Like all of the Religious Orders you will find Carmelites on both sides of the fence when it comes to the absolute vs. relative primacy of Christ. I know that in Divine Intimacy Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene, O.C.D., clearly stands with the thomistic school – no sin, no Incarnation. But there are some noteworthy voices from the Carmelite Order who would beg to differ.
St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi says: “If Adam had not sinned, the Word would have become incarnate just the same.”[Oeuvres…, p.3, c.3 (trans. from the Italian by A. Bruniaux; Paris, 1873) II, 35]. Leave it to a Mystic to state it so succinctly 🙂
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, O.C.D., although not explicit on this point, nonetheless shares the same feast day as Bl. John Duns Scotus (November 8th) and repeatedly reflects on her eternal predestination in Christ according to St. Paul’s stupendous canticle in Eph. 1:3-10 (you can see my commentary on this passage here). She underscores the fact that we must always live in His presence and that we must do this in Love, namely in Him who is Love. She says that this call “in Him” is the “divine and eternal unchanging plan” (Last Retreat – 2nd day) – a turn of phrase which would indicate that our predestination in Christ is not conditioned, but divine, eternal and immutable simply because it is His plan from the beginning.
My all time favorite is the line of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, O.C.D. (a.k.a. Edith Stein). I read this in the National Catholic Register back in 1998 at the time of her beatification. After translating several volumes of St. Thomas Aquinas into German, one of the nuns of her community asked the Saint during recreation 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.”
St. John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church, gives us a unique view into the primary motive of the Incarnation in his usual poetic and mystical style. 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 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).
A Jewish father with his son at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem
It was 1992. I found myself in a suffocating, noisy crowd of Hasidic Jews with no seats available. I was exhausted. El Al security was ruthless – three interrogations with trick questions; then a body search from head to toe; then meticulously poring over every millimeter of my baggage. Standard fare for a lone traveler on El Al who doesn’t speak Hebrew and, I suppose, for one wearing a Franciscan habit. Having made it through security with only 10 minutes before boarding, I decided to sit on the floor against the wall to recuperate and pray for a few minutes. My flight was heading to the Holy Land out of JFK airport. As I sat there marveling at the whole scene, something very beautiful happened… A little Jewish boy – a chip off the old block with his little suit, hat and even phylacteries – tugged on his father’s suit coat and his words penetrated deep into my heart: “Abba, Abba…” he said. “Daddy, Daddy…” Abba is the word that the little Hebrew children use to this day for “daddy.” That moment is engraved in my heart. It spoke to me about what my relationship with God is supposed to look like, even sound like.
That same year a startling, unprecedented event took place. Olympic runner Derek Redmond fell injured during the 400 meter run. After a moment of agony he got up and began hobbling towards the distant finish line. Out of nowhere a man rushed to his side to help him finish the race. But the man that came to his side wasn’t just any man, it was his father; he had run through the stands, jumped into the field and passed his way through the security guards to help his son finish the race. It is perhaps one of the most stirring father-son moments captured on film and a parable of what God the Father wants to do for us. Please take 4 minutes to watch the video below, then continue reading.
[Due to Olympic copyrights the video can only be watched on Youtube HERE]
The father-son crisis
We live in an age when, more than ever, sons have been let down, wounded or even abandoned by their fathers. According to the U.S. Census 43% of children in the United States live without their father and the consequences, even just on a sociological level, are devastating. The following story [cited from this blog post] is very indicative:
A few years ago, author Gordon Dalbey led one of our men’s retreats and he told us a story about a Catholic nun who worked in a men’s prison. One day, she said, a prisoner asked her to buy him a Mother’s Day card for his mother.
She did, and the word got out to other prisoners, and pretty soon this nun was deluged with requests, so she put in a call to Hallmark Cards, who donated to the prison several large boxes of Mother’s Day cards. The warden arranged for each inmate to draw a number, and they lined up through the cellblocks to get their cards.
