Fr. Alexander of Hales, O.F.M. – “Doctor Doctorum” (+1245) – on the appropriateness of the Incarnation, sin or no sin

The Franciscan Fr. Alexander of Hales (+1245) has been called the Doctor Doctorum because he was the Master and Professor of the likes of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure during his time at the University of Paris. He was also called the Doctor Irrefragibilis by Pope Alexander IV in the Bull De Fontibus Paradisi, as well as the Theologorum Monarcha. Obviously St. Thomas did not find him “irrefutable” since he uses Fr. Alexander’s argument of Good being diffusive of itself as a reason for the Incarnation even if there were no sin and then tries to refute it! (cf. St. Thomas’ Summa Theo. P.3, Q.I, art. I). At any rate, I have found three of Fr. Alexander’s arguments on this topic and translated them into English. They all come from his own Summa Theolog. P.III, Q.III, memb.XIII. Since I found these passages in secondary sources, I’m not sure which order they appear in his Summa; but each argument stands on its own, so the order does not matter. Here are some of his arguments (my translation):

Consequently, one asks about the appropriateness [convenientia] of the Incarnation if human nature had not fallen by sin, that is, whether there would be a reason and appropriateness for the Incarnation. And this is shown as follows:

Without conceding to prejudice, even if human nature had not fallen there would have been an appropriateness for the Incarnation; according to what blessed Bernard says about Jonas 1:12: ‘For my sake this great tempest is upon you’ – he asserts that this word is about the Son of God by saying that Lucifer foresaw the rational creature being assumed in the unity of the Person of the Son of God; he saw this and envied. Hence envy was the cause in the devil’s case and it moved him to tempt man whose felicity he envied so that by sin he might demerit the assumption of human nature and its unification with God. From this it is clear that Lucifer understood this union of the human nature [with God], and he thought to make it fall in order to impede this union; for this reason he procures the fall. This being the case, therefore, setting aside the fall it would be appropriate for the Incarnation to have taken place.

Dionysius said: Good is diffusive of itself; thus we say that in God the Father pours out His goodness in the Son by generation and from both of Them it is poured out in the Holy Spirit by procession; and this outpouring is in the Trinity and this is the greatest outpouring, the creature not existing. Therefore, if the highest Good – once a creature exists – did not pour Himself out into the creature, it would be possible to imagine a greater outpouring [i.e. ad extra as well as ad intra] than that of His own outpouring [i.e. ad intra only]. If He must be the greatest outpouring because He is the highest Good, it would be appropriate for Him to pour Himself out in the creature; but this outpouring could not be understood as the greatest unless He united Himself to the creature… Therefore, I assert that without the fall man would have been united to the highest Good.

Moreover, there is no beatitude except in God and the rational creature is fully capable of beatitude; but the rational creature which is man has a twofold cognition, that is, the sensible and intellectual, and he has pleasure in both of these. If, therefore, man is fully capable of beatitude according to the senses and the intellect, it would thus be proper that man be blessed in God in both of these. But God considered in His own Nature can not beatify the senses, but only the intellect, because the senses do not find blessing or delight except in the sensible alone or in that which is corporal. If, therefore, the whole man must be beatified in God, it would be appropriate that in God there be the corporal and sensible.

Abbot Rupert of Deutz, O.S.B. (+1129): Sin or no sin, God’s design was to send Christ as King and Head of the Elect

In Book 13 of his work De Gloria et Honore Filii Hominis sup. Matth. the great Abbot, Rupert of Deutz, establishes that all things were created for Christ and goes on to give an excellent argument demonstrating that the primary motive of the Incarnation was by no means the remedy of man’s fall. Amazingly, the 1531 printing of the entire book can be found online and I took the liberty to take snapshots of the two pertinent passages (to see the passages in context and even the entire book, just click on the image).

[To see Pope Benedict XVI’s comments on the Christology of Abbot Rupert of Deutz click here. I’ve also put the video of Pope Benedict XVI on Abbot Rupert at the bottom of this post.]

