Sunday, January 1, 2012

Do a virgin birth and perfect knowledge make Jesus less human? Or Mary less a mother?

Christ’s birth “did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.” (CCC 499; Lumen Gentium [Vatican II], 57)
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 teaches that Christ was miraculously born of a Virgin without causing his Mother any of the pains associated with labor. Further, the Catholic Church believes that our Savior knew all created things from the first moment of his Incarnation such that he even knew (for example) how to speak every language that had or ever would exist.
When some people hear of these doctrines, they have a tendency to respond: “But then Jesus wouldn’t be truly human! And Mary wouldn’t be a real mother!” Let us consider the foolishness of such a reaction.

Mary was a virgin during birth
There can be no doubt that the Church teaches that Jesus was miraculously born of Mary, her virginal integrity remaining wholly intact and unharmed. Mary was not merely a virgin before and after birth, but even “in birth” she remained a virgin – hence, “virginity” refers not merely to refraining from sexual pleasures but also to the physical and biological enclosure of Mary’s sealed womb. Christ came forth from Mary after the manner by which he walked through the walls of the sealed upper room after his Resurrection – he comes forth from his Mother as thought from intellect and as light through glass.
For a fuller explanation of this dogma, see our earlier article wherein many references are given [here].
Christ knew all created truths from the first moment of his conception
The Lord Jesus knew all things (that is, all that man can possibly know) both through the beatific vision (the union he had with the Father) and through infused knowledge (given by the working of the Holy Spirit). Our Savior was never ignorant, nor did he ever make a mistake in judgment. And, although he did gain knowledge through sense experience, we affirm that he already knew everything from the moment of his conception by virtue of the beatific vision – thus, he knew all things in his humanity (i.e. in his human intellect), though not necessarily from his humanity (i.e. through sense experience).
For a fuller explanation of this dogma, see our earlier article complete with many citations and references [here].
Jesus Christ is true God and true man
We confess that one and the same Christ, Lord, and only-begotten Son, is to be acknowledged in two natures without confusion, change, division or separation. The distinction between the natures was never abolished by their union, but rather the character proper to each of the two natures was preserved as they came together in one person (prosopon) and one hypostasis. (CCC 467, Council of Chalcedon [DS 302])
At the Incarnation, humanity was not absorbed into divinity, but was personally united to the divine nature. Thus, both natures (human and divine) remain unmixed and unconfused. However, neither are they separate or divided – for they are truly united.
Jesus was not “just a man”, nor was he “just God” – rather, he is both man and God. Neither is there a part of Jesus which is man and a part which is God; but he is fully man and fully God. Whenever we speak of Jesus, we speak of the God-man and of the single divine Persons who is God the Son. The Eternal Word is the sole subject of both natures, there is not a human person but only one divine Person – hence, whatever we predicate of Jesus is predicated of the Eternal Son of the Father.
Is a painful birth required in order to be truly human?
Some will say that (if Jesus was born miraculously of Mary, without causing her any pain, but coming forth from her womb as light through glass and as thought from intellect) then Jesus wouldn’t be truly human. Some will say, “I  feel separated from Christ if he didn’t share in the painful (and bloody) birth which is common to the human race. Then he wouldn't be truly human.”
The response to this is simple: Is a child only human after birth? Shall we say that babies aren’t human when they are in the womb, but only when they are given a natural and ordinary birth?
And what about children delivered through c-section? Are they any less human for having been “born” in a way different from the ordinary mode? Further, we can mention children formed in test-tubes – are they not truly human because they do not share in the ordinary process of gestation and birth which is common to the human race?
