Saturday, December 24, 2011

When did Christ reach the "age of reason"?

Femina circumdabit virum.

How long wilt thou be dissolute in deliciousness, O wandering daughter? for the Lord hath created a new thing upon the earth: A WOMAN SHALL COMPASS A MAN. (Jeremiah 31:22)
St. Thomas Aquinas, following the tradition of the Fathers (especially St. Jerome) reads this verse from Jeremiah as a prophetic sign that the Christ Child, from the first moment of his conception and while yet enclosed within the womb of the Woman Mary, will be a “perfect man” – which means that he will have perfect use of both reason and will.
Though, in general, by the “age of reason” we refer to around six or seven years of age, the real meaning of the phrase is to specify the point in which a child attains to the use of reason and free-will. When a child is capable of making morally significant decisions, we say that he has reached the “age of reason”.
Some will be quite surprised to realize that the Church has taught, in her ordinary Magisterium, that Christ our Savior had use of reason from the very first moment of his conception. While yet in the womb, our Lord was a rational man in regard to the powers of his human intellect, though his body was yet that of a tiny child.

Magisterial texts
I have already written several articles regarding the doctrine of Christ’s universal and unlimited knowledge with regard to all created things, past, present and future [n.b. his knowledge was not absolutely unlimited, but was unlimited in relation to created realities]. The Church teaches that Jesus knew all things (even the hour of his Second Coming) while he was on earth, in his human intellect. Read the article [here – Why Jesus had to know all things] or another one [here – Jesus knew the day and the hour] (and, see [here] for why Jesus didn’t tell us the day and hour of the Last Judgment).
In these previous articles you will see numerous papal documents which affirm that Jesus knew all created things, and you can consider something of why it is so important for us to hold that Jesus did know all things in his humanity.
Here, I will simply reproduce two very clear magisterial quotes which affirm that Jesus knew all things from the first moment of his conception, even while he was yet in the womb.
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 knowledge and love of our Divine Redeemer, of which we were the object from the first moment of His Incarnation, exceed all the human intellect can hope to grasp. For hardly was He conceived in the womb of the Mother of God, when He began to enjoy the beatific vision, and in that vision all the members of His Mystical Body were continually and unceasingly present to Him, and He embraced them with His redeeming love.” (Pius XII, Mystici Corporis 75)
The Church has taught that, even in his human intellect and soul, Christ Jesus knew – with an unlimited, universal, and infallible knowledge – all things, past, present and future. Further, the popes do not say that this knowledge came little by little or that there was any time in which he was ignorant – rather, it is affirmed that our Savior possessed this knowledge from the first moment of his conception.
The Christ Child, living in the womb of Mary his Mother, already had perfect use of reason and will – he was able to know each of us, and he loved us all not only as God but even as man. The unborn Child yet had a Sacred Heart with which he loved us even in his humanity.
The teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, the defender of Christ’s human knowledge
Now, we do believe that Jesus grew in knowledge, but this refers only to his acquired knowledge (gained through sense experience). However, our Savior had use of reason not merely through acquired knowledge but also through the beatific vision (for his human was intimately united with the Divine Essence and knew all things through this union, just as the saints in heaven [no, in a manner yet more perfect still]). Further, our Lord had infused knowledge, like the angels.
From the first moment of his conception, Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit – shall we not affirm that he knew all created things (all that has been, is, and will ever be) through this grace? If the apostles knew many languages through the Spirit, can we doubt that the Infant (from the moment of his conception) knew every language through the gift of tongues? If St. John Vianney could read hearts through the power of the Spirit, shall we doubt that the divine Infant (yet in the womb) knew all that was in the heart of the holy Curé? All grace comes through the humanity of Jesus, thus (in his humanity) he must possess all gifts and all knowledge and all love in a most excellent and perfect degree. None have been more gifted than Jesus – and who would not blush to claim to be more excellent than our Savior, even in his infancy?! The greatest of men is yet nothing compared with this little Baby!
