Questions Answered – August 2021

The Knowledge of the Incarnate God

Question: If Jesus is both human and divine, why didn’t he know everything God would know from the moment of birth or soon after? How could Jesus not know the second coming if God the Father knew and they are in sync through the Trinity?

Answer: To understand the answer to this question, it is necessary to examine the doctrine of the Incarnation. The early Church was concerned to explain just what the Scriptures taught about the union of God and man in Christ. The explanation must preserve the separation of the two actions of Christ (divine and human) but so unify them that they could be both exercised by one person. Categories gleaned from Greek philosophy were used to explain this. These are: person, nature and relation.

In Greek philosophy, a “nature” is a principle of acting. For example, human nature entails a human body and a human soul characterized by a human intellect, will, passions, and body, each of which has a certain potential which is realized in a certain unique action. A “person” is an individual substance of rational nature. A “relation” is either real or ideal, prescinds from the question of change in the related things and merely expresses what a professor of mine once called a “to-ness” to another thing. Father and Son are relational terms.

When it came to explaining Our Lord, these categories were used. The main error was to say that union between God and man took place in the natures so as to form only one nature. Jesus was either only God who seemed to be human, only man who seemed to be God, or a monstrous combination of the two, neither one nor the other. All heresies which proclaim this are Monophysite, coming from the term “one nature” in Greek. Furthermore, this would mean that there were real relations between God and the world in such a way that the Godhead was changed. This would lead to only one intellect in Christ and one kind of knowledge. This did not express the faith of the Church.

The opposite error is that there are two persons in Christ, one divine and one human in the same relationship we have with God. This was adoptionist (Jesus is only an adopted Son) and subordinationist (he is a perfect creature but, because a son, is also less than God). In this error there is no real relation between God and Jesus, only an ideal one; and though there are two intellects, they are completely separated, and Jesus as man has faith, for example. Nestorius taught this.

The orthodox faith accepted a middle ground as being truly Scriptural. Jesus is God in person but his nature as God is not changed in the Incarnation. His divine person rather assumed a second nature, or way of acting, but not a separate person. So there is a real new relation of the world with God in Jesus, that of union with the Person of the Word, but only an ideal relation of God to the world. This allows for one divine person who has two natures, divine and human each with its own intellect and will. Though these differ, they are also in communion.

The union between God and man thus takes place in the person and not in the natures. Since the word in Greek for an individual being is hypostasis and a person is an individual substance of rational nature, this is called the “Hypostatic Union.” The Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) defined this:

Following, then, the holy Fathers, we all unanimously teach that our Lord Jesus Christ is to us One and the same Son, the Self-same Perfect in Godhead, the Self-same Perfect in Manhood; truly God and truly Man; the Self-same of a rational soul and body; co-essential with the Father according to the Godhead, the Self-same co-essential with us according to the Manhood; like us in all things, sin apart; before the ages begotten of the Father as to the Godhead, but in the last days, the Self-same, for us and for our salvation [born] of Mary the Virgin Theotokos as to the Manhood; One and the Same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten; acknowledged in Two Natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and [both] concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis; not as though He was parted or divided into Two Persons, but One and the Self-same Son and Only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ; even as from the beginning the prophets have taught concerning Him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself hath taught us, and as the Symbol of the Fathers hath handed down to us.

Since there are two natures in which one divine person acts, there must be two intellects, each of which acts in its own unique way. In his divine intellect, Jesus knows everything the Father does. In his human intellect, he only knows the world he was sent to redeem, not all the possible worlds God could have created. Regarding him saying he knows neither the day nor the hour (Mk. 13:32), the Catechism clearly states: “By the union to the divine wisdom in the person of the Word incarnate, Christ enjoyed in his human knowledge the fullness of the understanding of the eternal plans he had come to reveal. What he admitted to not knowing in this area, he elsewhere declared himself not sent to reveal.” (474) He has the Beatific Vision from the moment of his conception. He knew the day and the hour but chose to conceal this fullness of the knowledge until the proper time because he was not sent to reveal it.

A Relationship With An Invisible God

Question: How can we love God if we can’t feel, see and hear Him? Or can we feel, see and hear Him, but just don’t recognize Him in these ways?

Answer: This is an age-old question and involves the nature of grace and how we experience the knowledge and love of a spiritual being. In our modern materialist society, many people cannot conceive of how one could love a spiritual being one cannot see or touch.

This attitude is very primitive philosophically because the Greeks long ago discovered spiritual forms which do not depend on matter. Plato and Aristotle both spoke at length about such beings which we would know today as the human soul, God and the angels. They did not, of course, speak of developing an intimate relationship of knowledge and love with God as persons, because this would demand grace, which they did not know about. But they did certainly know such beings existed with an intellect and a will and so were what we would call persons.

Once grace comes into the picture, immediately such a relationship becomes possible. This can be seen in many of the experiences of the Jews in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, it is even more possible because of the coming of Christ. Because of sanctifying grace, we become “partakers of divine nature.” (2 Pt. 1:4) This means we are spiritually introduced into communion with the persons of the Trinity while on earth. It may be hard to discern their spiritual reciprocation of relationship with us in the beginning, but Catholic theology always dogmatically bases all growth in prayer on the missions of the Trinity.

The Father is not sent, but sends. The Son is sent and with the Father sends. The Holy Spirit is sent. The sending of the Father also involves physical appearances as is the case on Sinai, in the Baptism and Transfiguration of Our Lord because Catholicism is a human and very sensual religion. The Son and Holy Spirit each respectively have a visible and invisible mission. The Son’s visible mission is his Incarnation and all he did and taught, which is now seen in the mission of the Catholic Church. The invisible mission is his engagement of each soul with the truth which is a lifelong process. The visible mission of the Holy Spirit are the appearances such as the tongues of fire and the strong driving wind. His invisible mission is the encounter of the soul with God in love through spiritual transformation. It is because of this invisible mission of the Holy Spirit that the Christian can know as God knows and love as God loves. This knowledge and love is transformative as it makes us like God. This process is described psychologically in works like The Interior Castle of Teresa of Avila. The sustaining foundation of this transformation in love is a grace nourished by the seven sacraments, especially the Eucharist, because since the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, the visible mission of the Son experienced in the seven sacraments is now necessary for the invisible mission of the Spirit.

As a result of this visible mission of the Son, there is no such thing as a purely spiritual experience of God in this life without the physical mediation of Christ and his Church. In heaven there is no longer need for sacraments or the hierarchical Church. The manner in which the question is posed is thus inadequate. The issue is not pure spirit versus material or physical experience, but whether, through a physical or material experience, one can perceive spiritual beings. Plato and Aristotle said that this was possible and involved true philosophical knowledge. The Scriptures show us that this is not only something on the level of knowledge which is abstract, but an experience which in God’s case is a personal encounter which entails our transformation in love through the visible mission of the Son.

Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, "Questions Answered".

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