Christ centered vision of Creation: Fr. Roger Nesbitt

On this Holy Day of Christ’s birth and during this Holy Season let us gaze in wonder at the Christ Child, the center of the created universe and the source of our human dignity whereby we are elevated from the natural level to the supernatural level of being children of God.

The following is an excerpt from an excellent, well researched and thought out presentation in Faith Magazine by Fr. Roger Nesbitt. He shows from the witness of Scripture and Tradition that Scotus was right all along: “Man was made in view of Christ, not Christ in view of sin.”

The Council (Vatican II) called for a re-presentation of Christ to the world in a way which would draw on the whole wealth of Catholic tradition and shed the light of Christ on the best insights of the modern world. From all that we now know of the unity of the sciences and the dynamic unfolding of creation we are in an even better position to vindicate the Scotist line as the only worthy and coherent account of the Mystery of Christ. If we are to re-evangelise the modern world, and in the process answer the false or flawed theologies which have arisen to plague us in the last thirty years, we must be able to offer something deeper and more fulfilling, but completely true to the apostolic faith. The vision of Christ and His Church explored here is central to that task too.

 

We can show how God freely created us for fulfilment in the wisdom and joy which is His own Being. The Father thinks and wills us through the Incarnate Son for whose sake we are wanted and destined unto Himself in the love who is the Holy Spirit. This is the source of our dignity as human beings and the full meaning of being created “in the image of God”. We are built on Christ. Sin cannot be foundational to our humanity and most certainly not to His.

 

Man was made in view of Christ, not Christ in view of sin. His birth from Mary was not simply a means towards crucifixion. He did not merely borrow our humanity in order to die. He entered nature which had been prepared for Him since the beginning. He truly came into His own and in Him we see how God has loved us with the total fullness of Himself. But when He found us broken and alienated from eternal life He loved us also to the utmost of His psyche and the last drop of His blood on the cross.

This Christmastide I would invite you to take the time to read Fr. Nesbitt’s whole article: The Christ Centred Vision of Creation: The Witness of Scripture and Tradition. It is this perspective that enables us to see Christ as King and Redeemer without compromising neither His absolute kingship nor His merciful work of Redemption.

 

In Corde Matris,
fr maximilian mary dean, F.I.

God’s eternal plan of loving goodness: to reveal and give Himself to us in Christ

God’s eternal plan of loving goodness: to reveal and give Himself to us in Christ

Repeatedly the Church, based on Scripture and Tradition, teaches us that the Infant Jesus that lay in a manger was the the full revelation and full gift of God to man. This was God’s immutable decree: to manifest Himself and His love through the Incarnation of the Word and, in partaking of our human nature, to enable us to partake of His divine nature (cfr. 2 Pt 1:4; 2 Cor 8:9; Col 2:9-10; etc.). We are called to be sons in the Son, children of God in the Child of Bethlehem, and it is for this reason that “when the fullness of time came, God sent His Son, born of a Woman, born under the Law, that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Gal 4:4-5). The Incarnation, first and foremost, was willed to communicate and receive the greatest possible glory of God ad extra; but in this decree stands our filial adoption. Sin or no sin, we are predestined before the creation of the world to be His adopted sons in Christ Jesus (cfr. Eph 1:4). In fact, this is even the motive of Our Lord’s work of Redemption – He redeems us “that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Gal 4:5). So even apart from any consideraton of the fall the Church teaches that our filial adoption in Christ was central to God’s eternal design. We see this clearly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the very first paragraphs on the Creed, the Profession of our Faith:

CCC 50-52 Through an utterly free decision, God has revealed himself and given himself to man. This he does by revealing the mystery, his plan of loving goodness, formed from all eternity in Christ, for the benefit of all men. God has fully revealed this plan by sending us his beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. “It pleased God, in his goodness and wisdom, to reveal himself and to make known the mystery of his will. His will was that men should have access to the Father, through Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit, and thus become sharers in the divine nature” (Dei Verbum 2; cf. Eph 1:9; 2:18; 2 Pt 1:4). God, who “dwells in unapproachable light”, wants to communicate his own divine life to the men he freely created, in order to adopt them as his sons in his only-begotten Son. By revealing himself God wishes to make them capable of responding to him, and of knowing him and of loving him far beyond their own natural capacity.

Note that there is no mention here of Adam’s sin, of man’s need for Redemption, of the Cross. Why? Because the Incarnation is the centerpiece of God’s loving designs and this centerpiece is not brought about by sin – it stands on its own. For this reason St. Francis of Assisi “had a reverence for the birthday of the Lord greater than for any other solemnity of the Lord” (Compilatio Assisiensis). He called Christ’s Birthday “the feast of feasts, because on this day God, become a little Babe, hung from human breasts” (Celano, Memoriale 199, 1; Fontes 616 f).
A very blessed and merry Christmas to all of you!
fr. maximilian mary dean, F.I.

