Msgr. Charles Pope – Would Jesus Have Come If Adam Had Not Sinned?

On the website “Community in Mission” Msgr. Charles Pope brought up the question which the Medieval theologians had used to determine the primary motive of the Incarnation: If Adam had not sinned, would Christ have come in the flesh? His answer was to cite St. Thomas Aquinas on the subject and then to add his own personal commentary. You can see the original post in its entirety here (and notice the stir it created in the combox!). Since I have already posted St. Thomas’ position with commentary elsewhere I will limit this post to Msgr. Pope’s personal commentary. He writes:

While theological speculation may have its place, it is most certain that the Incarnation was instituted by God first and foremost as a remedy for sin. And while the Incarnation offers more than is required to remedy sin (e.g., an increase in human dignity (since God joined our family), God’s visitation, the opening of a heavenly (not merely earthly) paradise), Scripture presents remedy for sin as God’s primary motive. In remedying our sin, God shows the greatness of His mercy, because He does not merely restore us but elevates us to a higher place than before. The least born in to the Kingdom of God is greater than the exemplar of the Old Covenant, John the Baptist. Had we not sinned and had God merely wanted to elevate us, He could have done so in other ways. Hence, St. Thomas’ position is best suited to the evidence.

First, let me address his conclusion: Hence, St. Thomas’ position is best suited to the evidence. What evidence? Not a single Scripture quote is proffered; with the exception of St. Thomas no Saint, Doctor of the Church, or magisterial document is cited to confirm this “evidence”; not even logic is offered – we are simply told that this position is “most certain”.

Now let’s look at this line by line…

While theological speculation may have its place, it is most certain that the Incarnation was instituted by God first and foremost as a remedy for sin.

“Speculation”: This seems to be the constant lament of Thomists who do not want to discuss the matter any further, namely, that it is all speculative and hypothetical (I tackle this head on here). In reality the Franciscan position is not hypothetical at all: Christ’s predestination was willed before the creation of the world and God willed to give us every spiritual blessing through Him the one Mediator between God and man (cf. Eph 1:3-5; Mt. 11:27; Jn. 14:6; 1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 8:6; 9:15; 12:24). To say that Christ would NOT have come… now that is the height of speculation. Where in the Scripture does it speak of an economy of grace without Christ? Even the Angels are under His headship as the God-Man (cf. Col 1:15:18; 2:10 – see Fr. Gabriel Amorth on this point).

“It is most certain that the Incarnation was instituted by God first and foremost as a remedy for sin”: This requires proof. Scripture, from Genesis to Apocalypse, was written after the fall and it is no surprise that God’s Word to us is dominated by our need for Redemption. So I think we all agree that it is absolutely certain that after the fall Christ came to save sinners (cf. 1 Tim. 1:15; Gal. 4:4-5; Heb. 9:26). But it does not follow that the Incarnation was instituted “first and foremost as a remedy for sin.” St. Thomas argues that this is “more probable” whereas the contrary position is “probable”. Thomas never cites his position as certain.

For Bl. John Duns Scotus what is certain is this: “If man had not sinned, there would have been no need for our redemption. But that God predestined this soul [of Christ] to so great a glory does not seem to be only on account of that [redemption], since the redemption or the glory of the soul to be redeemed is not comparable to the glory of Christ’s soul. Neither is it likely that the highest good in creation is something that was merely occasioned only because of some lesser good; nor is it likely that He predestined Adam to such good before He predestined Christ; and yet this would follow [were the Incarnation occasioned by Adam’s sin]. In fact, if the predestination of Christ’s soul was for the sole purpose of redeeming others, something even more absurd would follow, namely, that in predestining Adam to glory, He would have foreseen him as having fallen into sin before He predestined Christ to glory. (from his Ordinatio).

And while the Incarnation offers more than is required to remedy sin (e.g., an increase in human dignity (since God joined our family), God’s visitation, the opening of a heavenly (not merely earthly) paradise), Scripture presents remedy for sin as God’s primary motive.

As noted above, the Scriptures were written after the fall of man and God’s Word to fallen man is frequently dominated by the revelation of our need for Redemption in Christ, without which we could not be saved. But nowhere does the Sacred Page say that Christ was sent primarily, let alone exclusively, to save man from sin. There are many passages that would indicate the opposite (and this website is chalked full of them!). To say that “Scripture presents remedy for sin as God’s primary motive” as if this were indisputable fact is misleading. St. Thomas does not say that remedy for sin is the “primary” reason and he notes that he feels that his position is “more in accordance” – not certain.

In remedying our sin, God shows the greatness of His mercy, because He does not merely restore us but elevates us to a higher place than before.

Those who hold the Franciscan thesis totally agree that in redeeming mankind God shows the greatness of His mercy; but to say that “He elevates us to a higher place than before” is pure speculation. From the Franciscan perspective we must say this: If we were always predestined to be God’s adopted children in Christ, as St. Paul affirms, then there is only one economy of grace – that which is offered to us by God through Christ Jesus. No other economy of grace has been revealed to us and Adam’s sin does not open the door to a higher elevation in Christ. An example of this is Pope St. John Paul II’s teaching on the Theology of the Body: “…before sin, man bore in his soul the fruit of eternal election in Christ, the eternal Son of the Father…” (see more on this here). How does this reconcile with the thomistic position?

Where in the Holy Bible does it tell us of two economies of divine grace – one for the good Angels and for Adam and Eve before the fall, and another economy for sinful man after the fall? St. Paul proposes only one economy of grace: “by justice unto life everlasting through Jesus Christ” (Rm 5:21 – one can read this commentary on justification through faith – sin or no sin). Even St. Bernard of Clairvaux saw that the good Angels were preserved from sin by the God-Man (see here). And Our Lady… is she elevated to a higher place than before the fall because of Adam’s sin? In a certain sense she is more indebted to God’s mercy than all of us sinners because of the singular grace of the Immaculate Conception where she was preserved free from all taint of original and actual sin (as opposed to being given a remedy or restoration from sin after having contracted it). Clearly Our Lady was elevated above us without being liberated from sin. Unlike the Thomists, the Franciscan school does not hold that Mary receives her singular graces because of the sin of Adam, but that these graces were given because of her eternal predestination in Christ to be His Mother (whether Adam had fallen or not). In other words, after the grace and glory given to the Humanity of Christ no one had a higher place in God’s designs than the Blessed Virgin Mary. Hence Thomists are basically saying that God’s greatest masterpieces in all creation, namely Jesus and Mary, were occasioned by sin and are indebted to Adam for transgressing against God because without his transgression, say the Thomists, Jesus and Mary would not have been predestined to the maximum grace and glory (Christ in His Humanity, Mary as His Mother). According to the logic of Bl. John Duns Scotus it would be “absurd” to say that Jesus, Mary or any Saint was predestined to glory because of another person’s fall.