St. Thomas Aquinas shows that the Savior had the use of free-will and had attained to the age of reason in the first moment of his conception – see ST III, q.34, a.2 [here]. The Angelic Doctor makes his proof from the fact that Christ did not grow in spiritual perfection through his life, nor did he progress from an imperfect state to a perfect state. Thus, it is clear that he must have been perfect even in his conception, which requires that he had the use of free-will and reason so as to co-operate perfectly with the fullness of grace which he possessed even in his humanity.
St. Thomas credits St. Augustine as teaching that Christ did not increase in merit through his life (“Increase of merit was absolutely impossible to the soul of Christ” – Paterius, Expos. Vet. et Nov. Test. super Ex. 40) and concludes that this requires that Christ merited all things in the very first moment of his conception. Upon coming into the world, our Savior merited our salvation – but one must be rational in order to merit, therefore it is clear that Christ (in the moment he was conceived) had the use of reason. Even in the womb, the Christ Child made morally significant decisions (indeed, he merited our salvation and his glory), he had already reached the “age of reason”.
Christ increased in knowledge with respect to experiential knowledge gained through the senses. But, of course, our Savior knew all created things through the beatific vision and through the infused knowledge given by the Holy Spirit. There can be no doubt that Jesus, from the first moment of his conception, knew all things that had been or would ever be, and that he had the use of reason. The Infant in the womb is already a “perfect man”, insofar as he has the perfect use of reason and will – he is no irrational child, but the Everlasting Man.
What do we mean when we say that Jesus was rational while in the womb
When we say that Jesus was rational while in the womb, we mean to say that he had perfect use of reason, and his intellect was in no way hindered – he was not ignorant, nor did he slowly come into the age of reason. However, his body was yet tiny and he could not always manifest the rational powers of his intellect – from the first moment of his conception we may well presume that his process of gestation was similar in many respects to ours; thus, our Savior was an embryo for a time and it is likely that his body did not begin with hands and feet, but (like our own) developed while in the womb.
When Jesus was still a small embryo, he was rational and capable of making morally significant decisions (he already knew you, loved you, and was praying for you, in his humanity - as an embryo, he already consecrated the unborn St. John the Baptist), but these rational actions could not be manifested through his body. What seems reasonable to conclude is that, in the same time that ordinary babies are able to act instinctively, Christ was able to manifest the rational powers of his soul. Thus, for example, when an unborn child is able to move around within his mother’s womb, Christ was able to go to and fro as he willed. As an unborn child reaches a point of bodily maturation in which he is able to “kick” and push the enclosure of the womb forcefully enough that his mother can feel it, Christ was able to caress his Mother and express his love for her through gentle rubs. Finally, at the time when an unborn babe develops fingers and is able to suck his thumb, our Savior would have been capable of sign-language (at least, as soon as he had developed the synapses and nerve endings etc. which would allow him to move his fingers at will, he was able to sign).
[To think of this from Mary’s perspective, you may consider our earlier article on what it was like to be pregnant with Jesus, here]
It was Christ’s body which needed to develop, together with his senses; but his rational soul was not limited by his body, for he had knowledge which did not depend on mere sense experience. Thus, even before he had a brain (that is, brain tissue), our Savior was praying for you and for me; even before he had hands and feet, he was accomplishing our salvation; even before the cells of his body had developed into flesh tissue, he made the rational choice to offer his body upon the Cross; even before his body had developed heart tissue, each of us were held in a loving embrace within his Sacred Heart - Wherefore, when he cometh into the world, he saith: Sacrifice and oblation thou wouldest not: but a body thou hast fitted to me. (Hebrews 10:5)

