Video – Fr Maximilian – The Cornerstone #18: The Incarnation, Sin or No Sin

By July 30, 2007April 14th, 2008Fr. Maximilian Dean, The Cornerstone

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Ave Maria!

John Duns Scotus helps us to understand the predestination of Christ to be incarnate as a free gift of love from God who is Love. Fr. Maximilian explains how the Incarnation is the one gift in all of God's creation that is not dependent on anyone's merit - all the rest (that is, all other gifts) are.

Come listen to Fr. Maximilian and discover how the primary motive of the Incarnation is not man's redemption, but rather love - God's love.

Ave Maria!

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  • Dr. Peter Spotswood Dillard says:

    As a followup to my previous post on Scotus’s argument for the absolute primacy of Christ based on God’s ordered willing, I’d like to explore two counterfactual claims that might be associated with the Franciscan thesis:

    (1) If God had created humans who weren’t Christ (e.g., Adam, Eve, etc.), then even if humans hadn’t sinned Christ would have come.

    (2) Even if God hadn’t created any humans who weren’t Christ (e.g., Adam, Eve, etc.) Christ would have come.

    (1) is a claim about the Incarnation in any created order containing humans who aren’t Christ: regardless of whether humans in such a created order sin or don’t sin, God would have become incarnate in Jesus Christ. Unlike (2), (1) doesn’t make any claims about whether there would have been an Incarnation in counterfactual situations where God creates no ordinary human beings.

    By contrast, (2) makes a stronger claim. It asserts that the hypostatic union of the Word with the human soul of Christ in Christ’s sacred human body would have occurred even if God hadn’t created any human beings at all. Indeed, at times Scotus seems to think that even if God hadn’t created anything else He still would have predestined the Incarnation: “In fact, even if no man or angel had fallen, nor any man but Christ were to be created, Christ would still have been predestined this way???(a passage from the Reportatio Parisiensis quoted in Fr. Dean’s book, p.37).

    What compelling reasons can be given for (1) or for (2)? In my earlier post I spoke of philosophical considerations that might support the Franciscan thesis. But we must be careful here. The Incarnation is a revealed truth. As such, neither it nor its true motive can be proven solely on the basis of natural reason. Does this mean probative arguments here are impossible? I wouldn’t go that far. We may be able to infer the Incarnation’s true motive from other revealed truths which are beyond dispute, or from elements in the deposit of faith which have become clearer in the fulness of time. It was in this way that the Immaculate Conception, and subsequently the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, eventually became dogmas.

    Let us begin with (2). Is there any revealed truth or element in the deposit of faith that supports it? So far I am at a loss to find one. In Cornerstone #18 Fr. Dean reminds us of God’s awesome love. Certainly God’s love is a truth that has been revealed to us. It might be argued that since God, in Scotus’s suggestive phrase, is “a most methodical lover,??? out of His boundless love He would have
    sent Christ even if he hadn’t created any angels or ordinary humans beings or anything else at all.

    Here again we must be careful. We wish to avoid the Neoplatonic view that God’s boundless perfection, love, and plenitude of being MUST overflow into some created being such as Christ. From a Catholic, let alone a Scotist, standpoint, this is unacceptable because it conflicts with God’s absolute freedom, which includes His freedom not to create anything at all while remaining wholly perfect. What Fr. Dean may be suggesting on Scotus’s behalf is that given God’s character as a most methodical lover it is certain that He will FREELY send Christ regardless of whether He creates anything else. (I don’t wish to put words in Fr. Dean’s mouth, though!) In terms of analogy I used in my last post, given the character of a perfect altruist it is certain that she will FREELY show compassion to those who are in need.

    However, there are problems with this analogy. Part of what it means to call someone “a perfect altruist??? is that she will show compassion to those in need. Is part of what it means to call God “a most methodical lover??? that He will send Christ even if there are no other humans or angels? That isn’t clear. Moreover, both “perfect altruist??? and “most methodical lover???are predicates we apply to a being on the basis of its relation to other beings. Yet to justify (2) we need a predicate that applies to God “a se??? or as He is in Himself independently of any relations to other beings, a predicate that applies on the basis of an intrinsic determination of His being in virtue of which it is certain that He would freely choose to send Christ even if He didn’t create any other beings. We don’t yet have this intrinsic determination. I conclude that so far we are left without a convincing reason, revealed or otherwise, for (2).

