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Catholic Culture News

The Father William Most Collection

Did Jesus ever worry?

[Homiletic and Pastoral Review 85 (November 1985) 31-2]

Two great currents dominate new writings on Christology today: (1) the belief that there is a gap between the Jesus of history (as he really was) and the Christ of faith (what the early Church said he was).

It is generally believed that we cannot be sure of much on the earlier side of that gap.

(2) A desire to see him as fully human. Hence a widespread claim of very limited knowledge in him. Some even call him a human person, in dissatisfaction with the definition of the Council of Chalcedon (451) which decided he is only one Person, a divine person, with two natures, human and divine. So they ask: Can we know what it means to be divine, or to be human, or a person?

We ought to take up both of these currents, but it would be too long to do both. We will take up the second now. Later, if the editor's patience holds out, there will be an article on the first current.

J. Peter Schineller, S.J. in Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits (September-November, 1980) urges that we learn to know Jesus the way the first disciples did. They began with no clear notion—if indeed any notion at all—that he was God. Then they slowly came to understand, after his resurrection.

At first sight, the proposal seems obvious and attractive. But the problem is this: it suggests we divest ourselves of what we already know about him so as to come to know the same thing. It was inevitable that Jesus should reveal himself only gradually—Jewish monotheism otherwise could not have digested the truth—and so the disciples came to know very slowly. But is there a need that we, who have the fullness of faith, should retrace that dim path as if we were reverting to early ignorance?

Ignorance in Jesus is, as we said, a large contention of those who stress his humanity. A strong instance of this position appears in a new book, Thomas N. Hart, To Know and Follow Jesus (Paulist, 1984). Dr. Hart tries (pp. 69-78) to give us a reconstructed picture, admittedly hypothetical, of the inner experience of Jesus. After the episode in the Temple at age twelve, he begins to seriously consider becoming a rabbi or priest. But then he just goes to work as a carpenter with his father. There he has time to think; he becomes a keen observer of humanity, feels compassion, and puzzles over the problem of evil. Meanwhile his prayer life grows. In his twenties, he gets "serious doubts about the religion of his time." This goes so far that, "He feels as if he is losing his faith, and the prospect frightens him." So his prayer life is troubled. He seeks help, but finds little. Then he meets the Baptist, decides to be baptized and to turn his life over to God. So he finds again the God he thought he was losing.

One day someone asks him to pray over a sick man. Jesus is surprised to find the man is cured. It happens more often. Now his notoriety grows, and he has a hard time deciding what to do. After prayer, he comes to the conclusion that he must continue this public ministry. But for a time he considers marriage, to which he feels "a powerful attraction," and there is a special girl, too. Then he comes to see he could not have a wife and children, and still keep up his ministry. Further, he is convinced the end time is near, and so, "He decides, with difficulty, to forego marriage."

Accent on Jesus' humanity

Now he prays hard, and tells God he needs help. "Sometimes I feel as if I am losing my mind." He would like to get away from the crowds and become a sort of hermit. But the people need him, and experience God in him in a special way.

Next, he has a very special experience (which used to be called a transfiguration). As he prays, an intense awareness of God's presence in him comes. He feels "as if his whole being is suffused with light." He even thinks he hears God speaking, and feels a deep union with him. At the same time, he has a premonition of a great trial coming. But the experience makes him feel he speaks with the authority and approval of God.

The opposition grows ugly; he tells his friends he expects to be killed—without knowing how or when it will come. This makes him sad, for he loves life, loves to walk in the hills, enjoys fishing trips and picnics with his friends, and camping out.

Gradually he comes to think his death will be a means to express his love to God and people. So, he has a final meal with his friends, and wonders what he could leave as a remembrance. Then he gets the idea: he will open his heart to his friends at the meal. He even "takes the bread and wine and identifies himself with them."

