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Did Baby Jesus Have the Beatific Vision?

Tim Staples

Modern scholars often muddle the truth abut Jesus’ knowledge of himself. Did he know he was God? Did he behold the face of God even from the moment of conception? And why does any of this matter?

Cy: Hello and welcome again to Catholic Answers Focus. I’m Cy Kellett, your host, and our guest is Tim Staples, the director of Apologetics and Evangelization here at Catholic Answers. And the man behind this brand new CD set The Great Disappointment, understanding the false doctrines and failed prophecies of Seventh Day Adventism. Congratulations on that.

Tim: Why, thank you young lad.

Cy: So let me just ask you this before we even start then. Are Seventh Day Adventist Christians or …?

Tim: Yes.

Cy: Oh, they are? Okay.

Tim: They are Christians, but they have some serious errors.

Cy: Okay. All right.

Tim: So we want to Catholicize them.

Cy: That’s right. Give them the fullness of the truth. So there’s a lot of debates in the modern world. I don’t know if they have always been these debates, but about what did Jesus know and when did he know it? And there seems to be some sense of maybe he knew, maybe he didn’t know he was the son of God.

Tim: He was confused.

Cy: Yeah.

Tim: He was confused.

Cy: So, you argue that Jesus possesses the fullness of the beatific vision from what point?

Tim: Yes. And it’s not just Tim Staples who argues this. This happens to be the teaching of the one Holy Catholic and Episodic church that Christ-

Cy: An even higher authority than Tim Staples.

Tim: Yes, Jesus. To quote Pope Pius XII in his masterful and cyclical Mystici corporis of 1943, in paragraph 75, Pope Pius XII said, “From the moment of his incarnation, he possessed the beatific vision. And in that vision he saw God in his essence and he saw each and every one of us as well.” And this is crucial for us to understand because this is essential for Christ to be the savior. Now, we could have some fun with this. I mean, I’m just kind of laying out, this is what the teaching of the church is.

Cy: I have an objection, however.

Tim: Let’s object.

Cy: And that is that he grew in wisdom and grace. So how do you have the beatific vision and then grow from there?

Tim: Yes, that’s right. And that’s a great question. See, St. Thomas Aquinas talks about the different modes of knowing in Christ because of course he is God and man. So as God, of course he has infinite knowledge in his divine person because he’s a divine person. He has infinite knowledge. In his human nature, of course, he doesn’t have infinite knowledge. He can’t because only a divine nature can have infinite knowledge. However, he has the fullness of knowledge that can be known in a human nature. And why is that? And this is in essence what the beatific vision is in Jesus Christ. Because what is revealed to us in the new Testament is that Jesus wasn’t saved. He didn’t have to be saved. He didn’t have to be perfected in the sense of motion from imperfection to perfection. By nature he was the God man from the moment of his incarnation. And that was necessary for him to be the savior because if he didn’t have that then he would’ve had to have been saved first, and then, become the savior. And savior would have a different meaning than what we see in sacred scripture. He is the first cause of our salvation. He is the savior. Now, that doesn’t mean that he didn’t have to grow in what St. Thomas Aquinas calls experiential knowledge. And again, this gets back to the different modes of knowing. He knew all things is God. He knew as the Catechism of the Catholic church says in paragraph 473, “By virtue of the union of the human nature with the divine in the beatific vision,” he knew his father within immediate knowledge. See, you and I know God by analogy or through what Thomas Aquinas calls phantasms. Through the mediation of images analogy. Even our ideas of God are mediators between God and us, right? Jesus didn’t have that. He had an immediate vision says the Catechism paragraph 473 where Pope Saint John Paul the Great said in his masterful Epistolic exhortation, Novo Millennio Ineunte. In paragraph 26 he says, “Even during the darkest time in Christ’s sojourn on the cross, suffering immeasurably he had an immediate knowledge of his father.” And this was necessary, not only for him to be the savior, of course, because you can’t give what you don’t have. And that’s an important point in our soteriology, is if Christ didn’t have the beatific vision from the moment of his conception, he couldn’t be the savior. And yet scripture reveals that he was the savior from the moment of his incarnation. As the Catechism of Catholic church points out in paragraph 517 quoting Second Corinthians 8:9, “Christ though he was rich, he became poor in order that we may be made rich in him.” Notice from the moment of his incarnation, he was redeeming us. Well, how can you redeem if you don’t have the possession of what the redemption is? And that’s the beatific vision. So again, we have to understand though. Jesus had to learn how to walk. He had to learn how to talk. He had to learn what it means to stub his toe, to feel pain, the whips, all of that was a new mode of knowing for Jesus. There’s a radical difference between … I can tell my children all day long, “Stove hot, don’t touch,” but when they actually touch it, they get a new revelation of what hot is.

