6. Christ’s headship

C. Colossians 1:15-20

Now we come to what is perhaps the most significant scriptural text on the absolute primacy of Christ: St. Paul’s Canticle in his Epistle to the Colossians. Before he begins this Canticle the Apostle remarks that he has been praying for the Colossians, “asking that you may be filled with knowledge of His will, in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” (Col. 1:9). May the Apostle intercede and obtain this grace for us as well!

In this Canticle we will see an undaunted profession of the primacy of Christ. Scotists, thomists, and all other Bible-believing Christians will agree that Christ has the primacy. But is it a relative primacy contingent on sin? Or is it an absolute primacy? We believe that this Pauline text reveals the primacy of Christ to be absolute.

v.15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature.

v.16 For in Him were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether Thrones, or Dominations, or Principalities, or Powers. All things have been created through and unto Him,

v.17 and He is before all creatures, and in Him all things hold together.

v.18 Again, He is the head of His body, the Church; He, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the first place.

v.19 For it has pleased God the Father that in Him all fullness should dwell,

v.20 and that through Him He should reconcile to Himself all things, whether on the earth or in the heavens, making peace to the blood of His Cross.

Who is the subject of the Canticle?

In St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans we discussed the Apostle’s use of the words “image” and “firstborn” in reference to the Incarnate Word. These themes carry over into our study of the Apostle’s Canticle in the Epistle to the Colossians which the Church chants weekly in her Liturgy of the Hours of the Roman Rite (Wednesday, Evening Prayer).

In verses 13 and 14 which precede this Canticle the Holy Apostle writes that God “has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have our redemption, the remission of our sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature…”

The key here is this: who is the subject in the Apostle’s Canticle? If it is Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, as is indicated before the Canticle in verses 13 and 14 (“His beloved Son in whom we have our redemption”) and at the conclusion of the Canticle in verse 20 (“His Cross”), then we have a clear profession of the absolute primacy of Christ.

First of all, the passage appears as a unified whole without transition. There is no sign from Paul that the one “in whom we have our redemption” is different than the “He” who is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature…” Thus the subject is always Christ “come in the flesh” (1 Jn. 4:18).

Secondly, the Apostle is writing to the Colossians who were invoking the angels, like Platonic demiurges, as intermediaries between God and man. Their error was a denial of the absolute primacy of the God-Man over and above the angels. Hence St. Paul writes of Christ, “For in Him dwells all the fullness of Godhead bodily, and in Him who is the head of every Principality and Power you have received of that fullness.” (Col. 2:9-10). Clearly, then, Paul is referring to the Word Incarnate, in whom “dwells all the fullness of Godhead bodily.” Paul is not shifting in the middle of his Canticle from the Word Incarnate to the Eternal, Uncreated Word, and then switching back at the end to the Word Incarnate. No, his pastoral and doctrinal concern with the Colossians deals entirely with the supremacy of Jesus Christ, the “one mediator between God and man, Himself a man, Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim. 2:5).

Finally, the two words “image” and “firstborn” in verse 15 refer here, as in Romans 8:29, to the Word made flesh. This is the opinion of St. Athanasius, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Jerome, St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Bede and many others long before the Franciscan school existed; this is also stated clearly by Pope Benedict XVI in his General Audience of January 4, 2006:

“Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, in this first General Audience of the New Year, we reflect on the famous Christological hymn from the Letter to the Colossians. It sets a tone of thanksgiving for these first days of the year two thousand and six. Christ is at the centre of this hymn. He is presented to us as the first-born of all creation, the image of the invisible God. The expression ‘image’, like an Eastern icon, indicates more than a likeness, it brings out the profound intimacy that exists with the subject that is represented.

“Christ is also portrayed as Redeemer, within the vast sweep of salvation history. As Head of His body, the Church, He is joined in communion with all her members, living and dead, and He opens for us the way to eternal life. The fullness of grace that we receive from Him transforms us within, so that we become sharers in His divinity.”[1]

Benedict XVI here asserts that Christ, the Word Incarnate, is the subject of the entire Canticle [this is also confirmed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church #331]. It is Jesus Christ who is “image of the invisible God” and “firstborn of all creation.” Let us examine these points more deeply.

