4th reply to Fr. Erlenbush on the knowledge of Christ

In the comments to Fr. Reginaldus’ post, Did Jesus know the day and the hour of the Apocalypse?, someone (not myself) has copied sections of my few posts on the subject of the knowledge of Christ, using the pseudonym ‘St. Thomas More’. I think that Fr. Reginaldus (Fr. Ryan Erlenbush) may have done so in order to reply to my arguments without having to give my name or a link to my blog. In any case, I will make a few comments and respond to some of the arguments that Fr. Ryan presents.

Fr. Ryan says: “You misunderstand my earlier article (whether accidentally or out of malice, I do not know).”

‘You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.’ If you do not know that someone has committed a sin, then suggesting that the person may have done so, is a type of false accusation. For example, if a bank is robbed, and I suggest publicly that perhaps the bank manager was in on the robbery, though I have no knowledge on which to base the claim, it is a type of bearing false witness. I can also anticipate that harm might come to the manager from these words, which have no basis in any known truth. It is always a sin to act when you reasonably anticipated that your act will do more harm than good. This type of comment by Fr. Ryan is also an ad hominem argument; it suggests that the person’s argument should be disregarded because it is the result of malice.

To the rest of that comment, I reply as follows. You are separating the human nature and the Divine Nature of Christ on the topic of salvation. Jesus is our Salvation. The human nature of Christ is not merely an instrument or means used to attain the end of salvation, as if the human nature were merely the means, and the Divine Nature were merely the end. The human nature of Christ is integral to the one Person, and not merely an ‘it’ taken up by the Divine Nature as a means to an end. Jesus is our Salvation in Himself, both natures as one Person. The Church has never anything like what you are saying on this point:

“It [Christ’s human nature] is not our salvation in itself, but it is the means to salvation which is united to that salvation.”

“Jesus is not the Way according to his divinity”

“in his humanity, Christ is not our salvation”

Fr. Ryan: “As the Church has taught many many times, the salvation of man is the vision of the divine essence (i.e. the beatific vision). This is salvation: God himself as enjoyed by man.”

The Church has never taught that the salvation of man consists solely in the Beatific Vision. The human person has both intellect and free will. The Beatific Vision pertains to the direct knowledge of God by the intellect. By our happiness and salvation does not consist solely in that vision, but also in the true pure whole-hearted love of God with the free will. We see Him as He is, and we love Him. Both of these aspects of our life in Heaven is our happiness and our salvation. Furthermore, the human person is both body and soul, which is why there is a general Resurrection, to give us glorified bodies. So the plan of God for salvation is not completed when we arrive at the Beatific Vision. Having a glorified body and a glorified soul is part of our salvation and our happiness.

Fr. Ryan: “To claim that the beatific vision is the vision of a creature (and Christ’s humanity is certainly a creature) is very close to the error of Gregory of Palamas.”

You have a habit of accusing anyone who disagrees with you, on any point, of grave doctrinal error. Even if someone posts an innocent comment, if you disagree you often tell them they are asserting a heresy. You uncharitably conclude, even from the slightest remark, that the remark implies additional assertions, and therefore implies heresy. I did not say or imply that the vision of Christ’s humanity is the Beatific Vision.

The happiness of Heaven and our salvation is not solely the Beatific Vision of the Divine Nature, but includes also our happiness in knowing the one Person of Jesus Christ, in both His natures, and the happiness of knowing the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the Saints and Angels.

Fr. Ryan: “the humanity is united to the divinity as the instrument of salvation”

You are speaking of the human nature of Christ as if it were not integral to His very Person, but were merely a means to an end. In fact, the Church adores Jesus in the Eucharist, body, blood, soul, AND Divinity. We do not adore merely His Divinity. So the claim that the human nature of Christ is merely the instrument of salvation, and that the Divine Nature alone is our salvation cannot stand. We adore Christ, in BOTH natures, in the Eucharist in this life. We adore Christ, in BOTH nature, in Heaven forever.

Fr. Ryan: “You said, ‘Christ saves as God Incarnate’ … Agreed! As God he is our salvation, and as man he is the united instrument of our salvation. So we can certainly say that we are saved by Christ in his humanity (which is an instrument of his divinity).”

You say you agree, but then you continue to speak as if Christ’s humanity were merely an instrument of salvation, and by itself, as if His Divine Nature were not also the way of salvation. My position, with which you disagree, is that the one Person, with both Natures, is the way, and the truth, and the life, and our salvation. There is no magisterial document making the type of division that you make, and you seem unable to ever admit that St. Thomas may have erred.

Fr. Ryan: “Just to be clear … I am not the one who declared anathema anyone who would deny that the Son of God knew the day and the hour of the second coming … that was Pope Vigilius.”

You are conflating Pope Vigilius’ assertion with your own assertion, whereas they are substantially different. Pope Vigilius spoke of Jesus as one Person with two natures, “the one Jesus Christ who is both true Son of God and true Son of man,” and only then did he assert that the one Person certainly knows the future and the day of the Last Judgment. His rejection of the idea that “he could know only as much as the divinity, dwelling in him as in another, revealed to him,” rejects any point of view that would treat the human nature of Christ as less than fully human, with free will and intellect (so that by His human will, Christ could know whatever He willed to know). His words also, of course, imply condemnation of the idea that the Divine Nature and human nature are two different persons (one dwelling in the other as if each were separate), but that is another topic.

