33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Mark 13:24-32
But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
The Church teaches that our Savior knew everything, past, present and future, and therefore also knew the day and the hour of the final judgment. In fact, it is a condemned heresy to say that Jesus, in his human intellect, did not know the exact moment of the second coming – this heresy, called “Agnoeticism” was condemned by Pope St. Gregory the Great.
However, very sadly, most Catholics have no idea that they are espousing heresy when they say that our Lord did not know certain created truths, like the time of the judgment.
Magisterial texts on the perfection of Christ’s human knowledge
“If anyone says that the one Jesus Christ who is both true Son of God and true Son of man did not know the future or the day of the Last Judgment and that he could know only as much as the divinity, dwelling in him as in another, revealed to him, anathema sit.” (Pope Vigilius, Constitutum I of 14 May 553)
The following proposition is condemned: “The natural meaning of the Gospel texts cannot be reconciled with what our theologians teach about the consciousness and the infallible knowledge of Jesus Christ.” (Pope Pius X, Lamentabili of 1907)
The following proposition is condemned: “A critic cannot assert that Christ’s knowledge was unlimited, unless by making the hypothesis, which is historically inconceivable and morally repugnant, that Christ as man had God’s knowledge and yet was unwilling to communicate so much knowledge to his disciples and posterity.” (Pope Pius X, Lamentabili of 1907)
The following proposition is rejected: “The opinion cannot be declared certain, which holds that the soul of Christ was ignorant of nothing but from the beginning knew in the Word everything, past, present and future, that is to say everything which God knows with the ‘knowledge of vision’.” (Pope Benedict XV, Decree of the Holy Office of 1918)
The following proposition is rejected: “The recent opinion of some about the limited knowledge of the soul of Christ is not to be less favoured in Catholic schools than the ancient opinion about his universal knowledge.” (Pope Benedict XV, Decree of the Holy Office of 1918)
From these texts we learn that, even in his human intellect and soul, Christ Jesus knew – with an “unlimited,” “universal,” and “infallible” knowledge – “everything, past, present and future.” Specifically, the Lord knew “the day of the Last Judgment.”
A reflection on how we ought to read the Bible
Now, some will say – “Father, this is just too much! How can the Church really hold such a thing?” Or, “How can this be reconciled with the plain words of the Bible?”
If any are truly interested in how properly to interpret this passage, they ought to consider an earlier post in which I give several key interpretations from Church Fathers and Doctors, [here]. I will give a very short answer at the end of this post as well.
However, it is better to first point out the hypocrisy of those who say that the claim that Jesus knew the day and the hour is obviously contradicted by the Bible. For, indeed, the Bible is full of a very great number of confusing passages – and these often seem to be in contradiction (simply because we are not always understanding them as we should).
Indeed, if any say that Mark 13:23 proves that Jesus did not know everything, I site John 21:19, Peter said: Lord, thou knowest all things. There you have it – the Prince of the Apostles teaches that Jesus knew everything.
Rather than proof-texting and taking verses totally out of context (that is, not only out of the immediate biblical context, but also out of the context of the Tradition), it is important to read the Bible within the living Church. We do not open the Bible as though we were the first ones to ever read it – ignoring the writings and the wisdom of the great saints who have gone before. This is the way a Protestant reads, it is unbecoming of a Catholic.
Other difficult verses
Consider, for example, a number of verses which must be interpreted within the living Tradition of the Church, and which cannot be taken on a simple face-value.
Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated. (Roans 9:13)
If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)
And Jesus said to him: Why dost thou call me good? None is good but God alone. (Luke 18:19)
And, of course, many more could be added. But what fool would say that God truly “hated” Esau in the sense which we use that word among men? Or who would dare truly to “hate” his one father and mother, whom God commands he must honor? And shall we no longer call Jesus “good”? No, but each of these verses must be interpreted within the Tradition.
An answer to our question
When Christ our Savior states that the Son does not know the day or the hour of the Second Coming, he means that the Son does not make the time to be known. Much as when we say that a day is “happy” or “pleasant,” we do not intend that the day itself is pleasant but that it makes us to be pleasant; so too, Christ is said not to know insofar as he does not make us to know (so, St. Hilary of Potiers, St. Gregory the Great, and others).
St. Augustine offers the following commentary: “According to the form of God everything that the Father has belongs to the Son for All things that are mine are yours, and yours are mine. According to the form of a slave, however, his teaching is not his own but of the One who sent him. Hence of that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. He is ignorant of this in the special sense of making others ignorant. He did not know it in their presence in such a way as to be prepared to reveal it to them at that time.”
So too the Catechism: “Christ enjoyed in his human knowledge the fullness of understanding of the eternal plans he had come to reveal. What he admitted to not knowing in this area, he elsewhere declared himself not sent to reveal.” (CCC 474)
Further, since our Lord knew the day and the hour in his humanity, but not from his humanity (i.e. he knew it by divine revelation and not by human experience), he may well say that he does not know the time of the judgment in the sense that he has no experiential knowledge of it (though he does have special revelation by which he knows all created truths).
The deeper heresy
None can claim that Jesus did not know the day and the hour without being a Nestorian heretic at heart. That is, none can limit the human knowledge of Jesus in relation to created truths without separating his humanity from his divinity.
Indeed, many such persons speak as though Jesus was only a man on earth, having left his divinity with the Father. But this is a most perilous claim, since it would mean that our Lord was not truly Emmanuel – since God would not have been with us in Christ.
But, Jesus is truly God. And he did not leave his divinity with the Father. But his humanity was wholly enlightened and vivified by the divinity. Therefore, it is quite obvious that, from the first moment of his conception, our Lord knew absolutely everything that had been, was, or would be (as well as a good number of all those things that could possibly be).
Sacred Heart of Jesus from Whose fullness we have all received, Have mercy on us!