Appendix I: Christ the Beginning

Christ, the Beginning of Creation

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

Index

Introduction

The scope of this little study is to show that the true meaning of the Prologue of St. John, according to Sacred Scripture and Tradition, is this: Christ, the Word made flesh, the God-Man, is the Beginning in which God created everything.

In establishing that Jesus Christ was “the Beginning of the creation of God” (Apoc 3:14), that all things were created by means of Him (cf. Jn 1:3; Heb 1:2-3; Col 1:16), it follows that the teaching of Bl. John Duns Scotus on the absolute primacy of Christ is not only “probable,” according to the expression of St. Thomas Aquinas,[1] but revealed doctrine. The Beginning of God’s creation could never be “occasioned”[2] by any creature or creaturely need. Why? Because if one were to hold that Christ, the summum opus Dei,[3]was “occasioned,” then He would cease to be the Beginning of the creation of God and would rather be reduced to the ‘remedy of the creation of God’; He would cease to be the Firstborn of all creatures and would instead become the ‘afterborn,’ that is, the divine ‘afterthought’ resulting from the foreseen consideration of Adam’s sin. And this sort of thinking, as the Subtle Doctor teaches, is “absurd.”[4]

Let us then study more in depth this assertion: Christ is the Beginning.

“In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God. And the Word was God. He was in the beginning before God” (Jn 1:1-2)

This is how John starts his Gospel. And as such we are immediately presented with a very interesting argument: is John, in these initial verses, writing about the Divinity in se, that is, the Divine Essence and the Divine Persons, without reference to the Incarnation? Or rather is he speaking to us about the Word Incarnate with His two natures, divine and human, and Him before God?

The Divinity in Itself: the Father as the beginning, the Word in the Father

Beyond all doubt the more popular interpretation is that John is speaking of the Divinity in Itself by giving a particular emphasis to the eternal Word in Himself without any reference to the Incarnation. St. Bonaventure states that “this book treats of the Word Incarnate, in whom it considers the double nature, human and divine. It is divided in two parts: in the first part it speaks of the Word in Himself; in the second it speaks of Him in so far as He is united to the flesh.” [5] For Bonaventure, as also for St. Cyril of Alexandria and St. Augustine (all three of them wrote commentaries on the Gospel of St. John), these first verses do not, of themselves, have any reference to the Incarnation. They speak exclusively of the Divine Essence and the Divine Persons, in particular the second Person who is the eternal Son with/before the Father.

In the midst of innumerable heresies regarding the Trinity and Christ, Cyril and Augustine refer to these words of the Prologue to combat the erroneous doctrine of the heretics on the Divinity of the Word. For all three of them, therefore, in the beginning is a reference to the Father and to the eternal procession of the Word-Son from Him.

Bonaventure states: “Here the beginning par excellence is the Father, hence the meaning is: In the beginning, that is, in the Father, is the Son who is not separated from the Father by essence.”[6] And Augustine: “There is the beginning which does not have a beginning, and this is the Father; there is the beginning which derives from the beginning, and this is the Son.”[7] And Cyril likewise: “God the Father is the beginning, and the Word was in Him by nature.”[8] Therefore, saying that “in the beginning was the Word” means that the eternal Word is essentially in that “eternal Beginning without beginning,”[9] namely in the Father.

The rich explanation of these Doctors is splendid, of this there is no doubt, and the succinct doctrine that follows in their Gospel commentaries is irrefutable because it is doctrine of the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Faith. The holy martyrs of every age and place have given their lives for this Faith and we too desire to profess this Faith until our death. Yet, without denying in the slightest their pure doctrine, there is a difficulty in imposing such an interpretation on these verses of the Evangelist, a difficulty which even comes out in the teachings of these Doctors themselves. For this reason we will now linger upon these first verses of the Gospel, and in particular upon the words “in the beginning.”

In the beginning God created

It is not by chance that John wishes to begin his Gospel with the same words that begin all of Sacred Scriptures. As a matter of fact, “in the head of the Book” (Ps 39:8) it is written: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1), and so it is that the “alpha” of all of divine revelation is precisely this in the beginning. But John, being the last writer of the Bible, gives the “omega” of revelation, namely, “In the beginning was the Word…” (Jn 1:1). “The Alpha and the Omega” of all of God’s revelation, then, is none other than in the beginning God created and in the beginning was the Word. While everyone immediately recognizes John’s explicit reference to Genesis, not everyone goes on to interpret in the same way the in the beginning of these two passages.