Cy: Right, right.

Tim: Well, Jesus had to grow in all of that and he did. And he was perfected as well in his human nature. In as much as he had to overcome obstacles. In fact, that’s part of the reason why he had to be incarnate Because remember God can’t merit. In order to merit, you have to be in a wayfaring state. There have to be obstacles to overcome. God didn’t have that, could not have that.

Cy: I gotcha.

Tim: But in the incarnation, Jesus takes on a human nature in a wayfaring state. That becomes crucial again, in our sotiorology because we see that Christ in taking upon himself the form of man, even though he continued to possess God and the beatific vision, he gave up many of what I call the fruits of the beatific vision that were his by right. For example, glory. The glory that Mary has now in the beatific vision Jesus has by right, but he gave that up in order to be a wayfarer to overcome obstacles.

Cy: What would be the characteristics of that glory? Meaning that he couldn’t be killed?

Tim: Exactly. That’s a great question because I get excited on this one. See, even Adam and Eve in the garden had certain preternatural gifts that Christ would have given up. Of course, they didn’t have the beatific vision, but they had the gift of impassability. Christ gave that up because he had to die even though that’s his right by virtue of the fact that he possesses God in the beatific vision. He gives that up. He in fact, as the God man does not allow the fullness of the fruits of the beatific vision to flow into every aspect of his human nature. Like the consolation and even elation that the saints in heaven possess, he gives that up. The gift of impassability. You can’t suffer. You can’t die if you have the gift of impassability. The gift of subtility and agility. That is the ability to pass through walls, to travel at the speed of thought. And the gift of glory, which means his human nature would shine like the sun in the glory of God. But here’s another cool point though. At times in his ministry, he does those things in order to reveal to us that they are his by right. He passes through walls after the resurrection anyway.

Cy: He walks on water.

Tim: And he walked on water and on the Mount of Transfiguration, he allowed the glory to shine through just to show us … and oh this is fascinaing. If you look at Matthew 17 and the Mount of Transfiguration, back up to the end of Matthew 16, and you see what leads up to it. He says, “There are some of you here that will not die before you see the Son of Man coming in his glory.” And then he immediately goes up on the Mount and reveals his glory. That’s not talking about the second coming. That’s talking about …

Cy: No, he showed … Right.

Tim: He showed that, “Hey, I possess this by right, but I’m giving it up in order to save.”

Cy: It makes you think his entire life though as constant renunciation. That he has to constantly be saying, “Oh, I’m not exercising my rights as God or Man.”

Tim: Because he’s love. That’s what love is.

Cy: But it makes you think like, okay, so I get mad because somebody cuts me off. I’m defending my rights. And he’s spending his entire life not exercising his rights.