The hour of his arrest and execution comes. It is worse than he had expected. God seems so far, so indifferent. But, finally he can see a dim light at the end of the tunnel. He now sees God has always been with him and in him. "Now he knows clearly, for the first time, the permanent significance of his life."

Hans Urs von Balthasar would not agree with Dr. Hart's picture at this point, for he thinks that, even after death, Jesus needed time to find out who he was (First Glance at Adrienne von Speyr, Ignatius Press, 1981, p. 66). After his death, "In hell he encounters his own work of salvation, not in Easter triumph, but in the uttermost night of obedience, truly, the 'obedience of a corpse.' .... he experiences the second chaos. While bereft of any spiritual light emanating from the Father, in sheer obedience, he must seek the Father where he cannot find him under any circumstances" [emphasis added].

Raymond Brown thinks that Jesus, in his knowledge, was basically a Jew of the first third of the first century, who could not rise in his thoughts much above the ordinary level (Critical Meaning of the Bible, Paulist, 1981, p. 12). "We cannot assume that Jesus shared our own sophistication on some of these questions [on afterlife!. If Jesus speaks of heaven above the clouds . . . how can we be sure that he knew it was not above the clouds?" (Jesus, God and Man, Macmillan, 1967, p. 56). In fact, he even had some superstitions about demons (St. Anthony's Messenger, May, 1971, pp. 47 48).

There are, of course, theological and scriptural reasons given to support the reconstructions we have seen. We cannot examine all the reasons given here, nor is it needed, for in The Consciousness of Christ (Christendom, 1980) I have examined, in detail, all reasons proposed by Brown, Rahner and others, and have submitted answers and positive proofs in addition. But here, two things seem suitable: to deepen the analysis of one of Rahner's arguments, which was treated briefly in my book; and then to show, concretely, how Jesus could and did have surprisingly human reactions, even while having the vision of God, which the Church teaches he always had.

Experiential knowledge increased

Rahner does admit some sort of divine vision in Jesus, but calls it nonbeatific (Theological Investigations V, Helicon, 1966, p. 208): "This really existing direct vision of God is nothing other than the original unobjectified consciousness of divine sonship which is present by the mere fact that there is [italics in original] a Hypostatic Union." Rahner says Jesus' awareness of his own identity developed in a way parallel to that in which an ordinary person comes to know himself (ibid., p. 211): "Only in the course of long experience can he [the ordinary man] learn to express, to himself, what he is so it is also, in the case of Christ's consciousness of divine sonship.... We can, therefore, speak without qualms about a spiritual and, indeed, religious development in Jesus."

Rahner has oversimplified and missed essential distinctions. We learn, by our actions, not that we are humans beings—we cannot help knowing that—but we learn our own personal character. We have to learn it gradually, since it develops only gradually: we cannot learn a given feature before it is really there. But Jesus had a different channel of knowledge and different situation. We have only our own actions; he had that too. But the Church teaches (as we shall see below) that he had also the vision of the divine essence, in which he also saw his humanity as joined to it in the unity of one person. We do not have to learn our humanity gradually; nor did he have to learn his divinity gradually. Of course, in addition, his experiential knowledge could and did grow.

Really, theological reasoning shows that he not only happened to have that vision— it could not have been otherwise, given his structure. For any soul will have that vision on two conditions: (1) its ability to know needs to be elevated to a higher plane by grace; of course Jesus had that; (2) the divine nature must join itself to the human intellect directly, without even an image in between. But that union in Jesus was inevitable and inescapable, for his entire humanity, not just his human intellect, was so closely joined to the divinity that his humanity did not turn into a human person. Normally, a body plus a soul having mind and will does that.

We grant, his physical human brain was not developed at the instant of conception. We need that bodily brain and our bodily senses to know anything, for all knowledge :enters us by that channel. But he had another channel, the vision, and so the intelligence proper to a human spirit—and so to his human spirit—could and did know via the vision.