Verse 15, image of the invisible God

“He is the image of the invisible God.” We know that within the Trinity the Uncreated Word eternally proceeds from the Father as His perfect image. But our Apostle is not referring to the eternal generation of the Son from the Father; rather, he is referring to the image of the invisible Godhead, not the image of the Father. The Eternal Word is not the image of the invisible Godhead because He Himself is the invisible God—“God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God… one in being with the Father.” Furthermore, the Apostle indicates by the word “invisible” that this “image of the invisible God” is a visible image; otherwise the verse makes no sense. So he is referring to the Word Incarnate as the visible image of the invisible God. In describing to the Corinthians the Gospel he preaches and mentioning those who are perishing, he adds: “In their case, the god of this world has blinded their unbelieving minds, that they should not see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). Notice who the image of God is—Christ!

The Greek word that is translated ‘image’ is εἰκών eikon. Since we are familiar with icons in the Eastern Churches, perhaps Paul’s meaning is more clear if we translate “He is the image of the invisible God” as, “He is the icon (eikon) of the invisible God.” Now an icon implies two things. The first is representation. In this case the sacred humanity of Christ re-presents to us the Divinity. As the Church teaches, “Everything in Christ’s human nature is to be attributed to His Divine Person as its proper subject.”[2] Thus the Christ re-presents the Godhead to us in flesh and blood, “For in Him dwells all the fullness of Godhead bodily.” (Col. 2:9).

Another aspect of an icon is manifestation. The humanity of Christ is the icon that visibly manifests God in the created universe. In fact, St. John’s Prologue, after declaring that “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14), goes on to announce, “No one has at any time seen God. The only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has revealed Him.” (Jn. 1:18). Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate, reveals the invisible God to us in His sacred humanity. “He who sees Me, sees Him who sent Me.” (Jn. 12:45). Hence, He is the visible, manifesting icon of the invisible God.

An interesting corollary is the Franciscan view of the creation of man: “Let Us make man to Our image and likeness.” (Gen. 1:26). According to the Franciscan thesis, when God creates He already foresees the Heart of Jesus—Christ is the ‘first predestined’ before the foundations of the world. He sees Jesus and He wills Him to be the perfect image and likeness of the invisible Godhead in the created universe by means of the Incarnation; then, beholding the excellence and perfection of Jesus Christ from all eternity, He creates the world. Christ is thus the Exemplar, the Model, the Alpha, the First. So God makes men according to His image and likeness with Christ in mind. Christ is the Prototype and we are modeled on Him. Consequently, when Adam falls and mars man’s likeness to God, Christ repairs what was lost by His redemption so that we can indeed be conformed to Him. Is this not what Paul indicated in Romans? “For those whom He has foreknown He has also predestined to become conformed to the image of the Son.” (Rom. 8:29). According to the Franciscan thesis, then, Jesus Christ is truly the raison d’être of all creation, of all that is not God.

This interpretation of Christ as the image of the invisible Godhead, foreknown before the creation of the universe, is found in the Church Fathers when they comment on the Wisdom passages of the Old Testament. For example they consistently interpret Proverbs 8:22-9:6 as referring to the Incarnate Word: “I [the Word made flesh] was set up from eternity… when He prepared the heavens, I was present… when He balanced the foundations of the earth, I was with Him forming all things, and was delighted every day, playing before Him at all times; playing in the world. And My delights were to be with the children of men…” That God had Incarnate Wisdom before Him when creating the universe according to this passage was held by St. Justin Martyr, St. Athanasius, St. Gregory of Nazianzen, St. Ambrose, St. John Chrysostom, St. Jerome, and many others as well.

Verse 15, firstborn of every creature

The next part of verse 15 reads that He is “the firstborn of every creature.” (Col. 1:15). If, as we have maintained, Jesus Christ is the firstborn of every creature (as opposed to the Uncreated Word), then the Franciscan thesis is immensely enriched.

In support of this position, we recall the Hebrew notion of the ‘firstborn’ (cf. Ex. 13:2,12-13). Of the flock, the firstborn male was to be redeemed or sacrificed; of the family, the firstborn son was to be redeemed. This Hebrew notion of the firstborn would not make sense if Paul were referring to the Divine, Uncreated Word as such. Moreover, the firstborn of a flock of sheep was itself a sheep; the firstborn male in the human family was a man like his brothers. In other words, the expression “firstborn of every creature” presumes that He Himself has a created nature just as “firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29) presumes that He has a human nature.