Tim: Oh my gosh, it’s so great. The more you study Christology and learn of this stuff … Often I’ll have people say, “Tim, you know …” because I’ve been giving talks on this lately all over the place. And the people will come up to me saying like, “Oh my gosh. I’ve heard this. Jesus has a beatific vision stuff, but I didn’t think it was important.” I’m like, “Yes, this is important” because not only is it necessary for Christ to be our savior because you can’t give what you don’t have. And remember, I mentioned this earlier, but the Catechism paragraph 517 tells us that Christ redemption did not only occur on the cross. That’s the pinnacle of the redemption and without the shedding of blood. Hebrews 9:22 “There is no forgiveness of sins.” Of course that’s essential, but Christ redeemed us throughout his life in every aspect of his life. Every act of self abnegation, which he was doing every instant of his existence here on earth. Because at any moment, Jesus himself said, “I could snap my fingers and bring a legion of angels down here to rescue me at any time I want to.” “Think not.” John 10:18 “Don’t think you’re taking my life. I give it.” He had to choose at every instant to die, to be whipped, beaten, to hang on the cross because at any instant he could’ve made it all disappear. This is the glory of the incarnation and the radical love that Jesus has for us when you understand he was free at every moment. And then when you see that his whole life is that of redemption, this becomes all the more important in understanding our lives as well because the Catechism paragraph 521 says that the spiritual life is nothing more than us allowing Jesus to live his life in us and through us. That’s what it means to be a Christian, a little Christ. We then become grace machines first to allow our salvation, but then to become instruments of salvation for others as well.

Cy: So you say at the moment of his conception … I’m equating that with incarnation. I’ll assume that would be …

Tim: Correct.

Cy: Okay. So at the moment of his conception, he has the beatific vision and he knows each one of us personally. And why is this necessary for my salvation? That he knows me personally at every moment of his life.

Tim: Right. There are multiple points we could make, but let me … I’m going to change gears here and I might surprise you. One of the many reasons why is Isaiah 53 verse 4. The scripture says he bore our sins and our transgressions, right? How can you do that? Well, right. Pope St. John Paul in that wonderful document that I mentioned before, Novo Millennio Ineunte makes the point in paragraph 26 that in order for Christ to be able to bear our sins, he had to have the beatific vision because he had to be able to see their full weight, their full effect. And you can’t do that unless you can see God because it is God who holds the …

Cy: The human brain can’t do that.

Tim: No. It is God who we offend and infinitely so. So Christ sees each and every one of us. Here’s a cool little point. If you go to the Catechism of the Catholic church, paragraph 478 the Catechism says he knew, and really piggybacking on what Pius XII said in Mystici corporis 75, you have here “Christ knew and loved each one of us with a human heart.” Not just in his divine. Of course, in his divine intellect, he knows everything, everyone, absolutely. He can’t not not know. He can’t not know. How’s that? Right? But in his human nature. And why? Because it’s the human nature that is the savior, the mediator between God and man. What does St. Paul say in first Timothy 2:5? There is one God, one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ. In order for the man Jesus Christ to be the savior, he has to know each and every one of us. He has to be able to take upon himself all of our sins. So it’s overwhelming to us to ponder how that Christ in his human nature could know and in some sense experience the agony of a hundred million abortions. Millions upon millions of rapes and every evil. This is why my friends, it doesn’t matter what we go through, how grave of evil we have experienced, we have a friend in Jesus. We have an advocate in Jesus who has experienced immeasurably more. And not only has he experienced this in the abstract, but he has experienced your pain. This is why Paul would say in Galatians chapter two verse 20, which by the way is footnoted in the Catechism paragraph 478. Galatians 2:20 where St. Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ. Nevertheless, I live, yet not I live, but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God who gave himself for me.” Not for humanity, not for an abstract concept of “I’m dying for everyone.” He’s not Miss America. “I pray for peace in the whole world.” No, he doesn’t just die for an abstraction. He dies for each one of us and he is so identified with us that he could say to Saul, for example, in both Acts 9 and Acts 22, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Jesus doesn’t say that just for the fun of it. He’s not waxing poetic. He experienced every one of our sins and the agony. And that’s why Isaiah 53:4 can say he bore our sins and our transgressions. Without the beatific vision, he can’t do that.

Cy: I’ll tell you what. You could see how a person would say, “Well, this is kind of an obscure theological point did he have the beatific vision or not.” But those things turn out to matter a great deal, don’t they?

