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…


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:


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…


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.

Fr. Peter Fehlner and the Franciscan Thesis

On May 8th, 2018, Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner passed on to his eternal reward. I am personally grateful to God for the gift that Fr. Peter was to me as professor, spiritual father, superior, confessor and friend over the past 26 years, and in a particular way for his love and insights into the absolute predestination of Jesus and Mary according to the teaching of Bl. John Duns Scotus and the Franciscan Thesis. Fr. Peter penetrated into the revealed mystery of the absolute primacy of Jesus Christ and its implications more than any person I have known or read and, genius that he was, I can still remember in the seminary how he would often find difficulty expressing in human words these profound truths to the point where his tongue would literally get tied up in enthusiastically trying to communicate these realities to us.

Today, as his funeral takes place in the Basilica of St. Stanislaus in Chicopee, MA, [Fr. James McCurry’s Requiem homily can be viewed HERE] I thought it appropriate to post a conference of Msgr. Arthur B. Calkins on Fr. Peter’s teachings regarding the Franciscan thesis (textual highlights of the conference are underneath the video as well).

Requiescat in pace.

Below is the portion of Msgr. Calkins’ talk covering Fr. Peter Fehlner and the Franciscan Thesis:

  1. The Franciscan Thesis as Articulated by Father Peter Damian

In the course of almost thirty years I have learned a great deal about Mariology from Father Peter Damian Fehlner. He is a disciple and master of that uniquely Franciscan approach to the doctrine of the joint predestination of Jesus and Mary known as the Franciscan thesis. His exposition of this doctrine on the Mariology and scholarly achievement of Father Juniper B. Carol (1911-1990) at the convention of the Mariological Society of America in 1992[1] made a deep impression on me. In introducing the contribution of Juniper Carol, he found it appropriate to treat of the accomplishment of Father Juniper’s master and guide in the field of Franciscan Mariology, Father Karlo Balić (1899-1977):

Fr. Balić’s contribution to Mariology is, therefore, unabashedly Franciscan in inspiration. It takes its cue from the so-called Franciscan thesis: the absolute primacy of the Word Incarnate (Kingship of Christ) and his Blessed Mother’s association uno eodemque decreto in that primacy (qua Immaculate Queen of Heaven and Earth), an association particularly evident at three points in the life of the Virgin: her conception, her cooperation in the work of salvation, her triumph in Heaven or put doctrinally: the Immaculate Conception; the universal maternal mediation of Mary; and her glorious Assumption and Coronation in heaven as Queen of the Universe.[2]

The allusion, of course, to uno eodemque decreto is a shorthand reference to the famous text wherein the Franciscan thesis passed into the papal magisterium in Blessed Pius IX’s Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus in which he solemnly declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. In that authoritative document Pius stated that God

by one and the same decree, had established the origin of Mary and the Incarnation of Divine Wisdom [ad illius Virginis primordia transferre, quæ uno eodemque decreto cum divinæ Sapientiæ incarnatione fuerant præstituta.][3]

This is to say that from all eternity in willing the Incarnation of the Word, the second person of the Most Blessed Trinity, God also willed Mary. This may seem to be a simple and obvious statement in itself until one begins to realize that God could have brought the Incarnation about in any way that he wished since he needed no one to accomplish it, but he willed to “need” Mary. This position in based on the union of the woman of Genesis 3:15 with her offspring. Together, though not on an equal par, they will overcome the serpent. But first of all, they are willed for themselves as the crown of the material creation. Thus, as Father Peter Damian tells us, the joint predestination of Jesus and Mary is “at the very center of the divine counsels of salvation”[4] and for this reason “the mode of the Incarnation is Marian, not only in its first moment, but in every moment, above all the last.”[5] This statement, then, by Blessed Pius IX in Ineffabilis Deus marks the first time that this position, long sustained and taught by Franciscan theologians, entered into the papal magisterium. This theological conviction in fact is not original to Franciscan theologians because, as Father Peter Damian explains, its roots

antedate both Scotus and Francis himself. It is Franciscan, not by reason of origin (in this it is rather Catholic), but by reason of its promotion, of its being rendered more explicit and then more effectively incorporated into the life of the Church, as St. Maximilian Kolbe would say.[6]

