QUESTION 1: OF THE FITNESS OF THE INCARNATION
Concerning the first, three things occur to be considered: first, the
fitness of the Incarnation; secondly, the mode of union of the Word
Incarnate; thirdly, what follows this union.
Under the first head there are six points of inquiry:
(1) Whether it is fitting for God to become incarnate?
(2) Whether it was necessary for the restoration of the human race?
(3) Whether if there had been no sin God would have become incarnate?
(4) Whether He became incarnate to take away original sin rather than
(5) Whether it was fitting for God to become incarnate from the
beginning of the world?
(6) Whether His Incarnation ought to have been deferred to the end of
Article 1: Whether it was fitting that God should become incarnate?
Objection 1: It would seem that it was not fitting for God to become
incarnate. Since God from all eternity is the very essence of goodness,
it was best for Him to be as He had been from all eternity. But from all
eternity He had been without flesh. Therefore it was most fitting for Him
not to be united to flesh. Therefore it was not fitting for God to become
Objection 2: Further, it is not fitting to unite things that are infinitely
apart, even as it would not be a fitting union if one were "to paint a
figure in which the neck of a horse was joined to the head of a man"
[*Horace, Ars. Poet., line 1]. But God and flesh are infinitely apart;
since God is most simple, and flesh is most composite---especially human
flesh. Therefore it was not fitting that God should be united to human
Objection 3: Further, a body is as distant from the highest spirit as evil is
from the highest good. But it was wholly unfitting that God, Who is the
highest good, should assume evil. Therefore it was not fitting that the
highest uncreated spirit should assume a body.
Objection 4: Further, it is not becoming that He Who surpassed the greatest
things should be contained in the least, and He upon Whom rests the care
of great things should leave them for lesser things. But God---Who takes
care of the whole world---the whole universe of things cannot contain.
Therefore it would seem unfitting that "He should be hid under the frail
body of a babe in swathing bands, in comparison with Whom the whole
universe is accounted as little; and that this Prince should quit His
throne for so long, and transfer the government of the whole world to so
frail a body," as Volusianus writes to Augustine (Ep. cxxxv).
On the contrary, It would seem most fitting that by visible things the
invisible things of God should be made known; for to this end was the
whole world made, as is clear from the word of the Apostle (Rm. 1:20):
"For the invisible things of God . . . are clearly seen, being understood
by the things that are made." But, as Damascene says (De Fide Orth. iii,
1), by the mystery of the Incarnation are made known at once the
goodness, the wisdom, the justice, and the power or might of God---"His
goodness, for He did not despise the weakness of His own handiwork; His
justice, since, on man's defeat, He caused the tyrant to be overcome by
none other than man, and yet He did not snatch men forcibly from death;
His wisdom, for He found a suitable discharge for a most heavy debt; His
power, or infinite might, for there is nothing greater than for God to
become incarnate . . ."
I answer that, To each things, that is befitting which belongs to it by
reason of its very nature; thus, to reason befits man, since this belongs
to him because he is of a rational nature. But the very nature of God is
goodness, as is clear from Dionysius (Div. Nom. i). Hence, what belongs
to the essence of goodness befits God. But it belongs to the essence of
goodness to communicate itself to others, as is plain from Dionysius
(Div. Nom. iv). Hence it belongs to the essence of the highest good to
communicate itself in the highest manner to the creature, and this is
brought about chiefly by "His so joining created nature to Himself that
one Person is made up of these three---the Word, a soul and flesh," as
Augustine says (De Trin. xiii). Hence it is manifest that it was fitting
that God should become incarnate.
Reply to Objection 1: The mystery of the Incarnation was not completed through
God being changed in any way from the state in which He had been from
eternity, but through His having united Himself to the creature in a new
way, or rather through having united it to Himself. But it is fitting
that a creature which by nature is mutable, should not always be in one
way. And therefore, as the creature began to be, although it had not been
before, so likewise, not having been previously united to God in Person,
it was afterwards united to Him.
Reply to Objection 2: To be united to God in unity of person was not fitting to
human flesh, according to its natural endowments, since it was above its
dignity; nevertheless, it was fitting that God, by reason of His infinite
goodness, should unite it to Himself for man's salvation.