Finally, if the reference were to the Divine Person of the Word as Uncreated and Eternal quite apart from the Incarnation, then why the specific reference to the second Divine Person as opposed to the Father or the Holy Spirit? Why would there be a specific reference to the Uncreated Word instead of the Godhead? As we have noted, it is more consistent in this passage to see the subject of this Canticle as the Incarnate Word; it is inconsistent and even illogical to say that Paul suddenly changes the subject from Christ to the Uncreated Word.

This being the case, it is Jesus Christ who is “the firstborn of every creature.” In the purpose of God’s will, Christ has primacy over everything created. By this metaphor of the ‘firstborn’ the Apostle shows all creation as a family with Jesus Christ as the firstborn in the family of God’s creation. He shares their nature by assuming the created, human nature from the Blessed Virgin Mary—firstborn of every creature. Chronologically, as we know, our Divine Lord is not the first creature born into the world; but in the plan of God, He is. Once again, what is first or ‘firstborn’ in the intention is last in execution, as we have frequently noted. Christ’s primacy is, therefore, a primacy of excellence and priority in the intentions of God.

Priority in God

We recall here what the Subtle Doctor wrote: “It can be said, therefore, that with the priority of nature God chose for His heavenly court all the angels and men He wished to have with their various degrees of perfection before He foresaw either sin or punishment.”[3] Christ in His sacred humanity has the highest degree of perfection in the heavenly court and is the first one predestined by God.

Scotus speaks of ordo in praevisione divina—that is, order or priority in the divine foresight and this precisely because God wills in a most orderly fashion.[4] For Scotus, as for the entire Franciscan school and for so many Fathers of the Church, order exists first within God among the Divine Persons, and then outside God via “orderly willing” and this is the foundation of intelligibility. Scotus writes, “Therefore, God first loves Himself, and nearest in relation to this is His love for the soul of Christ that is to have the greatest glory in the world. And among all created things to be willed, this was first willed—an existence foreseen prior to all merit and hence prior to all demerit.”[5] He lists the priorities of intention in God with some minor variations in the Ordinatio and Opus Parisiense; but in the end they are all essentially the same: God is God and He first knows, loves, wills Himself; secondly, He wills to share His goodness in creation; thirdly, He wills “to be loved by Him who can love Him with the greatest love—speaking of the love of someone who is extrinsic to Himself. And fourthly, He foresees the union of that nature that must love Him with the greatest love even if no one had fallen.”[6] From here God predestines His Immaculate Mother, then men and angels; then He foresees the fall and its remedy. It goes without saying that this priority in the divine intentions is outside of time. God is utterly simple and He does not will by a succession of time, but all at once. In one deliberation He wills creation with all of its order and beauty.

The thomistic thesis would see the priority in a different manner: first God knows or loves Himself; then He wills to create angels, then man, then the inferior creatures; He foresees the sin of Adam and wills Christ as Redeemer. In the thomistic outlook God wills first the less perfect (angels, men, other creatures), then He wills the most perfect (Jesus Christ). Moreover, Jesus Christ is willed, not only for the good of a fraction of the lesser perfect creatures (mankind only), but specifically as a remedy to mankind’s sin. In this scheme, God does not will Christ for His own sake, nor as the final end of angels, but only as the final end for man on account of sin. To the thomists, Christ is not the first predestined and His primacy is relative to Adam’s sin. Without redemption, Christ would not have come and He would not be the final end for man. Therefore, angels and men are willed independently of the prevision of sin; but Christ is not? Angels and men are predestined absolutely; but Christ relatively? Angels and men are foreseen before sin; but Christ is occasioned by sin?[7]

Scotus writes at length in response to this rationale:

“If man had not sinned, there would have been no need for our redemption. But that God predestined this soul [of Christ] to so great a glory does not seem to be only on account of that [redemption], since the redemption or the glory of the soul to be redeemed is not comparable to the glory of Christ’s soul. Neither is it likely that the highest good in creation is something that was merely occasioned only because of some lesser good; nor is it likely that He predestined Adam to such good before He predestined Christ; and yet this would follow [were the Incarnation occasioned by Adam’s sin]. In fact, if the predestination of Christ’s soul was for the sole purpose of redeeming others, something even more absurd would follow, namely, that in predestining Adam to glory, He would have foreseen Him as having fallen into sin before He predestined Christ to glory.”[8]

