Christ and Creation

Anthony Zimmerman
May 22, 1990 - Updated April 2000
Reproduced with Permission

Our conventional theological categories of thought locate God the Son in eternity, to whom we ascribe divine works such as creation; whereas Christ we locate also in time, to whom we ascribe human and divine activities. We do not easily associate in our minds a Christ who worked in eternity even before He stepped into our tiny warp of time. How could Christ have influenced creation with human powers, our sophistry tells us, before He was Himself created human? The Incarnation, we insist, marks the precise borderline where Christ's human activities could begin.

The Mystery of the Incarnation, however, escapes the boundaries of our reasoning minds, and confronts us with awesome depths sounded only by Faith in divine revelation. Certain passages of Holy Scripture give veiled references to Christ as operating from eternity, before His birth in Bethlehem. In a magnificent passage Paul sings about a Christ standing by in eternity when God was shaping the heavens and the earth:

He (Christ) is the visible likeness of the invisible God. He is the first-born Son, superior to all created things. For through him God created everything in heaven and on earth, the seen and the unseen things, including spiritual powers, lords, rulers, and authorities. God created the whole universe through him and for him. Christ exist-ed before all things, and in union with him all things have their proper place. He is the head of the body, the Church; he is the source of the body's life. He is the first-born Son, who was raised from death, in order that he alone might have the first place in all things (Col 1:15-18).

In the same breath this hymn tells about Christ who existed before all things, through whom God created the universe, in whom all things find their place, who is also the head of the Church and the source of her life, who was raised up from the dead. Works done in eternity as well as works done in time are attributed equally to Christ by Paul. We know that we cannot attribute to the human nature of Christ that which God alone can perform through divine powers. We cannot attribute creation itself, then, to the human powers of the God-man. We assume, then, that Paul is attributing to the same Divine Person the works of God done in eternity and the works of the God-man done in time. With the Church we believe precisely that the Son of God who existed from eternity, assumed a human body and soul at the time He pitched His tent with us. Pope St. Leo the Great (d. 461) expressed this part of our faith in terse and clear formulas:

Consequently, the Son of God entered into these lowly conditions of the world, after descending from His celestial throne, and though He did not withdraw from the glory of the Father, He was generated in a new order and in a new nativity. In a new order, because invisible in His own, He was made visible in ours; incomprehensible, He wished to be comprehended; permanent before times, He began to be in time; the Lord of the universe assumed the form of a slave, concealing the immensity of His majesty; the impassible God did not disdain to be a passible man and the immortal to be subject to the laws of death (Migne, PL 54, 763; trans. Denzinger-Deferrari 144).

Conventional theology attributes works done in eternity to the Person of the Son in His divine nature only, whereas the God-man began His works in time. There is no reason, in this view, to attribute to Christ in His human nature any influence upon the work of creation. Perhaps. I wish to present the view that somehow Christ had influence upon the work of creation with His human nature also. Being an addicted advocate, I request your peace while I have my say.

We have been conditioned by theological training to think of Adam's sin as the flash point which precipitated the Incarnation. That is, God constituted Adam in the state of justice and holiness before the Incarnation was entered into the divine plans. Adam's sin changed that, says this theory. Paul's words about a Christ who "existed before all things" and in union with whom "all things have their proper place" (Col 1:17) must then be pressed into the mold of conventional theology: As a divine Person Christ "existed before all things" YES; but as God-man, NO. But then we have to explain certain things; e.g. how did Christ's merits work before His birth?


We believe that the merits of Christ were already operative in Mary and others before His birth in Bethlehem. "We declare" defined Pope Pius IXth in 1854, "...that the most Blessed Virgin Mary at the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, in virtue of the merits of Christ Jesus, the Savior of the human race, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin..." (Denzinger-Deferrari 1641). Before the Incarnation Christ's merits had already effected her grace-filled conception. We, of course, were not preserved from original sin, but Pope John Paul II tells how we may also picture ourselves as saved by Christ before His birth in Bethlehem:

Hence, to draw near to the mystery of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, we must go beyond the threshold of the original sin (emphasis his) of which we read in the Book of Genesis. Even more, we must go beyond the threshold of human history. We must go back before time began, "before the foundation of the world", and locate ourselves in the inscrutable "dimension" of God himself. In a certain sense, "in the pure dimension" of the eternal election by which we were all embraced in Jesus Christ: in the Eternal-Word Son, who became man in the fullness of time. In him we are chosen for holiness, that is for grace: "to be holy and blameless before him" (Dec. 8, 1987, Homily at St. Mary Major).

