In omnibus Ipsa primatum tenens
Christ is first
In order to execute a project, or to turn a vision into action, one first needs to have an idea or a plan. The idea precedes the action, as the intention precedes the actual achieving of the goal. Likewise, an artist, to give an example very expressive of this reality, must first conceive in mind what he wants then to depict on a canvas. If his intelligence is uninspired, it is higly likely that the canvas will not represent anything. And in order to paint something in on a large scale, the artist will also need to portray that idea realized on a very small scale: he needs to make a sketch. When God created all things he also needed to have an idea, and he did indeed have a vision. This idea was his very reason for making all things. And God’s idea could not but be as perfect as He Himself is. In fact, in God ideas are not something (as they are in us) but Himself. Who, then, was God’s original idea, guiding Him in carrying out his project of creation? It could be none other than Christ, His Son, the Word incarnate.
St Paul, in his Letter of to the Colossians (1:15-20), speaks about this centrality of Christ, who through his human nature manifests the perfection of the divine nature. Christ, he says,
is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For in him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominations, or principalities, or powers. All things were created by him and for him. And he is before all: and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he may hold the primacy: Because in him, it hath well pleased the Father that all fulness should dwell: And through him to reconcile all things unto himself, making peace through the blood of his cross, both as to the things that are on earth and the things that are in heaven.
Christ is the icon (eikòn says the original text) of the invisible God. St Paul wishes to say that God intends to paint the most beautiful icon of His love in order to reveal to us just how immense that love is. God is love and love, as manifestation of good, is spread by itself. Hence, the love of God pours out over creation, as the very reason for this creation is Christ, the firstborn (protótokos, which more literally means the first to be generated). How is it possible that the icon of the invisible God, the Word incarnate, is the first to be generated whereas he came last, after so many generations? The reason cannot but be Christ’s precedence in virtue of his pre-eminence. He is first in the Father’s mind as being the most excellent and therefore the last, the alpha and the omega. He holds a primacy in all things, namely, he has the first place (proteúon says Col 1:18. The Latin puts it this way: “in omnibus ipse primatum tenens”).
This doctrine of the precedence of Christ over all creation was very much dear to St Francis of Assisi and to the Franciscan School, which, with Bl. John Duns Scotus, came to investigate this mystery of the primacy of Christ and his incarnation, not as being dependent on Adam’s sin, but only on the Father’s love. St Francis contemplated man as the reflection of Christ, made in his image and likeness, as we can perceive in the following quote from his Admonitions, chapter V:
Be attentive, oh man, to how many excellent things the Lord God has placed in you, since He created and formed you “to the image” of His own Beloved Son according to the body “and in (His) likeness” according to the spirit (cf. Gen 1:26).
Man has been shaped in the image of Christ. Christ is the pattern, the exemplum, man is a copy, to recall the analogy with a work of art. Hence, man depends on Christ rather than Christ on man. Who comes first then, man or Christ? Chronologically, there is first the creation of all things, with man as its apex, and then the incarnation, but ontologically – in terms of essential perfection – Christ is first, he comes before all the other things were even conceived. He is the reason why things have been conceived and made to be as they are. He is the reason why we exist and the way we are. Should we not try to deepen more this doctrine of Christocentrism and to bring it back into our theological midst? The anthropocentric vision (favoured by Vatican II and Paul VI), which has privileged man and his centrality as the way to God in Christ, even to the point of justifying an anthropological revolution in theology, has not in fact produced the fruits we had been hoping for. Today man is no longer at the centre, but nature, the trees and the flowers. If man is not for Christ, he simply is not, and with him the hierarchical order of creation collapses. Christocentrism is the only way forward for a correct anthropology and ecology.
The primacy of Mary in Christ and for Christ
What about Mary? If She is the Mother of Christ, the One who made the Incarnation possible, there is no pre-ordination of Christ without God envisaging, in his eternal order of love, his Mother too. Mary is the first idea of God the Father when planning all things in Christ. She was God’s first idea, being the same idea as the Son, Word incarnate, or the second, supposing we may temporalize this concept, coming immediately after the love of the Logos incarnate. Our Lady is in God’s original plan, in his mind – together with and in Christ – when He made all things. Mary is foreseen, foreloved and hence pre-destined with Christ to be his Mother. Therefore, as Christ holds a primacy over all creation, so does his Mother. There is a “primacy of Mary”, as a unique share in the primacy of Christ. For the fact that she is the mother of Christ, “the first born of all creation”, she participates in that “first generation” of all creation. In other words, Mary shares through Christ in the excellence of being generated first, before all others, for the sake of God’s love, as perfect resemblance ad extra of God’s love. “Jesus and Mary”, their communion in the one eternal predestining love, outside God, is the most intimate and perfect resemblance of God’s inward love. Our Lady mirrors the Most Holy Trinity, she is God’s heaven.
