"Why did God become Man?" A Response to Readers' Questions
The following post is a response to questions asked by the readers of my previous article, “Why did God become Man? The Motive of the Incarnation.” I will first list the questions asked and then follow with a response. Confer the aforementioned article to get a sense of why these questions were asked.
Question #1 (from Phillip Hadden)
Merry Christmas! Fascinating read. I'm going to have to ponder Scotus' definition of predestination; it's rather profound.
Well maybe I should wait for Fr. Chris, our very own Thomist, for his comments on this topic, but I'm very exegetical and Augustinian minded, which the Augustinian naturally at times agrees more with Aquinas, but I think there's room for development here.
I recently wrote an essay on the defense of Augustinian Original Sin arguing that the claim that Augustine formulated the doctrine based on a mistranslated Ambrosiaster text of Romans 5:12 is nonsensical exegetically in short because both translating and interpreting a text has many different factors, which one has to then argue that Augustine simply whiffed on them intellectually.
I'm not so familiar with Scotus' writings as Aquinas, but I do know that in the Summa that Aquinas would make an exegetical argument for his claims, what is Scotus' interpretation of scripture on this point? When reading your article, I pulled out my bible to John's prologue mainly due to your explanation of God's predestination and thought, "Scotus could make an argument from here..."
But here is the most problematic text from Sacred Scripture that I think off the top of my head:
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (ESV-CE, Gal 4:4–7)
The analysis would have to begin with what is to be understood by the phrase, "In the fullness of time..." From Romans, Augustine, and exegetes, make the point that Paul stresses a dichotomy of "in Adam" vs. "in Christ," but what is to be made from the earlier text from St. Paul and "the fullness of time..."
Augustine would argue against Pelagius of "making void the cross of Christ..." So, I wonder what Scotus' views are with Scripture, I wonder if he makes the argument, or other Franciscans, that the key then is the fall of man is an ancillary catalyst in the fullness of time? I'm trying to reconcile St. Paul here with Scotus' take.
Response to Phillip
Thank you for your question.
I would have to say that when it comes to Augustine, the early Franciscans in general tended to be more Augustinian than the Dominicans. Alexander of Hales and Bonaventure are the most obvious examples of Franciscans who wholeheartedly embraced Augustinianism. Albert the Great and Thomas, on the other hand, but especially Thomas, were thought of as being “novel” at the time because of how freely they incorporated the Aristotelian corpus into their writings. Bonaventure was by no means anti-Thomist, but he was a bit critical of the Thomistic method because of the potential dangers that could result from abandoning Augustine for Aristotle. In fact, Bonaventure’s skepticism of Aristotelian philosophy (in its Averroist version) was influential in the Condemnations of 1277. Bonaventure’s immediate disciples (i.e. John Peckham, William de la Mare, Matthew of Aquasparta, etc.) followed him in defending the Augustinian tradition. Of course, none of this is to suggest that Aquinas was not at all Augustinian or that he did not frequently reference Augustine in his works (he did), but rather to point out that Thomas’s Augustinianism is quite different from Bonaventure’s, both in terms of method and conclusions. An easy example of this is Bonaventure’s acceptance of the Augustinian theory of divine illumination in epistemology and Thomas’s preference for Aristotle’s epistemology. Another example is Bonaventure’s acceptance of the Augustinian psychology of the soul (the soul is one, but has three formally distinct powers, viz., memory, intellect and will) and Thomas’s preference for Aristotle’s psychology of the soul (the soul is one, but has two distinct faculties, viz., intellect and will, which are merely accidents of the soul).
Scotus, however, is a different case. The originality of the Scotistic synthesis is to be found in Scotus’s ability to synthesize the Aristotelianism of Thomas with traditional Augustinianism. In his philosophical and theological conclusions, Scotus is more Augustinian than Aristotilean. However, he frequently notices weaknesses in both Thomistic Aristotelianism and traditional Augustinianism (a la Bonaventure and Henry of Ghent), and thus you will often find him proposing a middle way, one that incorporates the positive elements of both sides and introduces new elements into the question at hand. Ultimately, this results in a higher synthesis. An example of Scotus proposing a middle way is on the question of the primary object of the human intellect. Thomas, following Aristotle, believes that the primary object of the human intellect is the quiddities (essences) of material things. Henry of Ghent, following Augustine, believes that the primary object of the human intellect is God, viz., the divine essence itself. Scotus, however, disagrees with both of these answers and proposes that the primary object of the human intellect is being as such (which embraces both finite and infinite being). Thus, I would argue in general that Bonaventure and Scotus are more faithful to the Augustinian tradition than Thomas, though Scotus is more original in his synthesis.
With regard to Scotus’s use of Scripture, no simple answer can be given. He references Scripture and the Fathers, of course, but not as much as Thomas and Bonaventure do. Many of his theological conclusions are formulated on the basis of dialectical argumentation (as well from arguments based on convenience or fittingness or piety) rather than through explicit biblical affirmations. He has been subjected to much criticism because of this, but I do not believe his conclusions are any less valid because there is no specific biblical citation attached to them. Scotus, in fact, always took Sacred Scripture into account when formulating his theological conclusions. He held that conclusions are only theologically valid if they do not contradict the authority of the Church and Scripture. Confer the Prologue of the Ordinatio for Scotus’s teaching on theology, theological method and Sacred Scripture. Relative to the question at hand, Scotus did not (as far as I am aware) reference Scripture to justify his conclusion concerning the primary motive of the Incarnation. A number of Scotists have, however, examined a series of New Testament passages to show how Scotus’s position may be confirmed and strengthened exegetically. The following passages serve as scriptural foundations for the Scotistic thesis: Eph. 1:3-10, Rom. 8:29, Col. 1:15-20 and Eph. 2:20.
