WordPress automatically linked my last post to a post in which a Greek Orthodox blogger (Perry Robinson) argues, in typical Orthodox fashion, that the Son would have become incarnate even if the Fall had never occurred. Following S. Maximus Confesor, the Robinson, argues that God willed the Incarnation “at all times”, and that the Fall rather than being the reason for the Incarnation, is Lucifer’s envious attempt to frustrate it:
Since God eternally wills his incarnation, to prevent its occurrence would be to frustrate the divine will and demonstrate the devil’s superiority. So the temptation and the Fall are a response to the Incarnation.
Robinson sees the advantage of this in that it gives God a less reactive role: “Looking at the Incarnation this way puts God back in the driver’s seat.” But this a rather superficial way of looking at things. He seems to be envisioning the two possibilities as follows:
1. (The position Robinson rejects:) God was not planning to become incarnate. Then the devil came and messed things up, and God “decided” to become incarnate.
2. (Robinson’s own position:) God was always planning to become Incarnate. The devil tried to prevent the Incarnation, and (when it had happened) to end it by bringing about the the death of Our Lord, but God foiled the demonic plans with the Resurrection.
Now, it seems to me that both of these positions make God too reactive. What Robinson doesn’t seem to get is that God’s will is totally uncaused: His will is the reason why we do things not the other way around. God wills everything by one single act of will, the principle of object of which is His own goodness. Nevertheless, as S. Thomas, teaches in that single act of will He wills that some things be means to others:
Now as God by one act understands all things in His essence, so by one act He wills all things in His goodness. Hence, as in God to understand the cause is not the cause of His understanding the effect, for He understands the effect in the cause, so, in Him, to will an end is not the cause of His willing the means, yet He wills the ordering of the means to the end. Therefore, He wills this to be as means to that; but does not will this on account of that. (STh Ia, q. 19, a. 5, c)
Thus, it is of course true that God “at times” willed the Incarnation, but at the same time it is true that He at all times willed it as the the remedy to sin. Robinson quotes a text from S. Thomas in which he seems to be holding position 1.:
“Hence, since everywhere in the Sacred Scripture the sin of the first man is assigned as the reason of Incarnation, it is more in accordance with this to say that the work of Incarnation was ordained by God as a remedy for sin; so that, had sin not existed, Incarnation would not have been.” (STh IIIa, q. 1, art. 3, c)
But if one reads what S. Thomas says in context it is clear that he is not saying that God’s will is posterior to the Fall:
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 Incarnation, it is more in accordance with this to say that the work of Incarnation was ordained by God as a remedy for sin; so that, had sin not existed, 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.
In other words, God’s willing the Incarnation does not have any created cause, but it has been revealed that it was in fact eternally willed as the remedy of sin. Thus for S. Thomas the Incarnation is not a “reaction” to sin in the way in which Robinson understands it. God could, after all, have prevented sin from happening at all. The Orthodox don’t seem to hold this — perhaps because they never went through the Pelagian controversies that the West went through, and thus never got the clarity about the relation of predestination to free will that Augustine brought. In the very article that Robinson quotes, S. Thomas brings up an objection from predestination:
God’s predestination is eternal. But it is said of Christ (Romans 1:4): “Who was predestined the Son of God in power.” Therefore, even before sin, it was necessary that the Son of God should become incarnate, in order to fulfil God’s predestination. (STh IIIa, q. 1, art. 3, obj.4)
The objector is assuming as a principle that God willed “from all time” to become incarnate, and S. Thomas’s reply does not contradict the principle:
Predestination presupposes the foreknowledge of future things; and hence, as God predestines the salvation of anyone to be brought about by the prayers of others, so also He predestined the work of Incarnation to be the remedy of human sin.
The comparison to prayer is interesting: prayer is for the sake of salvation and not the other way around, thus one could say (as I suggested in the foregoing post) that sin is more “for the sake of” the Incarnation than the other way around. Properly speaking, of course, sin is not willed by God for the sake of anything; it isn’t an object of His will at all because it is a kind of non-being, a privation of some due good. Nevertheless God is able to prevent all sin and doesn’t. The pop-theological reason for this that He “respects our freedom” or something, but that is not at all the answer that S. Thomas gives:
It is otherwise with one who has care of a particular thing, and one whose providence is universal, because a particular provider excludes all defects from what is subject to his care as far as he can; whereas, one who provides universally allows some little defect to remain, lest the good of the whole should be hindered. Hence, corruption and defects in natural things are said to be contrary to some particular nature; yet they are in keeping with the plan of universal nature; inasmuch as the defect in one thing yields to the good of another, or even to the universal good: for the corruption of one is the generation of another, and through this it is that a species is kept in existence. Since God, then, provides universally for all being, it belongs to His providence to permit certain defects in particular effects, that the perfect good of the universe may not be hindered, for if all evil were prevented, much good would be absent from the universe. A lion would cease to live, if there were no slaying of animals; and there would be no patience of martyrs if there were no tyrannical persecution. Thus Augustine says (Enchiridion 2): “Almighty God would in no wise permit evil to exist in His works, unless He were so almighty and so good as to produce good even from evil.” (STh Ia, q. 22, a. 2, ad 2)
Everything that God wills in creatures is for the sake of the merciful manifestation of His glory, and by far the greatest of these works is the Incarnation. There is a wonderful text on this in Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Ecclesiasticus (quoted by De Koninck in Ego Sapientia). A Lapide is talking about how Our Lady can be said to be the final cause of the universe:
God’s creation has been ordained, as to its end, to the justification and glorification of the Saints, accomplished by Christ through the offices of the Blessed Virgin; for the order of nature has been created and instituted for the order of grace. Then, it is because the Holy Virgin has been the mother of Christ that, consequently, she has become the mediatrix of the whole order of grace instituted by Christ; from which it follows, for the same reason, she has been the final cause of the creation of the universe. Indeed, the end of the universe is Christ and his Mother and and Saints, that is to say that this universe has been created so that the Saints delight in grace and glory through the intermediacy of Christ and the Blessed Virgin. This is why the final cause of the creation of the universe has been the predestination of Christ, the Blessed Virgin, and the Saints. Although, in effect, Christ and the Blessed Virgin are parts of the universe, and are as a consequence posterior to it in the genus of material cause, nevertheless they are anterior to it in the genus of final cause. As well, there exist a certain reciprocal dependence between the creation of the universe and the birth of Christ and the Blessed Virgin; God, in effect, had not wished that Christ and the Blessed Virgin be born, if not in this world; He did not either wish that this universe exist without Christ and the Blessed Virgin; more than that: it is for them that He created it. He has wished that the whole universe, not excluding the order of grace, be referred and ordered to Christ and the Blessed Virgin as to their complement and their end. Christ and the Blessed Virgin are then the final cause of the creation of the universe, and at the same time they are its formal cause, that is to say the exemplar, understanding the idea. It is such that, in effect, the order of Grace, where Christ and the Blessed Virgin occupy the first place, there is the idea and exemplar in terms of which God has created and dignified the order of nature and of the whole universe.”
Everything that is, is willed for the sake of Christ and His Blessed Mother. Even the evil of sin, while it is not itself willed, is permitted for the sake of the mercy and glory manifested in the Incarnation, life, death, and Resurrection of the Lord.