3. Scotus’ writings

Writings of the Subtle Doctor on the absolute primacy of Jesus Christ

From the many writings of Bl. John Duns Scotus there are certain passages which are indispensable for grasping the Franciscan thesis.  We report them here without commentary (see the Appendix for the original Latin texts) so that the reader can reflect on his insights firsthand.  We will expound his doctrine in the Chapters that follow.

The first text dealing with the primacy is taken from his commentary on the Third Book of Sentences by Fr. Peter Lombard.  He wrote or dictated this text during his years as a professor at Oxford (1299-1300) and Paris (1300-1302); it is referred to as the Ordinatio (also called Opus Oxoniense).  The question he introduces before this passage is this: Was Christ predestined to be the Son of God?  Once he resolves some objections to Christ’s predestination, he writes:

“At this point, however, two questions arise.  First, whether this predestination [of Christ] necessarily presupposes the fall of human nature; which is what many authorities seem to be saying, to the effect that the Son of God would never have become incarnate if man had not fallen.

“Without attempting to settle the matter dogmatically, one may state in accord with the last mentioned opinion in distinction 41 of the First Book [of Sentences] that, in so far as the objects intended by God are concerned, since the predestination in general of anyone to glory is prior by nature to the prevision of anyone’s sin or damnation, this is all the more so true of the predestination of that soul chosen for the greatest glory.  For it appears to be universally true that He who wills in an orderly manner intends first that which is nearest the end.  And so just as He first intends one to have glory before grace, so also among those predestined to glory, He who wills in an orderly fashion would seem to intend first the glory of the one He wishes to be nearest the end.  Thus, He wills glory for this soul before He wills glory for any other soul, and for every other soul He wills glory and grace before He foresees those things which are the opposite of these habits [i.e. sin or damnation]…

“If man had not sinned, there would have been no need for our redemption.  But that God predestined this soul [of Christ] to so great a glory does not seem to be only on account of that [redemption], since the redemption or the glory of the soul to be redeemed is not comparable to the glory of Christ’s soul.  Neither is it likely that the highest good in creation is something that was merely occasioned only because of some lesser good; nor is it likely that He predestined Adam to such good before He predestined Christ; and yet this would follow [were the Incarnation occasioned by Adam’s sin].  In fact, if the predestination of Christ’s soul was for the sole purpose of redeeming others, something even more absurd would follow, namely, that in predestining Adam to glory, He would have foreseen him as having fallen into sin before He predestined Christ to glory.

“It can be said, therefore, that with a priority of nature God chose for His heavenly court all the angels and men He wished to have with their various degrees of perfection before He foresaw either sin or the punishment for sinners; and no one has been predestined only because somebody else’s sin was foreseen, lest anyone have reason to rejoice over the fall of another.”[1]

Another pertinent text from the Ordinatio:

“I say that the Incarnation of Christ was not foreseen as something occasioned [by sin], but that it was foreseen by God from all eternity and as a good more immediately proximate to the end…  Hence this is the order followed in God’s prevision. First, God understood Himself as the highest good.  In the second instant[2] He understood all creatures.  In the third He predestined some to glory and grace, and concerning some He had a negative act by not predestining.[3]  In the fourth, He foresaw that all these would fall in Adam.  In the fifth He preordained and foresaw the remedy—how they would be redeemed through the Passion of His Son, so that, like all the elect, Christ in the flesh was foreseen and predestined to grace and glory before Christ’s Passion was foreseen as a medicine against the fall, just as a physician wills the health of a man before he wills the medicine to cure him.”[4]

In his Opus Parisiense (or Reportatio Parisiensis), he writes:

“It is said that the fall of man is the necessary [in the sense of decisive] reason for this predestination.  Since God saw that man would fall, He saw that he would be redeemed in this way, and so He foresaw [Christ’s] human nature to be assumed and to be glorified with so great a glory.

