For Mind Blowing, Franciscan Thoughts, on the Incarnation by Bl. John Duns Scotus UPDATED

Merry Christmas, everyone. Today we Christians celebrate the birth into time of our King, our Redeemer, and our God. This is the day when Christ, the anointed one, was born in Bethlehem. We call it the Feast of the Nativity.

As feasts in the Church go, this is a biggie. As Deacon Greg shared on his blog the other day, St. John Chrysostom, in a homily dated from the year 386, invites us to,

Behold a new and wondrous mystery. My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

It’s a great homily, and it ranks right up there beside his Easter homily (one of my favorites, too) as a sign that golden-mouthed (“chrysostom”) is what this great preaching saint truly is.  It should come as no surprise to you that he is also a Doctor of the Church. What does that mean, exactly?

Well, it’s a special title accorded by the Church to certain saints whose writings and sermons, etc.,  are useful to Christians “in any age of the Church.” Such men and women are also known for the depth of their understanding and the orthodoxy of their theological teachings as pertains to Catholicism, and as such, Christianity.

In other words, they are the A-Team, whose thoughts and words have built upon the foundations of Holy Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, to help build up the Magisterium, or the teaching office, of the Church. There are currently thirty-three Doctors of the Church in number, with a 34th to be added soon when St. Hildegarde of Bingen joins their ranks this coming Fall.

What does all this have to do with the Mystery of the Incarnation? Be patient with me and I, Joe Six-Pack, regular guy, no schooling in theology, etc., will attempt to explain.

St. Thomas Aquinas

You may recall that a while back I mentioned that I was warming up to St. Thomas Aquinas. Thomas, see, is a Doctor of the Church and if I had to rank them in order of importance, he sits atop the stack. He is A #1. That’s probably wrong of me to assert this, but remember that I’m self-taught in these matters and very prone to error.

Thomas is known as the Angelic Doctor, and also as the Common Doctor. The former for his deep insight into the mysteries of the faith, and his ability to understand them and make them known to folks like us, and the latter because his thoughts undergird many (if not all) of the teachings of the Catholic Church. Blessed Pope John XXIII bestowed upon him the title “Common Doctor” when he addressed a Thomistic Conference back in September of 1960. Regarding Aquinas he writes,

His teaching was, more than any other, fully in keeping with the truths that God has revealed, with the writings of the Holy Fathers, and with the principles of right reason and therefore Holy Church has adopted it as her own, and has given the name of common or universal teacher to its author.

Long before this, in his encyclical Aeterni Patris in 1879, Pope Leo XIII argued persuasively that the teachings of St. Thomas could be relied upon unreservedly. So we should be very interested in much of what the Angelic Doctor has to say on every subject under the sun.

Would it surprise you that St. Thomas left open a question regarding the Mystery of the Incarnation?

I suppose I should first ask if it would surprise you that there are theories (three of them!) about the purpose of the Incarnation in the first place. Just yesterday I was floating along in blissful ignorance of them myself. But thanks to something I stumbled upon in the YIMCatholic Bookshelf, in the preface of a compilation of St. Thomas’ thoughts on the doctrine of the Incarnation, I’m quite possibly a changed man as a result.

In 1868, see, an Anglican cleric named William Gilson Humphrey put together what he called A Digest of the Doctrine of St. Thomas on the Incarnation. In the preface, he notes that Raymond Lully had a theory (remember him?), Aquinas, and a third by Bl. John Duns Scotus, whose idea was followed by heavy thinkers (Suárez, for instance), and the Franciscans, as it turns out.

Here is what Humphrey shared that, though it hasn’t sealed the deal on pushing me towards becoming a Franciscan, has me leaning towards the Scotists and this idea because it paints a picture that I can a) grasp clearly, and b) which I find quite beautiful.

