Christ: Why Made Man?

Anthony Zimmerman
Not published January 7, 1986
Reproduced with Permission

"If man had not sinned, the Son of Man would not have come" wrote St. Augustin (De Verb. Apost. 8,2). A recent book by Fr. Francis Xavier Pancheri, O.F.M. Conv. parades the great theologians who have disputed this and related problems over the span of centuries, inviting us to learn more about our Primate and Redeemer. Great pioneers. of the dispute include St. Anselm of Canterbury (d. 1109), Alexander of Hales, O.F.M. (d. 1245), St. Bonaventure, O.F.M. (d. 1274), St. Thomas Aquinas, O.P. (d. 1274), and then Blessed John Duns Scotus (d. 1308).

More recently Matthias Joseph Scheeben (d. 1888) develops the view of Scotus that Christ is first Primate, then Redeemer; Redemption is but one episode in the larger vocation; Christ would also have come even had man not sinned. Fr. Pancheri wrote his doctoral dissertation on Scheeben, and is currently President of the Pontifical Theological Faculty of the Seraphicum in Rome. Fr. Juniper B. Carol, O.F.M. translated and adapted his book into English.

With Pancheri we will focus on some highlights of the dispute of the giants, then narrow our focus to the attempt of Scheeben to show that Christ could have redeemed us, had He willed to do so, even without traveling the demanding road of His passion and death. Against this we will reflect why Christ had to travel that road in obedience because it is an essential part of His role as Primate.

"Christ Came Because Adam Sinned ..."

Thomas agreed with Augustine that the Scriptures appear to indicate sin as the reason for Christ's Incarnation, but he does not exclude the possibility of an Incarnation in the absence of sin, at least theoretically:

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 ... Since everywhere in the Sacred Scripture the sin of the first mas 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 11,1,3).

Pancheri cites scholars of Thomas who indicate how the great master brings Christ onto the stage late in His Summa Theologica, after the treatises on God, on creation, the angels, man, law, grace, sin, etc. Christ is in Part III, the crown of what already exists. Thomas has Christ leading the return to God, reditus ad Deum, but not our procession from God, exitus a Deo.(cf. Pancheri 28-30). In fairness to Thomas, however, Pancheri quotes a passage from his Commentary on the Sentences in which he upholds the probability of the opinion that since the Incarnation brought not only liberation from sin, but is the exaltation of our human nature and the final perfection of the cosmos, therefore the Incarnation may have taken place even in the absence of sin (III Sent. d.l,a.3.). Pancheri therefore points out that Thomas had broader views than some of the Thomist disputants assume.

ST. ANSELM (d. 1109) set the stage for those who focus on sin as the motive for the 'Incarnation and Redemption. After man sinned, if God was to save man, then the Incarnation is absolutely necessary. A simple forgiveness of sin made by God without previous satisfaction in a just manner is not conceivable, is not possible from God's viewpoint, he maintained, since this would be equivalent to placing justice and injustice on the same level. It was necessary that God's justice first be satisfied before He could forgive sin. God therefore decreed the Incarnation and Redemption in response to man's sin. Fr. Francis Xavier Pancheri analyzes his thought as follows:

Who can make satisfaction for sin? Not man, because "it is impossible for a sinner to satisfy for a sinner (Cur Deus Homo I. c. 23) ... From the above it follows that the dramatic situation comes down to this: only God can supply adequate reparation. and yet, since the human race is guilty, it cannot remain extraneous to the reparation. God, as God, cannot make satisfaction to Himself; that would be pure fiction. It is necessary, therefore, to have a God-Man, Jesus Christ, so as to render possible a true satisfaction which is in harmony with all the demands involved (Pancheri, 16-17).

