The MOST Theological Collection: The Consciousness of Christ
"Can you show me now that I would not be killed in vain? Show me just a little of your omnipresent brain. Show me there's a reason for your wanting me to die. You were far too keen on where and how, and not so hot on why."
So speaks Jesus Christ Superstar, the day before the great Passover. Obviously He is presented as being quite ignorant not only of who He is-there is no trace of awareness that He is divine, if indeed the author of Superstar thought Jesus was divine; and Jesus does not even know the fundamental reason for His dying, to redeem and save mankind by atoning for sin.
Nor only popular rock musicals express such egregious error. Many scripture scholars today do much the same, e.g., "The New Testament gives us no reason to think that Jesus and Paul were not deadly serious about the demonic world.... I do not believe the demons inhabit desert places or the upper air, as Jesus and Paul thought... I see no way to get around the difficulty except by saying that Jesus and Paul were wrong on this point. They accepted the beliefs of their times about demons, but those beliefs were superstitious."1
The writer, Father Raymond Brown, thinks Jesus was so ignorant as to preach error based on superstitions. He also wonders if Jesus knew much about the future life: "Perhaps he had nothing new to say about the afterlife other than emphasizing what was already known, that God would reward the good and punish the wicked."2 As to whether Jesus knew who He was, we find Fr. Brown inclined to prefer the opinion that Jesus had "some sort of intuition or immediate awareness of what he was, but...that the ability to express this in a communicable way had to be acquired gradually."3 To put it simply: Jesus knew in some vague way who He was but somehow could not manage to say it!
This view is basically the same as that of Karl Rahner, who holds that the self knowledge of Jesus paralleled that of ordinary humans. We do not know our own soul directly; we get to know it indirectly by observing its actions. To express that information is, of course, something additional.4
In ancient times similar ideas were expressed in the aftermath of Nestorianism, a heresy propounding the presence of two persons in Jesus. That is the same as saying there were two he's in Him, a divine person and a human person. The divine person, Nestorians often said, took the human person and lived in him as in a temple. Another sect, the Agnoites, followed logically with the conclusion: the human in Jesus might not know he was bound up with a divine person, and might lack various other kinds of knowledge also. Their error was condemned, with an anathema, by Pope Vigilius in 553 A.D.5
The current storm about the consciousness of Jesus was sparked by a book written by P. Galtier in 1939.6 Without holding for two persons in the Nestorian sense, Galtier sought to distinguish a psychological self apart from the ontological self. So, he asserted, there can be a "real psychological autonomy" in the human soul of Jesus.
The heart of our modern problem, then, is this: without claiming two persons in the Nestorian sense, we can still ask, 'Did a given fact (e.g., the day and hour of the last judgment) register on the human mind of Jesus'? Unfortunately, even theologians are often very loose in their language. They say: He did not know that. Such a statement is heresy, for the He is a divine He. But it is not heresy to ask: Did that point register on His human mind?
To examine the question adequately, we must consider data from four different sources: Scripture, patrology, the magisterium, and speculative theology.
Before considering the Scriptural evidence, we must face the fact that in our day there are numerous challenges to the reliability of the Gospels. So before we can appeal to the Gospels, we must examine whether or not we can believe the Gospels. The introduction is devoted to this problem.