We also believe that Christ descended into limbo after His passion and death, to gather to Himself His faithful ancestors and all the just who had been saved through the help of grace before His Incarnation; through grace merited by Himself. Similarly revealing is the mysterious rock who supported the Israelites in the desert - the rock who was Christ: "They drank from the spiritual rock that went with them; and that rock was Christ himself" (1 Cor 10:4). St. John Chrysostom (d. 407) comments: "In those days Christ was present to the Israelites as he followed them..." (Cat. 3). It is a remarkable statement.

The great "O antiphons" before Christmas move with ease from eternity to time, projecting Christ's activities, in a veiled manner, to the time before His birth. For example: "Come, King of all nations, source of your Church's unity and faith: save all mankind, your own creation!" (December 22nd).

Paul, attesting to the unity of the Person who is the Son of God and also Christ, ascribes to Christ what the Son of God did before Christ's birth on earth: "For through him (Christ) God created everything..." (Col 1:15). In Paul's view, Christ's engagement with the works of nature as well as of supernature, appear to extend backwards to the Alpha who is the beginning of the universe; and forwards to the Omega, who will deliver the universe back into the hands of God (cf. Col 1:20).

The Scriptures reveal how certain privileged people knew Christ before His birth. Abraham saw Him and rejoiced (cf. Jn 8:56). Isaiah knew His name Immanuel (7:14) and sang about the Lord's Servant and our Savior (cf. ch. 53). The Psalms tell of His passion and death, especially 22 and 69. Christ was foreseen by these seers, who looked forward to the time of His birth which was to come in the future.

It is interesting to note how ancient writers dealt with the divine apparitions in the Old Testament. Pope St. Leo wrote to Pulcheria that the Son of God [therefore not the Father, not the Spirit] could assume "the appearance of flesh" (in specie carnis apparuit) when appearing to the prophets and patriarchs, when He wrestled, when He spoke, when He did human services, ate food placed before Him, all of which foreshadowed the truth of what was to come (cf. PL 54, Ad Pulcheriam Augustam). Pope St. Leo thus indicates that it was the Son of God who appeared in the various episodes, active in various works of salvation; but in doing so, He was not yet clothed in the flesh He was to receive from His Mother Mary. He assumed human appearances, but not those of His own flesh.


Paul speaks of Christ - the Christ whom we know in the flesh - already present to the work of creation; already present and at work, we can add, in the bestowal of the original grace and revelation to innocent Adam. From this perspective Paul, if I read him correctly, would not agree with an Augustine (d. 430), a Leo (d. 461) and Thomas (d. 1274) among many others who tend to associate Christ's Incarnation too exclusively with Adam's sin:

Augustine says (De Verb. Apost. VIII.2) "... - Therefore, if man had not sinned, the Son of Man would not have come." And on 1 Tim. 1:15, "Christ came into this world to save sinners," a gloss says: "There was no cause of Christ's coming into the world, except to save sinners. Take away diseases, take away wounds, and there is no need of medicine."

I answer that there are different opinions about this question. For some say that even if man had not sinned, the Son of Man would have become incarnate. Others assert the contrary, and seemingly our assent ought rather to be given to this opinion.

For such things as spring from God's will, and beyond the creature's due, can be made known to us only through being revealed in the Sacred Scripture, in which the Divine Will is made known to us. Hence, since everywhere in the Sacred Scripture the sin of the first man is assigned as the reason of the Incarnation, it is more in accordance with this to say that the work of the Incarnation was ordained by God as a remedy for sin; so that, had sin not existed, the Incarnation would not have been. And yet the power of God is not limited to this; - even had sin not existed, God could have become incarnate (ST III,1,3).

Pope St. Leo also wrote categorically that if Adam had not sinned, the Son of God would not have assumed human nature in the likeness of sinful flesh: "Si enim homo ad imaginem et similitudinem Dei factus in suae naturae honore mansisset ...Creator mundi creatura non formam servi et similitudinem peccati carnis adsumeret(Antonius Chavasse, Corpus Christianorum, Series Latinae, Sancti Leonis Magni, Tractatus 77, p. 488).