Finally, consider the creation account – while many may not accept the historicity of this portion of Genesis (and this is not our concern here, so we set the question aside), I have never met any who claim that Adam and Eve wouldn’t truly be human for not having been born in the normal way!
Indeed, if Christ can be conceived of a virgin, he can most certainly be born of a virgin in a miraculous way. The mode of our birth has no effect whatsoever on whether or not we are truly human. Like all of us, Jesus is true man because he possessed a human nature.
Is an ordinary delivery necessary to be a true mother?
Others will say that (if Jesus came forth from Mary as thought from intellect and light through glass) the Blessed Virgin would not be a true mother. “If she didn’t go through the pains of labor,” say such persons, “then she wasn’t truly Jesus’ mother.”
We reply: Is a woman only a mother when she gives birth? Is she not a mother at the moment of conception? And what (again) of the case of a c-section – shall we say that women who go through this abnormal means of delivery are not true mothers? Further, shall we say that a test-tube baby has no mother? Of course not!
All that is required of motherhood is to provide the material necessary for generation (i.e. the egg). This is why, from the very moment of conception, Mary was the true and natural Mother of Jesus.
A miraculous birth does not negatively affect Mary’s Motherhood any more than does the miraculous and virginal conception of the Child.
Does more knowledge make a man less human?
“If Christ knew everything, then he wouldn’t be truly human”, some will say. In one, very restricted sense, there is truth to this – for, in his human intellect, it is impossible that Jesus should know and comprehend the totality of the divine Essence (i.e. the Trinity is still a mystery to Jesus in his humanity, though in his divinity he fully comprehends) and also to know all the possible worlds that God could have created.
However, when the Church teaches that Jesus was perfected in wisdom and knowledge, she means to say that our Savior knew all things past, present and future – i.e. he knew all created truths. Jesus knew you and I and all that we would ever do, and he loved us with his Sacred and human Heart.
“But,” they say, “if Jesus knew every language, he wouldn’t really be human!” How foolish this is! Does a man become less human when he learns to read Latin? Is a man less human when he gains knowledge? Of course not!
If knowledge does not make us mere men to be less human, why should it diminish the humanity of Jesus? Indeed, we may well say that knowledge perfects our humanity – insofar as, the more we know, the more elevated is our human intellect. Therefore, for Christ to be a perfect man (as he surely is), his intellect must be perfected with all the knowledge of which man is capable. If he is truly the perfect man, then Jesus must have known all things which a man can know!
Finally, regarding the knowledge of all languages, we must admit that the Apostles did not lose their humanity when filled with the Holy Spirit and given the gift of speaking in all languages – why then should we suppose that the Christ, who is perfectly filled with the Spirit, would not know all languages? Surely, if infused knowledge did dissolve the humanity of the Apostles, neither did it diminish the humanity of our Savior.
Did Jesus leave his divinity with the Father, and empty himself of the divine nature?
What is really at the heart of the modern objections to the virgin birth and the perfect knowledge of Christ is this silly idea that Jesus “left his divinity with the Father” and “emptied himself of the divine nature” when he became man. These persons try to present a merely human Jesus. This is pure heresy.
Christ our Savior is both God and man – he was not simply man on earth, just as he is not now only God in heaven. Everything that Christ did during his time on earth was the action of the God-man, the activity of the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity.
If Jesus had left his divinity with the Father, then he would not truly be Emmanuel, God-with-us. We must be on our guard against this most pernicious heresy, this perfidious blasphemy.


