Thursday, February 05, 2004

Mary's Knowledge About Jesus' Divinity (and Jesus' Own Knowledge)

What did Mary know about Jesus, after being informed by an angel that she would be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and bear the Son of God? The Catholic Church teaches that the Holy Spirit revealed to Mary all of this knowledge from the beginning of the Annunciation. Simeon's prophecy perhaps informed her (if she didn't know it already) of another aspect of her role as the Mother of God: that a sword would pierce her heart (Luke 2:25-35).

Likewise, Jesus grew in merely human knowledge, but not in Divine Knowledge. The doctrine of the Hypostatic Union, or Two Natures of Christ (defined at the Council of Chalcedon in 451) holds that Jesus is fully God and fully man. He absolutely knew He was God from the beginning, as He always possessed the Beatific Vision - being God the Son, and never ceasing to be God at any time. The Council worded it in this fashion:

The Council of Chalcedon (451) taught:

    We declare that the one selfsame Christ, only-begotten Son and Lord, must be acknowledged intwo natures without any commingling or change or division or
    separation; that the distinction between the natures is in no way removed by their union but rather that the specific character ofeach nature is preserved and they are united in one person and one hypostasis. We declare that he is not split or divided into two
    persons, but that there is one selfsame only-begotten Son, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ. This the prophets have taught abouthim from the beginning; this Jesus Christ himself taught us; this the Creed of the Fathers has handed down to us.
Fr. William Most writes:
    The traditional view holds that Mary did know the divinity of Christ at the time of the Annunciation. This view is still held today by not only the best theologians, but also by the best Scriptural scholars . . . .

    Would God ask her to consent in the name of the whole human race, and still withhold from her knowledge of that to which she was consenting? . . . We are not permitted to give Holy Communion to children who do not know what they are receiving. Would Mary be given this far greater Communion in ignorance of what she was receiving? And what would be the plausible reason for such a holding out on the part of God?

    We conclude with Fr. Lyonnet, with numerous outstanding exegetes, and with tradition: She did know that her Son was to be divine.

    (Mary in Our Life, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1963 - orig. 1954 -, 278, 280-281)

    Most theologians believe that God had also given her infused knowledge of all that she needed to know at any given stage of her mission. Further, it is clear that she was immune from ignorance of the things she had to know, and immune from error . . . Her perfect sinlessness, and still more, her singular dignity and unique mission do call for special knowledge. In addition, her privilege of freedom from concupiscence and resultant disorders freed her from the tendencies to error that flow from those disorders. See Roschini, Mariologia, (2d ed., 1948), III, 184-94; and Garrigou-Lagrange, The Mother of the Saviour, trans. B.J. Kelly (St. Louis, 1953), pp. 123-30.

    (Most, ibid., 240-241)

Archbishop Fulton Sheen stated that:
    Mary's mind was filled with the thought of Divinity in the stable.

    (The World's First Love, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1952, 212)

This follows straightforwardly from what we know the angel Gabriel told the Blessed Virgin in the Annunciation. Mary's knowledge of Christ's divinity from that time on is, therefore, an explicitly biblical teaching (no conflicts with sola Scriptura here!):
    He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, . . . and of his kingdom there will be no end . . . the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.

    (Luke 1:32-33,35; RSV)

Apart from messianic implications (it can be easily shown that the Messiah was divine, through cross-referencing in the OT alone; cf. e.g., Isaiah 9:6-7), the fact that Jesus was called (by an archangel) Son of God was sufficient to establish His deity/divinity/Godhood. We know this from John 5:17-18, where Jesus called God the Father/YHWH My Father. The Jews then sought to kill him for blasphemy, because, as St. John tells us, He called God his own Father, making himself equal with God (5:18). This is how Son of God was understood in the Jewish mind. Roughly the same thing occurs again in the record of John 10:22-33 (but at that time He also said I and the father are one - 10:30).