The third view of the Incarnation is that taken by the Scotists, by Suarez, and by many other theologians both ancient and modern. It teaches—and so far in accordance with Thomist theology, that Jesus came principally to save sinners, and for that end came in passible flesh; but here its agreement ceases. It asserts that even if Adam had never sinned, Jesus would yet have come, and come by means of Mary, in impassible flesh; that He was predestinated the Firstborn of creatures before the decree which permitted sin; that the Incarnation was from the first an intentional and integral part of the scheme of creation; that it was not merely occasioned by sin, but that sin only determined the manner of it, and its accompaniments of suffering and death. And it is as regards the manner of the Incarnation alone, as speaking of our Lord’s coming in passible and mortal flesh, that the Scotists understand those passages in Holy Scripture, in the writings of the Fathers, and in the Office Books of the Church, which at first sight seem to make for the Thomist view. The Scotists dwell very much on the doctrine that Jesus was decreed before all creation, and therefore before the permission of sin. They hold that all men exist because of Christ, and 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.

Bl. John Duns Scotus

They found again upon His being the First Begotten and Exemplar of the predestinate. And they go on to establish their view by arguments drawn from reason, from the natural order of things, from the relative value of means and ends, from the grace of the unfallen Adam, which is alleged to have been conferred on him because of Christ, from the Incarnation having, as St. Thomas teaches, been revealed to Adam, who, although he lost hope and the love of God when he sinned, did not lose his faith.

They urge further, that on the Thomist view, Christ was only an “occasioned good,” and, a still more unworthy supposition, occasioned by sin; or again, that Christ would have to rejoice in Adam’s sin, as owing to it His existence, grace, and His glory as man.

Again, it is said, that if Christ was decreed after us, and because of us, and only to redeem us, three monstrous consequences would follow:

1. That Christ would owe us a debt of gratitude.

2. That we should in certain respects be more excellent than He.

3. That sin was necessary to His existence.

On the Scotist view of the Incarnation the following would be the order of the Divine Decrees—the order of intention, that is, for there can of course be no order of time with God.

1. God understood Himself as the Sovereign Good.

2. He understood all creatures.

3. He predestinated creatures to grace and glory.

4. He foresaw men falling in Adam.

5. He pre-ordained the Passion of Christ as the remedy for this fall.

Thus Christ in the Flesh, and all the elect members of His mystical Body also, were foreseen and predestined to grace and glory, before the foresight either of sin or of the Passion.

It will be observed that both Thomists and Scotists lay the utmost stress on the doctrine that Jesus came, as He has come, expressly and principally to redeem mankind from sin, and that consequently a remedial character pervades all His mysteries, both such as have to do with His being our example, and such as have to do with His being our atonement, while the same character is stamped also upon His enactments as our legislator.

Further, the Thomists allow that redemption from sin was by no means the sole end of the Incarnation. They admit that the manifestation of the Divine Omnipotence, Wisdom, and Goodness was one end, and the Headship of the whole Church of angels and men was another.

Both views then have much in common: there may be no insurmountable repugnance between them, it may be that a little modification would reconcile them, and yet it is a patent fact that each gives a distinct tone and coloring to a man’s theology, and altering his standpoint affects his views on every subject that falls.

Wow. Basically, this makes the Incarnation the pinnacle of God’s  work of creation. He wills Christ first of all as the summum opus Dei, and his love for us, and for the angelic hosts, is so vast that God planned to enter into his handiwork “before the foundation of the world,” without his doing so being contingent upon mankind sinning. Which helps explain why Satan, and his followers, rebelled and started a war in heaven. I clearly remember being taught this in RCIA, by the priest teaching our class. Lucifer rebelled when he learned that God intended to become human. The idea that God would enter into the glory of his creation as a human, “lower than the angels,” was repugnant to Lucifer. And contrary to Humphrey’s thinking in the preface to his digest, St. Thomas did not refute any of this, as he made obvious while pondering this mystery.

For Aquinas points this out in his answer to the following question from the Summa Theologica,

Whether, if man had not sinned, God would have become incarnate?

That’s from Article 3 of Question 1 (The fitness of the Incarnation) from Part III of the Summa. And if you would have asked me to answer it at any time before Christmas Eve yesterday, I would have answered in the negative. And by doing so, I’d have been in pretty good company, as that is what I have always thought and believed. It’s the reason that a good Thomist, and Christian, would believe: Christ became man to redeem us because of the fall of our first parents. It’s a simple answer meaning that Jesus was born to save us from our sins. I could rattle off tons of scripture to support this, of course, as well as find the thoughts of St. Thomas to back it up.

