The divine decrees classified according to “instances”
Ven. Mother Mary of Agreda, after her vision of the Trinity in His eternal beatitude, speaks of God’s decision to create. As we have noted, she expresses this decision to create as His decree “to communicate His perfections as a free gift” ad extra. God is love, and God wants to communicate that love outside of Himself. Ergo, creation.
Within this plan of creation there is a hierarchy, a priority. Although the entire plan is willed at once, nonetheless, not all of creation is willed with the same dignity and importance and role. In order to speak of this priority in God’s creative plan, we must use human terminology (like “before”, “after”, “first”, “then”, etc.). The Venerable, after noting that God knows everything “conjointly all at once, without before or after” (n.31), writes:
In this knowledge of God… we must… not overlook a certain succession, not indeed of time, but of nature. Hence we perceive that the act of intelligence preceded by its nature the act of the will… In this first stage or instant the three Persons through an act of intelligence confirmed the opportuneness of the work ad extra and of all creatures, which have been, are, and are to be. (n.32)
At this point the Venerable, humbly but boldly, petitioned Our Lord to know the position of the Mother of God in the divine intelligence. He deigned to answer her, and in order to express this knowledge she employs the terminology “moments” or “instants”. Here is her explanation:
I will state what He answered me and manifested to me and I will also say something of the order which I perceived by the help of God in these ideas. I divide them according to moments or instants, for it is impossible to accommodate the knowledge of this divine science to our capacity in any other way. (n.33)
Again she explains:
Although this divine knowledge is one, most simple and indivisible, nevertheless, since the things which I see are many, and since there is a certain order, by which some are first and some come after, it is necessary to divide the knowledge of God’s intelligence and the knowledge of His will into many instants, or into many different acts, according as they correspond to the diverse orders of created things. (n.34)
What we have here is a mystic who has seen a vision of God’s intention in creating. While the intention is all at once, there are priorities in that intention. The example which I have frequently made use of is the sculptor who decides to carve a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. When he forms this intention he wills the statue in its final, perfect form; he wills the masterpiece; but he also wills everything that is included in making the statue – finding the wood, tools, carving, etc. He also wills all that will surround his masterpiece and be subordinate to it, like the niche, the lighting, etc. In a word, the artist wills the entire project all at once when he forms the intention to create his masterpiece, yet there is a succession in the execution and a hierarchy – the statue is primary, first, everything else is secondary and subordinate. While the analogy has its limits, nonetheless it can help to understand what our Venerable is trying to communicate to us. She writes: “Accordingly we say that God intended and decreed this before that, the one on account of the other; and that if He had not desired or included in the science of vision the one, He would not have desired the other” (n.34).
So, as Bl. John Duns Scotus emphasizes, God wills in an orderly fashion – ordinate volens (Ordinatio, III, d.7, q.3; Opus Parisiense, Lib III, d.7, q.4). And Ven. Mary of Agreda will now explain this order with the term “instants”.
The first “instant”:
I understood that this order comprises the following instants. The first instant is: God recognizing His infinite attributes and perfections together with the propensity and the ineffable inclination to communicate Himself outwardly. This knowledge of God as being communicative ad extra comes first. The Majesty of God, beholding the nature of His infinite perfections, their virtue and efficacy operating with magnificence, saw that it was just and most proper, and, as it were, a duty and a necessity, to communicate Himself and to follow that inclination of imparting and exercising His liberality and mercy, by distributing outside of Himself with magnificence the plenitude of the infinite treasures, contained in the Divinity. […] All this did God see in the first instant after the communication ad intra by means of the eternal emanations (n.35-36)
The second “instant”:
The second instant was to confirm and determine the object and intention of this communication of the Divinity ad extra, namely, that it should redound to His greater glory and to the exaltation of His Majesty and the manifestation of His greatness. This, His own exaltation, God saw as the end, for which He would communicate Himself, make Himself known by His liberality in the distribution of His attributes, and set in motion His Omnipotence in order that He might be known, praised and glorified. (n.38)
Note the raison d’etre of all creation: the greater glory of God. God, in creating, wishes to communicate His grace and glory to His creatures and wishes to be glorified by them. In creation, what would be the most perfect way that the Divinity could communicate His divine life and receive the maximum glory?
