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Believing in the Jesus Without Faith

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.
June 21st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Jesus in his human nature did not see God darkly; Jesus in his human nature saw God the Father "face to face," saw him "as he is," even while walking the earth.  That is why traditional theologians regarded Jesus as utterly unique in his knowledge of God.  Jesus Christ was a pilgrim and yet had full comprehension of God.  Jesus was viator simul et comprehensor.  Faith was therefore superfluous, unnecessary for him. 

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - It is an error, unfortunately common among some modern theologians, to suggest that Jesus had faith and that he is therefore a model of faith for the Christian believer.  The teaching of Scripture and the traditional doctrine of the Church is that Jesus, because of his unique status as the Word of God made Flesh, had no faith in the sense that human creatures have faith. 

To suggest that Jesus had faith in any ordinary sense is, in fact, to lose faith in Jesus, in who he claimed to be: the Son of God become man who knew himself as the eternally-begotten Son of God, and who, in his humanity, intimately saw and knew and communed with God the Father so as to reveal him to all mankind.

Faith is the human response to the revelation of the invisible God by one who does not see him.  Confronted by the revealing God who invites mankind to communion, the "adequate response to this invitation is faith" says the Catechism of the Catholic ChurchCCC 142.  It defines faith as the complete submission of intellect and will to the revealing God. 

Faith is credere Deum, credere Deo, and credere in Deum: to believe that God exists, to believe what God reveals because God revealed it, and to believe in, that is to entrust oneself absolutely to, God.  "With his whole being man give assent to God the revealer," in what Scripture calls "the obedience of faith."  CCC 143.

In the words of Scripture, "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."  (Heb. 11:1)  "For now," in faith, "we see in a mirror dimly, but then," when we see God in heaven in the so-called beatific vision, we will see God "face to face." (1 Cor. 13:12)  St. John says that in heaven we shall see God "as he is."  (1 John 3:2).  We do not know God "as he is" as pilgrims.

Jesus in his human nature did not see God darkly; Jesus in his human nature saw God the Father "face to face," saw him "as he is," even while walking the earth.  That is why traditional theologians regarded Jesus as utterly unique in his knowledge of God.  Jesus Christ was a pilgrim and yet had full comprehension of God.  Jesus was viator simul et comprehensor.  Faith was therefore superfluous, unnecessary for him. 

Scripture supports this traditional belief.  Significantly, the verb believe is exceedingly common in the New Testament.  In its verb form, "to believe" occurs 241 times, and yet not once is it predicated of Jesus.  In the New Testament, Jesus never believes in God as, for example, Abraham is said to believe.  (See Romans Chapter 3-4; Hebrews Chapter 11.)

Rather, Jesus is peremptory in his claim that he knew the Father and that the Father and he are one.  His report is not based upon faith, but upon vision, upon intimate unity with the Father, upon first-hand knowledge.  "No one knows the son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the son."  (Matt. 11:27)  "The Father and I are one."  (John 10:30)  "If I said, I do not know him [the Father], I should be a liar like you," he tells the Pharisees, "but I do know him and I keep his word." (John 8:55) 

How, if Jesus is to be believed, could the God-Man Jesus, in whom St. Paul said are "all treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:3) and of whom St. Peter said, "Lord you know everything"(John 21:17), be in the dark of anything pertaining to God and therefore want faith? 

And supposing Jesus was in the dark and so needed faith, how could he enlighten us?  How could he reveal what he did not know but only believed?  In such a case, Jesus would only be communicating what he believed, not necessarily what he knew to be real.  This would be an extraordinary demotion of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

It is certain teaching of the Church that Jesus in his human nature did not need faith because his humanity, being joined to the person of the Word of God, enjoyed what is called the immediate vision of God (visio immediata).  Traditionally, this visio immediata is considered synonymous to the beatific vision of God (visio beatifica), the "face to face" knowledge, that the saved will in a measure enjoy in heaven, but which Christ's humanity enjoyed in its fullness from the first moment of the Incarnation and continues to enjoy at the right hand of the Father.

The "faith" of Jesus Christ is mentioned in various places in Scripture (e.g., Rom. 3:22, 26; Gal. 2:16, 20; 3:22; Eph. 3:12, Phil. 3:9, and Rev. 14:12) as a noun.  This is called the fides Christi.  it seems clear from context, however, that this is what is called an objective genitive and not a subjective genitive.  In other words, the "faith of Jesus" is not the faith that Jesus had, but the faith we have in Jesus as the "author and finisher" of our faith (Heb. 11:1).  In other words, these Scriptures all point to Christ as the source, object, and terminus or goal of our faith, not Christ having faith.  This is the Church's traditional exegesis.  Anything else is a novelty.

This, of course, is how St. Thomas Aquinas, who drew upon the tradition, understood the matter.  "When the divine reality is not hidden from sight, there is no point in faith.  From the first moment of his conception Christ had the full vision of God in his essence. . . . Therefore he could not have had faith."  (S.T. IIIa, q. 7, a. 3)  St. Thomas regarded that as received teaching of the Church since it was believed everywhere, always, and by all.  He built upon the traditional view of the Church Fathers.

