In Catholic doctrine, both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition teach that Jesus Christ died specifically for the expiation of our sins. Historical Christianity professes that God became a man by way of Incarnation to restore man's fallen nature to full communion with the Godhead.

Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. (Romans 5:18)

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life."For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.… (John 3:16)

The Nicene-Constantinopalitan Creed professes:

...for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man..

The current Catholic Catechism states about man's specific responsibility for "nailing" Jesus to the Cross with our sin:

All sinners were the authors of Christ's Passion

Paragraph 598 In her Magisterial teaching of the faith and in the witness of her saints, the Church has never forgotten that "sinners were the authors and the ministers of all the sufferings that the divine Redeemer endured." Taking into account the fact that our sins affect Christ himself, the Church does not hesitate to impute to Christians the gravest responsibility for the torments inflicted upon Jesus, a responsibility with which they have all too often burdened the Jews alone:

We must regard as guilty all those who continue to relapse into their sins. Since our sins made the Lord Christ suffer the torment of the cross, those who plunge themselves into disorders and crimes crucify the Son of God anew in their hearts (for he is in them) and hold him up to contempt. And it can be seen that our crime in this case is greater in us than in the Jews. As for them, according to the witness of the Apostle, "None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." We, however, profess to know him. And when we deny him by our deeds, we in some way seem to lay violent hands on him.(1)

Nor did demons crucify him; it is you who have crucified him and crucify him still, when you delight in your vices and sins.(2)

  1. Roman Catechism I, 5, 11; cf. Heb 6:6; 1 Cor 2:8.
  2. St. Francis of Assisi, Admonitio 5, 3.

The Church also teaches that God gave man free will...beginning with Adam.


Paragraph 1730 God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. "God willed that man should be 'left in the hand of his own counsel,' so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him."(1)

Man is rational and therefore like God; he is created with free will and is master over his acts.(2)


Paragraph 397 Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God's command. This is what man's first sin consisted of.(3) All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness.

Paragraph 398 In that sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good. Constituted in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully "divinized" by God in glory. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to "be like God", but "without God, before God, and not in accordance with God".(4)

  1. GS 17; Sir 15:14.
  2. St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 4,4,3:PG 7/1,983.
  3. Cf. Gen 3:1-11; Rom 5:19.
  4. St. Maximus the Confessor, Ambigua: PG 91,1156C; cf. Gen 3:5.

However, paradoxically speaking...

Scripture also explicitly teaches that Jesus Christ is God - who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. (John 1:1-2)

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

The Miaphysite heresy - which holds that the human nature and pre-incarnate divine nature of Christ were united as one divine human nature from the point of the Incarnation onward - was officially denounced at the Council of Chalcedon.

The Confession of Chalcedon provides a clear statement on the human and divine nature of Christ:

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach people to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; (ν δύο φύσεσιν συγχύτως, τρέπτως, διαιρέτως, χωρίστως – in duabus naturis inconfuse, immutabiliter, indivise, inseparabiliter) the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person (prosopon) and one Subsistence (hypostasis), not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten God (μονογεν Θεόν), the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

Considering all this...it seems to me that, although the Incarnation is a temporally necessary for Man's salvation, it ultimately is eternal in essence since the essence of God eternally transcends time.


If Adam, by exercising his free will, had chosen not to partake of the forbidden fruit (a.k.a. Original Sin), would the Incarnation still have taken place due to God's omnipresence?

I'm looking for authoritative Catholic/Orthodox teaching about this subject.

  • 2
    I am reminded of the Easter Exsultet: "O happy fault! O necessary sin of Adam!" and I suspect that there has been nothing written about "What if" at all. That said, my opinion is that the Incarnation would not have been required, because God already walked with Man and he would never have been separated at all and require redemption. Oct 17, 2013 at 6:20
  • This is an extremely hard subject to find in the teaching of the holy fathers or in the ecumenical council. Do you know if they actually even thought about this? I can find things that have to do with him being incarnate, yet this question seems never to have been discussed in the earlier church.
    – Byzantine
    Oct 17, 2013 at 13:55
  • @Byzantine I can find tons of writings that defend the Hypostatic union's definition...but nothing precisely about whether or not the incarnation is an eternal reality that ultimately transcends time.
    – user5286
    Oct 17, 2013 at 15:19
  • "For the kingdom of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is one, even as their substance is one and their dominion one. Whence also, with one and the same adoration, we worship the one Deity in three Persons, subsisting without beginning, uncreate, without end, and to which there is no successor. For neither will the Father ever cease to be the Father, nor again the Son to be the Son and King, nor the Holy Ghost to be what in substance and personality He is." Methodius, Oration on the Palms, 4 (A.D. 305).
    – user5286
    Oct 17, 2013 at 15:19

2 Answers 2


St Thomas Aquinas asks in Summa Theologica 3.1.3, "If man had not sinned, would God nevertheless have become incarnate?" (Latin: Si homo non peccasset, nihilominus Deus incarnatum fuisset?). His answer is "no", while acknowledging that God could have still chosen to become incarnate for other reasons; although he recognizes a diversity of thought on the issue, and his opinion should probably be taken as trying to be persuasive more than definitive.

His patristic authority is a sermon of St Augustine (numbered 174 in Migne's Patrologia Latina vol. 38, col. 939ff, and also known as Sermon 8 De Verbis Apostoli). He says on 1 Timothy 1:15 (sermon chapter 2),

If man had not perished, the Son of man would not have come. Because man did perish, the God-man came, and man is found. Man died by free will: the God-man came by liberating grace.