    There is another problem with (2). If God hadn’t created any other humans besides Christ, would He have created the Virgin Mary? Suppose the answer is yes. Then either Mary would have descended from other ordinary humans or she wouldn’t have. If she had then there would have been other humans, which contradicts our supposition. If she would not have so descended then presumably God would have created her with immaculate humanity and she would have conceived Christ through the Holy Spirit. But then her directly created immaculate humanity seems superfluous, since God could have directly created Christ’s human body and united it with the Word and his human soul. The exact place of Mary is left unclear by (2).

    With regard to (1), we may be on stronger ground. Human beings lack the natural capacity for eternal life with God, or glory. Even if we hadn’t sinned, we can’t attain eternal glory by our own natural efforts but must be assisted by divine grace. Specifically, acquiring the state of grace that makes us pleasing to God so that we may enter glory requires supernatural—i.e., divine—power working with our efforts to complete our nature.

    Consider a created order in which God creates ordinary humans who freely choose never to sin. Nevertheless, these humans can’t attain glory by themselves but must receive God’s aid. From all eternity, God foresees that He will send Christ, and that Christ will love Him with his whole heart. Associated with this love are merits, perhaps infinitely many, which may then be applied to sinless humans so that they acquire the state of grace necessary for attaining glory. In similar fashion, in the actual created order in which the Fall occurred, God foresaw the merits of Christ’s suffering on the Cross and applied some of them to the Virgin Mary so that she was conceived without Original Sin. The suggestion is that even in a created order containing humans who don’t sin, something will be needed to create merits that can be applied to the souls of those humans so that they may acquire the state of grace necessary for eternal glory. That something is the hypostatic union, whom God foresees as loving Him with his whole heart. Therefore, (1) is true. (See p.81 of Fr. Dean’s book, where he speaks of God’s foreknowledge of the infinite merits of the Sacred Heart as a “secondary efficient cause??? of creatures, even of creatures who never sin. I am quite sympathetic to this line of argument.)

    On ths view, even if humans hadn’t sinned immaculate Mary would still have been jointly predestined with Christ. Since humans never sin, she and every other human would be immaculate (free of Original Sin). The foreseen merits of Christ’s perfect love would have been applied to her, not that she might be freed from Original Sin but that, like other humans, she could merit eternal glory. She would still cooperate with Christ in a preeminent way, thereby preserving her role as Mediatrix.

    The Thomist may protest that there is a glitch in this reasoning. God can do anything. If so, why can’t He instill in humans the state of actual grace necessary for eternal glory without drawing upon the foreseen merits generated by Christ’s perfect love of Him? In a created order containing humans who never sin, why couldn’t God create in them the necessary state of grace, perhaps over time in cooperation with their developing capacities? (In the Summa Theologiae Aquinas speaks of a “created light of glory??? that will enable us to see Him in the life to come.)

    I suspect that dealing effectively with this glitch will lead us back to deep differences between Scotus and Aquinas about the nature of God. These differences lie beyond the scope of this post, so I will indicate them only briefly. According to Scotus, in the divine intellect there is a formally yet not really distinct idea or concept HUMAN NATURE. This complex divine idea contains the idea that human nature by itself lacks the capacity to love God with a supernatural habit of charity, which is necessary for eternal glory, so that this habit must be infused even if humans never sin. A supernatural habit of charity must come from a human if it is to be suitable for humans, yet ex hypothesi no ordinary human can create the habit alone. Only a being who is both God and human can create a supernatural habit/merit of charity suitable to humans that can be infused in them; this being is Christ, and He creates the habit/merit through his perfect love of God (shades of Anselm; here I am developing Scotist notions in a certain direction, not setting forth Scotus’s actual views).