We have seen how Cyril, Augustine and Bonaventure in their commentaries on the Prologue interpreted the in the beginning of John’s Gospel as in the Father, in order to say that the Word was eternally and essentially in the Father who is the beginning par excellence. However, when we read the first line of Genesis it is evident that in the beginning cannot be referring to the Father. In fact, if we say “in the ‘Father’ God created the heavens and the earth” it does not make any sense. This must also hold true for the Prologue of St. John, otherwise it would break the express and tight bond intended by the Evangelist between his Gospel and the narration of the creation of the universe.

The connection is explicit in every fashion because not only does he start with the same words, not only does he speak of “light” and “darkness,” but he even lists seven days. The first day there is the Word who becomes flesh (Jn 1:1-14) and the testimony of John the Baptist (1:6-8,15,19ff.). Then, subtly, the Evangelist says “the next day” (1:29), “the next day” (1:35), “the next day” (1:43), and then “on the third day” (2:1) in order to arrive at the seventh day with the wedding feast at Cana.

Thus we are speaking about a new creation, about water changed into wine, so to speak, where what counts is being “a new creation” (Gal 6:15) and where Jesus proclaims: “Behold, I make all things new” (Apoc 21:5). For us His coming means a “new” creation, whereas for God it is but the full realization of His original design as the Creator who willed, and still wills, that everything be summed up under the headship of Christ (cf. Col 1:18,20). For us it is water changed into wine, while for God it is the fulfillment of His plan, already foreseen before the ages: He had always willed “the good wine,” but He had conserved it “until now.”

We need to establish, therefore, that, starting with the first line of Genesis, the biblical expression “in the beginning” refers to creation. What follows is that the expression “in the beginning was the Word” does not express the fact that the eternal Word was in the Father, but rather that the Word Incarnate was the Beginning in which all things were created.

It could not be otherwise because the word beginning, bound to the context and meaning found in Genesis – “In the beginning God created” – speaks not only of the fontal origin of being, but also of its temporal beginning. Neither the eternal Father, nor the eternal Word, nor the eternal Spirit, that is the entire eternal Godhead Three-in-One, none of Them can have a beginning, a principio, like creation does. Each Divine Person, being God, is without beginning, ‘startless’ as it were, by very definition and, as we shall see, the Church does not grow weary in professing and teaching that God, by nature – whether the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit – is before the ages, before and outside of time – in a word, eternal. Creation, on the other hand, has a very specific beginning: “In the beginning God created.”

Let us fix our gaze for a moment upon the Church’s solemn teaching upon this point in order to better understand that in the beginning cannot be referring to the Divinity in Itself – neither the Father nor the Word in Himself. Given that before creation there was no such thing as time (the succession of moments), but only the eternal God, it is clear that He is “before every creature.”[10] As a result the Creeds, Councils and Popes of the Church, whenever they speak of God Three and One – whether of the Divine Essence or of the Three Divine Persons (and the Son in a particular way) – never speak of a beginning.[11] To the contrary, they repeat practically ad infinitum that God is without any beginning and thus is before the ages. Here are some examples amongst many which speak specifically of the Divinity of the Son, but can be referred to the Father and the Spirit as well:

– Pope St. Leo the Great in 449 explains that the divine nature of Christ comes “from the Father before any beginning,”[12]which means that when we speak of the Word in Himself, as God, He is not in the beginning, but before any beginning.

– Pope Anastasius II in 497 states that the only-begotten Son, “born of the Father according to the Divinity,” is “before all time, without beginning.”[13]He is not in the beginning, therefore, but without beginning.

– Pope Hormisdas in 521 writes: “The Son was before time.”[14]As such the Word in Himself, as God, is before time, before the beginning, before any age; while the Word made flesh is in time, in the beginning, in these days while ever remaining the eternal God. This means that if John wished to speak of the Word in Himself in his Prologue and not the Word made flesh, he would have had to write: Before the ages, before all time was the Word. But what he wrote was: “In the beginning was the Word.” We will study this more in depth later.

– The Council of Constantinople in 553 declares in Canon 2: “If anyone does not confess that God the Word has two births, one that is incorporal, outside of time, before the ages from the Father, the other [is the birth] of Him truly in the last days who descended from Heaven and was incarnate of the holy, glorious and always Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and born of her, let him be anathema.”[15] The Church never speaks of the Divinity of Christ in terms of time, while His Sacred Humanity is always described in time.

