A Primer on the Absolute Primacy of Christ
Blessed John Duns Scotus and the Franciscan Thesis
by Fr. Maximilian Mary Dean, fi
A Primer on the Absolute Primacy of Christ
Blessed John Duns Scotus and the Franciscan Thesis
by Fr. Maximilian Mary Dean, fi
“What I arrived at by degrees – and I believe by intervention of divine providence – Father Maximilian Mary has
arranged for us in an orderly fashion… I continue to believe that these points, so faithfully attested to by Blessed John
Duns Scotus and his disciples and so admirably elucidated by Father Maximilian in this little book, are not simply the
intellectual heritage of Franciscans, but belong to all Christians because they are the teaching that comes to us from the
Word of God.”
Monsignor Arthur Burton Calkins, from the Foreword
“Every disputed question in current theology begins or ends with some reference to christocentrism or the primacy
of Christ, but rarely provides any clear definition of these terms, and even more rarely makes reference to the theologian,
Bl. John Duns Scotus, who was most responsible for the key to the correct understanding and use of this terminology.
Here, for the first time in over half a century, in an English style accessible to the non-professional reader, we have an
accurate detailed account of Scotus’ explanation of this core theme on Christian thought, traditionally dubbed the
Franciscan thesis, or the absolute, joint predestination of Jesus and Mary to be King and Queen of the universe.”
Fr. Peter Mary Fehlner, FI
“An outstanding and articulate synthesis of the Franciscan Thesis, which is so valuable in a ‘full truth’ Mariology.
I highly recommend this primer!”
Dr. Mark Miravalle, STD
“Not just a masterful theological exploration of the Franciscan thesis that the Word would have become Flesh
whether or not Adam had sinned, this book is also a stunningly beautiful, sustained meditation on the centrality of the
Incarnation, and the role of the Mother of God, in creation. It cannot help but draw the reader’s mind and heart deep into
the most sublime of mysteries, resulting in a deepened awe at God’s Providence, majesty, and love.”
Roy Schoeman, Author, Salvation is from the Jews
CCC—Catechism of the Catholic Church
Scritti— Scritti di Massimiliano Kolbe
It is a joy and a privilege for me to offer a word of introduction to this little book by Father Maximilian
Mary Dean, F.I. for a variety of reasons. First of all, I am happy to do so because of my close association with
the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate from the very beginnings of their existence as a new religious
community sprung from the Marian charism of Saint Francis of Assisi as lived by Saint Maximilian Maria
Kolbe and Saint Pio of Pietrelcina. My relationship with them has been a source of countless blessings for me
and has given me an ever greater appreciation of the Franciscan heritage in theology and spirituality which
enshrines what Saint Maximilian Kolbe referred to as the “golden thread” of the Immaculate. Further, and as an
integral component of that fundamental Franciscan-Marian charism, I am especially pleased to share my
conviction about the inestimable value of the contribution of Blessed John Duns Scotus to Catholic theology
and spirituality and hence to the useful introduction to this master with which Father Maximilian Mary has
I can trace my own attraction to the Subtle Doctor, as Scotus is known, to three specific stages in the
course of my own intellectual and spiritual formation besides the on-going influence of the Franciscan Friars of
the Immaculate. The first was my initiation into scotistic studies, even if at a very elementary level, in the mid
1980s through the good offices of Father James McCurry, O.F.M. Conv. and my fascination with the last great
work of the late Father Juniper Carol, O.F.M., Why Jesus Christ?1 which the author kindly autographed for me
“with best Scotistic wishes”! The second was my visit to the tomb of Blessed John Duns Scotus in Cologne
after the Mariological Congress at Kevelaer on 21 September 1987 in the company of Father McCurry. (One
must never discount the efficacy of contact with the relics of holy persons.) I still remember the pithy Latin
inscription on the tomb: Scotia me genuit. Anglia me docuit. Gallia me accepit. Colonia me tenet. [Scotland
gave me birth. England taught me. France received me. Cologne holds me.] The third was my presence in the
Vatican Basilica on 20 March 1993 for the confirmation of the cultus of John Duns Scotus and the beatification
of Dina Bélanger, another one of my heavenly friends in whose life the Marian imprint is also very strong.