The least born in to the Kingdom of God is greater than the exemplar of the Old Covenant, John the Baptist.

I’m not sure how this confirms the thomistic position. The people of the Old Covenant lacked the plenitude which came in the “fullness of time” (Gal 4:4) in Christ’s coming and after the establishment of the Sacraments and the Church – but this does not prove that the graces of the Old Covenant were not graces distributed in view of the merits of Christ. Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception is a grace given prior to the Incarnation in view of Christ’s merits and, according to the Franciscan school, all graces to Angels and men from the beginning are bestowed through Christ. To study this more in depth one can download Fr. Dominic Unger’s treatment of Franciscan Christology.

Had we not sinned and had God merely wanted to elevate us, He could have done so in other ways.

True, but He chose to do it this way – the most perfect way. St. Francis de Sales wrote on this very topic (Treatise on Divine Love, Book II, Ch.IV). According to this Doctor of the Church 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.” This is the primary reason God willed the Incarnation. Then 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.” What the Thomist is saying when denying the absolute predestination of Christ is that God chose to elevate us in the most perfect way because of Adam’s sin; if Adam had not sinned He would have done it in a less perfect way and would not have predestined the Sacred Humanity to grace and glory nor Mary to be the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God.

While theological speculation may have its place, it is most certain that the Incarnation was instituted by God first and foremost as a remedy for sin… Hence, St. Thomas’ position is best suited to the evidence.

In other words, just follow St. Thomas’ position – no need to speculate any further. Perhaps I’m wrong, but it seems to me that the fear of the Thomists is that bright minds will continue to study, reflect upon and discuss the primary motive of the Incarnation; whereas the fear of the Scotists (at least myself) is that bright minds will bury their heads in the sand and cease to study, reflect upon and discuss the primary motive of the Incarnation. In the end it is not about “winning” an argument, but about the truth of God’s revelation being fully known. I’m not alone in believing that we have the key to understanding the entire history of the universe because the “mystery which has been hidden for eternity in God” has now been revealed (Eph 3:9; cfr. Col 1:26; Rm 16:25; 1 Cor 2:7; Eph 1:9; etc.).

Fr. Josemaria Barbin, F.I. – The Primacy of Charity, the Primacy of Christ

Below is a presentation – as simple as it is profound – of the Franciscan position on the primacy of charity and the primacy of Christ by a young priest with the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, Fr. Josemaria Barbin. Noteworthy is the parallel he draws out between the seven days of creation and Galatians 4 (Time, Space, Life). There is a humorous, spontaneous Q/A section at the end. I will point out that most reputable Scotists hold that if Christ came into a sinless world He would NOT have come in a glorified body, but like Adam in original innocence, viz. as a wayfarer capable of merit with an impassible, immortal body (see Fr. Peter Fehlner’s comments on this here). I should also note that Fr. Josemaria in his brief responses was not able to go into detail about the actual theology of the absolute primacy which is found in Ven. Mary of Agreda’s work The Mystical City of God, something which I have treated more in-depth on this website. Another point which is brought out in the Q/A is the test of the Angels; for more information on this one can read here, here and here. And without further ado, here is Father’s presentation…

ChurchMilitant.com – Would Jesus Have Become Human if Man Had Not Fallen?

True to form, Michael Voris and ChurchMilitant.com were not afraid to step into the fray of controversy… this time regarding the primacy of Christ. They simply present the fact that many Saints responded “yes” – Christ would have become man even if Adam had not fallen – and synthesize some of the logic of the Subtle Doctor, Bl. John Duns Scotus, on the nature of the absolute predestination of Christ’s Sacred Humanity to glory. The original post can be found HERE (with lots of heated discussion in the combox!). The following is the text posted on ChurchMilitant.com:

Some theologians say yes

Most Catholics think the Incarnation is something that happened because of the sin of Adam: God became man to save man from sin. They will often quote the Exsultet to support this position: “O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the death of Christ! O happy fault, which merited for us so glorious a Redeemer!”

This position, however, is not held by all the Saints. In fact, this is a point of theological dispute among the Scholastics. One such scholar, Blessed John Duns Scotus, a 13th-century Franciscan, argued that Christ would indeed have become incarnate, even if man had not fallen.

His argument can be summarized in the following syllogism:

  • If man had not fallen, Christ would not have become Man.
  • If Christ had not become Man, there would not be any bridge between God and creation. God is no longer the “perfect Man” uniting creation to Himself.
  • This means that what would have been the highest good of creation (i.e., Christ’s human nature) would no longer exist.
  • Therefore, what is in fact the highest good of creation, Our Blessed Lord’s human nature, is the result of an accident, an “occasion of a lesser good,” as Scotus says.
  • But the wise man does not leave the greatest good to chance; on the contrary, it is first in his intention.
  • But if a wise man intends the greatest good, then a fortiori God, Who is Wisdom Itself, intends the greatest good of creation.

Thus the hypostatic union could not be a result of an accident, and hence its cause cannot be the fall of man, which is clearly not necessary (or else God would directly intend evil, which is absurd). Therefore, God intended to assume human nature and become Man, regardless of whether man fell.

In short, Scotus is saying that God would not leave the greatest work of His creation to chance. For though the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity is not created, the human nature of Christ is created (albeit in some mysterious, unknowable way).

The point is this: God has predestined certain men to eternal glory (Heaven), and this includes Our Blessed Lord, who is truly Man. In fact, the predestination of Our Lord is prior to every other saint since He is “before all else that is” and “in all things He has primacy” (Colossians 1:17–18).

But the predestination of the saints to glory is not dependent on the Fall of man (it’s not as if man needed to fall in order for the saints to attain Heaven). Therefore, Scotus argues, if their glory is not dependent on the Fall, then much less is Christ’s glory dependent on the Fall. Therefore, Christ would have become Man had man not fallen.

What about the Exsultet, the happy fault of Adam?

The words of the Easter Vigil hymn do not say Adam’s sin was necessary to make God Man, but rather to merit us a Redeemer. If we take this for exactly what it says, then there need not be any contradiction. For had Adam not sinned, we certainly would not have needed a Redeemer. But because Adam did sin, we now have a most glorious Redeemer, Who triumphed over sin and death and crushed the skull of the serpent at the place of the skull.

from ChurchMilitant.com

[For more on the “happy fault” of the Exultet you can see my reflections and a short video on the subject here]

Carmelites on the Absolute Primacy of Christ

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).

Abba Father – sons in the Son

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?

The Gospel

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.

Fr. Alessandro M. Apollonio, F.I. – Salvation, Redemption, and the Primacy of Christ

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…

Introduction

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]

Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P. – Only motive “we know of” for the Incarnation is sin?!?

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 TheologicaIt 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 – εἰς ἔπαινον δόξης τῆς χάριτος αὐτοῦ – in laudem gloriae gratiae suae!