The third “instant”:
The third instant consisted in selecting and determining the order and arrangement, or the mode of this communication, so as to realize in an adequate manner the most exalted ends. The order namely, which it is proper should be maintained in regard to the communications of the Godhead and its divine attributes; so that this activity of the Lord may have its proper reasons and objects, and so that it might proceed with the most beautiful and admirable sequence, harmony and subordination. In this instant was decreed first of all, that the divine Word should assume flesh and should become visible. The perfection and the composition of the most holy Humanity of Christ our Lord was decreed and modeled in the divine intelligence. Secondarily, also were formed the ideals of the rest of men in imitation of the First. The divine mind prearranged the harmony and adornment of the human nature composed of an organic body and a vivifying soul, endowed with faculties to know and enjoy its Creator, to discern between good and evil, and with a free will to love that same Lord. (n.39) [emphasis added]
Ven. Mary of Agreda is emphatic on this point, as we shall see. This is partly so because it is so controversial. She sought confirmation in prayer and was given divine insight into Proverbs 8:22ff (Chapter V). She even petitioned Our Lord as to why so many great Doctors, Saints and theologians of Holy Mother Church were not given to understand this fundamental truth of the absolute primacy of Christ in creation (Chapter VI). So her explanations will be ample and the confirmations from “on high” will be multiplied. At any rate, after noting this primacy of Christ in creation in the “third instant”, she gives a marvelous explanation of why this is so. I quote her at length:
This hypostatic union of the second Person of the most holy Trinity I understood necessarily to have been the first incentive and object on account of which, before all others, the divine intelligence and will issued ad extra; and the reasons are most exalted, so that I cannot explain. One of these reasons is, that God, having in Himself known and loved Himself, should, according to right order, know and love that, which approaches most intimately to His Divinity, as is the case in the hypostatic union. Another reason is, that the Divinity, having communicated Itself ad intra, should also communicate Itself ad extra; for thus the divine will and intention would begin to execute its works with the highest end in view, and His attributes would be communicated in the most beautiful order. The fire of the Divinity expended itself in its fullest measure on that which was most immediately connected with It, namely, the hypostatically united humanity; and His Divinity communicated Itself in the highest and most excellent degree to Him, who was to be closest to God in divine knowledge and love, and share the works and the glory of the Deity. For God (speaking according to our lowly comprehension) could not endanger the attainment of this end, since He alone could be an object proportionate and worthy of so wonderful an operation. It was also befitting and, as it were, necessary, that if God should create many creatures, He should create them in such harmony and subordination, as would be the most admirable and glorious within the reach of possibility. In conformity with this therefore, they must be subordinate to a supreme Chief, who should be as far as possible united immediately with God, so that through Him they may have communication and connection with His Divinity. For these and for other reasons (which I cannot explain), the dignity of the works of God could be provided for only by the Incarnation of the Word; through Him creation should possess the most beautiful order, which without Him was impossible. (n.40)
Before continuing with the next “instant” which speaks of the gifts bestowed upon the Sacred Humanity of Our Lord, we do well to note the terminology of the Venerable “intention” and “execution”. This was the terminology utilized by the Subtle Doctor to explain why Christ, the first willed by God in all creation, came “in the last times” (Heb 1:2; cf. 1 Pt 1:20). His explanation, simplified, is that what is first in the intention is last in the execution. Like the example of the sculptor who intends to carve a statue of the Sacred Heart: he begins first with the masterpiece in his mind (primacy!), then he starts the execution of the work. God, the Divine Artist, first wills and sees the Word Incarnate, then He begins creating with Christ in mind. This theme is also developed here and here.
The fourth “instant”:
The fourth instant was to determine the gifts and graces, which were to be conferred upon the humanity of Christ, our Lord, in union with the Divinity. here the Most High opened the liberal hands of His Omnipotence and His other attributes, in order to enrich the most sacred humanity and the soul of Christ with the highest possible plenitude of His gifts and graces. Then was fulfilled what afterward David said: “The stream of the river maketh the city of God joyful” (Ps 45:5). When the stream of His gifts flowed toward the humanity of the Word, communicating to it all the infused science, the grace and goodness of which his blessed soul was capable, and which fitted that Being, which was to be God and true man, and at the same time, the Head of all creatures capable of grace and glory, in order that from this impetuous stream they might partake in the manner in which it afterwards really happened. (n.41)
Here the Venerable confirms yet another aspect of the Franciscan school, namely, that all creatures capable of grace and glory are under the headship of Christ. This point is important in that the good Angels, if they are under the headship of Christ, are so not because of any need for Redemption, but simply because God willed Christ as King first, then He willed Angels and men to be blessed in and through Him. This is clearly the teaching of St. Paul who notes that all of the Angels are subject to Christ. This discussion is developed here.