Because of complex historical vicissitudes, the process of the “equivalent beatification” of Scotus had been
arrived at only after the solemn promulgation of the Decree Qui docti fuerint in the presence of the Holy Father
on 6 July 1991 which authoritatively affirmed that “The reputation for sanctity and heroic virtues of the Servant
of God John Duns Scotus as well as the cultus offered to him from time immemorial are established with
certainty.” (Just as in the case of venerating relics, I believe that there are special graces which come through
the intercession of Saints and Blesseds when they are being elevated to the honors of the altar.)
What I arrived at by degrees – and I believe by intervention of divine providence – Father Maximilian
Mary has arranged for us in an orderly fashion. As one meditates on the insights of Scotus – and these can
readily serve as the theme of our prayer as well as of our study – one begins to see not only the depths of the
Subtle Doctor’s thought, but even more, the depths of God’s divine plan for creation. For this reason, it is a
tragedy that such immense prejudice has been shown to the insights of Scotus in the course of the centuries.
One can more readily understand the animus against him by English Protestants because of his identification
with the Catholic doctrine on the Eucharist and loyalty to the Successor of St. Peter (which issued in his name,
“dunce,” becoming a synonym for fool) than the incredible bigotry against him which I have personally met in
Catholics who seem otherwise to be well educated. The principal reason for this discrimination among Catholic
intellectuals, I fear, should not be attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas, but rather to many of his lesser disciples.2
What are Scotus’ insights, then? The principal ones have to do precisely with Jesus Christ as the
absolute center of the created universe and His Mother as next to him in the hierarchy of created being. They
have to do with God’s eternal plan before time began and before his taking into account – we are speaking in a
human way here – the reality of man’s fall from grace. As Father Maximilian points out with great skill, this is
1 Juniper B. Carol, O.F.M., Why Jesus Christ? Thomistic, Scotistic and Conciliatory Perspectives (Manassas, VA: Trinity
Communications, 1986). For an excellent appreciation of this work, cf. Peter Damian Fehlner, O.F.M. Conv., “Fr. Juniper Carol,
O.F.M.: His Mariology and Scholarly Achievement,” Marian Studies XLIII (1992) 38-42.
2 Stefano Cecchin, O.F.M., L’Immacolata Concezione. Breve storia del dogma (Vatican City: Pontificia Academia Mariana
Internationalis “Studi Mariologici #5,” 2003) 75-99.
precisely the vision which St. Paul communicates in his great Christological hymns found in Ephesians 1:3-10
and Colossians 1:12-20. It is a marvelously optimistic view of the immensity of God’s goodness and of the role
of the created human nature of the Son of God, a vision of creation worthy of being drawn out and substantiated
by a spiritual son of the saint who chanted the Canticle of Brother Sun.
It was in fact the bold philosophical thought of Scotus which overcame the objections to Mary’s
Immaculate Conception. God, who could foresee the fruits of the redemption wrought by Christ, could
communicate them in advance to the New Eve so that she could collaborate in the redemption of the rest of us.
This is an amazing insight into the divine purposes which Blessed Pius IX codified, so to speak, in Ineffabilis
Deus, the Apostolic Constitution proclaiming the Immaculate Conception, by stating that “God, by one and the
same decree, had established the origin of Mary and the Incarnation of Divine Wisdom.” This, in effect, was a
confirmation of the thesis sustained by Scotus and his followers for centuries. The late Pope John Paul II
beautifully corroborated this fact in his Marian encyclical Redemptoris Mater by stating of Mary that
In the mystery of Christ she is present even “before the creation of the world,” as the one whom the Father “has
chosen” as Mother of his Son in the Incarnation. And, what is more, together with the Father, the Son has
chosen her, entrusting her eternally to the Spirit of holiness. In an entirely special and exceptional way Mary is
united to Christ, and similarly she is eternally loved in this “beloved Son,” this Son who is of one being with
the Father, in whom is concentrated all the “glory of grace” [Redemptoris Mater #8]
In this vision Jesus and Mary are part of God’s eternal plan as the crown of creation even before the
prevision of original sin. True, they are not on the same level because Jesus is the God-man whereas Mary is
only a human creature, but a creature unlike any other. The attentive reader will note that Father Maximilian
draws out the unique mediatorial role of Mary – always subordinate to that of Jesus – which, in this line of
thought, anticipates her role in the distribution of graces deriving from her unique function in the working out of
Meditating on these mysteries of faith over the years, I have become a convinced Scotist with regard to
the motive of the Incarnation, the Immaculate Conception and the absolute primacy of Christ from which
Mary’s “subordinate primacy” cannot be separated. At least on the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, St.