From the Abbot’s pen (my translation):

Now in regard to this one should recall the extremely important and memorable chapter of the Apostle which says: For it became Him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, who had brought many children into glory, to perfect the Author of their salvation, by His passion (Heb 2:10). In the first place it should be asked whether this Son of God, to whom this passage refers, would have become man or not even if sin – as a result of which we die – were not to have taken place. Now that He would not have become a mortal man, that He would not have assumed a mortal body, unless man had fallen into sin – as a result of which we all become mortal – no one has any doubt, that is, unless he be an unparalleled infidel. Let us ask whether this future event [the Incarnation] was necessary to the human race in a different way, namely, that the God man should become head and king of all, which He now is; and what would be the response to this? Without a doubt it is certain of all the Saints and Elect that they would all have been born, and they alone, if the fall into sin of the first transgression had not occurred. Hence Father Augustine in the fourteenth book [Ch.23] of The City of God : “But he who says that there should have been neither copulation nor generation but for sin, virtually says that man’s sin was necessary to complete the number of the saints. For if these two by not sinning should have continued to live alone, because, as is supposed, they could not have begotten children had they not sinned, then certainly sin was necessary in order that there might be not only two but many righteous men. And if this cannot be maintained without absurdity, we must rather believe that the number of the saints fit to complete this most blessed city would have been as great though no one had sinned, as it is now that the grace of God gathers its citizens out of the multitude of sinners, so long as the children of this world generate and are generated.”

Therefore, there is no doubt that all the Saints and Elect would have been born right up to the number predetermined by the purpose of God who before sin blessed thus: “Increase and multiply” (Gen 1:28), and it would be absurd to hold that, on account of this blessing, sin was necessary in order for them to be born. Similarly, it would be absurd to hold that He who is the Head and King of all of the elect, both angels and men, would not have been born unless there had been sin as the most necessary cause. He came in order to be a man among men taking His delight through charity with the children of men. He is, therefore, that Wisdom of God of whom the Lord says in this regard: “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways, before He made any thing from the beginning…” and concludes thus: “When He prepared the heavens, I was present… and my delights were to be with the children of men” (Prov 8).

The Doctrine of the Absolute Primacy of Christ Prior to Scotus (+1308)

The Absolute Primacy of Christ Prior to Bl. John Duns Scotus

If the doctrine of the absolute primacy of Christ, as maintained by Bl. John Duns Scotus and the Franciscan school, is true, then we would expect to find it in Scripture and Tradition, otherwise it would just be a scotistic novelty. St. Paul warns against innovative theological thinking: “For there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (2 Tm 4:3).

I have given many solid arguments for the absolute primacy from the Sacred Scripture. In the Old Testament there are especially those passages of Solomon which speak of created Wisdom being before God when He created the universe (for a comment on one of these passages, Prov 8:22ff., see here). In the New Testament the primary passages I have focused on are in the Gospel of St. John (see here) and St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians, Ephesians and Romans. These are but highlights, but the mystery of Christ, now revealed to us, can be seen throughout the entire Bible once we have the correct vantage point.

Fair enough, but what about Sacred Tradition? Oftentimes the impression one gets in reading about the absolute primacy of Christ is that Bl. John Duns Scotus made this up and the Franciscan school continues to support this novelty, but otherwise it is nowhere to be found in tradition. Not true. Before Scotus both St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure, familiar with the tradition, dealt with the primary motive of the Incarnation and shed light on both sides of the argument. While they sided with a relative primacy of Christ (viz. contingent upon Adam’s sin), there were also their two professors at the University of Paris, St. Albert the Great and Fr. Alexander of Hales who sided with an absolute primacy. Since all four of these great theologians, three of them Doctors of the Church, dealt explicitly with this topic, there can be no question of Scotus being an innovator.

In the East there was St. Maximus the Confessor (+662). Although I have quoted him here, the most thorough presentation I have seen is that of Archpriest G. Florovosky on “The Motive of the Incarnation.” He actually synthesizes the entire tradition on this subject.