Weeks later, the nun was looking ahead on her calendar, and decided to call Hallmark again and ask for Father’s Day cards, in order to avoid another rush. As Father’s Day approached, the warden announced free cards were again available at the chapel. To the nun’s surprise, not a single prisoner ever asked her for a Father’s Day card.
Coincidence? Not by a long shot. When children are not loved, protected and guided well by their fathers they receive a fatal blow to their hearts [John Eldredge calls this “the wound” and this 40 minute video with him and his “Band of Brothers” on their wound is both heart-wrenching and inspiring]. And, let’s face it, even if our fathers were good fathers, saintly fathers, they were nonetheless imperfect fathers. It is no secret that each and every one of our fathers is a son of Adam, viz. born with a fallen human nature. Fathers are so important, but even the best of them falls short – oftentimes because their fathers fell short. Where does that leave us? Is there any hope?
Ευαγγελιον – Good News: we are children of God our heavenly Father – filii in Filio – sons in the Son. Our earthly fathers, while they were meant to have a key role in initiating us into life and into our relationship with God, they are not the ultimate reason we exist nor should their imperfections, failures or absence stop us from living the life that God has given to us in Christ Jesus and living this to the full. And what is that supernatural life found in souls in sanctifying grace if not life as children of God? St. John the Beloved Apostle is at pains to communicate this to us: “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are… Beloved, now we are the children of God…” (1 Jn 3:1,2). And in the Prologue to his Gospel he tells us two striking truths, that Christ came to reveal to us the Father: “No one has at any time seen God. The Only-Begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has revealed Him” (Jn 1:18), and that He came to make us children of the Father: “But to as many as received Him He gave the power of becoming sons of God” (Jn 1:12).
It is noteworthy that In the Gospel of St. Luke the first and last words of Christ speak of His Father. When St. Joseph and the Virgin Mary found Jesus in the Temple we hear the first recorded words roll off our Savior’s lips: “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Lk 2:49). At the end of His life, hanging on the Cross and gasping for air as His Precious Blood flowed to the ground in atonement for our sins, “Jesus cried out with a loud voice and said, ‘Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.’ And having said this, He expired” (Lk 23:46). The entire life of Jesus Christ on earth can be summed up in this: a life of communion with the Father. Our Lord’s life, from beginning to end, was characterized by His love for the Father who sent Him.
We must never, ever lose sight of the fact that God Himself is CHARITY (1 Jn 4:8,16). Everything He does is an act of divine love, and this means that He “loved” us into existence; He freely chose to include us in a gripping story of love and war – God the Father’s immense love for us in Christ and the raging battle against our souls by His infernal enemy the devil, who, “like a roaring lion, goes about seeking someone to devour” (1 Pt 5:8) and wages “war with the rest of her [Mary’s] offspring, who keep the commandments of God, and hold fast to the testimony of Jesus” (Apoc 12:17). God will later say to the Beloved Apostle, “he who overcomes shall possess these things, and I will be His God and he shall be my son” (Apoc 21:7).
In a most telling episode, St. Luke describes a scene where Jesus was wrapt in prayer. His disciples did not dare disturb Him in His profound, intimate communion with the Father. But “when He ceased, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray…’ And He said to them, ‘When you pray say: Father, hallowed by Thy Name…'” (Lk 11:1-2; cf. Mt 6:9). This is the longing of every boy and girl – to have the strongest, most loving father who thinks the world of him or her. God made us with this built in desire. And as the deer longing for water does so because water exists, because that deer was made to drink from flowing streams, so we too pine away within to be children who are loved – tenderly loved – protected and provided for by a father and that Father does exist: the Lord Jesus Himself tells us that His Father is our Father (cf. Jn 20:17) and that He would not leave us orphaned, but would give us the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 14:18), the Spirit of the Father (cf. Mt 10:20; Rom 8:11; 2 Cor 1:21-22; Eph 3:14-16; etc.).