    St. Thomas would balk. He would deny that there are formally distinct ideas in the divine intellect, let alone any conceptual connections among divine ideas like those I’ve just outlined. For him God is an absolutely simple and infinite power who do anything within the realm of logical possibility—such as instilling a created light of glory in sinless humans without drawing upon the merits of the God-man’s love of God.

    Quod est verum?

    Dr. Peter Spotswood Dillard

  • Ave Maria!

    Dr. Dillard,
    Sorry for the delayed response. I’ve been away for 5 days. I’ll read your earlier post and this one and get back to you. Thank for your patience. God bless…

    fr maximilian mary

  • Ave Maria!

    Dr. Dillard,

    Thanks again for your posts. I’ll just focus on your first objections to the notion that “(2) Even if God hadn’t created any humans who weren’t Christ (e.g., Adam, Eve, etc.) Christ would have come.”

    It is worth noting that Scotus is not dealing with “counterfactuals”; he is simply trying to explain why what actually happened happened. Why did the Word become flesh? Cur Deus-Homo?

    In the Franciscan thesis we see that God willed the Incarnation for its own sake–namely the glory of Christ (His soul and body)–quite irregardless of His creating/not creating men and angels. Obviously God doesn’t need angels and other men to communicate His love, grace and glory to the created nature of Christ, and this act of willing the Incarnation remains completely FREE (it’s the Thomistic thesis that has to defend God’s freedom–since sin seems to necessitate a redeemer!).

    I believe Scotus simply underscors the fact that God predestined Christ absolutely, *a parte rei*, and this freely . The fact that God also predestines men and angels to grace and glory in Christ does not change the absolute nature of the prior predestination of Christ, but shows His generous, methodical love which He freely extends to us through and in Christ. Scotus is not saying that God had to will that the Word become flesh, but that once He wills it the Incarnation is absolute, not occasioned by sin or anything else, and will take place regardless of anything extrinsic to the primary purpose of His plan.

    With regards to your Marian objection, as I mentioned, Scotus is not trying to create hypothetical “counterfactuals”. The fact remains that in the present economy of salvation God willed that the Word assume our human nature in the womb of the Immaculate Virgin Mary. But God did NOT have to be born of woman–the New Adam could have been formed in the same way as the first Adam. What we do know from “Ineffabilis Deus” (the dogmatic proclamation of the Immaculate Conception by Bl. Pope Pius IX) is that Jesus and Mary were jointly predestined: “unum eodemque decretum”–the divine maternity of Mary and the Incarnation of the Word were willed by God by “one and the same decree”. Here are the exact words of Pope Pius IX:

    “And hence the very words with which the Sacred Scriptures speak of Uncreated Wisdom and set forth His eternal origin [see Proverbs 8-9; etc.], the Church, both in its ecclesiastical offices and in its liturgy, has been wont to apply likewise to the origin of the Blessed Virgin, inasmuch as God, by one and the same decree, has established the origin of Mary and the Incarnation of Divine Wisdom.” (#3)

    To me, the words of Bl. Pius IX seem rather to confirm the absolute predestination of Christ and His Mother in that “one and the same decree”. Christ has the primacy; Mary has a subordinate primacy with and in Christ. God’s plan for the Incarnation does not appear anywhere in Scripture as a “plan B” after seeing man’s fall, but as an irrevocable decree–whether we or the angels profit from it or not.

    Quod est verum? Deus veritas est!

    In Cordibus Iesu et Mariae,
    fr maximilian mary

  • Regarding the Thomistic vantage point versus that of Scotus. For the Thomists there must be 2 economies of grace: the original *gratia Dei* for men and angels and the 2nd *gratia Christi* for man after the fall.

    For the Franciscan there is always and only the *gratia Christi*. God’s will, sin or no sin, is that all graces come to man through the One Mediator, Jesus Christ. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me.” (Jn 14:6).

    Ave Maria!

  • Peter Spotswood Dillard says:

    Fr. Dean,

    Good response. I would say two things.