Reply to Objection 3: Every mode of being wherein any creature whatsoever differs
from the Creator has been established by God's wisdom, and is ordained to
God's goodness. For God, Who is uncreated, immutable, and incorporeal,
produced mutable and corporeal creatures for His own goodness. And so
also the evil of punishment was established by God's justice for God's
glory. But evil of fault is committed by withdrawing from the art of the
Divine wisdom and from the order of the Divine goodness. And therefore it
could be fitting to God to assume a nature created, mutable, corporeal,
and subject to penalty, but it did not become Him to assume the evil of
Reply to Objection 4: As Augustine replies (Ep. ad Volusian. cxxxvii): "The
Christian doctrine nowhere holds that God was so joined to human flesh as
either to desert or lose, or to transfer and as it were, contract within
this frail body, the care of governing the universe. This is the thought
of men unable to see anything but corporeal things . . . God is great not
in mass, but in might. Hence the greatness of His might feels no straits
in narrow surroundings. Nor, if the passing word of a man is heard at
once by many, and wholly by each, is it incredible that the abiding Word
of God should be everywhere at once?" Hence nothing unfitting arises from
God becoming incarnate.
Article 2: Whether it was necessary for the restoration of the human race that the Word of God should become incarnate?
Objection 1: It would seem that it was not necessary for the reparation of the
human race that the Word of God should become incarnate. For since the
Word of God is perfect God, as has been said (FP, Question , Articles ,2), no
power was added to Him by the assumption of flesh. Therefore, if the
incarnate Word of God restored human nature. He could also have restored
it without assuming flesh.
Objection 2: Further, for the restoration of human nature, which had fallen
through sin, nothing more is required than that man should satisfy for
sin. Now man can satisfy, as it would seem, for sin; for God cannot
require from man more than man can do, and since He is more inclined to
be merciful than to punish, as He lays the act of sin to man's charge,
so He ought to credit him with the contrary act. Therefore it was not
necessary for the restoration of human nature that the Word of God should
Objection 3: Further, to revere God pertains especially to man's salvation;
hence it is written (Mal. 1:6): "If, then, I be a father, where is my
honor? and if I be a master, where is my fear?" But men revere God the
more by considering Him as elevated above all, and far beyond man's
senses, hence (Ps. 112:4) it is written: "The Lord is high above all
nations, and His glory above the heavens"; and farther on: "Who is as the
Lord our God?" which pertains to reverence. Therefore it would seem
unfitting to man's salvation that God should be made like unto us by
On the contrary, What frees the human race from perdition is necessary
for the salvation of man. But the mystery of the Incarnation is such;
according to Jn. 3:16: "God so loved the world as to give His
only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him may not perish, but
may have life everlasting." Therefore it was necessary for man's
salvation that God should become incarnate.
I answer that, A thing is said to be necessary for a certain end in two
ways. First, when the end cannot be without it; as food is necessary for
the preservation of human life. Secondly, when the end is attained better
and more conveniently, as a horse is necessary for a journey. In the
first way it was not necessary that God should become incarnate for the
restoration of human nature. For God with His omnipotent power could have
restored human nature in many other ways. But in the second way it was
necessary that God should become incarnate for the restoration of human
nature. Hence Augustine says (De Trin. xii, 10): "We shall also show that
other ways were not wanting to God, to Whose power all things are equally
subject; but that there was not a more fitting way of healing our misery."
Now this may be viewed with respect to our "furtherance in good." First,
with regard to faith, which is made more certain by believing God Himself
Who speaks; hence Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xi, 2): "In order that man
might journey more trustfully toward the truth, the Truth itself, the Son
of God, having assumed human nature, established and founded faith."
Secondly, with regard to hope, which is thereby greatly strengthened;
hence Augustine says (De Trin. xiii): "Nothing was so necessary for
raising our hope as to show us how deeply God loved us. And what could
afford us a stronger proof of this than that the Son of God should become
a partner with us of human nature?" Thirdly, with regard to charity,
which is greatly enkindled by this; hence Augustine says (De Catech.
Rudib. iv): "What greater cause is there of the Lord's coming than to
show God's love for us?" And he afterwards adds: "If we have been slow to
love, at least let us hasten to love in return." Fourthly, with regard to
well-doing, in which He set us an example; hence Augustine says in a
sermon (xxii de Temp.): "Man who might be seen was not to be followed;
but God was to be followed, Who could not be seen. And therefore God was
made man, that He Who might be seen by man, and Whom man might follow,
might be shown to man." Fifthly, with regard to the full participation of
the Divinity, which is the true bliss of man and end of human life; and
this is bestowed upon us by Christ's humanity; for Augustine says in a
sermon (xiii de Temp.): "God was made man, that man might be made God."
