Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Cur Deus homo?

How would you answer this question:
"If man had not sinned, would God have become Incarnate?"
The Thomistic thesis says 'No', while the Franciscan (or Scotist) thesis says 'yes'.

Fr. Maximilian Mary Dean, F.I. offers an interesting synopsis of the two views in a series on the "Absolute Primacy of Christ" on Cornerstone (

The reader who sent me the link described it as an occasion of self-discovery: "This link made me understand more about what I believe. It appears to me you know yourself quite well but this might be an interesting link for others to ask themselves some interesting questions."

What is clear to me from the alternatives presented here, is how Augustinian (and therefore non-Franciscan, in terms of these categories) the Reformed or Calvinistic branch of Protestantism is. Somewhere in his writings, the Great Calvinist theologian and prime minister of the Netherlands Abraham Kuyper says that Christianity is in a profound sense an 'accidental' religion, in the sense that the whole history of redemption (including the Incarnation) would have been utterly unnecessary were it not for the Fall of Adam -- viz., Original Sin. I don't imagine this is too different from the understanding of many mainstream Catholic thinkers. Yet there are important differences.

Notice how these attitudes spill over into even our understanding of divine grace. Grace, as understood within Protestantism, is purely remedial. If there were no sin, there would be no need for grace. Yet in St. Thomas Aquinas's "Treatise on Grace" (Summa Theologiae, I-II, Q. 109, Art. 2), we read:
Thus in the state of pure nature man needs a power added to his natural power by grace, for one reason, namely, in order to do and to will supernatural good."
Hence, grace is not purely remedial (because of the consequences of sin) in the theology of St. Thomas.

Curious then that the 'Thomistic' answer to "Cur Deus homo?" should be strictly remedial -- i.e., only because of sin. One might wonder whether the two answers cannot be understood as more closely related. The Franciscan tradition (following Blessed Duns Scotus) sees the remedial purposes of the Incarnation as secondary, and the primary purposes lying more in the direction of God communicating His inter-Trinitarian love to His creatures.

There is a thesis waiting to be articulated, which ties together the themes of remedial and nonremedial grace with the remedial and nonremedial purposes of the Incarnation and the Petrine doctrine of theosis (Θεωσις, meaning divinization or deification, or "to make divine"; cf. II Peter 1:3-4, where St. Peter speaks of our becoming "partakers of the divine nature").

[Hat tip to Sun and Wine]


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