But here’s the thing. St. Thomas, in his humility, gave himself an out. He writes (emphasis is mine),

I answer that, there are different opinions about this question. For some say that even if man had not sinned, the Son of Man would have become incarnate. Others assert the contrary, and seemingly our assent ought rather to be given to this opinion.

For such things as spring from God’s will, and beyond the creature’s due, can be made known to us only through being revealed in the Sacred Scripture, in which the Divine Will is made known to us. Hence, since everywhere in the Sacred Scripture the sin of the first man is assigned as the reason of Incarnation, it is more in accordance with this to say that the work of Incarnation was ordained by God as a remedy for sin; so that, had sin not existed, Incarnation would not have been. And yet the power of God is not limited to this; even had sin not existed, God could have become incarnate.

St. Francis of Assisi is not a Doctor of the Church. And way down on the scale of official saints lies Blessed John Duns Scotus, a Franciscan friar who was known by the sobriquet Doctor Subtilis (Subtle Doctor), but who is far from being a Doctor of the Church too. In fact, he wasn’t beatified until March 20, 1993, by Bl. Pope John Paul II, who called him a “minstrel of the Incarnate Word and defender of Mary’s Immaculate Conception.”

Regardless of his newfound place in the ranks of the saints, his thoughts on the Incarnation are, as outlined above, amazing and wonderful to me. And I don’t have to risk being labeled a heretic for believing them.

Here’s what the citation from the Catholic Encyclopedia says about Scotus’ theory of the Incarnation,

In his Christology, Scotus insists strongly on the reality of Christ’s Humanity. Though it has no personality and no subsistence of its own, it has its own existence. The unio hypostatica and the communicatio idiomatum are explained in accordance with the doctrine of the Church, with no leaning to either Nestorianism or Adoptionism. It is true that Scotus explains the influence of the hypostatic union upon the human nature of Christ and upon His work differently from St. Thomas. Since this union in no way changes the human nature of Christ, it does not of itself impart to the Humanity the beatific vision or impeccability. These prerogatives were given to Christ with the fullness of grace which He received in consequence of that union. God would have become man even if Adam had not sinned, since He willed that in Christ humanity and the world should be united with Himself by the closest possible bond. Scotus also defends energetically the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. All objections founded on original sin and the universal need of redemption are solved.

The merits of Christ are infinite only in a broader sense, but of themselves they are entirely sufficient to give adequate satisfaction to the Divine justice; there is no deficiency to be supplied by God’s mercy. But there is needed a merciful acceptation of the work of Christ, since in the sight of God there is no real merit in the strictest sense of the word.

****

Scotus is a genuine Scholastic philosopher who works out ideas taken from Aristotle, St. Augustine, and the preceding Scholastics. He is universally recognized as a deep thinker, an original mind, and a sharp critic; a thoroughly scientific man, who without personal bias proceeds objectively, stating his own doctrines with modesty and with a certain reserve.

That citation is, I grant you, from long ago (1909).  Would it interest you to see something more recent? Perhaps something penned by Pope Benedict XVI himself? Take a look at this from a General Audience given back on July 7, 2010 on the Scottish saint.

First of all he meditated on the Mystery of the Incarnation and, unlike many Christian thinkers of the time, held that the Son of God would have been made man even if humanity had not sinned. He says in his Reportatio Parisiensis: “To think that God would have given up such a task had Adam not sinned would be quite unreasonable! I say, therefore, that the fall was not the cause of Christ’s predestination and that if no one had fallen, neither the angel nor man in this hypothesis Christ would still have been predestined in the same way” (in III Sent., d. 7, 4). This perhaps somewhat surprising thought crystallized because, in the opinion of Duns Scotus the Incarnation of the Son of God, planned from all eternity by God the Father at the level of love is the fulfilment of creation and enables every creature, in Christ and through Christ, to be filled with grace and to praise and glorify God in eternity. Although Duns Scotus was aware that in fact, because of original sin, Christ redeemed us with his Passion, Death and Resurrection, he reaffirmed that the Incarnation is the greatest and most beautiful work of the entire history of salvation, that it is not conditioned by any contingent fact but is God’s original idea of ultimately uniting with himself the whole of creation, in the Person and Flesh of the Son.

