2nd reply to Fr. Erlenbush on the knowledge of Christ

In his recent post at the New Theological Movement blog, Fr. Reginaldus discusses the knowledge of Christ in general, as well as with regard to the verse from the Gospel of Mark in which Christ asserts that the Son does not know the date of the passing away of Heaven and earth (when God makes a new heaven and a new earth).

On the knowledge of Christ in general, Fr. R. asserts:

“As God, Christ most certainly knew and knows all things without any qualification whatsoever. And, even as man, we affirm that our Savior knew and knows all things – excepting that he does not comprehend the Divine Essence (for such is beyond the powers of the human intellect).”

It is a dogma of the Catholic Faith that all three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity are co-equal as God; they each and all have one and the same Divine Nature. And this implies that there is equal knowledge in the Son as in the Father and the Spirit. If Christ at any time were to assert that the Son does not know something, we should understand that He is not referring to any lack of knowledge in His Divine Nature. So every Catholic should agree with Fr. R.’s assertion: “As God, Christ most certainly knew and knows all things without any qualification whatsoever.”

However, the human nature of Christ is like us in all things but sin, and we are finite. Therefore, the human nature of Christ is finite, not infinite. And it follows that the knowledge in the human mind of Christ is also finite. No human being has infinite knowledge, not even the Blessed Virgin Mary in Heaven. For human nature is finite, and that which is finite cannot have an infinite component, such as a finite person with infinite knowledge.

This point becomes even clearer when we examine the limitation of the knowledge of the holy Angels in Heaven. They have the Beatific Vision of God, and yet, according to Mark 13:32, they do not know certain things. For the nature of angels is finite, as is their minds, as is their knowledge. Is there anything that any holy Angel in Heaven desires to know, but does not know? Not at all. For they are sinless and are united in love with God. He denies them nothing that they desire, but they are unable to desire that which is inordinate. And so, as finite and sinless creatures, they do not desire to know what is not fitting for them to know. There are many things that the holy Angels do not know (for example, the details of all the sins committed by each and every human person), but they also do not desire to know such things. For such a desire would be inordinate. And the same is true of the knowledge of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Heaven. She is finite and her knowledge is finite. She knows all that she wishes to know, but she does not with to know anything inordinate or unfitting.

The assertion of Fr. R. that: “And, even as man, we affirm that our Savior knew and knows all things – excepting that he does not comprehend the Divine Essence (for such is beyond the powers of the human intellect).” in effect claims infinite knowledge of Creation by Jesus Christ in His human nature. But as we have discussed, even the Blessed Virgin Mary and the holy Angels with the Beatific Vision do not have knowledge of all things in Creation.

Unfortunately, Fr. R. does not offer any type of theological argument to support his claim that ‘we must affirm’ that Jesus knew and knows all things pertaining to Creation. His argument is ipse dixit; he simply asserts that it is true. And the same problem persists as the post continues. He supports his interpretation of Mark 13:32, but he does not support his general assertion on the knowledge of the human mind of Christ, that it has no limits as regards knowing the things and events of Creation.

My arguments to the contrary:

1. The human nature of Christ is like us in all things except sin. But even in Heaven, we do not have unlimited knowledge of all Creation. Therefore, neither does the human mind of Christ have unlimited knowledge of all Creation.

2. The angelic nature is greater than the human nature. But according to Mark 12:32, even the holy Angels in Heaven, who have the Beatific Vision of God, do not know all things pertaining to Creation. Therefore, even a human nature with the Beatific Vision, as Christ had during his life on earth, does not have unlimited knowledge of Creation.

3. The Magisterium teaches that the two natures are joined as one Person without changing either nature:

“It was not as though the distinctness of the natures was destroyed by the union.” (Council of Ephesus – 431 A.D.).

“We teach…that one and the same Christ, the only-begotten Son and Lord must be recognized as subsisting in two natures without mixture, change, division or separation. The union does not suppress the difference between the natures; indeed, the proper quality of each remains” (Council of Chalcedon, DS 302).

But to attribute the same unlimited knowledge of Creation to both His Divine and human natures destroys part of the distinction between the two. Instead, the proper quality of human nature, and therefore of the human intellect and its mode and extent of knowledge (even given the Beatific Vision) must remain. The limitedness of human knowledge is a function of the finiteness of the human mind. Therefore, the human mind of Christ does not know all things pertaining to Creation.

4. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the human soul of Christ had true human knowledge, which could not be in itself unlimited (CCC, n. 472). The assertion of Fr. R. that as man Christ knew and knows all things, except the fullness of the infinite Divine Nature, represents the knowledge of Christ about Creation as if it were not true human knowledge, as if it were unlimited in regard to Creation. The broad statement of the Catechism that Christ has true human knowledge which is not itself unlimited does not agree with the narrow statement of Fr. R. that the human knowledge of Christ is unlimited except concerning the Divine Nature.

