Aquinas’ fifth [and perhaps most interesting] argument in favor of Scotus’ position, and his response to the contrary:
Objection 5. Further, the mystery of Incarnation was revealed to the first man, as is plain from Genesis 2:23. “This now is bone of my bones,” etc. which the Apostle says is “a great sacrament . . . in Christ and in the Church,” as is plain from Ephesians 5:32. But man could not be fore-conscious of his fall, for the same reason that the angels could not, as Augustine proves (Gen. ad lit. xi, 18). Therefore, even if man had not sinned, God would have become incarnate.
Reply to Objection 5. Nothing prevents an effect from being revealed to one to whom the cause is not revealed. Hence, the mystery of Incarnation could be revealed to the first man without his being fore-conscious of his fall. For not everyone who knows the effect knows the cause.
Adam knew about the Incarnation before the fall
First, let us establish the tradition before looking at his response. St. Thomas Aquinas, in defending his position that had Adam not sinned the Incarnation would not have taken place, finds it necessary to acknowledge and defend himself against a tradition that confirms that before the fall God had revealed to Adam the mystery of the Incarnation. Obviously, if Adam knew about the Incarnation before the fall, this presents a slight difficulty to the thomistic position that the Incarnation was completely occasioned by Adam’s sin.
Note well that the Angelic Doctor does not ignore the tradition (he is the one who presents it as an objection to his thesis), nor does he write it off as a bunch of malarchy (he deals with it concretely elsewhere in his Summa, as we shall see below). He takes this tradition very seriously and feels the necessity to dance around it with distinctions to maintain his position without denying the tradition itself. His insistence on acknowledging and maintaining this tradition is extremely interesting because today it is either unknown, ignored or written off as unsubstantial. For him it appeared to be part of the deposit of the Faith, an undeniable truth which he mentions at least twice in his Summa. So, is Adam’s foreknowledge of the Christ a piece of Sacred Tradition lost in the shuffle? Well, not if I can have anything to do with it. 🙂
The Church Fathers
This tradition of Adam’s foreknowledge of the Incarnation before he fell into original sin is found in the Church Fathers, and specifically in St. Jerome and Tertullian.
St. Jerome: The first prophet Adam prophesied this about Christ and the Church: that Our Lord and Savior would have left His God and His mother, the heavenly Jerusalem; that He would come to earth for the sake of His Body, the Church; that the Church would have been taken from His side and for her the Word would have been made flesh. (Commentary on Eph. 5:31-32)
Tertullian mentions it in passing here: What had he [Adam] that was spiritual? Is it because he prophetically declared
the great mystery of Christ and the church? Ephesians 5:32
This is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman. Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and he shall cleave unto his wife; and they two shall be one flesh. Genesis 2:23-24 But this (gift of prophecy) only came on him afterwards, when God infused into him the ecstasy, or spiritual quality, in which prophecy consists. (Treatise on the soul, Ch.21)
The contents: mystic sleep of Adam, revelation of Christ, prophecy of Adam
Let’s look at the two specific texts of Aquinas confirming the tradition in order to understand what the scholastics had received from the Church Fathers regarding Adam and his foreknowledge of the Incarnation.
1. St. Thomas writes that man does, however, seem to have had foreknowledge of the Incarnation of Christ, from the fact that he said (Genesis 2:24): “Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife,” of which the Apostle says (Ephesians 5:32) that “this is a great sacrament . . . in Christ and the Church,” and it is incredible [literally “not-believable”] that the first man was ignorant about this sacrament.
( Summa II-II, Q.2, art.7 – “I answer that..”).
2. As cited above, he acknowledges this tradition as one which could pose a problem to his thesis on a Incarnation caused by sin, and he describes it thus: the mystery of Incarnation was revealed to the first man, as is plain from Genesis 2:23. “This now is bone of my bones,” etc. which the Apostle says is “a great sacrament . . . in Christ and in the Church,” as is plain from Ephesians 5:32.
(Summa III, Q.1, art.3 – Objection 5)
What we have here is a Patristic interpretation, and perhaps an Apostolic Tradition, about Eph 5:32 and Gen 2:23-24. In essence St. Paul provides the hermeneutic or interpretive key to understanding Gen 2:21-24. First, Genesis:
Then the Lord God cast a deep sleep upon Adam: and when he was fast asleep, He took one of his ribs, and filled up flesh for it. And the Lord God built the rib which He took from Adam into a woman: and brought her to Adam. And Adam said: This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man. Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they shall be two in one flesh. Gen 2:21-24
And the interpretive key:
“For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery – I mean in reference to Christ and to the Church. Eph 5:31-32
The tradition is specifically this, that when Adam was put into that deep, mystic sleep, the Lord YHWH revealed to him the mystery of Christ and the Church and for this reason a man and woman espouse and form one flesh. In this context, when Adam awoke from that mystic sleep and was presented Eve, he had been shown the great mystery of Christ, the Divine Bridegroom who would be his descendant, and the Church, the Bride, who would be taken from the side of Christ, and he exclaimed prophetically: 1) of Christ that He would leave His heavenly Father and His mother, the heavenly Jerusalem, to become one with His Bride the Church, and 2) of the Church taken from the side of Christ, This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man. Adam saw in himself a prefigurement of the New Adam – as St. Paul points out, Adam, a figure of him who was to come (Rm 5:14) – and was stunned at the beauty and grace of Eve, a prefigurement of the Bride of Christ, the Church, the true Mother of all the living (Gn 3:20), taken from His side.
