St Luke 2:40-52

The conclusion of chapter 2 of St Luke's Gospel is extremely important doctrinally, on the human and divine knowledge of Christ:

Puer autem crescebat, et confortabatur plenus sapientia: et gratia Dei erat in illo. 41 Et ibant parentes ejus per omnes annos in Jerusalem, in die solemni Paschæ. 42 Et cum factus esset annorum duodecim, ascendentibus illis Jerosolymam secundum consuetudinem diei festi, 43 consummatisque diebus, cum redirent, remansit puer Jesus in Jerusalem, et non cognoverunt parentes ejus. 44 Existimantes autem illum esse in comitatu, venerunt iter diei, et requirebant eum inter cognatos et notos. 45 Et non invenientes, regressi sunt in Jerusalem, requirentes eum. 46 Et factum est, post triduum invenerunt illum in templo sedentem in medio doctorum, audientem illos, et interrogantem eos. 47 Stupebant autem omnes qui eum audiebant, super prudentia et responsis ejus. 48 Et videntes admirati sunt. Et dixit mater ejus ad illum: Fili, quid fecisti nobis sic? ecce pater tuus et ego dolentes quærebamus te. 49 Et ait ad illos: Quid est quod me quærebatis? nesciebatis quia in his quæ Patris mei sunt, oportet me esse? 50 Et ipsi non intellexerunt verbum quod locutus est ad eos. 51 Et descendit cum eis, et venit Nazareth: et erat subditus illis. Et mater ejus conservabat omnia verba hæc in corde suo. 52 Et Jesus proficiebat sapientia, et ætate, et gratia apud Deum et homines.

41] And his parents went every year to Jerusalem, at the solemn day of the pasch, [42] And when he was twelve years old, they going up into Jerusalem, according to the custom of the feast, [43] And having fulfilled the days, when they returned, the child Jesus remained in Jerusalem; and his parents knew it not. [44] And thinking that he was in the company, they came a day' s journey, and sought him among their kinsfolks and acquaintance. [45] And not finding him, they returned into Jerusalem, seeking him.[46] And it came to pass, that, after three days, they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them, and asking them questions. [47] And all that heard him were astonished at his wisdom and his answers. [48] And seeing him, they wondered. And his mother said to him: Son, why hast thou done so to us? behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. [49] And he said to them: How is it that you sought me? did you not know, that I must be about my father' s business? [50] And they understood not the word that he spoke unto them.[51] And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them. And his mother kept all these words in her heart. [52] And Jesus advanced in wisdom, and age, and grace with God and men.

Commentary (de Lapide)

Ver. 40.—And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit. The Greek, Syriac, and Arabic add “in spirit,” and Euthymius explains it that Christ did not receive greater spiritual strength inwardly day by day, since He was full of grace and the Holy Ghost from the first moment of His conception, but that He exhibited this strength more and more outwardly by word and work. The Latin version, the Latin fathers, and the interpreter reject “in spirit,” as also Origen and Titus among the Greeks.

Filled with wisdom. The Greek πληζούμενον means both to be being filled and to be full, so as to be equivalent to πλήζης. The Arabic renders “was being filled again with wisdom,” the Syriac “was being filled with wisdom.” So also Origen, Theophylact, Euthymius, and Titus on this passage, and S. Ambrose (de Incarn. Dom. Sact. cap. vii.). Theophylact explains—Not acquiring wisdom (for what could be more perfect than He who was perfect from the beginning?) but discovering it little by little. For had He manifested all His wisdom whilst he was small in stature, He would have appeared, as it were, monstrous, and as though not really a child, but a phantasm of a child.

And the Grace of God was upon Him. In the Greek ε̉π αυ̉τόν. All the favour, goodwill, care, and love of God the Father towards the Child Jesus, as His Son, brooded, as it were, over Him from out of the heavens, to adorn Him with gifts and graces, to guide and dispose Him in all His actions, that all might see that He was ruled, and in all things directed by God, and that His actions were not so much human as Divine. So says Euthymius. In a similar manner it is said of John the Baptist, “And the hand of the Lord was with him,” Luke i. 66....

Ver. 46...Asking them questions. (1.) Because it was fitting that the child should ask questions of these learned men, and not teach them. (2.) To teach the young modesty, and the desire to hear, to question, and to learn, “Lest,” says Bede, “if they will not be disciples of the truth, they become masters of error.” (3.) That, asking them questions, He might be questioned in turn by them, and might teach them by His replies.

