September 3rd, Feast of Pope St. Gregory the Great
But of that day or hour no man knoweth, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father. (Mark 13:32)
Many will be shocked to discover that Pope St. Gregory the Great, together with all the doctors of the Church after him, expressly condemns the opinion that Our Savior, in his humanity, did not know all created truths including the day and the hour of the final judgment.
This opinion, considered a heresy by the holy Pontiff (and by all the great theologians since him), is called Agnoeticism, meaning “not knowing”. Fr. Hardon summarizes the Agnoetes as follows, “A sect of Monophysites who held that Christ was subject to positive ignorance. The leading exponent of its error was Deacon Themistios of Alexandria. He was condemned by the Church, which declared that Christ’s humanity cannot be ignorant of anything of the past or of the future. To attribute ignorance to Christ’s human nature is to profess Nestorianism (Denzinger 474-76).” (Modern Catholic Dictionary, “Agnoetes”)
In other articles [here] and [here], we have discussed many particulars of this debate – at present, we intend only to explain something of why it will be important to adopt St. Gregory’s teaching.
Jesus did know the day and the hour
First, how can we claim that the Lord knew the day and hour of the judgment, when he himself expressly stated that he did not?
We assert that the Lord says that the “Son does not know” in the sense that he does not make this truth to be known. That is, he does not reveal it.
This is the interpretation adopted also by the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “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)
Indeed, this is quite reasonable – just as we say that a day is “happy”, not in that the day itself is experiencing the emotion of happiness, but only insofar as the day makes us to be happy. So too, might we say that Jesus was “ignorant”, not as though he himself were ignorant, but only insofar as he left us in ignorance regarding the time of the judgment.
A better answer
Yet, an even better answer is given by St. Gregory, who maintains that Jesus knew the day and the hour in his humanity, but not from his humanity.
Thus, in his human intellect, the Savior (who was ignorant of nothing) must be said to have known when he would return to judge the world by fire. However, this knowledge was not gained through sense experience, but only from the divine infusion of light upon his human soul. Hence, it is known in his soul, but not from his senses.
Therefore, when the Lord tells us that the Son does not know, he only means to indicate that the time of the judgment cannot be known by any through natural powers (not even by the angels). However, it is truly known to him through supernatural revelation (just as, we may suppose, it is also known to the angels by divine relation).
Why it is important
The Lord Jesus must truly be the judge not only in his divinity, but also in his humanity. The Christ is not merely a Savior through being God, but especially through being man. It was not only the divinity which saved us, but his humanity is rightly called the united instrument of our salvation.
In modern(ist) thought, there are many who would downplay the role of our Savior’s sacred humanity in the economy of salvation. They allow him to be ignorant, which would then force us to conclude that he did not fully consent to his mission. For, about that which a man is ignorant, he cannot consent.
Furthermore, if the humanity of Jesus is lacking in any knowledge or any grace, then it cannot be a perfect instrument for the divinity.
This is precisely why we must hold that Jesus knew every created truth, even in his humanity – because, he is the true Judge and Savior as man! How could he judge or save that which he did not know and love? If the Lord Jesus did not know each and every one of us, and all that we would ever do (including also knowing the judgment which he would give us and when he would render that judgment), then we would have to conclude that his love for us would have been imperfect. For he could not love us perfectly, if he did not know us perfectly.
This is why we must hold to the perfection of human knowledge in Christ – because his humanity is the perfect instrument of our salvation. Pope St. Gregory realized this danger, and rightly stated:
“How can one who professes that the Wisdom of God himself became incarnate ever maintain that there is anything which the Wisdom of God does not know?”
St. Gregory the Great, Pray for us!