[This is an Overview: To see the full article visit Appendix: Christ the Beginning]
Today, on the feast of our Blessed, John Duns Scotus, I would like to begin a series of posts showing how the Prologue of St. John the Evangelist confirms, or better, reveals the doctrine of the absolute primacy of Christ. The posts will appear in both English and Italian and the study, which will look at the Scripture, the Church Fathers and Councils, and other Saints and theologians, will be engaging, to say the least. But our study will be for the sole purpose of knowing and loving more perfectly Christ our King and Lord. Let us start with an engaging overture to whet our appetite and then, in the future posts, we will explore the theme more deeply.
Jesus Christ: In the Beginning
After pardoning the woman caught in adultery, Jesus gives testimony to Himself that He is “the light of the world” (Jn 8:12). He says “I am” (v.18, 28) and even goes on to say, “Before Abraham was, I am” (v.58).
In the middle of this discourse the Pharisees retort, “Who are you?” (v.25). Our Lord’s response is profound and mysterious. He replies, “The beginning, who also speak to you” (v.25—Duaey translation; in Latin: In principio: id quod et loquor vobis!). To the modern ear it is certainly a strange response. But to the Jewish ear it is a self-revelation that has no equal. Just as “I am” to the Jews was a claim to be divine (cf. v.59; Mk 14:62-63; etc.) which, if any mere man were to say this, would be blasphemy; so too this marvellous self-revelation, [I am] “in the beginning”—Ego sum “in principio”.
Why? Look at the first words of the Hebrew Scriptures. In principio—“In the beginning God created heaven and earth” (Gen. 1:1). Before we try to penetrate this astonishing self-revelation, it is worth noting that in Psalm 39:7-9, the Messias in speaking to the Father of His sacrifice and that He has come into the world to do God’s will, makes reference to the “head of the book”—“In the head of the book it is written of Me”. (That this is Christ speaking there can be no doubt since the Holy Spirit confirms and clarifies this in Hebrews 10:5-10). “The book” for the Jews is the Torah, and the head of that book or scroll begins with Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning…” Moreover, according to St. Paul the Father says to the Son (Heb 1:8, 10): “Thou in the beginning, O Lord, didst found the earth, and the heavens are the work of Thy hands” (Ps 102:26).
St. Zeno writes, “What is meant by the Beginning, my beloved brothers, is undoubtedly Christ our Lord.”
And St. Augustine, “The Beginning in which God made heaven and earth undoubtedly refers to the Son Himself”.
Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, is “in the beginning”. It was of Jesus that Moses wrote—“For if you believed Moses you would believe Me also, for he wrote of Me” (Jn 5:46; cf. Lk 24:27).
Many, when confronted with statements by or about the Incarnate Word which indicate His existence prior to the Annunciation as God-Man immediately conclude that the Sacred Words refer to Christ’s divinity alone—viz. to His Divine Person as the eternal, uncreated Son of the Father. But this is not always the case (Col 1:15-20 is an example of this). With the simple distinction of Aristotle which Bl. John Duns Scotus underscores: what is first in intention is last in execution, we are able to understand that many of these passages found in Sacred Writ refer, in their proper perspective, not to the eternal Son per se, but to the eternal Son as Incarnate (before the Incarnation, references are to the Word Incarnate as foreseen and predestined; after the Incarnation in reference to the historical fact of the Son come in the flesh).
The problem, for many, seems to lie in that fact that they approach the Scriptures forgetful of the predestination of Christ’s Sacred Humanity to glory which precedes all creation or with the preconceived notion that the Incarnation is the consequence of man’s sin and his need for Redemption. What we will see over and over again in the posts that follow is that Sacred Scripture reveals that Christ, the God-Man, existed in the divine decree before the creation of the universe. He existed in the divine intention as the creative Masterpiece of the Most Holy Trinity—Summum opus Dei. God first willed that the Second Divine Person assume a created nature in order to communicate His divine glory most perfectly ad extra to a creature and in order to be perfectly glorified ad extra by the creature.
God first wills Christ, then He wills all things in and for Christ (1 Cor 3:23; Col 1:16-17). This means that God’s first thought (first in terms of priority—primacy) and His first love directed outside Himself is fixed upon the Sacred Heart of Jesus who will know and love Him, the Triune God, perfectly ad extra.
Thus God exists—not “in the beginning”—but in Himself, outside of time. “I am who am.” He is Three Divine Persons in One Divine Essence; God the Most Holy Trinity simply is and He always knows and loves Himself: He knows Himself perfectly in the eternal procession or generation of the Word; He loves Himself perfectly in the eternal spiration or conception of the Spirit. And so when the Sacred Scripture speaks of “the beginning” it is not in reference to the timeless, eternal Godhead, but rather in reference to creation. In God there is no beginning; rather, the beginning is precisely when God wills to create according to His design. This is what St. Paul calls “the purpose of His will” and the “mystery” (Eph 1:8-10; 3:7-11; Col 1:26; etc.). Once God decrees to create we have “the beginning”.
