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It Is Not Just About Us

Friday, February 16, 2018

Creation: Week 1

It Is Not Just About Us
Friday, February 16, 2018

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, things visible, things invisible. . . . He is before all things and in him all things hold together. . . . For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God reconciled all things. —Colossians 1:15-17, 19-20

Not redemption from sin, but the unification of the world in itself and with God is the ultimate motivating cause for the Incarnation and, as such, the first idea of the Creator, existing in advance of all creation. —Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988) [1]

Franciscans have always believed that Christ was Plan A, not a Plan B mop-up effort needed because of Adam and Eve’s sin. Franciscan philosopher John Duns Scotus (1265-1308) believed that the Christ Mystery was the first idea in the mind of God. The manifestation of the inner life of God in a physical universe was God’s plan from the very beginning. So, the Christ is manifest from the very first moment of the Big Bang (Ephesians 1:3,9-10). Jesus is the later personal personification of what was already true from the beginning. Most Christians were never told to make that distinction, and so their Jesus was often far too small because he was not also the Universal Christ.

Duns Scotus saw Jesus as a revelation of this positive, proactive message: “I say that the incarnation of Christ was not foreseen as occasioned by sin, but was immediately foreseen from all eternity by God as a good more proximate to the end.” [2] Contemporary Franciscan professor William Short explains:

The end here refers to God’s purpose or goal for the whole of creation. That goal, according to Scotus, is the sharing of God’s own life, one so fruitful that it constantly seeks expression. The ultimate goal must be sharing the life of the Trinity itself. . . . The Son may be called the heart of, or the way into the Trinity. [3]

This may seem like abstract theology, but without it, we end up with Jesus being a mere problem-solver for sin, appeasing a God who seems to be much less than love. God “the Father” ends up looking quite small, and the Christ has nothing to do for 14 billion years until Jesus appears. This leaves most of known time—before humans appeared—empty of God, the universe not yet a revelation of God. Mainstream Christian theology made humans the whole show; worse, human sin was the engine and motive for everything that God did.

Building on St. Francis’ teaching, Duns Scotus laid the theological foundation for a creation that was good, true, whole, and already the glory and freedom of God—before conscious humans even existed. To put it frankly, “salvation” is not just about us! If this ever sinks in, it will be the second Copernican Revolution in decentering this one small planet. The irony, of course, is that this decentered humanity is also even more the glory of God because it can see and say what I just said.

[1] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Cosmic Liturgy: The Universe According to Maximus the Confessor, trans. Brian E. Daley (Ignatius Press: 2003), 272.

[2] William Short, “St. Francis of Assisi and the Christocentric Character of Franciscan Life and Doctrine,” in Damian McElrath, ed. Franciscan Christology (Franciscan Institute Publications: 1980), 153.

[3] William Short, “The Franciscan Spirit,” in Dawn M. Nothwehr, ed., Franciscan Theology of the Environment: An Introductory Reader (Franciscan Press: 2002), 121-122.

Image credit: Winter Leaf I: CAC Gardens (detail), by Nicholas Kramer.
God always and forever comes as one who is totally hidden and yet perfectly revealed in the same moment or event. The first act of divine revelation is creation itself. Thus, nature is the first Bible, written approximately 14 billion years before the Bible of words. —Richard Rohr
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