– The Council of Toledo VI in 638 explains that the Son comes from the Father “outside of time, before any creature, without beginning, born [generated] and not created.”[16] It is absolutely clear, therefore, that in speaking of the Divinity and the Divine Persons the Church never speaks of time or of a beginning because God is eternal.

St. Cyril explicitly states: “Besides, in speaking of the Only-Begotten it is not possible to think of a beginning in time since He is before all time and exists before the ages… But since the Son is more ancient than the ages, He could not have been generated in time, but He was always in the Father as from a spring…”[17] The fact is that in Genesis, as is also true of John’s Gospel, in the beginning indicates the start of time, the beginning of creation, and God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is completely outside of time, uncreated, without beginning or end, eternal.

In the beginning, therefore, cannot be applied to the Son in Himself as God, let alone the Father or the Holy Spirit, except by way of an accommodation, that is by using the term beginning as a manner of speaking (i.e. the Father is the “beginning” of the Trinity, that is to say the eternal fountain from which the Son eternally proceeds, but to speak in this way one always has to add that the Father is the ‘beginning’ without a beginning[18] and in the end the accommodation is very limited and does not synchronize, as we shall see, with the rest of Sacred Scripture).

However, in Christ, the Word made flesh, there is a created nature united to the divine nature in the Person of the Word and Christ has His beginning in the “fullness of time” (Gal 4:4). Behold the key to understanding what is meant by “in the beginning God created” and “in the beginning was the Word.” In both of these passages, as we will see with great clarity, we are speaking of the Word Incarnate, the beginning of creation.[19]

Indeed the expression in the beginning can only be applied to God without accommodation in so far as He is incarnate and becomes the “Son of man,” and this is valid only for Christ because neither the Father nor the Spirit assumed flesh of the Virgin, but only the Son. Hence, when the Evangelist says: “In the beginning was the Word,” it must be understood that he is speaking of the Word become man: Christ was the Beginning.

Moreover, the expression in the beginning cannot be applied to the eternal Word without reference to the Incarnation because, as St. Cyril says of the eternal Word: “The Son, as a matter of fact, is before the ages, and He Himself is the Creator of the ages; nor can He who has a generation [birth] more ancient than time itself be in any way whatsoever limited by time”.[20]

It is necessary to examine the function of the verb to be in the phrase “in the beginning was the Word.” Its function could be understood in two ways. First, as a predicate adjective where in the beginning is applied to the Word in the sense of the beginning of creation. In other words, when God created the universe He had the decree of the Incarnation before Him, He beheld Jesus, and as such the beginning of creation and of time itself was the Word Incarnate: nothing was created without Him and without Him there is no temporal beginning.

Second, as a predicate nominative where to be means to be equal to. In this case the Incarnate Word was the “principio,” viz. the creative principle/beginning in which everything was made – not just in the temporal sense, but as the fontal origin, the cause of all things. In a word, following the lead of both of these senses it can safely be said that Christ was both the temporal beginning and the fontal origin of creation: “the Beginning of the creation of God” (Apoc 3:14).

Besides, with this interpretation the Prologue becomes more consistent: God always refers to the Divinity (and not sometimes to the Divinity and sometimes to the Father); the Word always refers to Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Son of Mary (and not sometimes the uncreated Word in the Father – without reference to the Incarnation – and other times to the Word made flesh – i.e. John the Baptist is giving witness to the Word Incarnate in v.6ff.).

Christ as the Beginning: a doctrinal premise

Before exposing that Christ is the Beginning, we do well to establish a few things so as not to stray from true doctrine.

First and foremost, even if we might beg to differ with the first interpretation of the Prologue reported above whereby the Father is the Beginning; nonetheless, all of the doctrine presented by our Doctors – Cyril, Augustine and Bonaventure – in their commentaries on John must be accepted: namely, that the Word in Himself is eternal, uncreated and divine; that He is in the Father by virtue of the same divine nature and that He is at the same time distinct from the Father in His Person.

Moreover, when we say that Christ is the Beginning we absolutely do not mean that the Word in Himself was created. Nor does this mean that the Word had a human nature before the Incarnation or even before the creation of the world. No, what is meant is that God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – willed the Incarnation of the Son first, that is, predestined the Sacred Humanity of Christ to the hypostatic union “before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4) and predestined Him as the firstborn of every creature” and “before all creatures” (Col 1:15,17) in His intention to create. In the divine design Christ was willed as the “Beginning of the creation of God” (Apoc 3:14) and then God willed all of the rest of creation in Christ, through Christ and unto Christ. After this Beginning, that is, after having willed the Incarnation of the Word in the womb of the Virgin Mary, there begins the execution of God’s design in the creation of the world and, in the end, the full realization of His creative design – to recapitulate all things under the headship of Christ.