We can distinguish further between the ordo praedestinationis (order of predestination) and the ordo executionis (order of execution). Our Lady comes immediately after Christ in God’s ordered love and predestination since eternity. By looking from this side of heaven, it is also true that in the execution of this project of love, Mary comes first so that Christ could be in her the Word incarnate. Mary is for Christ. She comes after Him in eternity, but before Him in time. Her Fiat at the Annunciation is a manifestation of her primacy in action: her maternal love and obedience precede and so reveal God’s outpoured love in his greatest divine work, the Incarnation. Mary depends on Jesus as Jesus depends on Mary. Their primacy is a oneness: it is a sharing of love between the Mother and the Son, the Son and the Mother.
The very essence of Mary’s primacy is the mystery of her Immaculate Conception. In fact, God, in choosing pre-eminently Mary in Christ and for Christ, envisaged also the mystery of Mary as Immaculate, tota pulchra, with no stain of sin. The Immaculate Conception of the Mother was the very reason for Mary to be elected and loved in Christ. Mary was a creation all pure, all holy, as was Christ. The immaculate Lamb of God, Christ, was elected and willed together with his Immaculate Mother. One single immaculateness of the Son and of the Mother. One single love, unsullied, pure, eternal. This would have been granted to Jesus and to Mary in Jesus even if Adam and Eve had not fallen into sin. This hypothetical sentence simply intends to highlight, once again, the fittingness and the precedence of that love, and not to reduce the centrality of Christ to a mere hypothesis. Christ and his Mother – as the Franciscan School teaches – were predestined not in view of Adam and Eve, but rather Adam and Eve, as well as any other human being, were conceived in view of Christ and of his Mother. Wherever Christ is, there is also his Immaculate Mother. Christ holds the primacy over all things, and with Him, the Immaculate Mother. Jesus and Mary are the reason for man to be male and female, and for creation to be complementarity of love, a tribute of glory and adoration to God’s love. Therefore, creation depends on Jesus and Mary and never the contrary. Redemption, i.e., the rescuing of mankind from original sin, from a Franciscan perspective, is the accomplishment and the supernatural perfection of an eternal love already manifested in Creation and in the Incarnation of Christ for the maximum glory of God. Creation, Incarnation and Redemption, although distinct, are one symphony of love. Creation is in view of the Incarnation, and Incarnation is brought to its completion by the sorrowful Redemption, the “love to the end”. The golden thread tying together these distinct plans, to the point of forming an indissoluble oneness, is the proto-idea and now the proto-reality: Christ and Mary.
The Immaculata, icon of God’s communion of love
Let’s go back to a concept sketched out en passant. Mary is Immaculate for being in Christ the very icon of God’s perfect love ad intra. As Jesus, the Word incarnate, is the icon of the invisible God, so Mary is the icon of the invisible and complementary love of God, the agape. The immaculateness of Jesus and Mary ad extra shows the pure and eternal love of God within the communion of love of the Most Holy Trinity. This august privilege of being Immaculate, which was granted to Mary manifests the indissoluble union between the Son and the Mother. “Uno eodemque decreto”: with one and the same decree, says Pope Pius IX in his Bull Ineffabilis Deus, God predestined Christ to be the Word incarnate and foresaw the origin of the Blessed Virgin, Immaculate Conception in view of becoming the Theotokos.
This mystery of the Immaculate Conception of Mary was mystically intuited – much in advance – by the Seraphic Father St Francis. The Poverello in one of his Marian prayers, the Salutation of the Virgin Mary, sings the excellent privileges of the Mother of God, the “Virgin made Church”, the Immaculate as the one “in whom there was and is all fullness of grace and every good”. There was and is. In Mary there has always been that fulness of grace, that fulness of God’s love. She is full of grace to be, in the fulness of time, His tabernacle, His vestment and far more still, as St Francis says in his prayer, which goes thus:
Hail Lady, Holy Queen, Holy Mary Theotokos, who are the Virgin made church · and the one chosen by the Most Holy Father of Heaven, whom He consecrated with His Most Holy Beloved (dilectio) Son and with the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete; in whom there was and is all fullness of grace and every good. Hail His Palace; Hail His Tabernacle; Hail His Home. Hail His Vestment; Hail His Handmaid; Hail His Mother and hail all you holy virtues, which through the grace and illumination of the Holy Spirit are infused into the hearts of the faithful, so that from those unfaithful you make them faithful to God.
One final question might help us unite all in one and not merely as a speculative investigation: how can we live out this mystery of Mary’s primacy of love as Immaculate Conception in our lives? Her primacy is made visible in Mary’s Queenship. She holds a primacy because she is Queen. In Christ, the universal King, She partakes in his ruling action over all things, those in heaven and those on earth, visible and invisible. Throne, dominations, principalities and powers, all are subject to them. Should we not then cast ourselves under Mary’s dominion of love? It is only if we let Mary take possession of us, through a Marian Consecration, that the power of Christ’s love is lavished upon us. After all, it is one single primacy: Jesus reigning through Mary and Mary Immaculate, icon of unsullied love, leading us to Jesus. Living Jesus in Mary is the best plan to attain a love which has its origin in a timeless realm where the day will never fade away.