Pope Pius XII expressly taught this in his encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi.  Pope Pius XII stated that Jesus had "that knowledge which is called vision," and that he possessed it "in such fullness that in breadth and clarity it far exceeds the beatific vision of all the saints in heaven. . . . For hardly was He conceived in the womb of the Mother of God, when He began to enjoy the beatific vision."

In 2006, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had cause to visit this issue as part of its review of the works of the Jesuit priest and liberation theologian Jon Sobrino.  In his works, Fr. Sobrino taught that Jesus had faith, and that he was a model of faith for the modern believer.  The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sought fit to point out the error in these writings.

"Considering the whole of the New Testament," the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith wrote in a Notification in 2006, "it is not possible to sustain that Jesus was 'a believer like ourselves.'"
 
For mankind in general, faith leads to knowledge of God and communion with God, the CDF explained.  Jesus' knowledge of God, however, was not through faith, but through vision.  The human nature of Jesus was in communion with God not through faith, but through the hypostatic or personal union with the Son, the Word of God.  His situation with God is unique.

At the time he walked the earth, "Jesus,the Incarnate Son of God,"the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explained, enjoyed "an intimate and immediate knowledge of his Father, a 'vision' that certainly goes beyond the vision of faith."

This "intimate and immediate knowledge" is something other than, something more than, in fact, something altogether different than faith.  This something-more-than-faith that Jesus had is a necessary implication of his status as the Incarnate Word, and is required as part of Jesus' mission in revealing God to men and in redeeming mankind by his sacrifice on the Cross.

To have faith in Jesus as the Son of God, as the Incarnate Word, then, means we must believe that Jesus had no faith in any ordinary sense, but an "intimate and immediate knowledge" of God that no other human wayfarer has had, or ever will have.

The CDF drew on magisterial texts, including those of Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II, that have described this something-more-than-faith that Jesus in his human nature had as "seeing the Father and rejoicing in him," as an "intimate and immediate knowledge" of the Father, or, as it is called in traditional theological language, the "beatific vision." 

The CDF insisted that Jesus in his human nature and while a pilgrim on earth knew God the Father, saw God the Father, rejoiced fully in God the Father, had immediate knowledge of the God the Father, enjoyed the beatific vision, and this from the moment of his Incarnation.  Necessarily, this excludes faith on the part of Jesus' human nature. 

It is also significant that the tradition of the Church has never proposed Jesus as the model of faith.  "Abraham is the model of such obedience offered us by Sacred Scripture," the Catechism observes.  And this Abrahamic faith is found, in the Church's teaching, to exist not in Jesus, who had no need for faith, but as "its most perfect embodiment" in the Virgin Mary. CCC 144.

In her book The Virgin Mary, Motheism and Sacrifice, Cleo McNelly Kearns writes: "As John Paul's . . . Redemptoris Mater (1987) notes, just as Abraham is our 'father in faith' (cf. Romans 4:12), so is Mary 'our mother in faith,' for just as his hineni, 'here I am' had inaugurated the old covenant, so does her fiat mihi, 'be it done to me' inaugurate the new."

"Mary's faith never wavered.  She never eased to believe in the fulfillment of God's word.  And so the Church venerates in Mary the purest realization of faith," teaches the Catechism.  CCC 149.

In his encyclical on Mary Redemptoris Mater, Blessed John Paul II taught that Mary, the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of God, is the Church's "model in faith."  RM, No. 2.  That is, for Christians it is Mary, and not Christ, who is our model of faith.  Again, the implication in holding Mary out as the "model of faith" is that Jesus did not need faith because he saw God face to face, "as He is," not darkly.  In doing so, the Church merely repeats and gives greater flesh to the words of St. Elizabeth to Mary: "Blessed are you who believed."  (Luke 1:45)

"The Church lives by faith," said Blessed John Paul II at a weekly audience in 1997, "seeing in her 'who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord' (Lk 1:45), the first and perfect expression of her [the Church's] faith."  This is precisely the position of the Catechism, which describes Mary as "the Church's model of faith."  CCC 967.

In this Year of Faith, let us then put our faith--in imitation of Mary, the "model of faith," the "mother of faith," the "most perfect embodiment" of faith--in Jesus Christ, the Word of God become flesh.  Let us place our faith in the Jesus who revealed to us the love of God the Father, and could do so because he had an "intimate and immediate knowledge," a "face to face" knowledge of God the Father whom he knew "as he is," and could therefore reveal him to us.  It is because Jesus had no faith, but rather "intimate and immediate knowledge" of God that we can put our full faith in him.

When it comes to God, Jesus knows what God's about.  It is a knowledge he had by vision, and it can be ours, but only by faith.  We must believe in this Jesus Christ: credere Iesum Christum, credere in Iesum Christum, and credere Iesu Christo.

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Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at agreenwell@harris-greenwell.com.

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