In order to better understand the distinction between intention and execution in the creative plan of God,[21] a teaching very dear to the Subtle Doctor,[22] let us examine the illuminating teaching of Augustine who distinguishes the realization of a project (execution) from the idea to be realized (intention): “If, for example, you must build an edifice, if you want to realize something which is grand, first you conceive the idea in your mind. The idea is already born… Others admire your project and await its wonderful construction; they remain full of admiration before that which they see and love that which they still cannot see: who, in fact, can see an idea? If, therefore, the idea of a man before its grandiose realization can be praised, do you want to measure the greatness of God’s idea which is the Lord Jesus Christ, that is the Word of God?”[23] Even if Augustine does not arrive at saying that “the idea of God” – the Word Incarnate – was in the beginning before God; nonetheless, his thought gives us the possibility of distinguishing God’s idea in creating the world from its realization. It is a philosophical principle which goes back to Aristotle: “That which is first in the intention is last in the execution.”[24] Yet the project is the same whether in the intention or the execution.

What this means is that in the mind of God Christ, the Masterpiece of God the Creator,[25] existed before as the idea, as the intention, and then in time this was accomplished when the Word became flesh; first there was the predestination of Christ to glory, then the creation of all things in view of Him and through Him.[26]

I suppose this could be a cause of confusion to think that Christ, “the Beginning,” comes not only after the temporal beginning of creation, but even towards the end. And yet that is the fact. St. Peter explains: “Foreknown, indeed, before the foundation of the world, He has been manifested in the last times for your sakes” (1 Pt 1:20). Before His manifestation He was always present in the mind of God as the idea, as created Wisdom, as the intention, as the first predestined, the firstborn, the first one willed. Fr. Ruggero Rosini writes on this point: “For us it is difficult to understand how a future action could influence a present action. For God such a difficulty does not exist: everything is present for Him. It was not a difficulty for Him, in fact, to preserve Mary from original sin in view of the future merits of Christ’s death. We must believe, therefore, that for Him there is no difficulty in creating ‘everything by means of Christ’ from the beginning of time.”[27]

To facilitate an understanding of this (and in order not to get lost in the labyrinth of profound thoughts which will be presented), it would be a good idea to keep in mind this diagram as a roadmap.

“Principium, qui et loquor vobis!” (Jn 8:25)[28]

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.”[29] The Seraphic Doctor states: “Before all else He is the Creator, hence Jesus calls Himself: the Beginning, that is, I am the creative Principle/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).”[30]

Therefore, it is Jesus Himself who maintains that He is the creative Beginning/Principle [Latin: Principium – Greek: τὴν ἀρχὴν]. With this self revelation Christ has consigned 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).”[31]

For the Jews Jesus was demanding a great act of faith because He was not speaking to them abstractly, 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 Messias – the Christ – narrated in Psalm 39 are worthy of our reflection. The Messias 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 (cf. Heb 1:5-10),[32] Christ tells us that the first lines of Genesis spoke of Him.[33]

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 “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” [ἀπ’ ἀρχῆ]who was “with God” [apud Deum].

“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 (cf. 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.[34] 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 principle 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 (cf. 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; cf. 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 Principle or Fountain of all creation[35]

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 (cf. Col 1:20).

Efficient cause because by the will of God all creatures have been created through Him (cf. 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 who 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).

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 [Greek: κύριος ἔκτισέν με ἀρχὴν ] 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.[36] 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…”[37]

– 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.”[38]

– 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.”[39]

Having established this we can confirm that the Wisdom of God, which is the God-Man Jesus Christ,[40] 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.[41]

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; cf. 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 (cf. Apoc 3:14) – before Him, Jesus playing before him at all times. When He put His plan into action and spoke those creative words: “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 (cf. 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 of in Proverbs.

God created the heavens and the earth in Christ (Gn 1:1)

We have already pointed out in general and even made some specific allusions to that strict bond between Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1. What we want to do now is to establish from the Holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church that, according to Sacred Tradition, the beginning to which Genesis is referring and in which God created the universe was Jesus Christ Himself.[42] In other words, “In the beginning God created heaven and earth” means precisely that God created all things in Christ who is the Beginning of all of creation (cf. Apoc3:14).