Advent – A Franciscan Perspective (conclusion)

The Mystery of the Incarnation as Revealed to Adam Before the Fall (conclusion)

We have seen from St. Jerome, St. Augustine, Tertullian, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure and implicitly St. John of the Cross how Adam knew of the mystery of the Incarnation before the fall. We now briefly turn to Bl. John Paul II who in his theology of the body focuses on the “beginning” and the “mystery” of God’s plan. He sees man as being elected in Christ “before sin.” I will not be able to examine his whole corpus on the theology of the body, but will simply draw out this point from one of his teachings on Ephesians 5, that of his Wednesday Audience of October 6, 1982. Here are some of the more pertinent passages:

On the contrary, before sin, man bore in his soul the fruit of eternal election in Christ, the eternal Son of the Father… Comparing the testimony of the “beginning” found in the first chapters of Genesis, with the testimony of the Letter to the Ephesians, one must deduce that the reality of man’s creation was already imbued by the perennial election of man in Christ. Man is called to sanctity through the grace of the adoption as sons. “He destined us to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (Eph 1:5-6).

These statements presume the doctrine of the absolute primacy of Christ. He is making a point about marriage as instituted by God in “the beginning” and as such Adam and Eve (and all marriages after) are to be a reflection of the love of Christ the Divine Bridegroom and His Bride, the Church. Further on, Bl. John Paul confirms yet again that man’s election in Christ was prior to the fall:

Man, male and female, shared from the beginning in this supernatural gift. This bounty was granted in consideration of him, who from eternity was beloved as Son, even though—according to the dimensions of time and history—it had preceded the Incarnation of this beloved Son and also the redemption which we have in him through his blood (cf. Eph 1:7). The redemption was to become the source of man’s supernatural endowment after sin and, in a certain sense, in spite of sin. This supernatural endowment, which took place before original sin, that is, the grace of justice and original innocence—an endowment which was the fruit of man’s election in Christ before the ages—was accomplished precisely in reference to him, to the beloved One, while anticipating chronologically his coming in the body. In the dimensions of the mystery of creation the election to the dignity of adopted sonship was proper only to the first Adam, that is, to the man created in the image and likeness of God, male and female.

From this it seems clear enough that Christ’s coming is not conditioned by sin. Man’s election to adoptive sonship – sin or no sin – is in Christ, the beloved Son of the Father, and this “from eternity” and “before the ages.” While Bl. John Paul II’s corpus has many other gems to offer, let these thoughts suffice for our purpose of saying that all of creation exists for Christ; that Adam and Eve were created with Christ in mind and chosen to reflect in their marriage the love of Christ for His Church and the Church for Christ. Related to our present reflection, Bl. John Paul II’s teaching implies, obviously, what we have stated earlier: namely, that Adam knew of his election in Christ and hence the mystery of the Incarnation prior to sin.

All of these confirmations (from Genesis to John Paul II) that Adam and Eve knew about the coming birth of Christ the King before original sin, that their election, therefore, was in Christ prior to any consideration of the fall, all of these make for a marvelous meditation in preparation for Christmas. Fr. Dominic Unger is right in saying that “it would seem most natural to argue that if Adam had knowledge of the Incarnation before his fall, as a very great good and as the means of his grace and glory, then Christ was not dependent on the fall…”

The result is that all of history up to the Holy Night was a prolonged Advent of divine preparations for the coming of the central mystery and masterpiece of all God’s creative handiwork. As I write the Marches of Italy are covered with snow on this vigil of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, but I’m dreaming less of a white Christmas than a Franciscan Christmas: a true celebration of the birth of Christ the King, the fulfillment of God’s “dream,” so to speak, for His Son and for us. My prayer is that all will one day recognize Christ’s absolute primacy.

May this Christmas be the holiest of your life so far! May the Immaculate Mother of God give you her love for the Infant Jesus and prepare your heart to be a fitting cradle for His Nativity.

In Corde Matris,

fr maximilian mary dean, F.I.

Advent – A Franciscan Perspective (continued again)

The Mystery of the Incarnation as Revealed to Adam Before the Fall (continued)

To this list of early Church writers (St. Jerome, St. Augustine, Tertullian) maintaining that Adam was shown by God the mystery of the Incarnation before the fall we add the two spiritual giants and Doctors of the Church of the 13th century: St. Thomas Aquinas who confirms it twice in his Summa Theologica and St. Bonaventure who mentions it in his Commentary on the Sentences (In Sent. IIId.1, art. 2, q.2).

Two other stellar contributers to the discussion, in an implicit way, are St. John of the Cross and Bl. Pope John Paul II.

St. John of the Cross – the Romances

St. John of the Cross gives us an affirmation of this in his usual poetic and mystical style. In his poetic works he wrote a series of “Romances” describing the inner life of the Trinity, creation and the Incarnation. Here are some of the pertinent verses:

“My Son, I wish to give you
a bride who will love you.
Because of you she will deserve
to share our company,

and eat at our table,
the same bread I eat,
that she may know the good
I have in such a Son;
and rejoice with me
in your grace and fullness.”

“I am very grateful,”
the Son answered;
“I will show my brightness
to the bride you give me,

so that by it she may see
how great my Father is,
and how I have received
my being from your being.