This all too rigorous concept of God's justice in reference to forgiveness is not necessarily deduced from Holy Scripture, maintains Pancheri. On the contrary, Scripture points to the divine goodness as taking the initiative relative to the Incarnation. The opinion of St. Anselm, he believes, was colored by the Germanic ideas of justice which were contemporary to his times:

The gravest defect of the Anselmian perspectives is the total neglect of the value of the Incarnation as a mystery of universal divinization, according to the admirable teaching of the- Greek Fathers. Latin juridicism, already present in Tertullian and St. Augustine, acquires in Anselm an absolute importance and is colored by Germanic justice, according to which an offended nobleman had to demand an adequate satisfaction, not from just anybody, but from one of his peers. Indeed, in the Anselmian thought redemption appears situated within a cold, abstract sphere of debit and credit, within a rigid scheme of "injured honor," and "adequate satisfaction." We seem to be dealing here with a mechanical world of moral-juridical values; all personal intimacy seems to have vanished (Pancheri, 17).

Too much is left unsaid in this sin-centered view of the Incarnation, continues Pancheri. For St. Cyril of Alexandria, who echoes a vast tradition of the Fathers, especially the Greek Fathers, the Incarnation is the "beginning of God's ways" and Jesus Christ is the foundation of every created reality, in which the sin of Adam is but one episode. In this tradition. Christ was willed by God before the foundation of the world as elevating principle, the source of our supernatural order and gifts. God had decreed originally to elevate man to participate in the divine nature. Christ is the foundation of this gift, pre-existing and unmovable, so no change was introduced by sin into the original plan of God's goodness (cf. Pancheri 17,,drawing on Cyril).

In this concept, Christ, far from being the "after-thought" subsequent to Adam's sin, is the end for whom and in whom we and all creation exist; we already pre-exist the episode of Adam's sin in God's mind, having been decreed in Christ and with Christ according to God's eternal purpose:

And it is in him that we were claimed as God's own, chosen from the beginning, under the predetermined plan of the one who guides all things as lie decides by his own will; chosen to be, for his greater glory, the people who would put their hopes in Christ before he came (Eph 1:11-12).

The Primacy of Christ is the "mystery that contains all the ages" writes St. Maximus (d. 662) revealing the great plan of God which-already pre-existed the ages. He continues:

Really, it was for the sake of Christ ... that all the ages and the things in the ages themselves received the beginning and the end of existence in Christ ... This [hypostatic union] was made when Christ appeared in the last times. By itself it is the fulfillment of the foreknowledge of God (PG 90, 620,621; cf. Pancheri 13).

Alexander of Hales (d. 1245) abandoned the sin-centered thesis of Anselm: "It is to be conceded that even if human nature were not fallen, still the Incarnation would be fitting (Summa Theologica, lib IV,42; Pancheri 18).

St. Bonaventure notes first of all that the One who knows the true answer is the One who became Incarnate:

Which of these two opinions is more true is known to Him Who deigned to become Incarnate for us. But it is difficult to see which of these should be preferred, since both are in accordance with Catholic belief, and both are held by Catholics. Both opinions also, according to different considerations, are conducive to devotion (III Sent. d. l,a.2,q.1; Pancheri 19-25).

St. Bonaventure presents two opinions: the first that the reason for substance of the Incarnation is the perfection of man and of the whole universe, but the reason why Christ came in a passible mode, able to suffer, was sin. It is a reasonable opinion, he writes. But he opts for the second opinion, namely that the principle reason for the Incarnation itself is redemption from sin, that it was willed by God "after" the prevision of the Fall.

Then comes Scotus, the doctor subtilis. After all the work had been done to indicate that the Incarnation was decreed in response to Adam's sin, he swung around the telescope, as it were, and viewed the entire question from another angle. Says Pancheri: "The authority of St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas in favor of an Incarnation subordinate to the Fall was such that only a man endowed with an extraordinary intellect equal to theirs could guarantee to the opposite opinion the possibility of survival" (Pancheri, 31). Scotus, unfortunately, did not draw all the consequences from his own luminous principles. It would be criminal to attempt a one paragraph summary of his teachings here, except to indicate that Scotus began with Christ's predestination by God as Primate, then asked whether "this predestination necessarily presupposes the fall of human nature" (cf. Pancheri 32). For Scotus, Redemption from sin is the "afterthought" of the Incarnation, not the other way around. We pass on now to the work of Scheeben, and his marvelous explanation of Christ's performance as Primate through His passion and death. That is, Christ came not only to redeem us of sin, the negative aspect, but to elevate man to surpass the limitations of his given nature by a transformation into the adopted sonship of God.