Dr. Hart wants to go still farther: he ties to explain away NT passages that would speak of Jesus as preexistent. The most impressive part of this is his exegesis of Phil. 2:6-7. He argues that we cannot know of Jesus' divinity and preexistence from that passage, since "form of God" has the same sense, he claims, as "image of God" in Gen. 1:26. Then all that Phil. 2:6-7 would mean would be that Jesus decided to live "a lowly servant life, rather than a regal one" (pp. 94-96). As part of that, he would be ignorant.

The proposed exegesis has a resemblance to the truth, as we shall see, but is basically faulty. Genesis 1:26 expresses the fact that God gave man a share of his own dominion over creation. The second half of v. 26 continues, in Hebrew parallelism, to say the same as the first half: "And let them have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." Man resembles God in this dominion. However, an important distinction is needed. It is one thing to have the right to use lower creation as a master. It is another thing to live a regal life with power over men, or at least popularity. To live in the image of God does not at all connote or express that kind of regal life.

In addition, we note that St. Paul uses the word morphe, "form," only in Phil. 2:6-7, but he uses the same root in compounds seven times. Not one of those times does it have the meaning Dr. Hart supposes. It always stands for a deeper reality, i.e., nature, in the popular, not the technical or Aristotelian sense. It is the sense in which a man on the street might say: "This is of a certain nature." (Cf. 2 Cor. 3:14; Gal. 4:19; Rom. 2:20; 8:29; Phil. 3:10 and 20-21; Rom. 12:2). The Greek Fathers took it to mean divine nature, and so do not a few modern scholars. Others today take it to mean the glory (kabod) of God—which would imply divine nature. So, J. Fitzmyer, in Jerome Biblical Commentary, glosses his tabular translation with "Divine Pre-existence" opposite v. 6.

Dr. Hart's exegesis resembles the truth in that the emptying does mean a decision not to use his divine power or nature for his own comfort. But, as we said, the "form of God" means nature or divine glory—not just the dominion image of Gen. 1:26.

Vision of God present to Jesus

But to return to the topic of Jesus' human knowledge: the Church has spoken several times, telling us Jesus did have that vision of God from the very start. The most important of those texts is found in the Mystical Body Encyclical of Pius XII: "The most loving knowledge of this kind, with which the divine Redeemer pursued us from the first moment of the incarnation, surpasses the diligent grasp of any. human mind. For by that blessed vision which he enjoyed when just received in the womb of the Mother of God, he has all the members of the Mystical Body continuously and perpetually present to himself, and embraces them with salvific love . . . far more clearly and far more lovingly than a mother has a son on her lap, or than each one knows and loves himself.; This is quite different from thinking he did not know himself clearly until years after birth. or even after death. Rahner recognizes this meaning in the text, but tries to dismiss the text as "marginal and incidental" (art. cit., p. 214.n.13). Others say the statements are not de fide. But even if they are not, Vatican II (Constitution on the Church §25) requires "religious submission of will and of mind" even to such teachings. Nor did Vatican II say we need take only the main point of an encyclical. Really, the statement of Pius XII is integral to the thought of the Encyclical: Christ knew each member of the Mystical Body in advance. Pius XII repeated the same teaching in Haurietis aquas. The same Pius XII also wrote in Humani generis "If the Supreme Pontiffs, in their acts, expressly pass judgment on a matter debated until then, it is obvious to all that the matter, according to the mind and will of the same Pontiffs, cannot be considered any longer a question open for free discussion among theologians."

The real motive behind these attempts to make Jesus ignorant is to make him more like us—a laudable motive in itself. But, there is no need to deny his possession of that vision to get the effect. Here are some concrete instances.

