Video – Fr. Maximilian – The Cornerstone #4: St. Thomas Aquinas & The Incarnation (Part 2)
Did you know that two of St. Thomas Aquinas' most illustrious professors at the University of Paris, Fr. Alexander of Hales, OFM, and St. Albert the Great, OP, held what has come to be known as the Franciscan position regarding the Incarnation? Perhaps this explains why St. Thomas had such great respect for the position that Bl. John Duns Scotus would take up and defend so ardently some 40 years later. In this episode Fr. Maximilian demonstrates from the writings of Aquinas that the position of Scotus on the absolute primacy of Christ is possible and even probable, even though St. Thomas held the opposite opinion to be more probable.
The life and doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas
St. Thomas Aquinas Summa theologica on the Incarnation in the Catholic Encyclopedia
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In a certain sense, the difference between the Thomistic and Franciscan/Scotistic thesis on the Incarnation boils down to priority in God. Just as we set our priorities and then act accordingly, so God has a priority in His eternal, divine plan before He begins to create.
Both St. Thomas Aquinas and Bl. John Duns Scotus agree that God has a purpose when He creates, a plan which is eternal and outside of time. But in that eternal plan St. Thomas and Bl. John see the priority differently. Keep in mind that what I am going to write below treats of a decree which is outside of time, before God creates (but to speak intelligibly both the Thomist and the Scotist have to use terms like “before/after”, “then”, etc. to show this eternal priority).
For St. Thomas, we might sum it up like this: God first knows and loves Himself (God is God!), then He wills to create angels and men in order to communicate His grace and glory to them, He foresees the fall and thus wills the Incarnation and Redemption as a remedy to man’s sin.
For Bl. John Duns Scotus: God first knows and loves Himself (God is God!), then He wills to communicate His grace and glory [ad extra] to a created nature in the most perfect way possible, namely by uniting the created nature to the divine nature in the Person of the Word–in the created order God first wills the Incarnation, He then predestines angels and men to grace and glory in Christ (and this “before the foundations of the world” Eph 1), foreseeing the fall He wills that the Incarnate Word suffer the Passion for man’s Redemption.
For the Thomist, in God’s eternal plan He first wills angels and men for their own sake (for the glory they will render to God and receive from Him), then foreseeing sin He wills the Sacred Heart of Jesus as a means of Redemption for fallen mankind. Since the Incarnation, according to the Thomistic thesis, is remedial, this means that the Sacred Humanity of Christ owes its existence to sin; the Incarnation is caused by sin; thus the primacy of Christ over all creation as King is a relative primacy–relative to sin. No sin, no Incarnation, no primacy of Christ the King–that’s St. Augustine, St. Anselm, St. Thomas, St. Alphonsus, etc.
Whereas for the Scotist, God’s creative plan starts with the Sacred Humanity of Christ, then chooses to bless angels and men in Him–sin or no sin. From this point of view the Most Holy Trinity wills the Masterpiece of all creation first–the Word made flesh–not as a means to an end, but for Its own sake (for the glory It will render to God and receive from Him). Angels and men then are blessed in Christ and exist for Him. This is why the Franciscan thesis speaks of the “absolute primacy of Christ” because He is the Firstborn, the Alpha, the First, the Beginning in God’s plan before He even starts to create. Christ is willed as King of all creation quite apart from any consideration of sin–that’s St. Paul (in my opinion–see Ephesians and Colssians especially), St. Maximus the Confessor, St. Albert the Great, Bl. John Duns Scotus, St. Francis de Sales, etc.
As an aside, modernists have no time for Thomas or Scotus, since they don’t believe in things like original or actual sin; modernists do believe that Jesus really didn’t know who He was or what He was about and that we should be nice to one another (“luv”). At any rate, when it comes to the Incarnation, I’m a Scotist. Nonetheless, I thank God for St. Thomas and the Thomists!! At least we agree on the dogmas of the Faith and can talk intelligently!!! Let’s revive Thomas and Scotus and relegate the confusion of Rahner and Heideggar in the past.
Long live Christ the King…