Verses 16-17, Christian metaphysics

St. Paul’s Canticle continues this revelation of the absolute primacy of Christ in the following verses. “For in Him were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and invisible, whether Thrones, or Dominations, or Principalities, or Powers. All things have been created through and unto Him, and He is before all creatures, and in Him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:16-17). In these two verses Paul is talking about ‘being’—metaphysics, plain and simple. But if the Apostle, as we have maintained, is consistently referring to Christ, and not the Uncreated Word, then all creatures are created in Christ, through Christ, and unto Christ.[9] Thus St. Bonaventure states that Christ is our metaphysics.[10]

1. In Christ—exemplary cause of creatures

To say that “in Him were created all things” means that Jesus Christ is the exemplary cause of all creatures. Since He is the Model, all creation is accomplished in Him, that is, all the perfections of creation reside in Christ as their Prototype. Jesus Christ, therefore, possesses in His sacred humanity all the perfections of the created universe, for in Him, “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Col. 2:3). God foresees the Incarnation and then wills all creation to reflect in various ways the perfections He sees in the most Sacred Heart. It could be no other way, for in decreeing the Incarnation God willed that Christ’s human nature be divinized in the most perfect way possible—by personal union with the second Divine Person of the Most Holy Trinity. Nothing could be more exalted than the Heart of the God-Man; hence, all other created things of lesser perfection are created in Christ, their supreme Model.

2. Through Christ—secondary efficient cause of creatures

Obviously the Divinity is the efficient cause of all things outside of Itself; but, after the Godhead, St. Paul sees all things as created through Christ. Thus Jesus Christ is the secondary efficient cause of the universe. Since the sacred humanity of Christ does not pre-exist the universe, He does not produce the universe physically or even instrumentally. The Godhead creates the universe out of nothing and is alone the primary efficient cause. But God who, after knowing and loving Himself, wills Christ, foresees the infinite merits of the most Sacred Heart. From all eternity He foresees the perfect love of Jesus responding to His divine, creative love. Therefore, through Christ all things are created in this sense—Christ is the meritorious cause of all created things. The creation of Our Lady, the angels, the saints is accomplished in view of the merits of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Thus, St. Paul: “All things have been created through… Him.”

3. Unto Christ—secondary final cause of all creatures

If “all things have been created… unto Him” as the Apostle states, then He is the final cause of all creation. The final cause indicates the goal which God has in mind. The goal of all creation is the glory of God—this is the ultimate final cause. Therefore, Jesus Christ as the “one mediator between God and men” (1 Tim. 2:5) is the secondary final cause that brings us to that ultimate goal through His Incarnation. Hence, we are created for Him, that is, He is our end. Only in union with Jesus can we glorify God and be glorified by Him. He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6) for whom we are created; and apart from Him we can do nothing (cf. Jn. 15:4-5). In other words, God has directed the entire universe towards Himself (final cause) through Christ (intermediate or secondary final cause).

After these lessons in metaphysics, the Apostle adds that “He is before all creatures.” He is not speaking of the Incarnate Word in terms of the chronology of execution, but in terms of the eternal intentions of God. In the mind of God Christ is the first creature—the Alpha (cf. Apoc. 22:13).

“And in Him all things hold together”— that is, Christ sustains us in being. Apart from Him we do not exist; but rather, we exist by Him.

Verse 18, headship and primacy

“Again, He is the head of His body, the Church; He, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the first place [primatum tenens].” (Col. 1:18).

Jesus Christ is the Head of the Mystical Body, the Church. What is the Church—redeemed humanity only? Or all angels and men predestined to grace and glory before the foundation of the world? St. Paul speaks of the Incarnate Word as “the head of every Principality and Power.” (Col. 2:10).

Thus Scotus is on solid ground when he speaks of the Church as a single heavenly court. “With a priority of nature God chose for His heavenly court all the angels and men He wished to have with their various degrees of perfection.”[11] And who is the Head of this celestial family? Scotus writes, “Since the positive act of the divine will regarding the predestined in common precedes all the acts of His will concerning either the reprobate or the fall of anyone whatever, it does not seem that the predestination of Christ to be the Head of the heavenly court, was occasioned by the fall or by the demerit of the reprobate.”[12]

If, as Scotus maintains, Christ is predestined as the Head of the entire celestial court, then He is predestined absolutely. If He is the “firstborn of every creature” He has an absolute primacy. Or if “in Him were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether Thrones, or Dominations, or Principalities, or Powers” (Col. 1:16), then He is predestined above all angels and saints and this quite apart from any consideration of sin. Or if “all things have been created through and unto Him and He is before all creatures” (Col. 1:16), then He is the first of the predestined since angels or men cannot be predestined in Him if He is not already foreseen. Christ is, then, the Head over all creation, all the elect, all the Church—angels and men alike—“that in all things He may have the first place” (Col. 1:18). To say that Jesus Christ is Head only of fallen mankind and not of angels, is to deny that He has primacy “in all things” as a result of His headship over the Church.