Here are just a few examples drawn from the Church Fathers:

– St. Zeno distinctly asserts: “My dearest brothers, ‘in principio’ – ‘in the beginning’ without any doubt means Christ our Lord.”[43]

– St. Jerome maintains that Christ is the Beginning referred to in Genesis: “More from the sense [of the text] than from the translation of the words one can understand in principio – ‘in the beginning’ to be Christ.”[44]

– In the Divine Liturgy (Mass) written by St. Cyril of Alexandria God is addressed in this fashion: “You created all in Jesus Christ, our Savior and King.”[45]

– St. Gregory of Tours teaches: “In the beginning our Lord formed heaven and earth in His Christ who is the beginning of all, namely in His Son.”[46]

– Venerable Bede affirms: “The beginning is Christ.”[47]

As if all of these affirmations were not enough, the Seraphic Doctor gives a clear confirmation: “If anyone desires to attain Christian wisdom, he must necessarily start with Christ… where the two great ‘wise men,’ namely Moses – the initiator of God’s wisdom [Genesis] – and John who is its completion, started. The former said, ‘In the beginning God created heaven and earth,’ that is in the Son…; and John: ‘In the beginning was the Word…’.”[48]

As is evident, if Genesis is speaking of Christ as the Beginning in which all things were created, then the Prologue of the Evangelist is also referring to Him as well. Since St. John decisively links his Prologue to Genesis, it is necessary that one grasp that he too is speaking of Christ, and not just the Word in Himself as God, when he writes; “In the beginning was the Word…”

On this point we cannot leave out the illustrious teaching of St. Augustine who reiterated it over and over in his writings and sermons. Given his authority on the subject matter, we do well to cite at length his defense of the true doctrine of Christ against the Manicheans:

“How will they [the Manicheans] respond when I will have told them that the ‘Beginning’ is the very Son of God in whom Genesis states that God made the heaven and the earth? I have no difficulty in proving this since I know that I have witnesses available from the New Testament itself which, willing or not – their stubborn pride broken – they too submit to. Thus our Lord said to the unbelieving Jews: ‘For if you believed Moses you would believe me also, for he wrote of me’ (Jn 5:46). How can we not see that this is the very Lord [the Beginning], in whom God the Father made heaven and earth? In fact, the phrase ‘In the beginning God made heaven and earth,’ was written precisely by Moses, and the authority of our Lord Himself confirmed that he had written with reference to Him. Or is He not perhaps the ‘Beginning’? It is not possible to doubt this: the Gospel clearly says that the Jews, after having asked our Lord who He was, He responded, ‘The beginning, who also speak unto you’ (Jn 8:25). Behold the Beginning in which God made heaven and earth. God, therefore, made heaven and earth in the Son through whom He made all things and without whom nothing exists. In this way, harmonizing the Gospel with Genesis, we preserve the heritage according to the consensus of both Testaments and we leave the self-serving calumnies to the discredited heretics.”[49]

Everything has been made by means of Christ

Returning, then, to the words of the Evangelist we see that all of this corresponds to the flow of the Prologue. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God; and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was made nothing that has been made” (Jn 1:1-3). The revelation here is that everything had been made through Jesus Christ.

That the entire universe was made by God is logical. Every work of God ad extra, in fact, is always a work of the entire Trinity, even if at times certain works may be attributed to only One of the Divine Persons. Creation is a work of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and is sometimes attributed to the Father, sometimes to the Son and sometimes to the Spirit (i.e. Veni Creator Spiritus), but it remains always a work of God Three in One.

However, in this verse St. John wants to make us understand that the creative work of God was accomplished through Christ, “the Beginning of the creation of God” (Apoc 3:14). St. Paul had already written this a number of times before St. John wrote his Gospel. In his letter to the Hebrews Paul wrote that “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all in these days has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the world” (Heb 1:1-2). God, through Christ, made the world, that is, through Him who “effected man’s purgation from sin” (v.3), namely the Word made flesh (in fact this entire first chapter – the “Prologue” – of the Epistle to the Hebrews is speaking of the Word Incarnate who now sits “at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much superior to the Angels…” and in this passage Christ, as we have already seen earlier, is called by God Himself the “Beginning”).