The statement that Father Peter makes in parenthesis is very important. This position is ultimately Catholic and we owe our gratitude to the Franciscan family for having consistently sustained it and taught it. Ultimately, as he explains:

Mary in some intrinsic manner pertains as no other person to the order of the hypostatic union, the grace of graces and source of all order and intelligibility both in the economy of salvation and in creation. To this fact and to the special place enjoyed by Mary in the economy of salvation, both in relation to the mystery of Jesus and of the Church (cf. Lumen Gentium, ch. 8, title), the whole of revelation affords abundant witness (as sketched out in Lumen Gentium, nn. 55ff).[7]

In the first part of his magisterial article, “The Predestination of the Virgin Mother and Her Immaculate Conception” in the Mariology volume edited by Mark Miravalle Father Peter laments the fact that treatment of the predestination of Mary has all but disappeared from Mariological study.[8] We are grateful that his study in that volume once more presents it to a wide audience. From the perspective of Blessed John Duns Scotus (c. 1266-1308), whose faithful disciple Father Peter has ever remained, he explains that

Whereas the fullness of grace in Mary is in view of the foreseen merits of her Son, the participation in grace by all others is in view of the mediation of Jesus and Mary. Because of the fact of sin on the part of Adam and Eve, that mediation of Christ, when realized historically after the tragic event of original sin and the fall of the angels, is in fact redemptive as well as saving: preservatively in Mary (and in a subordinate way in the angels who did not fall) and liberatively in all others. In Mary redemption is her Immaculate Conception; in us it is our liberation from sin. In both cases redemption is the term of divine mercy: more perfectly, however, in Mary than in us, and in us dependently on its realization in the Immaculate.[9]

Father Peter goes on to underscore a point often overlooked by the critics of Scotus.

In the joint predestination of Jesus and Mary, the distinctive personal roles of Jesus and Mary are not confused, nor does their coordination with a single work of mediation put Mary on a par with Jesus, any more than the capacity of the blessed to think and love in the mode of divine persons (a kind of coordination, anticipated in the divine indwelling by grace) put them on a par with the divine persons. Such coordination, heart of the supernatural order of grace, rests ever on a radical subordination. In this joint predestination Jesus is ordained absolutely for his own sake, and Mary for the sake of Jesus and no other, not even herself. Yet in virtue of the very grace of the Immaculate Conception whereby she totally belongs to Jesus and to the Church as Mother, she is ennobled in a most personal way, thereby revealing how grace transforms and perfects the person.[10]

While it would be possible to outline Father Peter Damian’s thought on this topic more extensively, I trust that this serves as a useful foundation. One can find more in the vast number of his Mariological works, especially in his article in Mariology

[The final paragraph from the Conclusion of Msgr. Calkins conference:]

After Fathers Karlo Balić, O.F.M., Juniper Carol, O.F.M. and their colleagues of the past, I believe that Father Peter Damian Fehlner, F.I. has done more to make the present generation aware of this Franciscan contribution to Christology and Mariology than anyone else, especially in the English-speaking world. In what is perhaps his single major contribution on this matter he tells us candidly that “treatment of the predestination of Mary has disappeared from Mariological study” , but largely thanks to him that is no longer the case.

[1] Peter Damian Fehlner, “Fr. Juniper B. Carol, O.F.M.: His Mariology and Scholarly Achievement” in Marian Studies XLIII (1992) 17-59.

[2] Ibid., 22.

[3] Pii IX Pontificis Maximi Acta I: (Graz, Austria: Akademische Druck – n. Verlagsanstalt, 1971) 599; Our Lady: Papal Teachings trans. Daughters of St. Paul (Boston: St. Paul Editions1961) [= OL] #34].