First, Jesus could and did suffer from anguish, worry, distress—and did that all his life long. It came to a head in Gethsemani, where St. Mark dares to say (14:34): "Then he began to be afraid and in distress." Raymond Brown (Critical Meaning of the Bible, p. 91) thinks he "should not have feared death . . . since he knew exactly how he would triumph." Does Brown think foreknowledge of resurrection should make the scourges and nails and cross painfree? Normal human nature would naturally shrink from such things. Further, one can live, as it were, on a split level. A friend of mine once took a prescription medicine, and then, an hour later, some Bufferin. Suddenly—a thing he had not anticipated, and so it was not suggestion—he found himself afraid, not of anything in particular; it was a generic fear. He reasoned: "This came from some bad chemistry. I will be all right in three or four hours." That came true; but for three or four hours he was simultaneously in fear and calm, knowing what it was all about. So too, Jesus, knowing the triumph, would still feel fear and distress. (St. Francis de Sales, Treatise on the Love of God 9:12, explains further how such things can happen and have happened to other humans.)

Christ knew each member

That anxiety was with him all his previous life. Once he let us have a look inside him (Luke 12:50): "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I in a tight spot until it is over with." That is, he felt distress at what was coming—not just the physical pain, but the worse pain of rejection by all of us by our sins. We may fear a great evil coming, but can take refuge in the thought that maybe it will not come, maybe it will not be so bad. He had no such refuge. His vision-knowledge was merciless: no escape, and he knew most fully all the pain. Again, about a week before his death, in speaking to a crowd in Jerusalem, he allowed his interior to show forth again. He broke into his discourse to the crowds to say (John 12:27): "Now my heart is disturbed, and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour."

When anyone has a long-running irritation, it is like a case in which the skin is worn thin, so that even little things become a strain. So too, he, knowing all his life precisely what he had to face, would be worn. No wonder that in the garden the small capillaries adjacent to the sweat glands ruptured from the terrible stress inside him, and poured blood out through the sweat passages—a condition medically known as hematidrosis.

There were other very human reactions, too. He was amazed at the lack of faith of his fellow townsmen, and at the faith of the centurion. His full knowledge would not prevent this emotion: we have all seen beautiful sunsets many times, yet can respond emotionally to another splendid scene of that sort.

He let himself weep for his friend, Lazarus, even though he knew well he would bring him out in a moment.

He took pleasure in the persistence and resourcefulness of the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30) and enjoyed granting her request.

When the unrelenting hardness of the Pharisees asked for a sign—though they had seen countless signs—"He sighed deeply in his spirit" (Mark 8:12), in distress. It is much like our reaction to an obstinate person. We knew, in advance, how he would act, yet when it happens, we still are disturbed: "I just knew he would do it!"

When the Scribes and Pharisees tried to trap him with clever dilemmas (ea. Matt. 22:15-32; John 8: 1-11) thinking he could not escape, he must have had a human satisfaction in outwitting them. Fine athletes, who know well what they can do, still enjoy the actual doing. So too, Jesus would enjoy the exercise of his mental power.

He must have felt a sense of exasperation even with his dear Apostles. Just before his arrest, he told them (Luke 22: 35-38): "Let him who has no sword, sell his mantle and buy one." He was pointing ahead, in a symbolic way, to persecution to come. But the Apostles, dull as usual, did not get it, and so they brought out two swords, not nearly enough to fight the mob that was to come after him. So he answered: "It is enough." Of course he did not mean two swords would be enough. He meant: "That is enough of this dullness!"—and they did not understand that remark either.

Did he have to work to learn to speak his native language? We distinguish. Via the vision, he already knew the vocabulary and forms, etc. Yet, there was another factor, the need of training his human organs of speech to form the sounds. That, naturally, took practice. Knowledge would not be enough. He could have dispensed with the need of practice by a miracle. But his emptying (Phil. 2:6-7) had ruled that out. So, he would have had to practice; and he would have had a human satisfaction at getting things finally right.

So there is no need to contradict the Church teaching on his knowledge to make him really human. So, why contradict? Why not be ingenious enough to work out the real conditions—of which we have just given a sample?



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