Predestined to be children of God
The Apostle Paul was determined to drive home the truth of our divine filiation in Christ – and home is where the heart is, where this truth needs to sink in. This doctrine needs to travel that extremely long distance from our head down into our heart, into the very fabric of our being, because it defines who we are and what we are called to do. He tells us that all relationships find their origin in the Father-Son relationship of the Most Holy Trinity: “For this reason I bend the knee to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom all fatherhood in Heaven and on earth receives its name…” (Eph 3:14-15).
God’s eternal plan in creating the universe was that He might say of the Incarnate Word and of each of us who are baptized into Him, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17, 17:5; 2 Pt 2:17; etc.). This is why we exist. God created us to be His children in Christ. God, by creating us, is saying to each one of us ‘Thou art my beloved son.’ Listen to Paul’s uncontainable praise of this reality: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing on high in Christ. Even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish in His sight in love. He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ as His sons, according to the purpose of His will, unto the praise of the glory of His grace, with which He has favored us in His beloved Son.” (Eph 1:3-6).
Elsewhere, when speaking of our predestination in Christ, viz. “to be predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He should be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rm 8:29), the Apostle Paul explains that “whoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. Now you have not received a spirit of bondage so as to be again in fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons, by virtue of which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit Himself giving testimony to our spirit that we are sons of God. But if we are sons, we are heirs also: heirs indeed of God and joint heirs with Christ, provided, however, we suffer with Him that we may also be glorified with Him” (Rm 8:14-17). This is so central to St. Paul that he speaks of it again emphasizing that the reason that God sent His son “in the fullness of time… born of a woman” (Gal 4:4) was that through His redemptive work “we might receive the adoption of sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father.’ So that he is no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, an heir through God” (Gal 4:6-7).
Notice that the Holy Spirit is sent by God into our hearts to say Abba – that word that little Hebrew boys use to this day to get their father’s attention. While God is indeed “Our Father who art in Heaven,” we must not lose sight of what Paul, “circumcised on the eighth day, of the race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews” (Phil 3:5) is saying when he uses the word Abba. God the Father, in His Son, by the working of the Holy Spirit is calling us into an intimate, loving, conversational relationship with Him as His very dear children. If Christ prayed from His Sacred Heart to His Father (cf. Jn 17), then we too must enter into His Heart, into His prayer, into His relationship with God our most loving Father.
Returning to God our Father
How do we do this? Christ lived among us, but the Father seems so distant, so inapproachable. We must pray to the Holy Spirit given to us at Baptism and Confirmation and meditate deeply on John 14-17. I think all of us, at times, feel like St. Philip and cry out to Jesus from the depths of our heart: “Lord, show us the Father and it is enough!” (Jn 14:8). In the Cenacle, before His bitter Passion, the Savior Himself gave us His most intimate teaching; He gave us His Heart. He tells us that He goes to the Father to prepare a place for us and that it is God’s will that where He is (“in the bosom of the Father” Jn 1:18) we also shall be (cf. Jn 14:1-4). And the path? “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me” (Jn 14:6; cf. Mt 11:25-27). To see Christ is to see the Father: “He who sees Me sees also the Father… I am in the Father and the Father is in Me” (Jn 14:9-11). Indeed to know Christ is to know the Father: “If you had known Me, you would also have known the Father. And henceforth you do know Him, and you have seen Him” (Jn 14:7; cf. 16:3 and 1 Jn 2:22-25).
Jesus forever dwells “in the bosom of the Father” (Jn 1:12). This bestows a whole new depth to the scene where John and Andrew followed Christ after He was proclaimed by John the Baptist as the Lamb of God. Christ turned to them and asked, “What is it you seek?”, they responded “Rabbi, where dwellest Thou?” Our Lord’s response to them is an invitation to us: “Come and see” (Jn 1:38-39). We must follow Him there, where He dwells, in sinu Patris – in the bosom of the Father – “Dost thou not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me?… Abide in Me… Abide in My love… Abide in His love” (Jn 14:10/11; 15:4; 15:9-10).