So also was this useful for our "withdrawal from evil." First, because
man is taught by it not to prefer the devil to himself, nor to honor him
who is the author of sin; hence Augustine says (De Trin. xiii, 17):
"Since human nature is so united to God as to become one person, let not
these proud spirits dare to prefer themselves to man, because they have
no bodies." Secondly, because we are thereby taught how great is man's
dignity, lest we should sully it with sin; hence Augustine says (De Vera
Relig. xvi): "God has proved to us how high a place human nature holds
amongst creatures, inasmuch as He appeared to men as a true man." And
Pope Leo says in a sermon on the Nativity (xxi): "Learn, O Christian, thy
worth; and being made a partner of the Divine nature, refuse to return by
evil deeds to your former worthlessness." Thirdly, because, "in order to
do away with man's presumption, the grace of God is commended in Jesus
Christ, though no merits of ours went before," as Augustine says (De
Trin. xiii, 17). Fourthly, because "man's pride, which is the greatest
stumbling-block to our clinging to God, can be convinced and cured by
humility so great," as Augustine says in the same place. Fifthly, in
order to free man from the thraldom of sin, which, as Augustine says (De
Trin. xiii, 13), "ought to be done in such a way that the devil should be
overcome by the justice of the man Jesus Christ," and this was done by
Christ satisfying for us. Now a mere man could not have satisfied for the
whole human race, and God was not bound to satisfy; hence it behooved
Jesus Christ to be both God and man. Hence Pope Leo says in the same
sermon: "Weakness is assumed by strength, lowliness by majesty, mortality
by eternity, in order that one and the same Mediator of God and men might
die in one and rise in the other---for this was our fitting remedy.
Unless He was God, He would not have brought a remedy; and unless He was
man, He would not have set an example."
And there are very many other advantages which accrued, above man's
Reply to Objection 1: This reason has to do with the first kind of necessity,
without which we cannot attain to the end.
Reply to Objection 2: Satisfaction may be said to be sufficient in two
ways---first, perfectly, inasmuch as it is condign, being adequate to
make good the fault committed, and in this way the satisfaction of a mere
man cannot be sufficient for sin, both because the whole of human nature
has been corrupted by sin, whereas the goodness of any person or persons
could not be made up adequately for the harm done to the whole of the
nature; and also because a sin committed against God has a kind of
infinity from the infinity of the Divine majesty, because the greater the
person we offend, the more grievous the offense. Hence for condign
satisfaction it was necessary that the act of the one satisfying should
have an infinite efficiency, as being of God and man. Secondly, man's
satisfaction may be termed sufficient, imperfectly---i.e. in the
acceptation of him who is content with it, even though it is not condign,
and in this way the satisfaction of a mere man is sufficient. And
forasmuch as every imperfect presupposes some perfect thing, by which it
is sustained, hence it is that satisfaction of every mere man has its
efficiency from the satisfaction of Christ.
Reply to Objection 3: By taking flesh, God did not lessen His majesty; and in
consequence did not lessen the reason for reverencing Him, which is
increased by the increase of knowledge of Him. But, on the contrary,
inasmuch as He wished to draw nigh to us by taking flesh, He greatly drew
us to know Him.
Article 3: Whether, if man had not sinned, God would have become incarnate?
Objection 1: It would seem that if man had not sinned, God would still have
become incarnate. For the cause remaining, the effect also remains. But
as Augustine says (De Trin. xiii, 17): "Many other things are to be
considered in the Incarnation of Christ besides absolution from sin"; and
these were discussed above (Article ). Therefore if man had not sinned, God
would have become incarnate.
Objection 2: Further, it belongs to the omnipotence of the Divine power to
perfect His works, and to manifest Himself by some infinite effect. But
no mere creature can be called an infinite effect, since it is finite of
its very essence. Now, seemingly, in the work of the Incarnation alone is
an infinite effect of the Divine power manifested in a special manner by
which power things infinitely distant are united, inasmuch as it has been
brought about that man is God. And in this work especially the universe
would seem to be perfected, inasmuch as the last creature---viz. man---is
united to the first principle---viz. God. Therefore, even if man had not
sinned, God would have become incarnate.