Rob said...

Furthermore, I know a woman who, in all her births, claims to not have suffered any pains. Is she therefore not human? Are mothers who do suffer pain, but less of it, therefore less human?

Anonymous said...

Thank you Father,
Are there any sound sources that tell us what our Mother Mary was thinking as she held her Son's lifeless body following the His death? What I wonder is whether this (virgin birth) miracle helped sustain her, as the transfiguration may have helped others?

Credo Chris

Dan said...

From Ephraim the Syrian concerning Jesus....

“If He was not flesh, who was lying in the manger? And if He was not God, whom did the Angels come down and glorify? “If He was not flesh, who was wrapped in swaddling clothes? And if He was not God, whom did the shepherds worship? “If He was not flesh, whom did Joseph circumcise? And if He was not God, in whose honor did the star speed through the heavens?

“If He was not flesh, whom did Mary suckle? And if He was not God, to whom did the Magi offer gifts? “If He was not flesh, whom did Simeon carry in his arms? And if He was not God, to whom did He say, “Let me depart in peace”? “If He was not flesh, whom did Joseph take and flee into Egypt? And if He was not God, in whom were words “Out of Egypt I have called my Son” fulfilled?

“If He was not flesh, whom did John baptize? And if He was not God, to whom did the Father from heaven say, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased”? “If He was not flesh, who fasted and hungered in the desert? And if He was not God, whom did the Angels come down and serve? “If He was not flesh, who was invited to the wedding in Cana of Galilee? And if He was not God, who turned the water into wine?

“If He was not flesh, in whose hands were the loaves? And if He was not God, who satisfied crowds and thousands in the desert, not counting women and children, from five loaves and two fishes? “If He was not flesh, who fell asleep in the boat? And if He was not God, who rebuked the winds and the sea? “If He was not flesh, with whom did Simon the Pharisee eat? And if He was not God, who pardoned the offences of the sinful woman? “If He was not flesh, who sat by the well, worn out by the journey? And if He was not God, who gave living water to the woman of Samaria and reprehended her because she had had five husbands?

“If He was not flesh, who wore human garments? And if He was not God, who did acts of power and wonders? “If He was not flesh, who spat on the ground and made clay? And if He was not God, who through the clay compelled the eyes to see? “If He was not flesh, who wept at Lazarus’ grave? And if He was not God, who by His command brought out one four days dead? “If He was not flesh, who sat on the foal? And if He was not God, whom did the crowds go out to meet with glory? “If He was not flesh, whom did the Jews arrest? And if He was not God, who gave an order to the earth and threw them onto their faces.

“If He was not flesh, who was struck with a blow? And if He was not God, who cured the ear that had been cut off by Peter and restored it to its place? “If He was not flesh, who received spittings on His face? And if He was not God, who breathed the Holy Spirit into the faces of His Apostles? “If He was not flesh, who stood before Pilate at the judgment seat? And if He was not God, who made Pilate’s wife afraid by a dream? “If He was not flesh, whose garments did the soldiers strip off and divide? And if He was not God, how was the sun darkened at the cross?

“If He was not flesh, who was hung on the cross? And if He was not God, who shook the earth from its foundations? “If He was not flesh, whose hands and feet were transfixed by nails? And if He was not God, how was the veil of the temple rent, the rocks broken and the graves opened? “If He was not flesh, who cried out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me”? And if He was not God, who said “Father, forgive them”? “If He was not flesh, who was hung on a cross with the thieves? And if He was not God, how did He say to the thief, “Today you will be with me in Paradise”?

“If He was not flesh, to whom did they offer vinegar and gall? And if He was not God, on hearing whose voice did Hades tremble? “If He was not flesh, whose side did the lance pierce, and blood and water came out? And if He was not God, who smashed the gates of Hades and tear apart ist bonds? And at whose command did the imprisoned dead come out? “If He was not flesh, whom did the Apostles see in the upper room? And if He was not God, how did He enter when the doors were shut?'

Howard said...

It appears to me that in any human being there are two ways in which knowledge can occur: in the brain, as in any animal, and in the soul. I think it can be affirmed that some knowledge and memory reside in the soul, independent of the brain, but it is not clear to me how much knowledge and memory typically reside there; cases of brain injury appear to imply that it is usually quite limited, but this appearance may be deceptive. On the other hand, the amount of information that can be stored in the brain, although enormous, is finite; there are only so many neurons and ganglia in the organ. Am I to take it, then, that the human soul is (in principle, when not stained by sin) capable of an infinite amount of knowledge?

Howard said...

I had always assumed that knowledge was passed from His divine nature to His human nature as needed, perhaps in a manner analogous to the transfer of divine knowledge to a prophet, but more likely in some way unique to the hypostatic union. This would be another example of embracing human limitations without surrendering His divinity. If the Church teaches otherwise, I will certainly submit, but I would like to see statements that are unambiguously teaching statements and that unambiguously place the knowledge in His human nature. The quotes you provide from Popes Benedict XV and Pius XII are magisterial, but do not seem to directly contradict my previous opinion.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Yes, excellent analogy!