Christ, the Exemplar Cause of the Creation, Eliminates the Possibility of Evolution

I recently spotted a post at the Kolbe Center for Creation website that debunks evolution (and Fr. Pierre de Chardin) based on Christ as the Exemplar Cause of Creation. They have given me permission to re-post that article below. You can see the original HERE.

The article is written by an “Anonymous Priest” [and NO, I am not the Anonymous Priest who wrote this piece! But I have written on this topic a number of times HERE and THERE and just about EVERYWHERE.]

The Annunciation

Here is “Anonymous Priest’s” article:

Christ, The Exemplar Cause Of Creation, Excludes the Possibility Of Evolution

In the early nineteen-forties, Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, wrote: “Is evolution a theory, a system or a hypothesis? It is much more: it is a general condition to which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems must bow and which they must satisfy henceforth if they are to be thinkable and true” (The Phenomenon of Man, p. 219).

In 1996 Pope John Paul II, addressing the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, claimed: “Today… new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge.”

On the other hand, Pope Pius XII taught: “Some imprudently and indiscreetly hold that evolution, which has not been fully proved even in the domain of natural sciences, explains the origin of all things, and audaciously support the monistic and pantheistic opinion that the world is in continual evolution” (Humani Generis, no. 5). Who is correct? How can we best resolve this difficulty?

To solve this problem, let us turn to the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, Who is the way, the truth and the life (Jn. 14:6) without Whom, we can do nothing (Jn. 15:5). From Him come the highest and most certain of arguments to dissipate all confusion and error. When one has the Christ, one has everything.

The Primacy of Christ

In the order of things willed by God ad extra, Jesus Christ is first. St. Paul speaks of the Christ as “the firstborn of every creature: For in Him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, … He is before all, and by Him all things consist. … that in all things He may hold the primacy” (Col. 1:15-18). St. John says of the Christ: “Thus says the Amen, the faithful and true witness, who is the beginning of the creation of God” (Apoc 3:14). Listen to St. Francis de Sales: “…the sovereign Providence, making His eternal purpose and design of all that He would produce, first willed and preferred by excellence the most amiable object of His love which is Our Savior; and then other creatures in order, according as they more or less belong to the service, honor and glory of Him” (Treatise on the Love of God, II, 5). St. Lawrence of Brindisi refers to Our Lord as the foundation of all creation such that Christ was willed as a foundation in such a way that if the edifice to be built on Him should ever need repairs, the reparation could be carried out on the same foundation without any change in the divine blueprint (cf. The Universal Primacy of Christ, Pancheri, p. 89). Of course this is an echo of St. Paul’s saying: “For other foundation no man can lay, but that which is laid; which is Christ Jesus” (1Cor 3:11). Eugenio Pacelli (later Pope Pius XII) wrote: “Jesus Christ is God’s masterpiece, the greatest of His works, and whatever moment and circumstances of His manifestation in time, He is the first to be willed by God, and in view of Him were all other things brought into being” (cf. Pancheri, p. 67). In a word, Christ Jesus is the Alpha of all creation.

Christ is also the Omega of all creation. In other words, He is also the purpose or final cause for which all things are made. Thus, St. John reports Our Lord saying: “I am the alpha and the omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Apoc. 22:13). St. Maximus the Confessor adds: “Christ is the blessed end for which all things have been created… the end for which God has willed all things and which is itself subordinated to nothing else… It is for Christ…that all the ages exist. And all things contained within them have found in Christ the beginning and the end of their call to existence” (Ad Thalas, q. LX as quoted in Christ and the Cosmos, Bonnefoy, p. 265). St. Francis de Sales: “Sacred Providence determined to produce all the rest of things, both natural and supernatural, for the sake of the Savior… Thus all things have been made for this divine Man” (Treatise on the Love of God, II, 4 & 5). The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Creation is the foundation of ‘all God’s saving plans,’ the ‘beginning of the history of salvation’ that culminates in Christ. Conversely, the mystery of Christ casts conclusive light on the mystery of creation and reveals the end for which ‘in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’: from the beginning, God envisaged the glory of the new creation in Christ” (no. 280).

The Sacred Liturgy also establishes Christ’s primacy of place in all creation. At the blessing of the Paschal Candle on the Easter Vigil, the priest prays: “Christ yesterday and today; Beginning and End; Alpha and Omega; All times are His and all ages; To Him be glory and dominion through all ages of eternity. Amen.” Furthermore, we have the prayer at the minor elevation: “Through Him, with Him, and in Him, be unto Thee, O God the Father almighty, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honour and glory, for all ages of ages. Amen.”

Both Scripture and Tradition speak clearly that Christ is everything… He is all in all. Thus, St. Paul exclaims: “God hath highly exalted Him, and hath given Him a name which is above all names. That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth: and that every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11). There is no higher name, no higher word, no higher reason for all created things to which we can look than Christ Jesus. If, therefore, evolution is truly much more than a theory or hypothesis… if “it is a general condition to which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems must bow and which they must satisfy henceforth if they are to be thinkable and true,” then evolution must be found in Christ. If, however, it is not found in Christ, then it is not possible. The ancient saying of the Fathers comes to mind … “What is not taken up by Christ is not redeemed by Christ.” If evolution cannot be found in Christ, then it is not redeemable and should be discarded as a work of the spirit of antichrist.

Teilhard de Chardin: The Omega of Evolution

For his part Chardin claims that evolution can be found in Christ. In a discussion with Fr. Gabriel Allegra, Chardin states “the vision of the Universe I have arrived at is not completely clear in all its details, but as a whole it fascinates me, and when I think that all things have as their beginning, center, and end le Grand Christ, I am literally dazzled.” He then goes on to explain how he thinks the world is broken up into various epochs of “millions and billions of years,” claiming that we are now “in the era of the homo sapiens” but nevertheless man will continue to evolve or “develop in an ascending process toward totalization, which is the crowning of much effort and pain, the painful childbirth, as it were, of evolution. … Totalization, in turn, will lead toward ‘unanimazation,’ just as millions of years before now, the geological factors led to ‘hominization’… in this ascent man is both the axle and the spoke, and in both capacities he tends toward the Omega point, Christ, le Grand Christ” (My Conversations with Teilhard de Chardin on the Primacy of Christ, Gabriel M. Allegra, O.F.M., pp. 59-60). For Chardin, therefore, Christ is “the great Evolver” (ibid., p. 81).

Other modern thinkers acknowledge and praise Chardin’s attempt at such a synthesis between Christ and evolution. Christoph Cardinal Schonborn, Archbishop of Vienna, wrote in his book, Chance or Purpose, “Hardly anyone else has tried to bring together the knowl­edge of Christ and the idea of evolution as the scientist (paleontologist) and theologian Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., has done. … His fascinating vision has remained controversial, and yet for many it has represented a great hope, the hope that faith in Christ and a scientific approach to the world can be brought together” (page 141 – Teilhard de Chardin – Witness to Christ). Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy wrote: “.. against the background of the modern evolutionary world view, Teilhard depicted the cosmos as a process of ascent, a series of unions. … From here Teilhard went on to give new meaning to Christian worship: the transubstantiated Host is the anticipation of the transformation and divinization of matter in the christological ‘fullness.’ In his view, the Eucharist provided the movement of the cosmos with its direction; it anticipates its goal and at the same time urges it on” (p. 29).