    First, there’s nothing wrong with making counterfactual claims, provided that they can be substantiated. In at least some of the passages from Scotus you cite in your book, he is not only describing what actually happened but asserting what would have happened had certain conditions been different. E.g., “In fact, even if no man or angel had fallen, nor any man but Christ were to be created, Christ would still have been predestined in this way.” This is an explicitly counterfactual claim that merges claims (1) and (2) I distinguished earlier. I believe we can make a good case for (1) based on Christ as prototype for humanity and the need for supernatural merits to be applied to humans, sinless or not, before they can be elevated to glory. And who knows, down the road a good case may yet be made for (2).

    Second, in fairness to St. Thomas I don’t think he’d say that sin necessitates a redeemer, since he holds that it is within God’s absolute power to redeem humans from sin without sending Christ. To use an analogy from philosopher Peter Geach, like the master chess player who sees different ways to attain victory but chooses only one, God sees different ways for sinful humans to attain glory but chooses to send Christ as redeemer.

    That leaves your point about the two economies of grace, which I’m still pondering.

    Soli Deo Gloria!

    Dr. Dillard

  • Ave Maria!

    Dr. Dillard,

    When I first delved into the Franciscan thesis, I understood only that Bl. John Duns Scotus and the Franciscans held that the Incarnation would have taken place if man had not sinned. In the blunt terms of St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, “If Adam had not sinned, the Word would have become incarnate just the same.???

    While this is true, it was quite a revelation for me WHY He became flesh according to the Franciscan thesis. I had thought (wrongly) that the Franciscan thesis held that it was primarily as Mediator to elevate us from the natural level of creatures to the supernatural level of children of God, sin or no sin, which was the primary motive. But if this were the PRIMARY motive of the Incarnation, then, just like the Thomistic thesis (Redemption from sin), so too the Franciscans would hold that Christ exists primarily for us–only in this case it would be to elevate us through His mediation–divinization or theosis, as the Greek Fathers put it.

    However, the claim of the Franciscan thesis is that the primacy of Christ (His absolute predestination) is willed for its own sake–for the sake of the glory of the Sacred Humanity of Christ and the glory it will give God ad extra. Thus from the Scotistic, Franciscan point of view the glory of the Sacred Humanity of Christ is a good in itself (“in se”)which surpasses all the collective good that accrues to the Blessed Virgin, the Angels, and men as a result of Christ’s predestination and our consequent predestination in Him.

    Therefore, the Franciscan thesis insists upon the ABSOLUTE primacy of Christ–not a relative primacy (relative to or contingent upon man’s need for Redemption or elevation). The Incarnation has the first place in God’s plan, sin, no sin, other creatures or no other creatures–Christ is the Alpha, the first, the beginning, the firstborn (not chronologically, but in God’s eternal purpose and design for creating).

    So Scotus’ (and Aquinas’ and others’) “counterfactual” observations are utilized to make clear what the primary motive of the Incarnation IS in the present, real, factual economy of salvation. By asking the question if man had not sinned, would God have become Incarnate, Aquinas (and others) are isolating the Incarnation from other ad extra contingencies so as to see the primary motive.

    In the Franciscan thesis, and I’ll conclude with this thought, Scotus asserts that we exist for Christ. This means that the predestination of Christ has priority in God’s design. Otherwise, God first wills the big toe and the pinky and all the other members of the Body first and then, seeing the need of the Body, He wills the Head–in this scenario Christ the Head exists for the big toe, pinky and all the other members of His Body. For Scotus (and St. Paul!), on the other hand, the plan of God before the foundations of the world is Christ, and that the members of the Body are to exist for the Head which has primacy quite apart from the needs and benefits of the Body (and indeed the Body has need of the redemption and mediation of Christ and benefits beyond words!!!–but that is not the primary reason God willed the Incarnation according to the Franciscan thesis).

    It’s refreshing to have an intelligent dialogue on the primacy of Christ outside the friary walls! My next show will be on the “happy fault of Adam” in the Easter Exultet.

