Christ, Key to the Cosmos

Anthony Zimmerman
Not published
December 31, 2001
Reproduced with Permission

A sweeping sentence in Novo Millenio Ineunte invites our intention: "It is only because the Son of God truly became man that man, in him and through him, can truly become God" (NMI No. 23). Does it mean that God would find it improper to bestow any grace at all upon any man - even initially upon Adam and Eve - unless the God-man were there to open the channel? If so, then a priori, if there were no Incarnate Christ, there would be no grace for man whatsoever. The document claims Patristic support for this teaching: "The Fathers have laid great stress on this soteriological dimension of the mystery of the Incarnation", namely that only because God became man, can man become God (cf. loc.cit.).:

The Document Dominus Jesus then carries the logic of the teaching a step further: Christ binds the Church so closely to Himself that He would not have become Incarnate if He were not to establish the Church. This conclusion is implied in the sentence that

The Church is the "universal sacrament of salvation", "since, united always in a mysterious way to the Saviour Jesus Christ, her Head, and subordinated to him, she has, in God's plan, an indispensable relationship with the salvation of every human being" (DJ No. 20).

A chain of three links is thus fashioned by the two documents: grace-Christ-Church. Perhaps we should add another link: creation of the cosmos. Had grace for man not been in the divine plans, God's Wisdom would have found it improper to create a cosmos barren of Christ and the Church and divinized man. For without the possibility of our divine adoption, the cosmos would seem to be a mere plaything lacking in appropriateness for creative action by God. The chain is found with four links: grace-Christ-Church-cosmos, with the creation of the cosmos contingent upon the divine foresight of the three preceding links..

The logic of Divine Wisdom is thus deciphered succinctly: if a cosmos is to be, then Christ must be in it; and if Christ is to be, then the Church must be His Mystical Body. The logic invites another conclusion: if the Church defects, then the cosmos will become meaningless for God who will then withdraw His supporting hand and allow it to collapse. The logic motivates us to support the Church so that the cosmos will endure.

Dominus Jesus rightly proclaims once more for our generation that the way of salvation and the way of all saving grace is via the Church and Christ. Detours around and past Christ on the road to heaven are indeed unthinkable if Christ is the raison d'etre cosmos. Detours would lead one to fall off the cosmos if Christ is the WAY of the cosmos. Indeed, what is eternal damnation if not a tumbling off from the WAY of the Lord?

Christ's salvific works in the Old testament

Since God would not bestow grace upon any man without the mediation of Christ, then, as DJ points out, whatever works of salvation existed "prior to his coming in history" (DJ No. 12) was also the work of Christ. For example, "And all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ" (1 Cor 10:4; see also 1 Peter 1:10-12).

Saint Irenaeus intuited that God did not deem it proper to raise humans to the state of grace and divine adoption unless the Son of God would first become one of us. "For this reason did the Word of God became man ... that man, mingled with the Word of God would receive adoption and become a son of God. For we could not otherwise have received imperishability and immortality unless we had been joined to imperishability and immortality" (Ad. Haer. III, 19.1).

The same saint and pioneer theologian identifies the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity as the one who walked with Adam and Eve in Paradise before the Fall, who also appeared in various divine apparitions recorded in the Old Testament:

And so fair and goodly was the Garden, the Word of God was constantly walking in it; He would walk around and talk with the man, prefiguring what was to come to pass in the future, how He would become man!s fellow, and talk with him, and come among mankind teaching them justice" (Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, 12, trans. Joseph F. Smith, S.J.).

