnation and hypostatic union—the union of the two natures of Christ (human nature and divine nature) in the one Person of the Word; when these titles are used they will always refer to the Word as true God and true man.  Whereas the titles Eternal Word and Uncreated Word will refer to the Divine Word as such, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity—God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God—with no relation to the mystery of the Incarnation whatsoever.

May the Holy Spirit guide you through these pages for, as our Divine Savior promised, “when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will teach you all the truth…He will glorify Me, because He will receive of what is Mine and declare it to you” (Jn. 16:13-14).

[1] Fr. Ruggero Rosini, OFM, Mariologia del beato Giovanni Duns Scoto (Editrice Mariana, Castelpetroso, 1994); now available in English: Mariology of Blessed John Duns Scotus, (Academy of the Immaculate, 2007).

[2] Fr. Juniper Carol, OFM, Why Jesus Christ? (Trinity Communications, Manassas, VA, 1986).

[3] Fr. Dominic Unger, OFM Cap., Franciscan Christology: Absolute and Universal Primacy of Christ, in FS vol.22 (N.S. 2) no.4 (St. Bonaventure, 1942) 428-475.

[4] CCC 426.