“I declare, however, that the fall was not the cause of Christ’s predestination.  In fact, even if no man or angel had fallen, nor any man but Christ were to be created, Christ would still have been predestined this way.  I prove this as follows: because everyone who wills in an orderly manner, wills first the end, then more immediately those things which are closer to the end; but God wills in a most orderly manner; therefore, that is the way He wills.  In the first place, then, He wills Himself, and immediately after Him, ad extra,[5] is the soul of Christ.  Therefore, after first willing those objects intrinsic to Himself, God willed this glory for Christ.  Therefore, before any merit or demerit, He foresaw that Christ would be united with Him in the oneness of Person.

“Again, as was declared in the First Book (distinction 41) on the question of predestination, the preordination and complete predestination of the elect precedes anything determined concerning the reprobate in fact [in actu secundo], lest anyone rejoice over the damnation of another as a benefit to himself.  Therefore, the entire process [of predestination] concerning Christ was foreseen prior to the fall and to all demerit.

“Again, 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.

“Therefore, I declare the following: First, God loves Himself.  Secondly, He loves Himself for others, and this is an ordered love.  Thirdly, He wishes to be loved by Him who can love Him with the greatest love—speaking of the love of someone who is extrinsic to Himself.  And fourthly, He foresees the union of that nature that must love Him with the greatest love even if no one had fallen.

“How, then, are we to understand holy and authoritative writers who say that God would not have been a Mediator unless someone had been a sinner, and many other authorities, who seem to hold the opposite?  I hold that glory is ordained for the soul of Christ, and for His body in a manner suitable to the flesh, just as it was granted to His soul when it was assumed.  And so too, it [the glory] would have been granted immediately to His body, had this not been delayed on account of the greater good.  This was done so that the people could be redeemed from the power of the devil through the Mediator who could and should do so.  For the glory of the blessed to be redeemed through the Passion of His body is greater than the glory of Christ’s body. Hence, in the fifth instant God saw the Mediator coming, suffering and redeeming His people.  And He would not have come as a suffering and redeeming Mediator unless someone had first sinned; nor would the glory of the body have been delayed unless there were people to be redeemed.  Rather the whole Christ would have been immediately glorified.”[6]

In his Lectura Completa we read:

“Concerning the first question it seems to me that we should answer…  if the least of the elect was not predestined because of the fall and reparation of someone else, all the more neither should the predestination of Christ who is the Head of the elect have been occasioned by something like the fall of the human race.  In fact, even if the human race had not fallen, nevertheless He would still have been predestined and His [human] nature united to the Word.”[7]

Finally, in the Reportatio Barcinonensis he becomes even more emphatic than in the Ordinatio when treating of the same subject.  Towards the end of his exposition he states:

“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.”[8]


At first glance, one might not appreciate the depth of insight and ingenious subtlety of the scotistic texts.  Bear in mind that before our Blessed hardly anyone had ever defended that the Incarnation was not conditioned by sin using the Scriptural argument of the absolute predestination of Christ and the logical argument that God wills in an orderly fashion.  Previous arguments were usually based on fittingness and the rationale that good is diffusive of itself and that love desires to communicate itself to another, hence the hypostatic union.

One might ask: but why then has his thesis come to be known not as the “scotistic thesis,” but the “Franciscan thesis,” the opinio Minorum, which has been an integral part of Catholic tradition especially since the definition of the Immaculate Conception.  Careful study of St. Francis over the past 50 years has shown conclusively that the Poverello of Assisi subscribed both to the thesis on the absolute, joint predestination of Jesus and Mary to be King and Queen of the entire created universe, and to the mystery of the Immaculate Conception under other terms.[9]  The original work of Scotus is not the invention of the thesis, but of his translation of St. Francis’ contemplative theology into academic terms.  This helps us to understand the spirituality of scotists of our day, such as St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe (d. 1941) and Bl. Gabriel Allegra (d.1976).  Their spirituality, theologically speaking, rests on these great intuitions of Scotus, but is not for that reason a spirituality less than Franciscan, for the spirituality of St. Francis at its core also rests on the mystery of the joint predestination of Jesus and Mary, above all evidenced in the Poverello’s perfect conformity to Christ crucified through the maternal mediation of the Immaculate.[10]