I will hold her in my arms
and she will burn with your love,
and with eternal delight
she will exalt your goodness.”

In Romance 7 on the Incarnation he continues:

“Now you see, Son, that your bride
was made in your image,
and so far as she is like you
she will suit you well;

yet she is different, in her flesh,
which your simple being does not have.
In perfect love
this law holds:
that the lover become
like the one he loves;
for the greater their likeness
the greater their delight.

Surely your bride’s delight
would greatly increase
were she to see you like her,
in her own flesh.”

“My will is yours,”
the Son replied…

In this beautiful series of poems we have a mystical, poetic expression of a Doctor of the Church on the inner life of the Trinity, the creation of the universe as willed by the Father to be the Bride of the Son (so all things exist for Christ prior to any consideration of sin) and so that He can share with creation the joy that He finds in His Only-Begotten, the Incarnation as the coming of the Bridegroom who ever wishes to become “like the one He loves” and to consummate the mystical espousals with His Bride. Obviously St. John does not neglect the Redemption nor downplay it, put simply squares it away in the framework of the immutable divine decree to so love the Son as to create the world (and more specifically the Church) as His Bride and to so love the world as to send His Only-Begotten Son so as to delight the beautiful Bride who, after the fall, is stained with sin and must be sanctified by the Son delivering Himself up for her, “cleansing her in the bath of water by means of the word; in order that He might present to Himself the Church in all her glory, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:26-27).

This dogmatic poetry of St. John of the Cross, while having unique nuances of its own, clearly syncs up with the Franciscan school. From this perspective the season of Advent in its fullest sense is a preparation of the Bride (the Church, and each soul) for the coming of the Divine Bridegroom. From the first moment of creation everything is directed towards Christ the King who will be born of a Virgin at Bethlehem; from the first matrimony of Adam and Eve every marriage is to be a reflection of “the great mystery” of the nuptials of Christ with His Bride the Church (Eph 5:21ff).

Bl. Pope John Paul II – the Theology of the Body

Ephesians 5:32 is interpreted as part of God’s eternal plan: the love and union of husband and wife are to reflect the love and union of Christ and the Church, and this before the fall…

http://www.ewtn.com/library/papaldoc/jp2tb96.htm

To be continued…

Advent – A Franciscan Perspective (continued)

The Mystery of the Incarnation as Revealed to Adam Before the Fall
Yes, before the fall God revealed to Adam the mystery of the Incarnation. I was actually introduced to this Tradition by St. Thomas Aquinas ( Summa II-II, Q.2, art.7 – “I answer that..”; Summa III, Q.1, art.3 – Objection 5). Note that he never debates the Tradition, but upholds it and seeks to defend his position while maintaining this Tradition [Thomists in general accept this Tradition: see Just Thomism for a brief discussion on the subject]. So for Aquinas this Tradition is to be defended at all costs. Ironic since today it is almost unknown, at least in the Catholic circles (academic and spiritual) that I have been acquainted with for the last 25 years.

So where does St. Thomas get this Tradition? [Quick answer… Scripture and the Church Fathers] And if God had revealed the mystery of the Incarnation to Adam before the fall what does this mean with regards to God’s plan for the coming of Christ? [Quick answer… God willed Christ to be Mediator of grace and glory sin or no sin]

Let me invoke the aid of Fr. Dominic Unger, OFM Cap., since he has already done this research for us. In his “Franciscan Christology” he draws out both of these points. He writes:

The fact that Christ was Mediator of Adam and Eve in the state of innocence is a proof of Christ’s universal mediatorship. The incarnation was revealed to Adam and Eve in the state of innocence. This we shall prove below from the fact that Adam prophesied that the union between Eve and himself was a type of the union between Christ and His Church. We have to show that the matrimonial union of Adam and Eve prefigured the union between Christ and His Church, and that Adam realized this and foreknew the incarnation already in the state of innocence.

But if the incarnation, if Christ, was revealed to Adam in the state of innocence, it was with the purpose that Adam had to believe in Christ as his Mediator of grace and glory. Adam had to believe in Christ then already as his necessary Mediator. But if Christ was Mediator already in the state of innocence, then we can no longer speak of His coming merely to redeem. He was predestined absolutely as Mediator from the beginning. And since the greater is not willed primarily for the less, Christ was willed primarily for His own glory. All authors will readily admit that Christ was willed primarily for Himself if we can prove that His existence does not depend on sin.

Note that we can separate this argument from the argument of mediatorship, and show that by the very fact that God revealed Christ to Adam in the state of innocence, God intended Christ to exist absolutely and independently of sin, or else this revelation was a pure fiction on God’s part, a thing that is below the dignity of God and incompatible with His holiness…

So it is really the major of the argument that must be proved from Tradition. We must prove that Adam really had foreknowledge of the incarnation in the state of innocence.”