Neither Jesus nor Mary "grow in awareness" or "gradually figure out" Who He is. Such a teaching is theological liberalism and heterodoxy. Jesus knew all along what would happen (including His Resurrection). See. e.g., Mt 16:21-23, Mk 8:31-33, Lk 9:21-22. The Gospels present one harmonious presentation of Jesus: the real Jesus of verifiable history. The four accounts do not contradict; rather they complement each other.

Some theological liberals and hostile critics of Holy Scripture argue that the Jesus of systematic theology and Church Christology would somehow be unrecognizable to any one of the Apostles. This is exceedingly strange logic. I can, e.g., know a good friend. A mutual friend also knows him, but in a different way. Perhaps their similar interests are completely different from the ones he and I share. So he might write a story about our mutual friend for some reason, with many particular facts I personally was unaware of. Following the hyper-critical "exegetical/hermeneutical logic," such a story would present a new, novel person, "unrecognizable" to the reader (in this case, another close friend of his - myself). In my scenario, on the other hand, I would say, "yes, that sounds very much like X, given what I know about him; I can easily picture him saying and doing that," etc.

Certain self-styled "progressive" Catholic theologians have a "problem" with Church authority where it might go contrary to one of their own pet notions, or a fashionable idea at any given point of time, in one particular cultural milieu. The orthodox, faithful Catholic bows to the received, authoritative opinion of the Church. The accusation that to do so is to be gullible and irrational and non-independent and circular in logic, or "fundamentalist" is itself a standard tenet of both modernism and anti-Catholicism.

Here is what the Church officially teaches about Jesus' human and divine knowledge:

Ludwig Ott, in his Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, (ed. James C. Bastible. tr. Patrick Lynch, Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1974; originally 1952) states:

    Christ's human knowledge was free from positive ignorance and from error. (Sent. certa.)

    (p. 165)

That is, he is saying that this proposition is taught by the Church as "theologically certain," which he defines as follows:
    A Teaching pertaining to the Faith . . . a doctrine, on which the Teaching Authority of the Church has not yet finally pronounced, but whose truth is guaranteed by its intrinsic connection with the doctrine of revelation (theological conclusions).

    (pp. 9-10)

Why is this (i.e., the proposition about Christ above)? Ott explains:
    The intrinsic reason for the impossibility of error in Christ lies in the Hypostatic Union. In consequence of the finiteness of human nature, the human actions of Christ are indeed subject to the general human imperfections. It is, however, irreconcilable with the dignity of the Divine Person in act, to ascribe to Him special imperfections such as error or moral deficiency.

    (p. 166)

I was asked: "How do you reconcile infused knowledge with a Jesus who sweats blood? [Lk.22:42-44]." Easily: I, too, could know I was to be crucified, by some "inside information" - as opposed to infused knowledge or Divinely-generated omniscience. That would not make my suffering or anticipation of it less intense. Or if I knew I was to be resurrected and glorified after the horrible suffering, that would not make me simply say, "well, after all, six hours of agony and it'll all be over . . . no big deal . . . " Such notions (like so much of modernist theology and "dissent") quickly reduce to absurdity once closely scrutinized. This entire supposition is illogical, implausible, and a non-issue. Jesus was a Divine person with a human nature. He was the God-Man. He suffered as we do, both psychologically and physically. None of this contradicts in the least the fact that He knew precisely what was going to happen to Him. Modernists, "progressives" and "higher critics" of Scripture see contradiction and implausibility where in fact there are none.

Ott continues:

    From the beginning of Christ's life, His soul possessed infused knowledge (scientia infusa). (Sent. communis.)

    (p. 167)

This view, according to Ott, has a little less certainty. It is "Common Teaching," defined as:
    a doctrine which in itself belongs to the field of free opinions, but which is accepted by theologians generally.

    (p. 10)

The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus - being God - was omniscient (see my paper: Jesus is God: Biblical Proofs - Sub-Topic: Omniscience). The Church merely reflects upon that and comes up with more specific, philosophically-informed elaboration. Facing all this, the skeptical modernist must either continue to renounce systematic theology (which the above is), or resort to the silly, cynical, unsubstantiated and unproven opinion that all of the above sayings were added in later by those with a novel agenda to make Jesus God.

Written in 2000 by Dave Armstrong.

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