Appeared in Fall 1994, Vol. XX, No. 3
The Gospel announces in its inimitable style of controlled wonder that Christ raised people from the dead when the occasion called for it. Paul suggests that Christ did even more than raise up people who had died. He implies that it was Christ who decided upon our creation, upon our coming to life in the first place.
Ashen corpses sprang to life, glazed eyes opened and blinked, when Christ called out: “Talitha kumi”; or, “Young man, I say to you, arise”; or “Lazarus, come forth.” Paul excites our wonder equally by his fleeting revelation that God brought life to our bodies in the first place through Christ Jesus, ‘ere time began.
We know indeed that the human nature of Christ did not exist outside of its causes before the happy event of the Incarnation; before that historic moment celebrated by the entrance song of the Second Sunday after Christmas: “When peaceful silence lay over all, and night had run half of her swift course, your all-powerful word, 0 Lord, leaped down from heaven.” Yet we also know that the Church recognizes that Christ worked even before His birth into the confines of time. The prime example of this is Mary’s Immaculate Conception: before Christ was conceived, He already sanctified His Mother. “By a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, in virtue of the merits of Christ Jesus, the Savior of the human race” (DS 1641) she was conceived Immaculate. Indeed, all peoples since Adam who received grace, received it through Christ (see e.g. Heb 11:39-40; Reading, Liturgical Hours, Holy Saturday). And Paul tells us that the spiritual Rock from which the Israelites drank during their desert wanderings was none other than Christ (1 Cor 10:4).
Peter informs us that Christ was active in the Old Testament prophets through the Spirit which He gave to them: “They investigated the times and the circumstances which the Spirit of Christ within them was pointing to, for he predicted the sufferings destined for Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Pet 1:11). In other words, the Spirit, whose salvific works were to be merited by Christ to do the works of salvation in the Old Testament times, did not wait to do these works until Christ was born in time. The gifts of the Spirit, still to be merited by Christ, were already inspiring the prophets who foresaw Christ’s life.
At Birth, Christ Knew His Past Record
Christ’s comprehensive knowledge of the universe from the time of the Incarnation made Him humanly aware of the work which His soon-to-be-acquired merits had already done in the past; we likewise conclude that He offered Himself freely to accept God’s will in this respect retroactively (cf. Heb 10:5-7; 5:7). St. Thomas observes that Christ, in His created human nature, comprehended the entire cosmos by way of the beatific vision, and by the light of created infused knowledge (see Summa Theologica III, 9:3; 10:2-3; 11:2,5; see discussion in the The Priest, Sept. 1993). His knowledge thus comprehended all things created from the beginning of time; this necessarily included, therefore, all the salvific activities which He had been performing, through the power of the Spirit, long before He saw the light of day in Bethlehem. He recognized and approved now, after His birth, all the works which He already performed since the beginning of time. He Himself was the raison d’etreof this universe into which He now entered with a human body and soul.
Christ: The Alpha and Omega of Creation
Paul instructs us that God made our existence take its origin in Christ Jesus as.our Alpha; that God created all things in and through the First Born, the Incarnate Christ; through that same Christ who is now fully in charge of this universe; who, when He will finalize His work of submitting the cosmos to Himself, will deliver it back to God: “When everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will [also] be subjected to the One who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all” (1 Cor 14:28).