Video – Fr Maximilian – The Cornerstone #17: Prove it! … The Explaination of the Absolute Predestination
Ave Maria! "I prove this as follows..." In this episode Fr. Maximilian explains the logical proof of Bl. John Duns Scotus on the absolute nature of the predestination of Christ. "Ordered willing": God wills in an orderly fashion. This ordered will of God is seen in Scripture: "All [things] are yours; and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's." (1 Cor. 3:23).Ave Maria!
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Currently I am reading A Primer on the Absolute Primacy of Christ. I’m about halfway through and am profiting from your excellent work. Thank you for writing and lecturing on such a fascinating topic.
I am a Catholic philosopher strongly drawn to the Franciscan thesis, yet I am also aware of the difficult issues raised by some attempts to prove it. In this post I will focus on Scotus’s logical argument in support of the thesis: the argument from ordered willing. For now I shall set aside the Scriptural texts offered in support of the thesis.
The heart of the argument is that when one wills in an orderly fashion, one first wills the end and those things closer to the end. The priority here is logical, not a temporal: willing the end and those things closer to it is logically prior to willing the means, as well as to any ad extra contingencies. In particular, God eternally wills Himself, then the soul of Christ and the embodiment of this human soul with the Word in the hypostatic union; and His willing Himself and these things closer to Himself is logically prior to any ad extra contingencies, such as whether humans sinned (or even whether there are any other humans!) Therefore, Scotus concludes, God would have willed the hypostatic union even if humans hadn’t sinned (and in some passages Scotus implies God would have willed this union even if there hadn’t been any other humans).
Now, consider a parallel argument. Suppose I will in an orderly fashion as follows: first, I will my own existence/survival. Next, I will the things closer to this end, such as shelter and its embodiment in particular materials–i.e., a house. My willing these things closer to the end (desiring shelter, building a house) is logically prior to any ad extra contingencies, such as the state of the environment around me. But does it follow that I would have willed shelter to be embodied in a house regardless of these ad extra contingencies? It seems not.
Suppose that in the actual case the environment is such that it contains elements (cold, rain, snow, and so forth). Clearly, given these contingencies it makes sense for me to will the embodiment of shelter in a house. However, suppose there hadn’t been any elements, but that the environment had been perfectly tranquil and paradisaical as in the Garden of Eden before the Fall. Given this different set of ad extra contingencies, it seems that I would *not* have willed that shelter be embodied in a house–or at least it is unclear that I definitely *would* have had any desire for shelter and willed it to be embodied in a house. (We might even imagine that the presence of elements in the environment is due to bad human choices, so that the ad extra contingencies in the case where I will to build a house include human bad choices.)
So in the parallel argument, the conclusion that I would have willed shelter to be embodied in a house regardless of the ad extra contingencies doesn’t follow from my ordered willing. Mutatis mutandis, the conclusion that God would have willed the hypostatic union regardless of ad extra contingencies, such as whether humans sinned, doesn’t follow from God’s ordered willing. The logical priority of the end and the things closer to the end in ordered willing isn’t sufficient to prove the absolute primacy of the things closer to the end. Or so the Thomist might object.
There may be other logical (philosophical, natural theological) considerations that support the Franciscan thesis. For example, in your book you speak of the hypostatic union as “God’s masterpiece.” Perhaps the idea is that a great artist would have creating his/her masterpiece even if no one else were around to appreciate it, precisely because of his/her character as a great artist. Similarly, since God is supremely great, He would have sent Christ even if there hadn’t been any other humans (or if there had been but they never sinned). The artist’s creating his/her masterpiece and God’s sending Christ aren’t necessities determined by their respective natures, since it is logically possible that the artist not create his/her masterpiece and that God not send Christ. Yet given *who* they are, there is no doubt that the artist and God would have freely done these things (just as given who a great altruist is, there is no doubt that she will freely show compassion to those in need even if it is logically possible that she not do so).
But then what in God underwrites the certainty that He would send Christ regardless of whether other humans sin (or even exist)? What in God is comparable to the character of the altruist ensuring that she will freely show compassion to others? *Who* is He that He should do this?
I apologize the the length of this post. I look forward to any help you can give me as I pray for God’s guidance.
Dr. Peter Spotswood Dillard
Grace, peace and joy to you in the Most Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary! Thank you for your post and, again, sorry for the delay in responding.
You have grasped the heart of Bl. John Duns Scotus’ argument well: namely, that the willing of the Incarnation is not based on ad extra contingencies, but rather that the Incarnation has a primacy in God’s plan which is absolute.
Two points which I draw to your attention. First, St. Thomas gives some of the best arguments in his Summa for the plausibility and probability of the Franciscan position. If you haven’t already, watch Cornerstone 3 & 4 and check the links to the Summa. So philosophically no Thomist would say that if Adam had not sinned, God *could* not have come in the flesh; St. Thomas argument against it is scriptural.
Secondly, Scotus is clear that the prior predestination of Christ to glory precedes any ad extra contingencies, such as man’s divinization (sin or no sin), man’s redemption (if he were to sin), the grace and glory of the good angels, etc. However, Scotus does indicate that the because of sin Christ came in passible flesh. In other words, had man not sinned, the Word would still have become flesh; but the body would have been glorified already. Scotus states: “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.” (from his Opus Parisiense, III, d. 7, q. 4–see page 39 of the “Primer”).