That’s the lay of the land: If God revealed the mystery of Christ to Adam in the state of innocence, then Christ’s predestination is absolute and does not depend on sin; then Christ’s coming at Bethlehem is the center of God’s creative plan, center of the universe. The fact that God adds mercy after the fall to His original, immutable plan of love in the Baby Jesus makes His birth all the more important and beautiful. Jesus comes first as “Emmanuel,” as God-with-us; because of sin and our need for Redemption He comes also to suffer the bitter Passion, die on the ignominious Cross, and rise victorious from the tomb. The Infant cradled in the Virgin’s arms on the Holy Night of Christmas is Christ, our King and Redeemer. Advent is rightly a preparation for the coming of the King into the world and into our lives.

Now let us continue Fr. Dominic Unger’s insights.

After God created Eve from the side of Adam, Adam said:
This now is bone of my bone 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 2:23-24).

Centuries later the great Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians exhorting the husbands to love their wives. He appeals to the love of Christ for His Church and then quotes verse 24 of Genesis. And he adds: “This is a great mystery – I mean in reference to Christ and the Church” (5:32). Ever since St. Paul wrote that, the writers of the Church have taken the words of Genesis to be a prophecy of the union of Christ and His Church, and they have held that Adam foreknew the incarnation which God revealed to him at that time. Let us listen to two Doctors of the Church, two eminent Scripture scholars. First, St. Jerome:

For this reason a man shall leave… in one flesh (Gn 2:24) –  The first man and first prophet Adam prophesized this of Christ and the Church: that our Lord and Savior would leave God His Father and the heavenly Jerusalem His mother, and come to earth for the sake of His Body the Church, and from His side to make her, and for her sake the Word was made flesh. (In Eph., lib. 3 – Pat. lat., vol. 26, col. 535C)


Next St. Augustine:

That ecstasy which the Lord cast into Adam, that he might sleep a deep sleep, is correctly understood to have been case for this, that through such ecstasy his mind might be participant of the angelic court, and entering the sanctuary of God understand the last things.  Awaking then as it were full of prophecy, when he should see brought to him the woman from his rib, he would continually praise that great Sacrament which the Apostle commends: “Behold now…” (Gn 2:24; Eph 5:32).

Although Scripture testifies these words were spoken by the first man, in the Gospel the Lord says God spoke them.  For he says: “Do you not read that he made man from the beginning, he made him male and female?  And he said: For this reason…” (Mt 19: 4-5)  –  that thereby we might understand in view of the ecstasy which preceded in Adam how he could have spoken divinely as a prophet. (De Genesi ad litteram, lib. 9, c. 19, n. 36 – Pat. lat., vol. 34, col. 404)


It would seem most natural to argue that if Adam had knowledge of the incarnation before his fall, as a very great good and as the means of his grace and glory, then Christ was not dependent on the fall…

Agreed. Fr. Dominic’s point seems abundantly clear and for this reason it puts St. Thomas Aquinas on the defensive regarding his position of a relative primacy of Christ . There is another early Church writer who confirms this interpretation and it is worthy of mention. Tertullian writes:

What had he [Adam] that was spiritual? Is it because he prophetically declared the great mystery of Christ and the church?  (Eph 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. (Gn 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)

To be continued…

 

Advent – A Franciscan Perspective

Advent – A Franciscan Perspective

The great Abbot Columba Marmion, O.S.B. (beatified in the year 2000) in his classic book Christ in His Mysteries, beautifully describes Advent, the time which preceeds Christ’s Nativity, as the “Divine Preparation.” While it is a liturgical season which speaks of what is “to come” – ad-venire, hence the final coming of Christ, it is also a remembering (or better, a reliving) of that longing of the people of God for the first coming of Christ so as to more adequately appraise and celebrate Christmas.

Bl. Marmion writes:

All God’s blessings that come down upon us have their source in the election that He made of our souls, throughout eternity, to make them “holy and unspotted in His sight” (Eph 1:4). In this divine decree so full of love is contained our adoptive predestination as children of God and all the favours thereto attached.

St. Paul says that it was through the grace of Jesus Christ, sent by God in the fulness of time, that this adoption was granted to us: At ubi venit plenitudo temporis, misit Deus Filium suum factum ex muliere… ut adoptionem filiorum reciperimus (Gal 4:4-5)

In these lines we clearly see that our predestination is bound up in the predestination of Christ’s Sacred Humanity to grace and glory; we see that “all God’s blessings” (and not just the Redemption) “have their source in the election He made of our souls, throughout eternity.” When reading this those who hold the absolute primacy of Christ, namely that Christ’s coming was willed by God absolutely, quite apart from any consideration of sin, nod their heads in agreement. For St. Francis and the Franciscan school Christmas is the “Feast of feasts” and has a twofold beauty: the coming of Christ the King, head of the Church and the coming of our Redeemer.

Bl. Marmion, as will be seen, is a strict thomist when it comes to the Incarnation, viz. the sole reason for the Incarnation is our Redemption from sin. And for this reason the celebration of Christmas is subordinated to the Passion and lacks that double aspect of joy which is so evident to the scotistic doctrine that Christ’s coming is not occasioned by sin, that His holy birth in the stable of Bethlehem is not just a remedy for man’s wickedness, but is the summum opus Dei, the greatest of God’s works.