Yet, as we have indicated above, in order for this position to be valid, we must be able to find evolution in Christ because He, as the Alpha and Omega, is the summation of all creation. As Cardinal Pierre de Berulle taught, “This divine mystery [the Incarnation] is like the center of the created and uncreated world. It is the only place where God chose once and for all to contain and reduce to our level both the world and Himself, that is, His own infiniteness and the immensity of the whole universe” (Discourse on the State and Granduers of Jesus, I, 2, p. 62). Christ recapitulates all creation in Himself as explained by St. Irenaeus: “He recapitulated everything in Himself in order that, just as the Word of God has the primacy over the supercelestial, spiritual and invisible beings, He might also have it over visible and corporeal beings, assuming this primacy in Himself” (Adversus Hæreses, III, 16, 6). From the ancient thinkers to our own day, man has been seen to be a micro-cosmos of the macro-cosmos. This makes the God-Man Christ the Micro-Cosmos of the entire Universe. The angelic beings find themselves mirrored in His intellect and will, animals in His sensate or sensible soul, plants in His vegetative/nutritive soul, minerals in his bones. Humans find themselves modeled after Him as their prototype. In this way, He is the summation and re-capitulation of all creation. But, once again, can evolution be found in Christ? Is evolution a reality in God’s creation?

The Perfect is the Exemplar of the Less Perfect

St. Thomas Aquinas held the following principle: that which is most perfect is always the exemplar of that which is less perfect (cf. Summa Theologiae, III, 56, 1ad3). Christ, the “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15, 2Cor 4:4), the perfect micro-cosmos, is the exemplar cause of all creation (as well as its re-creation). In the prologue of St. John’s Gospel we hear: “without Him was made nothing that was made… He was in the world, and the world was made by Him” (Jn. 1:3,10; cf. Heb 1:2). Christ, therefore, is the universal prototype, foundation and blueprint of all creation. And this is why St. Paul declares: “in Him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible” and in Him “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 1:16, 2:3). This is why the various ancient icons writing about creation display Christ present at each day of creation.

Furthermore, Christ, as the exemplar cause, is the perfect man. Using the writings of many fathers like Jerome, Hilary, Cyril and Theodoret, St. Lawrence of Brindisi explains that man is made in the image of Christ, Who is both God and man, teaching: “Christ was first predetermined in the Divine Mind, as the Psalm says, ‘In the head of the book it is written of me,’ because He is ‘the firstborn of every creature.’ However, the Christ was determined, not according to divine nature, but human nature, because the Divine Mind before everything else conceived the form that the Word-to-be-Incarnate would receive. God, then, created the first man [Adam] in the image and likeness of that form. Accordingly, Scripture says that ‘in the image of God,’ namely of the Incarnation, i.e., Christ, Who is God, ‘He created him’ (Gen. 1:27). … Therefore, God created man in the image of God the Christ, namely, in that form and figure which had been predetermined for the Christ, the Son of God, before the formation of all the creatures, Whom St. Paul calls ‘the firstborn of every creature, in whom were created all things” (St. Lawrence of Brindisi on Creation and the Fall, Gen 1:27). According to this doctor, image refers to Christ even as man, saying, “Christ Himself was the archetype of human nature.” In other words, Adam was made in Christ’s image, not just spiritually but even physically. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reports St. Peter Chrysologus as saying: “The first Adam was made by the last Adam, from whom he also received his soul, to give him life. … The second Adam stamped His image on the first Adam when He created Him. … The last Adam is indeed the first; as He Himself says, ‘I am the first and the last’” (no. 359). Again, this is why various ancient icons display Christ Jesus making Adam. In Michelangelo’s now famous scene of Adam’s creation on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, God the Father reaches out to give Adam life with His right finger while His left is pointing and resting on the Christ Child with His Blessed Mother. God is saying, “Adam, We are creating you in the image of the Christ… and we are creating for the Christ.”

The mystic Ven. Mary of Agreda verifies this truth: “On the sixth day, He formed and created Adam, as it were of the age of thirty three years. This was the age in which Christ was to suffer death, and Adam in regard to His body was so like unto Christ, that scarcely any difference existed. Also according to the soul, Adam was similar to Christ. From Adam God formed Eve so similar to the Blessed Virgin, that she was like unto her personal appearance and in figure. God looked upon these two images of the great Originals with the highest pleasure and benevolence, and on account of the Originals, He heaped many blessings, as if he wanted to entertain Himself with them and their descendants until the time should arrive for forming Christ and Mary” (Mystical City of God, bk. I, pp. 126-127).

The Second Vatican Council echoes this truth, stating: “only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come,(20) namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. It is not surprising, then, that in Him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown. He Who is ‘the image of the invisible God’ (Col. 1:15), is Himself the perfect man” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 22). The footnote (20) refers to a teaching of Tertullian: “The shape that the slime of the earth was given was intended with a view to Christ, the future man” (De carnis resurrectione 6: P.L. 2, 282).

Although more proofs could be added to these, we nevertheless have sufficient data from the Deposit of the Faith to see an insurmountable obstacle to the Christ having any part with evolution. He is the exemplar cause of all creation. As the “perfect man” He is the exemplar cause of all men. What is perfect does not evolve. St. Paul exclaims: “Jesus Christ, yesterday, and today, and the same for ever. Be not led away with various and strange doctrines” (Heb 13:8-9) He is the same yesterday, today and forever… He is perfect in every way. There is no room for any evolution here. If there is no evolution in Christ, then there cannot be evolution in creation (or its re-creation/redemption), making evolution one of the “strange doctrines” to which the Apostle is referring. If there is no room for evolution in the Exemplar, then He cannot be Chardin’s “Evolver” and, what is more, there can be no evolution in man at all. For how can man have evolved from lower species during the so-called period of “hominization” when the first man Adam was made according to the image of the Christ, the perfect man, the prototype of Adam?

This is what St. Thomas said about the first man: “In the natural order, perfection comes before imperfection, as act precedes potentiality; for whatever is in potentiality is made actual only by something actual. And since God created things not only for their own existence, but also that they might be the principles of other things; so creatures were produced in their perfect state to be the principles as regards others. Now man can be the principle of another man, not only by generation of the body, but also by instruction and government. Hence, as the first man was produced in his perfect state, as regards his body, for the work of generation, so also was his soul established in a perfect state to instruct and govern others” (ST I, 94, a3).