[4] Fehlner, “Immaculata Mediatrix – Toward a Dogmatic Definition of the Coredemption” in Mark I. Miravalle, S.T.D., (ed.), Mary Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate, Theological Foundations II: Papal, Pneumatological, Ecumenical (Santa Barbara, CA: Queenship Publishing Company, 1997) 285.

[5] Ibid., 284.

[6] Fehlner, “Fr. Juniper B. Carol, O.F.M.” 27. In his last major work, Why Jesus Christ?

Thomistic, Scotistic and Conciliatory Perspectives (Manassas, VA: Trinity Communications, 1986) Fr. Carol carefully documented the sustainers of this position from earliest times.

[7] Fehlner, “The Predestination of the Virgin Mother and Her Immaculate Conception” in Mark Miravalle (ed.), Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons (Goleta, CA: Seat of Wisdom Books, 2008) 218.

[8] Cf. Ibid., 213.

[9] Ibid., 225.

[10] Ibid., 226.

Fr. Sean Kopczynski, MSJB – Easter Sunday Shows Forth the Absolute Primacy of Christ

Did you know that the events on Easter Sunday show forth the absolute primacy of Christ? Fr. Sean Kopczynski, MSJB, delivered a most awe-inspiring homily on this subject in one of his recent sermons. Listen to the homily (HIGHLY recommended – less than 15 minutes).

Fr. Kopczynski was gracious enough to give me permission to post his homily notes as well. While the notes are helpful for remembering his key points, they are no substitute for listening to the homily itself. Here are his notes…

Easter Sunday and the Primacy of Christ

“…very early in the morning, the first day of the week, they came to the
sepulcher, the sun being now risen…”

1. Our Blessed Lord rose on the morning of the first day of the week just
before dawn. The Psalms speak of this as Our Lord arousing the dawn… “I
will rise up early” (cf. Psalm 56:9). This fact and many others that
occurred on Easter Sunday symbolize His absolute primacy. This absolute
primacy basically means … when God contemplated creation He wanted
first and foremost to join Himself to Creation in a Hypostatic Union. This
He would do in Christ. He did this because such a Union with His creation
would bring Him the most glory and He would be perfectly known and
loved in His Creation by the Christ. Thus, St. Paul tells us that He is “the
first born of all Creation.” A summary of the Scripture: “Christ yesterday
and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega, all time belongs
to Him and all the ages, to Him be glory and dominion, through every age
forever. Amen.” (prayer over Easter Candle from the 1955 ritual). St.
Peter: “Foreknown indeed before the foundation of the world, but
manifested in the last times for you…” (1 Pet 1:20).

2. What is more, God would make all things through Him and for Him such
that He would have the primacy in everything. God made Him the
Exemplar Cause… the Blueprint. In order for the Christ to come at the
fullness of time, God then willed at the same time, in “one and the same
decree” that He have a Mother. Thus, the second born of all creation, we
could say, is Our Lady. They were both willed by God before the angels
and man and all the rest of creation (here describe the famous image of
Adam’s creation on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel). This is one reason
why Our Lady is without any sin (original or actual). Along with the
Christ, She was willed before the angels as well as before Adam and his sin. This
is why Our Lord and Our Lady had to come to our rescue… because being
without sin, they were the only ones free to save us from sin. This is
sometimes called the “Dual Primacy.”

3. I am bringing this up because Easter Sunday encapsulates these truths in
a remarkable way. He rose before the dawn of the morning of the first
day of the week. Thus, David says in the Psalms, “from the womb before
the day star I begot Thee” (Ps 109:3)… before the first day of Creation
when the light first dawned on the world, God willed Him. Since all things
were somehow made through Him… He had to be in the mind of God first
as the EXEMPLAR Cause of all things. This truth is indicated by the TIME
of His Resurrection. It is saying, since man fell away from the first
creation… God will re-create with the Christ through Whom all things were
made. Thus, we sing of Him as the Morning Star in the Exsultet.

4. Next consider that He rose without anyone around. All was done in
hiddenness… just as things were done before the foundation of the world.
This also shows that there is a deep mystery here. Then what did He do?
He passed out of the tomb without opening it.

