Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Feast of St. John: Christ's Pre-Existence: Augustine's Remarks-cum-John Paul II

“NOW this Word, whose flesh was so real that he could be touched by human hands, began to be flesh in the Virgin Mary’s womb; but he did not begin to exist at that moment. We know this from what John says: What existed from the beginning. Notice how John’s letter bears witness to his Gospel, which you just heard a moment ago: In the beginning was the Word, and Word was with God. Someone might interpret the phrase the Word of life to mean a word about Christ, rather than Christ’s body itself which was touched by human hands. But consider what comes next: and life itself was revealed. Christ therefore is himself the Word of life.
“And how was this life revealed? It existed from the beginning, but was not revealed to men, only to angels, who looked upon it and feasted upon it as their own spiritual bread. But what does Scripture say? Mankind ate the bread of angels.
“Life itself was therefore revealed in the flesh. In this way what was visible to the heart alone could become visible also to the eye, and so heal men’s hearts. For the Word is visible to the heart alone, while flesh is visible to bodily eyes as well. We already possessed the means to see the flesh, but we had no means of seeing the Word. The Word was made flesh so that we could see it, to heal the part or us by which we could see the Word.

Ephesians 1, 4-6

“Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish in his sight in love. He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ as his sons, according to the purpose of his will… with which he has favored us in his beloved Son”
(Eph. 1, 4-6).

Predestination in Christ:

"4. (B)efore sin, man bore in his soul the fruit of eternal election in Christ, the eternal Son of the Father. Through the grace of this election, man, male and female, was `holy and immaculate’ before God. … When we compare the testimony of the `beginning’ reported in the first chapters of Genesis with the testimony of Ephesians, we must deduce that the reality of the creation of man was already permeated by the perennial election of man in Christ: called to holiness through the grace of adoption as sons, `predestining us to be his adopted sons through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise and glory of his grace, which he has given to us in his beloved Son’ (Eph. 1, 5-6).

5. “From the `beginning,’ man, male female, shared from the beginning in this supernatural gift. This endowment was given in view of him, who from eternity was `beloved’ as Son, although – according to the dimensions of time and history – it preceded the Incarnation of this `beloved Son’ and also the `redemption’ we have in him `through his blood’ (Eph. 1, 7).

“Redemption was to become the source of man’s supernatural endowment after sin and, in a certain sense, despite sin. This supernatural endowment, which took place before original sin, that is, the grace of original justice and innocence – an endowment that was the fruit of man’s election in Christ before the ages – was brought about precisely out of regard for him, that one and only Beloved, while chronologically anticipating his coming in the body. In the dimensions of the mystery of creation, election to the dignity of adoptive sonship was proper only to the `first Adam,’ that is, to man created in the image and likeness of God as male and female.

Comment of Christopher West

“According to this mystery, God chose us in Christ not only after we sinned and in order to redeem us from sin. God chose us in Christ `before the foundation of the world’ (Eph. 1, 4). This means that `before sin, man bore in his soul the fruit of eternal election in Christ (334).

“It seems that John Paul cannot stress this point enough. Comparing the testimony of the `beginning’ with the testimony of Ephesians, he says that `we must deduce that the reality of the creation of man was already permeated by the perennial election of man in Christ…“From the `beginning,’ man, male female, shared from the beginning in this supernatural gift.” And again he says that this supernatural endowment in Christ `took place before original sin’ (334-335). Rereading the account of creation in light of the New Testament, we realize that man’s destiny in Christ is already implied in his creation in the image of God. For it is Christ who `is the image of the invisible God.’ Thus, it is in Christ that we image God right from the beginning (see Col. 1, 15-16). West then refers to the Catechism of the Catholic Church #280 that reads: “Creation is the foundation of `all God’s plans,’ the `beginning of the history of salvation’ that culminates in Christ. Conversely, the mystery of Christ casts conclusive light on the mystery of creation and reveals the end for which `in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth:’ from the beginning, Gold envisaged the glory of the new creation in Christ.”

Christopher West then advances the following: “With these statements, the Holy Father appears to be adding his input to a centuries-old theological debate: Would Christ have come had man not sinned? In any case, this pope’s opinion on the matter seems clear. For him, Jesus Christ – the incarnate Christ - `is the center of the universe and of history.’ For him, it seems even to entertain the idea of a universe without an incarnate Christ is to miss a central point of the `great mystery’ of God’s love for humanity.

