Fullness of Christ’s Wisdom

We treat next of the fullness of wisdom in Christ. In this matter, the first point that comes up for consideration is the truth that, since Christ has two natures, the divine and the human, whatever pertains to both natures must be twofold in Christ, as was stated above. But wisdom appertains to both the divine nature and the human nature. The assertion of Job 9:4: “He is wise in heart and mighty in strength,” is spoken of God. At times Scripture also calls men wise, whether with reference to worldly wisdom, as in Jeremiah 9:23: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,” or with reference to divine wisdom, as in Matthew 23:34: “Behold, I send to you prophets and wise men and scribes.” Hence we must acknowledge a twofold wisdom in Christ, conformably with His two natures: uncreated wisdom, which pertains to Him as God, and created wisdom, which pertains to Him as man.

Inasmuch as Christ is God and the Word of God, He is the begotten Wisdom of the Father, as is indicated in 1 Corinthians 1:24: “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” For the interior word of any intellectual being is nothing else than the conception of wisdom. And since, as we said above, the Word of God is perfect and is one with God, He must be the perfect conception of the wisdom of God the Father. Consequently, whatever is contained in the wisdom of God the Father as unbegotten, is contained wholly in the Word as begotten and conceived. And so we are told, in Colossians 2:3, that in Him, namely, in Christ, “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

Indeed, even as man, Christ has a twofold knowledge. The one is godlike, whereby He sees God in His essence, and other things in God, just as God Himself, by knowing Himself, knows all other things. Through this vision God Himself is happy, as is every rational creature admitted to the perfect fruition of God. Therefore, since we hold that Christ is the author of man’s salvation, we must also hold that such knowledge as befits the author of salvation pertains to the soul of Christ. But a principle must be immovable and must also be pre-eminent in power. Hence that vision of God in which men’s beatitude and eternal salvation consist, ought to be found to be more excellent in Christ than in others, and, indeed, ought to be found in Him as in an immovable principle. The difference between what is movable and what is immovable comes to this: movable things, so far as they are movable, do not possess their proper perfection from the beginning, but acquire it in the course of time; but immovable things, as such, always possess their perfections from the first moment of their existence. Accordingly Christ, the author of man’s salvation, should rightly have possessed the full vision of God from the very beginning of His incarnation; propriety would not allow Him to have attained to it in the course of time, as other saints do.

It was also appropriate that that soul which was united to God more closely than all others, should be beatified by the vision of God beyond the rest of creatures. Gradation is possible in this vision, according as some see God, the cause of all things, more clearly than others. The more comprehensively a cause is known, the more numerous are the effects that can be discerned in it. For a more perfect knowledge of a cause entails a fuller knowledge of its power, and there can be no knowledge of this power without a knowledge of its effects, since the magnitude of a power is ordinarily gauged from its effects. This is why, among those who behold the essence of God, some perceive more effects in God Himself or more exemplars of the divine works than do others who see less clearly. It is because of this fact that lower angels are instructed by higher angels, as we have previously observed.

Accordingly the soul of Christ, possessing the highest perfection of the divine vision among all creatures, clearly beholds in God Himself all the divine works and the exemplars of all things that are, will be, or have been; and so He enlightens not only men, but also the highest of the angels. Hence the Apostle says, in Colossians 2:3, that in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” of God; and in Hebrews 4:13 he points out that “all things are naked and open to His eyes.”

Of course the soul of Christ cannot attain to a comprehension of the divinity. For, as we said above, a thing is comprehended by knowledge when it is known to the full extent that it is knowable. Any object is knowable to the degree that it is a being and is true; but the divine being is infinite, as likewise is its truth. Therefore God is infinitely knowable. But no creature can know infinitely, even if what it knows is infinite. Hence no creature can comprehend God by seeing Him. But Christ’s soul is a creature, and whatever in Christ pertains exclusively to His human nature is created. Otherwise the nature of Christ’s humanity would not differ from the nature of His divinity, which alone is uncreated. However, the hypostasis or person of the Word of God, which is one in two natures, is uncreated. For this reason we do not call Christ a creature, speaking absolutely, because the hypostasis is connoted by the name of Christ. But we do say that the soul of Christ or the body of Christ is a creature. Therefore Christ’s soul does not comprehend God, but Christ comprehends God by His uncreated wisdom. Our Lord had this uncreated wisdom in mind when, speaking of His knowledge of comprehension, He said in Matthew 11:27: “No one knows the Son but the Father; neither doth anyone know the Father but the Son.”