5. His Majesty, Jesus the Savior, went to visit the Blessed Virgin Mary
immediately upon coming out of the tomb. He saluted His Mother, saying,
“Peace be with you.” Shedding tears of joy, the Virgin knelt to adore Him,
kissing His hands and feet and saying: “O Blessed Wounds, which have
caused me so much suffering.” O what consolations He must have
bestowed on her. O what a meeting that must have been! Here is the
sign “deep as the nether world.” Our Lady’s prayers brought our Savior
out of the sky and up from the nether world.

6. Why do the Gospels remain silent about this meeting? For one, many
would not be willing to believe the testimony of a mother in regard to her
son… And another reason is that Our Lady asked this to remain hidden. It
was a precious moment…that is best left veiled in mystery and wonder.

7. See how this first visit fits with the dual primacy of Christ and Our Lady?
She comes next! He had to visit her first! This is one reason why she too
is called the Morning Star along with Our Lord. This is one reason why
Saturday belongs to Blessed Mary… she kept vigil on that day, praying.

8. Then what happened? Angels came and opened the tomb. After God
willed the Christ and His Mother, He then willed the angels. The angels
came with the dawn of creation… made first and foremost to glorify Him
and serve His Body the Church… They were made for Him. Thus, at the
dawn of the first day of the week they came and rolled back the stone
and the devils were cast down in defeat. As the Lord Himself points out,
“Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of
God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

9. Then there is the coming of the women and the men who were born in
sin…symbolizing Adam and Eve. There was Mary Magdalene, Mary,
Salome… Peter, John, the Apostles, and the disciples (Road to Emmaus)
with the paralyzed soldiers representing the unbelievers or those still in
their sin. See how Re-Creation parallels Creation! How wonderful is the
Plan of God!!!

10. What does all this mean for us? (i) Easter shows us that first and
foremost all is for Christ. Is He first in our lives? Do we start our
mornings with Him… the first thought out of our minds? Do we start all
works with Him? Clearly this is why the Church obliges us under pain of
grave sin to start our week with Him in attending Mass on Sunday… every
week without exception.

11. (ii) When we make Christ the center of our lives in every way possible,
we must include Our Lady. They are inseparable. Are we devoted to her?
Do we pray her Rosary everyday as she so kindly requested at Fatima
and Lourdes? She is our Mother. Do we love her? Have we consecrated
ourselves to her? Wherever she goes, she always brings Our Lord with
her. Give yourself to her Immaculate Heart and all will go well.

12. Let us keep in mind as a way to remember these important truths that
JOY spells Jesus-Others-Yourself. If we put Our Lord first and ourselves
last, Easter Joy will be truly ours. “Christ yesterday and today, the
beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega, all time belongs to Him and all
the ages, to Him be glory and dominion, through every age forever.

Depictions of Bl. John Duns Scotus

The following is a post that was put up on The Amish Catholic by Rick Yoder. He graciously gave me permission to repost it. If you want to see the original post just click HERE.

From the Amish Catholic…

I’ve taken a major interest in Scotus recently. His Christology and Mariology seem to be treasures that remain largely unexploited by contemporary theologians, in part because he was recognized as being in the right about a doctrine that became dogma almost two hundred years ago. He is at the center of ongoing debates about the advent of secularism and modernity, debates which I am not competent to comment on at this time. Nevertheless, I thought it might be fun to examine some of the ways that Catholics (mostly Franciscans) have memorialized him in art over the course of the last several centuries. In some sense, the variety of depictions here tell a story of a lineage long overshadowed by other, more influential streams of thought. Thomism in particular has had a near perennial appeal within the Church, whereas Scotism, it seems, has largely been a niche concern. After all, Scotus has not yet been canonized or joined the ranks of the Doctors of the Church. This inequity arose from a variety of factors. No doubt, the fate of Scotism has come partially from Scotus’s own difficult style and vast intelligence. There’s a reason he’s called the “Subtle Doctor.”

