Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Spirit alone knows the things of God

August 31, Tuesday in the 22nd week in Ordinary Time
No one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God. (1 Cor 2:11)
These words of St. Paul are written to remind us that any true knowledge of the divine mysteries comes not from men, nor from the spirit of the world and worldly wisdom, but only from the Holy Spirit. Hence, we must have the Spirit of God living in us – that is, we must be moved by the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
However, upon reading that only the Holy Spirit knows the things of God, we might be led to wonder whether the Father and the Son know what the Spirit knows. Indeed, St. Paul seems to speak exclusively of the Spirit, no one knows … except the Spirit. Is it true? Does the Holy Spirit have some special knowledge which is lacking to the other two Persons of the Blessed Trinity?

St. Thomas Aquinas ponders this very question in Summa Theologiae I, q.31, a.4: Whether an exclusive diction can be joined to the personal term? He considers several Scriptural and liturgical passages – “That they may know thee [i.e. the Father], the only true God.” (Jn 17:3); “No one knows the Son but the Father.” (Mt 11:27); “You alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ” (from the Gloria).
St. Thomas explains that all these verses must be understood as exclusive not of the other Persons of the Trinity but only of other natures. Thus, “no one” does not mean no other person, but rather no other nature. Thus, when the term only is applied to one of the divine Persons, the other Persons are not excluded – for all are united through the unity of the single divine Essence. However, this only holds true for those things which are predicated of the Persons by reason of the shared Essence. Thus, each and every Person of the Blessed Trinity is said to know the others, to be all powerful, to be most holy, etc.
Some terms, on the other hand, are not predicated of the Persons by reason of the Essence, but rather by reason of the relation. Examples of this would be: The Father alone is un-begotten; the Son alone is begotten; the Spirit alone proceeds from the Father and the Son.
Finally, in the case of the second Person, some terms are predicated not by reason of his divinity (either his divine Nature or his divine relations) but on account of his human nature. Thus, only the Son became incarnate; only the Son has died; only the Son will come again.
St. Thomas advises us, regarding the use of terms like “alone” or “only” or “no one”: “Such a way of speaking is not to be taken too literally, but should be piously expounded, whenever we find it in an authentic work [whether of the Fathers or of Scripture].” Hence, it is clear that modern theologians and preachers should avoid speaking in this way, on account of the confusion that can be easily caused. Yet, it is important for theologians to discuss the question, for the pastoral benefit of the faithful who can be led into false opinions by the words even of the Bible and of the holy Fathers, who wrote before the modern heresies had yet plagued the Church.


Paul Mallinder said...

The Son reveals the Father and the Holy Spirit gives power and efficacy to this revelation. In my understanding of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit does not have "knowledge" that is not not known by the Father.

Reginaldus said...

You are correct...all three Persons are equal in knowledge. I am trying to explain passages of Scripture which might at first lead to confusion.
I hope that my post makes this clear: The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are equal in knowledge, power, holiness, glory, etc.

matt said...


This is related, but not exactly on topic.

What about when Jesus says that not even the Son (I assume he means Himself) does not know the day or the hour, but only the Father? I think I have read that Jesus meant He did not know in his human mind, but He did know in his divine mind. In other words, the human mind had not downloaded that particular information from the divine database. What do you think?

Reginaldus said...

Very good question...
Josephus Sebastianus, one of the contributors to this blog, has studied this topic extensively...perhaps he will be able to write a bit on this soon!

In the meantime, I'll give a very short answer...

Certainly, Jesus DOES NOT mean that he does not know it as God...he knows all things as God, including the day and the hour.

Does he know the day and the hour as man? Yes, St. Gregory the Great condemned those who held that Christ as man (in his human intellect) did not know the day and the hour -- these people were called the agnoeticists. It is a heresy.

Jesus did know, both as God and as man (through the beatific vision and through the divine illumination of his human soul), the day and the hour of his second coming.

What about the passage: "No one knows...not even the Son, but only the Father" (cf. Mt 24:36)...
St. Gregory says that Jesus does not know, in the sense that he does not make that hour known. Just as we say that a day is happy ('oh happy day') not because the day is itself happy, but because it makes us happy. So too, Jesus says he does not know, because he does not reveal to us the day or the hour. Only the Father, that is, only God (the Trinity) will make that day known at the end of time.