We respect the views of the great saints and doctors of the Church, who knew the Scriptures so well, and who were so actively engaged on the cutting edge of doctrine. But we know well that the theological dispute about Adam's sin as occasion of the Incarnation is a perennial favorite among theologians, in which the large family of Franciscans who championed Scotus were once drawn up in battle array against those who claimed Thomas to be their champion. Today, if there are still any signs of battle lines, they are not as clearly drawn as in past centuries. We dare to speculate further.


Should the question: "Would God have become man had Adam not sinned?" perhaps be presented in the reverse order? If we begin with the insights of Paul should we not rather ask: "If God had not decided to become Incarnate, would Adam have been created?" Paul makes Christ the One through whom "God created everything in heaven and on earth" (Col 1:15) and that, of course, includes Adam. Before Adam came into the mind of God, then, Christ, the Word Incarnate, was already in place, superior to all created things. It would be Christ, God and man, who would help to decide about whether an Adam should also be created.

Blessed John Duns Scotus (d. 1308) reasoned that the first thing to come into God's mind, when He pondered about creation, would be that of giving creatures a chance to participate in the joy of loving Himself. And the greatest joy of participation would be that of the God-man, who could love God with the greatest love:

God first loves Himself; secondly, He loves Himself for others, and this is an ordered love; thirdly, He wishes to be loved by the One who can love Him in the highest way - speaking of the love of someone who is extrinsic to Him; and fourthly, He foresees the union of that nature which must love Him with the greatest love even if no one had fallen (OpusPar. III, d. 7, q.4; see translation and references in Francis X. Pancheri, OFM, trans. by Juniper B. Carol, OFM, p. 35).

It was the insight of blessed Duns Scotus, then, that if God would create at all, it is most Godlike that He focus the works of creation, from the beginning, with the God-man as centerpiece.

He should begin with the Incarnation, by capacitating a created nature to love God through a Divine Person. The Son of God would become the God-man and so give glory to God from the created world. In this thought process, by which we attempt with horizon-bound logic to peer into the limitless depths of divine wisdom, Christ the God-man is Himself the raison d'etre of the Incarnation, not Adam and his sin.

The sometimes ardent dispute among theologians during past centuries, whether the Son of God would have become man if Adam had not sinned, should be sifted through some very practical considerations. For example, if the original grace and accompanying revelation made to innocent Adam was a grace and revelation made by God without Christ in the picture, we must reckon with a remarkable change in the human and divine relationship immediately after the Fall. Before the Fall, it was God who bestowed grace upon Adam and instructed him. After the Fall we picture God as approaching to Adam and saying: "What I was saying before about your adoption, about your creation to the image and likeness of God - forget all that. We are going to abandon that plan and start anew. Henceforth my plans are to mediate all supernatural grace and revelation through the Son of God who is to become man." The action would be not unlike coupling and uncoupling trains in a switching complex: before the Fall, Adam was coupled to God directly; uncoupled from God by the Fall, Adam is now coupled onto a new engine, namely Christ.

This concept of "no Christ without Adam's sin" would alter the picture of our relationship to God profoundly, I believe. We could not say with joy in the same sense as we say now that "even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be his through our union with Christ" (Eph 1:3). Indeed, there would be no Christians on earth because there would be no Christ. None would ever know the breadth and depths of Christ's love. Christ, so to speak, is made by this theory to stand in the wings of the stage of the cosmos, waiting for the cue of Adam's sin to enter stage. He could not even adopt us as His brothers and sisters, as children of God, unless Adam first offended God by a mortal sin. The sin of Adam, in this theory, is the key to Christ's existence. In a sense God thus uses an evil means to procure a good purpose. Duns Scotus rubs salt into the wound by observing dryly that if Christ had been predestined only as a redeemer, He would have rejoiced over Adam's prevarication, since He would have owed His existence to it. But we know that no one is ever predestined only because it is foreseen that another will fall ("tantum quia alius praevisus est casurus") (Ordinatio, III, d. 7, q.3; see Pancheri-Carol, 39).

This cannot be, I believe. Rather, God had us in mind from the beginning, and adopted us as His children from eternity. When all things were ready, God then sent His Son in the flesh to make all this more clear to us.

Following this line of thought, then, the God-man, being foremost in the mind of God in the entire program of creation, was also the prism through which God peered into the plan of creation. Christ was in God conceptually and intentionally before the world was created, before He was meshed into the gears of time. Christ Incarnate was as real to God in the NOW of eternity as He would become to us in the sequences of time, although before His human birth His human nature was not yet exited from God.


