By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM
St. Peter, in his first epistle, teaches us to always be ready to satisfy everyone that asks for a reason of that hope which is in us (1 Peter 3:15). This is the very raison d’être of apologetics: to give the right answer to those who ask about our hope, our faith. And, I must add, that also includes answering objections to the faith.
In this article, as in others before, we answer objections that have been raised against the Catholic faith. In this case, against the knowledge and the will of Christ.
First objection: “If Jesus was perfect from the beginning, what is meant by the words in the Gospel: ‘And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man’ (Luke 2:52)?”
Reply: It must always be kept in mind that Christ has two natures: one divine, and one human. He is God and Man. As God, He did not — and could not — advance in anything; because, as God, He was and is infinitely perfect. But Christ as Man advanced in wisdom and favor, i.e., His experimental knowledge and the sum of His virtuous acts increased from day to day in the sight of God the Father and men, Mary and Joseph, and the people of Nazareth who knew Him.
Second objection: “You say that Christ as Man enjoyed the beatific vision. His happiness was greater than that of the angels. How then could He have suffered pain, since the Beatific Vision is the height of happiness?”
Reply: Christ did not allow the happiness He enjoyed either as God or as Man to save Him from truly suffering. As a mountain-summit may be bathed in peaceful sunshine, while below the rocks are riven with lightning, so Christ confined the enjoyment of the Beatific Vision within the higher part of His soul, while at the same time exposing all the rest of His human nature to the tempest of grief and affliction.
This coexistence of joy with pain may be illustrated from the early Christian martyrs, whose souls were filled with gladness in the midst of all their agony.
Third objection: “If He was not ignorant, then what did the Son of God mean when He said of the Day of Judgment, ‘Of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father’ (Mark 13:32)?”
Reply: Christ knew perfectly well the day and the hour in His human mind, but He did not have this knowledge from His human nature, from His experimental knowledge as man. He was using a mode of speaking understood by His disciples and, therefore, not deceptive to express that He had not come to reveal the day and the hour of judgment. As He would tell them at another time: “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority” (Acts 1:7).
Fourth objection: “If our Savior was sinless, why was He baptized by John the Baptist? It was a baptism of repentance, was it not? And people confessed their sins.”
Reply: The baptism given by John prefigured Christian Baptism, but was not the Sacrament of Baptism. The Sacrament of Baptism removes sin and makes one a child of God. He who was the sinless and natural Son of God had no need of it, therefore. The baptism of John was a ritual cleansing to express repentance and the desire to be purified from sins in expectation of the Messias.
Jesus allowed Himself to be numbered among sinners and submitted to John’s baptism to show that He had come to take our sins upon Himself and was prepared to undergo the later “baptism” of His death. Christ was baptized, not so that He might be sanctified by the waters, but so that He Himself might sanctify the waters. Christ’s baptism illustrates what happens to us at our Baptism.
Fifth objection: “If Christ our Lord was incapable of sin, then what meaning have His temptations in the desert by the Devil? Was He able to sin?”
Reply: A temptation is a test. Our Lord was tested by the Devil, who pressured Him to desist from His mission. Just as a student who knows his subject perfectly cannot fail an examination but submits to a genuine test nevertheless, or just as a weightlifter will lift a heavy weight with effort and strength, so Jesus passed His tests and proved His love for God and His unfailing determination to fulfill the will of God, at whatever personal sacrifice.
The difference between us and Him is that He did have an orientation to evil. Here it is essential to understand the sinlessness and impeccability of Christ: Our Blessed Lord was conceived without sin and remained free from sin all through His life. In His humanity, He was “tempted as we are, yet without sinning” (Heb. 4:15). He claimed this sinlessness publicly: “Which of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46.
Our Savior was not only sinless but incapable of sin. Since sin always involves something against God, it is obvious that Christ, being God, did not, and could not, will or do something against Himself.
Sixth objection: “If Christ was truly God, what did He mean by saying, ‘the Father is greater than I’ (John 14:28)? Jehovah’s Witnesses quotes this verse all the time.”
Reply: Again, we must always keep in mind the two natures of Christ. Sometimes He referred to His divine nature, and sometimes to His human nature. St. John, who records these words, also says that “the Word was God” (1:1), and records the confession of St. Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” (20:28), and our Lord’s declaration, “Before Abraham was, I AM” (8:58). All these verses refer to His divine nature.
But at times He referred to His human nature, as in “the Father is greater than I.” Here He was speaking as man, for in His Humanity and veiled glory, He was not equal to the Father. St. Basil and others say the words mean that “the Son has His origin in the Father.” The Greek words for “greater than I” mean here, “my origin, my principle.” The words come from the Last Supper, when, as St. John says (13:1, 3), “Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father . . . knowing that He had come from God and was going to God.”
The full sentence is, “If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I go to the Father; for the Father is greater than I”; that is to say: “Although I am leaving you, if you loved me, you would be happy for me, because I am going home, to my Father, to my Origin, to the One from whom I came.”
Next article: The three offices of Christ: Priest, Prophet, and King.
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(Raymond de Souza is an EWTN program host; regional coordinator for Portuguese-speaking countries for Human Life International [HLI]; president of the Sacred Heart Institute, and a member of the Sovereign, Military, and Hospitaller Order of the Knights of Malta. His website is: www.RaymonddeSouza.com.)