If we have been away from our “Abba Father” through sin or have experienced any obstacle in that relationship due to past hurts from the father figures in our lives, now is the time to come home; now is the acceptable time to let Him meet us along the way and clothe us anew with the dignity of being His children; now is the time to let Him place a ring on our finger and shoes on our feet, to kill the fatted calf and make merry with all of the heavenly court (cf. Lk 15:11-32). He is the prodigal Father who wants to bestow endless, ineffable blessings upon us in Christ. He created us so that we might eternally say, Abba, Abba… and might hear His voice announcing to all that we indeed are His beloved children in whom He finds His delight.
Below are the first few paragraphs of a very erudite study of the great Italian Scotistic theologian Fr. Alessandro M. Apollonio on the Franciscan perspective of salvation and redemption. Salvation and redemption are not synonyms; rather, salvation is a much broader term – justification through faith in Christ (sin or no sin, whether Angels or men) which elevates the creature to a capacity to enjoy God in the everlasting Beatific Vision and to live in friendship with Him during the time of sojourn as His adopted children – while redemption is a more specific term – the salvation of fallen man from sin (for Our Lady a preservative redemption, for the rest of us a liberative redemption). His entire presentation on this subject can be read HERE. I have also treated this more generically in discussing Eph. 1:7 and will post my video at the end of this post where I touch upon this very subject.
From the pen of Fr. Alessandro…
The concept of redemption in the Franciscan school, above all in the form given it by Bl. John Duns Scotus, cannot be grasped apart from the Scotistic thesis concerning the absolute primacy of the Word Incarnate and His Virgin Mother, jointly predestined in one and the same decree absolutely: this means prior to any consideration of creation or of redemption, not relative to or consequent on creation or on redemption. It is important to note that the Scotistic form of this thesis is not only opposed to the position of those who hold that the Incarnation was willed by God only consequently on the divine prevision of Adam’s sin, but also to the naturalist or Pelagian school (especially in its evolutionary version as promoted by many calling themselves “transcendental Thomists”), who hold that the Incarnation was willed consequently on creation as its perfection, rather than creation for the glory of Jesus and Mary.1
In this scenario, so neatly outlined by Scotus, the predestination of the Word Incarnate to be Head and Savior of all the elect, angels and men, is pure grace or gift of the Father to his Son, for whom qua predestined the world was created. All the elect are predestined in Him (cf. Eph 1: 3), not as pure gift, but in view of and through the merits of Christ, Head and Savior of His body, the Church. Therefore, His predestination to be Incarnate Word is basis of His role as Mediator. His mediation is primarily a work of salvation of the elect: from absence of blessedness to the sharing in His blessedness as Word made flesh, this via cooperation in the work of salvation.
Scotus’ argumentation is both simple and profound: the lesser good, redemption, is ordered to the higher and absolutely perfect good, the salvation and enjoyment of the supreme Good in Christ qua Incarnate, according to Bonaventure and Thomas a “quasi-infinite,” greater than which nothing is possible in the order of divine works ad extra.2 A perfect Creator is perfectly rational in his choices, and the basis of all rational willing is the principle that the lesser is for the sake of the higher, and higher for the sake of the highest, in Bonaventurian terms “hierarchization” or sacred ordering.3
This “being saved” of all the elect by the merits of Christ, so as to be included with Christ in His predestination, also includes the Virgin Mary. “Being saved” through the merits of Christ the Head, means both being saved from the absence of perfect felicity unto perfect felicity as members of Christ. This is the root of elevating grace in the actual economy of salvation, both before as well as after original sin, for the angels as well as for mankind.