Why this is important
There was never a moment in our Savior’s life when he did not know and love each and every one of us. There was never a moment when he was simply the victim of external events, but he always offered whatever he did and whatever he suffered for our salvation. Even as a child, an infant, an embryo, our Savior loved us (not only as God but in his humanity, with his Sacred Heart).
There is a wonderful prayer which speaks to the Child in the womb of his Mother. This prayer is no mere sentiment, for Jesus was a rational man when he was first conceived – he knew all the prayers we would offer and he received them, and he loved us.
“O Jesus living in Mary, come and live in Thy servants. In the spirit of Thy holiness, in the fullness of Thy might, in the truth of Thy virtues, in the perfection of Thy ways, in the communion of Thy mysteries. Subdue every hostile power, in Thy spirit, for the glory of the Father. Amen.”
The infant Jesus, living in the womb of his Mother, is already our Redeemer and our Lord. Already he knew and loved us. He is no mere child without control of reason, but already he hears our prayers and prays for us – for, by virtue of his union with the divinity, this Child knows all things past, present and future, and his soul is not limited by his tiny and sacred body.
I will not enter into the discussion of the powers of the Christ Child in the early years of his youth – it should be fairly clear that, when growing up, even as a toddler, our Lord was a rational man with perfect use of reason and free-will. Thus, he certainly never had a “tantrum” or a “fit”, he never had to be “taught”, he never made a mistake – though physically a young boy, he already was wise beyond all men.

Still, we must be very clear on this point, Christ did not necessarily act wholly differently from other young children. Rather, it is quite certain, that he chose to hide his glory. Our Savior did not speak foreign languages as a child (though he could have), nor did he solve problems of calculus or discuss the future (though, again, he could have). Indeed, it is most likely that our Lord (until the time of his public ministry) generally chose to manifest only what he knew from acquired knowledge gained through sense experience, which would be age-appropriate [a certain exception to this could be his quasi-public teaching in the Temple at the age of twelve]. Thus, as a three-year-old, he would have acted in many ways like a three-year-old (like a perfect three-year-old).
You have professed this doctrine yourself, though you may not have noticed!
Lest you think all this is far beyond what you can accept. Lest you should believe that this is unbelievable. I would point out that – if you are a native English-speaker – I am certain that you have already asserted many times (and in public) that the Child Jesus reached the age of reason when yet an infant. For you have certainly sung the popular Christmas carol “What Child is this?” by William Chatterton Dix (ca. 1865). In that carol, we hear the following:
 “Why lies He in such mean estate / Where ox and ass are feeding? / Good Christian, fear: for sinners here, / The silent Word is pleading.”
The carol sings that the newborn Babe is “pleading”, that is “praying” for us poor sinners. How can an infant pray, if he is not yet rational? How can a child plead – that is “plead” in such a way as to truly merit our salvation – if he has no free-will? Indeed, the Christ Child was already praying for us when laid in the manger, and so too he was praying for us from the first moment of his conception.
This is why we must hold that Jesus had the use of reason from the first instant of the Incarnation: There was never a moment when our Savior was irrational, never a moment when he did not know us and love us, never a moment when he was simply a passive observer; but all along, from the beginning to the end, our Lord knew and loved each of us, he merited our salvation, and he prayed in our behalf.
This is no “hard teaching”, but a wonderful proclamation of the love of our Savior. How consoling it is to look upon the Christ Child and know that he already understands me, knows me, and loves me!


Dan said...

It must have been sometime after his parents found Him in the temple.

So I would say after 12.

Veronica said...

Of all the teachings of the Church, this, believe it or not, is the hardest for me to accept:

"There was never a moment in our Savior’s life when he did not know and love each and every one of us."

It is a hard thing for my finite mind to fathom...especially when we are not very lovable much of the time.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Are you saying that you think Jesus did not reach the age of reason until after the age of 12?!

Such a claim would be not simply blasphemous, but stupid! Why even ordinary children are rational by the age of 7 (generally) and sometimes earlier!
The story of finding the Christ Child in the Temple proves that he was far wiser than any ordinary child -- since the people marveled at the insight which he had!

Explain yourself.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Remember, Jesus does not love us because we are lovable ... rather, in a most wondrous way, his love makes us to be lovable.

The love of God is what makes us to become good ... and this thought is very consoling! +

Dan said...

I was joking. As a parent, I would not have thought my 12 year old, was acting maturely when he decided to stay behind the caravan leaving Jerusalem.

Fellow Believer said...