As a brief corollary which, God willing, I will be permitted to develop later, the whole “theology of the body” of Bl. John Paul II seems to be an implicit confirmation of the absolute primacy of Christ because in the beginning – before the fall – man and woman, husband and wife, reflected in their relationship this mystery of life and union between Christ and the Church. In other words, if St. Thomas Aquinas were alive today and acknowledged John Paul II’s theology of the body, he would have to add a sixth objection to his position and make some more fancy distinctions to accept the ordinary magisterium of Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body and maintain that indeed Adam and Eve reflected the great mystery of Christ and His Church before the fall, all the while asserting that had Adam not sinned, none of this was to be.
Aquinas’ response and the crazy logic (IMHO) that flows from it
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that this tradition is authentic (after all, St. Thomas did!). This means that Adam knew about the Incarnation of the Word before the fall. St. Thomas here is on the defensive because logically it would seem odd, if not outright impossible, that God would have revealed the Incarnation of the Word to Adam before he had sinned if Christ’s coming was solely to be a remedy of Adam’s transgression. The Angelical Doctor ignores the fact that this would be illogical and only responds that, as crazy as it may be, it was nonetheless possible that God could have willed the Incarnation as a remedy for sin and yet shown Adam the truth of the Incarnation before the fall:
Nothing prevents an effect from being revealed to one to whom the cause is not revealed. Hence, the mystery of Incarnation could be revealed to the first man without his being fore-conscious of his fall. For not everyone who knows the effect knows the cause.
I think we can all agree with Thomas that this is possible, namely, that God could reveal an effect without showing its cause. So, yes, the mystery of the Incarnation could be revealed to the first man without his being fore-conscious of his fall. But is it likely? If Christ is to come solely to remedy sin, then there would be not reason for God to reveal this to Adam before the fall. So it remains odd, to say the least.
The tradition: Adam knew about the Christ, the God-Man; he knew and was ecstatic about the union of Christ the Lord with His people, the Church; he knew that he and Eve were to marvellously reflect that great mystery of the union of Christ and the Church.
And yet, if we follow St. Thomas on the cause of the Incarnation, all of these beautiful things revealed to Adam before the fall were to be occasioned by sin!?! Let’s spell this out: According to the thomistic position, if Adam had not sinned, Christ, the God-Man would never have come; but God chose to reveal His coming to him without showing the cause? If there were no original sin, God would not have established the Church and espoused her (that’s us) to Himself in Christ Jesus; but He chose to reveal to Adam this great mystery of the mystical espousals of Christ and the Church without showing that this great mystery and intimacy presupposed Adam’s unfaithfulness and transgression? Since, according to this position, Christ and His Bride the Church are occasioned by and the remedy to Adam’s sin, this means that Adam and Eve gloriously prefigured the fruitful union of Christ and His Church because of sin; or expressed another way, without the disobedience of Adam’s sin, Adam and Eve would not have prefigured Christ and the Church. So, in the thomistic scheme of things, God starts with a plan A – an economy of grace without Christ, the gratia Dei – and before plan A is ruptured, He already reveals to Adam a better, more beautiful and glorious plan B which will be caused by Adam and Eve’s disobedience but which would not be realized if Adam obeyed God’s original plan, so that while they are still in the gratia Dei of plan A, God reveals to them the gratia Christi of plan B.
Folks, are you with me? Can you not see that if Adam foreknew of Christ before the fall this would clearly indicate (and perhaps even prove) that God created Adam and Eve with a view to Christ? That there was only one plan (no afterthoughts) with one economy of grace, namely the gratia Christi? In other words, when God created the world He had one plan, one mystery, one purpose, Jesus Christ. He willed Christ and the Church, then He began creating. Adam and Eve were created to reflect His glorious plan by their union and fruitfulness and He revealed this to them. Sin did not change this plan in its substance, but necessitated punishment and reconciliation. And actually, from this point of view, we can say that Adam and Eve (and the fallen angels) went against God’s plan to recapitulate all things in Christ.
As such, the Redemption from sin is caused by sin, but the Incarnation is not. Actually, the Redemption necessarily presupposes the Incarnation of the Word; whereas the Incarnation of the Word does not necessarily presuppose the Redemption. For Scotus and the Franciscan thesis, this tradition of Adam’s foreknowledge of the Incarnation fits in nicely with the doctrine of the unconditional, absolute predestination of Christ to grace and glory without any consideration of sin. In the scotistic framework, Adam and Eve were to reflect that great mystery of the union of Christ and the Church because, sin or no sin, they were created to prefigure Christ and His Bride. Actually, had they not sinned they would have reflected this great mystery even better.
Let me conclude this post with a little story I read in the National Catholic Register at the time of the beatification of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, OCD (aka Edith Stein) back in 1998. After translating several volumes of St. Thomas Aquinas into German, one of the nuns of her community in recreation asked St. Teresa Benedicta what she thought of St. Thomas’ writings. She responded more or less like this, “I agree with him in everything; but when it comes to the Incarnation, I follow Scotus.”
Amen. Viva Bl. John Duns Scotus!
fr. maximilian mary dean, F.I.