When did Jesus realize who he was?
You may have heard it bandied in this day and age that Jesus was not aware of His divinity till He was twelve years old, or thirty years old. Some say He was not aware of it until He was on the Cross. So it begs the question, what did Jesus know and when did He know it? It is important to understand what the actual teaching of the Church is on this subject and dispel all opinion on the matter, and that is what it all is, opinion. There is clear truth to this teaching and confusion on the matter need not reign, as it seems to now.
- Was Jesus Christ a human person? No, He was not.
- Was Jesus Christ a divine person? Yes, He was.
- Was Jesus Christ a divine person in a human nature? Yes, He was.
This issue points to the great mystery of the Incarnation, when, in the “fullness of time,” God took on a human nature (Gal 4:4-5; Jn. 1:14). By the “Word” becoming flesh, our God, in the Person of Jesus Christ, united Himself in some fashion with every human person. God is truly with us; He has visited His people (Is. 7:14; Mt.1:23; Lk. 7:16), offering salvation to all.
What does the Church teach on the subject? The Church affirms that Christ’s human nature was, “assumed” and not “absorbed” in the Incarnation. In His Person Christ is true God AND true man, not some mixture of the human and divine (CCC, #464). Many of the early heresies in the Church revolved around the Person of Christ. Some said He was divine and not human, others say He was human and not divine, and yet others say, such as in Nestorianism, that there were two “Persons” in Christ. Many people today, in correctly affirming Christ’s humanity, have failed to leave room for the complimentary truth that Christ is also fully divine. So let’s clear up the matter. We have various opinions of Scripture Scholars, but we are not interested in opinion on such an important subject. What does Divine Revelation as consistently taught by the Church have to say? We must be faithful to that.
Jesus Christ is fully human. The Church has confessed this throughout history. This truth is summarized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, (#470), which in turn quotes Vatican II, Gaudiam et Spes, no.22:
The Son of God…worked with human hands; He thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart He loved. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like to us in all things except sin.
Yet, because He is also full divine, Christ has both a divine and human intellect. His human intellect of itself is not unlimited, in that it does not have the full comprehension of His divinity; that it something only the divine intellect possesses. Yet the consensus of Fathers, Popes, and doctors of the Church is that His human intellect has constant and habitual knowledge of all things that a created intellect could know.
Pope St. Gregory – Stated in the year 600 A.D. that anyone who interprets Mk. 13:32 to mean that Christ did not know the day or the hour of judgment would have to be a Nestorian. The Pope explained the correct meaning of that verse, teaching that Christ “in His human nature indeed did know that day and hour of judgment, but nevertheless He did not know this FROM His human nature…Therefore as God and man He knows the day and hour of judgment; but on this account, because God is man.” In other words, Christ as man knew the day and the hour, but only because He is God, which informed His human nature, and not by virtue of His human nature alone.
Pope St. Pius X – In 1907 rejected the Modernist idea that there was a time when Christ did not know that He was the Messiah (Lamentabili).
Holy Office – In 1918, the Holy Office condemned the proposition of Christ, while on earth, did not have the knowledge that the blessed enjoy in Heaven and that He was ignorant of some things proportionate to a created intellect.
Pope Pius XII – In 1943 affirmed that Christ “from the first moment of His Incarnation…beheld the Beatific Vision, which He began to enjoy when He had hardly been conceived in the womb of the Mother of God…and He has the members of His Mystical Body always and constantly present to Him and He embraces all with His redeeming love” (Mystici Corporis). The Holy Office under Pope Paul VI reaffirmed this.
So let’s sum up. In His humanity, Jesus grows, has human emotions, prays and suffers. Nonetheless, all thee human attributes belong to the Divine Person whose humanity this is. So in His humanity, in His human mind and human will, Jesus is aware of His own divine identity.
Included in the human knowledge of the Incarnate God was the very purpose of His coming: to die for the sins of all. “His redemptive passion was the very reason for His Incarnation” (CCC#606). Our Lords’ violent death was not the result of chance in an unfortunate coincidence of circumstances, but is part of the mystery of God’s plan” (CCC #599). Christ also never had concupiscence (desire) to sin. He never had the desire to lose His patience or temper. His temptations in the desert were meant to show us how to resist temptation, and also to teach us that temptations come threefold, from the word, the flesh and the devil. We need to be on guard against all three of these.
