Is the Primacy of Christ in Creation an Idea which is Crucial to the New Evangelisation?

George Cardinal Pell FAITH Magazine September-October 2010

Cardinal Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, Australia, responds to two questions we posed. He explains how the primacy of Christ is a crucial part of the Church's response to today's challenges and traces its implications for seminary formation.

A. The Primacy of Christ in Creation: Vatican Council II

The primacy of Christ in creation was crucial to the aims of John XXIII and the Council fathers. One passage in particular of Gaudium et Spes highlights this truth:

"In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear. For Adam, the first man, was a type of him who was to come, Christ the Lord, Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling." {Gaudium et Spes, 22)

The connection here between the first and second Adam and its implications for a theology of creation is obvious. Adam, created by God, is real, but also a "type" - a "shadow," a "sketching" - of Christ himself. Humanity finds its source and summit in Christ himself.

In reading this passage of Gaudium et Spes it is important to take stock of the footnote. In the Flannery edition it is footnote twenty. It fills out most fittingly the typological claim. Two references are found in the footnote. Romans 5, 14 is the first. It reads:

"...Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come."

The second comes from Tertullian:

"For in all the form which was moulded in the clay, Christ was in his thoughts as the man who was to be."

In other words, it is only in Christ that we understand who man is and what he is called to be. What could be more central and meaningful for the new evangelisation? Gaudium et Spes chose to confront modern-day atheism by referring to Christ, not only as the centre, but as the fulfilment of what it means to be human. Since humanity is the pinnacle of the creative and free act of Almighty God, Christ is the primordial figure in the entire creation.

Marxists had long peddled the idea that religion was the opium of the people. What the Council fathers discovered was that in fact the Church has always had a theology and language to deal with the grave pastoral issue of atheism. The language was a person - Jesus Christ - who revealed to us not only the tenderness of the merciful Father, but the preciousness of humanity. The revelation, therefore, was two-fold. Vatican II wanted to remind Catholics and the world of this profound truth, at once so ancient and so new.

True religion, therefore, according to the teaching of Vatican II, is not some form of medication, alleviating pain and worry, but rather a profound answer not only to the perennial question concerning death (eternity), but about man (human life). The claim is that Christ is truly human and truly divine and that his appearance among us is not only as mediator of the new covenant - something only a man-God could do - but that his manifestation in the flesh is something that God has desired for humanity for all eternity.

Adam was a shadow-man, Christ the real-man. God the Father created the material and spiritual universe in and through his Word, with the precise intention that Christ was the "man who was to be". His appearing among us was thoroughly necessary, both for the forgiveness of sin (and the healing of humanity) and for the revelation of what it means to be human. Christ, the image of the Father, discloses to us what it means to be in the image and likeness of God and how we should "be what we are" in and through human action.

Not only, then, is modern atheism addressed in the most plausible of ways, but so too now is postmodernism, one of the great challenges the Church faces as the 21st century unfolds. This latter heresy is a threat that should not be underestimated. It divests the human person of any identity. In this it shares a common consequence with atheism. By attacking the notion that at the heart of the human person is a spiritual centre - what St. Thomas would call the "spiritual substance" and what John Paul II would call "self-possession" - postmodernist thought betrays the essence of humanity.

In his excellent work The Genius of John Paul II, Richard Spinello (Boston College) details three great challenges the Church is facing with respect to morality:

i)     ethical relativity and postmodern thought
ii)    proportionalism and consequentialism
iii)   false notions of freedom or autonomy.

After reviewing some postmodernist authors Spinello reaches this insightful conclusion:

"[T]he poverty of postmodern ethical relativism should be evident - a missing ethical subject and hence no possibility of genuine moral responsibility or accountability, desire as the basis for ethics, ethics as pure self-creation with the vaguest of boundaries, ethics without principle, or ethical conduct measured by how well one "copes with the flux" of the postmodern world."[1]

What can be stated clearly is that the Church's response to the grave errors of our time - atheism, relativism, postmodernism, the sexual revolution, the culture of death (abortion, euthanasia), marriage break-up and family breakdown - has been consistent from the time of the Council until now. Only in Christ - truly human and truly divine - will the Church, and thus humanity, be able to sail amidst the storm. The barque of Peter has led the way. John Paul II was persistent in directing the Church's gaze towards Christ, because Christ is the fullest revelation of what it means to be human:

"The man who wishes to understand himself thoroughly - and not just in accordance with immediate, partial, often superficial, and even illusory standards and measures of his being - he must with his unrest, uncertainty and even his weakness and sinfulness, with his life and death, draw near to Christ. He must, so to speak, enter into him with all his own self, he must "appropriate" and assimilate the whole of the reality of the Incarnation and Redemption in order to find himself. If this profound process takes place within him, he then bears fruit not only of adoration of God but also of deep wonder at himself. How precious must man be in the eyes of the Creator, if he "gained so great a Redeemer", and if God "gave his only Son in order that man "should not perish buthave eternal life"." [Redemptor Hominis, 10 - emphasis added)

B. How Seriously do Contemporary Theology and Seminary Studies take this Idea?

Pastores Dabo Vobis, published in 1992, after a Synod of Bishops that was devoted to priestly formation, is a watershed for the Church. The Church has outlined clearly that formation of priests has four foundations or pillars: human formation, spiritual formation, pastoral and apostolic formation and intellectual formation. Human formation is recognised as the basis of the others.

Talis grex qualis rex - As the leader, so the flock: the desired renewal of the Church to a large extent depends upon the renewal of the ministerial priesthood.[2] Logically, the renewal of priestly identity depends to a great extent upon seminary formation.

Human Formation at Good Shepherd Seminary

Leaving aside the mandated programme of studies required of seminarians worldwide by the Holy See, I want to focus briefly on the human formation programme now in place at Good Shepherd Seminary, Sydney, Australia.

In accord with the desire of the Church expressed in Optatam Totius, 13, and Pastores Dabo Vobis, 62, a spiritual year precedes formal intellectual education at Good Shepherd. Seminarians are immersed in the deposit of faith as expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, they undergo formation courses in Christian anthropology, psychological counselling, John Paul's Theology of the Body and Lectio Divina. The year begins with a three-day silent retreat, includes an eight-day silent retreat during Holy Week and the first few days of the Easter period, and the year culminates in a thirty-day retreat in accord with the Ignatian method. The year and the long retreat are then reviewed in a five-day period at the beginning of second year.There is little doubt that seminarians grow considerably in their knowledge of themselves and Christ during this time.

The Foundation of Human Formation

Importantly, first-year seminarians receive formation concerning the human emotions in accord with the teaching of St. Thomas' mature work - the Summa Theologica. There is now renewed interest in this section of Thomas' work and for good reason. Take for instance Robert Miner's work Thomas Aquinas on the Passions.[3] He notes that students of moral theology who are lucky enough to be exposed to Aquinas' thought will begin with study of human action, its purpose and principles. The pursuit of happiness is the hermeneutic. Then they will normally move to Thomas' treatment of habits and the virtues that will fulfil their desire for happiness.

What is missing? Aquinas' treatment of passion. Miner comments:

"For many of the same readers, nothing is more habitual than to skim through, or skip entirely, the Treatise on the Passions.' This neglect has not gone entirely unnoticed. Servais Pinckaers observes that the twenty-seven Questions containing 132 Articles on the passions comprise 'une oeuvre unique, classique trop negligee.'"[4]

Is it true that passion and emotion have nothing to do with human action? Thomas thought otherwise. Emotions are movements of the soul itself. Nowhere is this more clear than when St. Thomas treats of the emotion of love. True, we humans try to love God, says Thomas. We call this dilectio. It is important. But for Thomas, God is more interested in amor- the emotion or passion of love.

"The reason that some held that, even in the will itself, the name of amor is more divine (divinius) than the name dilectio, is that amor conveys a certain passion, chiefly according as it is in the sensitive appetite; dilectio, however, presupposes the judgment of reason. But man is more able to tend toward God through amor, drawn passively in a way by God himself, than he can lead himself to God by means of his own reason [ratio), which pertains to the character [ratio) of dilectio, as said above. And on account of this, amor is more divine than dilectio."[5]

Amor, dilectio, caritas - they are all critical in the life of Christ and of every human being. However, amor is primordial. God is able to draw us to himself through this passion of love in a most excellent and subtle way, and it takes precedent over any attempt [dilectio) that we may make in our search and striving for God. Rationalism has obscured our vision. The tradition encourages us to accept human nature as God has created it. Trying to re-fashion human nature through willpower is a doomed project - particularly in the formation of priests.

What is at stake, then, is not only the renewal of moral theology called for by the Second Vatican Council, but also the formation of young men who enter our seminaries. Young men need to know themselves, to discover themselves as men, to accept themselves as men as the basis of their formation for priestly ministry.