May my small collection here help rectify that oversight on this, his feast day. [This was originally posted on Nov. 8th, 2017 – the Feast of Bl. John Duns Scotus]

Bl John Duns Scotus-thumb-275x279-4957

John the Scot (c. 1266 – 8 Nov. 1308), appearing in what must be one of his earliest depictions: an illuminated capital. (Source)


A Renaissance portrait of the Blessed John Duns Scotus. One point that people forget about Scotus is that he defended the rights of the Church against Philip IV, who had wanted to tax church properties. For his bold stance, he was exiled for a few years from Paris. (Source)


Perhaps the most famous, a late-Medeival, early-Renaissance portrait of Scotus. The name of the artist escapes me. (Source)


An early modern engraving of Scotus, probably early to mid 15th century. (Source)

St Albert the Great & Bl John Duns Scotus

Here he is with St. Albert the Great, one of the Dominican Doctors. (Source)


Scotus the Scholar. Age and provenance unclear; my guess is late 17th century, though it may be later. (Source)


Scotus receiving a vision of the Christ Child, 17th or 18th century. Although chiefly remembered for his metaphysics and Mariology, Scotus made major contributions to Christology, defending the Patristic idea of Christ’s Absolute Primacy. (Source)


From the early modern period, it became typical to depict Scotus with representations of the Virgin Mary, whose Immaculate Conception he famously defended. This piece, probably from the 18th century, is one such example. It also contains a pretty clear criticism of Aquinas – Scotus looks away from the Summa to gaze lovingly at Mary (Source: this very friendly take on Scotus by a prominent popular Thomist)


A slightly more dramatic iteration of the same theme. Scotus is inspired by the Immaculate Conception. (Source)


My single favorite image of Scotus is this ludicrously over-the-top Rococo depiction of Scotus and the Immaculate Conception triumphing over heresy and sin. He holds the arms (no pun intended) of the Franciscan order. His defense of the Immaculate Conception surpassed the doubts of even his own order’s great luminary, St. Bonaventure. And what a marvellously simple argument it was, too. Remember: POTVIT DECVIT ERGO FECIT. (Source).

Izamal Duns Scotus Adopte rest

Likewise, this totally marvelous Colonial Mexican painting from the Franciscan monastery of Izamal, Yucatan, is something else. Rare is the saint granted wings in traditional iconography, though the trend was not uncommon in early modern Mexican art (Source)

Joannes Pitseus, Scotus 1619

The mystery solved! This version by Johannes Pitseus comes from 1619, and served as a model for the Izamal piece. Here, it’s clearer that the heads represent various heretics, including Pelagius, Arius, and Calvin. (Source)

Landa Duns Scotus

This ceiling relief from Landa, Querétaro, uses the same iconographic lexicon. It seems that the Franciscans of colonial Mexico had a set of stock images to propagate devotion to their own saints. (Source)

huej purisima

Here’s another unusual image of Scotus. In this mural of Mary Immaculate, or La Purísima, we see Scotus alongside St. Thomas Aquinas…and wearing a biretta! A remarkable addition, unique among all other depictions of the Subtle Doctor that I know of. (Source)


Moving away from Mexico, we come to this rather uninteresting French portrait of Scotus. Not all 18th century portraits of the man are elaborate bits of Franciscan propaganda. (Source)

unknown artist; John Duns Scotus (1266-1308)

A late 18th or early 19th century depiction of Bl. John Duns Scotus. If this is in fact an English painting, its creation at a time of high and dry Anglican Protestantism poses interesting questions about the use of Scotus as a figure of national pride. (Source)


I’m unsure of how old this image is; my guess, however, is that it represents a 19th century imitation of late Medieval and Renaissance style. (Source)

Albert Küchler (Brother Peter of Copenhagen) - Immaculate Conception with St. Bonaventure, Francis, Anthony and Blessed John Duns Scotus - Rome - Pontifical University Antonianum

