Theological commentary

Discursus on Christís Beatific Knowledge

by Andrew Nimmo

"Öin virtue of the Beatific Vision which He enjoyed from the time when He was received into the womb of the mother of God, He has forever and continuously had present to Him all the members of His mystical Body and embraced them with His saving love."
- Pius XII, Mystici Corporis

The beatific knowledge of Christís human intellect commenced at the Incarnation and was never suspended. This possession of the vision which was Christís by right was finite, but could not (according to the divine decree/ Godís ordinate power) be increased. It gave him as man the greatest penetration of the divine essence. It surpassed that of the angels, for the beatific vision is not measured by the intellect of the beneficiary, but by the degree of habitual grace in the subject. When it is question of the supernatural order, angels and men are on a "level playing field", because grace is not measured per se according to natural potency, but by the higher agent (God), who actuates an obediential potency in creatures. This potency is not a positive thing, but a mere "non-repugnance" to being elevated supernaturally. This potency is "equal" in all spiritual creatures. In the actuation of obediential potency the act is measured not by the subject, but by the agent.

This vision which Christ could not lack if he were to impart it to others and which flowed, as it were, from his divinity into his human soul meant that Christ had the greatest, uninterrupted happiness.

Although Christís human mind understands the Trinity better and more than any other created mind, this understanding falls short of being comprehension. This means that Christís penetration of the divine essence in his human intellect is not infinite, but limited. Comprehensive knowledge is all-embracing, understanding something completely. The divine intellect alone has an exhaustive, infinitely perfect knowledge of the divine essence.

Christ always actually saw, distinctly and simultaneously, the divine essence, the persons of the Trinity and the divine attributes. This is the knowledge "in the Word", sometimes called the morning knowledge of heaven. Christ also saw in the vision all the things which pertained to himself. This included knowledge of all actuals, since all creation is subject to Him, that is all things and events that ever were, are or will be; of many pure possibles (what God could cause or make but never will); and of many futuribles (what would be if certain conditions were fulfilled but never will be). Christ knew all actuals, the number of which is necessarily finite and not beyond a finite mind. Our Lord in his human intellect could not know all possibles or futuribles since they are infinite in possibility. His divine intellect, of course, knew all futuribles and possibles.


Andrew Nimmo is a lecturer at the Centre for Thomistic Studies, in Sydney, Australia.

This article posted May 2000. It was published in Universitas, Vol 3 (1999), No. 1.
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