Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Christ did not grow in grace or in holiness

And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and grace with God and men. (Luke 2:52, Douay-Rheims)
This passage from the Gospel according to St. Luke is often interpreted (in a manner smacking of heresy) to indicate that there was a substantial growth of holiness and grace in our Savior. However, upon reflection, it will become abundantly clear that such could not have been the case. Jesus could not and did not grow in holiness, but was from the first moment of his conception perfectly and totally holy.
This is especially relevant as we celebrated the feast of the Baptism of the Lord last Sunday not as a moment of increase in grace in our Lord, but as an Epiphany or Manifestation of the fundamental fullness of grace and holiness which he had enjoyed from the moment of his conception.

Christ is totally and perfectly holy
That our Savior was totally and perfectly holy is a direct conclusion from the union of humanity and divinity in his one divine person. Precisely because Jesus of Nazareth is the very Son of the Father, he must be (ever and always) totally and perfectly holy.
Thus, St. John relates:
We saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
And again:
For he whom God has sent speaks the words of God: for God does not give the Spirit by measure. The Father loves the Son: and he has given all things into his hand. (John 3:34-35)
Now, if the Savior was full of grace and truth and if this grace was not given by measure but rather the Father has given all things into his hand, that is, he has given all graces to his human nature, from this we must conclude that the good Jesus was totally perfected in all holiness and grace.
Furthermore, because his humanity is the cause of grace in us, it is necessary that he be wholly perfected in grace as man – for he can only give that which he already possesses, hence his holiness is entirely greater than all the holiness of all the saints combined. Indeed, his holiness must be perfect in order to be the cause of perfection in men.
Holiness: Freedom from sin
Holiness has two characteristics: Freedom from sin and union with God. In regards to the first, we must insist that our Savior was (from the first moment of his conception) wholly and entirely free from all sin and from every stain of sin and even from every imperfection or disorder of the will and intellect which comes from sin.
Jesus was perfectly and completely sinless. This is a dogma of the Church.
Therefore, it is clear that, under this aspect, the holiness of Christ our Savior was full and complete from the moment he came into the world – and this holiness could not possibly have increased throughout his life. He was already wholly separated from sin, even from the first moment of his existence as a man.
Holiness: Union with God
In another respect, holiness is union with God. But here it is clear that the holiness of Christ was indeed perfect and total from the moment of his conception – because there is no greater union of man to God than that which was effect in Christ through the union of human nature to the divine nature in his single divine person.
The holiness of our Savior is founded upon this union – which is an uncreated grace, the grace of the hypostatic union. In this sense, our Lord’s holiness was innate, substantial, uncreated and inamissible. This holiness clearly could not have increased throughout his life – because the union of humanity and divinity was not augmented in Christ as he grew with age but was perfect from the first.
The fullness of created graces
Now, some may attempt to hold that our Savior did not have the fullness of all created graces from his conception – but that these were given to him gradually. Let us consider what this would mean.
St. John Vianney could “read souls” – this was a grace infused by the Holy Spirit at particular moments for the benefit of souls. Shall we deny this grace in a most eminent degree to our Savior, even when he was in the womb? Would we dare to claim that the power of the Spirit at work in the saintly Cure of Ars was greater than that at work in the infant Jesus? Should even St. John Vianney be elevated to a higher holiness than the Divine Infant? Even in just one grace?
No! By heaven, no! It is a blasphemy.
Our Savior must always have had every grace which would ever be given to any of the saints. He must have had these graces in an eminent degree. He must have had even more graces than these.
This is why the Venerable Pius XII states:
 “[Christ] is gifted with those supernatural powers that accompany the hypostatic union, since the Holy Spirit dwells in him with a fullness of grace than which no greater can be imagined.” (Mystici Corporis, 1943 [here])
If the Child in the womb of Mary is indeed our Savior, then he must not stand in need of any increase in grace or in holiness. If he is the Savior, then he cannot himself need to be saved or made holy in any respect – but must already be fully and completely holy in himself.
Again, Pius XII states:
“At the first moment of the Incarnation the Son of the Eternal Father adorned with the fullness of the Holy Spirit the human nature which was substantially united to him, that it might be a fitting instrument of the Divinity in the sanguinary work of Redemption.”