A great 19th century painting of the Immaculate Conception by Danish Franciscan Albert Küchler. Scotus, who is on the bottom right, is here depicted alongside other Franciscan saints – S.s. Francis of Assisi, Anthony of Padua, and Bonaventure. (Source)


This looks like a Harry Clarke window, though it may just resemble his style. In anyway, we see here Scotus holding a scroll with his famous argument for the Immaculate Conception epitomized – “He could do it, It was fitting He should do it, so He did it.” (Source)


John Duns Scotus, once again contemplating the Immaculate Virgin and offering his mighty works to her. (Source)


Another stained glass window, this time indubitably from the 20th century. We see here Scotus worshiping the Christ Child and his Immaculate Mother. (Source)


Scotus depicted in on the door of a Cologne Cathedral, 1948. He represents the supernatural gift of Understanding. (Source)


A contemporary statue of Scotus. (Source)


Scotus with a modification of the Benedictine phrase. “Pray and Think. Think and Pray.” Not a bad motto. (Source)


A 20th or 21st century image of the Blessed Scotus (Source).

Summary of Bishop Robert Grosseteste by Fr. Eric Wood

Summary of the Primacy of Christ according to Bishop Robert Grosseteste (ca. 1175-1253) by Fr. Eric Wood

(The following passage is taken from Fr. Eric Wood’s Master’s Degree Thesis at the Athenaeum of Ohio. The full document with footnotes – which is well worth reading – can be found HERE).

The debate over the primacy of Christ began in Anselm and Rupert [of Deutz] as a discussion concerning the necessity of Christ’s Incarnation and passion. The issue continued to be developed for the most part through the work of theologians within the Franciscan Order who tended to affirm the position of Rupert, though not universally. The non-universality of the thesis within the Order notwithstanding, Rupert’s position nevertheless became known as the Franciscan thesis. One of the first who influenced the Order, to begin dealing with the issue was Robert Grosseteste. Grosseteste was the chancellor of the University of Oxford, bishop of Lincoln, and the first instructor of the friars in England. Like Rupert he looked at the issue as a question concerning the necessity of the Incarnation, and as a counterfactual claim which he believed could help us understand certain aspects of the present economy of salvation. Though Grosseteste is not given enough credit for the part he plays, there are indications that he had an influence on other Franciscan thinkers, including the two main luminaries, Bonaventure and Scotus.

Grosseteste employed a very similar method as Rupert, though there is little evidence he knew much of what Rupert had to say on the question. For in the areas of his
theological teaching, Grosseteste, as a magister in sacra pagina, was known for his adherence to the Scriptures. It makes sense, observes Daniel Horan, that the Scriptures would be a “starting point for Grosseteste’s exploration of the necessity of the Incarnation. However, it should also be noted that, according James Ginther, Grosseteste believed it was the “responsibility of the speculative theologian to provide a rational account of what was gained from the study of Scripture.” This is what led Grosseteste to operate not just as a scriptural exegete but also as a speculative theologian in his study of the question concerning the necessity of the Incarnation. Due to his turn to more speculative or philosophical explanations, Grosseteste becomes very hesitant to push forward his opinion as the authentic teaching of the Church. Only those aspects which he definitively takes from the Scriptures does he present with any authority. Nevertheless, he is the first to use speculative/theological explanations in favor of the Franciscan school of thought, and can be seen as a bridge between Rupert and later defenders of the position.

Grosseteste takes up the question of the necessity of Christ’s Incarnation mainly in De Cessatione Legalium, Exiit Edictum
(a Christmas homily), and Hexaemeron. His arguments from Scripture deal specifically with Old Testament themes in which he attempts to present Christ, the God-man, as the only possible fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and blessings. While it may seem from this that his motivation was to counter Jewish attacks against the faith, James Ginther believes there is very little evidence to support this statement. Rather, he suggests Grosseteste’s motivation was simply to understand the place of the Old law within the context of Christ and the New law.