Evolution is a Fable

Creation is, as it were, a book. Every creature is a sentence or a word in this book. The Author and Publisher is the Triune God. It is the task of human and angelic intelligence to read God’s thoughts from this book and co-operate with Him. The theme, the dominant idea that runs through each sentence—even each word—is the Word made Flesh, the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, because this Word says everything. This is why the Archangel says to Blessed Mary at the Incarnation, “No word will be impossible for God.” Evolution is not a word. It cannot be found in this book or in its theme. It is a fable (cf. 2Tim 4:4), a “strange doctrine” of which St. Paul warned us against so long ago.

Chardin made the bold claim that evolution “is a general condition to which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems must bow and which they must satisfy henceforth if they are to be thinkable and true.” This is patently false since no evolution is possible in Christ. Rather, his description of evolution’s supreme place fits the Christ, the Word, Truth Incarnate. It is to Him and His name that we must bow. It is “through Him and with Him and in Him” alone that all theories, all hypotheses, all systems must submit and satisfy if they are to be thinkable and true.

The true Book of Creation, Christ, predicted Chardin’s ideas in the lives of the Israelites making their way through in the desert of Sinai. King David relates in Psalm 105: “They made a calf in Horeb: and they adored the graven thing. … they changed their glory into the likeness of a calf that eateth grass…” (19-20). In making and worshipping the golden calf, these Israelites radically departed from the theme of creation’s book, the Word made flesh, by trying to write, as it were, “we are made in the image of beasts…because we came from the beasts; and we are, therefore, like the beasts. There is some equality between us.” We know the outcome. They proceeded to act like beasts, became beastly, and were destroyed.

St. Paul explains that Christ is our goal and that, because of sin, man has fallen away from the perfect man. Through sin man is deformed. Through sin man falls further and further away from the Christ. To regain our proper place, we seek to conform to Christ Jesus by restoring what was lost. Chardin, however, replaces the deformation caused by sin with the concept of evolution, claiming that creation started in a state of imperfection or deformation and is evolving toward Christ as the Omega point of creation. This does not coincide with the data of Divine Revelation. This does not fit Christ as the Exemplar cause of all creation and as the perfect Man in light of Whom Adam was made. This doctrine of Chardin, therefore, must be rejected as dangerous and harmful to the faith.

The Holy Office certainly concurred with this conclusion when it published the following admonition in the early 1960s:

Admonition

Several works of Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, some of which were published posthumously, are being edited and receiving considerable support. Refraining from a judgment in that which concerns the positive sciences, it is quite evident that in philosophical and theological matters the mentioned works are filled with ambiguities and even serious errors that offend Catholic doctrine. For this reason, the Most Eminent and Most Reverend Fathers of the Supreme and Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office exhort all Ordinaries as well as the Superiors of Religious Institutes, Rectors of Seminaries and Directors of Universities, to protect minds, particularly of the youth, against the dangers of the works of Fr. Teilhard de Chardin and his associates.

Given at Rome, from the Palace of the Holy Office, on the 30th day of June, 1962.
Sebastian Masala, Notary
(cf. L’Osservatore Romano, July 1, 1962).

Authoritative Magisterial Teaching is Rooted in the Deposit of Faith

Now something needs to be said regarding the statements of the popes and prelates that place evolution and the teaching of Chardin in so favorable a light. Each of these men has a place in the hierarchy of the Church. They are in the line of authority established by God that goes from heaven down to earth. But that position or place in the hierarchy alone does not give every word or action or decision they make an immediate share in God’s authority. In order for this to happen, these words, actions and decisions must be somehow found in the Book of the Incarnate Word. In other words, they must have some pedigree, some genealogy, a Tradition that traces them back to Christ and His Apostles. In every authoritative statement of the Church’s Magisterium, there is always a presentation of the tradition behind the teaching. For example, when defining the Immaculate Conception, Pope Pius IX spent no little time and space tracing the doctrine back to the Scriptures and Tradition through the Fathers, Doctors and the Sacred Liturgy of the Church. Then Pope Pius made his immemorial pronouncement. Pope John Paul did likewise when he ruled on whether women could be ordained priests. This is what must be done in order for any statement to witness with any authority to the Book of the Incarnate Word. Pope John Paul presented no pedigree, no genealogy or Tradition in his statement on evolution. No mention was made of the creed of Pope Pelagius I, the Fourth Lateran Council, the First Vatican Council, Pope Leo XIII and other authoritative Magisterial teachings on the origin of man and the created universe. Thus, the saying of Melchior Cano, the great Dominican theologian at the sixteenth-century Council of Trent, comes to mind: “Those who blindly and indiscriminately defend every decision of the supreme Pontiff are the very ones who do most to undermine the authority of the Holy See—they destroy instead of strengthening its foundations” (as quoted by George Weigel in Witness to Hope, p. 15). Since Pope John Paul II’s statement on evolution has no genealogy, we are safe in considering it merely as the opinion of a Pope at the time of his speaking to a gathering of modern scientists.

Again, St. Paul explains our task is not to evolve toward and into Christ but rather to restore all things in Christ by first entering into His Body the Church (incorporation) and then seeking total conformity to Him as the Head of the Church and exemplar of both our creation and re-creation. He is the foundation upon which we build anew. “Until we all meet into the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ; That henceforth we be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the wickedness of men, by cunning craftiness, by which they lie in wait to deceive but doing the truth in charity, we may in all things grow up in Him who is the Head, even Christ” (4:13-15). St. John of the Cross poetically captures much of what we have concluded when he has God the Father say to God the Son in one of his ballads: “My Son, only Your company contents Me, and when something pleases Me I love that thing in You; whoever resembles You most satisfies Me most, and whoever is like You in nothing, will find nothing in Me. I am pleased with You alone, O life of My life!” (Romances, no. 9.2). We have shown that evolution has no part in Christ—which means that it is not pleasing to God, and that He will have nothing to do with it! So, let “that mind be” in us “that was in Christ Jesus”—and let us join Our Lord in rejecting evolution so that we can restore the primacy of Christ, as Creator, Redeemer, and King of the universe.

An Anonymous Priest

St. John Damascene – Christ the Firstborn of All Creation

In his Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith (Book IV, Chapter 8), the 8th century Doctor of the Church St. John Damascene speaks of Christ as Firstborn and Only-Begotten as a result of the union of the two Natures in the one Divine Person of the Word. What is important to note is that Only-Begotten refers to the Divinity of Christ for He is truly begotten of the Father from all in eternity as the eternal Son; whereas Firstborn refers to the Sacred Humanity of Christ born in time of the Θεοτοκος – Mother of God. The Saint is explicitly referring to the Pauline passages of Christ being the Firstborn among many brethren (Rm 8:29 – see my comments on this passage here) and the Firstborn of all creation (Col 1:16 – see my comments this passage here).

