16 October 2010


  • this is a theological post
  • it is pure speculation
So you have been warned.  If it sounds boring - or, even more likely, if it sounds likely to veer off into heresy (it is - and if any real theologian reads this, I would be very grateful for correction and clarification) - you may close your browser now!

OK, so you didn't close the browser.  Don't blame me.  I tried to warn you.

Ever since I became a Christian I wondered, at times, about Jesus's knowing things.  Sometimes He says very definitely that He does not know something - Mark 13:32, for instance:
But of that day and [that] hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.
And He has to ask questions:
And Jesus, immediately knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him, turned him about in the press, and said, Who touched my clothes?
The other night at our Rosary-cum-Bible-study evening we read the passage about the finding of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52), and read (verse 52) that:
And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
I attempted to talk, off the cuff, a little about the fact that Jesus is both God and man; that as man He must learn things in the usual way; but that the teaching of the Church is that Jesus, though having two natures, is one Person, therefore He knows everything that God knows - which is to say that He is omniscient.  He knows everything.  He doesn't need His Mother to teach Him Hebrew - He knows it.  He doesn't need the doctors in the Temple to teach Him things.  The things they are teaching Him He, by His Spirit, taught them.

He is not two Persons.  What He knows, He knows.  This long article discusses this intricate subject.  I have not (yet :-)) read it.

Now the speculation bit...

I have just eaten a Kiwifruit.  I know what it tastes like.  How do I know?  I know because my senses tell me.  The tell me - not my brain, or my tongue, but me.  To be sure they use my tongue, my nerves, my brain, to tell me this.  But it is I who know this.

Suppose I had never eaten a Kiwifruit.  Would I know what one tastes like?  Well, I might know something.  I could be given comparisons to other fruit.  I could perform some chemical analysis.  If I knew enough of the human nervous system, had experience of eating other fruit, maybe I could know quite a lot about what a Kiwifruit tastes like.

I might know quite a lot about that experience - but I could not know that experience - not without experiencing it.

This analogy helps me.  Jesus is God Almighty.  He is before all worlds.  He is eternally in the Presence of the Father.  From Him as from the Father proceeds eternally the Holy Spirit.  He is the Word.  He almost is Knowledge.

When He tells us that "the Son" does not know when the Father has planned the consummation of all things - surely the Son does in fact know.  What could there be that the Son does not know.

It used to puzzle me when people would tell me that Jesus is here telling us that He does not know this ... as man.  I really couldn't make a lot out of that.  It almost tempted me to think, like a Nestorian, of Jesus almost as two Persons - Jesus, the Man, and Christ, the Son of God.

That cannot be.  Our Lord is just Himself.  He is One.  Yet I am helped by my Kiwifruit example.  I can know something of eating a Kiwifruit through my intellect.  My intellect is very limited, so I can only know a little about it without actually eating it.  But I can know something.  And so, perhaps, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity knows - and knows without limits - all things, including who touched Him, when the end of the age is, how to speak Hebrew - but without being man, He - even God! - cannot know the what-it-is-like to be a man.

This is all very, very dangerous speculation and could easily lead me into places I do not wish to go!  I think all speculation about the existential experience of God is, really, great foolishness.  Yet I cannot help but wonder.

For if there is anything to my speculation, it is very comforting news.  It does mean that God Himself knows what it is like to be tired.  God knows what it is like to be frustrated at a physical task - did Our Lord ever find Himself sighing in exasperation at a piece of work in His foster-father's workshop that just wouldn't seem to go right??  The thought is hopeful - or at least helpful.

For I have never suffered in any serious way; but suffering may - very likely does - await me.  We must all pass through that dark doorway that is one-way only.  Jesus on the Cross - whilst in perfect joy in the Beatific Vision - nevertheless saw that ending coming.  I know we think of His awful agony, and so we should.  Those of us who are not currently facing death may think of dying as something we will greet with relief - and so we may.  Yet I wonder.  Dylan Thomas, in his anguish at his own father's dying, expressed what I think we must all feel at the thought of the extinguishing of the light:


Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Our Lord did not rage against the dying of the light, and nor should we.  Yet He knows what it is like.  He knows - He knows like the tasting of a fruit - the fears and anguish that lie behind Thomas's own loss.  May He grant us the grace and mercy to surrender our own spirit in peace into the Hands of the Father, as He did.


Missletowing said...

"When He tells us that "the Son" does not know when the Father has planned the consummation of all things - surely the Son does in fact know. What could there be that the Son does not know."

I am researching not that Jesus is now the God-man, but when in the incarnation was these attributes manifested. There is a "kenosis" heresy that says that Jesus put aside divinity in the incarnation. The Calvinist "extra" from the Reformation makes Divinity continuous in time (the Logos never ceased to be God) and this puts the incarnation as "God plus." (from Grudem)

The kenosis theory has the incarnation as "God minus."
How these two natures communicate (one person) is difficult to measure from the gospels themselves.