In this connection we may note that comprehension of a thing’s essence and comprehension of its power are of the same nature; a thing is able to act so far as it is a being in act. Therefore, if Christ’s soul is incapable of comprehending the essence of the divinity, as we have shown is the case, it cannot comprehend the divine power. But it would comprehend the divine power if it knew all that God is able to accomplish and the ways in which He can produce His effects. But this is impossible. Therefore Christ’s soul does not know all that God can do, nor all the modes of activity open to Him.

However, since Christ, even as man, is placed by God the Father over every creature, it is fitting that in His vision of the divine essence He should perceive with full knowledge all things that in any way have been wrought by God. In this sense the soul of Christ is said to be omniscient, for it has complete knowledge of all things that are, will be, or have been. Among the other creatures that see God, some enjoy, in their vision of God, a more perfect knowledge, others a less perfect knowledge, of these effects.

In addition to this knowledge, whereby things are known by the created intellect in the vision of the divine essence itself, there are other kinds of cognition by which a knowledge of things comes to creatures. The angels, besides “morning” knowledge, whereby they know things in the Word, also have “evening” knowledge, whereby they know things in their proper natures. This kind of knowledge pertains to men in one way, in keeping with their nature, and to angels in another way. For men, consistent with the order of nature, derive the intelligible truth of things from their senses, as Dionysius observes [De divinis nominibus, VII, 3], in such a way that the intelligible species in their intellects are abstracted from phantasms under the action of the agent intellect. But angels acquire knowledge of things through an influx of divine light; in the same way that things themselves come forth into being from God, representations or likenesses of things are imprinted on the angelic intellect by God. In men and angels alike, however, over and above the knowledge of things they have by nature, there is found a certain supernatural knowledge of divine mysteries, about which angels are enlightened by angels, and men, for their part, are instructed by prophetic revelation.

Accordingly, since no perfection vouchsafed to creatures may be withheld from Christ’s soul, which is the most excellent of creatures, a threefold knowledge is fittingly to be attributed to Him, in addition to the knowledge whereby He beholds the essence of God and all things in that essence. One kind of knowledge is experimental, as in other men, so far as Christ knew some things through the senses, in keeping with His human nature. A second knowledge is divinely infused, granted to Christ so that He might know all truths to which man’s natural knowledge extends or can extend. The human nature assumed by the Word of God ought not to have been lacking in any perfection whatever, since through it the whole of human nature was to be restored. But everything that exists in potency is imperfect before it is reduced to act. Thus the human intellect is in potency to the intelligibles which man can know naturally. Hence the soul of Christ received knowledge of all such objects through species divinely infused: the entire potency of His human intellect was reduced to act. Furthermore, since Christ in His human nature was not only the restorer of our nature, but was also the fountainhead of grace, He was endowed with a third knowledge whereby He knew most perfectly all that can pertain to the mysteries of grace, which transcend man’s natural knowledge, although they are known by men through the gift of wisdom or through the spirit of prophecy. The human intellect is in potency with regard to the acquisition of such knowledge, even though an agency belonging to a higher sphere is required to reduce it to act. When there is question of knowing natural things, the mind is reduced to act by the light of the agent intellect; but it acquires knowledge of these mysteries through divine light.

This discussion clearly shows that the soul of Christ reached the highest degree of knowledge among all creatures, as regards the vision of God, whereby the essence of God is seen, and other things in it; likewise as regards knowledge of the mysteries, and also as regards knowledge of things naturally knowable. Consequently Christ could not advance in any of these three kinds of knowledge. But obviously He knew sensible things more and more perfectly with the passing of time, as He gained experience of them through the bodily senses. Therefore Christ could advance only with respect to experimental knowledge. That He actually did so we learn from Luke 2:52: the boy “advanced in wisdom and age.” However, this can be understood also in another way, so that Christ’s increase of wisdom would mean, not that He Himself became wiser, but that wisdom increased in others, in the sense that they were more and more instructed by His wisdom. This was done for a good reason: that He might show that He was like other men. If He had made a display of His perfect wisdom at a tender age, the mystery of the Incarnation might well have seemed phantastic.

Reference

St. Thomas Aquinas. (1265-1274). Compendium Theologiae: Fullness of Christ’s Wisdom, trans. by Cyril Vollert. St. Louis & London: B. Herder Book Co., 1947

All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

Agere Sequitur Esse