1. On this point cf. St. Bonaventure, III Sent., d. 1, a. 2, q. 2.↩ 2. Summa Th., I, q. 25, a. 4.↩ 3. Scotus, Ordinatio, III Sent., d. 7, q. 3. For a very readable overview of Scotus’ teaching on the absolute primacy of Jesus, see M. Dean, A Primer on the Absolute Primacy of Christ, New Bedford MA 2006. For Bonaventure on supreme hierarchization of Mary as intrinsic part of the order of the hypostatic union see II Sent., d. 9, q. 7. For commentary, see P. Fehlner, St. Maximilian M. Kolbe, Martyr of Charity, Pneumatologist. His Theology of the Holy Spirit, New Bedford MA 2004, pp. 70-74.↩
Fr. Alessandro M. Apollonio, F.I.
Here is my summary of this distinction from my Cornerstone series recorded in 2006-7…
[Erratum: please note that in the video below I mistakenly say that Christ was not born of the Father, but generated. In my post here one can see that the Church teaches that Christ has two births, namely, His eternal birth of the Father and His temporal birth of the Virgin Mother]
Someone recently directed me to this post of Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P., at the Homiletic and Pastoral Review website. I find it especially ironic in that, after two millenia of reflection upon the primary motive of the Incarnation with Doctors of the Church falling on both sides, Fr. Mullady’s response to “an interesting theological question” comes with the authoritative title “Questions Answered”.
And the question submitted…
Question: I’ve read, though not in any real depth, the two schools of thought: One that Jesus became man primarily so as to suffer as man, and die for the redemption of each one of us. The other being that the Son of God most likely would have come as man even if He didn’t have to redeem the world. Which one is true?
Fr. Mullady opines that this question is one “which unfortunately has occupied a good deal of argument over many centuries.” Sigh… I guess for the Thomist it will always be “unfortunate” that such a central discussion as the raison d’être of the Incarnation occupy “a good deal of argument.” I suppose he would have us accept St. Thomas Aquinas’ answer and not think about it anymore.
In fact this is how the Thomists felt about the Immaculate Conception right up until 1854. A little anecdote which literally illustrates this historical reality: when I was the Father Guardian at the ancient Franciscan Convento Bosco ai frati in Tuscany, it gave me a hearty chuckle to see an old painting on the back of the stunning Baroque high altar in the choir of the friars (only the friars would have seen this when chanting their Divine Office): the painting portrayed the true story of the Inquisition coming to a town and burning all of the “heretical” books at the command of a Dominican Saint, (yes, halo and all!) and one of the books being burned was defending the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. How “unfortunate” that those Franciscans kept defending a position which was contrary to that of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bernard of Clairvaux! But what is important is not that the Dominicans or the Franciscans “win” any given argument, but only that the truth wins – and in 1854 the Immaculate Conception was declared a dogma of Faith that has been revealed by God through Scripture and Tradition. And let it be known that St. Thomas’ theological insight and terminology of transubstantiation is now defined by the Church (Bl. Scotus, like St. John Damascene, held to consubstantiation). Let the truth shine forth – nothing more and nothing less!
With regards to the primary motive of the Incarnation the fact is, to use Fr. Mullady’s own words, “The Church has never made a judgment on the correct answer to this, and it remains a legitimate subject of theological speculation and argument.” Amen to that! The motive of the Incarnation and the question that the scholastics used to discern it was a central one. St. Thomas himself placed this in a prominent place in his Summa Theologica. It was a question which was part of the very fabric of scholastic theology (viz. theologians like St. Anselm, Abbot Rupert of Deutz, St. Albert the Great, Fr. Alexander of Hales, St. Bonaventure, Bishop Robert Grosseteste, Bl. John Duns Scotus… just to name a few who, like St. Thomas, felt that it was an important question to grapple with).
Sadly, Fr. Mullady misrepresents the Franciscan position on the absolute primacy of Christ and discourages the very discussion which earlier he said “remains a legitimate subject of theological speculation and argument.”