In the West it is interesting to note three salient theologians – one in Germany, one in England, one in France – who prior to Scotus (+1308) maintained that Christ’s Incarnation was not the result of Adam’s sin, but decreed by God for its own sake. These three theologians were the Abbot Rupert of Deutz, O.S.B. (+1129) in Germany, Bishop Robert Grosseteste (+1253) in England who taught at the Franciscan school at Oxford starting in 1229, and Fr. Alexander Hales, O.F.M. (+1245) who taught at the University of Paris and was dubbed Doctor Doctorum because he taught the likes of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure. I will be posting some of the insights of these three theologians in future posts.

I would like to conclude by mentioning that three great 20th century scholars on the subject have shown that the absolute primacy of Christ, besides being rooted in the Scripture, is also based on the teaching of the Fathers. The first was Fr. Chrysostom Urrutibéhéty, O.F.M., who wrote a monumental volume in Latin documenting many key arguments for the primacy of Christ largely from the Church Fathers called Christus Alpha et Omega seu De Christi Universali Regno (Lille, France: R. Giard Libraire, 1910). The second work, published in Franciscan Studies vol.22 in 1942, was written by Fr. Dominic Unger, O.F.M.Cap. It was entitled Franciscan Christology: Absolute and Universal Primacy of Christ”. A scanned version of the entire work can be found here. He also wrote many other articles in Franciscan Studies illustrating the doctrine of the absolute primacy from the Fathers of the Church. The third work was put out by Fr. Juniper Carroll, O.F.M., and was entitled Why Jesus Christ?” (Manassas, VA: Trinity Communications, 1986). These three works lay out a generous bibliography of Fathers, Doctors, Saints and theologians throughout the centuries and thus clearly show that the doctrine of the absolute primacy of Christ, rather than being an innovation of Scotus, has been a constant part of the doctrinal heritage of the Church.

If Adam had not sinned, how would Christ have come?

St. Thomas Aquinas (see Summa Theo., P.III, Q.I, Art. 3), St. Bonaventure, Bl. John Duns Scotus, and many others asked the question, “If Adam had not sinned would God have become Incarnate?” -They did this NOT as a hypothetical question, but rather because the answer to the question dilineated what the primary motive of the Incarnation was in God’s plan.

If we follow the “yes” crowd who speak of an unconditional Incarnation: St. Maximus the Confessor, Abbott Rupert of Deutz, Bishop Robert Grosseteste, St. Albert the Great, Fr. Alexander Hales, Bl. John Duns Scotus, St. Bernardine of Sienna, St. John of the Cross, St. Francis de Sales, St. Lawrence of Brindisi, Pope Benedict XVI, etc., then one might ask how would Christ have come? In flesh capable of suffering and dying? Incapable of suffering and dying? In a glorious state?

While this is true speculation since we don’t have any immediate knowledge of exactly how the Incarnation would have taken place in a sinless world, nonetheless it seems clear enough that A) Our Lord would not have come in passible flesh since there would have been no need to redeem the human race by suffering and death, B) Our Lord would not, according to the common opinion of the scotistic school, have come in a glorious state because if He did, He would in no way have been able to merit grace and glory for Angels and mankind.

So the Word would have become flesh in an impassible state had Adam not sinned. Thus not in the likeness of sinful flesh, as St. Paul dubs it, nor in a glorified state incapable of merit.

In a recent correspondence I had with my great Professor in Dogmatic Theology, Fr. Peter M. Fehlner, F.I., on how Christ would have merited for us if He did not come in passible flesh, he wrote me that:

Adam and Eve were impassible before they sinned; so were the Angels before completing their trials. But no one thinks they were not in the state of viator and so incapable of meriting.

In addition Christ would have come in the state of viator, even if Adam had not sinned, because Adam still had to be saved (even if not redeemed) by the merits of Christ by way of an impassibilis sacrifice. But in this scenario human salvation is for the sake of the Incarnation, not vice versa, just as creation is for the sake of the Incarnation and not vice versa.

This is the position of the great Scotists especially of the 17th century… The state of Christ’s coming as man had Adam not sinned is always described as impassible, not glorious.

On the theme of salvation vs. redemption according to the mind of St. Irenaeus, one can read more here.