So using your analogy, if one could will his own existence, the shelter might vary depending on the environment; but in the case of Christ, His coming in the flesh would not be different. For Scotus the predestination of the Sacred Humanity of Christ is prior to any contingencies. However, the mode of the Incarnation would have been significantly different if Adam had not sinned. Scotists distinguish God’s prior plan *quoad substantiam* (in substance Christ’s predestination is the same, whether or not Adam sinned) from *quoad modum* (while the substance–the Word assuming a human nature–remains unchanged, the mode of taking that nature changes based on the need of man’s Redemption–passible flesh vs. glorified flesh). So if the “environment” were different (no sin, no need for Redemption), then the “shelter” would have been different (the glory of the Christ’s soul would have been communicated immediately to the body).
As for the altruistic logic–Fr. Alexander of Hales’ argument (prior to Scotus & Aquinas) was that Good is diffusive of itself, therefore it is fitting that God communicate Himself to another ad extra through the hypostatic union. God does not have to do any of this–creation (including His Masterpiece) is always a free act of the divine will. This is more or less the argument that St. Francis De Sales presents in his Treatise on Divine Love, Book II, Chapter 4.
Pax et bonum
in Cordibus Iesu et Mariae,
fr maximilian mary, fi
Fr. Maximilian Mary,
Thank you very much for you response to my posts! It is salutary to find the thought of Blessed Duns Scotus presented clearly and in an accessible fashion on the internet. I highly commend you for that, and I hope to continue our discussion.
Let me hasten to add that I didn’t mean to imply St. Thomas would deny that God *could* have sent Christ even if humans hadn’t sinned. This possibility falls within the scope of God’s absolute power. Aquinas merely denies that we have proof or adequate scriptural evidence that God definitely *would* have sent Christ even if human hadn’t sinned. I apologize if my remarks suggested otherwise.
It is also well for you to remind me of Scotus’s distinction between the Incarnation “quoad substantium” and “quoad modum”: for Scotus the Incarnation would have occurred quoad substantium regardless of whether or not humans sinned; but the Incarnation would have varied quoad modum depending on whether humans sinned or didn’t sin.
Let me return to Scotus’s argument for the absolute primacy of Christ based on God’s ordered willing. My primary concern with this argument is that it is difficult to draw firm conclusions about counterfactual situations from premises describing actual acts of ordered willing. That was the point of my shelter analogy. From the fact that a person wills first his own survival and then the things nearer to it, such as shelter embodied in a house, it doesn’t follow that had the ad extra contingencies been entirely different (e.g., if the environment had been totally paradisaical) he definitely *would* have willed the embodiment of shelter in a house. Certainly he *could* have willed this, and perhaps in a paradisaical situation the embodiment of shelter *could* differ quoad modum from the embodiment of shelter in a house in a non-paradisaical situation. Nevertheless, the argument from the person’s ordered willing falls short of establishing that he definitely *would* have embodied shelter in a house regardless of the state of the environment. Mutatis mutandis for God’s ordered willing and the absolute predestination of Christ.
A secondary concern I have with Scotus’s argument is that it proceeds wholly from non-revealed premises about ordered willing to a conclusion about a revealed truth, thereby mixing natural theology with revealed theology. I would prefer an argument that derives the true motive of the Incarnation from other revealed truths. That’s why in my second post I sketched an argument for a modified version of the Franciscan thesis (i.e., in any created order containing humans who aren’t Christ, God would have sent Christ) based on the human need for supernatural merit regardless of whether or not humans ever sin. That doesn’t get us the stronger version of the Franciscan thesis that God would have sent Christ even if there hadn’t been any other humans or creatures at all…but do we need to prove the stronger thesis?
The argument I sketched still faces the Thomist challenge of why God, in a created order where humans never sin, wouldn’t simply bestow upon them sanctifying grace without sending Christ. Perhaps this Thomist reply underestimates the centrality to Franciscan spirituality of the idea that Christ is the very prototype of humanity; as you discuss on pp.80-81 of your book, Christ is the exemplary cause of creatures, particularly humans. Since Christ is directly united with God in the hypostatic union, it seems that for humans to possess the ontological condition necessary for eternal glory they too must be united with God. Yet ordinary humans cannot be directly united with God, so they must be indirectly united with Him through the merits of their prototype Christ. In a created order free of the Fall, these merits derive from the Sacred Heart’s perfect love of God. In a created order stained by the Fall, the necessary merits derive from Christ’s Passion.
I will end with a conjecture. St. Thomas seems to understand eternal glory as a fundamentally cognitive or intellectual state: we *see* God in the firmament for all eternity. However, for Scotus and other Franciscans, eternal glory seems primarily a volitional state of love that permanently unites us with God and from which flows additional gifts–including the beatific vision. One might say that for Aquinas, the beatific vision is the substance of glory, whereas for Scotus the substance of glory is permanent love of God, one effect of which is the beatific vision.
I would be very interested to hear you thoughts on this or any other related matters.
Soli Deo Gloria,
First, I think the “shelter/survival” analogy is very limited–we end up comparing apples with oranges, and the distinctions aren’t the same. I’ll save my other thoughts for replying to your post on #18.
fr maximilian mary