Objection 3: Further, human nature has not been made more capable of grace by
sin. But after sin it is capable of the grace of union, which is the
greatest grace. Therefore, if man had not sinned, human nature would have
been capable of this grace; nor would God have withheld from human nature
any good it was capable of. Therefore, if man had not sinned, God would
have become incarnate.
Objection 4: Further, God's predestination is eternal. But it is said of
Christ (Rm. 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.
Objection 5: Further, the mystery of the Incarnation was revealed to the first
man, as is plain from Gn. 2:23. "This now is bone of my bones," etc.
which the Apostle says is "a great sacrament . . . in Christ and in the
Church," as is plain from Eph. 5:32. But man could not be fore-conscious
of his fall, for the same reason that the angels could not, as Augustine
proves (Gen. ad lit. xi, 18). Therefore, even if man had not sinned, God
would have become incarnate.
On the contrary, Augustine says (De Verb. Apost. viii, 2), expounding
what is set down in Lk. 19:10, "For the Son of Man is come to seek and to
save that which was lost"; "Therefore, if man had not sinned, the Son of
Man would not have come." And on 1 Tim. 1:15, "Christ Jesus came into
this world to save sinners," a gloss says, "There was no cause of
Christ's coming into the world, except to save sinners. Take away
diseases, take away wounds, and there is no need of medicine."
I answer that, There are different opinions about this question. For
some say that even if man had not sinned, the Son of Man would have
become incarnate. Others assert the contrary, and seemingly our assent
ought rather to be given to this opinion.
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 the Incarnation, it is more in accordance with this to
say that the work of the Incarnation was ordained by God as a remedy for
sin; so that, had sin not existed, the 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.
Reply to Objection 1: All the other causes which are assigned in the preceding
article have to do with a remedy for sin. For if man had not sinned, he
would have been endowed with the light of Divine wisdom, and would have
been perfected by God with the righteousness of justice in order to know
and carry out everything needful. But because man, on deserting God, had
stooped to corporeal things, it was necessary that God should take flesh,
and by corporeal things should afford him the remedy of salvation. Hence,
on Jn. 1:14, "And the Word was made flesh," St. Augustine says (Tract.
ii): "Flesh had blinded thee, flesh heals thee; for Christ came and
overthrew the vices of the flesh."
Reply to Objection 2: The infinity of Divine power is shown in the mode of
production of things from nothing. Again, it suffices for the perfection
of the universe that the creature be ordained in a natural manner to God
as to an end. But that a creature should be united to God in person
exceeds the limits of the perfection of nature.
Reply to Objection 3: A double capability may be remarked in human nature: one,
in respect of the order of natural power, and this is always fulfilled by
God, Who apportions to each according to its natural capability; the
other in respect to the order of the Divine power, which all creatures
implicitly obey; and the capability we speak of pertains to this. But God
does not fulfil all such capabilities, otherwise God could do only what
He has done in creatures, and this is false, as stated above (FP, Question , Article ). But there is no reason why human nature should not have been
raised to something greater after sin. For God allows evils to happen in
order to bring a greater good therefrom; hence it is written (Rm. 5:20):
"Where sin abounded, grace did more abound." Hence, too, in the blessing
of the Paschal candle, we say: "O happy fault, that merited such and so
great a Redeemer!"
Reply to Objection 4: 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 the Incarnation to be the remedy of human sin.
Reply to Objection 5: Nothing prevents an effect from being revealed to one to
whom the cause is not revealed. Hence, the mystery of the Incarnation
could be revealed to the first man without his being fore-conscious of
his fall. For not everyone who knows the effect knows the cause.
Article 4: Whether God became incarnate in order to take away actual sin, rather than to take away original sin?
Objection 1: It would seem that God became incarnate as a remedy for actual
sins rather than for original sin. For the more grievous the sin, the
more it runs counter to man's salvation, for which God became incarnate.
But actual sin is more grievous than original sin; for the lightest
punishment is due to original sin, as Augustine says (Contra Julian. v,
11). Therefore the Incarnation of Christ is chiefly directed to taking
away actual sins.
Objection 2: Further, pain of sense is not due to original sin, but merely
pain of loss, as has been shown (FS, Question , Article ). But Christ came to
suffer the pain of sense on the Cross in satisfaction for sins---and not
the pain of loss, for He had no defect of either the beatific vision or
fruition. Therefore He came in order to take away actual sin rather than
Objection 3: Further, as Chrysostom says (De Compunctione Cordis ii, 3): "This
must be the mind of the faithful servant, to account the benefits of his
Lord, which have been bestowed on all alike, as though they were bestowed
on himself alone. For as if speaking of himself alone, Paul writes to the
Galatians 2:20: 'Christ . . . loved me and delivered Himself for me.'"