There is one Scripture quote from the Gospel of St. Luke that confuses many. (Luke 2:52). This verse states that Christ “grew in grace and age and wisdom before God and men.” If one is God, then how can you GROW in anything? St. Thomas Aquinas says that a real progress was not possible for Christ in His Beatific knowledge and His infused knowledge. However, Christ as man did have experiential knowledge, but this knowledge would not have been new in content, but only in the manner of acquisition. The fact that Christ “grew in grace and wisdom does NOT mean He gained new knowledge that He didn’t have before, but rather only that He gained in a new way knowledge He already had. (Summa Theologica, IIIm 12, 2). For example, Christ knew the definition of the word “hot.” Yet He learned it in a new way when He touched something hot in his human nature. It is important to remember that Jesus’ human soul saw the vision of God at once. This teaching has been repeated consistently. When the Church repeats a teaching, it shows the Church means to make this definitive, namely, that the human soul of Jesus, from the first instant, saw the vision of God, in which all knowledge is accessible. Think of it, the human mind of Jesus not only happened to have this vision, but really could not lack it!
Let me explain it this way: For any soul (like us) to reach the Beatific Vision (which happens to others in Heaven), two things are needed: 1) The power of the soul to see the Vision needs to be elevated by grace; of course, that was true in Jesus Christ. 2) The divinity should join itself directly to the human mind, without even an image in-between, so that the mind may see God. Now in an ordinary case, if we put together a human body and a human soul, then we automatically have a human person. It’s important to note that did NOT happen in the case of Jesus (that would be Nestorianism), His human mind, and all of His humanity was assumed, taken over, by the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. What does that mean? That His human mind was joined to the divinity, even more closely than happens in the case of an ordinary soul. So His human soul could have possible lacked that vision. For Christ it was a super-vision, because the union of His human soul to the divinity was closer than that of any ordinary soul in the vision, since the soul of Christ was not a separate person.
This is a good meditation for a few minutes: Since He knew the fullness of the divine plans meant for Him as is stated in the Catechism, that means the Passion He was to undergo was always before Him. He saw what was coming in merciless detail! I don’t know about you, but if I foresee something dreadful coming I can take refuge in the thought that maybe it won’t happen! Maybe it won’t be that bad. Fr. William Most presented this idea. I wholeheartedly concur. Jesus saw what was to come with an absolute infallibility. To live life under such a vision was dreadfully painful. I know when I have a long-running trouble, my skin wears thin. In Christ it must have been something like that. What’s worse, to know something like this is coming your whole life, or not knowing its coming? Yes, His divinity could have protected Him from that, but He had resolved, when He “emptied Himself” (kenosis) (Phil 2:7), not to use His power for His own comfort, only for the sick. He laid down His life freely. So an unprotected humanity would be an unending apprehension. Twice He let us see inside Himself. In Luke 12:50 He said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how I am constrained until it is accomplished.” To put it another way, “I’m in a tight spot and I can’t get comfortable until I get over this passion that is coming.” Then a week before His death, He was speaking to a crowd in Jerusalem, and decided to let us see inside again. In John 12:27 Jesus says, “Now my heart is troubled. What shall I say? Father, save me from this hour! It was for this He came into the world. Then in Gethsemane the nightmare caught up with Him. He could not scream and find it only in a dream. It was there in all its hideous reality. The interior tension ruptured the small blood vessels near the sweat glands; resulting literally in a sweat of blood. There is a medical term for it: Hematidrosis. He even felt fear (Mk 14:33). His thoughts of the Resurrection did not stop all that was going to happen from hurting. His divine power could have saved Him but He refused it. It lets us see the intense suffering Jesus endured from His conception onward. Think of this next Advent when meditation on the scene at Bethlehem, that God became man and even a baby at that!
Instead of charging Him with ignorance, we really should be very thankful that He took our sins upon Himself and was willing to go through such a Passion. We owe Him reparation too, for the charges of ignorance.
So when you hear such a charge like that of Fr. Raymond Brown that thinks Jesus was so ignorant that he preached error based on superstitions and wonders if Jesus knew much about anything in the future life, then remember Church teaching. And when you hear other statements around today like those of Karl Rahner, who held that the knowledge of Jesus paralleled that of ordinary humans, please say a prayer for that person but also try and correct them! It’s time to defend the Faith in season and out of season. Souls are at stake! God bless you.