3rd reply to Fr. Erlenbush on the knowledge of Christ

My first two replies are here:
Reply to Fr. Reginaldus on agnoeticism

Reply to Fr. Reginaldus on the Knowledge of Christ

Those two articles are sufficient to express my position on this topic and to show that my position is not a doctrinal error. In this post, I will reply to each point that Fr. Reginaldus (Fr. Ryan Erlenbush) raises in his most recent post at the New Theological Movement blog.

1. The subject of Fr. Ryan’s post is the proposition that “in his humanity, Jesus did not know the day and the hour of the Final Judgment.”

Fr. Ryan says: “In fact, it would be impossible to hold this view without implicitly maintaining either the heresy of Nestorius (dividing Christ into two persons, one human and the other divine) or of Arius (denying the divinity of Christ all together).”

In a recent post, Fr. Ryan claims that Jesus is the Way in His human nature, but not in His Divine Nature, and that Jesus is the Truth and the Life in His Divine Nature, but not in His human nature. He goes so far as to claim that: “It would be misleading and would probably draw us into heresy to claim that Jesus is the Way in his divinity” and “in his humanity, Christ is not our salvation”. [How Jesus is the Way, and how he is the Truth and the Life.]

I argue against these claims here.

There is a certain contradiction in Fr. Ryan’s theological positions on these two topics. On the knowledge of Christ, he does not permit any difference between the knowledge ‘in’ Christ’s human nature and that in His Divine Nature, except the comprehension of the Divine Nature. He claims that any other difference would imply a division of Christ into two persons: one human and the other Divine. And yet on the topic of salvation, he does not allow that Christ is our salvation ‘in’ His human nature, he does not allow that the Divine Nature is the Way, he does not allow that the human nature of Christ is the Truth and the Life. In short, he makes the same type of division between the human nature and Divine Nature of Christ which, on the subject of knowledge, he says implies heresy.

If saying that the knowledge of Christ ‘in’ His human nature is limited is a heresy, because it separates (implicitly) the two natures into two persons, then the same would be true of Fr. Ryan’s assertions about the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

2. Fr. Ryan claims that: “The specific heresy which claims that Jesus did not know the exact time of his second coming is called Agnoeticism”

This assertion is false. The heresy of agnoeticism was not based on the assertion that Jesus did not know the exact time of His Second Coming. As shown by the quote that Fr. Ryan himself provides, agnoeticism asserted that Jesus “was subject to positive ignorance,” in other words, He did not know certain truths, despite wishing to know them in His human will or needing to know them in His human life and ministry. Properly defined, agnoeticism is a heresy.

But the claim of Fr. Ryan that anyone who disagrees with Saint Augustine’s interpretation of Mark 13:32:

{13:32} But concerning that day or hour, no one knows, neither the Angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

is guilty of the heresy of agnoeticism is unsupportable. It is a gross exaggeration. Fr. Ryan’s posts and comments are full of this type of exaggeration. Any position which he judges to be a theological error or a doctrinal error, is exaggerated to necessarily imply a heresy. To the contrary, even if a theological opinion on an open question is in error, it is not necessarily a heresy; even if a theological position on a question of doctrine is an error (contrary to a non-infallible teaching), it is not necessarily a heresy. In general, a heresy is obstinate denial or obstinate doubt concerning a teaching which must be believed with divine and catholic faith (the full assent of faith; theological assent).

The assertion that Jesus did not know, in His human mind, at the time of His statement, the day and hour of His Return, does not imply positive ignorance, nor does it imply agnoeticism. In true faithful theology, often various distinctions are made that allow the theologian to take a position which refutes the claim that position ‘A’ necessarily implies position ‘B’ (which is heresy).

My position is more subtle and complex, on the subject of the knowledge of Christ, than Fr. Ryan’s position. I hold that, because the human mind of Jesus is finite (an indisputable point), His mind could not hold all knowledge (except for comprehending the Divine Nature), all at the same time, or all in the same act, as His Divine Nature can and does do. This is true of all finite minds in Heaven that have the Beatific Vision of God. Even though they can know all that they wish to know (except for comprehending the Divine Nature), they do not wish to know anything inordinate. And so they lack knowledge of things that are not fitting for them to know. And they also do not know all things all at once, as only the Divine Nature can do. Similarly, the human mind of Christ, having the Beatific Vision (as well as infused knowledge), could obtain immediate knowledge of whatever He wished to know. But even of such things as He could and did know, He did not hold all of this knowledge all at once, as in one act. And that which He did not wish to know, since it would be inordinate (such as facts that would be useless, facts that would be idle curiosity), He did not know. But this is not positive ignorance, since He could know whatever He wished to know.