Thank you for that beautiful quotation from St. Ephraim!

@Credo Christ,
You are very right in pointing out the connection between Mary's joy in giving birth and her sorrow in offering her Son at the Cross.
St. John Chrysostom also speaks to this -- unfortunately, I do not have the citation handy. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The human brain does not have any true capacity to know or remember -- insofar as we think of the brain as a material organ.
Indeed, only insofar as a thing is immaterial, is it capable of true reason.
Brute animals do not possess real knowledge, but only instinct.

Thus, all knowledge resides in the soul -- but, for human souls, this knowledge can only be expressed through the body ... and this is why brain injury reduces a persons mental abilities.
Still, to be very clear, someone who suffers a brain injury does not lose rationality -- rather, their rationality is impaired ... as human beings, they are still rational animals (even though they cannot act on the rational powers of the soul).

The human soul is not infinite ... however, all that is created is finite and therefore the soul can come to know all that has been or will be created -- and there is no limit to what the soul could know (it can always come to know more, if there is more to be known).

Hope that makes sense.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Your description of the divinity in Jesus progressively revealing things to his humanity would seem to be condemned in the following pronouncement:
“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)

Further, we know that Jesus knew all things past, present and future, from the very beginning of the Incarnation ... this is specified in the quote from Benedict XV -- he knew all these things "from the beginning" (i.e. from the first moment of his conception) --
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)

You see, if Jesus had the beatific vision from the moment of his conception (as taught by Pius XII) then he had to know all created things through this vision of the divine Essence -- that is what the beatific vision means.

What he have to avoid is any notion of the divinity being in Jesus and slowly revealing things to him ... this would be the divine essence dwelling in him as in another.

Hope that makes sense! It is most certainly a complicated point of theology ... and I'm sure I'm not as clear as I would like to be some times! :-)

Nick said...


I thank you for this series of posts on this subject, because now I'm paying extra attention to details I've not seen in the past. Also, I've come to realize and accept how glorious these Truths are and should not be forgotten during contemplation.

For example, when the Creed says "Born of a Virgin" I now realize this more accurately conforms to a "Virgin during Birth," not just prior. Another amazing bit of evidence I came across was the Te Deum prayer, which says:

"Thou didst not disdain the Virgin's womb."

Another translation I read said Jesus did not "spurn the Virgin's womb". What else can this mean than the Virginal Birth? None that I can think of.

Here it is in Latin:
Tu ad liberandum suscepturus hominem, non horruisti Virginis uterum.

Maybe someone who knows Latin can get a more accurate translation?

As for not experiencing pain: if Eve would not have sinned, she would not experience pain in childbirth either - though she would not have remained a virgin.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

All excellent points! +

Anonymous said...


I enjoyed your post and your exposition of our Mother's Virginity but I feel like there must be a bit of clarification necessary concerning the knowledge of Jesus and how it is being addressed since the Catechism seems to differentiate between a "true human knowledge" and "divine wisdom" (see CCC 472-474). I know that the Catechism is not a definitive doctrinal source in itself but it would be difficult to see how it could stray so far from what you are saying.

In Christ,
--Tony M

Howard said...

I submit, of course, to the Teachings of the Church. This is one that I think could not have been deduced from philosophy alone, or even from Scripture alone, so I was merely ignorant, not rebellious. Thank you for the reference. I am an adult convert, and I knew when I converted that in agreeing to believe all that the Church teaches I was agreeing to much more than is contained in the Catechism!

I'll have to give some thought to your other comments. Of course I agree that the brain, as a material object, cannot properly be said to understand or even remember; it's something a little more like a notepad that I can use to do arithmetic or write notes to myself. On the other hand, my soul is the form of my body; it has no such intimate relationship with the notepad. My ability to do math without scratch paper is sharply curtailed; it is not eliminated altogether.