At this point, we have, in a certain sense found what we were looking for. But we do well to complete the picture. To this fourth “instant”, Ven. Mary Agreda explains,”also, and, as it were, in natural sequence, pertain the decree and predestination of the Mother of the Divine Word Incarnate; for here, I understand, was ordained that pure creature before aught else whatever” (n.42). Thus she found what she was looking for… and wept for joy at the gift and in sorrow for man’s ingratitude. Interestingly, the doctrine of the joint predestination of Jesus and Mary has been repeated by the Magisterium frequently in the last two centuries. Perhaps the two most solemn statements are that of Bl. Pius IX in Ineffabilis Deus in 1854 where he writes, “And hence the very words with which the Sacred Scriptures speak of Uncreated Wisdom and set forth his eternal origin, the Church, both in its ecclesiastical offices and in its liturgy, has been wont to apply likewise to the origin of the Blessed Virgin, inasmuch as God, by one and the same decree, had established the origin of Mary and the Incarnation of Divine Wisdom.” In confirmation of the Tradition we find this beautiful statement regarding Our Lady in Lumen Gentium: “Predestined from eternity by that decree of divine providence which determined the incarnation of the Word to be the Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin was on this earth the virgin Mother of the Redeemer, and above all others and in a singular way the generous associate and humble handmaid of the Lord” (n.61).
The “fifth” instant:
I pass over to the fifth instant, although in reality I have found that, which I sought. In this fifth decree the creation of the angelic nature which is more excellent and more like unto the spiritual being of the Divinity, was determined upon, and at the same time the division or arrangement of the angelic hosts into nine choirs and three hierarchies, was provided and decreed. As they are created first of all for the glory of God, to assist before His divine Majesty and to know and love Him, so secondarily they are ordained to assist, glorify and honor, reverence and serve the deified humanity of the eternal Word, recognizing Him as Head, and honoring Him also in His Mother, the most holy Mary, Queen of these same Angels.
Implicitly we see here that the test of the Angels was in serving Jesus and Mary. This is developed more at length in the section on Colossians and the headship of Christ over them.
And finally, the sixth “instant” (mankind, obviously, but also the fall is foreseen and its remedy decreed):
In the sixth instant was decreed the creation of a people and congregation of men for Christ, who was already formed in the divine mind and will, and according to whose image and likeness man was to be made, in order, that the incarnate Word might find brethren, similar but inferior to Himself and a people of His own nature, of whom He might be the Head. In this instant was determined the order of the creation of the whole human race, which was to begin from one man and woman and propagate itself, until the Virgin and her Son should be born in the predestined order. On account of the merits of Christ, our Savior, the graces and gifts were prearranged, and also original justice, if they would only preserve it. The fall of Adam was foreseen and in him that of all others, except of the Queen, who did not enter into this decree. As a remedy was it ordained, that the most holy humanity should be capable of suffering.
As we can see, God’s plan for creation starts with the Incarnation of the Word and finishes with the foreseen fall of Adam and the choice to remedy that fall by sending Christ in passible flesh so “that the most holy humanity should be capable of suffering” and of death. Scotus speculates that had Adam not sinned and lost the state of original justice, then Christ would have come just the same (uniting the human and divine natures in His divine Person), but in a glorious mode: “And He would not have come as a suffering and redeeming Mediator unless someone had first sinned; nor would the glory of the body have been delayed unless there were people to be redeemed. Rather the whole Christ would have been immediately glorified” (Opus Parisiense, Lib III, d.7, q.4).
Be that as it may, the point here is that while God foresaw the fall of Adam and His need for Redemption, this was not the primary motive of the Incarnation. The primary motive was the maximum glory of God and for this reason the Incarnation was willed first and in sui juris – for its own sake. As Scotus points out, “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” (Lib III, d.7, q.4).
Let me conclude this post by repeating that in order to speak intelligently about God’s plan for sending His only begotten (whether primarily for the maximum glory of God or primarily for the Redemption of man), both St. Thomas Aquinas and Bl. John Duns Scotus have to speak of order or priority in God’s decree (what Ven. Mary of Agreda has expressed by using the term “instants”).
It goes without saying – as the Venerable points out at length – that there is no “first” and “second” and “third” and “then” in God who is outside of time. This is true indeed; however, there is priority in God’s plan and we simply have to use human terms to communicate this, terms like “first”, “before”, “then”, “after”. While St. Thomas Aquinas and Bl. John Duns Scotus both speak of a priority in the divine decree of creation, they are also both fully aware that God did not “think out” His plan of creation in successive moments because God transcends time. Both Doctors are agreed that God willed in an orderly fashion without succession of moments; however, they disagree about what that orderly fashion is. For more on this one can read the post: Dumb ox or dunce – Part II D.