The Bishop Lyons goes on to expound further on the activities of Christ before the Incarnation:

"For Christ did not come just for those who believed him from the times of Tiberius Caesar, nor did the Father exercise his providence just for the men who live now, but for all the men who from the beginning feared and loved God as they were able and lived in justice and piety toward their neighbors and desired to see Christ and hear his voice. Therefore at his second coming he will awaken all these and raise them up before the others, that is, before those who will be judged, and he will establish them in his kingdom (Adv. Haer. IV,22.2, trans. Robert Grant). Again: "'No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him! (Mt 11:27). The word 'reveal' does not have just a future meaning, as if the Word only began to manifest the Father when He was born of Mary; it has a general meaning and applies to the whole of time. From the beginning the Son has been present to His handiwork, and reveals the Father to all, to whom He wills, and when He wills, and as the Father wills" (IV, 6.7 trans. John Saward).

The very first one that Christ came to save was assuredly Adam who was to be His ancestor, continues Irenaeus. "Therefore, when the enemy was conquered in turn, Adam received life again. 'For the last enemy to be destroyed is death' (1 Cor 15:26). That could not be written truthfully unless the man who was first overcome by death would be freed from it. His salvation, then, is the emptying of death" (III, 23,7, trans. Grant). Pope John Paul II notes also with approval that Christ "in Himself 'recapitulates! Adam, in whom all humanity can see itself, transforms him into a child of God and restores him to full communion with the Father" (Wednesday Audience, 14 February 2001). Recapitulation of Adam necessarily includes salvation of Adam.

Pope St. Leo the Great likewise taught that Christ was at work with His Spirit long before the Day of Pentecost came along:

"When the Holy Spirit filled the Lord's disciples on the day of Pentecost, this was not the first exercise of his role but an extension of his bounty, because the patriarchs, prophets, priests, and all the holy men of the previous ages were nourished by the same sanctifying Spirit...although the measure of the gifts was not the same" (Sermon 76, PL 54, 405-406).

The same Pope proclaimed that Christ "Became Son of Man precisely that men could become sons of God, for unless in humility he had come down to us, none of us by our own merits could go to him (Christmas Sermon 2-3,5, P> 54, 213-6). The words again state that God would not adopt man with grace unless God had Himself become man.

Pope John Paul II does not hesitate today to call the original gift that God gave to Adam and Eve by the name of sanctifying grace:

When the Council of Trent teaches that the first Adam lost the holiness and righteousness in which he had been established ... this means that before sin, man possessed sanctifying grace with all the supernatural gifts that make man "righteous" before God. We may sum all this up by saying that, at the beginning, man was in friendship with God (Catechesis, 3 September 1986).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that God revealed Himself to the first parents of humankind, and bestowed His grace upon them, an action which we plausibly attribute to Christ:

54 "God, who creates and conserves all things by his Word, provides men with constant evidence of himself in created realities. And furthermore, wishing to open up the way to heavenly salvation, he manifested himself to our first parents from the very beginning." He invited them to intimate communion with himself and clothed them with resplendent grace and justice.

55 This revelation was not broken off by our first parents' sin. "After the fall, [God] buoyed them up with the hope of salvation, by promising redemption; and he has never ceased to show his solicitude for the human race. For he wishes to give eternal life to all those who seek salvation by patience in well-doing."

Even when he disobeyed you and lost your friendship you did not abandon him to the power of death... Again and again you offered a covenant to man.

Before the creation of the cosmos, Christ was established as its Alpha and Omega

Pope John Paul II draws from the dogma of the Immaculate Conception the conclusion that Christ was active before the world was made:

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).

The Pope's teaching echo's the Epistle to the Ephesians which declares that we were created in Christ:

Praised by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who bestowed on us in Christ every spiritual blessing in the heavens. God chose us in him before the world began to be holy and blameless in his sight. He predestined us to be his adopted sons through Jesus Christ, such was his will and pleasure, that all might praise the glorious favor he has bestowed on us in his beloved.

In him and through his blood, we have been redeemed, and our sins forgiven, so immeasurably generous is God's favor to us. God has given us the wisdom to understand fully the mystery, the plan he was pleased to decree in Christ. a plan to be carried out in Christ, in the fullness of time, to bring all things into one in him, in the heaven and on the earth...For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph 1:3-10; 2:10).