This lesson is awesome to read, but it's also not hard to swallow either (my opinion, but I don't have kids yet). In John, Jesus is introduced in the context of being the Word, and being with God when God created everything. From this perspective God's only begotten son was His own words. His first creation, so powerful that it itself is able to create everything else as an extension of God. So it’s not hard to conclude that Jesus was rational while even in the womb. At this point, Jesus isn’t being created, but is just being born human.

It would be so fascinating to be close to Jesus while he is young and growing up. To be a parent or close relative who know Jesus from his birth. But not many had that chance. Not long after Jesus was born he and his family fled to Egypt, only later to return to a different town. And though the town knew Jesus, when Jesus went to preach to them, they disbelieved because they said, they knew him when he was younger, and knew his parents. Couldn't possibly be a prophet. Still, even with those hindrances, wouldn’t it be awesome to know Jesus as he is young?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Fellow Believer,
Christmas blessings to you! +

The best line in your comment (in my opinion), the one that so many people often forget, is:
"At this point, Jesus isn't being created, but is just being born human."
YES! This is exactly what we have to remember when we think of the Christ Child! :-)

Anonymous said...

If we say that Jesus knew everything at all times, doesn't that create a problem with his statement that he does not know the day or the hour of his coming?

Seminarian John

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Seminarian John,
Please see the relevant article I wrote (and which is linked above in the first paragraph under "Magisterial texts" -- Jesus knew the day and the hour)

Jesus most certainly did know the day and the hour of the Judgment, even in his humanity ... to deny this is the heresy of the agnoetes (St. Gregory the Great condemned them) ...
Perhaps one quote from Pope Vigilius will suffice: "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."

If your question is, "Why didn't Jesus tell us the hour?" or "Why did he say he didn't know it?" ... you will see the answers of the Church Fathers in the two articles linked above.

Anyone who says that Jesus didn't know is going to end up a Nestorian heretic (even if they don't realize it yet).

Also, I know that this is a bit surprising when we first learn it ... but I'm sure that (with humility) you will see the wisdom of the Almighty!

Peace and merry Christmas! +

ellen said...

Thank you so much for this website and for your excellent instruction. Sometimes I have the horrible feeling that Catholics are going backwards in our understanding of our Faith. I am a very ordinary Catholic, without even a university education, but I was very blessed in my Catholic teachers (nuns). I now realize that their teaching was based on St. Thomas Aquinas, though I did not know that at the time. I have now got a copy of the Summa and I love reading it because it seems to me that St. Thomas has the answer to virtually all our questions. Also, a few years ago I read that Fr. Faber said that at the first instant of Christ's Conception He began to render to the Father the most perfect worship and adoration humanly possible. I think that is absolutely wonderful to contemplate. Jesus' first act was an act of perfect justice. I hope I am making sense, maybe I should find the book (I think it was "Bethlehem") and quote from it properly! Anyway, thank you again for putting in this effort to catechize us.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful reflection of the most sincere truth! The way you synthesized the truths of the Church here in this article regarding Christ are phenomenal!
-Steven Reyes

yan said...

I guess the problem for me is understanding how Christ could have prayed for us with a human intellect when He did not yet have the physical faculties upon which that intellect depends...I was going to say, 'for its existence.' Perhaps it would be better to say, 'for its expression.' If I render the description of His intellect in the latter manner, I suppose it is at least conceivable that Christ was praying and loving us through His humanity even though the physical organs of that humanity were not formed.

Anyway, thanks Fr. for the meditation. I agree with Ellen and others that it was very powerful to consider the thought of Christ praying for us in the womb and no doubt I shall have to think on these things for many years before my understanding, I hope, begins to better grasp them in a faithful manner. How Christ's natures 'interact' [even that idea is probably wrong--sorry] so to speak has always been difficult for me to grasp.


Marko Ivančičević said...

"St. Thomas credits St. Augustine as teaching that Christ did not increase in merit through his life (“Increase of merit was absolutely impossible to the soul of Christ” – Paterius, Expos. Vet. et Nov. Test. super Ex. 40) and concludes that this requires that Christ merited all things in the very first moment of his conception. Upon coming into the world, our Savior merited our salvation..."