Thomas’ followers have had to concede the point after the solemn definition of the doctrine in 1854, although
probably most of them would continue to put up stiff resistance on the other two matters. Nonetheless I
continue to believe that these points, so faithfully attested to by Blessed John Duns Scotus and his disciples and
so admirably elucidated by Father Maximilian in this little book, are not simply the intellectual heritage of
Franciscans, but belong to all Christians because they are the teaching that comes to us from the Word of God.
by Monsignor Arthur Burton Calkins
While translating a treatise on the Mariology of Blessed John Duns Scotus,3 it became evident to me that
no one would understand Scotus’ Mariology well without first understanding his doctrine on the absolute
primacy of Christ. And it is this doctrine that answers the most fundamental question, ‘Why does Christ exist?’
Indeed, Blessed John’s doctrine of Christ’s primacy is the basis for understanding all Mariology and also,
without exaggeration, the ultimate explanation for all of creation, everything that exists outside of God the most
Amazingly, in searching for works in the English language on this most important doctrine of the
primacy of Christ, I found the resources to be old, scarce, and often too lofty for the average practicing Catholic
to understand (or young religious, for that matter). This is ironic in that Bl. John Duns Scotus was from
Scotland (hence Scotus) and taught at Oxford and, of course, he was Franciscan. Thus one would expect to find
ample materials in English and presentations of this important doctrine in layman’s terms since the absolute
primacy of Christ is inherently simple!
The purpose of this invigorating study of the scotistic doctrine on Christ’s absolute predestination to
grace and glory is to help the English speaking world, in some small but real way, to encounter firsthand the
thought of the Subtle Doctor, Bl. John Duns Scotus. To this end many of the actual writings of Scotus on the
subject are included and, with references to the Church Fathers and other reputable theologians, I have
commented on these texts in the light of several passages from St. Paul’s Epistles in order to underscore the
profound insights of Bl. John and draw out some of the implications of this doctrine. I have also included a
brief biographical sketch of Scotus’ life.
For those who, like myself, are not “professional” theologians in the speculative realm, the present
volume will certainly shed new lights on the mystery of Christ Jesus and deepen any reader’s love for the
Incarnate Word. The topic will be helpful in striving to become better theologians in the contemplative realm
(theology, which is the study and knowledge of God, is primarily acquired on one’s knees; although the
ascetical dimension of intellectual pursuit is indispensable for founding ones devotion upon sound doctrine).
For the theologian this work should suffice as an authentic introduction to the Subtle Doctor’s
Christology. However, for a more in-depth study in English I would direct you to Fr. Juniper Carol’s
exhaustive work Why Jesus Christ?4 and the brief but concentrated synopsis of Fr. Dominic Unger, Franciscan
Christology: Absolute and Universal Primacy of Christ.5
If catechesis means “to reveal in the Person of Christ the whole of God’s eternal design reaching
fulfillment in that Person,”6 then pondering the divine plan and purpose in willing the Incarnation will enrich
our catechesis and make us more effective evangelists. Since the Church has not definitively made any
pronouncement on the primary reason for the Incarnation, she allows and even encourages the faithful to reflect
on why God decreed that the Word become flesh. Pondering the divine plan in this way one will find many
hints in the Magisterium, since the days of Pope Sixtus IV, responsible in great part for the present liturgy of the
Immaculate Conception, that there is much in the deposit of faith to favor the Franciscan thesis. This is
particularly the case with the Popes since Bl. Pius IX in the Bull of definition of the Immaculate Conception
Ineffabilis Deus, Pius XI in the Encyclical Quas primas on the absolute Kingship of Christ, Pius XII in the Bull
of definition of the Assumption, Munificentissimus Deus, and in the documents of Vatican II, to mention but a
few. The Franciscan thesis of the absolute primacy of Christ (versus what is called the thomistic thesis) has
innumerable implications which should spark the interest of any true follower of Jesus.