But our individual sins are actual sins; for original sin is the common
sin. Therefore we ought to have this conviction, so as to believe that He
has come chiefly for actual sins.
On the contrary, It is written (Jn. 1:29): "Behold the Lamb of God,
behold Him Who taketh away the sins [Vulg.: 'sin'] of the world."
I answer that, It is certain that Christ came into this world not only
to take away that sin which is handed on originally to posterity, but
also in order to take away all sins subsequently added to it; not that
all are taken away (and this is from men's fault, inasmuch as they do not
adhere to Christ, according to Jn. 3:19: "The light is come into the
world, and men loved darkness rather than the light"), but because He
offered what was sufficient for blotting out all sins. Hence it is
written (Rm. 5:15-16): "But not as the offense, so also the gift . . .
For judgment indeed was by one unto condemnation, but grace is of many
offenses unto justification."
Moreover, the more grievous the sin, the more particularly did Christ
come to blot it out. But "greater" is said in two ways: in one way
"intensively," as a more intense whiteness is said to be greater, and in
this way actual sin is greater than original sin; for it has more of the
nature of voluntary, as has been shown (FS, Question , Article ). In another way
a thing is said to be greater "extensively," as whiteness on a greater
superficies is said to be greater; and in this way original sin, whereby
the whole human race is infected, is greater than any actual sin, which
is proper to one person. And in this respect Christ came principally to
take away original sin, inasmuch as "the good of the race is a more
Divine thing than the good of an individual," as is said Ethic. i, 2.
Reply to Objection 1: This reason looks to the intensive greatness of sin.
Reply to Objection 2: In the future award the pain of sense will not be meted out
to original sin. Yet the penalties, such as hunger, thirst, death, and
the like, which we suffer sensibly in this life flow from original sin.
And hence Christ, in order to satisfy fully for original sin, wished to
suffer sensible pain, that He might consume death and the like in Himself.
Reply to Objection 3: Chrysostom says (De Compunctione Cordis ii, 6): "The
Apostle used these words, not as if wishing to diminish Christ's gifts,
ample as they are, and spreading throughout the whole world, but that he
might account himself alone the occasion of them. For what does it matter
that they are given to others, if what are given to you are as complete
and perfect as if none of them were given to another than yourself?" And
hence, although a man ought to account Christ's gifts as given to
himself, yet he ought not to consider them not to be given to others. And
thus we do not exclude that He came to wipe away the sin of the whole
nature rather than the sin of one person. But the sin of the nature is as
perfectly healed in each one as if it were healed in him alone. Hence, on
account of the union of charity, what is vouchsafed to all ought to be
accounted his own by each one.
Article 5: Whether it was fitting that God should become incarnate in the beginning of the human race?
Objection 1: It would seem that it was fitting that God should become
incarnate in the beginning of the human race. For the work of the
Incarnation sprang from the immensity of Divine charity, according to
Eph. 2:4,5: "But God (Who is rich in mercy), for His exceeding charity
wherewith He loved us . . . even when we were dead in sins, hath
quickened us together in Christ." But charity does not tarry in bringing
assistance to a friend who is suffering need, according to Prov. 3:28:
"Say not to thy friend: Go, and come again, and tomorrow I will give to
thee, when thou canst give at present." Therefore God ought not to have
put off the work of the Incarnation, but ought thereby to have brought
relief to the human race from the beginning.
Objection 2: Further, it is written (1 Tim. 1:15): "Christ Jesus came into
this world to save sinners." But more would have been saved had God
become incarnate at the beginning of the human race; for in the various
centuries very many, through not knowing God, perished in their sin.
Therefore it was fitting that God should become incarnate at the
beginning of the human race.
Objection 3: Further, the work of grace is not less orderly than the work of
nature. But nature takes its rise with the more perfect, as Boethius says
(De Consol. iii). Therefore the work of Christ ought to have been perfect
from the beginning. But in the work of the Incarnation we see the
perfection of grace, according to Jn. 1:14: "The Word was made flesh";
and afterwards it is added: "Full of grace and truth." Therefore Christ
ought to have become incarnate at the beginning of the human race.
