2. Bl. John Duns Scotus

Overview of the scotistic thesis on the primacy of Christ

As we shall see, one of the most beautiful aspects of the Subtle Doctor’s teaching on the absolute primacy of Christ is that it begins from above (with God’s plan), and not from below (with man’s need).  Scotus’ theology seeks to see the created world from God’s point of view, ad mentem Dei, and not to subordinate His eternal decrees to man’s temporal and spiritual needs.  God’s works are not conditioned.  God is God; then God, in His goodness, freely wills to create the universe according to a fixed plan.

The key to the entire philosophical and theological system of Scotus is predestination.[1]  This is because for Scotus the origin of all things outside of God hinges entirely on this doctrine.  He defines predestination as an “act of the divine will which destines [chooses, elects] an intellectual creature to grace and glory.”[2]  This predestination is characterized by two activities, one eternal and the other temporal.  The first activity, outside of time, is the intention of God from all eternity.  By this is meant the activity of determining the end, the goal, the purpose, the final cause of all God’s activity outside Himself (ad extra).  The second activity is the execution of His foreseen plan in time.  By this is meant the gradual realization in time of His eternal purpose.

Intention and execution: we speak here of a single, divine plan of predestination with a twofold activity that brings it about.  The first activity (intention) always precedes the second activity (execution).  Let us take the example of a sculptor.  First, the artisan sees in his mind a life-size wooden statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus which he wants to carve—so he forms the intention to carve this statue.  To execute this foreseen statue he obtains a large chunk of wood, brings the wood to his studio and begins cutting, then whittling away.  We see that the process of execution moves from the less perfect (a hunk of wood) to the more perfect (the statue).  The sculptor all the while always sees the Sacred Heart of Jesus in that wood and it is this end which moves the execution of the plan along.  Thus, in the sculptor’s activity of intention the perfect is willed and seen first; whereas in the activity of execution he begins with the less perfect and gradually moves towards the perfect.

Applying this analogy to the primacy of Christ, God is the Divine Artist.  First, He wills and predestines the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus to the maximum grace and glory possible by virtue of the personal union it will have with the Eternal Word in the Incarnation (the hypostatic union).  So by the activity of intention God first wills the end of all creation—Jesus Christ.  God sets His plan in motion with the creation of the universe moving always from the less perfect towards the most perfect realization of His eternal decree which is the grace and glory of Christ.  And so the Sacred Heart is the first created being willed by God—the Alpha—whom God sees from all eternity and predestines to glory, and the Sacred Heart is the goal of all creation—the Omega—which God realizes in the “fullness of time,” as St. Paul calls it (Gal. 4:4).  This eternal intention of God and temporal execution towards this end is fixed by predestination, and all other rational creatures are predestined in, through and unto Christ.

Predestination is a free act of divine love.  Since predestination is the positive act of the divine will which chooses (elects, destines) a rational creature (namely Christ—and all saints and angels in Him) to grace and glory, it follows that there is a primacy of the will, that is, a primacy of charity in God.[3]  This is a keynote of the Franciscan thesis—the primacy of love in God and in His creatures made to His image and likeness.  Since predestination is a positive act of the divine will, it is a free act of love.  Therefore, the cause of all contingent being is rooted in divine charity.

Predestination is absolute, not relative or conditional.  In other words God predestines Christ (and all angels and men in Him) to grace and glory, not relative to any created need or circumstance, but absolutely.  It is God’s own intrinsic goodness, His own eternal desire to communicate Himself to another that moves Him to create being outside of Himself (ad extra).  In other words, God is motivated from within His own Divine Essence to predestine Christ, true God and true man, to the maximum grace and glory; God is not influenced in His freely made, eternal decree by anything extrinsic to Himself.  He wills the absolute primacy of Christ unconditionally “before the foundation of the world.”  This means that Jesus Christ is willed for His own sake.  He is not willed for man; but men and angels are created for Him and He for God.  He is certainly not predestined to grace and glory on account of sin, although He will in His mercy conquer sin.  Thus the Incarnation, the supreme work of God ad extra, is by no means occasioned or brought about by sin.

Finally, predestination is simultaneous.  With one act of the divine will, God destines all of the elect to grace and glory simultaneously in Christ Jesus.  This is illustrated by the joint predestination of Our Lady with Christ.  Bl. Pope Pius IX declares in Ineffabilis Deus that Mary was predestined to be Mother of God in “one and the same decree” as the Incarnate Word.  Men and angels are likewise predestined in this eternal decree as the Holy Apostle Paul indicates (cf. Eph. 1:3-6, 10-11; Col. 1:15-20; Ph. 2:9-11; etc.).

For Scotus, then, all the elect—men and angels—form but one family, the “heavenly court,” with Christ Jesus as the Head.  Christ is the King of this celestial court with an absolute primacy (and obviously Mary is the Queen, jointly predestined with Him with a subordinate primacy, and we are the adopted children, coheirs with Christ).  Christ has absolute primacy because, as Scotus points out, anyone who wills to act does so in an orderly fashion.  God is not haphazard in His eternal decrees, but wills in a most orderly fashion, which means He first wills the end, namely the glory of Christ, then that which is closest to this end, namely the Incarnation (which gives grace and glory to Christ), then the divine maternity, then the angels and saints, so that the first place in all the created universe is given to Jesus Christ, King of kings, Lord of lords, Head of the Mystical Body.

 

Ave Maria!


[1] Cf. Fr. Ruggero Rosini, OFM, Mariologia del beato Giovanni Duns Scoto, c.1, art.1 (Editrice Mariana, Castelpetroso, 1994) 18-28.

[2] Bl. John Duns Scotus, Ordinatio, I, d.40, q. un., n.4 (Vat. VI, 310).

[3] Cf. the article related to this topic by Fr. Dominic Unger, OFM Cap., The Love of God, the Primary Reason for the Incarnation according to Isaac of Nineveh, in FS vol.9, no.2 (St. Bonaventure, 1949) 146-155.