Misrepresenting the Franciscan position
Here is Fr. Mullady’s take on the Franciscan thesis: “The Franciscan school of thought has generally been characterized by the opinion that Christ would have become incarnate, even had man not sinned, simply from love for the human race. One may ask how this befits the truth and justice of God. One may also question why God would have taken flesh when it was, in no sense, necessary. Why would the infinite God subject His person to such an ignominious death as the cross if there were no need for such a thing? Man would be able to experience communion with God, and go to heaven without such a terrible suffering inflicted on the divine person of the Word. Though it is true that God is infinitely good, and that goodness is diffusive of itself, whatever good might be gained from this seems absurd. God’s freedom to do such a thing is beyond dispute, but his freedom is not logically contradictory or absurd.”
To say that the Franciscan school is characterized by the opinion that Christ would have become incarnate “from love for the human race” is simply not true. According to Bl. John Duns Scotus who champions the Franciscan position of the absolute primacy of Christ (sin or no sin), the decree of the Incarnation was not “occasioned” by any contingent being or need – it was willed for its own sake. In his Opus Parisiensis Scotus writes:
I declare, however, that the fall was not the cause of Christ’s predestination. In fact, even if no man or angel had fallen, nor any man but Christ were to be created, Christ would still have been predestined this way. I prove this as follows: because everyone who wills in an orderly manner, wills first the end, then more immediately those things which are closer to the end; but God wills in a most orderly manner; therefore, that is the way He wills. In the first place, then, He wills Himself, and immediately after Him, ad extra, is the soul of Christ. Therefore, after first willing those objects intrinsic to Himself, God willed this glory for Christ. Therefore, before any merit or demerit, He foresaw that Christ would be united with Him in the oneness of Person.
It seems appropriate here to reiterate what St. Francis de Sales wrote on this very topic (Treatise on Divine Love, Book II, Ch.IV). In my little treatise A Primer on the Absolute Primacy of Christ I quote and summarize his insight as follows:
The primary reason for the Incarnation was that God “might communicate Himself” outside Himself (ad extra). From all eternity He saw that the most excellent way to do this was in “uniting Himself to some created nature, in such sort that the creature might be engrafted and implanted in the divinity, and become one single Person with it.” Thus God willed the Incarnation. Through Christ and “for His sake” God willed to pour out His goodness on other creatures thus choosing to “create men and angels to accompany His Son, to participate in His grace and glory, to adore and praise Him forever.”
Thus the Franciscan Thesis is NOT that Christ would have come “simply from love of the human race,” as Fr. Mullady puts it, but because of the glory of God that would come from communicating Himself to a created nature in the most perfect way. Why he thinks that this is “logically contradictory or absurd” is a mystery to me.
That aside, it is no small blunder on Fr. Mullady’s part to begin a paragraph with “the Franciscan school of thought…” and then go on to say: “Why would the infinite God subject His person to such an ignominious death as the cross if there were no need for such a thing?” The question that was originally asked of Fr. Mullady says nothing of Christ being crucified if Adam had not sinned, but only asks about the Incarnation. Apparently Fr. Mullady has the impression that “the Franciscan school of thought” holds that Christ would have come in passible flesh and died on the Cross even if Adam had not sinned, but none of the scholastics who held that the Incarnation was not conditioned by sin held that Christ would have been crucified.
The Dominican Doctor of the Church, professor of St. Thomas Aquinas at the University of Paris, St. Albert the Great writes, “…to the extent that I can offer my opinion, I believe that the Son of God would have become man even if there had been no sin… Nevertheless, on this subject I say nothing in a definitive manner; but I believe that what I said is more in harmony with the piety of faith.” (In Sent. III, d. 20, a.4; op. omn. ed. Vivès – Paris, 1894 – XXVIII, 361). St. Albert certainly did not hold that if Adam had not sinned Christ would have have “subject His person to such an ignominious death as the cross if there were no need for such a thing.” And St. Albert the Great is not noted for being “logically contradictory or absurd.” Fr. Mullady is entitled to his opinion; but I wish he had not misrepresented the Franciscan school of thought.