Ver. 47.—And all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. That a child of twelve, the son of a carpenter, one who had never attended the schools, should be so versed in Holy Scripture, should question so wisely and answer so intelligently as to surpass even the doctors themselves, so that they said, “What thinkest thou that this child will be?”—will He be a Prophet? will He be the Messiah, whom we all anxiously expect from day to day to be the Teacher of the World?
Ver. 48.—And when they saw him, they were amazed. His parents, who were seeking Him, wondered and rejoiced at finding Him alone disputing with the doctors, manifesting such wisdom, while the doctors, and all the rest who were present, wondered at Him.

And His mother said unto Him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, Thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing—the Arabic adds, “with labour.” Such are the words of His mother, not as finding fault with Christ, but in wonder and in sorrow, and sorrowfully unfolding her grief. The reverence felt by this mother for her Child—the God-Man—assures us of this; so it is most likely that she said this to Him, not publicly in the assemblage of doctors, but privately, calling Him aside, or when the assembly had dispersed. So Jansenius, Maldonatus, and others.

Thy father and I.  S. Augustine (Serm. 63 De Diversis, xi.) remarks upon the, humility of the Virgin, who, knowing that she was in every sense (in solidum) the Mother of Christ, and, therefore, of God, and that Joseph had no part in begetting Him, yet modestly puts herself after Joseph as her husband. “She expresses herself always,” says an anonymous writer in the “Catena Græcca,” like a mother, with trustfulness, humility, and affection.”

Tropologically, let the soul that has separated itself from Jesus by mortal sin, or from its wonted communion with Him by venial negligence, seek Him again (1) with the sorrow and tears of a penitent heart, for, as S. Gregory Nazianzen says (Orat. 3), “The tears of righteous men” (and of sinful too, if they repent) “are the flood that covers sin, and the expiation of the world, as was Noah’s flood;” (2) with earnestness and solicitude, as the Blessed Virgin did, and that in the Temple, by passing some time in prayer and in spiritual reading and meditation; (3) among the doctors, among learned and good men, who shall instruct the soul as well in knowledge as in piety.

Ver. 49.—And He said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?  S. Ambrose holds that these are the words of one administering reproof. And Christ, as the Messiah, and as a Lawgiver, might rightfully have reproved His mother had she sinned. But there was no blemish of sin in His mother, neither therefore was there any reproof on the part of Christ. Still, there is in the words a certain sharpness of tone, savouring of reproof, that He may teach them by His question and incite them the more keenly to learn the things that concerned Him, just as parents are wont to stimulate their children to zeal and diligence with sharp words, and masters their pupils. These words of Christ, then, are the words of one instructing and consoling; excusing himself, and defending what he has done:—There was no need for you to seek Me, for you might have considered that I was treating concerning the beginning of that business, the salvation of the world, for which My Father sent Me. Neither must you suppose that I shall always remain with you; some day I shall leave you and go away about this business, as I have already begun to do. And, as for My going without your knowledge, I did so purposely, to teach you that, in these matters, I depend not on you, but on My Heavenly Father, and that I must act according to His will and His plan. It is not I, then, who have given you cause for sorrow, but partly your love for Me and partly your ignorance of the mystery I have now told you of; you knew not that I was occupied with My Father’s affairs. For, though this ought to have presented itself to your mind, your tender love prevented it, and turned aside the thought. Hence Bede says, “He blames her not because she sought Him as her son, but forces her to raise the eyes of her mind to what He owes Him whose Eternal Son He is.”

In order to understand this thoroughly we must notice that Christ, besides His Divine actions, which He had as God and the Son of God, such as creating, preserving, and ruling all things, and breathing the Holy Spirit, had human actions of two kinds. Of these He had some as man, common to Him with other men, eating, walking, labouring, &c.; others were proper to Him as the God-Man, the Redeemer, the Christ, and these actions are called by S. Dionysius “Theandric” (Θέος α̉νηζ); being the works partly of God and partly of a man. Such actions were those of teaching, working miracles, calling His disciples, creating and ordaining apostles, &c.  In respect of the former class of actions Christ was willing to obey His parents; but as to the latter He would obey only God His Father, because these, as being of a higher order, were received by and were under the direction of God alone. Wherefore He answered His parents, when they sought an explanation of His conduct, that these things were to be done, not at their will and pleasure, but at God’s—as appears from this passage, and at the marriage at Cana, in the turning of the water into wine, S. John ii. 4, and in other similar cases.

And these actions which Christ did as the God-Man He calls the actions of God His Father, and attributes to His Father, not to Himself (1) because on account of these works He was sent by His Father into the world; (2) because He had His Divinity from the Father, and these were the works chiefly of His Divinity; (3) because He did them by the Father’s command; (4) because in these matters He was subject to no one but His Eternal Father, to teach us that God’s command or counsel must come before even the tenderest love for mother—as when God calls any one to religion, to the priesthood, to martyrdom, or to the apostolate, and his parents are opposed to the call...

