Fr. Ryan Erlenbush versus Pope John Paul II

The Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus increased in wisdom and in age (or stature) and in grace with God and men (Luke 2:52; cf. 2:40). Some modern translations use the word ‘favor’ instead of ‘grace’, but the Latin text is ‘gratia’, the same word used in the Hail Mary prayer in Latin (‘Ave Maria, gratia plena’), and in the Latin text from which the beginning of the prayer is derived (Luke 1:28).

Douay Bible —
{2:52} And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and grace with God and men.

Latin Vulgate (1590, 92, 93, 98 in agreement) —
{2:52} Et Jesus proficiebat sapientia, et aetate, et gratia apud Deum et homines.

The word used to refer to the increase in wisdom, age, and grace can be translated as ‘advanced’, or ‘increased’, or any similar term. The meaning is unmistakably a change, not a static state. The meaning indicates some type of increase. And this is clear, too, from the inclusion of ‘age’ or ‘stature’ along with wisdom and grace. As Jesus grew up from infancy to childhood to adolescence to adulthood, He advanced in age and in stature, in his human nature; he grew up. And as He grew up, He increased in wisdom and grace in his human nature.

Yet, over at the New Theological Movement blog, Fr. Ryan Erlenbush claims that Jesus did not increase in grace:

“Jesus obviously could not increase in grace, being perfect from the moment of his conception….”

“Now, upon reflection, it is obvious that Jesus could not have increased in grace at any time.”

“it is quite obvious that there could be no absolute increase in grace in our Lord from the first moment of his conception.”

“Rather, because the grace of union was perfect in Christ from the moment of his conception (since he was true God and true man from the first moment of the Incarnation) there can be no doubt that grace (considered in itself and absolutely) did not and could not increase in Christ.”

In response to these assertions, I posted 2 comments under the pseudonym “Johannes” on Fr. Ryan’s blog. First, I posted this text, based on Luke 2:52 —

The fullness of grace in Jesus was in proportion to his age; there was always fullness, but a fullness which increased as he grew in age. The same can be said of the wisdom which Christ had from the beginning in the fullness proper to the period of childhood. As he advanced in age, this fullness grew in him to a proportionate degree.


To which, Fr. Ryan replied:

That is a heresy.
The fullness of grace was always manifest in a way that was appropriate to his age, and in this sense it “grew” … but, inherently, he was always perfected in grace.

It is absurd to think that the infant Christ had less grace than the adolescent.
You would end up thinking that the baby Jesus was not yet our Savior.

So Fr. Ryan is saying that this idea, the increase in grace in Christ’s human nature, is material heresy; he claims it is an heretical idea. He also calls that same idea “absurd”. He thinks that this idea implies that Jesus, as an infant, was not yet Savior. I don’t think it implies that conclusion at all.

I then added this comment, based on Luke 2:40 —

According to Luke’s text, there was also a spiritual growth in Jesus.


To this comment, Fr. Ryan replied:

I don’t know who you are reading … but he is not giving a catholic interpretation … the Church has never interpreted Luke 2:40 in that way.

This “spiritual growth” can only be understood as a greater manifestation of his already perfect spiritual state.

From Haydock’s Catholic Commentary: “The child grew, and waxed strong, full of wisdom, and (ver. 52) increased in wisdom and age. The Arians from this, pretend to prove that Christ was not truly God, who cannot advance or increase in wisdom. The true meaning is, that Jesus, as he advanced in age as man, gave greater marks of his divine wisdom, and discovered himself full of knowledge, wisdom, &c. ”

And, even better, a few excerpts from the Church Fathers (via the Catena Aurea):
“THEOPHYL. For if while yet a little child, He had displayed His wisdom, He would have seemed a miracle, but together with the advance of age He gradually showed Himself, so as to fill the whole world. For not as receiving wisdom is He said to be strengthened in spirit. For that which is most perfect in the beginning, how can that become any more perfect. Hence it follows, Filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was in him.”