Is creation finite? It's obviously not infinite in the same sense that God is infinite, but there is a countable infinity of rational numbers between 0 and 1, and an uncountable number of real numbers between 0 and 1. If we are using infinity in the sense of mathematicians, computer scientists, or physicists, creation may well be "infinite" in some ways.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@SWP, I did not post your comment because it spoke too directly of female anatomy.
If you would like to rephrase the question - without the direct biological references - please do feel free.

The question raised seems to be that a natural birth requires that a child pass through the birth canal and cause rupture ... I answer, that Jesus may have indeed passed through his Mother's birth canal (I do not know for sure), but he certainly did not cause rupture.
The Nativity is a true birth -- insofar as the Child in the womb comes forth into the world.
On the other hand, the birth is quite supernatural and miraculous (as the Church herself teaches) -- since Christ comes forth from a Virgin.

And this has nothing to do with saying that certain female organs are "dirty" or "impure" -- quite the opposite! Christ sanctifies our Lady's virginity by his birth (as the quote from the top of the article specifies).
Mary's womb (and birth canal, and virginal closure) is sanctified and made holy by Christ's miraculous birth! How sacred is our Lady's virginity, how holy and pure -- so much so that our Savior did not desire to cause any damage when he came forth from there!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Tony M,
I know that that portion of the Catechism can be a bit confusing. Still, look especially at the footnotes -- we are directed to St. Gregory the Great's condemnation of the agnoetic heretics who were condemned for saying that as a man Jesus did not know the day of Judgment.
The footnotes explain the true meaning of the Catechism text ... and these (especially from Gregory) point out that our Savior was ignorant of nothing created.

Regarding "true human knowledge" ... the Catechism uses this phrase to refer to the acquired knowledge which Christ gained through sense experience.
Regarding "divine wisdom", this refers both to the Beatific vision by which Christ (as man) knew all things in the Word and also to the infused knowledge (by which was revealed to him all things which a man can know).

So, remember always, Christ as a man knew in three ways: 1) By the beatific vision (like the saints in heaven), 2) by infused knowledge (like the prophets), 3) by sense experience (which is simple and ordinary human knowledge).
Only that which he knew from sense experience do we say he knew "from" his humanity ... though he knew all created truths in the first and second ways, "in" his humanity, from its union to the divinity.

What he did not know as man is the fullness of the Divine Essense -- neither does he know all the possible things God could create.
Of course, he does know these as God; but not in his human intellect. All else, ALL ELSE, he knows in his human intellect (though not necessary "from" his humanity, i.e. not from sense experience).

Hope it is clearer know! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

We are all constantly learning, my brother!
And, even when we do gain some understanding, it is hard to put it in the right words ... I myself constantly find this difficulty -- I understand little, and I can explain even less! :-)

Regarding the infinite ... I suppose that, in one sense, we understand the infinite between 0 and 1 -- but there is another sort of infinity, which refers to a perfect which cannot be surpassed ... and this cannot be in creation, because we could always add one more.
And, whatever is or was or will be in creation (and this must be a finite reality), was known by Jesus in his human intellect.

Peace to you! +

Anonymous said...

Hey Father,

How do you respond to accusations that with all the focus on virginity, the Church downplays or even degrades sexual activity? The charge is a fairly common one in the secular world. Do we have any great Saints who spoke about this issue?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Anonymous (7:37pm),
Please use a pseudonym.

I think our response to this accusation is twofold:
1) We say, "If the Church is against sex, where do all the children come from?"

2) We admit to something of their claim -- for indeed, the Church does admit that sex is mundane and of this life, and will not remain in heaven: " For in the resurrection they shall neither marry nor be married; but shall be as the angels of God in heaven." (Matthew 22:30)

As far as great saints who defend the dignity of married life -- St. Josemaria Escriva is good to look at, though very modern. Indeed, I think that the devotion of Opus Dei will help bring about a great renewal of married life in the modern Church. +

Harry said...