Ver. 52.—And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. For stature the Greek has ήλικία, “age,” or “proficiency.” See also chap. xii. 25. Both renderings are true and apposite.

To the question whether Jesus really progressed in wisdom and grace, as He did in age and stature, S. Athanasius (Serm. 4 Contra Arianos) and S. Cyril (Thesaurus, l. x.) seem to answer in the affirmative; for they seem to say that the humanity of Christ drew greater wisdom from the Word by degrees, just as the Blessed Virgin and other men and women did.

But the rest of the fathers teach differently. For, from the first instant of His conception, Jesus was, as has been said at v. 40, full of wisdom and grace, this being due to that humanity on account of its hypostatic union with the Word.  S. Gregory Nazianzen (Orat. 20 in laudem Basilii) says, “He progressed in wisdom before God and men, not that He received any increase, since He was, from the beginning, absolute in grace and wisdom, but these gradually became apparent to men [hitherto] unaware of them.” For, as Theophylact says, “the shining forth of His wisdom is this very progress;” just as the sun, though it always gives the same degree of light, yet is said to increase in light as it unfolds it more and more from morning until midday. It is to be noted that there were in the soul of Christ three kinds of knowledge—(1) beatific, by which He saw God, and all things in God, and so was rendered blessed; (2) knowledge infused by God; (3) experimental knowledge guided by daily use. The two former were implanted in Christ in so perfect a degree from the first moment of His conception that He could not increase them. I assert the same with respect to His habitual grace and glory. So say S. Augustine (De peccat. mor. et rem., 1. iii. c. xxix.), S. Jerome (on the words of Jer. xxxi. 22, “A woman shall compass a man”), S. Athanasius, Cyril, S. Gregory Nazianzen, Bede, and others,  S. Thomas and the schoolmen everywhere—for this is required by the hypostatic union.
Christ, therefore, is said to have progressed in wisdom and grace as He progressed in years—1. In the estimation of men, and in outward seeming. For sometimes Scripture speaks according to what is seen outwardly, and the judgment formed by men. So Origen, Theophylact, Nazianzen, S. Athanasius, and Cyril.

2. Christ did really increase in experimental wisdom, for from mere use He acquired experience—“He learned obedience by the things which He suffered” Heb. v. 8.

3. Though Christ did not increase in habitual, yet He did increase in actual and practical wisdom and grace. For, even while yet a child, He daily exerted more and more of the strength of mind and heavenly wisdom that lay hidden in His soul; so that in face and manner, in word and deed, He ever acted with greater and greater modesty, gravity, prudence, sweetness, and piety.
To the objection that Christ is said to have increased in grace before God, S. Thomas (p. iii. Quæst. vii.), answers that Christ increased in grace in Himself, not as regards the habit, but as regards the acts and effects produced by it.

Among other differences between the grace which Christ had, and that which we have, there are the four following:—

1. Christ had grace, as it were, naturally by virtue both of the hypostatic union and of His conception of the Holy Ghost; but with us all grace is undue, gratuitous, adventitious, and supernatural.

2. In us grace (1) wipes out original sin, and whatever actual sins there may be, and so (2) makes us pleasing to God; but in Christ grace existed not only previously to sin, but actually without it, sanctifying Him per Se primo, for from the grace of the union with the Word emanated habitual grace, as rays from the sun, immediately and naturally. So that we are adopted and are called sons of God, but Christ is truly and naturally the Son of God, as S. Hilary (De Trinit., 1. xii.), and Cyril (In Joannem, 1. iii. c. xii.), teach.

3. In us grace is peculiar to the individual, justifying the man in whom it resides; but the grace of Christ is the grace of the Head, and so sanctifying us. For “of His fulness have we all received, and grace for grace” S. John i. 16.

4. Grace increases in us (even in the case of the Blessed Virgin) by good works; but in Christ it did not increase, because, proceeding from the union with the Word, which from the beginning was full and perfect, this fulness of grace, which could not be increased, was given Him at the moment of that union.
Tropologically, Damascene (De fide, 1 iii c. xxii.) says that Christ progresses in wisdom and grace, not in Himself, but in His members, that is, in Christians. For He went on producing greater acts of virtue day by day that He might teach us to do the same. All our life is without ceasing either a progress or a falling off; when it is not becoming better it is becoming worse, as S. Bernard tells us. Ep. 25.
With God and man. “For,” says Theophylact, “it behoves us to please God first and then man.” If we please God He will make us pleasing to men. It is not enough to please man, for this is often false and feigned, nor to please God only, for this is peculiar to oneself and unseen, but we must please “God and man,” that we may show to men that grace by which we are pleasing to God, and so attract them to it. “To God,” says S. Bernard, “we owe our conscience, to our neighbours our good reputation.”

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