Greater importance is attributed to Grosseteste’s arguments of a more speculative nature, for it is here that he employs the hypothetical statement in question. Though
Grosseteste acknowledges that Fathers such as St. Gregory, St. Augustine, and St. Anselm all declared that the human race could only be saved through the God-man, he does not believe it had occurred to these men to ask whether or not the Incarnation would have taken place had the human race not sinned (though there is evidence to suggest otherwise). While it may seem odd that such medieval thinkers would put so much effort into a counter-factual claim, James Ginther offers an explanation as to why Grosseteste believed it was important to consider. First of all, Grosseteste uses the hypothetical in order to “highlight specific true conditions of the world as it is now.” Secondly, he is using the hypothetical to prove a greater thesis; to show how sin cannot be the direct cause of the Incarnation, so as to establish “reasons for the Incarnation that not only function in a world as it is now, but also in a world devoid of all sin. Grosseteste’s aim is not to separate the Incarnation from Christ’s saving work, but rather to elucidate its twofold role.”

In this effort Grosseteste offers five different arguments all supported by a theology rooted in Pseudo-Dionysius and the Neo-platonic tradition. The first is based
upon the goodness of God and makes use of St. Anselm’s definition of God as a “greater Good than can even be thought.” The argument also draws upon the Pseudo-Dionysian concept of the good being self-diffusive. God created the world in such a way that it would be capable of receiving God’s goodness in the highest possible way. As Grosseteste states, “supreme goodness [God] pours in as great a good as it is capable of. But the universe is capable of this good, namely, that it have a part of itself as the God-man. There is nothing that can exist in the universe if the universe is incapable of containing it; and the universe already has this good. Therefore, it is capable of this good, and was not made capable of this good by the fall of man.” The fact that God is the supreme good and the universe is capable of the God-man leads him to say that the God-man would have come despite the fall. Thus the world would have been created in such a way so as to receive the greatest good, which Grosseteste says can only be the Incarnate God.

The second argument is based upon the idea that the hypostatic union of the Word of God was achieved primarily through the intellectum or “intellect,” a position he takes from Peter Lombard and John Damascene. From this, Grosseteste will say that the human flesh was equally assumable, if not more, considering the weakening of the intellect due to sin, prior to the fall as it was after man had sinned. “Either the assumption of the flesh by the Word through the mediation of the soul [intellect] was more possible when man was in Paradise [prior to the fall] than it would be now [after the fall], or at least it was as possible as it would be now.” At this point Grosseteste returns to his first argument by stating it makes sense to say that God would have become incarnate, considering it would have been just as possible if not more, even if we had not sinned because the whole of creation is better “than it could in any way be without this good [the God-man]… Either, then one must say that God would have become man even if man had not fallen, or that the whole of creation is now inestimably better than it would have been if man had not fallen.”

The third argument is based upon a distinction which Grosseteste makes in his understanding of justice and sanctification. Put simply, he argues that the human race, even apart from the fall, is in need of the Incarnation for the sake of sanctification (though not justice). For only in the God-man can the human race be sanctified and lifted up as children of the most high God. In this, Grosseteste does not believe being sanctified is the same as being justified.

The fourth argument arises from Grosseteste’s reading of Ephesians 1:22 and 5:23. According to these passages Christ is meant to be head of the Church apart from any act of sin on humanity’s part. That such a holy institution as the Church should be dependent on the sin of the human race makes no sense to Grosseteste for this very reason. Thus, he concludes that the Incarnation was always intended because Christ was predestined to a nuptial relationship with the Church. “Before he fell, Adam prophesied the marriage of Christ and the Church. . .”