On the contrary, It is written (Gal. 4:4): "But when the fulness of the
time was come, God sent His Son, made of a woman, made under the law":
upon which a gloss says that "the fulness of the time is when it was
decreed by God the Father to send His Son." But God decreed everything by
His wisdom. Therefore God became incarnate at the most fitting time; and
it was not fitting that God should become incarnate at the beginning of
the human race.
I answer that, Since the work of the Incarnation is principally ordained
to the restoration of the human race by blotting out sin, it is manifest
that it was not fitting for God to become incarnate at the beginning of
the human race before sin. For medicine is given only to the sick. Hence
our Lord Himself says (Mt. 9:12,13): "They that are in health need not a
physician, but they that are ill . . . For I am not come to call the
just, but sinners."
Nor was it fitting that God should become incarnate immediately after
sin. First, on account of the manner of man's sin, which had come of
pride; hence man was to be liberated in such a manner that he might be
humbled, and see how he stood in need of a deliverer. Hence on the words
in Gal. 3:19, "Being ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator," a
gloss says: "With great wisdom was it so ordered that the Son of Man
should not be sent immediately after man's fall. For first of all God
left man under the natural law, with the freedom of his will, in order
that he might know his natural strength; and when he failed in it, he
received the law; whereupon, by the fault, not of the law, but of his
nature, the disease gained strength; so that having recognized his
infirmity he might cry out for a physician, and beseech the aid of grace."
Secondly, on account of the order of furtherance in good, whereby we
proceed from imperfection to perfection. Hence the Apostle says (1 Cor. 15:46,47): "Yet that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is
natural; afterwards that which is spiritual . . . The first man was of
the earth, earthy; the second man from heaven, heavenly."
Thirdly, on account of the dignity of the incarnate Word, for on the
words (Gal. 4:4), "But when the fulness of the time was come," a gloss
says: "The greater the judge who was coming, the more numerous was the
band of heralds who ought to have preceded him."
Fourthly, lest the fervor of faith should cool by the length of time,
for the charity of many will grow cold at the end of the world. Hence
(Lk. 18:8) it is written: "But yet the Son of Man, when He cometh, shall
He find think you, faith on earth?"
Reply to Objection 1: Charity does not put off bringing assistance to a friend:
always bearing in mind the circumstances as well as the state of the
persons. For if the physician were to give the medicine at the very
outset of the ailment, it would do less good, and would hurt rather than
benefit. And hence the Lord did not bestow upon the human race the remedy
of the Incarnation in the beginning, lest they should despise it through
pride, if they did not already recognize their disease.
Reply to Objection 2: Augustine replies to this (De Sex Quest. Pagan., Ep. cii),
saying (Question ) that "Christ wished to appear to man and to have His
doctrine preached to them when and where He knew those were who would
believe in Him. But in such times and places as His Gospel was not
preached He foresaw that not all, indeed, but many would so bear
themselves towards His preaching as not to believe in His corporeal
presence, even were He to raise the dead." But the same Augustine, taking
exception to this reply in his book (De Perseverantia ix), says: "How can
we say the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon would not believe when such
great wonders were wrought in their midst, or would not have believed had
they been wrought, when God Himself bears witness that they would have
done penance with great humility if these signs of Divine power had been
wrought in their midst?" And he adds in answer (De Perseverantia xi):
"Hence, as the Apostle says (Rm. 9:16), 'it is not of him that willeth
nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy'; Who (succors
whom He will of) those who, as He foresaw, would believe in His miracles
if wrought amongst them, (while others) He succors not, having judged
them in His predestination secretly yet justly. Therefore let us
unshrinkingly believe His mercy to be with those who are set free, and
His truth with those who are condemned." [*The words in brackets are not
in the text of St. Augustine].
Reply to Objection 3: Perfection is prior to imperfection, both in time and
nature, in things that are different (for what brings others to
perfection must itself be perfect); but in one and the same, imperfection
is prior in time though posterior in nature. And thus the eternal
perfection of God precedes in duration the imperfection of human nature;
but the latter's ultimate perfection in union with God follows.
Article 6: Whether the Incarnation ought to have been put off till the end of the world?
Objection 1: It would seem that the work of the Incarnation ought to have been
put off till the end of the world. For it is written (Ps. 91:11): "My old
age in plentiful mercy"---i.e. "in the last days," as a gloss says. But
the time of the Incarnation is especially the time of mercy, according to
Ps. 101:14: "For it is time to have mercy on it." Therefore the
Incarnation ought to have been put off till the end of the world.