Paul also affirms this when writing to the Colossians. Christ, “in whom we have our redemption, the remission of our sins” (1:14), thus the Word Incarnate, “is the Image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature. For in Him were created all things in the heavens and on earth […] All things have been created through and unto Him” (1:14-16).[50]

In this regard Augustine emphasizes the fact that John in the third verse of the Prologue would be speaking “uselessly of the Divinity of the Word if he meant to be silent about the humanity of that same Word.”[51] This follows from the fact that Christ is “insinuated” in the Prologue in two modes: on the level of His predestination ante assumptionem carnis and on the level of His manifestation cum assumpta carne, but whether speaking of Christ’s predestination or manifestation he is always referring to Christ, the Word made flesh.[52]

The Prologue then says that John the Baptist gave witness to Christ, to Him who “was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world knew Him not. And He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” (Jn 1:10-11). Christ “was in the world.” Christ “came unto His own.” The world, therefore, “was made through Him,” through Christ.

Once again, the Apostle Paul preceded the Evangelist in maintaining that all things exist in virtue of Christ: “for us there is only one God, the Father from whom are all things, and we unto Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through Him” (1 Cor 8:6).

In conclusion, following the norm lex orandi, lex credendi, there is a clear affirmation in the Eucharistic Prayer II of the present Roman Missal which is not a recent invention, but rather a continuity of Tradition. Eucharistic Prayer II, which has its own preface, is based on the Anaphora composed by St. Hippolytus in 215, and for this reason it is strictly connected with his preface. In this preface the Church prays that it is right and just to give thanks and praise to You “Father most holy, through Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, Your Word through whom you made all things, whom You sent as our Savior and Redeemer, incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin.”

“Ante me factus est” (Jn 1:30)

Yet another confirmation of Christ as the Beginning comes from the testimony of John the Baptist which is recorded after the Prologue. He says, “This is He of whom I said, ‘After me there comes One who has been set above me, because He was before me.’” (Jn 1:30). We do well to look at the text in Latin: Post me venit vir, qui ante me factus est, quia prior me erat.” Some English translations (like the Confraternity which I use) translate vir (ἀνὴρ in Greek) with “one,” but the literal translation reads, After me comes the man who was made [factum est] before me, because He has been set above me.” The point here is that the Baptist is giving witness to the man Jesus Christ – this is as clear as the day. But the question is how can he say that Jesus was made before him? That ante me factus est cannot be applied to the Word in Himself, because the Eternal Word was not made, but begotten. The Baptist is always bearing witness to the Verbum caro factum est – the Word made flesh (1:14). Here is St. Augustine’s comment: “Christ created John [the Baptist] himself, after whom was created Christ who was Creator and creature…”[53]

Note well that St. Paul had already employed this terminology in strict reference to the Incarnation: God sent His Son factum ex muliere – made of the woman (Gal 4:4). Even St. Luke recounted how the shepherds, after the vision of the Angels and the hearing of that “good news of great joy,” said among themselves: “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, [videamus hoc Verbum, quod factum est] which the Lord has made known to us” (Lk 2:15).

The Baptist, therefore, was giving witness to the Word made man. But we all know that historically Christ was not made (temporal conception and birth) before the Baptist, but six months after him (cf. Lk 1:36). Jesus was conceived and born after him. This means that the Baptist, even if in a subtle way, was witnessing to Christ as the Beginning of every creature that existed; Christ was that Beginning in the mind of God before the foundation of the world. In fact, this is the only way in which Christ could be said to have been factum est before John the Baptist.

Otherwise this would mean that the Baptist was giving witness either to the creation of the Word in Himself (the Word was made – factum est – before the Incarnation!?!) or to the pre-existence of the humanity of Christ (in which case we would have an eternal creature!?! Equally heretical). These two heresies have been condemned repeatedly by the Church: namely, that the Eternal Word was created or that His humanity pre-existed. No, the Church has constantly professed that the Eternal Word was not created and that His humanity did not pre-exist.

Rather, Christ – as the Beginning – was always the firstborn in God’s decree of creation because Christ was foreseen and predestined in the beginning. Hence the Baptist was correct in saying that this Man comes after him, yet was set above him because He was before him. In other words: “After me comes the Christ [the Man], the Beginning in which God created all things, who was made before me in the divine decrees precisely because He preceded me in the divine design.”

Conclusion

In the end we profess and believe that God is God, Three and One, eternal, without beginning and outside of time, and that God freely willed to create. The first creature to be willed by the Lord was Christ, and He willed that Christ’s human nature be united in soul and body to the divine Nature in the divine Person of the Son. We joyfully profess that Jesus Christ was the “Beginning of the creation of God” (Apoc 3:14) in whom all things were created, and this without exception (cf. Jn 1:3). In fact, all of the elect were chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4) and were created by means of Him and with a view to Him who is the Beginning of creation. In other words, Christ was the start of creation (and thus of time itself) and was the creative principle of everything. Time finds its beginning in God’s decree to communicate Himself to the humanity of Christ in the Incarnation[54] and this decree is the source from which all other creatures come forth.