Abbot Marmion continues:

God’s eternal design of sending His own Son into the world […] is the masterpiece of His wisdom and love.

This is what the Franciscan position would state. That is, the Masterpiece of God’s wisdom and love was the “sending of His own Son into the world,” namely the Incarnation. Because of sin He comes also as Redeemer and this Masterpiece of His wisdom and love comes under the limelight of mercy and redemption; but this Masterpiece was not conditioned by sin, rather it was willed quite apart from any consideration of sin. As the Church will sing on Dec. 17th:

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodidisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviter disponensque omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: come, and teach us the way of prudence.

Yes, Divine Wisdom coming forth from God orders and disposes all things mightily and sweetly. This is what Bl. John Dun Scotus terms ordinatissime volens – most ordered willing. First, God wills the Incarnation of Christ His Masterpiece as the King of the universe, then He creates all things in Him and for Him. Because of man’s sin, we see that God already has the perfect remedy: His Son come in the flesh will come not only as King, but as Redeemer. Hence the coming of Our Lord has this twofold beauty: first, He comes as King of creation – the head of the Church and the One who will recapitulate all things in Himself for the glory of God, the One who will give us the grace of divine adoption as children of God [see this graph]; second, because of sin He comes as Redeemer to seek and save what was lost and reconcile it with the Father through the priestly offering of His Precious Blood on the altar of the Cross [see this second graph].

In the last quote I used of Abbot Marmion I dropped out some of Marmion’s words to draw out the fuller, Franciscan perspective of Christ’s coming. Those who embrace the thomistic position regarding the Incarnation, namely ‘no sin, no Incarnation,’ see the coming of Messias in a much narrower light – even if that light is divine in its brilliance and beauty. Marmion’s full quote reads:

God’s eternal design of sending His own Son into the world to redeem the human race, broken and bruised by sin, and of restoring to it the children’s inheritance and heavenly beatitude, this is the masterpiece of His wisdom and love. The views of God are not our views; all His thoughts are higher than ours as the heavens are higher than the earth; but it is especially in the work of the Incarnation and Redemption that the sublimity and greatness of the Divine ways shine forth. This work is so high, so closely united to the very life of the Most Holy Trinity, that it remained throughout long ages hidden in the depths of the divine secrets: Sacramentum absconditum a saeculis in Deo (Eph 3:9).

I have discussed this “mystery” at length elsewhere, but here I would like to draw out a point that underscores that the Messias which Adam and Eve, which all of their children and creation itself, and which, in a particular way, the chosen people through the Patriarchs and Prophets were awaiting was not coming first and foremost as Redeemer, but as King. He is the Redeemer King – and His Kingship does not depend on man’s need for Redemption. Our first parents knew of the coming of Christ; so in this sense His coming was not a ‘secret.’ But what is often overlooked is that, according to Tradition, Adam knew of the coming of Christ before the fall. We are familiar with Adam’s foreknowledge of the “Woman” and “her Seed” (Gn 3:15) coming to crush the head of the serpent; but it would seem that very few are acquainted with Adam’s foreknowledge of the Christ before the promise of the Redemption through the Woman and her Offspring. The standard approach, which Marmion articulates so elequently, is this:

You know that it was just after the sin of our first parents, in the very cradle of the already rebellious human race, that God began to reveal the mystery of the Incarnation. Adam and Eve, prostrate before the Creator, in the shame and despair of their fall, dare not raise their eyes to heaven. And behold, even before pronouncing the sentence of their banishment from the terrestrial paradise, God speaks to them the first words of forgiveness and hope… This is what is called the “Protogospel,” the first word of salvation. It is the first promise of redemption, the dawn of divine mercy.

The Mystery of the Incarnation as Revealed to Adam Before the Fall

Yes, before the fall God revealed to Adam the mystery of the Incarnation. I was actually introduced to this Tradition by St. Thomas Aquinas ( Summa II-II, Q.2, art.7 – “I answer that..”; Summa III, Q.1, art.3 – Objection 5). Note that he never debates the Tradition, but upholds it and seeks to defend his position while maintaining this Tradition…

continued…

Christ, the Beginning of Creation – Part VII

Christ, the Beginning of Creation – Part VII

by Fr. Maximilian M. Dean, F.I.

[To see the full article on one page visit Appendix: Christ the Beginning]

Christ “in the beginning… I was set up… before the earth was made” (Prov 8,22-23)

Solomon wrote: “The Lord possessed me, the beginning [Gk: εχτισε με ] of his ways, before he made any thing from the beginning. I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made. The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived… before the hills I was brought forth: When he prepared the heavens, I was present… when he balanced the foundations of the earth; I was with him forming all things: and was delighted every day, playing before him at all times; Playing in the world: and my delights were to be with the children of men… (Prov 8:22-9:6).