We know that Jesus had to know the day and hour as man, because he will come as the judge. It would hardly be fitting for Jesus to be the judge, but not even know the day of judgement!
Remember, our Lord said, "All things have been handed over to me by my Father." (Mt 11:27) Surely too, this most important knowledge has also been handed over to Christ (even as man).

Hope that this helps...look for an upcoming post which will discuss the topic of Christ's human knowledge more fully!

phil said...

Less a comment more a question.
Paul speaks of only those being the sons of God who are led by the Spirit of God. Now in my personal experience with Protestant evangelicalism, pentacostalism, and charismaticism, the word "spirit" is bandied about rather carelessly as if it is universally understood to mean the resident personhood of God, yet without any concrete description of what that presence is in reality let alone how one is to identify or measure the effects thereof.
I struggled with this issue for many years since the word "spirit" has many applications and is a word lending itself well to metaphor. There came a point in my "spirit"-ual walk at which it was imperative that I resolve the meaning of this word. We who are mortal and material can seemingly only conjecture Paul's inference. Yet, in his writings he implies universal understanding of his intent. He does this with enough conviction as to make the principle of "spirit" direction evidence of one's being on the proper path.
In my encounters with many well-meaning believers invoking the "spirit" as the source of their personal guidance, ministry, prophetic word, etc. (ad nauseum), it has finally become apparent to me that what we in this age ascribe to "spirit" has nothing to do with what the early church invoked as spirit.
I am wondering how you, my learned colleagues, define the term, and perhaps how you envision practically the role of Spirit in moment-by-moment guidance.
If we are led by the spirit is this to be a continuum of divine residence?

Anonymous said...

Mark 13:32 “Of that day or that hour no ones knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
Of course, that would not be the case if Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were coequal, comprising one Godhead. And if, as some suggest, the Son was limited by his human nature from knowing, the question remains, Why did the Holy Spirit not know?

“Father is not a title for the first person of the Trinity but a synonym for God” (Encyclopedia of Religion, 54). - ???????????

The phrase “only true God” in John 17:3 is not intended to contrast the Father and the Son, but rather, to contrast the one true God with that of false gods (Jeremiah 10:10-11; 1 John 5:20). The Society has a valid point when they claim that Jehovah is the only one who is called “Almighty.” This is one reason why Trinitarians believe that Jesus is Jehovah. At Revelation 1:8, the “Alpha and the Omega” is called “Almighty,” and when we compare this with Revelation 22:12-13, 20, we find that this “Alpha and Omega” is Jesus Christ. Since we know that Jehovah is Almighty and that there can only be one Almighty, it is obvious that Jesus is Jehovah God!

Concerning the Hebrew plural term ’elo-him’ which is translated “God” in the Old Testament, it is true that various scholars feel that this term is used only to express God’s “fullness” of power rather than the persons of the Trinity. While this debate exists among recognized scholars, one should not accept or deny the Trinity solely on his personal interpretation of this term, because support for the doctrine of the Trinity is far more extensive than this.

The Arians, from these words, pretended that the Father only is the true God. St. Augustine and divers others answer, that the sense and construction is, that they may know thee, and also Jesus Christ thy Son, whom thou hast sent to be the only true God. We may also expound them with St. Chrysostom and others, so that the Father is here called the only true God, not to exclude the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who are the same one true God with the Father; but only to exclude the false gods of the Gentiles. Let the Socinians take notice, that (1 John v. 20.) the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is expressly called the true God, even with the Greek article, upon which they commonly lay so much stress.

Reginaldus said...

Anolnymous (7:09am),
You really haven't asked a question...I can't tell what exactly you are getting at.

In any case, the point regarding Mark 13:32 (no one knows the day or the hour, not even the Son) is answered as follows: The Son "does not know" in two senses -- first, insofar as he does not make it to be known; second, insofar as he knows it in his humanity but not from his humanity.
Of course, simply speaking, Christ and the Spirit know the day and the could the Judge not know the day of judgement.

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