Scheeben: Christ Primate Offers Sacrifice

The sacrifice of Christ is indeed directed to the reconciliation and pardon of our sins, but this does not prevent it from being a latreutic sacrifice on its own account, decreed for the glory of God (Scheeben 432). And since Christ offered Himself in sacrifice) not merely some other object as a symbol, His offering has a special value. God has no regard for sacrifices of animals if the heart is not joined to God through this symbol. But when Christ offered himself, there is no mistake about His meaning and sincerity. Paul therefore exhorts us also to present our body to God as a living, holy, unblemished sacrifice (Rom 12:1).

Christ did not offer Himself alone, but performed His sacrifice as our Head: "Therefore it was not alone Christ Himself, but the whole human race that in Christ's flesh and blood took from its own substance and offered to God the pledge of an infinite worship, and sent it up to heaven (Scheeben 438). He illustrates the point by quotations from the Fathers:

We were crucified with Him when His flesh was crucified; for in a sense it contained all nature, just as when Adam incurred condemnation the whole of nature contracted the disease of his curse in him" (St. Cyril of Alexandria in Rom., c.6; PG LXXIV,796).

This also gives us a mystical freedom from death, continues Scheeben (439) in the sense that we undergo death not so much as punishment, but after the example of our Head, we now take death upon ourselves for the honor of God, as a sacrifice to Him.

Departing for the moment from Scheeben, we reflect that death is for us the seal of our identity as creatures, the most genuine expression of our contingency, of our profound difference from God who is Being, "He who is." Christ also showed the nature of His human creaturehood by dying, and thus pronouncing the AMEN to His human nature. No amount of prettified words and pious protestations to God about our creaturehood and contingency can match the simple offering up of our lives to God, together with Christ, when God calls us from this life to Himself. For Christ also, death was the supreme act of His life, the culmination of His words and deeds, whereby He expressed His love for God as is not possible in any other way, and at the same time demonstrated His love for us, which He exercised to the very limits of His capacity (cf. Jn 13:1).

When a sacrifice is offered, there must be some change on part of the offering which transforms the oblation to signify its donation to God. This was done in the old dispensation by slaughtering the animal and then, in the case of a holocaust, burning it. Fire was seen as transforming the object into something nobler, resolving the victim's flesh into fire and smoke ascending heavenward. In the case of Christ this was done in a manner par excellence, since He not only lay Himself down as the Victim, but also personally brought the sacrifice to heaven to present Himself to God and to reconcile Him in turn with all mankind. As Scheeben relates profoundly:

(Christ's) resurrection and ascension actually achieve in mystically real fashion what is symbolized in the sacrifice of animals by the burning of the victim's flesh. Christ's resurrection and glorification are often conceived merely as the fruit of the sacrifice of the cross. And such it is in all truth, but not that alone. In the idea of God and of the Church, it is also a continuation and fulfillment of the first act. According to the Apostle's teaching, the carrying of the blood of the sacrificed animal into the holy of holies, whereby it was appropriated to God was a type of the function of Christ in heaven, whereby He constantly appropriates His body and His blood and offers them to God. The Resurrection and glorification were the very acts by which the Victim passed into the real and permanent possession of God. The fire of the Godhead which resuscitated the slain Lamb and, after consuming its mortality, laid hold of it and transformed it, caused it to ascend to God in lovely fragrance as a holocaust, there to make it, as it were, dissolve and merge into God. "The substance of the body is changed, it into a heavenly quality, as was signified by the sacrificial fire, which, so to speak, swallows up death in victory" (St. Augustine, Contra Faustum, lib. XXII, c. 17; PL, XLII,409; from Scheeben 436.)

Once in heaven with His sacrifice, Christ and His mystical body claim in justice not only forgiveness of repented sin, but also the divinization of man, the gifts of grace and subsequent glory. Since man, through Christ, has now fulfilled the conditions on part of creatures for the covenant, God is obliged in justice to keep His part of the agreement. Man claims forgiveness and grace now by reason of a justice sanctioned by God Himself.