The Holy Fathers (Ss. Augustine and Cyril included) are unanimous in interpreting this splendid passage as referring to Christ.[1] Let us cite other Doctors of the Church as a solid confirmation:

– St. Ambrose: “Do not marvel if it is said that before the ages He [the Word] was set up, where you read that He was predestined before time. That this expression, ‘The Lord possessed me,’ might be referring to the Incarnation is evident from the following…”[2]

– St. Jerome: “And since… in Proverbs Salomon speaks of Wisdom as the created beginning of the ways of God… we freely proclaim that there is no danger in maintaining that Wisdom was created…; the words ‘The Lord possessed me…’ are referring to the mystery of the Incarnation, not to the nature of God.”[3]

– St. Anselm: “ ‘ab initio ante saecula creata sum.’ From the beginning of the world and before the ages Wisdom was created in being predestined according to His humanity.”[4]

Having established this we can confirm that the Wisdom of God, which is the God-Man Jesus Christ,[5] was set up from the beginning [Latin: a principio ab aeterno ordita sum] when God the Creator chose, in His love, to communicate Himself ad extra, that is, when His love chose to create the universe with the Incarnation as the heart and masterpiece.[6]

Jesus, the Word Incarnate, was present at the center of the divine decree when the Omnipotent God prepared the heavens.

            The Word made flesh was with Him forming all things because everything was created in Christ, by means of Christ and in view of Christ. Jesus, therefore, even if He came in these “last times” (Heb 1:2; cfr. 1 Pt 1:20) according to the execution of the divine decree, was there in the divine intention as Design and Model of all creation in the beginning.

Yes, when God created He had Jesus – the Beginning of creation (cfr. Apoc 3:14) – before Him, Jesus playing before him at all times. When He put His plan into action and spoke those creative word: “Let there be…,” Christ was rejoicing, so to speak, in every instant, in each of the six days of creation. The entire universe, in fact, was created for Him, and for no merit of His own, but solely through the pure and simple generosity of the Creator who freely chose and predestined Christ’s Sacred Humanity to the maximum glory through the hypostatic union. Jesus was playing in the world and His delights were to be with the children of men, rejoicing at having been chosen to be Emmanuel, the Son of the Virgin Mary, “the firstborn among many brethren” (Rm 8:29) so as to perfectly glorify God upon this earth (cfr. Jn 17:4).

            If this interpretation of Proverbs is true, as the Fathers and Doctors assert, then there is no problem in interpreting the first verses of John’s Gospel in this fashion: the Word is Christ, that is, the Word Incarnate which is the created Wisdom spoken

To be continued…


[1] Cfr. Fr. Chrysostomus Urrutibéhéty, Christus Alpha et Omega, Lille R. Giard (1910), cap. V, pp.81-105; cfr. also Fr. Ruggero Rosini, op. cit., pp.111-115, 129.

[2] St. Ambrose, De Fide, L.I, c.15 (PL 16, 550).

[3] St. Jerome, In Epist. ad Eph., L.I, c.II (PL 26, 471).

[4] St. Anselm, Homiliae et Exhort., Hom. I (PL 158, 587).

[5] Objections are frequently made to the use of the Wisdom literature in sustaining that Christ was the beginning and that He had been predestined in an absolute manner from the beginning (cfr. Scotus, Ordinatio, III, d.7, q.3; Opus Parisiense, III, d.7, q.4; Lectura Completa, III, d.7, q.3; Reportatio Barcinonensis, II, d.7, q.3). But saying that Christ is that created Wisdom which was before God in creating the world does not exclude a reference to the divine Wisdom in itself. Actually it follows from the Christology of the Subtle Doctor (cfr. Scotus, Ordinatio III, d.2, q.2) that it is not necessary to say either created Wisdom or divine Wisdom, but by virtue of the hypostatic union one can say created and divine Wisdom both in the union of the Person. In this way there is no danger of falling into the error of Arius who mistakenly taught that Christ was the perfect Son in so far as a creature, but always and only a mere creature and not God. Likewise one avoids the error of Nestorius who taught that Christ was perfect as a human person perfectly united to the divine Person and hence in Christ there were two persons and not two natures united in one Person. No, the Word Incarnate was before God as created Wisdom, but was also God Himself as divine Wisdom – Christ, true God and true Man, in the beginning before God.

[6] Cfr. St. Francis de Sales, Treatise on the Love of God, II, IV.

Christ, the Beginning of Creation – Part VI

Christ, the Beginning of Creation – Part VI

by Fr. Maximilian M. Dean, F.I.

[To see the full article on one page visit Appendix: Christ the Beginning]

“Tu in principio, Domine, terram fundasti” (Heb 1:10)

            In the Epistle to the Hebrews St. Paul speaks splendidly about Christ, about Him who came to us “in these last days” and who “effected man’s purgation from sin.” He, the Word made flesh, is “the brightness of His [God’s] glory and the image of His Substance” and He upholds “all things by the word of His power (1:1-3). The Apostle tells us that God said many stupendous things to Christ (cfr. v.5), among which there is this expression which is most pertinent to our present discussion: “ ‘Thou in the beginning, O Lord, didst found the earth’” (v.10; Ps 101:26). What we have here is God Himself calling Christ “the beginning” [Latin: in principio; Greek: σὺ κατ’ ἀρχάς].

