“Jesus knew and loved us each and all during His life, His agony and His Passion, and gave Himself up for each one of us” (CCC 478)
Jesus, as a divine human being, had both a human nature and a divine nature. As such, He also had two modes of knowledge, one human and one divine. Traditional Catholic teaching on the types of knowledge that Jesus possessed fall into three categories: (1) Acquired knowledge; (2) Infused knowledge; (3) Beatific Vision. The knowledge Jesus possessed by way of His human nature and His human intellect is referred to as Acquired knowledge. This is the same experiential learning common to all humanity. The Gospel of Luke mentions this incidentally in reference to the childhood of Jesus when it says He “grew in wisdom and in years.” (Lk. 2:52) There are other inferences in the Gospels that allude to His humanly knowledge, such as when He asks His disciples how many loaves of bread there are; Or, when He asks His disciples who the people say He is. This acquired knowledge is part of Jesus being fully-human. He acquired human knowledge, as any human being does. As the letter to the Phillipians says, “but He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form.” (Phil. 2:7)
But, this was not the only knowledge that Jesus possessed. He also had divine knowledge. By way of the hypostatic union, His human nature was united with the divine Word of God. Jesus, as the divine Word, had two different types of divine knowledge. One level of His divine knowledge was an Infused knowledge; that is, Christ knew “the fullness of understanding of the eternal plans He had come to reveal.” (CCC 474) Jesus was given to know all things necessary to His redemptive mission and for our salvation. Such is clearly the case when Jesus foretells that He must “undergo great suffering,” “be rejected by the elders,” “be killed,” and “after three days rise again.” (Mk. 8:31) He made other similar prophecies in the Gospels concerning His future passion, death and resurrection. The scripture also says Jesus knew “all the things that were coming upon Him.” (Jn 18:4) He announced beforehand Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial. The scriptures point to Jesus also as being able to know peoples’ hearts and thoughts; for example, Jesus “knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe.” (Jn. 6:64) Again, after Jesus cures the paralytic, He reads peoples hearts, “and He said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts?” (Mk 2:8) When Jesus is speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well, He knew her background entirely without her telling Him. Jesus had direct knowledge, at first meeting, of people, their history, and their thoughts and hearts. He knew about their past, their present, and what they would do in the future. He also knew what was happening elsewhere. He was consistently telling His disciples about situations as they exist, or will exist, in other locations; such as, when He tells the disciples to “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it.” (Mk.11:2) Again, when Jesus was calling His apostles, He shows His divine insight in calling Nathanael. “Nathanael asked Him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (Jn 1:48-49)
The second form of divine knowledge Jesus possessed was the Beatific Vision; that is, Jesus saw God face to face, and had direct knowledge of the Father. Jesus realizes from a young age the grace of union He has with the Father in the Beatific Vision. At the age of twelve, after Mary and Joseph could not find Him for three days and then subsequently find Him in teaching in the Temple, Jesus says, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49) Jesus is already aware of the unique relationship that He has with the Father. St.John clarifies this repeatedly, hinting at a beatific knowledge. Later, in His public ministry, Jesus says, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made Him known.” (Jn 1:18) And again, “The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what He has seen and heard.” (Jn 3:31-32) Then, in declaration of His divinity, Jesus says, “The Father and I are one.” (Jn 10:30). The other Gospels also allude to the Beatific Vision: “All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son.” (Mt.11:27 & Lk.10:22) Of course, there are the numerous “I Am” statements too when Jesus equates Himself with the Hebraic name of God: I Am Who Am, Yahweh. “Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (Jn 8:58) The scandal of Jesus’ divinity and the intimacy of His Beatific Vision are too much for some to handle. This is when the Pharisees begin to plot to kill Him. And for that matter, numerous modern theologians try to strip Him of His divinity. Yet, Jesus is telling us a truth about His divine nature and His divine knowledge. In His human nature, Jesus is united together with the eternal Word of God. And as the Word of God, Jesus is united together with the Father and the Holy Spirit in their eternal beatitude.
Who better to understand the nature of Christ than the angelic doctor, St.Thomas Aquinas? St.Thomas discusses in depth in his Summa Theologica the various levels of knowledge within Christ. In regard to Christ’s knowledge via the Beatific Vision, the angelic doctor refers to Colossians 2:3, that in Christ “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (S.T. III, Q.9.,a3) St.Thomas continues to answer the question of what Christ knows, as the eternal Word of God united with the Trinity in their eternal beatitude. He says, “When it is inquired whether Christ knows all things in the Word, “all things” may be taken in two ways: First, properly, to stand for all that in any way whatsoever is, will be, or was done, said, or thought, by whomsoever and at any time. And in this way it must be said that the soul of Christ knows all things in the Word.” (S.T. III, Q.10.,a.2) Aquinas argues that Christ, as per the dignity of the eternal “Judge,” knows the “essence of every creature” and all that was ever said or done in the past, present or future.
Yet, how can Christ have at once both humanly Acquired knowledge and the Beatific Vision? To answer this, St.Thomas hearkens the idea of the Tome of Leo, a letter written by Pope Leo I (Saint Leo the Great) from the 5th century concerning Christ’s unity of natures. The letter was read aloud at the ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. In the Tome of Leo, the pontiff enumerates what is now called the “Communication of Idioms (or Properties).” It states, “each of the natures retains its proper character without defect; and as the form of God does not take away the form of a servant, so the form of a servant does not impair the form of God.” St.Leo’s words became, from that point forward, the foundation for all of Christology, and the proper understanding of Christ’s natures. Christ’s human nature retains its humanity, and Christ’s divine nature retains its divinity. St.Thomas tries to show in this vein how Christ can have all three forms of knowledge without impeding upon either His human knowledge or His divine knowledge; in effect all three working harmoniously together. Although St.Thomas argues that Christ knows the essence of all finite creatures, He at the same time concedes, “it is impossible for any creature to comprehend the Divine Essence,” due to the fact that “the infinite is not comprehended by the finite.” (S.T. III, Q.10, a.1) So, according to the Summa, in Christ’s finite human soul He could comprehend the finite power of creatures, but not the full infinitude of God’s power. He states, “so likewise, besides the Divine and uncreated knowledge in Christ, there is in His soul a beatific knowledge, whereby He knows the Word, and things in the Word; and an infused or imprinted knowledge, whereby He knows things in their proper nature by intelligible species proportioned to the human mind.” (S.T. III, Q.9, a.3) Therefore, in lay terms, Christ’s Infused knowledge and Beatific Vision would all have been there from the beginning of His life, and throughout His life, but extracting that knowledge would be proportionate to His age, experience and the limitations of His rational, human soul, albeit a perfect soul.