Question 12. The Acquired or Empiric Knowledge of Christ’s Soul

Did Christ know all things by this knowledge?

Acquired knowledge is held to be in Christ’s soul, as was said above (9, 4), by reason of the active intellect. Now as the passive intellect is that by which “all things are in potentiality,” (the passive intellect is a blank slate, starting as nothing but potentially everything) so the active intellect is that by which “all are in act,” as Aristotle says. The soul of Christ knew by infused knowledge all things to which the passive intellect is in any way in potentiality, so by acquired knowledge it knew whatever can be known by the action of the active intellect.

Christ, although He did not experience all things in particular, came to the knowledge of all things, from what He did experience. Particulars of past, present, and future, however, He knew by infused knowledge.

Did He advance in this knowledge?

It would be objected, then, that Christ could not advance in knowledge, if He knew all things.  After all, to advance, or improve, belongs only to what is imperfect.

But after His being found by Mary and Joseph in the Temple, the Scriptures are clear that “Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and grace with God and men.” What do we make of this?

Christ did not advance in knowledge in essence, but rather in effect.  He demonstrated His knowledge more and more. As His age increased He wrought greater deeds, and showed greater knowledge and grace, all the way to His crowning point of the Passion and Resurrection.

But as regards His habit of infused knowledge, this did not and could not increase, since from the beginning He had perfect infused knowledge of all things, as we have already made clear.

This, again, is a place where Thomas changed his position from his Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, where he had not recognized in Christ any acquired knowledge. He says, therefore, in this article that “because it seems unfitting that any natural intelligible action should be wanting to Christ, and because to extract intelligible species from phantasms is a natural action of man’s active intellect, it seems becoming to place even this action in Christ.”

Did He learn anything from man?

“They found Him in the temple in the midst of the doctors, hearing them, and asking them questions.”

Thomas answers that “a master is not taught, but teaches. Therefore Christ did not receive any knowledge by the teaching of any man.” Christ is God, and God is the first mover, even of all intellects.  One cannot be both first unmoved mover and also moved.

“For this was I born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the truth.” (John 18:37):  And thus it did not befit His dignity that He should be taught by any man, for He came to teach and not to be taught. He asked questions as a teaching method, not to obtain answers He did not have.

We learn by signs.  Objects themselves are natural signs, made by God.  Words are conventional signs, made by man.  Christ, as man, would be more fitted to learn by the signs made by God than the signs made by man.

It is interesting that, according to Thomas, when Jesus was very young and heard adults speaking and no doubt would have learned something from this just in its hearing, that Jesus simplydid not give ear to hearing the lessons of doctrine until such time as He was able to have reached that grade of knowledge by way of experience.” No doubt Thomas came to this conclusion to protect the teaching of Christ not being “taught by man,” and we would do well to ponder it rather than simply outright reject it, as odd as it may at first sound.

Did He receive anything from angels?

St. Thomas quotes Dionysius, who says that “the highest angels question Jesus, and learn the knowledge of His Divine work, and of the flesh assumed for us; and Jesus teaches them directly.” So in short, no, Jesus did not learn from the angels.  Again, angels, although their intellect are beyond that of all men, including in that way the soul of Christ, as we said earlier, they are inferior to Him, for the Person is Divine and uncreated.

Rather, as Augustine comments in his Literal Commentary on Genesis, it was the Word that taught the angels.

Lastly, although His body was rightly subject to the impression of heavenly bodies, His soul was not subject to the impression of heavenly spirits.


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