Discovering the primary reason for the Incarnation will affect our view of God: Did He will creation
and salvation history in an intelligent, ordered way with Christ as the chief cornerstone? Or did He will one
3 Fr. Ruggero Rosini, OFM, Mariologia del beato Giovanni Duns Scoto (Editrice Mariana, Castelpetroso, 1994).
4 Fr. Juniper Carol, OFM, Why Jesus Christ? (Trinity Communications, Manassas, VA, 1986).
5 Fr. Dominic Unger, OFM Cap., Franciscan Christology: Absolute and Universal Primacy of Christ, in FS vol.22 (N.S. 2) no.4 (St.
Bonaventure, 1942) 428-475.
6 CCC 426.
economy of grace for angels and our first parents, and then a better economy of grace in Christ for man as a
remedy for sin?
It will affect our view of Jesus and His Mother: Are God’s two greatest creative works willed first,
before anything else is considered? Are they willed for Their own sake? Do They have priority in the divine
scheme of things? Or do the divine Masterpieces of creation owe Their existence to Adam’s fall?
It will affect our view of the angels and demons: Did God from all eternity predestine the good angels
in, through and for the Incarnate Word—their Mediator of grace and glory—and condemn the demons because
they refused to serve the mystery of Christ? Or are the angels created apart from the mystery of the Incarnation
and, therefore, not under (at least per se) Christ’s headship as the God-Man?
It will affect our view of man: Is the original dignity and sublime calling of man (Adam and Eve
included) that of being elevated in Christ Jesus—a predestination of the elect to be God’s adopted children in
Him, a predestination prior to any consideration of sin? Or could the dignity and predestination of the elect in
Christ Jesus be merely a consequence of original sin?
Finally, it will affect our spiritual outlook as well: Did God will from all eternity that man’s spiritual
journey be centered in the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, sin or no sin? Or is the sweet journey of the saints
to God through Jesus and Mary the result of man’s need for redemption?
Please note that throughout this study titles like Jesus, Incarnate Word, Christ, Sacred Heart, Word made
flesh, sacred humanity, and God-Man refer to the mystery of the Incarnation and hypostatic union—the union of
the two natures of Christ (human nature and divine nature) in the one Person of the Word; when these titles are
used they will always refer to the Word as true God and true man. Whereas the titles Eternal Word and
Uncreated Word will refer to the Divine Word as such, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity—God from
God, Light from Light, true God from true God—with no relation to the mystery of the Incarnation whatsoever.
May the Holy Spirit guide you through these pages for, as our Divine Savior promised, “when He, the
Spirit of truth, has come, He will teach you all the truth…He will glorify Me, because He will receive of what is
Mine and declare it to you” (Jn. 16:13-14).
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. And we saw His glory—glory as of the only-begotten
of the Father—full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).
St. John the Evangelist, the disciple whom Jesus loved, relates a fact—Verbum caro factum est; the Word
was made flesh. We know the fact of the Incarnation (Jn. 1:14) and we know the how—He was conceived by
the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary (cf. Lk. 1:30-35; Mt. 1:18-25). Our question
is not what took place nor how it came about. Our question is ‘Why did it take place at all?’
In reflecting on the reason for the Incarnation, keep in mind that we are not considering a hypothetical
question of what might or might not have happened if Adam had not sinned. Rather, faced with the fact of the
Incarnation we are seeking—with our human intelligence (philosophy) and through divine revelation
(theology)—“to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to
know Christ’s love which surpasses all knowledge, in order that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God”
In pondering the primary reason for the Incarnation of the Eternal Word we are joining the company of
Apostles, Fathers, Doctors, Saints, theologians, mystics and contemplatives down through the ages who
marveled in awe at the God-Man, at “One like to a Son of Man, clothed with a garment reaching to the ankle,
and girt about the breasts with a golden girdle. But His head and His hair were white as wool, and as snow,
and His eyes were as a flame of fire, and His voice like the voice of many waters… and His countenance was
like the sun shining in its power. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as one dead. And He laid His right
hand upon me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last’” (Apoc. 1:13-17).