Scheeben then draws a parallel between the mystery of the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son and the mystery of Christ sealing His love for mankind through His lifeblood. In the Blessed Trinity the Father and Son pour out their love in the procession of the Holy Spirit, who issues from their common heart, in whom "both surrender their heart's blood, and to whom they give themselves as the pledge of their infinite love" (445). In turn, the Spirit seals the love of the God-man with humanity when Christ, in the power of the Spirit and in His love, offers His life for all. In the Trinity, Father and Son are eternally united in the Spirit, their mutual Gift. On earth, the Godhead is united to humanity by the seal of the Spirit, the outpouring of the love of God ad extra. Scheeben continues to articulate his marvelous insights:

Since the Holy Spirit proceeds from the love of the Father for the Son, and through the Son is to be poured out over the whole world, nothing is more appropriate than that the Son in His humanity, as the head of all creatures, should represent and effect this outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the outpouring of His blood, and that this latter outpouring should become the real sacrament of the truest pledge that He and His Father will, in their own Spirit, share with us the innermost character, so to speak, of their divinity. Is not the blood with its purifying, warming, life-giving energy the sacrament of the corresponding activities of the Holy Spirit? And is not the mystical body and corporal, bride of the God-man formed from the blood of Christ's heart by the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in Him, much as the Spirit of the Father and the Son and their partner in love springs forth from their divine heart? At bottom the heart blood of Christ is the bond between God and the world, the bond in which heaven and earth are brought together, just as in the Trinity the Holy Spirit, the outpouring of the mutual surrender of the Father and the Son, is the eternal bond which joins these two persons with each other and with creatures.

Thus the idea of Christ's sacrifice thrusts its roots deep into the abyss of the Trinity. As the Incarnation itself was to be the prolongation and extension of the eternal generation, and can be adequately comprehended only 'from this viewpoint, so the sacrificial surrender of the God-man was to be the most perfect expression of that divine love which, as God, He shows forth in the spiration and effusion of the Holy Spirit (446).

Scheeben illustrates the concept of Christ consolidating His love and faithfulness to the Church by the shedding of His blood as the pledge and gift of the Spirit by quotations from the Scriptures and the Fathers. For example:

"... To be made holy by the Spirit, obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood" (1 Pet 1:2); "and you too have been stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit of Promise, the pledge of our inheritance" (Eph 1:13); "Through him, both of us have in the one Spirit our way to come to the Father" (Eph 2:18); "and you too, in him, are being built into a house where God lives, in the Spirit" (Eph 2:22); "how much more effectively the blood of Christ, who offered himself as the perfect sacrifice to God through the eternal Spirit, can purify our inner self from dead actions so that we do our service to the living God" (Heb 9:14).

We priests may wish to pause here to reflect that we, who act during the celebration of the Mass in persona Christi ought also to renew our wedding to the Church by offering our all for her. As we hold up the consecrated Body and Blood of Christ we remember the exhortation of Paul:

Try, then, to imitate God, as children of his that he loves, and follow Christ by loving as he loved you, giving himself up in our place as a fragrant offering and a sacrifice to God" (Eph 5:1-2).

Indeed, priests who act in the person of Christ are wedded to the Church as He is, must therefore love the Church as He does, and sacrifice themselves for her, to make her holy; to wash her in water with a form of words, so that when he takes her to himself she will be glorious, with no speck or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and faultless (cf. Eph 5:25-27). The priest must, by vocation and ordination, be faithful and loving towards his bride the Church as Christ whom He personifies. As in the Trinity it is the Spirit who seals the love of Father and Son, so at the Mass it is the Spirit who seals the love of the priest for the Church to be true to her in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, all the days of his life. A priest who dissents from the Church breaks this bond of the Spirit, and parts asunder what God has joined together. He becomes a kind of hybrid Christ, divorced as it were from His betrothed, a wandering loner who has lost the fundamental purpose of his life and fidelity as a priest.