In the first text from the Ordinatio, notice how Scotus actually skips right over the hypothetical question ‘If Adam had not sinned, would Christ have come?’ and zooms in on the fact of Christ’s predestination to glory: “Without attempting to settle the matter dogmatically, one may state… that, in so far as the objects intended by God are concerned, since the predestination in general of anyone to glory is prior by nature to the prevision of anyone’s sin or damnation, this is all the more so true of the predestination of that soul chosen for the greatest glory.”  God predestines the human nature of Christ to the “greatest glory,” plain and simple.  And just as God freely creates all rational creatures to share in His glory and to be glorified in Him in varying degrees, independently of the prevision of sin, how much more so the sacred humanity of Christ!  The human nature of the God-Man was chosen to be the creature most perfectly glorified by the Blessed Trinity and to render the most perfect glory to God in the created universe.

“It can be said,” our Blessed writes, “that with a priority of nature God chose for His heavenly court all the angels and men He wished to have with their various degrees of perfection before He foresaw sin or the punishment for sinners; and no one has been predestined only because somebody else’s sin was foreseen, lest anyone have reason to rejoice over the fall of another.”[11]  Stated positively, God predestines Christ, saints and angels to grace and glory before any foreseen sin.  Predestination is absolute in the intention of God and not relative to the foreseen needs of creatures.  Scotus holds that this is true especially in the case of the God-Man.  To say that the predestination of Christ’s soul was exclusively for redeeming others from sin was for Scotus “absurd.”  Christ’s absolute predestination was not “occasioned” by sin or any lesser good that might accrue to men and angels.

Ave Maria!


[1] Bl. John Duns Scotus, Ordinatio, III, d.7, q.3 (ed. C. Balić, Joannis Duns Scoti, doctoris mariani, theologiae marianae elementa… ad fidem codd. Mss., Sebenici, 1933) 4-7.

[2] Scotus is using human language to communicate priority or order in the divine intentions.  God is outside of time and is utterly simple; yet there is an order or priority in His will which Scotus distinguishes with the term “instant.”  Thomists and scotists alike hold the simplicity of God’s decree which has no succession of moments, yet both see a different priority in His willing the Incarnation and Redemption and thus have to communicate this in human terms.

[3] “Negative” here means no act on the part of God.  God leaves man free—those whom He sees will freely correspond to His gift in Christ and who will persevere to the end will thank Him for His grace; they will thank Him for His positive act of predestination which, with their free cooperation, brought them to Heaven.  On the other hand, those who freely reject God’s plan and fail to correspond to His calling can only thank themselves in Hell since it was of their own volition.  God does not predestine anyone to Hell; rather, seeing their free choice, He omits that positive act of predestination.  He forces no one to go to Heaven; He wills no one to go to Hell—seeing from eternity that they will reject His plan He “has a negative act by not predestining them,” leaving them free.

[4] Bl. John Duns Scotus, Ordinatio, III (suppl.), d.19; cod. Assisi com.137, fol.161v.; ed. Vivès (Paris, 1894) XIV, 714.

[5] Ad extra, in Trinitarian theology, refers to anything outside of God Himself.  Thus everything in the created universe including the sacred humanity of Christ is considered to be extrinsic to the Most Holy Trinity, hence ad extra and not ad intra.

[6] Bl. John Duns Scotus, Opus Parisiense, Lib III, d.7, q.4 (ed. Balić) 13-15.

[7] Bl. John Duns Scotus, Lectura Completa, III, d.7, q.3 (ed. Balić) 188.

[8] Bl. John Duns Scotus, Reportatio Barcinonensis, II, d.7, q.3 (ed. Balić) 183-184.

[9] Cf. Fr. Johannes Schneider, Virgo Ecclesia Facta: The Presence of Mary in the Crucifix of San Damiano and in the Office of the Passion of St. Francis of Assisi, (Academy of the Immaculate, New Bedford, 2004).

[10] Cf. Fr. Peter Mary Fehlner and Fr. Maximilian Mary Dean, Virgo Facta Ecclesia: The Marian life and charism of St. Francis of Assisi, (Academy of the Immaculate, New Bedford, 1997).

[11] Bl. John Duns Scotus, Ordinatio d.7, q.3.