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To Attribute Omniscience To Christ's Human Nature Is Monophysitism


Within recent times the question as to the limitation of Christ's
knowledge was hotly debated. That debate showed how much uncertainty
on Christological questions exists and how strong monophysite opinion
still is. In spite of Christ's own dicta, in spite of the dogma of
two natures, denial of the limitation was widespread and persistent.
To many devout minds it seems impious to speak of Christ's ignorance.
This is a case in which the Chalcedonian definition is an invaluable
guide. If one brings to an examination of Christ's nature the
preconceived notion of His omniscience, the doctrine of the limitation
of His knowledge seems an outrage on belief; but if one approaches the
question with the orthodox formula in mind, one is prepared to find
that His cognitive faculties were perfectly human and humanly perfect.
So we find it. His knowledge and His faculties of knowledge on the
lower plane of His experience were essentially the same as ours. He
thought in our categories. He used our organon, perfect of its kind,
but still a human organon. As man, inevitably, He had thoughts
uncognised; and such a mental state we call "ignorance." His mind
passed through stages of development as ours does. Education widened
His horizon, strengthened His faculties, and increased His knowledge.
Advance in knowledge implies a prior state of relative ignorance. The
word "ignorance" as applied to Christ sounds very terrible; but
investigation of its meaning robs it of its terrors. We use the word
in two senses. On the one hand it may mean the absence of a thought,
its absolute non-presence in consciousness. On the other it may mean
thought unrelated to experience, one whose implications are not or
cannot be fully deduced, in fact, the incomplete cognition of an idea.
In neither case does it involve imperfection in the instrument or moral
fault. On the contrary ignorance is a mark of the normal in cognition.
If ignorance and limitation of knowledge were not found in Christ, we
should be forced to agree with Apollinaris that the divine Logos had
superseded His human intellect.

Ignorance in so far as it is a positive attribute is far from being a
mark of imperfection. It is a true paradox that ignorance like
obliviscence forms part of the process of human cognising. Probably in
the truth of things memory is of the essence of mind. Thoughts
naturally and spontaneously reproduce themselves. The past of
experience tends automatically to carry forward into the present. The
function of the brain then, or of a mental faculty intimately
co-operating with the brain is to discriminate, to sift and select, to
prolong into present consciousness what is of importance for action and
to relegate the irrelevant to partial or total oblivion. From this
psychological standpoint ignorance and obliviscence are seen to be
achievements of the intellect. The presence of all facts in a human
consciousness is unthinkable. If it were possible, it would paralyse
action. If we exempt Christ from the law of ignorance and
obliviscence, we ipso facto dehumanise his cognition. When we say
that Jesus was ignorant of much scientific truth, or that his
prescience was limited, we do not compromise His dignity. We simply
assert the naturalness of His intellect and the true humanity of that
element of His nature. To do otherwise, to claim omniscience for His
human intellect is gross monophysitism. His knowledge was deeper,
surer, more penetrating than ours, because the light of His divine
intuition streamed through the veil of sense and illumined the lower
phases of intelligence. This is an instance of the communicatio
idiomatum. The properties of the two natures act and react upon one
another. But we must make the distinction of natures our
starting-point, or fusion will take place. There must be idiomata
first, or the communicatio is meaningless.

Next: The Present Existence Of Christ's Human Nature

Previous: Indifference To Christ's Sufferings A Classical Comparison

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