1) Hah! Yeah, I thought that would be the most obvious response. They're aren't many Catholic families with single children, are there?
2) That makes sense too, but still it seems an extremely important part of our life on earth. The subject seems neglected.

Opus Dei would be a good start, (though I hear weird things about St Josemaria, but to be fair I've heard bad things about just about every other Saint in living memory) but I think Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body is an extremely important development. A group of nuns are using a Catechesis course for teenagers based on it close to where I live- an excellent way of reaching out to young people.

Not everything modern has to be regarded with suspicion- although that often seems to be prudential, sadly. JP II's work in this area addressed something that was for too long neglected, in my opinion.

Alessandro said...

Dear Father,
I was wondering a couple of things about Jesus’ way to learn, so I came to some kind of reasoning. I hope you can understand what I mean, because it’s not so easy to explain, especially for me who am Italian and can’t write English very well.
I think we might distinguish, in the ordinary use of speech, two forms of knowledge: indeed, we can know how to do something, or we can know to do something. I’ll explain in a couple of examples.

A child generally begins to walk on his two legs many months after his birth. A scholar would say that there are two distinct elements contributing to that action: a physical condition (such as the size of the head when compared to the body, as it contributes to balance, or the strength in the muscles of the legs); and a mental condition, that is the learning of how we are supposed to walk. When the child has acquired the first element, he instinctively begins to try to walk, but he does so with difficulty. He must learn how to pull himself up, then how to keep balance while standing still, then to move his legs wavering as little as possible, and finally to stop when required. These skills are acquired ordinarily by experience, which is a form of mental knowledge.
Now, I suppose from your discussion that Jesus had an innate knowledge of how to perform every single action mentioned above, but I also clearly suppose that Jesus outwardly looked like an ordinary child, so that his anatomical conditions prevented him to walk properly. My understanding, at this point, is this: Jesus began to walk as soon as his biology allowed, and when he did, he never missed a step. He immediately walked without staggering, without pulling himself up with his hands to the ground, without stumbling. He didn’t need to learn, he already knew what he couldn’t still do.

Similarly, we may say the same thing as for what speech is concerned. Jesus knew all languages (not just of his time: He could speak every language from any point in history – if an English time traveller should meet him, he could fluently talk with him), but his physical conditions probably prevented him to articulate complex sounds. But as soon as he could speak, Jesus spoke Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin etc. more fluently and correctly than any other native speaker and writer – his Latin was better than Cicero’s. No mistake in pronunciation, grammar, syntax was ever heard from his mouth, whatever the language he spoke. And his hands could actually write any language he chose. He could even speak every variant of sign language since the time his hands had fully developed in Mary’s body. I might even go further: every sentence he pronounced, every word he chose, was the most fitting sentence or word possible in the language he adopted in order to convey what he meant. When we speak, even as native speakers, we may sometimes choose words which betray the original meaning, so that communication may fail by misunderstanding – but Jesus always said what he actually meant in the best possible way the language allowed him to do (which may explain why we take very seriously and ad litteram his declarations such as “This is my body”).

I hope I’m expressing the opinion of the Church, but I wait for your confirmation.

Sean said...

All that has been said here does make sense on a purely theological plane but what does it mean from the perspective of the human psychological perception/development of the Man, Jesus?
Does it mean that Jesus as man could never have known doubt or uncertainty,never have lived by faith or performed a miracle that required faith,never had any need of revelation nor ever experienced the gradual unfolding of mission or destiny? I could go on!!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I think you are correct.
I suppose we could allow that the Infant Christ would have stumbled when first beginning to walk ... insofar as his muscles had to develop as well -- much as he fell while carrying the Cross.

Regarding grammar, yes! I think it is impossible that our Savior should have ever made a mistake in grammar or the like -- though, I'm sure, he did use words according to the custom of his time and with the style of his time (even when he could have been more eloquent, he did not do so because he didn't wan't to draw attention to himself in that manner).

I especially like your notion that Jesus always said what was most appropriate! Very true.