The Franciscan thesis maintains that there is only one economy of divine grace which is mediated through Jesus Christ, as opposed to the thomists who maintain that angels and Adam and Eve belong to the original economy of grace but, after the fall of Adam and Eve, God willed a second and better economy of grace for fallen mankind. If that were the case, then why should the angels pay homage to the Word made flesh? Yet the Apostle clearly says, “At the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth and every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:10-11). St. Paul, as we noted earlier, holds that God’s eternal decree (“His good pleasure” or “His purpose”) was “to sum up all things under the headship of Christ, both in the heavens and those on the earth” (Eph. 1:10).[13] This is why the Apostle can maintain that the Incarnate Word is set “above every Principality and Power and Virtue and Domination— in short, above every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come. And all things He made subject under His feet, and Him He gave as head over all the Church, which indeed is His body, the completion of Him who fills all with all.” (Eph. 1:21-23; cf. Heb. 1).

The point to be emphasized here is that if the Word made flesh is predestined as Head of the angels who are part of the Church, then clearly He is predestined first and absolutely before any foreseen fall of Adam and has absolute primacy over all creation. If, on the other hand, angels were not part of the Church nor under the headship of Christ, then the Apostle would make no sense when he writes, “Yes, to me, the very least of all saints, there was given this grace, to announce among the Gentiles the good tidings of the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to enlighten all men as to what is the dispensation of the mystery which was hidden from eternity in God, who created all things: in order that through the Church there be made known to the Principalities and the Powers in the heavens the manifold wisdom of God according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Eph. 3:8-11). This would be an odd statement, “that through the Church there be made known to the Principalities and the Powers in the heavens the manifold wisdom of God,” unless the angels are under the headship of Christ as part of the Church.

Long before Scotus and the Franciscan Order, St. Anastasius of Sinai, a seventh century Church Father, wrote of the eternal predestination of Christ and His Church as follows:

“All creation, visible and invisible, was first constructed and prefigured, according to her image [the Church] and that of Christ her spouse. For this is the mystery which God first predestined before the ages and generations… Now, when the Apostle of God said, ‘all things, both visible and invisible, were created in Christ,’ he plainly shows and teaches that even the invisible creature was prefigured and made in Christ and the Church.”[14]

In recent times, an expert on angelology and demonology, the chief exorcist of the Diocese of Rome, Fr. Gabriel Amorth, wrote a most concise and lucid summation of the Franciscan thesis in his book An Exorcist Tells his Story. Before he ‘tells his story’, he begins by “first stating some basic facts about God’s plan for creation.” He writes:

“All too often we have the wrong concept of creation, and we take for granted the following wrong sequence of events. We believe that one day God created the angels; that He put them to the test, although we are not sure which test; and that as a result we have the division among angels and demons. The angels were rewarded with heaven, and the demons were punished with hell. Then we believe that on another day God created the universe, the minerals, the plants, the animals, and, in the end, man. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve obeyed Satan and disobeyed God; thus they sinned. At this point, to save mankind, God decided to send His Son.

“This is not what the Bible teaches us, and it is not the teaching of the Fathers. If this were so, the angels and creation would remain strangers to the mystery of Christ. If we read the Prologue of the Gospel of John and the two Christological hymns that open the letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians, we see that Christ is ‘the firstborn of all creatures’ (Col. 1:15). Everything was created for Him and in the expectation of Him. There is no theological discussion that makes any sense if it asks whether Christ would have been born without the sin of Adam. Christ is the center of creation; all creatures, both heavenly (the angels) and earthly (man) find in Him their summation. On the other hand, we can affirm that, given the sin of our forebears, Christ’s coming assumed a particular role: He came as Savior. The core of His action is contained within the Paschal Mystery: through the blood of His Cross, He reconciles all things in the heavens (angels) and on earth (man) to God. The role of every creature is dependent on this christocentric understanding.”[15]