If this is so, then why the life, passion and death on the cross?
I'm not saying this is untrue but rather i want to learn and to know things.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

St. Thomas is so brilliant ... he asked the exact question and gives an answer:
from ST III, q.34, a.3, ad 3 -- "Nothing prevents the same thing belonging to someone from several causes. And thus it is that Christ was able by subsequent actions and sufferings to merit the glory of immortality, which He also merited in the first instant of His conception: not, indeed, so that it became thereby more due to Him than before, but so that it was due to Him from more causes than before."

The essential point is that the same thing can be merited by more than one cause -- thus, he merited our salvation by his Incarnation (he came to earth that we might attain to heaven), and by his death (he died that we might live).

Though, to be clear, he did not merit by the resurrection (as I'm sure you know) ... still, the resurrection is a cause of our salvation -- by rising he restored us to life.

Hence, our salvation (and his glory) is merited many times over.
And it was fitting that it be so ... that he go far above and beyond what was strictly necessary, so as to show his love for us.

Peace! +

tz said...

I think what bothers me is the frequent use of "But could have". He emptied himself of his divinity. The discussion makes it sound like the transcendent God, second person of the trinity wasn't the God-man, but more like an angel with the appearance of a body instead of True God and True Man. Even in the resurrection. That he didn't have to empty himself at all. That he didn't need his humanity since he had his divinity. It is easy to go off the path in this other direction.

It does explain his birth as light through glass very well.

Yet I think in a very real sense this is even more important for practical reasons. We look and judge people on appearances. Prejudice. You would be looking at the creator of the universe and see a man. And just enough beyond that to prove he was God during his ministry. During the passion he could have done more than call on the Father to send legions of angels. But he didn't. He was also the perfect Man, but fully Man and not more than Man. If he was something more, there would be a gap in the redemption.

The saints appear to be the smallest, most humble of persons, yet they shine brightly with the light of Christ - but not with a visible light. Creation is far larger and brighter than it appears.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I'm sorry but your comment is almost certainly material heresy ... there are two points in particular which cannot be anything other than heresy:

"He [Christ our Savior] emptied himself of his divinity."
This is a silly thing to say ... it is not what Paul means in Philippians ... if he left or emptied our his divinity, He and all creation would cease to exist ... to empty himself of divinity (not simply divine glory and manifest power, but "divinity" per se) would mean to lose his divine nature, to cease to be God ... you just can't say that.

"Fully Man and not more than Man."
Again, heresy. He was more than man ... he is also the True God.

In any case, being rational does not make someone more than man ... just as one person gains reason at the age of 7 and another at the age of 5, but the 5year old is not more human than the 7year old ... so too, Christ had reason from his conception, and this does not make him non-human.

Likewise, I know Italian, but some friends do not ... so why is it impossible for Christ to know all languages?

Hope this makes sense ... you are in very dangerous waters. +

Irenaeus of New York said...

St. John the Baptist leapt in the womb with joy at the presence of Christ. This tells me he too enjoyed an early formation of reason. Perhaps because of his being made holy in the womb.

Seraphim said...


This teaching is pure Apollinarianism. Christ was fully, completely human. His mind developed according to the same laws of developmental psychology that everyone else's does (and developmental psychology has moved FAR beyond the simplistic two-tier level that posits an "age of reason" when one's "rational faculty" magically switches on - we know that it's so much more complicated and gradual than that, and the Latin Church might as well stop using that medieval hogwash as a pretext for denying Holy Communion to the little children that Christ called to come to Him).

He was one person, and ultimately one cannot separate His human and divine natures in anything more than an abstract sense. With St. Cyril of Alexandria I confess "one incarnate Nature of God the Word", but the Chalcedonian formulation is useful for distinguishing what is proper to His humanity and what is proper to His divintiy. And His omniscience is quite clearly proper to the divine Word through His divinity - in which regard it is completely inappropriate to speak of "ratiocination" or "reason" to describe the way the Logos "thinks".