Here is the passage of St. John Damascene:

He who is first begotten is called first-born(1), whether he is only-begotten or the first of a number of brothers. If then the Son of God was called first-born, but was not called Only-begotten, we could imagine that He was the first-born of creatures, as being a creature(2). But since He is called both first-born and Only-begotten, both senses must be preserved in His case. We say that He is first-born of all creation(3) since both He Himself is of God and creation is of God, but as He Himself is born alone and timelessly of the essence of God the Father, He may with reason be called Only-begotten Son, first-born and not first-created. For the creation was not brought into being out of the essence of the Father, but by His will out of nothing(4). And He is called First-born among many brethren(5), for although being Only-begotten, He was also born of a mother. Since, indeed, He participated just as we ourselves do in blood and flesh and became man, while we too through Him became sons of God, being adopted through the baptism, He Who is by nature Son of God became first-born amongst us who were made by adoption and grace sons of God, and stand to Him in the relation of brothers. Wherefore He said, I ascend unto My Father and your Father(6). He did not say “our Father,” but “My Father,” clearly in the sense of Father by nature, and “your Father,” in the sense of Father by grace. And “My God and your God(7).” He did not say “our God,” but “My God:” and if you distinguish with subtle thought that which is seen from that which is thought, also “your God,” as Maker and Lord.

Obviously Christ is not the “First” born chronologically in His Humanity. This indicates that He was the Firstborn of all creation in the divine intention – God, outside of time, willed the Incarnation first and all else is ordered to the Word-Incarnate. Calling Christ the Firstborn makes no sense apart from the absolute primacy of Christ’s predestination.

Let me conclude by posting the brief video of how I explained this about 12 years ago (when I was a lot younger and had a lot less gray hair)…

Fr. Frederick Faber – A Thoroughgoing Scotist

2 weeks ago I shared a post from The Amish Catholic by Rick Yoder. He also has a marvelous post on the life and teaching of Fr. Frederick Faber and gave me permission to repost it. If you want to see the original post just click HERE. I have also posted on Fr. Faber’s position on the absolute primacy of Christ in the past with citations from his books and from a conference of Msgr. Arthur B. Calkins which can be found at this link.

From the Amish Catholic…

SacredHeartRoses

Faberesque religious art. (Source)

The Church offers us the way of salvation. She declares the destination, Heaven; she notes our provenance, the bondage of our sinful nature. And she furnishes a route from the latter up to the former. Or, I might say, “routes.” For while the Cruciform road to Heaven may appear singular from afar, anyone who enters the Journey will find that it is in fact composed of many different paths. The holy diversity of the Church is one testament of its Catholicity. Like a great Cathedral or Basilica that appears as one massive edifice from the street but harbors dozens of little side-altars within, each distinctly the Table of the Lord, the Church offers more streams of spirituality than we can discern. Some flow still in our midst, giving life to multitudes. Others run dry. And some thought long-extinct may suddenly spring forth in new vim and vigor.

It is only a natural and concurrent fact that the Church should likewise offer her children a diverse array of spiritual writers. There is the beautiful, mysterious Areopagite; the mighty, noble St. Augustine; the dazzlingly imaginative St. Ephrem the Syrian; the logical, pacific Aquinas; the bloody consolations of Dame Julian; the gleaming shadows of St. John of the Cross; the brooding brilliance of Pascal; the soaring eloquence of Bossuet; the roseate cheer of St. Thérèse of Lisieux; the luminous fragmentation of T.S. Eliot; the Gothic grotesquerie of Flannery O’Connor. The list goes on and on.

The English Catholic Revival was a fertile time for spiritual writers. At the fountainhead of the entire movement stands Cardinal Newman, whose massive influence is still being felt by theologians and writers today. The founder of the English Oratory was a masterful stylist, so much so that James Joyce considered him the greatest master of English prose. Every ecclesiastical development proves that Newman’s theology is more timely than ever. He has been lauded by subsequent generations, and rightly so. When he is eventually canonized, he will certainly be declared a Doctor of the Church for his labors.

But he has, sadly, overshadowed another figure, one no less deserving of praise for his own work on behalf of the Gospel. That man is Fr. Frederick William Faber, the founder of the London Oratory.

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Fr. Frederick William Faber, Father of the Brompton Oratory. (Source)

Faber was an Oxford convert like Newman. After leaving the University, he first served as an Anglican parish priest in Northamptonshire. He would later bring eleven men with him across the Tiber when he resigned his post. After shepherding the community for a short time, he eventually joined forces with Newman and co-founded the English Oratory. They split the country. Newman went to Birmingham, and Faber went to London. In the course of his time there, he gained notoriety as a preacher of remarkable versatility and power, a widely-respected hymnodist, a constant friend of the poor, and an authoritative teacher of the spiritual life. As one source has it, his written works

…are a mine of spiritual gold of the highest purity, refined and drawn from Faber’s deep understanding of Catholic spiritual theology. For he had delved deeply, not only into the standard Scholastic philosophy and theology, but especially into the mystical schools. Father Faber was a brilliant man whose theology of the Absolute Primacy of Christ and Mary is grounded in that of the Subtle Doctor, Blessed John Duns Scotus (1266-1308), all recast in simple ordinary English. (174).

When he died, all the great Catholics of England honored his memory. In France, even the formidable abbot of Solesmes, Dom Prosper Guéranger, admired his writings and wrote of him fondly.

But Faber is a largely forgotten figure today, at least among American Catholics. While most have probably heard at least one or two of his hymns, such as “Faith of Our Fathers,” few read more deeply into his life or thought. Why? What has caused this lacuna in our collective memory?

There are, I think, two primary reasons.

The first is that he is eclipsed by Newman. The two had differences in their own day. Newman was resolutely opposed to the pretensions of Ultramonatism; Faber, like Cardinal Manning, was a strong advocate of Rome’s prerogatives. Newman always wanted to return to Oxford and restore some traces of his old, academic life; Faber was content to build the finest church of Great Britain in London, to better minister to the poor. Newman was always a little wary about Marian titles and devotions; Faber practically bathed in them. As Monsignor Rondald Knox writes in 1945,

While Faber is introducing the British public to the most luscious legends of the Counter-Reformation, Newman is still concerned over the difficulties of Anglicans, still asking how and in what sense Catholic doctrine has developed, still cautiously delimiting the spheres of faith and reason. (“The Conversions of Newman and Faber,” Pastoral and Occasional Sermons, 875).

The tensions surrounding Faber’s spirituality eventually led Newman to formally, judicially separate the two houses. Sadly, “While Newman visited Faber shortly before his death, the two men were not able to fully resolve their differences.”

The second, related to the first, is part stylistic, part spiritual. Consider an analogy. Among the Metaphysical Poets, the meditative Donne has always outshone the ebullient Crashaw. Logos is easy to parse. Its analysis is a straightforward, if sometimes arduous task. Pathos, however, is a more slippery beast altogether, and one less communicable and less persistent than we should like to think. It may fire one breast and repel another. Not all hearts chime the same tune in the same wind. Likewise, Newman’s depth, intellect, and style have garnered more attention than Faber’s flowery devotions. His devotional prose is as purple as it gets. Consider the following passage, taken from Part I of “The Mystery of the Precious Blood.”