[The Catechism of the Catholic Church #331 explicitly states:  Christ is the centre of the angelic world. They are his angels: “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him.” (Mt 25:31) They belong to him because they were created through and for him: “for in him all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities – all things were created through him and for him.”(Col 1:16) They belong to him still more because he has made them messengers of his saving plan: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” (Heb 1:14)

Note that the Catechism confirms that the subject of the entire Canticle of Col. 1:15-20 is Jesus Christ, and never the Eternal Word considered apart from the Incarnation.]

Verses 19-20, the test of the angels: the Incarnation

It is noteworthy that the Greek word ἀποκατατήλλαξεν apokatallaxai, translated as “reconciled,” actually means ‘leading to unity in the same goal’. Thus verses 19-20 might be translated more accurately into English as follows: “For it has pleased God the Father that in Him all His fullness should dwell, and that He should lead all things to unity in Christ, whether on the earth or in the heavens, making peace through the blood of His Cross.” (Col. 1:19-20). Thus God willed it before He began creating out of nothing—that all things be unified and centered in Jesus. It comes as no surprise, then, that the Franciscan school affirms that the test of the angels was centered on the mystery of the Incarnation. Shown a vision of the Virgin with the Divine Child, those angels who accepted Jesus and Mary as their King and Queen are the blessed angels and those who refused the reign of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary are the cursed demons who say, “non serviam”—“I will not serve.”

Thus the evil one in Genesis 3 goes after the first woman, Eve, because he had been shown a vision of the Woman with Child and was immediately searching for her—“Is this the predestined Virgin? Let us tempt her! Let us ruin God’s plan and make ourself the center of creation! Let us entice her to ‘be as gods’ (Gen. 3:5) apart from Christ!” The serpent allured her and she disobeyed God’s plan which was that we might receive of the “fullness of the Godhead” (cf. Eph. 3:19; Col. 2:8-10; Jn. 1:16) and become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pt. 1:4) and “sons of God” (cf. Jn. 1:12-13) through the Incarnation.

Interestingly, when Jesus Christ walks this earth the demons recognize Him. “I know who Thou art, the Holy One of God,” says one demon (Mk. 1:24). Another “legion” of demons cry out from two possessed men in the country of the Gerasenes, “What have we to do with Thee, Son of God? Hast Thou come here to torment us before the time?” (Mt. 8:29). And the demons fear that He has come to destroy them (cf. Mk. 1:24; Lk. 5:34). Their recognition of the Incarnate Word and their fear of torment and destruction in His presence indicate that they have foreknowledge of Him and that their damnation and torture is to be subject to the God-Man and His Immaculate Mother whom they eternally rejected before the visible world was even created.



Recapitulation of Bl. Scotus and the Scriptures

 

In studying and meditating on the Pauline texts of Ephesians 1:3-10, Romans 8:29 and Colossians 1:15-20 in conjunction with the insights of Bl. John Duns Scotus, a clear picture has been brought into focus. Jesus Christ is at the heart of God’s creative plan before creation is even set in motion. This absolute predestination of Christ to the maximum grace and glory manifests a fixed plan in the intention of God the Creator. Christ is foreordained in the divine plan as King of all creation and Head of all the elect, angels and saints alike. Consequently, Jesus Christ has primacy over all creatures, over all that is not God. His is a primacy that is not contingent upon or relative to any created thing whatsoever; rather, the primacy of Christ is absolute and not occasioned by man’s need for redemption or divinization.

The Incarnation is the greatest work of God in all the created universe. No other created nature, however graced and glorified, is united to God in the oneness of Person. Only Christ, by virtue of the hypostatic union, is elevated to this place of absolute primacy. As such, He is the creature most perfectly glorified by the Most Holy Trinity. This was God’s eternal decree. God freely willed to communicate His love, His goodness, and indeed His very divinity in its fullness to the created nature of the Word made flesh.

Moreover, the Incarnate Word is the perfect Glorifier of God in all creation. In His human nature He gives more glory to the Triune God than all the angels and saints put together. Thus Jesus Christ, the greatest work of God ad extra, is willed for His own sake (to be united to the Divinity in the Person of the Word) and for the glory of God (to be the perfect Glorifier of the Trinity in creation).