The arguments of Scotus on the primacy of Christ can be reduced to two. The first is his perspicacious teaching of the ordinate volens[55]which maintains that God’s will unfolds in a most orderly fashion. After His Divine Essence (Scotus speaks of God as first ‘willing Himself’ – in modern English we might say: first, God is God, then…), God willed that which was most perfect, that which was closest to this end, namely the soul of Christ.[56] Then, through Christ, God willed everything else.

The second argument is his teaching on Christ’s predestination to the maximum grace and glory possible in the created world. His is a predestination which is not occasionata, not conditioned, not relative, but willed first as the summum opus Dei – the greatest work of God.[57]

But as we have seen in this study, the Scripture and Tradition attest that Jesus Christ is the Beginning of God’s creative activity. And since the Beginning must be the first, and not the second or third, this means that to the two principal arguments of Scotus we can add this datum of divine revelation that from the beginning God had Jesus Christ before Him as the cause and beginning of His designs to create. Therefore, the Incarnation was an immutable decree of the Divinity, a decree willed in an absolute manner, independently of anything which is outside of God. To sum it up: “Dico tamen quod lapsus non fuit causa praedestinationis Christi. Immo etsi nec homo nec angelus fuisset lapsus, nec plures homines creandi quam solus Christus, adhuc fuisset Christus praedestinatus sic.[58]

 

Ave Maria!

 

 


[1] St. Thomas Aquinas, In Sent. III, d.1, q.1, a.3.; cf. also Summa theol. III, q.1, a.3.

[2] B. John Duns Scotus, Ordinatio, III, d.7, q.3 (ed. C. Balić, Joannis Duns Scoti, doctoris mariani, theologiae marianae elementa… ad fidem codd. Mss., Sebenici, 1933) 4-7; Ordinatio, III (suppl.), d.19; cod. Assisi com.137, fol.161v.; ed. Vivès (Paris, 1894) XIV, 714; Opus Parisiense, Lib III, d.7, q.4 (ed. Balić) 13-15; Lectura Completa, III, d.7, q.3 (ed. Balić) 188; Reportatio Barcinonensis, II, d.7, q.3 (ed. Balić) 183-184.

[3] Scotus, Opus Parisiense, Lib III, d.7, q.4 (ed. Balić) 13-15.

[4] Scotus, ibid.; cf. also Ordinatio, III, d.7, q.3 (ed. C. Balić, Joannis Duns Scoti, doctoris mariani, theologiae marianae elementa… ad fidem codd. Mss., Sebenici, 1933) 4-7

[5] Saint Bonaventure, Commento al Vangelo di Giovanni, I, I, n.1 (Città Nuova Editrice, Roma 1990, Vol. 1, p.57).

[6] Ibid. I, I, n.2 (p.57).

[7] St. Augustine, Contra Maximin., II, c.17, n.4; PL 42, 784.

[8] St. Cyril of Alexander, Commento al Vangelo di Giovanni, I, 1 (Città Nuova Editrice, Roma 1994, Vol. 1, p.40).

[9] Ibid.

[10] The Son, with the Father and the Spirit, is ante omnem creaturam (cf. Denz. 490, ecc.).

[11] Ante saecula, ante omnia saecula (cf. Denz. 76, 301, 357, 617, ecc.), ante tempora (Denz. 368), sine tempore (Denz. 422), intemporaliter (cf. Denz. 490, 617, ecc.).

[12] Ex Patre ante omne principium (Denz. 297).

[13]Ante omnia quidem saecula sine principio (Denz. 357; cf. 76, ecc.).

[14] Qui ante tempora erat Filius (Denz. 368).

[15] Ante saecula, sine tempore (Denz. 422). It is sufficient to look at the Councils of Chalcedon and Costantinople I to understand that the teaching of the Word in Himself as ante saecula is a solemnly proclaimed dogma (Denz. 150 e 503-504).

[16] Intemporaliter ante omnem creaturam sine initio (Denz. 490; cf. 617).

[17] Cyril, work cited, I, I (p.38).

[18] Cf. ibid.I, 1 (p.40) and Augustine, Contra Maximin., II, c.17, n.4; PL 42, 784.