Si homo non perisset, Filius hominis non venisset. Ergo perierat homo, venit Deus homo, et inventus est homo. Perierat homo per liberam voluntatem: venit Deus homo per gratiam liberatricem.

and then later in the same sermon (chapter 7),

There was no other reason why he would come into the world.

Alia causa non fuit quare veniret in mundum.

This assertion is explored through the metaphor of sickness; the healthy do not need a doctor (cf. Matthew 9:12, Mark 2:17, Luke 5:31).

Thomas also considers whether some form of Incarnation might have been desirable even for un-fallen humanity, in order to bring human nature closer to the divine. He does not object to the idea, but he wishes to make it clear that this, as an act of grace, is not inevitable (in the sense that the imperfection of merely human nature demands action on God's part). The fact that it did happen for fallen humanity, even in accordance with God's foreknowledge and predestination, doesn't stop it from being a free gift.

I think the thrust of your question is about the implications for Christology. Orthodox Trinitarianism insists that the Trinity is a correct description of the way that God is (as otherwise the work of Christ in revealing God to us is flawed) and always has been (the nature of God is not contingent on created things, including time). The Son is meant to be eternally begotten of the Father. But the Incarnation is not part of the essential nature of God, as that would make God ontologically dependent on part of his creation - us. This relates to the fourth-century debate over the nature of the relationship between Father and Son, as a result of which the Nicene-Chalcedonian formulation of the faith came to distinguish between the Son being begotten but not created. So the Tome of Pope St Leo the Great, received at Chalcedon, says:

When God is believed to be both almighty and Father, the Son is clearly proved to be co-eternal with him, in no way different from the Father, since he was born God from God, almighty from the Almighty, co-eternal from the Eternal, not later in time, not lower in power, not unlike in glory, not distinct in being. The same eternal, only-begotten of the eternal begetter was born of the holy Spirit and the virgin Mary. His birth in time in no way subtracts from or adds to that divine and eternal birth of his: but its whole purpose is to restore humanity, who had been deceived, so that it might defeat death and, by its power, destroy the devil who held the power of death.

Therefore, we can believe at the same time:

  1. The Incarnation was predestined (as in Jerome's translation of Romans 1:4, praedestinatus est) from the beginning of time.
  2. The Son's relationship to the Father is, and always has been, one of being "begotten".
  3. The Incarnation was an act of grace, that was not caused or merited by us, but depends only on the free action of God himself.
  4. The fact of the Incarnation does not make the Son's son-ship or begotten-ness logically dependent on us. The unincarnate Word is still the Word.

Consequently, whether we sinned or not, the Incarnation was not "forced" on God (i.e., he does not have to become incarnate in order to be true to his own triune nature). If we had not sinned, then the Incarnation would not have been needed in order to conquer sin. It could still have happened for another reason, as Thomas says: "For God would have been able to become incarnate, even if sin did not exist" (potuisset enim, etiam peccato non existente, Deus incarnari). And further (ST 3.1.1 ad 1), "The mystery of 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" (incarnationis mysterium non est impletum per hoc quod Deus sit aliquo modo a suo statu immutatus in quo ab aeterno non fuit, sed per hoc quod novo modo creaturae se univit, vel potius eam sibi).


Within Roman Catholic doctrinal orthodoxy, one can hold either that the Incarnation would have taken place regardless of Adam's fall or that it would not. But if one adopts the former position, it would not be for the reasons mentioned by the OP.

First, the Incarnation is an act (Incarnation "in fieri") that results in an enduring reality (Incarnation "in esse" or Hypostatic Union). The act occurred at a specific point in time, and the enduring reality started at that specific point in time. Therefore, the Incarnation is not eternal but temporal in the sense of having occurred (if understood "in fieri") or begun (if understood "in esse") at a particular point in time.

In other words, the eternal or temporal character of the Incarnation results from the corresponding character of the assumed created nature, not from the character of the assuming divine Person.

Secondly, the issue of whether the Incarnation would have taken place regardless of Adam's fall or would not has absolutely nothing to do with God's omnipresence.

Having cleared that, the open status of the issue within Catholic doctrinal orthodoxy is clear at the beginning of St. Thomas Aquinas' answer to the corresponding question in his Summa Theologica (ST III, q.1, a.3), by the way he describes his position:

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.


Notably, a most authoritative text that is compatible with the position of "unconditional Incarnation" of the Son when rightly understood is the Nicene creed, where we profess that:

For us men and for our salvation He came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.

Salvation, in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theologies, does not carry a purely negative meaning of taking out sin, but also, and most importantly, a positive meaning of making men "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pe 1:4), a notion the Greek call "theosis". Though RCs and EOs differ in the way this is achieved (whether by sanctifying grace and charity or by the divine energies), they agree that it implies the elevation of human nature to a super-natural plane (= above the purely natural plane) and that it is a divine work different from the creation of human nature.

Just as the Incarnation was not strictly necessary for God to forgive men's sins, but was the most fitting way to do it, neither was the Incarnation strictly necessary for God to make men partakers of the divine nature even in the absence of sin, yet, IMO, it was the most fitting way to do it.

Therefore, with "salvation" understood in its positive sense, unconditional Incarnation is wholly compatible with the Son becoming man "for us men and for our salvation", even if Adam had not sinned.

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