This is realized in the fullness of time because what is first in the intention of the Divine Architect, namely the Incarnation, comes last in the execution of His plan. Thus the mystery, hidden from men in times past, has now been fully unveiled to us in Jesus Christ. In Him we see the eternal purpose of God. In Him all things unfold according to the good pleasure of God.

Therefore, all creation finds its reason for existence in Him. God foresees Christ from all eternity and creates all things based on what He sees in Christ. Jesus is the Model, the Exemplar, the Prototype of all creation. All the goodness in creation is but a reflection of the perfection God saw from all eternity in the God-Man.

All creation exists through the Word Incarnate. God alone is the efficient cause of all creation; but, after knowing and loving Himself, He wills Christ to be the intermediate cause of all being. He foresees the infinite merits of the most Sacred Heart of Jesus and thus through Christ all things are created in the sense that Christ is the meritorious cause of all created things. God sees the infinite merits of the God-Man and this is the secondary efficient cause of all created things.

All creatures exist for Christ as their final cause. The goal of all creation is the glory of God—this is the ultimate end of angels and men. Only in union with the God-Man are we able to glorify God and be glorified by Him. In other words, God has ordained that the elect reach their ultimate goal through the Incarnation.

It is this divine decree which orders all things. While God wills all creation at once, there is an order and priority in His intention before He even begins the execution of His plan. God wills in a most orderly fashion. After knowing, loving and willing Himself from all eternity, He freely, gratuitously wills to share His Divine Essence with a creature extrinsic to Himself. Thus the first predestined, the one closest to Himself in the created universe, is the Christ whose created nature is to be united to the Godhead in the personal union with the Word. In this same decree, God wills that Jesus be born of a woman; thus blessed Mary is jointly predestined with Him to be His Immaculate Virgin Mother. Simultaneously, the angels are predestined to grace and glory in Christ, Head of the heavenly court, and the saints, before any consideration of sin, are predestined to grace and glory as God’s adopted children in Christ Jesus. This is God’s eternal plan.

Foreseeing the fall of Adam and Eve, God wills that Jesus and Mary repair original sin by the work of Redemption as the Redeemer and Coredemptrix of the human race. This redemption is not the primary reason for the Incarnation, but rather a secondary motive which, while it does not occasion God’s greatest work in the created universe, nonetheless, manifests His supreme love and mercy to a sinful race and remedies a most dire need for mankind if they are to profit from the blessings offered in the Incarnation.

The absolute primacy of Jesus Christ underscores the centrality of Christ in the whole created universe. Creation is fundamentally christocentric. This means that all rational, free creatures find their reason for existence in Him alone; either they live for Him or die without Him, and this forever—Heaven or Hell. In a word, all the elect, angels and saints, are predestined in Him before the foundations of the world as members of His Mystical Body, the Church. Christ is the Head; we are His members.

We conclude this section of the Scriptural foundations of the absolute predestination and primacy of Christ with a reflection on the implications of Ephesians 2:20.


[1] Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience (January 4, 2006) Vatican website.

[2] CCC #468.

[3] Bl. John Duns Scotus, Ordinatio, III, d.7, q.3.

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

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

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

[7] Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theol. III, q.1, a.3.

[8] Bl. John Duns Scotus, Ordinatio, III, d.7, q.3.

[9] Cf. Fr. Dominic Unger, OFM Cap., Franciscan Christology: Absolute and Universal Primacy of Christ, in FS vol.22 (N.S. 2) no.4 (1942) 441-453; cf. also Fr. Meilach, The Primacy of Christ in Doctrine and Life, (Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago, 1964) 49-53.

[10] St. Bonaventure, Collationes in Hexaemeron, col. 1, n. 17: “[Verbum] est medium metaphysicum reducens, et haec est tota nostra metaphysica.”

[11] Bl. John Duns Scotus, Ordinatio, III, d.7, q.3.

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

[13] Cf. the argument for this translation in Section V, A, v.10

[14] St. Anastasius of Sinai, In Hexaëm. praef.; PG 89, 854; Cf. Fr. Dominic Unger, OFM Cap., Christ, the Exemplar and Final Scope of All Creation according to Anastasius of Sinai, in FS vol.9, no. 2 (1949) 156-164.

[15] Fr. Gabriel Amorth, An Exorcist Tells his Story (Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1999) 19-20.