But, if the Child lacked any gift or grace in the first moment of his Incarnation, then this holiness would not be greater than can be imagined. Furthermore, if his holiness and spiritual adornment with graces is the result not of his natural growth, but of the hypostatic union, then it is clear that this fullness and totally must have been complete from the moment of the union and could not have increased throughout his life.
The Common Doctor and Blessed John Paul II
St. Thomas, the Angel of Aquin, teaches:
“Now the end of grace is the union of the rational creature with God. But there can neither be nor be thought a greater union of the rational creature with God than that which is in the Person. And hence the grace of Christ reached the highest measure of grace. Hence it is clear that the grace of Christ cannot be increased on the part of grace. But neither can it be increased on the part of the subject, since Christ as man was a true and full comprehensor from the first instant of His conception. Hence there could have been no increase of grace in Him, as there could be none in the rest of the blessed, whose grace could not increase, seeing that they have reached their last end.” (ST III, q.7, a.12 [here])
And the Great John Paul II further states:
“At the instant in which the Eternal Word becomes man, a unique fullness of human holiness is accomplished in the assumed nature, a fullness which goes beyond that of any other saint, not only of the old but also of the new covenant.” (Audience of 6 June 1990 [here])
“The Holy Spirit instilled the fullness of grace in Christ, for the personal union of the human nature with the Word of God, for the extreme nobility of his soul and for his sanctifying and salvific mission for the whole human race.” (Audience of 27 June 1990 [here])
Finally, we do well to note that the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (553) condemned and anathematized Theodore of Mopsuestia (a favorite of Hans Urs von Balthasar), in part, for holding that our Savior increased in holiness and grace during his life on earth.
And Jesus advanced in grace (Luke 2:52)
And so, we return to our Scriptural text, which precisely does not say that our Lord grew in substantial holiness or grace – Luke 2:52.
And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and grace with God and men. (Douay-Rheims)
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man. (RSV)
Now, there is no indication of a growth in grace, obviously. However, we do take occasion to point out that Catholics have often used this verse to speak of the growth in the “manifestation” of the grace which was always fully present in Christ’s soul.
Thomas tells us:
“Anyone may increase in wisdom and grace in two ways. First inasmuch as the very habits of wisdom and grace are increased; and in this way Christ did not increase. Secondly, as regards the effects, i.e. inasmuch as they do wiser and greater works; and in this way Christ increased in wisdom and grace even as in age, since in the course of time He did more perfect works, to prove Himself true man, both in the things of God, and in the things of man.” (ST III, q.7, a.12, ad 3 [here])
And Pope John Paul II:
“Luke the evangelist, perhaps echoing private conversations with Mary, tells us that, as the Son of Man, Jesus grew in wisdom, age and favor before God and man (Lk 2:52; cf. Lk 2:40). In an analogous way one can also speak of ‘growth’ in holiness in the sense of an ever more complete manifestation and fulfillment of that fundamental fullness of holiness with which Jesus came into the world. The moment in which the consecration of the Son in the Holy Spirit was made known in a special way, at the level of mission, was at the start of the messianic activity of Jesus of Nazareth: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me: because he has anointed me; he has sent me (Lk 4:18).” (Audience of 6 June 1990 [here])
And again:
“The grace which, again according to Luke, was ‘upon’ Jesus and in which he ‘grew,’ seems to indicate the mysterious presence and action of the Holy Spirit in which, according to the Baptist's proclamation reported by the four Gospels, Jesus would be baptized (cf. Mt 3:11; Mk 1:8; Lk 3:16; Jn 1:33).” (Audience of 27 June 1990 [here])
Thus, it is clear that the Blessed Pontiff (who was ever a disciple of the Angelic Thomas) maintained that this “growth” in holiness was only an increase in the manifestation of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the humanity of Jesus. In this way, he is in perfect accord with the Angel of the Schools.
Finally, consider the classic Catholic commentary of Fr. Haydock:
“Not that he was wiser at any future period of his life, than he was at the moment of his conception, but this is said, because he chose to manifest increasing signs of wisdom as he increased in years. --- In the same manner also he increased in grace, by displaying, as he advanced in age, the gifts of grace with which he was endowed; and by this excited men to the praise of God, from the consideration of favours God had bestowed upon him; and thus he conduced to the honour of God, and the salvation of men. (St. Gregory) --- The sun, always equally brilliant in itself, is said to increase in splendour, till it has reached its meridian brilliancy.” [here]
Catholics do not and have never believed that Jesus increased in grace, but we have always maintained that he was perfected in all grace from the first moment of his conception.