May we reason that the Blessed Trinity created the universe exactly in accordance with the foreseen needs and authentic wishes of the future God-man - future to us but not to God? That would appear to be a matter of appropriate courtesy and love by the Father directed to the Son in His future human condition; the Son would likewise thus honor Himself in His future Incarnation; and the Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who would overshadow the Virgin to effect Christ's exit from God's plans into created reality, was of the same mind as Father and Son; the Blessed Trinity would establish the God-man as the centerpiece of the created world. The cosmos, then, will be designed to meet the needs of Christ Incarnate. His future human perceptions trace for God the designs according to which the cosmos - including ourselves - is to be fashioned and created.

The experiences of our Primate, when living with us in the milieu of this created world, would be deeply affected by its stage-setting. Christ would taste, for example, the utmost extremities of the human capacity to feel pain - His pain on the cross. Should He not have a voice, for example, in determining the limits of human perception of pain? We find that the human body has an inbuilt dolorostat which is set at a maximum of ten and a half dols; beyond that the perception of pain does not increase (cf. Brecher, p. 33). Similarly in all other things, is it not fitting that the Primate who will act on the stage of the universe should have a voice in the initial setting of that stage? For example, should He not select His Mother and Foster Father, and adorn them with virtues most dear to Himself?

We know, of course, that God does not need blue prints to help Him to create things correctly, that there is no need for practice and dry runs. Beethoven could write his music and create those melodious sequences despite his deafness. And God is greater than Beethoven. But is it not in harmony with God's beautiful ways to have Christ as the model for creation? For example, when God arranged the sunset, with hovering clouds in place, the glow deepening into pink and red, the breeze coming to a whisper, the whippoorwill singing its last notes before turning in - could God not adapt all this to Christ? The setting sun should vibrate the rods and cones of His eyes, to excite the undulations carried back into the brain where the sunset is screened as a picture.

How would the Baby Jesus feel in the family? Were not His needs and delights God's concern when He created parents - stalwart father, tender mother, bonded together as a family? Was not Jesus in the mind of God first, before He created Mary and Joseph?

And so forth for the rest of creation and its human setting. The joys of children growing up and learning about life should be patterned according to the life of Jesus in Nazareth. There should be lilies of the field there to delight the heart and to reflect the beauty of God, there should also be the village well where people meet to share their labors and concerns.

The challenge of combat, the ultimate comfort of living in God's dimly perceived presence while braving the storm, walking in the shadow of death, while buffeted by temptation, pain, and trial should also be modeled first on Christ. The words "My God, my God, why did you abandon me?" (Jn 27:46) - were they not rehearsed in eternity before they were pronounced by Christ's desiccated and chapped lips in time? We find it proper to reason, then, that God created the universe with Christ as its Centerpiece, and with His nod and approval. God the Creator is the divine Tailor who fashions the world and all that is in it to be the clothes of Christ the God-man.


Hebrews tells us that Christ lost no time whatsoever before ratifying God's complete design with His newly acquired human will, when vaulting from eternity into time. Hebrews would have us think that the Son leaped into time with this decision already infused into the human nature at the time of its creation:

For this reason, when Christ was about to come into the world, he said to God: "You do not want sacrifices and offerings. But you have prepared a body for me. You are not pleased with animals, burned whole on the altar or with sacrifices to take away sins. Then I said, `Here I am, to do your will, O God, just as it is written of me in the book of the Law'" (Heb 10:5-7).

With that action of consent to the divine will, Christ ratifies in time the creative work which God had done in eternity. The wisdom, power, art, holiness and goodness of the Son is joined hypostatically to the humanity of Christ. All creation which so pleases God is now also a human delight to Christ as man. Proverbs singles out one specially significant characteristic feature, namely that He was "pleased with the human race" (Proverbs 8:31). He will henceforth spend His earthly days ratifying the divine will and putting His human signature to it. Entitled from eternity to be Lord of the cosmos, He will earn the title in a new manner by dedicating Himself to the Father so that humankind may similarly become dedicated to Him (cf. Jn 17:19).