With reverence and love we adore Jesus, true God and true man, and I pray that the “God of our Lord
Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may grant you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in deep knowledge of Him:
the eyes of your mind being enlightened” (Eph. 1:17-18). The “mystery of Christ… has been revealed” (Eph.
3:3-5) and, as the Holy Apostle says, God’s “grace has abounded beyond all measure in us in all wisdom and
prudence, so that He may make known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure” (Eph. 1:8-
Why the God-Man?
In discussing the raison d’être of the Incarnation many frequently fall into the hypothetical question, ‘If
Adam had not sinned, would the Son of God have come in the flesh?’ It is important to note that theologians on
both sides are asking this question in light of the fact—Christ did indeed come; Christ is our Redeemer. No one
is denying the present economy of God’s providence; rather, the hypothetical question serves to shed light on
the primary reason for the coming of Christ.
Thomistic thesis—no sin, no Incarnation
In general there are only two proposed answers to this question (although there have been attempts at
conciliatory answers). On the one hand, there are those who say that the Incarnation is a response to man’s sin.
According to them the Incarnation is conditional. St. Augustine, Father and Doctor of the Church says, “If man
had not sinned, the Son of Man would not have come.”7 Thus ‘no sin, no Incarnation.’ This position has come
to be known as the thomistic thesis, associated as it is with the great St. Thomas Aquinas who held this position
and developed the argument. While St. Thomas wrote that “this is not a very important question”8 given the
actual economy of grace and he himself admits that the opposite “opinion can also be called probable”9;
nonetheless, he took a definitive stance and this position has borne his name ever since. In his Summa
theologica he writes that “the work of the Incarnation was ordained by God as a remedy for sin, so that, if sin
had not existed, the Incarnation would not have been.”10
Obviously St. Augustine, St. Thomas and many others answer the hypothetical question thus: the
immediate reason for the Incarnation is man’s redemption from sin. As St. Ambrose puts it, “What was the
cause of the Incarnation if not the redemption of the flesh that had sinned?”11 The silence of many Fathers on
whether ‘immediate’ is synonymous with ‘primary’ is not necessarily proof that they held what later came to be
known as the thomistic thesis.
Be that as it may, Scripture is replete with apparent affirmations of the thomistic thesis. “And He hath
borne the sins of many,” was Isaias’ theme of the Suffering Servant (cf. Is. 53). St. Paul writes to St. Timothy,
“This saying is true and worthy of entire acceptance, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of
whom I am the chief” (1 Tim. 1:15). Elsewhere the Apostle writes, “But when the fullness of time came, God
sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, that we might
receive the adoption of sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). In the letter to the Hebrews it is written, “But as it is, once for all at
the end of the ages, He has appeared for the destruction of sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb. 9:26).
At this point one might ask, ‘Why go on? The answer is crystal clear.’ But let us not be too hasty!
While the Scriptures clearly state that Jesus Christ came to save sinners, they do not state that this is the primary
or ultimate reason, let alone the only reason for His coming.
No one denies that redemption from sin is prominent in the Scripture. However, keep in mind that all
Sacred Scripture was written after original sin. Consequently, our need for redemption is extremely urgent and
the remedy for our sin is a most prominent theme throughout. Be that as is it may, the Bible never definitively
states that the primary reason of the Incarnation is man’s redemption from sin. In fact, as the reader shall see, it
strongly suggests just the opposite: the wonder of the redemption is dependent precisely on the prior willing of
the Incarnation and is a marvelous manifestation of the absolute predestination of Christ and Mary.
7 St. Augustine, Serm. 174, 2; PL 38, 940.
8 St. Thomas Aquinas, In 1 Tim., c.1, lect.4.
9 St. Thomas Aquinas, In Sent. III, d.1, q.1, a.3.
10 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theol. III, q.1, a.3 (Benziger Brothers, NY, 1947) 2028.