5. Luke 2:52 teaches that Christ, in His human nature “advanced in wisdom, and in age, and in grace, with God and men.” This implies that His human knowledge also increased, since knowledge and wisdom are closely related. It would be absurd to claim that Christ possessed unlimited knowledge with limited wisdom, as if His knowledge was not accompanied by corresponding understanding and wisdom. Instead, Scripture teaches that the human nature of Christ not only increased in wisdom, and therefore knowledge, but also in grace. The Catechism interprets Luke 2:52 in this same way, as pertaining to the limits of the finite human nature and finite human knowledge of Christ (CCC, n. 472). For no human mind can both know all things, and yet also advance in knowledge.

6. Fr. R. states the common theological opinion that the human nature of Christ has three sources of human knowledge: (1) the Beatific Vision, (2) infused knowledge, (3) knowledge gained experientially (i.e. in the usual manner of humanity). But even the holy Angels and the Blessed Virgin Mary in Heaven do not know all things pertaining to Creation by the Beatific Vision. And since the human nature of Christ is like us in all things but sin, neither does the Beatific Vision give His human nature unlimited knowledge of Creation.

7. Unlimited knowledge of Creation cannot be infused into a finite human mind, because the knowledge of all the things of Creation, throughout all of Time, is more immense than any finite human mind. For Creation includes all created things, throughout all Time. But the human mind of Christ is a part of the large whole of Creation. The part cannot contain the whole, and so no part of Creation can comprehend the whole. For to do so, the part would have to be greater than the whole, of which is it only a part.

8. If Christ knows all the things pertaining to Creation by the Beatific Vision and by infused knowledge, there would be no knowledge to be gained experientially. For a person does not gain knowledge that he already possesses. But if He gains knowledge experientially, it is not knowledge he currently possesses. For in the case of knowledge from the Beatific Vision, the beholder only knows what he wishes to know, and he does not wish inordinately. And in the case of infused knowledge, there would be no ordinate reason to infuse all knowledge when God intends His own Incarnation to be, in His human nature, like us in all things but sin. The claim that Christ received all knowledge of Creation by the Beatific Vision and by infused knowledge makes Him unlike us in all things but sin.

9. On the interpretation of Mark 13:32, a longer answer is needed.

[Mark]
{13:31} Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away.
{13:32} But concerning that day or hour, no one knows, neither the Angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

The day and hour that no one knows is the day and hour when Heaven and earth will pass away (but then God makes a new Heaven and a new earth). It is not specifically the day and hour of Christ’s Return. He returns for Judgment and the general Resurrection, which is a set of events taking perhaps more than one hour or one day. So the timing of this Return is not the same as the timing of the taking away of Heaven and earth.

The interpretation that Fr. R. gives (as to why Christ says that even the Son does not know) is the interpretation of a number of Saints and Fathers, especially Augustine; it is the majority opinion as to the interpretation. However, it is not a doctrine of the Magisterium. The CCC offers what is in effect an alternate interpretation:

“474 By its union to the divine wisdom in the person of the Word incarnate, Christ enjoyed in his human knowledge the fullness of understanding of the eternal plans he had come to reveal. [108] What he admitted to not knowing in this area, he elsewhere declared himself not sent to reveal. [109]”

Footnote 109 references this same verse of Mark’s Gospel that we are discussing: “Cf. Mk 13:32, Acts 1:7.” The CCC first asserts that Christ, even in his human mind, had a full understanding of the eternal plan of Divine Revelation, including of course all that is needed to teach and carry out the plan for our salvation. However, the exact day and hour when Heaven and earth will pass away was beyond the scope of what He came to reveal. So He did not need to possess that particular knowledge in His human mind, from any source. The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes so far as to say that Christ admitted to not knowing something in the area of the eternal plan of God, since he was not sent to reveal that knowledge. The CCC does not say that Christ knows, but will not reveal. Nor does the CCC take up the interpretation of Augustine, that Christ knows, but not from experiential knowledge, and therefore He says that in a sense He does not know. Instead, the plain statement is made that “he admitted to not knowing in this area.”

Now I would categorize this assertion of the CCC not as a doctrinal interpretation of Scripture, but as one sound theological opinion. Not every assertion of the CCC is a doctrine. However, it is untenable to say that this particular interpretation of Mark 13:32, adopted by the CCC, is heretical. The interpretation of that verse remains in the realm of theological opinion.

For more on this topic, see my post
Reply to Fr. Reginaldus on agnoeticism

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and Bible translator

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