An example may be helpful. During a formation period at the beginning of the seminary year in 2010, Wayne Bennett - a famous professional football coach in Australia -visited the seminarians. He spoke to them about the importance of knowing oneself as the basis of any professional work. He told the story of Ian Chappell, one of Australia's past cricket captains. Chappell had some advice for an upcoming Australian cricketer years back whose name was Shane Warne. Warne went on to be Australia's highest wicket taker.

Chappell spoke with Warne at the beginning of his cricketing career. He told him that he had many talents, but that if he really wanted to be great, then it was essential that he know and understand himself. Warne reflected on the advice years later and admitted that he simply couldn't get his head around what Chappell was talking about. Warne's off-field behaviour indicated as much.

To sum up, what is being stated here is nothing more, nothing less than what the great pope expressed in Fides et Ratio. The introduction of that marvellous encyclical is headed Know Yourself and John Paul II has this to say after a few brief words about human consciousness:

"The admonition Know yourself was carved on the temple portal at Delphi, as testimony to a basic truth to be adopted as a minimal norm by those who seek to set themselves apart from the rest of creation as 'human beings', that is as those who 'know themselves.'" (Fides et Ratio, 1)

Of course the obtainment of self-knowledge is not an egotistical pursuit. Rather, its purpose is to help the seminarian to become a bridge. Pastores Dabo Vobis is clear about the matter when it notes that if the priest's ministry and mission is to be credible and acceptable "it is important that the priest should mould his human personality in such a way that it becomes a bridge and not an obstacle for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ the Redeemer of humanity".[6]

Virtue-Based Formation

The philosophical tradition has often emphasised the intellectual and volitional centre of the person. Boethius is not wrong when he says that the human person is an individual substance with a rational nature. But earlier Augustine noted that rationality serves something more foundational to the human person. The person is substantial relation. Here then is the plentiful definition of the human person. Ratzinger in his Introduction to Christianity sides with Augustine. "Christian thought," he says, "discovered the kernel of the concept of the person" and in doing so "describes something other and infinitely more than the mere idea of the 'individual.'" It is the doctrine of the Trinity that elevates human reason and metaphysical thought:

"Let us listen once again to St Augustine: 'In God there are no accidents, only substance and relation.' Therein lies concealed a revolution in man's view of the world: the undivided sway of thinking in terms of substance is ended; relation is discovered as an equally valid primordial mode of reality."[7]

This deep, abiding tradition shown forth in Augustine's thought, which Pope Benedict XVI has uncovered, is a classic example of faith elevating and purifying reason. We must be true to who we are. We are undoubtedly intelligent and volitional beings. We are rational. But we are profoundly relational, proved oddly enough, by our somatic and emotional structure. We simply cannot exist without others at our side in the most basic of human matters.


Putting it all together - body and soul - we discover the profound truth of the human person, made in the image and likeness of God. Formation that is either too intellectualised or too psychologised falls short. As always, the balance lies in the middle and that is why St. Thomas' method is crucial. It is why Augustine's insight should be pondered anew. God is subsistent relation and human beings are made in his image and likeness.

Knowledge of Christ and knowledge of self gives way to love of Christ and love of self. That is the foundation for our first year programme at Good Shepherd Seminary. Christ is the centre of our efforts, since he is the centre and fulfilment of what it means to be human.

It is from this foundation that our seminarians then progress through the following formation cycle at the seminary:

Year 2              Psychosexual Development

Year 3              Four Cardinal Virtues

Year 4              Celibacy in the Theology of the Body

Year5&6          Three Theological Virtues

Year 7              Pastoral Rule of Gregory the Great (Books 3 &4)

The human and spiritual formation of future priests is absolutely essential, since 7a//s grex qualis rex - "As the leader, so the flock." ■


[1] Richard A. Spinello, The Genius of John Paul IT. The Great Pope's Moral Wisdom (New York: Sheed & Ward, 2007), p. 39-40.
[2] Cf. Optatam Totius, Introductory Paragraph, (Vatican II: Decree on the Training of Priests, 28 October, 1965).
[3] Robert Miner, Thomas Aquinas On The Passions: A Study of Summa Theologiae 1a2ae
22-48 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).
[4] Miners, Thomas Aquinas, p. 5.

[5] Summa Theologica, I-II, Question 26, Article 3, Reply Obj 4. (As quoted in Miner).
[6] Pastores Dabo Vobis, 43.
[7] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990), p. 132.

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