11 St. Ambrose, De Inc. dom. sacram., c.6, n.56; PL 16, 832.
Weaknesses in the thomistic position
Before looking at those who give a resounding ‘yes’ to the hypothetical question, ‘If Adam had not
sinned, would Christ have come?’, let us briefly expose some of the weaknesses of the thomistic thesis.
First of all, according to the thomistic school, God’s two great Masterpieces in creation, namely the
Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, are contingent upon sin. Remember, ‘no sin, no
Incarnation,’ and therefore no Mother of God either. Although this sounds radical, it is the logical conclusion.
St. Thomas of Villanova (a strict thomist) states plainly that the Blessed Virgin Mary would not have existed if
Adam had not fallen.12 St. Alphonsus holds that Our Lady owes all her grace, glory and dignity to man’s fall—
without sinners she “would never have been worthy of so great a Son.”13
Further, if man’s redemption is the primary reason, then sin has the upper hand. In other words, all the
positive blessings of the Incarnation which can be expressed quite apart from redemption would hinge upon
sin—our divinization in Christ (2 Cor. 8:9), our adoption as sons of God (cf. Jn. 1:12; Rm. 8:14-17), our eternal
predestination in Christ (cf. Rm. 8:29; Eph. 1:3-6), etc. Are all these blessings really because of Adam’s fall?
Perhaps the most troublesome aspect of the thomistic thesis is this: St. Paul’s insistence on the absolute
primacy of Christ. Every Bible-believing Christian must believe in the primacy of Jesus Christ. “Again, He is
the head of His body, the Church; He, who is the beginning, the firstborn of the dead, that in all things He may
have the first place” (Col. 1:18). No one argues against the primacy of God’s Son “come in the flesh” (1 Jn.
4:2). However, if the Word became flesh only, or even primarily, to redeem man from sin, then His primacy is
a relative primacy; in other words, the thomists hold that Christ, the end or final cause of all creation, holds
primacy only because of Adam’s sin. If Adam had not sinned, Christ would not be the end for which all
creation exists and the Sacred Heart of Jesus would not even exist! Hence a relative primacy (related or linked
to sin as its condition).
Franciscan thesis—Incarnation, sin or no sin
But St. Paul speaks of an absolute primacy of Christ! From all eternity, “before the foundation of the
world” (Eph. 1:4), God wills the Incarnation absolutely and then, seeing His Masterpiece in creation from all
eternity, He wills to create us in, through and unto Him. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of
every creature. For in Him were created all things in the heavens and on the earth… All things have been
created through and unto Him. Again, He is the head of His body, the Church; He, who is the beginning, the
firstborn of the dead, that in all things He may have the first place [primatum tenens]” (Col. 1:15-18).
This brings us full force to the Franciscan, or scotistic answer to Cur Deus Homo?14 Why the God-Man?
Jesus Christ was absolutely predestined to grace and glory quite apart from sin, and the elect (both men and
angels) were chosen and predestined in Him by an eternal decree before the universe had been created (cf. Eph.
1:3-6). St. Maximus the Confessor writes succinctly, “This is that great and hidden mystery. This is the blessed
end for which all things were created. This is the divine purpose foreknown before the beginning of creation…
Really, it was for the sake of Christ, that is the mystery of Christ, that all the ages and all the things of all the
ages themselves received the beginning and end of existence in Christ.”15
Amongst the greatest minds and most inflamed hearts to deal with this thesis was St. Francis de Sales.
He avoided the controversy and with calm precision treated the matter in his Treatise on the Love of God. The
primary reason for the Incarnation was that God “might communicate Himself” outside Himself (ad extra).
From all eternity He saw that the most excellent way to do this was in “uniting Himself to some created nature,
12 St. Thomas of Villanova, Sermón II de la Nativ. de María; in Obras de Santo Tomás de Villaneuva; sermons de la Virgen y obras
castellanas (ed. B.A.C., Madrid, 1952) 199.