“Christ is `the first-born of all creation’ (Col. 1, 15). Everything – especially man in his original unity as male and female – was created for him, through him, and in expectation of him. When we reread man’s beginning in view of the `great mystery’ of Ephesians, we can see that Christ’s incarnate communion with the Church is already anticipated and in some sense `contained’ in the original communion of man and woman. And this original unity in `one flesh’ was constituted by God before sin. Man and woman’s original unity, therefore, was a beatifying participation in grace. This grace made original man `holy and blameless’ before God. Here John Paul reminds us that their primordial (or original) holiness and purity were also expressed in their being naked without shame. The Holy Father then asserts that this original bounty was granted to man in view of Christ, who from eternity was `beloved’ as Son, even though – according to the dimensions of time and history – it had preceded the Incarnation’

Complementary Conclusion by Benedict XVI

Summary of Anselm’s Theory of Redemption: This is the received theology in the West:
“(B)y man’s sin, which was aimed against God, the order of justice was infinitely damaged and God infinitely offended. Behind this is the idea that the measure of the offence is determined by the status of the offended party; if I offend a beggar the consequences are not the same as they would be if I offended a head of state. The importance of the offence varies according to the addressee. Since God is infinite the offence to him implicit in humanity’s sin is also infinitely important. The right thus damaged must be restored, because God is a God of order and justice; indeed, he is justice itself. But the measure of the offence demands an infinite reparation, which man is capable of making. He can offend infinitely – his capacity extends that far – but he cannot produce an infinite reparation; what he, as a finite being, gives will always be only finite. His powers of destruction extend further than his capacity to reconstruct. Thus between all the reparations that man may attempt and the greatness of his guilt there remains an infinite gulf which he can never bridge. Any gesture of expiation can only demonstrate his powerlessness to close the infinite gulf which he himself opened up.

“In order to be destroyed for ever, then, and man to remain eternally imprisoned in the abyss of his guilt? At this point Anselm hits on the figure of Christ. His answer runs thus: God himself removes the injustice; not (as he could) by a simple amnesty, which cannot after all overcome from inside what has happened, but by the infinite Being’s himself becoming man and then as a man – who thus belongs to the race of the offenders yet possesses the power, denied to man, of infinite reparation – making the required expiation. Thus the redemption takes place entirely through grace and at the same time entirely as restoration of the right. Anselm thought he had thereby given a compelling answer to the difficult question of `Cur Deus homo,’ there wherefore of the incarnation and the cross. His view has put a decisive stamp on the second millennium of Western Christendom, which takes it for granted that Christ had to die on the cross in order to make good the infinite offence which had been committed and in this way to restore the damaged order of things.”

Benedict’s Comments: “But even if all this is admitted it cannot be denied on the other hand that the perfectly logical divine-cum-human legal system erected by Anselm distorts the perspectives and with its rigid logic can make the image of God appear in a sinister light.”[4]

Later in "Introduction to Christianity" he expatiates: “The `infinite expiation’ on which God seems to insist thus moves into a double sinister light. Many devotional texts actually force one to thnk that Christian faith in the cross visualizes a God whose unrelenting righteousness demanded a human sacrifice, the sacrifice of his own Son, and one turns away in horror from a righteousness whose sinister wrath makes the message of love incredible.

This picture is as false as it is widespread. In the Bible the cross does not appear as part of a mechanism of injured right; on the contrary, in the Bible the cross is quite the reverse: it is the expression of the radical nature of the love which gives itself completely, of the process in which one is what one does, and does what one is; it is the expression of a life that is completely being for others. To anyone who looks more closely the scriptural theology of the cross represents a real revolution as compared with the notions of expiation and redemption entertained by non-Christian religions, though it certainly cannot be denied that in the later Christian consciousness, this revolution was largely neutralized and its whole scope seldom recognized. In other world religions expiation usually means the restoration of the damaged relationship with God by means of expiatory actions on the part of men. Almost all religions center round the problem of expiation; they arise out of man’s knowledge of his guilt before God and signify the attempt to remove this feeling of guilt, to surmount the guilt through conciliatory actions offered up to God….

“In the New Testament the situation is almost completely reversed. It is not man who goes to God with a compensatory gift, but God who comes to man, in order to give to him. He restores disturbed right on the initiative of his own power to love, by making unjust man just again, the dead living again, through his own creative mercy. His righteousness is grace; it is active righteousness, which sets crooked man right, that is, bends him straight, makes him right. Here we stand before the twist which Christianity put into the history of religion. The New Testament does not say that men conciliate God, as we really ought to expect, since after all it is they who have failed, not God. It says on the contrary that `God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself’ (2 Cor. 5, 19). This is truly something new, something unheard of – the starting-point of Christian existence and the center of New Testament theology of the cross: God does not wait until the guilty come to be reconciled; he goes to meet them and reconciles them. Here we can see the true direction of the incarnation, of the cross.”


Hence, in the light of Ephesians 1, 4-6, and Benedict's biblical theology of the Cross, God became man for love, not for the necessity of repairing the damage of injustice to God. God is Love and became man because of Love, and nothing else. In so doing, He restored man to the eternal life to which he was predestined from the “beginning” and lost by sin. Since the orientation of man before the creation of the world, and therefore before sin, was to divinization and divine adoption, had there been no sin, the Word was already flesh as Christ in the Creator’s mind before it took place historically in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. And He continues as Flesh in the Godhead -pace modern-day gnosticism - throning from the right hand of the Father.

[1] John Paul II, “The Theology of the Body,” DSP [Waldstein] (2006, 1997)504-505; 334-335.
[2] Christopher West, “Theology of the Body Explained,” Pauline Books and Media (2003) 347-348.
[3] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 173-174.
[4] Ibid 174.
[5] Ibid 214-215.

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