If, then, Christ was the architect who designed the Immaculate Conception "before the foundation of the world", and if God prepared our good works in Christ before the world began, then obviously Christ must have been the active agent who designed the cosmos in which Mary was to live, and we were to live. Furthermore, the Most Holy Trinity formed us all in Christ together with the good works those who are to be saved would do in Him. We can picture the Blessed Trinity contemplating each of us personally and individually, turning us from side to side, estimating the strength we need, nailing the bill for the graces Christ would give us to the cross with Him.

Blessed Duns Scotus assists our thinking here, when He fathoms the mind of God as having Christ in mind before He even thinks of the cosmos. The Most Holy Trinity, bathing in the splendors of His glory, opted to fashion the Incarnation whereby His glory would be praised from without, in a created world:

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 (Opus Par. III, d. 7, q.4; see translation and references in Francis X. Pancheri, OFM, trans. by Juniper B. Carol, OFM, p. 35).

Missing in this magnificent lapidary statement is the Church and its members, for Christ would not have become Man as a loner, but as the Head of His Mystical Body the Body, the Church, as DJ draws out so clearly.

Irenaeus, too, locates Christ in the mind of God prior to Adam: "Since the Savior existed already, the one to be saved had to be brought into existence, so that the Saviour should not be in vain (Adv. Haer. III,22,3). Adam is here seen as an excuse for God to bring about the Incarnation which was God's primary intention.

The human mind of Christ engaged in the designing of the cosmos

If the mind of Christ was so effectively active before the creation of the world as to design the Immaculate Conception, to make a proto-type of Himself in Adam, to work out ahead of time the salvific works that we mortals were to do once we were born, then it is not unreasonable, I believe, that the mind of Christ, human and divine, was the chief consultant in the works of all creation. We can read into the Book of Proverbs that it was Christ who ever stood at the side of God as He put into place the machinery of the cosmos:

When he established the heavens I was there
when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep;
When he made firm the skies above,
when he fixed fast the foundations of the earth;
When he set for the sea its limit,
so that the waters should not transgress his command;
Then was I beside him as his craftsman,and I was his delight day by day,
Playing before him all the while,
playing on the surface of the earth;
and I found delight in the sons of men (Prov. 8: 27-31).

Foreseen in eternity, endorsed in time

What the Blessed Trinity had foreseen in eternity, Christ endorsed by real life in time. By freely doing the Father's will during His human and mortal life, Christ carried out the plans laid out in eternity. His central duty was to be the Priest and Victim of His sacrifice, signifying through His life, death, resurrection and ascension that all created things are contingent upon the Creator. This truth is expressed in an inspirational manner by the theologian Matthias Scheeben:

According to its highest notion, sacrifice, as the most effective and perfect form of worship, is realized only if God receives from the creature a worship that is absolute in its value, that is, if the offerer is of infinite dignity, and the victim of infinite worth. The God-man, as the High Priest placed over all creatures, has, in virtue of the infinite dignity of His person, conferred an infinite dignity on His human soul and its sacrificial disposition, and an infinite value on His body and blood. Because of the omnipotence of His person, He has the power to lay down His life and to take it up again, and in the resumption of His body to transfigure it by the fire of the Holy Spirit, to deliver it up to God, and to make it a temple of the divine Majesty. For the very reason that Christ, as the Lord's Anointed, can and must be a priest par excellence in the most proper and perfect sense of the word, He could and should in His bodily life be also the Lamb of God par excellence, the sacrificial Lamb which is offered to God in the most literal and perfect manner, as the tribute of perfect worship, a worship that is worthy of God (Scheeben 435-436).

Q. How does the resurrection and ascension complete the sacrifice of Christ?

A. By His resurrection and ascension Christ brings His sacrifice into heaven.

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 His sacrifice on 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. (Scheeben 436).

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the gift by which we here on earth can, again and again, and every day, offer Christ as the Master of the Cosmos to the Most Blessed Trinity.