The Scripture, therefore, repeatedly uses the expression in the beginning in reference to Christ and creation. When God, in His free love, willed to created, He willed the Christ – the Incarnate Word. His primary intention in creating was the Incarnation. Christ is the Beginning; Christ is the first instant of the created universe.[1] And when God set His plan in motion He did so always with Christ in mind as the Beginning of all creation.

We do well do explain here that one can call Christ “the Beginning” of creation in two ways: first, as the temporal beginning (before Him there was no time); second, as the principal or fontal origin of all things (“without Him nothing was made that has been made” Jn 1:3).

  The Beginning without a beginning:

– The first “moment” of creation begins when God wills to create. And behold Christ was always the first creature willed by God, “the Firstborn of every creature,” “the beginning… that in all things He may have the first place” (Col 1:15-18); He was always the first to be predestined“foreknown, indeed, before the foundation of the world” (1 Pt 1:20) and in whom all of the elect have been predestined (cfr. Eph 1:3ff). As we shall see later on, Christ says: “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways, before He made any thing from the beginning. I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made…” (Prov 8:22-23; cfr. Eccl 1:4). Before Christ there was no time, there were no succession of moments; there was only the eternal God. But when God created, Christ was in His mind as the Beginning.

The Beginning in the sense of the Principal or Fountain of all creation[2]

Exemplary cause because everything was created “unto Him,” with Him in mind as the sublime Model of all of creation, as that perfect creature in so far as He was united substantially to the Divinity in the second Person of the Most Holy Trinity who assumed flesh and is thus the One who will recapitulate all things in Himself (cfr. Col 1:20).

Efficient cause because by the will of God all creatures have been created through Him (cfr. Heb 1:2; Col 1:15,17) and, as the Evangelist says, “All things were made through Him, and without Him was made nothing that has been made” (Jn 1:3).

Final cause because we exist for Christ – and not Him for us – as the Apostle states: “All are yours, and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor 3:23); and in the same Epistle: “for us there is only… one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through Him” (1 Cor 8:6). Even if God alone is our final cause, the end for which we exist, we cannot obtain this end except through the mediation of the God-Man who is, consequently, our secondary – but necessary – final cause according to the divine decree: “nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and him to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him” (Mt 11:27) because one alone is the “Mediator between God and men, Himself man, Christ Jesus” (1 Tm 2:5). Moreover, Jesus Himself teaches us: I alone am “the way… No one comes to the Father but through Me” (Jn 14:6).

At any rate, the decree of the Incarnation and of Christ’s mediation was immutable from the outset. Therefore, the heavens and the earth shall pass away; Christ, on the other hand, will remain “the same” (Heb 1:12); “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and today, yes, and forever” (Heb 13:8). Yesterday… because He is that true God and true Man which was the Beginning of God’s creative plan, before the creation of the world and before the predestination of the elect in Him. Today… because He came in these last times, in these days, “today,” in the virginal womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the fulfillment and revelation of the mystery of God hidden in ages past but now revealed in Christ. Forever… because He is the eternal Priest who lives forever to make intercession “before the face of God on our behalf” (Heb 9:24) and who is always with His Church “even unto the consummation of the world” (Mt 28:20).

To be continued…


[1] Scotus repeatedly speaks of priority (without the succession of moments in time) in God, and after God Himself, the first One willed ad extra was Christ: “Deus est ordinatissime volens: ergo sic vult. Primo ergo vult se; et post se immediate, quantum ad extrinseca, est anima Christi; ergo primum post velle intrinseca, voluit gloriam istam Christo; ergo ante quodcumque meritum at ante quodcumque demeritum praevidit Christum sibi esse uniendum in unitate suppositi” (Opus Parisiense, L. III, d. 7, q. 4).

[2] Cfr. Fr. Ruggero Rosini, op. cit., Ch. IV “Creati in Cristo” pp. 108-149; in English one can see Fr. Maximilian Dean’s A Primer on the Absolute Primacy of Christ, pp. 79-82 or the section dedicated to this on the website; Fr. Dominic Unger, OFM Cap., Franciscan Christology: Absolute and Universal Primacy of Christ, in FS vol.22 (N.S. 2) no.4 (1942) 441-453; e Fr. Meilach, The Primacy of Christ in Doctrine and Life, (Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago, 1964) 49-53.

Christ, the Beginning of Creation – Part V

Christ, the Beginning of Creation – Part V

by Fr. Maximilian M. Dean, F.I.