There are theological conclusions that seem to contradict the testimony of Scripture (i.e. the Immaculate Conception) and there are many propositions in Scripture that seem to be antinomies (i.e. the motive of the Incarnation). With respect to the former, for example, it does not seem possible to reconcile the grace of the Immaculate Conception with the following statement of Scripture: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Scripture would seem to suggest that Mary is included in this “all have sinned,” but we know this is not the case. With respect to the latter, it seems that there are propositions in Scripture that can be used to support the Thomistic thesis concerning the primary motive of the Incarnation (cf. Is. 53, 1 Tim. 1:15, Gal. 4:4-5 and Heb. 9:26) as well as the Scotistic thesis (cf. the passages cited in the previous paragraph). In order to formulate theologically valid conclusions in either the former or the latter case, one has to use subtle dialectical argumentation (the logical character of theological reasoning), and yet also move beyond strict dialects through analogy (analogia fidei). Scotus argues in favor of both the Immaculate Conception and the absolute primacy of Christ via both dialectics and analogy, the latter of which is primarily based on fittingness. His conclusions in each case are rooted in Scripture and living Tradition, even if they do not take the form of a strict exegetical commentary on Scripture.
On the question of the Pauline “fullness of time,” I think Scotus would argue in the following way (I am here attempting to apply Scotistic principles to the question, not to give Scotus’s own answer): the fullness of time is, in the first instance, metaphysical and not chronological. It is determined by the decrees of the divine will, not by anything in history that could necessitate it being the fullness of time. For what in history could necessitate time having reached its fullness? What in history could necessitate God sending his Son at this particular time? The answer is, nothing. Sin or no sin, God would have become man in the fullness of time. But what is it that makes time full? This would require us to investigate into the theology of history. Simply put though, time is, in the first instance, to be measured theologically at the metaphysical level of a series “essentially ordered” in the mind and heart of God, not at the empirical level of chronological succession or of a series “accidentally ordered.” If this were not the case, time and history would be unintelligible. If we are to understand the historical Incarnation we must begin with the meta-historical or metaphysical (the ordering of the divine decrees), insofar as this is revealed to us by God. What is first in intention is last in execution (i.e. God first intends the Incarnation and then executes it in the fullness of time). But the process of execution moves from the less perfect to the more perfect, culminating in the most perfect: the Incarnation.
But there is another element to the question. On the side of history, there is something that contributes to this fullness of time, but it is not sin. It is rather the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Because Mary has been eternally decreed to be all grace and therefore all free, incapable of sin, and so capable of perfect cooperation without making the divine will dependent on a cutting deal, viz., of having to bargain with Mary, time has reached its fullness. Once Mary arrives on the scene, the Incarnation is secured, as it were, on the side of history. The Immaculate Conception renders Mary impeccable by grace, thus guaranteeing that she will consent to the Incarnation. God does not have to leave time and history up for grabs, as it were, in fearful expectation of whether or not Mary will give her fiat, for her fiat is contained within the grace of her Immaculate Conception. For Scotus, the simultaneous coexistence of necessity and freedom is not a contradiction. Though Mary must necessarily consent to the divine will (for she is not capable of disobedience, viz., sin, of saying no to the divine will), she nevertheless does so freely. Thus, even the execution of God’s plan in history is dependent upon God’s prior eternal decrees; in this case, the decree of the Immaculate Conception. We might say that without the grace of the Immaculate Conception there can be no fullness of time in history, for apart from this grace there is no metaphysical guarantee that the Incarnation will occur. The Immaculate Conception is the metaphysical guarantee of the historical fullness culminating in the Incarnation. Of course, in order to understand this, it is also necessary to tackle the question concerning the compatibility between efficacious grace and free will. Scotists, such as Bartholomew Mastrius, have proposed the theory of “concomitant decrees” or condetermination to explain this compatibility. I will refrain from developing it here though. I know this is a bit of a long response, but I hope it is of some benefit to you.
Fr. Settimio M. Manelli, FI, “The Scriptural Foundations of Scotus’ Mariology” in Bl. John Duns Scotus and His Mariology - Commemoration of the Seventh Centenary of His Death (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2009), 173-232.
Fr. Peter M. Fehlner, FI (later OFM Conv.), I Am the Immaculate Conception, Redemption and Coredemption, Recirculation and Recapitulation in the Light of Metaphysics: Bonaventurian Exemplarism and Scotistic Univocity, accessed online via Google Drive.
Question #2 (from Nate Roush)
Hi Andrew, very interesting read and it was great to get more insight into the thought of Blessed Duns Scotus. One question I have after reading it though is that if the Incarnation was predestined before any contingent considerations, would the particular time in history in which Christ would become man also necessarily be predestined? It seems that there must be some consideration for the free choice of man in at least the choosing of the particular time and manner in which the incarnation happened.
Response to Nate
Thank you for your question.
It is definitely an important one to ask. Confer my response to Phillip above, in particular the last two paragraphs. You might find the answer you are looking for there. If not, let me know, and I will try to offer a more appropriate response.