So now Fr. Ryan adds that the source of my two assertions “is not giving a catholic interpretation” and that “the Church has never interpreted” Luke’s text in that way. He also precludes any interpretation other than greater manifestation, without any true increase, in His human nature, in grace or wisdom.

Another commentator, who uses the moniker “I am not Spartacus”, posted this sarcastic remark:

Dear Father. Who’n’the heck do you think you are to contravene the authoritative exegesis of Johannes? :)

And to that remark, Fr. Ryan replied:

@I am not Spartacus,
Indeed, these modernists read the Bible as though no Church Fathers or Catholic theologians had ever read it before them!!!

So, according to Fr. Ryan, whoever made those two comments, under the pseudonym “Johannes”, is reading the Bible like the modernists, who read the Bible “as though no Church Fathers or Catholic theologians had ever read it before them!!!”

Who is correct in this dispute, Fr. Ryan Erlenbush or Johannes?

It turns out that each comment that I posted under the name “Johannes” was nothing other than an exact quote from the teaching of Blessed Pope John Paul II in “The Spirit and the Child Jesus” General Audience — June 27, 1990.

So when Fr. Ryan was confronted with the teaching of Pope John Paul II:
* he did not recognize these words as those of a holy Pope
* he did not recognize these words as a sound interpretation of Sacred Scripture
* he did not recognize these words as sound Catholic theology (Christology)
* he judged these words to be an expression of heresy
* he judged these words to be an absurd and “modernist” interpretation of Scripture
* he judged these words to be not a Catholic interpretation at all

And although Fr. Ryan cites Saint Thomas to support his claim that Jesus did not increase in grace, Pope John Paul II also cites Saint Thomas, to a different conclusion. Fr. Ryan claims that patristic sources and tradition support his point of view. But Pope John Paul II cites the same type of sources, to a different conclusion: “The patristic and theological tradition helps us to interpret and explain Luke’s text about Jesus’ growth ‘in wisdom and favor’ in relation to the Holy Spirit.”

Who do you think is misinterpreting or misrepresenting those sources, Fr. Ryan or Pope John Paul II?

Fr. Ryan’s position on this issue is not contrary to any infallible teaching of the Magisterium; his position is not heretical. But the contrary position, taught by Pope John Paul II in his general audience, is certainly not heresy, nor is it absurd. It is a sound Catholic interpretation of Sacred Scripture and a faithful position within Catholic theology.

Why did I post those quotes without revealing that these were the words of Pope John Paul II? To show the readers of Fr. Ryan’s blog that he is leading them astray, that he does not possess a sound understanding of Catholic theology, nor of magisterial teaching. He is one of many false teachers who lead the faithful astray by presenting erroneous ideas on faith and morals, along with the false claim that these ideas are Church teaching or are sound theology.

An analogy may help. Suppose you inherit some jewelry, and you take it to several different jewelers for appraisal. But then you are dismayed to find that one particular jeweler is unable to distinguish between diamonds and cubic zirconium, between gemstones and colored glass. Presented with a diamond, he calls it fake and worthless. Presented with costume jewelry, he calls it genuine and valuable. He presents himself as a knowledgeable expert, but he cannot distinguish true from false.

Such is the case with many online teachers. When presented with magisterial teaching or sound Catholic theology, they cry out “heresy” and “absurd” and “modernist”. Conversely, when presented with various distortions and falsehoods on matters of faith or morals, they praise these errors as if they were the greatest insights.

Such is the case with Fr. Ryan Erlenbush, whose online postings contain many heresies and doctrinal errors, contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium. See my previous post: Fr. Ryan Erlenbush versus the Magisterium. The faithful of the Church today are poorly catechized, and so they are easily led astray by false teachers, especially those who are also priests. May God have mercy on the poor and weak flock of Jesus Christ, being led astray daily by incompetent shepherds and wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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