13 St. Alphonsus Liguori, The Glories of Mary, P.I, c.6, sect.2 (ed. by Rev. Eugene Grimm, Brooklyn, 1931) 197; cf. sect.3, 206-207.
14 Cur Deus Homo? This is the title of St. Anselm’s famous treatise on the “necessity” of the Incarnation for our redemption. But in
the light of scotistic reflection we might rephrase the famous title of St. Anselm to read Cur Homo Deus? God did not primarily
become man in order to redeem him in justice, but rather literally by the Incarnation He made a man God, a Divine Person capable
therefore as man of giving the Father a maximum possible glory and redeeming the rest of His brethren in a most perfect way.
15 St. Maximus, Ad Thalassium, q.60; PG 90, 620-621.
in such sort that the creature might be engrafted and implanted in the divinity, and become one single Person
with it.” Thus God willed the Incarnation. Through Christ and “for His sake” God willed to pour out His
goodness on other creatures thus choosing to “create men and angels to accompany His Son, to participate in
His grace and glory, to adore and praise Him forever.”16
Another Doctor of the Church, St. Lawrence of Brindisi, expresses it this way: “Therefore, God ordained
from all eternity to communicate the infinite treasures of His goodness, to show forth the infinite charity of His
mystery by this divine Incarnation in order that Christ might be great and might sit as King at the right hand of
And so the scotistic thesis responds to the hypothetical question in the affirmative. St. Mary Magdalene
de Pazzi sums it up well: “If Adam had not sinned, the Word would have become incarnate just the same.”18
St. Bernardine of Siena makes it abundantly clear that if Adam sinned, yes, Christ had to become incarnate;
“and if he did not sin, He still had to become incarnate: in any hypothesis, He had to become incarnate.”19 And
the Venerable Mother Mary of Agreda, marveling at the diversity of opinions in regard to the “principal motive
of the Incarnation,” received this answer from the Lord, “Know, that the principal and legitimate end of the
decree, which I had in view in resolving to communicate My Divinity in the hypostatic union of the Word with
human nature, was the glory, which would redound to My name through this communication, and also that
which was to redound to the creatures capable thereof. This decree would without doubt have been executed in
the Incarnation, even if the first man had not sinned: for it was an express decree, substantially independent of
Although our short treatise does not permit an exhaustive dossier of scotists, we do well to mention one
more before we move on to Bl. John Duns Scotus himself. St. Albert the Great, Doctor of the Church and
interestingly one of St. Thomas Aquinas’ professors, humbly held that this position was “more in harmony with
the piety of faith.” In his commentary on the Sentences he writes, “to the extent that I can offer my opinion, I
believe that the Son of God would have become man even if there had been no sin… Nevertheless, on this
subject I say nothing in a definitive manner; but I believe that what I said is more in harmony with the piety of
16 St. Francis de Sales, Treatise on the Love of God, Book II, c.4 (Burns & Oats, 1884—reprinted by TAN, 1997) 73-76.
17 St. Lawrence of Brindisi, “Deus ergo ab aeterno ad communicandos infinitos thesaurus bonitatis suae, ad ostendendam infinitam
caritatem suam sacramentum hoc divinae incarnationis ordinavit, ut Christus esset magnus, et sederet rex ad dexteram Dei” in
Mariale, vol. 1, 81-82 (translation is mine); cf. Fr. Dominic Unger, FS vol. 23 (N.S. vol.2), No.3 (St. Bonaventure, 1942) 457.
18 St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, Oeuvres…, p.3, c.3 (trans. from the Italian by A. Bruniaux; Paris, 1873) II, 35.
19 St. Bernardine of Siena, Prediche volgari, ed. L. Bianchi (Siena, 1888) III, 414-415.
20 Ven. Mary of Agreda, City of God, Book I, c.III, #72-73 (trans. by Fiscar Marison; Corcoran Publishing Co., Albuquerque, 1949)
75-76; cf. Book I, chapters 3-11 (#26-163) which explain the divine decrees regarding Christ and Our Lady.
21 St. Albert the Great, In Sent. III, d. 20, a.4; op. omn. ed. Vivès (Paris, 1894) XXVIII, 361.