It is not enough that the God-man accept blindly all that God has done, and all that He must do: He must have adequate knowledge to know what His heritage is, what His duties are about; He must not be ignorant in His human mind about his responsibilities and purposes. Communications with God must be so lucid and comprehensive that nothing is hidden from His human mind in reference to His being and tasks. He must gaze constantly into God's mind as His point of reference. In other words, His human mind must be endowed with the beatific vision. Pope Pius XII reflected this insight in a statement of Mystici Corporis (1943): "Also that knowledge which is called vision, He possesses in such fullness that in breadth and clarity it far exceeds the Beatific Vision of all the saints in Heaven.... In virtue of the Beatific Vision which He enjoyed from the time when He was received into the womb of the mother of God, He has forever and continuously had present to Him all the members of His mystical body and embraced them with His saving life" (D 2289). We may believe that Christ looked at the entire creation of God with His human mind, and that He was very pleased (cf. Gen 1:31).

We may legitimately ask, I believe, whether the physical human brain of Christ, with its 13 billion nerves integrated into its functional grid, could serve as an adequate instrument by means of which He "forever and continuously had present to Him all the members of His mystical body." It appears more credible that the beatific vision did not extend into the physical brain of Christ, but was restricted to His human soul in a manner which did not affect Him physically. The very limitations of the physical capabilities of the brain to present phantasms of "all members of His Mystical body" continuously would appear to render impossible a participation by Christ's physical brain in the exceedingly vast vision of the Mystical Body seen in the beatific vision. Nevertheless, access to divine knowledge and power must always have been open to Christ's physical faculties to enable Him to operate as the God-man who rules the universe. To say otherwise is to make the Gospel unintelligible, for in the Gospel text Christ governs the universe and works miracles using physical speech and action.

Christ allowed Himself to grow normally as a human to be educated by His Mother and Foster Father, to enjoy childhood and then to leave it behind to start His public life. When He begins His public life, we see Him fully acquainted with the universe and completely in charge of it. Management of this universe was not a new experience for Him which He was learning for the first time.

Jesus stood up and commanded the wind, "Be quiet!" and he said to the waves, "Be still!" The wind died down, and there was a great calm. Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Why are you frightened? Do you have no faith?" (Mk 4:39-40).

We see in other parts of the Gospel how naturally Christ assumed the role of a veteran administrator. He is not at all a beginner learning a trade, but one who has always been in charge. When "the woman came up in the crowd behind Jesus and touched the edge of his cloak, her bleeding stopped at once" (Lk 8:44). Other doctors had tried and failed. For Jesus it was as simple to fix what had gone awry as to create it in the first place.

Christ treated death and life with utter ease, being fully acquainted with both. "Do not weep," He said to the widow of Naim. Then Jesus said, "Young man! I say to you, rise." (Lk 7:13,14).

Where ever the young man's soul was, he obeyed Jesus promptly. Fixing that dead body to make it function again was no problem at all for Jesus. As God, He had created our first parents. Now as man, God put His human faculties in touch with all of God's creation. He knew very well how to re-fashion the body of the widow's son. He also knew how to start up the "sleeping" daughter of Jairus again (cf. Mk 5:39), and to restore the body of Lazarus dead four days already. Lazarus came forth at the command of Jesus, and breathed again after they removed the inhibiting cloths (cf. Jn 11). We see no sign, then, of a Jesus who acts as a new-comer and apprentice in the governance of the created universe. He was fully in charge. With His divine power and wisdom He had created all of it; His human nature peered into the divine, so that His human knowledge was in on-going and total cognizance of creation.

Having said the above, however, we must remain mindful of the dictum of Pope Leo, namely that the two natures of the God-man operate according to their separate capacities; Pope Leo indicates that both natures participated mutually in the operations of Christ, but that the actual power of working miracles is attributed to the divine and uncreated nature:

For each nature does what is proper to it with the mutual participation of the other; the Word clearly effecting what belongs to the Word, and the flesh performing what belongs to the flesh. One of these gleams with miracles, the other sinks under injuries. And just as the Word does not withdraw from the equality of the paternal glory, so His body does not abandon the nature of our race (Migne PL 54, 763, trans. Denzinger-Deferrari 144).

In other words, the human faculties of Christ participated intellectually, volitionally, and instrumentally in the working of miracles, but the power of performing the miracles is attributed to His divine nature; so, at least, Leo teaches. Just as the divine power alone can create, so also this power alone can alter creation miraculously and conserve its existence continually.

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