As far as whether this is the "opinion of the Church" ... that is a bit more difficult to say.
I believe that the Church's teachings would lead us to these conclusions, but there has never been a Magisterial document which got into these complex questions.

So, I will say this -- what you express is at least in accord with the teaching of the Church, and seems to follow naturally from those teachings.

Peace and blessings always. +
[Also, if ever needed, do feel free to write in Italian. However, your English is excellent!]

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

That is correct ... Jesus never experienced doubt or confusion or uncertainty.
Thus, as you say, he did not need faith in the sense that other have faith ... rather, he had the fulfillment of faith which is sight!
Likewise, he did not have hope in the way we do ... rather, he had the fulfillment of hope, which is attainment!

Faith gives way to sight, hope gives way to attainment ... but love remains!
Christ's perfect human vision of the Divinity is the cause of our faith.
Christ's perfect possession of the divinity (in him the fullness of divinity dwelt) is the cause of our hope.

He did however have need of revelation ... but all things were revealed to him in the first instant of his conception ... so it was not a progressive revelation.

If Jesus had the beatific vision from his conception (as Pius XII and all the Fathers and Doctors maintain), then he had to know all created truths in this vision [though he learned them in a knew way through sense experience].

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)

Regarding your idea that Christ "lived by faith" ... do you really want to say that he "walked by faith and not by sight"?! Shall the incarnate Word not know himself?! Shall the God-man not be perfectly united to divinity?!
Did Jesus only "see as in a glass darkly"?! Can the "light of the world" have lacked the perfection of interior light (i.e. the light of glory which the saints and angels enjoy)?!

Michelangelo said...

Dear Father Ryan,

Thanks again! If you would recapitulate and just see if I got this question correct. From your previous post on the meaning of Jesus' statement that only the Father knows the day and the hour of the Final Judgment and end of time, per your response to Tony M, copied in part below, am I correct to say that the Son knows the day and the hour in His Divine Person, but not in His human intellect? God bless, and Happy Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus!

"So, remember always, Christ as a man knew in three ways: 1) By the beatific vision (like the saints in heaven), 2) by infused knowledge (like the prophets), 3) by sense experience (which is simple and ordinary human knowledge).
Only that which he knew from sense experience do we say he knew "from" his humanity ... though he knew all created truths in the first and second ways, "in" his humanity, from its union to the divinity."

What he did not know as man is the fullness of the Divine Essense -- neither does he know all the possible things God could create.
Of course, he does know these as God; but not in his human intellect. All else, ALL ELSE, he knows in his human intellect (though not necessary "from" his humanity, i.e. not from sense experience).

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

What we say (following St Gregory the Great) is that Jesus knew the day and the hour "in" his humanity (i.e. in his human intellect), but not "from" his humanity (i.e. not from sense experience or deductive reasoning).

Thus, Jesus (even as man) knows the end times -- be he knows it through the special revelation given in infused knowledge by the Holy Spirit.

Hope that is more clear now. Peace to you! +

Flamen said...

There is no basis in Scripture or the Patristic Tradition that Jesus had the Beatific Vision. Scholastics who wanted to attribute every possible perfection to the human nature of Jesus maintained that He had the beatific vision. It is not an infallible teaching of the Church although it has even been mentioned in an Encyclical of Pius XII. Two points should be considered. First, the evidence in the New Testament of the limitation of Jesus’ knowledge. For many examples see Raymond E. Brown,S.S., An Introduction To New Testament Christology. Second, “How admit that Christ could really have suffered in his human nature the terrible trial of the Passion if he already possessed the beatitude reserved for the elect in heaven? How, too, could we take the agony of Gethsemane and the dereliction of Calvary seriously? Since the entire process of the Incarnation is oriented towards the work of the Redemption, the beatific vision must be excluded from Jesus’ earthly life. … He did not have the immediate vision or the beatitude of the vision.” Jean Galot,S.J., Who Is Christ? That Jesus had extraordinary knowledge is evident from the Gospels and that would be understood as the limited infused knowledge necessary for his mission

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Arius himself would have been scandalized at the words of Fr. Galot and at your comment.