Marko Ivančičević said...

Excelent article as always.

I want to ask you a question even if it is an off topic because i'm in serious need.

I was at confession. After i said my sins the priest asked me if i read the Gospels and i said yes, even if i don't do it on regular basis(but i have read them before and on the very same day). Now, in the moment when i said "yes" i said "yes" because i didn't want to say "no", and i taught of myself as not reading the Gospels on a regular basis. Later it occured to me that i in fact read the Gospels that same day and i asked myself:"Was this a lie? Or i just didn't remember in that given moment that i have read the Gospels? Does this fact that i read them make that "yes" not a lie? ". I don't even know why i said "yes" if i taught of my reading as "no". Maybe out of shame...Maybe i have a problem with lying.

Have i lied? Have i done a sacrilegious confession?

CM7 said...

And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and grace with God and men.

I understand that Jesus would increase in wisdom and age and grace with men (who are ignorant), as those things were revealed to them, but how can this increase in knowledge of these attributes be applied to God (all knowing)?

Why wouldn't God the Father already know these things?

God bless,

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I would say that I don't think so ... it doesn't sound like it was a direct lie (though perhaps not the whole truth, neither was it really a lie) ... further, you were not hiding a mortal sin from the priest ... therefore, I do not think that this would make the confession sacrilegious ... so, as far as I can tell, you should be at peace.

God's blessings! +

Marko Ivančičević said...

Thank you Father.
So basically, what makes the confession sacrilegious is concealing truth about our mortal sins and not about our personal information.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. You are a delight to read. How'd you ever sneak through a modern seminary ? :)

Shirley J. Schultz said...

I loved the article. Thank you, Father. I am always distressed when our Pastor, during his homilies, makes statements like, "Mary got angry with Jesus for staying in the Temple for three days without telling her", or "Jesus was a typical Boy: talking back to His mother, whining, etc." He mocks me when I try to correct his incorrect perceptions of Jesus, Mary and Joseph or the Angels and Saints. I have reached a point where I don't trust him, so I go to Confession to another Church; and I don't respect him. I do, however, still pray for him.

Monique said...

Could you please in your own words define grace?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Sanctifying grace is that stable reality in the soul by which the Most Holy Trinity dwells within us.
[that is my own words, off the top of my head]

Hope that helps! +

Clinton R. said...

"Dear Father. You are a delight to read. How'd you ever sneak through a modern seminary ? :)"

Did you learn Thomism in the seminary, Father? Because in the last 60 years or so, Novelle Theologie has taken root in most corners of the Church.

Seraphim said...

Scripture does not say that we saw Jesus' and grace become more manifested. It really says that he advanced in wisdom and grace before God as well as men. You're doing violence to the text of Sacred Scripture.

But, Christ was perfectly and completely sinless. Grace and holiness are not defined by an absence of sin (THAT smacks of the Protestant ideas about imputed justification), but rather by life in Christ - which grows, even when sin is absent to begin with. The Theotokos was holier than the unfallen Eve; indeed, she is holier than the angels ("more honorable than the cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim...", in the words of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom). The solution to this theological problem is a return to St. Gregory of Nyssa's concept of epektasis - continual growth in theosis, in holiness, in divine grace for all eternity, which will be experienced by all the saints. (C. S. Lewis described this adventure quite well at the end of "The Last Battle". Getting to Heaven is not a static state that ends - eternity according to St. Boethius is fullness of life, the capturing of all time in an eternal present, not the reduction of time to a static moment.)

"Anyone may increase in wisdom and grace in two ways. First inasmuch as the very habits of wisdom and grace are increased; and in this way Christ did not increase. Secondly, as regards the effects, i.e. inasmuch as they do wiser and greater works; and in this way Christ increased in wisdom and grace even as in age, since in the course of time He did more perfect works, to prove Himself true man, both in the things of God, and in the things of man."

There is a third way for Christ to increase in grace, and that is to increase (through His sacred humanity) in life and unity with God. Grace cannot be reduced to habits and works; it is deeper than that - the life of God in the soul. It is theosis, divinization, not just a good habit.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

In typical modern eastern fashion, you wrote a lot and said nothing.

It is absurd to say that Christ's humanity was progressively more united to the divinity and more "divinized" through his life (excepting, of course, the fact that the glory of his soul overflowed to the resurrection of his body).

For the record, every Eastern Father would condemn as a heresy the idea that Jesus increased in grace and holiness through his life.

Anonymous said...


I have read that some Antiochene Fathers speak sounding this way sometimes. I think what should be remembered is that both the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox - who preach theosis very strongly - strongly reject these semi-Nestorian notions where the soul of Christ is united progressively with the Word. In fact, in my experience, the Eastern theologians downplay the humanity of Christ more so than the Catholic Church. That doesn't make them heretical - nor the Assyrian Church of the East which does tend to emphasize a distinction between the human soul and Word in Jesus - but just different tendencies within the bounds of orthodox understanding. I must confess I am a bit unclear of where the Church stands on the Oriental concept of miaphysitism (which has been confused for Eutychianism, or the heresy monophysitism). Perhaps Father might have some input.

The Oriental Orthodox reject, in fact, dyophysitism entirely and favor what they call miaphysitism. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the Nestorian-Assyrian Antiochene tendencies that you describe are not universally Eastern in any sense, and those who speak most strongly about theosis would be the most opposed to Christ's own divinization (as opposed to our own).

I love the Eastern Churches very much, but we have to remember there are, in fact, at least three different, sometimes conflicting theologies in the East whether Chalcedonian Eastern, Assyrian/"Nestorian," and non-Chalcedonian Oriental/Coptic/Ethiopian.

Alcuin of New York

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the interesting links to JP2's audiences. When I read that of June 27th 1990 I saw the Pope said
"However, the fullness of grace in Jesus was in proportion to his age; there was always fullness, but a fullness which increased as he grew in age. "

Doesn't that contradict your argument that he didn't increase in grace?
Paul, Ireland.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The context and the other audiences make it clear that this "increase" as Christ aged was an increased manifestation of the perfection of grace in Christ.

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