He goes on to praise the ramifications of Duns Scotus’ thoughts as follows,

Dear brothers and sisters, this strongly “Christocentric” theological vision opens us to contemplation, wonder and gratitude:  Christ is the center of history and of the cosmos, it is he who gives meaning, dignity and value to our lives!

Indeed, it is wonderful!

This post is quite long, and I’m sure you’ve had enough of your mind being stretched for one day. I’ll close with an opinion that I think this Scotist/Franciscan view of the Incarnation is one that is more amenable to productive dialogue in Christian apologetics. The Scotist view helps me to understand Christ’s role as the Alpha and the Omega in a clearer way while building upon what John the Apostle writes in his gospel, and what he records that Jesus siad to Nicodemus,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

Thanks be to God!

Places worth visiting for more information on Scotian/Franciscan thoughts on the Incarnation:

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: John Duns Scotus.

Website of Fr. Maximilian Mary Dean, F.I., The Absolute Primacy of Christ.

Fr. Maximilians’ YouTube Channel.

Taylor Marshall: Would Christ Have Become Man if Man had not Sinned?

Bl. Pope John Paul II: The Mystery of Predestination in Christ.

The Primacy of Christ in John Duns Scotus: An Assessment.

Franciscan (Scotistic) Thesis: Absolute Primacy Of Christ

The Catholic Encyclopedia: The Incarnation.

 

UPDATE:

Mark Shea: The Immaculate Conception: Enter the Subtle Doctor, Duns Scotus.

Christendom Awake: John Duns Scotus and His Defense of the Immaculate Conception.

  • Brad

    Thank you for this, which I too really like. We limit the Holy Trinity, as a Whole and as Persons, too constantly and too deeply, even when we mean well. He is Lord of the Sabbath and not the other way ’round! Also this inevitably opens the door a bit wider to ponder (to ponder the necessity to ponder…) the near-limitless depth of majesty that is the Immaculate Conception. St. Kolbe (in his starvation bunker or was it before?) finally narrowed down his awestruck thoughts on her to be, “O Immaculata, who are you? WHAT are you?” Thus the human mind finds itself butting up against the perfect creature, something that is basically as difficult to ponder as the perfect Creator. I think what we find so difficult to ponder, specifically, is, of all things, the sheer amount of love and kindness emanating from a Source. Not the Source, not the object, not the commodity, but the amount. We are cynical as to the amount, and also, also, we simply cannot quantify it in our heads. That love is requited losslessly by one entity in creation: our Mother. Thus creation is fulfilled in a certain way because the Lover has achieved what He desired when He set out upon creation: to find an object of His love who could absorb it in its amount. It is merely frosting on the cake that that amount is losslessly requited back to its source, making God very happy. Yes, God made happy by His creature. Behold thou art fair, O my love, behold thou art fair, thy eyes are as those of doves. Smitten, I’d say.

  • RichardC

    Interesting post. Not sure I understood everything I read. For me, the idea that Jesus would have become Incarnate even if man hadn’t fallen is less dramatic than the idea the He became Incarnate because man fell.

    Suppose, you find out that your college-aged daughter has join a cult, so you get the shotgun and say, “I am going to go get my daughter back!”

    On the other hand, suppose you find out that your college-aged daughter has joined a cult, so you get the shotgun and say, “Well, I was going to go visit her anyway, might as well get her back.”

    I like the drama of the first one better.

    • Frank Weathers

      Oh, I think there is something greater than shotguns, and cults here, Richard. You have to admit, that the idea of ” a better drama,” doesn’t explain the war in heaven. In fact, I found the last sentence I shared of Humphrey’s preface to be quite accurate to what has been tumbling over in my mind since learning of the Scotist/Franciscan thesis,

      and yet it is a patent fact that each gives a distinct tone and coloring to a man’s theology, and altering his standpoint affects his views on every subject that falls.