Mark 2 shows the healing of the paralytic and the claim to forgive sins. The Jews there got it right... Jesus was claiming to be God. If Jesus did not sin, logic follows that this was a direct claim to divinity.

What ever the timing, Jesus in now fully God and fully man.
I think the kenosis theory is needed it the logic of those who claim that we can become "little gods" which is closer to the liberal "example" of the life of Jesus.

I will read you post again and contribute more, but I had to get his part of out now as I have been trying to get though to my aunt that believes in the kenosis theory.


John Thayer Jensen said...

Thanks, Bill. I guess kenosis is used by different people to mean different things. I have certainly heard the concept used to mean, basically, that Jesus essentially stopped being God when He was on earth - which I think utterly impossible.

What I understand it to mean is that He did not insist (Philippians 2:6 and following verses) on the privileges - glory, immunity to harm, etc - that His divinity had the right to bestow on His humanity.

But I am very much a learner! Again, the Catholic Encyclopaedia article gives a good summary both of the theory of some Protestants (though when I was a Calvinist I pretty much held to the Catholic view), as well as the Church's teaching on the matter:



Robbie said...

Hi John,
This is a great subject to explore. Christ is indeed one divine Person, and that person is omniscient, knowing everything the Father knows and indeed knowing the Father fully, in the way that only God can know God. The divine Son, the Word of God, knows all in one eternal act of knowing - indeed in one eternal act of knowing Himself. When the Word is made flesh, the two natures do not fuse (as the monophysites would have it) and yet Christ remains one divine Person. But his human intellect, distinct from His divine intellect, is not and never will be omniscient, as ours never will be, even in heaven. It is a graced intellect, so he knows more than he would simply experientially, though this is a valid source of his human knowledge. He is graced with the vision of God, the beatific vision, in his human intellect on earth, because He comes as revealer and not as believer. He sees and witnesses to what He reveals. He doesn't report to him what he has heard but not seen. He also has infused knowledge by grace - so that He knows all human hearts in his human intellect. But this is also a grace, and not by fact of being the divine all-knowing Word. He did have to probably learn Hebrew from his mother and others around Him, in his human intellect - unless the Holy Spirit graced His human intellect with a special gift of that tongue. His human nature is graced with a perfection of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and with their flowering in the beatitudes, but in a unique way - as source for us of these, and not simply as recipient. Everything He does is an act of the divine Son - a divine act. There is only one acting person. But the divine Word now acts THROUGH a graced human nature. In virtue of this human nature he can suffer, die, weep, sweat, etc. but the one doing that is the one divine Son. St Thomas sees his 'growing in wisdom' as growing in the manifestation of his wisdom, progressively revealing it.
It is important to see that Christ's human soul is a limited created soul and not replaced by his divine infinite Spirit (ie, to avoid the error of Apollinarius). That's enough for now I think.

John Thayer Jensen said...

Thanks, Robbie.

Yes - my puzzle was trying to imagine how the one Person Jesus Christ could at the same time be both omniscient and yet not be omniscient. Of course the answer is the two Natures, but trying to imagine what it would be like was what I was on about. I don't suppose I have got very close to it, but another correspondent (by e-mail) added:

"Dear John,

I think your speculations are consistent with St Thomas. I recall he distinguished three modes of knowledge in Christ's human intelligence:
- the Vision of God (the Beatific vision is like this)
- Infused knowledge
- the Knowledge of experience
If I understand Thomas correctly, he says that the first two are perfect from the moment of the Incarnation, while the third increases throughout Jesus' earthly life.

My own reflection on this (which may well be taken from Fr John Owens SM) is that because God, by His nature, knows all things perfectly, the only thing He 'lacks' is limitation, imperfect knowledge - the kind of knowledge that man has. To use your example, we can never know the kiwi fruit as-it-is-in-itself, for we did not create it - unlike God who did create it, we have no direct access to its essence. Rather, we know the kiwi fruit only in a limited way through our senses..... and this human way of knowing is, of course, quite pleasant!"


John from Canada said...

There are certainly ways in which Jesus, in becoming a human being, accepted the limitations of this; he had a human body that was, for example, physically incapable of leaping tall buildings in a single bound. It's not unreasonable to think that his human memory, knowledge, and intellect was limited, too, to what one could expect from a human being. Whether he has abilities beyond that of his human nature is without doubt: yes, of course he does: he has a divine nature too. Whether he exercised them during his earthly ministry, well, at the risk of doing some theological speculation myself, it seems to me quite possible, even probable, he did not. Instead, I suspect that all his miracles, including the resurrection itself, were acts more properly of the Holy Spirit than of Jesus exercising abilities arising from his divine nature.