[To see the full article on one page visit Appendix: Christ the Beginning]

The Incarnate Word “ab initio” (1 Jn 1:1-3)

Another useful passage for our discussion, brilliant as it is brief, comes from the first Epistle of St. John. In the “Prologue,” we could say, of his first Epistle there is a strong and clear confirmation of what we have been saying. Here are his words:

“I write of what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked upon and our hands have handled: of the Word of Life. And the Life was made known and we have seen, and now testify and announce to you, the Life Eternal which was with the Father and has appeared to us. What we have seen and have heard we announce to you, in order that you also may have fellowship with us, and that our fellowship may be with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”

Note well his message: The Evangelist is speaking of the Word of Life who was “from the beginning” [Latin: ab initio; Greek: ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς] and “was with the Father” [apud Patrem]. These expressions are in strict parallel with the Prologue of his Gospel. Yet here it is self-evident that the Word of which he is speaking, that Word which was from the beginning and was before the Father, is Incarnate! This Word has been “heard” with the ears, “seen” with the eyes, and “handled/touched” with the hands. Obviously he is not speaking of the Word in Himself in so far as He is God, as considered apart from the Incarnation in His Divinity. No, he is clearly speaking to us of the Word which “has appeared” and is visible, the Word Incarnate, namely Jesus Christ. Therefore, if John speaks to us of Christ, the Son of man, as the Word “from the beginning” and as “with/before the Father” in his first Epistle, this means that this should be the authentic interpretation of the Prologue of his Gospel where he speaks to us precisely of the Word “in the beginning” who was “with God” [apud Deum].

To be continued…

Christ, the Beginning of Creation – Part IV

Christ, the Beginning of Creation – Part IV

by Fr. Maximilian M. Dean, F.I.

[To see the full article on one page visit Appendix: Christ the Beginning]

“Principium, qui et loquor vobis!” (Jn 8:25)

The Evangelist recounts that Jesus, after having forgiven the woman caught in adultery, gave witness to Himself. He even says to them: “if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sin” (Jn 8:24 – the Latin is stronger: si enim non credideritis quia ego sum moriemini in peccato vestro – literally, if you do not believe that I AM you will die in your sin). At this the Pharisees counter by asking: “Who art Thou?” And He responds to them: [I AM…] “The beginning, who also speak unto you” (This is the translation of the Douay-Rheims Bible which most accurately reflects the Greek:  τὴν ἀρχὴν ὅ τι καὶ λαλῶ ὑμῖν  and Latin: Principium, qui et loquor vobis). His response is a profound and mysterious revelation of Himself which has no equal.

Augustine, when He comments on this, says: “They respond… ‘Who art Thou?’ By saying to us: ‘if you do not believe that I AM,’ you have not added who you are. You have to tell us who You are if you want us to believe… ‘I AM,’ He says, ‘The Beginning, who also speak unto you.’ Believe that I am the Beginning, if you do not want to die in your sins.”[1] The Seraphic Doctor states: “Before all else He is the Creator, hence Jesus calls Himself: the Beginning, that is, I am the creative Principal/Beginning; from Him all things have received their existence, as is said in the first Chapter [of John’s Gospel]: ‘In the beginning was the Word,’ from which follows: ‘All things were made through Him’ (1:1,3).”[2]

Therefore, it is Jesus Himself who maintains that He is the creative Beginning/Principal [Latin: Principium – Greek: tèn archèn – τὴν ἀρχὴν]. With this self revelation Christ has consigned to us the key to grasping the most authentic and profound meaning of the Prologue: I, the Word made flesh who am speaking with you, am the Beginning in which everything was created.

Augustine confirms this: “The world was created before man, and therefore man is part of the world. But Christ existed before and the world came after Him. Christ was before the world, but before Christ nothing existed because ‘in the beginning was the Word’; and ‘All things were made through Him’ (Jn 1:1,3).”[3]

For the Jews Jesus was demanding a great act of faith because He was not speaking to them abstractly, or in a metaphysical mode, but rather He was linking Himself concretely with the first words of the Hebrew Scriptures which begins with: בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָֽרֶץ – “In the beginning God created” (Gen 1:1). That Jesus was referring to the first words of Genesis can also be solidly established from other Gospel passages where, for example, He says: “You search the Scriptures, because in them you think that you have life everlasting. And it is they that bear witness to Me… For if you believed Moses you would believe in Me also, for he wrote of Me” (Jn 5:39,46). And along the road to Emmaus St. Luke recounts: “And beginning then with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things referring to Himself” (Lk 24:27).

The words of Messiah – the Christ – narrated in Psalm 39 are worthy of our reflection. The Messiah says: “In capite libri scriptum est di Me,” that is, “In the head of the book it is written of Me” (v.8). The “head of the book” means the beginning of the Torah or Pentateuch where we read, “In the beginning God created.” From this Psalm and its interpretation in the Scripture itself (cfr. Heb 1:5-10),[4] Christ tells us that the first lines of Genesis spoke of Him.[5]

To be continued…


[1] Augustine, work cited., 38, n.11 (p.646-647); cfr. Also De civitate Dei, XI, n.32 (PL 41, 345).

[2] Bonaventure, work cited, I, VIII, n.35 (p.401).

[3] Augustine, work cited, 38, n.4 (p.639).

[4] That these are the words of Christ there can be no doubt as the Holy Spirit Himself confirms this in the Letter to the Hebrews 10:5-10.

[5] Cfr. Jerome (pseudo), Brevarium in Psalmos, 39 (PL 26, 1002): Caput libri V. T. tale sumit exordium ‘In principio fecit…’ (Gn 1,1), id est in Christo Domino”.