      It changes nothing, and yet…it changes everything.

      Like what about The Immaculate Conception, as Brad mentions? Using the thought, “if no sin, then no Incarnation,” then taking it to the logical conclusion, there would be no Queen of Heaven, no Son of Man as King, etc. Oh, I think there is plenty of drama regarding the Scotist view point, actually. It makes for a fascinating back story, but a well thought out one as well.

      And Scotus’ thoughts on the Immaculate Conception indeed did carry the day. Meanwhile, folks do still wonder, and even argue over whether St. Thomas Aquinas believed in the Immaculate Conception. He seemed to lean that way towards the end of his life. But for Scotus, as Pope Benedict XVI writes (see link to the Audience above),

      Not only Christ’s role in the history of salvation but also that of Mary is the subject of the Doctor subtilis’ thought. In the times of Duns Scotus the majority of theologians countered with an objection that seemed insurmountable, the doctrine which holds that Mary Most Holy was exempt from original sin from the very first moment of her conception: in fact, at first sight the universality of the Redemption brought about by Christ might seem to be jeopardized by such a statement, as though Mary had had no need of Christ or his redemption. Therefore the theologians opposed this thesis. Thus, to enable people to understand this preservation from original sin Duns Scotus developed an argument that was later, in 1854, also to be used by Bl. Pope Pius IX when he solemnly defined the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. And this argument is that of “preventive Redemption”, according to which the Immaculate Conception is the masterpiece of the Redemption brought about by Christ because the very power of his love and his mediation obtained that the Mother be preserved from original sin. Therefore Mary is totally redeemed by Christ, but already before her conception. Duns Scotus’ confreres, the Franciscans, accepted and spread this doctrine enthusiastically and other theologians, often with a solemn oath, strove to defend and perfect it.

      Mary’s role then, great as it already is, is made even greater if God’s plan was to become human through her from before the foundation of the world; predestined, as it stands to reason it was.

      And again, none of Scotus’ thought takes anything away from the redemptive mission that Christ undertook to save us from our sins. But passages like these by St. Paul to the Colossians do take on a different tone when looked at through the Scotist lens, wouldn’t you agree?

      He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

      For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him.

      He is before all things,and in him all things hold together.

      Which squares with this too,

      “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

      • RichardC

        “Oh, I think there is something greater than shotguns, and cults here, Richard. “–I posted an analogy, Frank. The woman represents all mankind; the cult represents sin in all its form, especially serious sin; the man who goes to get her back represents Jesus; the shotgun represents the Cross, a weapon for good more powerful than of the WMD’s in the history of the world combined. That is basically the entire ranch and everything going on in it.

        I say positing the Incarnation without the Fall undercuts both the severity of the Fall and the generosity of Jesus’ Heroic Mission. I agree that the main attraction to the Scotistic view is the Virgin Mary. However, we don’t even know if Adam and Eve would have had any children if there had been no Fall. Or it is possible that Adam and Eve would have had one child, a girl, name Mary. Original Sin explained the wantonness, necessity, and messiness of the polygamy and incest that followed the Fall and gave rise to mankind. If there is no Fall, how does the human race come into being without the incest and polygamy that followed the Fall. Is there is a dogmatic teaching that the earth would have been populated with many, many humans if Adam and Eve hadn’t Fallen? I have never heard of one.

        • Frank Weathers

          It’s a good analogy, Richard. Also, I admit I’m not familiar with Scotus enough to answer intelligently from his school of thought. Again, I find myself agreeing with the words of Humphrey when he says,

          “Both views then have much in common: there may be no insurmountable repugnance between them, it may be that a little modification would reconcile them…”

          I’ll be posting more on Scotus as time goes by. I find myself agree with G.K. Chesterton when he said this in his “Introduction to the Book of Job,”

          The modern habit of saying “Every man has a different philosophy; this is my philosophy and it suits me”—the habit of saying this is mere weak-mindedness. A cosmic philosophy is not constructed to fit a man; a cosmic philosophy is constructed to fit a cosmos. A man can no more possess a private religion than he can possess a private sun and moon.