SALVATION! What music is there in that word – music that never tires but is always new, that always rouses yet always rests us! It holds in itself all that our hearts would say. It is sweet vigor to us in the morning, and in the evening it is contented peace. It is a song that is always singing itself deep down in the delighted soul. Angelic ears are ravished by it up in Heaven; and our Eternal Father Himself listens to it with adorable complacency. It is sweet even to Him out of Whose mind is the music of a thousand worlds. To be saved! What is it to be saved? Who can tell? Eye has not seen, nor ear heard. It is a rescue, and from such a shipwreck. It is a rest, and in such an unimaginable home. It is to lie down forever in the bosom of God in an endless rapture of insatiable contentment. (“The Mystery of the Precious Blood“)

Or, later in the same volume, when he writes the following passage.

Green Nazareth was not a closer hiding-place than the risen glory of the Forty Days. As of old, the Precious Blood clung round the sinless Mother. Like a stream that will not leave its parent chain of mountains, but laves them incessantly with many an obstinate meandering, so did the Blood of Jesus, shed for all hearts of men, haunt the single heart of Mary. Fifteen times, or more in those Forty Days, it came out from under the shadow of Mary’s gladness and gleamed forth in beautiful apparitions. Each of them is a history in itself, and a mystery, and a revelation. Never did the Sacred Heart say or do such ravishing things as those Forty Days of its Risen Life. The Precious Blood had almost grown more human from having been three days in the keeping of the Angels. But, as it had mounted Calvary on Good Friday, so now it mounts Olivet on Ascension Thursday, and disappears into Heaven amidst the whiteness of the silver clouds. It had been but a decree in Heaven before, a Divine idea, an eternal compassion, an inexplicable complacency of the life of God. It returns thither a Human Life, and is throned at the Right Hand of the Father forever in right of its inalienable union with the Person of the Word. There is no change in the Unchangeable. But in Heaven there had never been change like this before, nor ever will be again. The changes of the Great Doom can be nothing compared to the exaltation of the Sacred Humanity of the Eternal Word. The very worship of the glorious spirits was changed, so changed that the Angels themselves cannot say how it is that no change has passed on God. Somehow the look of change has enhanced the magnificence of the Divine immutability, and has given a new gladness to their adoration of its unspeakable tranquility (“The History of the Precious Blood“).

Or this passage from The Blessed Sacrament, taken from a friend who posted it on Facebook for the Nativity of Mary.

Let us mount higher still. Earth never broke forth with so gay and glad fountain as when the Babe Mary, the infant who was the joy of the whole world, the flower of God’s invisible creation, and the perfection of the invisible and hitherto queenless angels of His court, came like the richest fruit, ready-ripe and golden, of the world’s most memorable September. There is hardly a feast in the year so gay and bright as this of her Nativity, right in the heart of the happy harvest, as though she were, as indeed she was, earth’s heavenliest growth, whose cradle was to rock to the measures of the worlds vintage songs; for she had come who was the true harvest-home that homeless world.

His devotion to Our Lady was legendary. He was, in fact, the first English translator of St. Louis de Montfort’s famous text, True Devotion to Mary…and that even before he had become an Oratorian! He was also probably the first English author to think of Mary as Co-Redemptrix. In one of his hymns, he declares:

Mother of God! we hail thy heart,
Throned in the azure skies,
While far and wide within its charm
The whole creation lies.
O sinless heart, all hail!
God’s dear delight, all hail!
Our home, our home is deep in thee,
Eternally, eternally.
(Source)

ImmaculateheartRosesDoves

Lace holy card of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Extremely Fr. Faber’s aesthetic. (Source)

Fr. Faber’s devotion to Our Lady extended beyond his prolific writings. He not only translated St. Louis’s book. In 1846, he undertook his own Marian consecration in the Holy House of Loreto. He had a tendency to refer to the Mother of God as “Mama.” A famous episode related by Monsignor Knox depicts Fr. Faber at one of his more florid moments. After a particularly high Marian procession at the Oratory, he was observed weeping. Without any care for who heard, he cried out, “Won’t Mamma be pleased?” (“The Conversion of Faber,” Pastoral and Occasional Sermons, 891).

None of this spirituality or the writing in which it comes to us fits our modern tastes. It is too perfumed, too sickly-sweet, too campy, too Victorian, too decadent, too redolent of pastel holy cards mouldering in antique prayer books. One critic puts it thus:

There are great slabs of passages, sometimes chapters at a time, which glow with ethereal light but have little content. Hypnotized by his own fluency Faber flows on and on, melodious and tedious…There are awful lapses of taste. (Chapman, quoted here).

And certainly, Faber cared not one shred for taste. The only thing that mattered was the salvation and sanctification of souls. Knox tells us that “‘Art for art’s sake’ had no meaning for him…if a bad verse would have more chance of winning souls than a good verse, down the bad verse would go” (“The Conversion of Faber,” Pastoral and Occasional Sermons, 891). There is much to criticize in this tendency from a purely aesthetic standpoint. Christians should commit themselves to the highest standards in all artistic and literary endeavors.

But it is hard not to like the man weeping after the procession; it is harder still to feel totally averse to passages that glow purple as the evening sky. One has the sense that Fr. Faber would have been a remarkable presence today, if only because his emotionalism and baroque, slightly kitschy aesthetic would have made him an ironic celebrity on Weird Catholic Twitter. Imagine what he would have done with memes!

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Santa Maria Bambina, Southern Italy. (Source)

Yet he would also be a sign of contradiction. We have seen a renewed emphasis on Muscular Christianity, with a proliferation of websites, associations, and thinkpieces all dedicated to restoring “authentic masculinity” and resisting the “feminization” of the liturgy. This is a particularly popular movement within the larger Traditionalist wing of the Church. In brief, the narrative usually runs as follows:

1) After Vatican II, the Novus Ordo initiated a new, “feminine” form of the Mass.
2) This innovation was a substantive capitulation to the Sexual Revolution.
3) Men don’t want to serve a feminized Church in a feminized liturgy, with altar girls, felt banners, versus populum, happy-clappy music, etc.
4) The vocations crisis of the last 30-40 years ensues.
5) As such, we need to restore more pronounced gender binaries and hierarchies along with the Usus Antiquior.

Some of this narrative may be correct. I refrain from judging its particular historical claims, social implications, or theological presuppositions.