So on the question of the exact time of His Return, Jesus did not wish, at the time, to have that knowledge in His human mind, even though He could have known it if He wished (since His Divine Nature is one with His human nature, and the former knows all things all in one Act). The knowledge of the exact time of His Return was not needed for His ministry, and was not needed or desired by His human will at the time.

Although it is true that we cannot attribute ignorance to the human mind of Christ, it is not ignorance to not know a fact that one does not will to know, especially when that fact is of no use in the particular circumstance.

The claim that Jesus must have known the exact time of His Return, because He had the Beatific Vision of God, is refuted by the words of Jesus; for even the holy Angels, who have the Beatific Vision of God, do not know. How can they now know, when they see God who is Knowledge by His very Nature? It is because they do not wish to know; such a wish would be inordinate for them. Therefore, the fact that the human nature of Jesus had the Beatific Vision does not imply that He knew the exact time of His Return, when He was in that circumstance described in Mark 13. He may well have not had that particular fact in His human mind at that particular time, because He did not will to know it (with His human will at the time).

3. Ludwig Ott says: “With this is irreconcilable the notion that Christ’s human knowledge is defective or erroneous.”

My position does not attribute any defect or error or positive ignorance to the human knowledge of Christ.

4. Pope Vigilius

“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)

My position does not assert that Jesus, who had two natures, did not know the future or the day of the Judgment. Nor do I hold that the Divine Nature dwells in him as in another. Nor do I hold that the human nature of Christ could only know what the Divine Nature willed to reveal, since the human nature has a will, and can know whatever is willed.

5. The knowledge of Jesus Christ is indeed infallible. This quote from Pope Pius X does not speak to the point of limits to the finite mind of Christ.

The other quote from Pius X also does not establish Fr. Ryan’s position, nor refute mine. My position is that Christ, in His human finite mind, could know whatever He wished to know without limit, but that He did not wish to know certain things, at the time. For His human mind is finite and therefore His human knowledge could not in itself be unlimited. In other words, His human mind could not hold all knowledge, all at once, as only the Divine Nature can do.

6. Holy Office (now called the CDF)

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)

First, I should point out that decrees of the Holy Office are NOT issued by the Pope, as the above attribution suggests. Therefore, such decisions on doctrine are non-infallible. But if we look closer at the above quote, it is clear that what is referred to is the knowledge that the human mind of Christ had due to the Beatific Vision of the Divine Nature. The proposition that attributes ignorance to Christ, despite the Beatific Vision, is condemned (rightly so). Jesus could know anything that He wished to know, from the Beatific Vision. Therefore, He was not ignorant of anything.

But this does not refute the position that, with His human will, Christ did not will to know certain things at certain times, as being of no use to His purpose, such as the exact time of His Return. For Christ says that even the holy Angels, who have the Beatific Vision, do not know. Why? because they do not wish to know. The Beatific Vision does not give any finite mind all knowledge all in one act, such that the knowledge of all things would be held, all at once, in the finite mind.

7. Fr. Ryan’s conclusion does not follow from his premises. Given the above discussed magisterial citations, the conclusion that Fr. Ryan reaches is not supported:

From these texts we learn that, even in his human intellect and soul, Christ Jesus knew – with an “unlimited,” “universal,” and “infallible” knowledge – “everything, past, present and future.” Specifically, the Lord knew “the day of the Last Judgment.”

The texts in question do establish that the knowledge of Jesus, in His human mind, is infallible. And they establish that His human knowledge is, only in a certain sense, unlimited and universal, in that He could know anything that He wished to know — for His Divine Nature knows all things all at once, and His human nature is united to His Divine Nature. But His human knowledge certainly could not in itself be unlimited. For no finite mind can know all things (even excepting the comprehension of the Divine Nature) all in one act. For the human knowledge of Christ in His finite human mind is exercised in the historical conditions of his existence in space and time. In other words, the human nature of Christ, being like us in all thing but sin, is limited by Time and by Place. Christ can know whatever He wishes to know in His human mind, but He cannot know all things all at once — nor would He ever wish that His human mind could know all things all at once, since to do so would make His human nature the same as the Divine Nature.

8. The rest of Fr. Ryan’s post is take from His previous post on the subject, to which I have already replied.

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

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