Many motives for the Incarnation
St. Thomas quotes St. Augustine regarding the motives of the Incarnation: “Many other things are to be considered about the Incarnation of Christ besides absolution from sin” (De Trin. xiii, 17). So the statement of Fr. Mullady in his “Questions Answered” is baffling. According to him the discussion is over and done with because, “Salvation from sin is, thus, the only motive we know of, and it is best not to speculate further.”
What about the many positive blessings of the Incarnation which can be expressed quite apart from the redemption? I think, for example, of our divinization in Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9; 2 Pt. 1:4), our adoption as sons of God (cf. Jn. 1:12; Rm. 8:14-17; Gal. 4:4-7; Eph. 1:3-6), our eternal predestination in Christ (cf. Rm. 8:29; Eph. 1:3-6), Christ as our Model and Way (Jn. 14:6), the Church with Christ as head and our own incorporation into His Mystical Body (Col. 1:24; 1 Cor. 12:13ff.), the Kingship of Christ over all creation as Alpha and Omega (Jn. 19:36; Apoc. 1:8), the mediation of Christ as the one Mediator between God and man (Mt. 11:27; Jn. 14:6; 1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 8:6; 9:15; 12:24), etc. Even The Catechsim of the Catholic Church tells us that the Church “knows of” different motives for the Incarnation:
“The Word became flesh in order to save us by reconciling us with God so that thus we might know God’s love… to be our model of holiness… to make us ‘partakers of the divine nature’.” (CCC §457-460)
It is a simple fact that Christ gives the maximum glory to God the Most Holy Trinity in His Sacred Humanity (cf. Jn. 17:4) and that we give glory to God through, with and in Christ. That is the economy of grace that has been revealed to us. This perfect glory given to God through the Incarnate Word… is it all because of sin? Is it possible, plausible, even probable that the Incarnation, that summum opus Dei, was first in God’s intention when creating the universe? Is this, to use the words of Fr. Mullady, “logically contradictory or absurd”? Yet St. Thomas confirms the patristic tradition that Adam knew about the mystery of the Incarnation before the fall and it would seem to me “logically contradictory or absurd” to say that God would have revealed the great mystery of Christ and His Church to Adam before the fall if Christ’s coming was exclusively or primarily in order to work out our “salvation from sin.” To be honest, saying that Christ would NOT have come if Adam had not sinned is the epitome of hypothetical conjecture. Unlike Fr. Mullady, I believe that it is best to continue to reflect on God’s primary motive in willing the Incarnation, that is, until the Church makes a solemn declaration (something which Fr. Louis – aka Thomas Merton – so ardently longed for).
Incarnation not necessary without sin
Among the questions that Fr. Mullady raises about the Franciscan position there is this one: “One may also question why God would have taken flesh when it was, in no sense, necessary.”
And Bl. John Duns Scotus would reply:
Again, if the fall were the reason for Christ’s predestination, it would follow that the greatest work of God [summum opus Dei—namely, the Incarnation] was essentially occasioned: greatest work, because the glory of all creation is not as great in intensity as is the glory of Christ. Hence, it seems very absurd to claim that God would have left so great a work [i.e. the Incarnation] undone on account of a good deed performed by Adam, such as Adam’s not sinning. (Opus Parisiense)
The Franciscans never say that the Incarnation was necessary. Actually, neither was creation or the redemption for that matter. It’s not a question of necessity, but of God’s good pleasure, of His inscrutable designs in creating: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with spiritual blessings in heavenly places, in Christ: As He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in His sight in charity. Who hath predestinated us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ unto Himself: according to the purpose of His will: Unto the praise of the glory of His grace, in which He hath graced us in His beloved Son. (Eph. 1:3-6). So, why would “God have taken flesh when it was, in no sense, necessary?” What was the purpose of His will? St. Paul gives us the answer; God willed the Incarnation and all of creation unto the praise of the glory of His grace – εἰςἔπαινονδόξηςτῆςχάριτοςαὐτοῦ – in laudem gloriae gratiae suae!