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

It is impious to accuse St. Thomas and the other Church Doctors who speak clearly to this teaching of the heresy of Apolinarianism.
Further, I personally take offense to that accusation.

I have never said that Christ did not have a human soul ... in fact, in this article, I have specifically said that he had perfect HUMAN knowledge -- and if he had human knowledge (perfect even from his conception) then he necessarily had a human soul.

I expect you to retract that libelous accusation.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Speaking more to the theological point ... a man does not become less human when he learns something, neither does he lose his human soul when he receives infused knowledge.

Why then would you be so impious as to say that the infused knowledge given to Christ from the first moment of his conception would mean that he did not have a human soul -- and thus accuse me of Apollinarianism?

If I didn't lose my humanity when I learned Italian (for example), why would Christ be less human for knowing Chinese.

If St. Teresa of Avila did not lose her soul when she received infused knowledge through ecstatic prayer, why would Christ have no human soul simply because he receive the beatific vision from the first moment of his conception?

My brother, you know not what you say. Better to remain silent.

Seraphim said...

Father, perfect human knowledge would not exceed the bounds of what an infant's brain is capable of. Yes, Christ would be omniscient through His divinity. That does not mean that in His reason, even at the age of infancy, is capable of that which no human mind is capable of. He had a created human reason subject to the nature (that is, all the limitations) of human reason. To replace that humanity with the omniscience of the Logos is the Apollinarian heresy.

Yes, Christ was interceding for and deifying all creation even from His infancy. But not because He skipped the ordinary human stages of development.

I ask your humble pardon for the brusque manner in which I stated my comment and the uncharitable unfair implication of formal heresy, but my theological objection to your article stands.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I'm sorry but I just don't have time to get into this further right now.

It should be clear that your accusation of Apollinarianism is misplaced ... I have very claerly affirmed that the infant Jesus had perfect HUMAN knowledge and perfect used of HUMAN reason.
Now, anyone should see that HUMAN knowledge and HUMAN reason require a HUMAN soul ... thus there is no way that you can legitimately claim I (or St. Thomas) am an Apollinarianist.

You can disagree ... you can say that I don't give enough room for acquired knowledge ... you can say that I'm not based on Scripture ... but what you cannot say is that I am denying that Jesus had a human soul.
That is a very silly claim ... and you've made it twice now.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Finally, the fact that Jesus had the beatific vision meant that he was able to use reason without relying upon phantasms gained through sense experience ... this is why, even as an infant, he had perfect use of reason.
And the Fathers of the Church (many of them) say that he wept as a baby because he knew our sins.
Also, they tell us that Jesus prayed as an infant ... now, he certainly wasn't praying in his divinity, but in his humanity.

Also, did Christ merit our salvation by his birth? Did he merit in his circumcision?
If he merited, then he had to have use of free will.

Why don't you cite a Doctor of the Church who explicitly denies that Jesus had the use of free will and reason as an infant?
I've cited St. Thomas ... where is your citation to the contrary?

Or is it enough for you to just run around accusing people of heresies?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Last point: I never said his human knowledge was absolutely unlimited ... nor that it was equal to the omniscience of the Logos.
I don't know why you would accuse me of such a horrible thing!

As I wrote in the article: "his knowledge was not absolutely unlimited, but was unlimited in relation to created realities"
This is why it was still human knowledge ... the human mind is able to know all that God has created, even though it cannot fully comprehend God or all the possibilities in God (as does the Logos).

Supertradmum said...

Christ knew Who He was and was One with the Father and the Spirit from conception. I agree with the Early Church Fathers that He had the use of reason from His conception. That He learned in His Humanity is true, but He was never separate for His Godhead.

I know people with IQs in the 160s and I know one through a friend with an IQ in the 170s. These people come into reason very early in life and are competent to reason things out. Why not God?

It is dangerous to speculate too much without reading long and wide on what the Fathers and Doctors say on this point, as well as the Popes in infallible statements.

How can we understand God in His Incarnation? Only in heaven or in the unitive state on earth, the state of saints, can one approach such knowledge.

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