[19] Cf. Fr. Ruggero Rosini, Il Cristo nella Bibbia, nei Santi Padri, nel Vaticano II, pp. 109-119, where Christ is shown to be the Beginning.

[20] Ibid. I, III (p.58).

[21] Cf. Fr. Maximilian M. Dean, A Primer on the Absolute Primacy of Christ, (Academy of the Immaculate, New Bedford 2006) pp.27-29; 56-57; 91-94.

[22] Scotus, when he wrote about the Incarnation not being occasioned by sin, he spoke of the “ordinate volens” where one begins with the imperfect [unrealized] in the intention and finishes with the perfect in the execution. Cf. Ordinatio, III, d.7, q.3; Opus Parisiense, Lib III, d.7, q.4.

[23] Augustine, Commento al Vangelo di Giovanni, I, n.9 (Città Nuova Editrice, Roma 2005, p.84-85).

[24] Aristotle, Metaphysica, VI, t.7, c.23.

[25] Cf. Scotus, Opus Parisiense, L. III, d. 7, q. 4, where he calls Christ (the Word Incarnate) the “summum opus Dei” who cannot be “occasionatum” by sin, but rather who was decreed and predestined for the maximum glory of God before any consideration of man’s redemption from sin.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Fr. Ruggero Rosini, work cited, p.130

[28] Cf. Fr. Ruggero Rosini, work cited, pp. 112-117.

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

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

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

[32] 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.

[33] Cf. 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”.

[34] Bl. John Duns Scotus repeatedly speaks of priority (without temporal succession) 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).

[35] Cf. Fr. Ruggero Rosini, work cited, Cap. IV “Creati in Cristo” pp. 108-149; cf. also Fr. Maximilian Dean, work cited, pp. 79-82; P. Dominic Unger, OFM Cap., Franciscan Christology: Absolute and Universal Primacy of Christ, in FS vol.22 (N.S. 2) no.4 (1942) 441-453; and Fr. Meilach, The Primacy of Christ in Doctrine and Life, (Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago, 1964) 49-53.

[36] Cf. Fr. Chrysostomus Urrutibéhéty, Christus Alpha et Omega, Lille R. Giard (1910), cap. V, pp.81-105; cf. also Fr. Ruggero Rosini, work cited, pp.111-115, 129.

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

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

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

[40] 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 (cf. 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 (cf. 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.

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

[42] Cf. P. Chrysostomus Urrutibéhéty, work cited, cap. I, pp.43-49; cf. anche P. Ruggero Rosini, work cited, pp.111-117.

[43] St. Zeno, Sermons, i.2, tr.3 (PL 11, 392).

[44] St. Jerome, Lib. Hebr. Quaest. In Gen, c.1 (PL t.23, p.938).

[45] St. Cyril, Liturgiae anaphora (PG 77, 1294).

[46] St. Gregory of Tours, Hist. Franc, L.I, n.1 (PL 71, 163).

[47] St. Bede, Liber de sex dierum creatione (PL 93, 218).

[48] St. Bonaventure, Collationes in Hexaemeron, I, n.10.

[49] St. Augustine, Sermo I, c.2 (PL 38, 24); elsewhere he writes: “it was God who created heaven and earth in the beginning, but not the beginning of time, but in Christ, since He was with the Father: the Word through whom and in whom everything has been made” De Genesi contra Manichaeos, L.1, c.22, n.33 (PL 34, 189).

[50] Cf. Fr. Maximilian M. Dean, A Primer on the Absolute Primer of Christ, pp. 67-90, for a more detailed sutdy of Col 1:15-20.

[51] St. Augustine, Sermo 341 (PL 39, 1494).

[52] Cf. Fr. Ruggero Rosini, work cited, p.120, nota 223.

[53] St. Augustine, Sermo 290, c.2, n.2 (PL 38, 1313).

[54] Cf. St. Francis de Sales, The Treatise on Divine Love, L.II, c.IV.

[55] Bl. John Duns Scotus, Ordinatio, III, d.7, q.3; Opus Parisiense, Lib III, d.7, q.4.

[56] Bl. John Duns Scotus, Reportatio Barcinonensis, II, d.7, q.3.

[57] Bl. John Duns Scotus, Ordinatio, III, d.7, q.3; Opus Parisiense, Lib III, d.7, q.4.

[58] Bl. John Duns Scotus, Opus Parisiense, Lib III, d.7, q.4.