In many ways, the fifth and final explanation brings us to the heart of Grosseteste’s theology and what is characteristic of the Franciscan mindset. The argument is based upon the understanding of the universe as a unified creation, with Christ (the Incarnate God) as the unifying principle. Such a principle could not be accomplished in man alone (apart from his union with the Word of God). The unifying principle, according to Grosseteste, must be more worthy than all other creatures, and thus it can only be the God-man. As Horan describes it, “The Incarnation was necessary to unify all parts of creation and to complete the capacity for fulfillment God intended for the universe

Despite his hesitancy to enter into the area of speculative thought, Grosseteste’s use of Pseudo-Dionysius to support a christocentric view of creation breaks new ground in the development of the Church’s understanding of the primacy of Christ. Ginther argues, “The question [the hypothetical] had been posed before, but Grosseteste is the first to address the problem with such intensity that it created a new topic for scholastic theologians to examine for the rest of the century.” Because his arguments in favor of Rupert’s thesis were speculative and theological, Grosseteste influenced a list of other theologians including Alexander of Hales, St. Bonaventure, and Bl. John Duns Scotus, all of whom express very similar christocentric theological systems. These men, specifically the latter two, will become the great thinkers of the Middle Ages who will provide the most profound developments in our understanding of Christ’s primacy.

Bishop Grosseteste (+1253) – 16 arguments for the Incarnation even if Adam had not sinned

Bishop Robert Grosseteste (+1253) was an amazing figure in England during the scholastic period, both as Bishop of Lincoln and Professor of Theology at Oxford University. If you want to learn more about him or look up his writings (in Latin), there is an amazing website you can visit called Electronic Grosseteste.

In Part III of his volume De cessatione legalium – “On the Cessation of the Laws” he gives sixteen arguments for the Incarnation even if Adam had not sinned. As much as I would like to post all of his arguments here, it seems best to limit myself to a few highlights. Thanks to Dr. Stephen Hildebrand and CUA Press anyone who would like to read Bishop Grosseteste’s full presentation on the subject can purchase the English translation of this work here.

From the pen of Grosseteste:

“… let us suppose that man had not fallen and that God did not become man; the created universe would not be as good, as perfect, as beautiful as it is now, would it? …” (P.III, Ch.1, n.8)

“Again, when God, who is supremely generous and from whom envy is supremely banished, creates every kind of creature that can exist (in order to show that He, who must be participated in by every possible nature, Himself shares with each inasmuch as its nature can receive it), and does not leave even the nature of the insect or of some kind of fly or reptile uncreated, how will He not all the more make one Person to be God and man, that is, one Christ, because one Christ, God and man, is an incomparably greater good than all of creation by itself? He does not omit the nature of the insect lest the whole of creation be imperfect and less honorable; would He omit Christ, the greatest honor for all creation [if Adam had not sinned]? … How could He [Christ], being such, be omitted in such a way that He would never have existed if man had not sinned, when even the lowest species of reptile would not have been omitted?” (P.III, Ch.1, n.9)

“In addition, if there were not one Christ, that is, God and man in one Person, the Church would not have the head which it now has, nor would it be as the Apostle says, ‘The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church’ (Eph 5:23); and again, the head of man is Christ, and the head of Christ is God, but the Church would be headless and so would man.” (P.III, Ch.1, n.10)

“In addition, if the God-man, who suffered, through Himself justifies fallen man, and if this cause is precisely proportionate to this effect, then, if you take away the ‘fallen’ and ‘suffering,’ the precise cause of man’s justification, the God-man, will, it seems, remain. For if man had not sinned, he still would not be able to be just by himself, but would always need someone who is just by nature to justify him.” (P.III, Ch.1, n.11)

“What the Apostle says about Christ seems to contradict this line of thought [that we are justified by God, not the God-man], that for us He was made by God to be wisdom, justice, holiness and redemption (cf. 1 Cor 1:30). Therefore, He redeems, sanctifies, and infuses justice and wisdom according to His becoming [man], not because as God He infuses holiness, justice, and wisdom; rather, He does this only through the assumed man, because of whom He is the mediator between God and man (cf. 1 Tm 2:5)…” (P.III, Ch.1, n.13)

“So then, if the formation of justice always happens in one way, because the cause of one thing is always one, justice always and simply descends from God through Christ, the God-man, into every rational creature who is made just. On account of this, it seems, angels and men are not justified from the beginning except through the Son of God, God and man…” (P.III, Ch.1, n.14).

A summary of Bishop Robert Grosseteste’s position on the primacy of Christ By Fr. Eric Wood will be posted soon…