Tim: They do. Inside. There’s a wonderful document. I recommend everybody read it. It is an answer from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It’s called a Notification. This is kind of like a “you did bad.” The CDF sent a notification to Father Jon Sobrino who’s a Jesuit priest who wrote two awful books, Jesus the Liberator and Christ the Liberator. He was a liberation theologian and had an extremely confused Christology. But that Notification is glorious. It condemns six propositions. Really. They’re categories of propositions from Sobrino’s books. And in number five, one of the propositions that it censures is his denial that Christ had the beatific vision. And it gives you beautiful insight stuff we’re talking about right now. But here’s another aspect that the CDF brings out here that is really incredible. Not only is it the fact that in denying he had the beatific vision you ended up losing the savior Jesus Christ because he becomes just an exemplar. In Sobrino’s theology Jesus was just an example for us. He wasn’t really the first cause or efficient cause of our salvation. He was only causal in the sense that he’s the exemplar. He’s the Homo verus, right? The true man and it should inspire us to do the same. No, he’s the first cause, the efficient cause of our salvation. Hence the necessity of the beatific vision. But then the CDF makes this point that another aspect of Christ’s salvific mission is that he is revealed to be the revealer. As the CDF points out here, and by the way, Cardinal … I always call him Cardinal Ratzinger. Pope Benedict XVI in his Jesus of Nazareth series, especially volume one, which I think was the best, talks about this, how that Christ as the Messiah, the key revelation that distinguishes him from all of the prophets are not his miracles. Moses did miracles. Elijah and Elisha raised the dead. Lots of miracles. “But what is the key component?” Says Ratzinger. Sight. The thing that sets Moses above all other prophets, again, are not his miracles. He never raised the dead. Elijah and Elisha did, but it was his Exodus 32 he saw God. He saw his back parts. He didn’t have the beatific vision, but he saw God in a unique way. Unlike Isaiah who saw an apparition. That he saw the Lord in a vision. His train fills the temple. He saw it in images. Moses in some sense saw God. Yes, his back parts. We don’t exactly know what this means, but it sets him apart. Well, Deuteronomy 18:15 says there is coming one after him that will be more glorious than him. “So what is it that would distinguish him?” Says Ratzinger. Sight. Now, of course he’s God manifest in the flesh. That distinguishes him, but his sight, his vision of God. In John’s Gospel, the CDF points this out, in John’s Gospel especially, you see, no man had seen God at any time except the only begotten son who dwells in the bosom of the father, John 1:18. You see it in John 6:32. You see in John 5:19 the son can do nothing on his own, only that which he sees the father do. So it’s this sight of God that sets Christ apart to such a degree. He didn’t have faith. He had vision, he had sight. This is why in John chapter 11 at the resurrection of Lazarus, Jesus prays. He says, “Father, I know you hear me, but I pray this so that these will see and believe.” Notice he has knowledge. They have faith. Why is this crucial? Because in Sobrino or anyone who denies Christ has the beatific vision, they reduce Christ to the level of a prophet. They reduce him to no different than Moses. Maybe you could even say, well, he saw God even more profoundly than than Moses. No. What sets Christ apart is that he sees clearly the Father not back parts. Moses still had to have faith. He sees God to the point where faith is extinguished. There’s no need for faith. In fact, he never had faith because from the moment of his conception, he had the vision of the Father. So not only is it necessary for him to be the savior in the sense that he had to possess the beatific vision in order to communicate it to us. He also had to have the revelation of God because if you don’t see God, how can you reveal him?

Cy: And he’s the revelation of the living God.

Tim: Amen.

Cy: Tim Staples. Thank you very, very much.

Tim: Too much fun, brother.

Cy: Really, really, really fun. Thanks for joining us on Focus. We love it when you do. Would you share it? Maybe wherever you get this podcast, you can give it a like or give it a share or write a comment. Invite other people because that’s how this podcast grows. Also, you can join radio club by going to putting in your email address and starting to get free stuff, including a weekly alert when Focus is ready. We’ll see you next time, God willing, on Catholic Answers Focus.

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