Sure, Arius denied Jesus' divinity (really, the divinity of the Word), but he would never have attributed positive ignorance to the man Christ.

I say it again ... even Arius (the heresiarch) would reject these modernist notions as heresy and blasphemies against the Savior.

You have been infected my brother ... put down Brown and Galot ... pick up the Fathers and the Scholastic Doctors ... look especially to St. Thomas (after all, Vatican II was the first ecumenical council to officially name him as the guide for all theologians).

If Christ did not have the beatific vision, then his humanity could not be the source of grace for us all. For he cannot give what he does not have in a most excellent manner.
Thus, if he is our Savior while on earth (and not merely in heaven), if he won for us the blessedness of heaven while he was yet on earth, then surely he already enjoyed that blessedness in the immediate vision of the Father which he enjoyed in his human soul (and, after the resurrection, also in his body).

If you are willing to give Christ the infused knowledge of heavenly things, how can you deny him the knowledge of earthly things?
If he knows not the corporeal, how could he know the spiritual?
But if he knows his mission perfectly (in which he is Lord and King of the Universe and Savior of all), how can we deny him knowledge of so little a thing as languages or mathematics?

Well, here is not the place to engage in the debate further ... think on these things ... read the Fathers, read the Doctors, read the Magisterium.
Fear is the beginning of wisdom. +

Stomachosus said...

Fr., with due respect, your comment to Howard about soul/memory/knowledge seems a bit off. While there is such a thing as intellectual memory, the faculty of memory itself is (at least in the Aristotelean-Thomist tradition) one of the sensory powers and therefore involved with an organ. Indeed, higher animals have memory (and imagination, common sense and the estimative sense, called the cognitive in man)

And while brute animals do not have knowledge properly so-called, it is also not true that they have only purely instinct, insofar as through memory and imagination they can be trained for example. Now even sensory knowledge, both inner and exterior, like sight, involve immateriality, but a different sort than that of intellectual knowledge (namely insofar as such impression have intentional being).

Perhaps a minor quibble in the context of the larger discussion, but I find that many people balk on the notion that animals don't have reason, but largely because they confuse imagination and memory with reason and your comment was that even remembering required a rational soul.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Thank you once again for the precision in doctrine!

Yes, I certainly misspoke ... must have been writing to quickly.
I had intended to say that animals have the "vis estimativa" -- an estimative power -- which sometimes looks to us like reason.

Also, you are correct that the memory and the imagination are more tied to organs (specifically to the brain) and are shared (partially) with the beasts.
This is an important point also in spiritual theology -- St. Teresa of Avila makes a big deal about this when advising that we need not be overcome with guilt if we suffer distractions in prayer because the imagination is on the edge of the interior castle while the reason and will are toward the center. Hence, even if our imagination is plagued by wandering images, the heart of the soul can enjoy an interior peace with the Lord.

Peace to you! +

Stomachosus said...


If I remember Fr. Gallot correctly he recognizes the problem of saying Christ had faith, and tries and claims that instead of faith He had infused prophetic knowledge, but not the beatific vision. That position at least acknowledges that you cannot say Christ had faith, but it is impossible.

For to have knowledge of something is nothing less than to have an intentional species of that thing in the intellect. That is, man does not have knowledge without something actually existing in his intellect, the conception or word that represents this thing, called an impressed species. But there is no ability for there to be a created species of God. To have knowledge of God Himself, especially His inner life, would mean to have the form of God in one's mind, just as to have knowledge of man is to have the form of man in one's mind. But God does not fall under a genus, He is not an individual of a species. He is that very form. Therefore to have knowledge and not faith in God is nothing other than the beatific vision. Anything less is not knowledge of God but faith through external signs that are not God.

We may know without the beatific vision certain propositions about God. But not the Trinity. Christ clearly knew Himself and the Father.

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