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Midnight Mass at the Brompton Oratory. (Source)

Nevertheless, Fr. Faber confounds that entire way of thinking. He was anything but a “Muscular” Christian. His personality, style, and spirituality were so clearly “feminine” that his own nephew, the publisher Geoffrey Faber, considered him a probable closet case (see David Hilliard’s famous essay “UnEnglish and Unmanly,” page 5). Whether or not his (disputed) conclusions about the priest (and all the leaders of the Oxford Movement) are true, it suffices to say that Fr. Faber was far from the “authentically masculine” man fetishized by the new Muscular Christianity. Yet liturgically he was known as one of the highest of the high, and his sons at the Brompton Oratory continue that admirable tradition. If nothing else, Fr. Faber’s legacy is the Oratory that still stand as a landmark of reverence, beauty, and transcendent holiness in the midst of postconciliar banality.

What’s more, Fr. Faber is not just a fine hymnodist and devotional writer. He penetrated deep mysteries of the faith. A thoroughgoing Scotist, he advocated the thesis (shared by this author) that Christ probably would have been incarnated anyway even if Adam had never fallen. And as the Church’s Mariology continues to develop, his arguments on behalf of Our Lady’s Co-Redemption may yet prove invaluable. Sophiologists should take note. Here is a man after our own heart.

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A holy card of Santa Maria Bambina. (Source)

Fr. Faber writes of Our Lady’s suffering in a passage worth quoting at length:

But this is not all. She co-operated with our Lord in the redemption of the world in quite a different sense, a sense which can never be more than figuratively true of the Saints. Her free consent was necessary to the Incarnation, as necessary as free will is to merit according to the counsels of God. She gave Him the pure blood, out of which the Holy Ghost fashioned His Flesh and bone and Blood. She bore Him in her womb for nine months, feeding Him with her own substance. Of her was He born, and to her He owed all those maternal offices which, according to common laws, were necessary for the preservation of His inestimable life. She exercised over Him the plenitude of parental jurisdiction. She consented to His Passion; and if she could not in reality have withheld her consent, because it was already involved in her original consent to the Incarnation, nevertheless she did not in fact withhold it, and so He went to Calvary as her free-will offering to the Father. Now, this is co-operation in a different sense from the former, and if we compare it with the co-operation of the Saints, their own co-operation, in which Mary herself alone surpassed them all, we shall see that this other peculiar co-operation of hers was indispensable to the redemption of the world as effected on the Cross. Souls could be saved without the co-operation of the Saints. The soul of the penitent thief was saved with no other co-operation than that of Mary, and, if our Blessed Lord had so willed it, could have been saved without even that. But the co-operation of the Divine Maternity was indispensable. Without it our Lord would not have been born when and as He was; He would not have had that Body to suffer in; the whole series of the Divine purposes would have been turned aside, and either frustrated, or diverted into another channel. It was through the free will and blissful consent of Mary that they flowed as God would have them flow. Bethlehem, and Nazareth, and Calvary, came out of her consent, a consent which God did in no wise constrain. But not only is the co-operation of the Saints not indispensable of itself, but no one Saint by himself is indispensable to that co-operation. Another Apostle might have fallen, half the Martyrs might have sacrificed to idols, the Saints in each century might have been a third fewer in number than they were, and yet the co-operation of the Saints would not have been destroyed, though its magnificence would have been impaired. Its existence depends on the body, not on the separate individuals. No one Saint who can be named, unless perhaps it were in some sense St. Peter, was necessary to the work, so necessary that without him the work could not have been accomplished. But in this co-operation of Mary she herself was indispensable. It depended upon her individually. Without her the work could not have been accomplished. Lastly, it was a co-operation of a totally different kind from that of the Saints. Theirs was but the continuation and application of a sufficient redemption already accomplished, while hers was a condition requisite to the accomplishment of that redemption. One was a mere consequence of an event which the other actually secured, and which only became an event by means of it. Hence it was more real, more present, more intimate, more personal, and with somewhat of the nature of a cause in it, which cannot in any way be predicated of the co-operation of the Saints. And all this is true of the co-operation of Mary, without any reference to the dolors at all…Our Lord had taken a created nature, in order that by its means He might accomplish that great work; so it seemed as if the highest honor and the closest union of a sinless creature with Himself should be expressed in the title of co-redemptress. In fact, there is no other single word in which the truth could be expressed; and, far off from His sole and sufficient redemption as Mary’s co-operation lies, her co-operation stands alone and aloof from all the co-operation of the elect of God. This, like some other prerogatives of our Blessed Lady, cannot have justice done it by the mere mention of it. We must make it our own by meditation before we can understand all that it involves. But neither the Immaculate Conception nor the Assumption will give us a higher idea of Mary’s exaltation than this title of co-redemptress, when we have theologically ascertained its significance. Mary is vast on every side, and, as our knowledge and appreciation of God grow, so also will grow our knowledge and appreciation of her His chosen creature. No one thinks unworthily of Mary, except because he thinks unworthily of God. Devotion to the Attributes of God is the best school in which to learn the theology of Mary; and the reward of our study of Mary lies in a thousand new vistas that are opened to us in the Divine Perfections, into which except from her heights we never could have seen at all.
(“The Compassion of Mary,” emphases in source.)

There is much in this text, and in so many like it, to warm a Catholic’s flagging devotion to the Mother of God. For that treasure alone, we should be grateful.

KitschyMaryCard

A Marian Holy Card. (Source)

As his writing on this subject demonstrates, Father Faber was in all things the most enthusiastic and the most Roman of Catholics. Yet his prodigious work on behalf of the Gospel, and the ardor with which he was wont to express himself, made him a popular figure even among Protestants. His hymns are sung by traditional and mainline Protestant churches even today.

A.W. Tozer held him in high esteem, going so far as to write:

Spinoza wrote of the intellectual love of God, and he had a measure of truth there; but the highest love of God is not intellectual, it is spiritual. God is spirit and only the spirit of man can know Him really. In the deep spirit of a man the fire must glow or his love is not the true love of God. The great of the Kingdom have been those who loved God more than others did. We all know who they have been and gladly pay tribute to the depths and sincerity of their devotion. We have but to pause for a moment and their names come trooping past us smelling of myrrh and aloes and cassia out of the ivory palaces. Frederick Faber was one whose soul panted after God as the roe pants after the water brook, and the measure in which God revealed Himself to his seeking heart set the good man’s whole life afire with a burning adoration rivaling that of the seraphim before the throne. His love for God extended to the three Persons of the Godhead equally, yet he seemed to feel for each One a special kind of love reserved for Him alone. The Pursuit of God, p. 40 (quoted here)

If a modern master of Protestant spirituality can appreciate the peculiar wisdom of this effusive little man, then what excuse do we have? The Church has entrusted him to our memory and will, I hope, some day do so formally at the altar of God.

I began this essay describing the various spiritualities that have animated the Church from its earliest days. Some remain vital, others have disappeared, and some may yet come back from quietude. The strange and fragrant spirituality Father Faber let out into the world may appear as one of those dried-up streams, never again to impart life to the desert of our world. We are not Victorians. Yet this great Oratorian offers his gift to us still. We are the ones who must accept it. I have little doubt that his life, example, and thought are welcome aids in our pursuit of Heaven.