          Pax Christi

  • John Jamison

    Thanks for the overview of the issue! Is there any chance that Scotus was actually Irish? How about this argument: We can say that it was certainly possible that Scotus was Irish. This assertion does not diminish Scotus in any way and in fact makes him even greater. We can furthermore confirm this, since in virtue of the sanctifying merits of Christ, who is Incarnate Wisdom, there must be someone who is the most wise theologian, and Scotus is the most fitting candidate, since his doctrine about Mary has been confirmed by the Church. And no place on earth has a more exalted relation to heaven than Ireland does, so it most fitting that the most wise theologian would come from Ireland. Therefore, Scotus must have actually been Irish. Merry Christmas!

    • Frank Weathers

      LOL…I don’t think so.

      Just remember: Christ is the center of the Universe. Ireland (and the rest of the planet) is pretty close as a result. :)

  • Elmar Kremer

    A big problem with the Scotisitic theory, as you report it, is that if there had been no original sin, there would have been no Immaculate Conception of Mary. Assuming that the manner of Mary’s conception is not accidential to her identity, it follows that if there had been no original sin, there would have been no Mary. But as Mother Teresa once said, “No Mary, no Jesus.” Furthermore, if there had been no original sin, the history of the Jewish people, as recorded in the Old Testament. But once again, Jesus cannot be understood apart from that history.

    It remains true, as Aquinas said, that God could have become incarnate even if there were no sin.
    But the Incarnate God would not have been Jesus, the son of Mary and son of David.

    • Frank Weathers

      I don’t know about that. I’m definitely not an authority on these matters (caveat!). As I mentioned in the comments elsewhere, it would seem reasonable though that Mary was predestined to be the Theotokos from before time began in either case. And it could be as Mark Shea writes,

      Rather than approach the Immaculate Conception in this way I think it’s much wiser to approach it as though God is an Artist or, better still, a Father. The only obligations God is bound by are those he places on himself.

      • Elmar Kremer

        Problem is, Frank, that God knewq from the beginning of time that Adam would sin, and so Mary was predestined from the beginning of time to be the mother of our savious. References to what was predestined from the beginning of time don’t help your case.

        Think of it, could Mary have been Mary without being a Jewish maiden, with a Jewish ancestry that carried the promise of salvation from sin?

        [Sorry f0r the mistake in the fourth last sentence of my original comment. It should reas, “Furthermore, if there had been no original sin, the history of the Jewish people, as recorded in the Old Testament, would not have taken place.”

        Mark’s comment seems to me irrelevant to the question of whether Jesus, son of Mary, would have existed if there had been no sin. God is “bound” if you want to use that word, by the principle of non-contradiction. He cannot make someone be son of Mary if there is no Mary, and he cannot make someone be Jesus if there is no Mary.

  • http://www.patheos.com/About-Patheos/Pat-Gohn.html Pat Gohn

    Good stuff!

    FYI – we have 35 Doctors of the Church since last fall: http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1204226.htm

    Merry Christmas, Frank!

    • Frank Weathers

      That was this past Fall?! Where’d the time go? :)

  • Schmittino

    Thank you Frank for this wonderful reflection. Are you familiar with the visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich concerning the Immaculate Conception? If not, I’m sure they would be of great interest to you since they shed much light on this subject.

  • http://CatholicNews Thomas Lynch

    Way above my head, but I Believe, Blessed are those who have not seen and Believe, Thomas

    • Frank Weathers

      Above mine too. :)