    Pax et bonum in Corde Immaculatae,
    fr maximilian mary

  • Peter Spotswood Dillard says:

    Fr. Maximilian Mary,

    I look forward to the next installment of The Cornerstone on the “happy fault of Adam.”

    Identifying the primary motive of the Incarnation as the elevation of humans to glory, sin or no sin, does make the Christ’s primacy relative rather than absolute. That worry had occurred to me in my defense of the modified Franciscan thesis (i.e., that in every created order containing humans Christ would have come even if humans hadn’t sinned). Though the Incarnation wouldn’t be relative to sin, it would be relative to the activity of sanctifying or divinizing humans.

    For the Franciscan thesis, an important issue is HOW we can ascertain that the redemption of fallen humans isn’t the primary motive for the Incarnation. To me it seems that ascertaining motive can’t be completely separated from knowing the truth of certain counterfactuals.

    At the risk of mixing apples and oranges again, let me draw another analogy. Suppose Tom goes to the store. While he’s there, Jeannie tries to steal a peach and Tom stops her. Furthermore, suppose Tom knew Jeannie would be there, and that he also knew her propensity for shoplifting produce. How can we ascertain Tom’s real motive for going to the store? In particular, was his primary motive for going to the store to stop Jeannie from stealing, or not?

    One way is to ask him outright. If Tom tells us he went for some entirely different purpose and he’s trustworthy, then we know his primary motive for going wasn’t to stop Jeannie from stealing. In the case of the Incarnation, asking God outright involves consulting the Scriptures, including the ones from Saint Paul you highlight in your book. That’s the scriptural argument we’re setting aside for now (though I’m sympathetic to it).

    However, we can also ascertain Tom’s primary motive by knowing on independent grounds that certain counterfactuals are true. For example, if we know on independent grounds that Tom would still have gone to the store even if he knew Jeannie wouldn’t steal, or even if he knew she wouldn’t be there, then we can infer that his primary motive for going wasn’t to stop her from stealing. He was there for other motives and managed to stop her. (We might know that he would have gone even if she hadn’t been there because that’s what he does everyday at such-and-such-a time, or perhaps for some other reason.)

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not “counter-fact” happy. I’m certainly no Molinist. My point is that the truth of at least some counterfactuals is relevant to the assessment of motive. I suspect that’s why Scotus and Aquinas are interested in the counterfactuals. Specifically, if God would have sent Christ even if humans hadn’t sinned or even if there hadn’t been any other humans, then the primary motive for the Incarnation would not be redeeming humans from sin.

    Suppose we wish to defend the absolute primacy of Christ on independent grounds. One way is to prove that even if there hadn’t been any humans God would have become man. If we can’t prove this counterfactual in some way (e.g., perhaps by inferring it from a revealed truth), then how can we justifiably infer the motive of absolute primacy?

    Of course, there may be some other way of proving absolute primacy, perhaps by reflecting on what sort of being Christ is, what sort of beings humans are, and how, given these facts, the former never exists for the latter but the latter exists for the former. You seem to be driving at this with your analogies of heads/big toes and humans/dogs.
    One thing is for sure: if God would have created heads (humans) even if there hadn’t been any big toes (dogs), then the primary motive for creating heads or humans isn’t to have them serve big toes or dogs, respectively. But then we’re back to counterfactuals.

    I agree with you about the absolute primacy. I’m merely trying to find the strongest reason possible for it. I’ll keep thinking. I am truly enjoying this discussion and pray that I’m not trying your patience! This philosopher would like to keep out of the relevant circle of Dante’s Hell.

    Soli Deo Gloria,

    Dr. Dillard

  • Ave Maria!

    Perhaps one way, from divine revelation, of ascertaining the absolute primacy of Christ is, as you noted in an earlier post, the metaphysics of Christ as exemplary cause. He is the “firstborn of all creation” (Col 1:15)–the prototype, model, exemplar of all creatures in God’s designs (obviously St. Paul is not talking about Christ being the firstborn chronologically). Otherwise He is not the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last; but only the Omega–the final end of all things, and this because of man’s need (redemption, divinization)–so for the Thomist, if man had not sinned, Christ would not be the final end, the Omega–let alone the Alpha.

