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…

Rev. Chris Webb – Christ in All Scriptures

In an earlier post I highlighted some inspired insights of Rev. Chris Webb (see HERE), an Anglican priest who embraces the Benedictine spirituality and promotes in a particular way the Lectio Divina. What is unique about Rev. Webb’s approach to reading the Bible is his Scotistic Christocentricism. He recently posted a piece called “Christ in All Scriptures” at Renovaré and gave me permission to repost it for your perusal. The following are his reflections:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. —Colossians 1:15-16

If the whole of creation entirely centered on Jesus, then we might reasonably expect to discover that Scripture is equally Christocentric. Not only that, but the idea of the Absolute Primacy of Christ could then become a compelling starting point for our interpretation of Scripture, especially when we approach Scripture with the desire, above all else, to find in it an encounter with God in Christ.

And in fact this was the way most Christians read the Bible for much of the Church’s two millennia long history. During one of his sermons on the Psalms, the fifth century African bishop Augustine of Hippo exhorted his congregation to “remember that God speaks only a single word throughout the length of Scripture, and that only one Word is heard from the many mouths of the sacred writers—the Word that was in the beginning, God with God.” Six centuries later the hugely influential Parisian abbot Hugh of St. Victor would write: “All sacred Scripture is but one book, and that one book is Christ, because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ.”

These writers were developing a tradition that reaches right back to the New Testament period. Throughout the Gospels, the epistles, and the book of Revelation we see Jesus presented as the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures. We have often narrowed that focus by affirming that in Christ a specific collection of ancient biblical prophecies about the future came to pass; some even claim to be able to enumerate the number and sequence of such prophecies. But the apostles and the New Testament writers asserted so much more: for them, Jesus was the completion and fulfillment of all Scripture, of the whole Bible in its many varied aspects.

Think, for example, of Peter’s first sermon on the day of Pentecost. These few brief words draw together a collection of different texts from the Hebrew Bible—a passage from Joel and quotations from a couple of Psalms—and apply them all to Jesus. Two chapters later in Acts, Peter is confronting the Sanhedrin and quotes from another Psalm (“the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the chief cornerstone,” Psalm 118:22) which, he asserts, speaks directly of Christ. In a prayer later in the same chapter the disciples apply yet another Psalm to Jesus, while in chapter seven Stephen, during his trial, draws whole sweeps of the Old Testament narrative into his interpretation of the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection. Philip hears an Ethiopian official reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah while traveling on the road to Gaza—“starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35). This same pattern continues throughout Acts: the Old Testament is constantly referred to as a text which speaks of Christ.

If anything, the picture becomes even richer as we turn to the New Testament letters. Paul, in particular, seems to see Jesus everywhere he looks in Scripture. Christ is portrayed as a new Adam, a descendant of the first man who overturns the tragic results of the first sin in Eden (Romans 5:12-21). Abraham’s unwavering faith in God’s promise makes him the spiritual ancestor of those who will place their faith in Christ’s resurrection (Acts 4:1-25). Sarah and Hagar become allegories of the challenging choice presented by Christ: between living under the law of Sinai or in the freedom of the new Jerusalem (Galatians 4:21-5:1). In one text Jesus is linked to the entire story of the exodus—to the “baptism” in the Red Sea, the leadership of Moses, the miraculous food and drink provided in the wilderness—leading to the startling assertion that Jesus was present to the Israelites throughout their wanderings: “they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:5). And so it continues throughout Paul’s letters—it seems that he is able to discern the presence of Christ in almost any biblical text.

The letter to the Hebrews draws on the Old Testament in a remarkable way to expound on the significance of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. After a short, breathless introduction in the first four verses (just a single sentence in the Greek original) the letter launches into a whirlwind tour of the Hebrew Scriptures: quotations from right across the Psalter; excerpts from books as diverse as Deuteronomy, Proverbs, Isaiah, and Jeremiah; allusions to the meeting between Abraham and Melchizedek, the giving of the law at Sinai, Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, the design and structure of the temple, the rules governing the priesthood and the sacrificial system laid out in Leviticus, and the prophetic promise of a new heart covenant between God and his people. The eleventh chapter famously presents a panorama of Old Testament heroes, calling to mind the examples of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Barak, Samson … the list is overwhelming. And all this is offered as one great and glorious witness to Jesus—Jesus who is greater than the angels, who mediates a better covenant than Moses, who embodies the Sabbath rest of the covenant, who fulfills the great priesthood of Melchizedek, who ministers in the true heavenly sanctuary of which the earthly temple is simply an imitation, who offers the supreme and final sacrifice, and who establishes the foundations of the heavenly Jerusalem.

No wonder, then, that the author of this letter calls Jesus “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). He is the beginning and the end, the one who participates in creation with God at the dawn of time and draws it to its conclusion at the end of days. His presence can be felt on every page, during every incident, through every prophecy, in every life. Jesus is not simply a character who appears in the Bible somewhere towards the end, drawing together the threads of a rambling and complex story. Jesus is the central character from the first page to the last. The Bible is, above all else, the book of Christ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Abbot’s pen (my translation):

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

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