  • Fr. Johnson

    Dear Mr. Weathers,
    Thank you for this thorough and well-written piece! I myself am a Thomist of the “strict observance,” and while I can appreciate a certain admiration for the thought of Bl. Duns Scotus on this matter, there is a certain tendency or danger, even, present in this kind of speculation. Here’s what I mean:
    1) The central thesis at dispute here is: in the present dispensation (i.e., the foreseen fall of man), Scotus posits that the incarnation was willed prior to this circumstance (priority of will, not time, of course);
    2) St. Thomas wisely points out that we can only know these particulars of the divine will through revelation, and not from mere reason, let alone mere speculation; and what is revealed about the motive of the Incarnation?
    a) “The Son of Man is come to serve and not to be served, and to give His life as a ransom for the many”
    b) “And what shall I say? Deliver me from this hour? … It is for this that I am come into the world”
    c) all succinctly summarized in the Creed: “for us men and for our salvation, He came down from heaven.” (Forgive any inexactness; these are cited from memory.)
    3) Scotus’ theory should be entertained with caution because we have to guard ourselves not only against theorizing contrary to the clear meaning of revelations (such as the above) but also to avoid the idea, even if only implied, that creation *necessarily* involves the Incarnation, which is most strictly of the supernatural order, whereas the creation of the world is, in and of itself, strictly of the natural order. To obscure the sharp distinction and separation of the natural and supernatural orders can result in some very dubious if not outright erroneous ideas: e.g., grace is something of the natural order; the vision of God as He is is attainable by the unaided human intellect; and so forth.
    4) Finally, it’s interesting that the Franciscan School (after the time of Scotus) tended more and more in this direction of emphasizing the Incarnation as the perfection of the act of creation, without of course ever falling into heresy, whereas the Seraphic Father himself was always greatly devoted to the Passion as the end and purpose par excellence of the Incarnation, as for example with the Crucifix of San Damiano and the Impression of the Stigmata he received. And of course in popular devotion, at this time of year, the Christ Child is very often shown in the posture of the Crucified, when He is not shown tightly bound in swaddling clothes in prefigurement of His burial.

    • Frank Weathers

      Thanks for your thoughts, Fr. Johnson. I think it worthwhile to learn from both St. Thomas, and Blessed John Duns, as they both have some much to teach me.

  • treblednotnikle

    Just speculating here. . . Suppose God revealed His intention to become incarnate of the Blessed Virgin to the angels and he permitted the reprobate their rebellion, knowing the outcome. God is glorified in the moral freedom He provides His sentient creation to choose loving obedience (Mary and her angels), the whole of the saved human race recapitulated in Christ, and the reprobate who are given their own freely chosen nothingness apart from God. The one thing I have trouble with is our salvation as God’s Plan B. Merry Christmas.

  • Chris

    “Again, it is said, that if Christ was decreed after us, and because of us, and only to redeem us, three monstrous consequences would follow:
    1. That Christ would owe us a debt of gratitude.
    2. That we should in certain respects be more excellent than He.
    3. That sin was necessary to His existence.”

    This may be “said,” but is, in actuality, quite the OPPOSITE of the truth. Such a view overlooks the fact that Christ is not simply a human person but rather a divine person. As such he existed from all eternity in his divinity. He wouldn’t owe us a debt of gratitude because he gains nothing from his Incarnation while we (possibly) gain everything from it. There is no aspect in which we would be more excellent than Christ because our redepmtion rests wholly and entirely on him freely becoming Incarnate to free us from sin. Lastly, and related to the two previous points, sin isn’t necessary for his EXISTENCE because he has existed from all of eternity.

    This “critique” of the Thomist view of the Incarnation relies on an understanding of Christ that is woefully faulty.

  • Jim

    The simplest way I have seen this expressed:

    God created all for the Son because He loves Mary; that He would be Her Son. Mary being without stain of sin is His Mother is the same as saying He would be incarnate of Her even if sin never entered the world.

    • Brad

      I agree. To put it in very quaint and familial terms, God the Father loves Mary. Creator and Lover loves the object of His love, His beloved creature. Christ loving each human soul, as well as human souls collectively, is a widened expression of “the world’s first love”, and the most sharply ardent one, too: that of God for His Mary. Ave Maria.

    • Frank Weathers

      And there are these,

      When the fullness of time appeared, God sent his Son into the world.

      cf. Galatians 4:4

      The Father’s purpose in revealing the Son
      was to make himself known to us all.

      St. Irenaeus, 2nd century

      Which do nothing to diminish this,

      Our soul has been rescued like a bird from the fowler’s snare.

      or the inspired words of St. John,

      My children, I am writing this to you
      so that you may not commit sin.
      But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father,
      Jesus Christ the righteous one.
      He is expiation for our sins,
      and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.


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