Objection 2: Further, as has been said (Article , ad 3), in the same subject,
perfection is subsequent in time to imperfection. Therefore, what is most
perfect ought to be the very last in time. But the highest perfection of
human nature is in the union with the Word, because "in Christ it hath
pleased the Father that all the fulness of the Godhead should dwell," as
the Apostle says (Col. 1:19, and 2:9). Therefore the Incarnation ought to
have been put off till the end of the world.
Objection 3: Further, what can be done by one ought not to be done by two. But
the one coming of Christ at the end of the world was sufficient for the
salvation of human nature. Therefore it was not necessary for Him to come
beforehand in His Incarnation; and hence the Incarnation ought to have
been put off till the end of the world.
On the contrary, It is written (Hab. 3:2): "In the midst of the years
Thou shalt make it known." Therefore the mystery of the Incarnation which
was made known to the world ought not to have been put off till the end
of the world.
I answer that, As it was not fitting that God should become incarnate at
the beginning of the world, so also it was not fitting that the
Incarnation should be put off till the end of the world. And this is
shown first from the union of the Divine and human nature. For, as it has
been said (Article , ad 3), perfection precedes imperfection in time in one
way, and contrariwise in another way imperfection precedes perfection.
For in that which is made perfect from being imperfect, imperfection
precedes perfection in time, whereas in that which is the efficient cause
of perfection, perfection precedes imperfection in time. Now in the work
of the Incarnation both concur; for by the Incarnation human nature is
raised to its highest perfection; and in this way it was not becoming
that the Incarnation should take place at the beginning of the human
race. And the Word incarnate is the efficient cause of the perfection of
human nature, according to Jn. 1:16: "Of His fulness we have all
received"; and hence the work of the Incarnation ought not to have been
put off till the end of the world. But the perfection of glory to which
human nature is to be finally raised by the Word Incarnate will be at the
end of the world.
Secondly, from the effect of man's salvation; for, as is said Qq. Vet et
Nov. Test., qu. 83, "it is in the power of the Giver to have pity when,
or as much as, He wills. Hence He came when He knew it was fitting to
succor, and when His boons would be welcome. For when by the feebleness
of the human race men's knowledge of God began to grow dim and their
morals lax, He was pleased to choose Abraham as a standard of the
restored knowledge of God and of holy living; and later on when reverence
grew weaker, He gave the law to Moses in writing; and because the
gentiles despised it and would not take it upon themselves, and they who
received it would not keep it, being touched with pity, God sent His Son,
to grant to all remission of their sin and to offer them, justified, to
God the Father." But if this remedy had been put off till the end of the
world, all knowledge and reverence of God and all uprightness of morals
would have been swept away from the earth.
Thirdly, this appears fitting to the manifestation of the Divine power,
which has saved men in several ways---not only by faith in some future
thing, but also by faith in something present and past.
Reply to Objection 1: This gloss has in view the mercy of God, which leads us to
glory. Nevertheless, if it is referred to the mercy shown the human race
by the Incarnation of Christ, we must reflect that, as Augustine says
(Retract. i), the time of the Incarnation may be compared to the youth of
the human race, "on account of the strength and fervor of faith, which
works by charity"; and to old age---i.e. the sixth age---on account of
the number of centuries, for Christ came in the sixth age. And although
youth and old age cannot be together in a body, yet they can be together
in a soul, the former on account of quickness, the latter on account of
gravity. And hence Augustine says elsewhere (Qq. lxxxiii, qu. 44) that
"it was not becoming that the Master by Whose imitation the human race
was to be formed to the highest virtue should come from heaven, save in
the time of youth." But in another work (De Gen. cont. Manich. i, 23) he
says: that Christ came in the sixth age---i.e. in the old age---of the
Reply to Objection 2: The work of the Incarnation is to be viewed not as merely
the terminus of a movement from imperfection to perfection, but also as
a principle of perfection to human nature, as has been said.
Reply to Objection 3: As Chrysostom says on Jn. 3:11, "For God sent not His Son
into the world to judge the world" (Hom. xxviii): "There are two comings
of Christ: the first, for the remission of sins; the second, to judge the
world. For if He had not done so, all would have perished together, since
all have sinned and need the glory of God." Hence it is plain that He
ought not to have put off the coming in mercy till the end of the world.