Christ claims to be that Beginning. How can this be? Simple. Before God executes His plan, He wills His Masterpiece, Jesus Christ. He sees Christ whom He predestines to glory before any other, and in Christ He predestines the Blessed Virgin Mary, His Mother, and in Jesus and Mary He predestines the whole heavenly court—all of the elect, both angels and men. Then He begins the execution of His plan.
This perspective alone enables us to understand passages such as Proverbs 8:22-9:6 which the Fathers, the Liturgy and the Magisterium consistently see in reference to Christ, the Incarnate Word, and secondarily to His Mother who also is willed in the divine intention prior to the execution of His plan. They exist first in mente Dei, then in the “fullness of time” (Gal 4:4) God’s purpose is realized.
It is worth noting that the Angels and Saints were also willed or predestined in that same decree prior to its execution as is clear from St. Paul (Eph 1:4-5, 11-12; Rm 8:29; 2 Tim 1:9-10). Christ is “foreknown, indeed, before the foundation of the world, [and] He has been manifested in the last of times for your sakes” (1 Pt 1:19), and the elect are foreknown in Christ and will be created through Him, in Him and for Him.
Christ Jesus, then, is the Beginning. God sees and loves Christ and creates the universe for Him. In fact, all existence, all creatures are but a reflection of the beauty and perfection of Christ—rational creatures as images, the rest of creation as footprints or vestiges, as the Seraphic Doctor so clearly understood and taught. And this is what is meant by exemplary causality—Christ is the Exemplar, the Supreme Model of all created being. All that is true and good in the universe is first seen in Christ, “in the Beginning”, and then, like so many rays of the sun scattered throughout time and space, the rest of creation shines forth; the sun alone is the refulgent source and does not diminish its light or heat in giving off its brilliance and warmth to all. Christ, the “true light” (Jn 1:9; cf. 8:12; 1:4-5) is Divine Truth and Beauty Incarnate; He is “full of grace and truth… and of His fullness we have all received, grace for grace” (Jn 1:14, 16). Mary received the totality of His grace as His Immaculate Mother, and through Jesus and Mary we all receive “grace for grace”, especially the grace of adoption (cf. Gal 4:5; Rm 8:14-17; Eph 1:5-6).
Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, then, is the Beginning of all creation: “Thus says the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, who is the Beginning of the creation of God” (Apoc 3:14).
With that in mind, let us look at some of the key verses in Proverbs 8:22-9:6. “I 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…”
Jesus, true God and true Man, was “set up from eternity” when God the Creator chose, in His love, to communicate Himself ad extra, viz. when in His love, He who is Love, chose to create the universe.
Jesus, the Incarnate Word, “was present” at the center of the divine decree when the Almighty God “prepared the heavens”.
The Word was made flesh—that Temple wherein perfect glory is offered to the Triune Godhead in creation, in which the angels and men are called to be “living stones” built upon Christ the Living Stone par excellence (cf. Eph 2:21-22; 4:11-16), that cornerstone “chosen and honored by God” (1 Pt 2:4-5)—“was with Him” in laying the “foundations of the earth” and, as exemplary, efficient and final cause (cf. Col 1:16-17) Christ “was with Him forming all things” since all was created in, through, and unto Christ. Hence Jesus, although in terms of the execution of God’s purpose came “in the last of times” (Heb 1:2; 1 Pt 1:20), was there in the divine intentions as the Design and Model of all creation.
And so it is that God had Jesus—in the Beginning—playing before His divine gaze when He set His plan in motion and spoke those creative words, Fiat lux. And Christ, as it were, “was delighted every day”, each of the six days of creation—all the universe was created for Him through no merit of His own, but out of the generosity pure and simple of the Creator who freely chose and predestined the Sacred Humanity of Christ to the maximum glory by way of the hypostatic union. Thus Jesus “plays” in the world with joy and gratitude and finds His delights “to be with the children of men”, to be “Emmanuel”, to be the Son of Mary, to be the “Firstborn of many brethren” (Rm 8:29), to glorify God on earth (cf. Jn 17:4).
(Here is a roadmap which may be helpful as we go along…)
 St. Zeno, Sermones, i.2, tr.3 (PL 11,392). “Principium, fratres dilectissimi, Dominus noster incunctanter est Christus”.
 St. Augustine, Sermo I, c.5, (PL 38, 26). “Principium in quo fecit Deus coelum et terram, ipsum Filium incunctanter amplectitur”.
 Bl. John Duns Scotus, Opus Parisiense, Lib III, d.7, q.4 (ed. Balić) 13-15.