Fr. Ryan: “I am not the one who called the Agnoetes heretics … that was Pope St. Gregory the Great.”

The condemnation of the agnoetic heresy, which claimed that Jesus had positive ignorance, does not speak to the point as to whether Christ willed to know, at the time, that particular point of knowledge, the exact day and hour of His Return. If I had said that Jesus was unable to know any fact in His human mind, that would be agnoeticism. But saying that He could not hold all knowledge all at once in his finite mind, and therefore He chose not to know, in any particular time and place, one point or another (that was of no use to His purpose) is not agnoeticism. It is instead in agreement with what the CCC says, that “As such, this knowledge could not in itself be unlimited: it was exercised in the historical conditions of his existence in space and time.” (CCC, n. 472).

The Decree of the Holy Office, which was confirmed by Pope Benedict XV, asserts that Christ was ignorant of nothing, because He had the Beatific Vision. Nothing in that assertion contradicts my position, nor does it establish yours.

Fr. Ryan: “The human knowledge of Christ extends to all created realities which have been, are, or will be … thus, also to the day and hour of the second coming.”

Yes, but this does not imply that the finite human mind of Christ held all that knowledge all at once. Did Jesus, in His human mind, continually have the knowledge of all creation immediately on his mind? Was He, as he was discussing the time of His Return, also considering the scientific principles on which the internal combustion engine are based, and the details of every person’s entire life, and the entire legal codes in every nation and state and city, at all time sin history, etc. etc.?? No, the finite human mind, even with the Beatific Vision, does not work that way.

Essentially, Fr. Ryan’s position implies a denial that the human nature of Christ is like us in all things but sin. He treats the human mind of Christ and its knowledge as if it were unlimited (except for knowledge of the Divine Nature) in a way that is incompatible with the finiteness of the human mind. He attributes to the human mind (per se) of Christ an ability that is essentially supernatural.

Fr. Ryan: “What I find most interesting about your way of doing theology is that you have not cited a single pope, saint, Church Father or Doctor. In fact, you have not cited a single theologian even!”

Fr. Ryan: “In any case, I do find it very interesting that your argument rests solely on your own mind; whereas I have planted myself firmly within the tradition of popes, saints, and Doctors of the Church.”

My series of articles on this topic (on the knowledge of Christ) quotes and/or cites the following sources:

Mark 13
The Catholic Encyclopedia (on the Agnoetae, on the Knowledge of Jesus Christ)
Pope St. Gregory’s letter to Eulogius, Patriarch of Alexandria (Denzinger, n. 248)
Council of Basle, Session XXII
Council of Chalcedon, DS 302
Pope John Paul II, Audiences
Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 472, 474,
Council of Ephesus
Luke 2
Ludwig Ott
Pope Vigilius, Constitutum I of 14 May 553
Pope Benedict XV, Decree of the Holy Office of 1918

What I find objectionable in your posts is not only the doctrinal errors in your conclusions, but your lack of theological argument. You cite or quote a reliable source. Fine. But then you merely jump to a conclusion. Many times your conclusion is in fact not established by the quote you present. Neither do you use those quotes from good sources as building blocks in any type of complex argument, leading to a conclusion. You speak as if your conclusion were entirely established by the quotes, when it is not. You express and explain your point of view, but that is not theology. You do not present a substantial theological argument.

good theology often involves interpreting Sacred Tradition or Sacred Scripture or a document of the Magisterium so that a new insight is found, or so that a new distinction is used to attain an even deeper understanding. This is part of the development of doctrine.

But in your writings, Fr. Ryan, there seems to be no development of doctrine and no new insights. If you cannot find an idea asserted by someone else, you don’t seem to know how to establish the idea by theological argument. What you are writing is not theology. You simply quote sources and (often) misinterpret them. You have no published works of theology. And when you post little articles on your blog, you do not even use your real name.

Fr. Ryan: “Certainly, the human mind of Jesus is limited … but so is creation! Creation is not absolutely infinite; therefore, it is no denial of the finite nature of the human intellect to claim that Christ knew all created things.”

Actually, it is contrary to the finite nature of the human intellect to claim that Christ, in His human mind, knew all things all at once, or contained all created things all at once in his human intellect. We are here speaking about a created thing, the human intellect of Christ. The claim that Christ knew all created things, such that He knew them all at once [your position], not successively according as He willed to know what was necessary or useful to His purpose [my position], is not possible for a finite part of Creation. The human mind of Christ is part of Creation. The part cannot contain the whole. The part cannot contain itself. So the human mind of Christ could not, all at once, know itself (since this would be recursive: His mind would have to know its knowing, by then it would have to know that knowing, etc. ad infinitum), nor could it, all at once, know all of Creation.

The other points that Fr. Ryan raises in his comments have already received a reply in my three previous posts on this topic:

Third Reply to Fr. Reginaldus on the knowledge of Christ

Reply to Fr. Reginaldus on the Knowledge of Christ

Reply to Fr. Reginaldus on agnoeticism

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

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