    Another point is the order of predestination: If God’s plan is the *gratia Christi*, namely that we (with the angels! an important hallmark of the Franciscan thesis) were predestined in Christ before the foundations of the world to be holy and immaculate in His presence in charity, then the Sacred Humanity of Christ has to be predestined first in God’s eternal decree.

    At any rate, the next vlog will tackle the notion of the Incarnation as being relative to sin from the particular angle of the Exultet.

    Ad maximum gloria Dei
    in Corde Immaculatae,
    fr maximilian mary

  • Peter Spotswood Dillard says:

    Fr. Maximilian Mary,

    Having done some more thinking, and drawing upon both Scotus and your discussion in PAPC, I now believe there is a powerful argument for the absolute primacy of Christ.

    Forget all the counterfactuals. Which if any are true and if so why is an interesting yet ultimately idle dispute. Instead, let us take your suggestion and focus on what actually happened. And let us supplement our reflections by looking more deeply into the metaphysics of actual being.

    As you observe, intuitively it doesn’t make sense for humans to be created primarily to benefit dogs, though it does make sense for dogs to be created primarily to benefit humans. Why? Because humans belong to a higher ontological level, and intuitively it doesn’t make sense for a higher kind of being to exist primarily for the benefit of a lower kind of being. Another way of putting this point is to say that it is impossible that the primary purpose of a being of greater value is to benefit a being of lower value, taking levels of being as commensurate with levels of value.

    I now argue as follows:

    (1) If X has a greater value than Y, then the primary purpose of X can’t be to benefit Y. For suppose X is greater than Y but that X’s primary purpose is to benefit Y. Then X would be an instrumental good deriving its value from the ultimate good of Y. And an instrumental good has less value than the ultimate good for which it is instrumental. Hence the value of X would be less than the value of Y, which contradicts our supposition that X has greater value than Y. Therefore, the primary purpose of X can’t be to benefit Y.

    (2) Christ has greater value than any other creature–humans, angels, etc. For unlike any other creature, Christ is God in human form. Thus unlike any other creature, Christ is God. By definition God is greater in value than any other creature. Ergo Christ is greater in value than any other creature.

    (That God must be understood as the being of maximal value is a natural truth based on the concept of God. That Christ is God is a revealed truth, and that Christ thus has more value than any other creature is a truth we cannot infer from the natural truth about God alone but that also requires the revealed truth about Christ.)

    From (1) and (2) it follows that the primary purpose of Christ can’t be to benefit humans, angels, or other creatures, whether this purpose involves redemption from sin or divinization to glory. Yet Christ was sent by God, and God always acts for a motive, never capriciously. Moreover, since creatures do have value it must derive from their relationship to Christ. The value of other creatures doesn’t consist in benefiting Christ, for Christ is perfect and can receive no benefits from creatures. Rather, their value derives from the fact that they are subordinate to Christ and glorify him. Christ does benefit creatures, but that is not his primary purpose. Therefore, the primary purpose of the Incarnation is to glorify God, from Whom Christ derives his value. And the primary purpose of creatures is to glorify Christ, from whom they derive their value. Q.E.D.

    (In the sphere of value there is something like Scotus’s notion of essentially ordered causes/dependencies: creatures derive whatever value they have from Christ deriving his value from God, just as the rock displacing air molecules because it is pushed by a stick I move derives whatever causal power it has from the stick deriving its causal power from me.)

    Coud God have sent Christ even if there hadn’t been any humans? Yes. Would He have done so? Who knows…and who cares? Could God have united His divine nature with an angelic nature instead of with a human one? Probably–but again, this is irrelevant. All that matters is that God *did* unite Himself to Christ, who is thus of higher value than any other creature, and hence who cannot have been sent primarily to benefit them.

    Soli Deo Gloria!

    Dr. D

  • fr maximilian mary says: