The title immediately suggests a second question; viz: What does the Church teach us that enables us to know the answer?
There is, of course, a third question: What does it matter?
Let us begin with question one: What does the Church teach us that enables us to know the answer? Bearing in mind the fact that the Church’s teaching comes to us both through her Scripture and through her Tradition we can, I believe, find the answer to this and our title question.
What is faith? The book of Hebrews, Ch. 11 Verse 1, provides us with a succinct definition:
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (R.S.V.).
I have highlighted the last phrase as being pivotal to what follows. Clearly, the inability to see ‘things’ is germane to the condition of one who has faith. We know that the saints in heaven do not have faith because they do see these same ‘things’. Equally, it can be said that if Christ’s knowledge precluded ‘things not seen’, then He could not have had faith. We now turn to that other arm of the Church’s teaching office; viz., ‘Tradition’, to discover if there were or were not ‘things not seen’ by Him.
The ‘Catechism of the Catholic Church’ provides us with clear teaching in regard to the knowledge of Christ. The formulation of this teaching in The Catechism is the culmination of the age-old traditional belief of the Church as attested to by the early Fathers, as refined by St. Thomas and as taught by the Popes of the last century. The first of these Popes was St. Pius X who, in association with his encyclical letter, ‘Pascendi’, in which he dealt with the errors of ‘Modernism’, issued a ‘Syllabus of errors’ which contained condemnation of propositions that opposed the substance of the truth of the matter as taught in the ‘Catechism’. ( See Syllabus Propositions 32 and 34 ).
Next we have Pope Pius X1, in his encyclical, “Miserentissimus Redemptor’, stating that Christ had knowledge :
“... of sins to come yet clearly foreseen … and our reparation, likewise clearly foreseen”.
In his encyclical letter, ‘Mystici Corporis’, Pope Pius X11 teaches:
“But the knowledge and love of our Divine Redeemer, of which we were the object from the first moment of His Incarnation, exceed all that human intellect can hope to grasp. For hardly was He conceived in the womb of the Mother of God, when He began to enjoy the beatific vision, and in that vision all the members of His Mystical Body were continually and unceasingly present to Him and He embraced them with His redeeming love. . . .In the crib, on the Cross, in the unending glory of the Father, Christ has all the members of the Church present before Him in a much clearer and more loving manner than that of a mother who clasps her child to her breast, or than that with which a man knows and loves himself.”
Clearly, the Holy Spirit, in speaking through His Popes, was preparing us for the Catechism’s magisterial formulation re the knowledge of Christ. Lest we might be tempted to underestimate the power and validity of the ‘Catechism’ as the voice of Christ to His people it is well to note the Holy Father’s introductory words:
“ The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which . . . I today order by virtue of my Apostolic Authority, is a statement of the Church’s faith and of Catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition, and the Church’s Magisterium. I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith..” ( Par. 3. Emphasis mine).
Let us now see what ‘The Catechism’ says concerning Christ’s knowledge. For this we turn to #s 472, 473, 474.
Paragraph 472 deals with the fact of Christ having true human knowledge, so that He could “increase in wisdom and in stature..”.
Paragraph 473 states:
“ But at the same time, this truly human knowledge of God’s Son expressed the divine life of his person. “The human nature of God’s Son, not by itself but by its union with the Word, knew and showed forth in itself everything that pertains to God.” Such is first of all the case with the intimate and immediate knowledge that the Son of God made man has of the Father. The Son in his human knowledge also showed the divine penetration he had into the secret thoughts of human hearts.” ( Heavy type – mine).
Paragraph 474 states:
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. . . “
In the light of this clear teaching it is quite untenable to claim that, in the context of Hebrews 11: 1, there were ‘things not seen’ by Christ. No knowledge of anything ‘that pertains to God’ and no understanding ‘of the eternal plans He had come to reveal’ were precluded from his human intellect. But, as the same text tells us, faith’s very essence is ‘the conviction of things not seen’. These Catechism quotes make very clear that this ‘conviction’ was impossible to the Word made flesh. We must conclude, therefore, that Christ himself teaches us, through his Church, that He could not and, consequently, did not have faith.
It is important to note that #474 also teaches us that, not only did Christ have the fullness of understanding of God’s eternal plans in his human intellect but that these very eternal plans were the substance of what He had come to reveal.
To attribute faith to Christ in the light of the above would obviously be a contradiction. Here those memorable words of Pope Pius X11 in his encyclical letter, ‘Humani Generis’, have cogent force:
“The mind of man, when it is engaged in a sincere search for truths, will never light on one which contradicts the truths already ascertained. The Christian will weigh the latest fancy carefully, making sure that he does not lose hold of the Truth already in his possession, or contaminate it in any way with great danger and perhaps great loss to the faith itself.”
The third question in my first paragraph: What does it matter? is essentially answered by the above papal teaching. But not entirely. In fact the full answer concerns the relevance of this doctrinal matter to our Congregation.
Most Brothers would be aware that there has been, in recent years, an acceptance amongst us of the proposition that Christ did have faith. That is my reason for writing this article. The proposition, signalled by the phrase, ‘the faith vision of Jesus’, has appeared in official Congregational documents. Needless to say, a false understanding of the person of Christ can only lead to further falsehood, most especially if elements of Congregational inspiration and direction find their genesis in this very proposition.
A Christ having faith must be one who is uncertain, one who, seeking to know what he is ignorant of, is in danger of being reduced to the status of an idealist who hopes he is right. What a stark contrast is this depiction of this Messiah with the true Christ of the Gospels who “teaches as one having authority”, who says, “I and the Father are one”, and who is the One whom Hebrews 12:2 identifies as “auctorem fidei et confirmatorem Jesum” – ‘Jesus, the origin and crown of faith’. This is the Christ who came ‘to reveal’ the Trinity’s eternal plans for us.
For one who believes that Christ had faith, is there not a real danger that a door has been opened to the temptation of losing confidence in our divine Master’s teaching and, consequently, of losing confidence in his Church?
I would, therefore, see it as a matter of urgency that we Brothers examine our understanding of Christ in relation to this matter of faith.
Brother Jim Ward.
3 O'Clock Prayer to the Divine Mercy
O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fountain of mercy for us, I trust in You.
Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, Have mercy on us and on the whole world. (3 times)
JESUS, King of mercy, I trust in You! AMEN