I’ve been so busy in the last days that I haven’t paid much attention to some news stories floating around out there… and I have been the happier for it.
One story, however, could use some drilling, because it is causing some consternation.
On 27 Dec 2015 for the Feast of the Holy Family, Pope Francis said something (HERE) that made me scratch my head a little. Emphasis mine.
At the end of that pilgrimage, Jesus returned to Nazareth and was obedient to his parents (cf. Lk 2:51). This image also contains a beautiful teaching about our families. A pilgrimage does not end when we arrive at our destination, but when we return home and resume our everyday lives, putting into practice the spiritual fruits of our experience. We know what Jesus did on that occasion. Instead of returning home with his family, he stayed in Jerusalem, in the Temple, causing great distress to Mary and Joseph who were unable to find him. For this little “escapade”, Jesus probably had to beg forgiveness of his parents. The Gospel doesn’t say this, but I believe that we can presume it. Mary’s question, moreover, contains a certain reproach, revealing the concern and anguish which she and Joseph felt. …
Christ “probably had to apologize” for this “scappatella… fling, bit of fun, escapade”.
I think Francis is trying to emphasize the human drama of the moment in the Gospel so as to make the scenario more vivid to the people listening in that moment, rather than add a deeper teaching point to posterity.
For my part, I think people can handle reflections on Christ as Eternal Word made Savior rather than Eternal Word made Ferris Bueller.
No, scratch that. I don’t recall that Ferris apologized for his scappatella. He was a bad boy. The young Jesus was a good boy… who would have apologized. Right?
I’m not sure about that.
This is a good opportunity to drill more deeply into the Mystery of the Finding in the Temple, which I have done in the past in my Patristic Rosary Project. Let’s drill deeper.
First, consider what the Lord replied (Luke 2 – Douay):
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. 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? And they understood not the word that he spoke unto them.
In so answering His earthly parents, the Lord teaches that the Father’s will is the only thing to which He must be obedient. In humility, and according to filial piety/duty, He submitted Himself to Joseph and Mary. But in truth, a superior filial piety/duty guided Him.
The scene of the Finding in the Temple is one of the only bits of information we have about this era of the Lord’s early life in Scripture. Therefore, great writers and thinkers have given it their consideration.
With due respect to the person of the Roman Pontiff, I can’t square this supposition about an apology with what Fathers of the Church have to say about this striking moment in the youth of the Lord.
Frankly, what he suggested initially sounded to me a bit like Nestorianism. (NB: I’m not saying that Francis is a Nestorian but some dope or two out there will claim that.) Why? Nestorianism is Christological heresy that proposes a disconnect between Christ’s human and divine natures. Nestorius (+450 – influenced by Theodore of Mopsuestia – spit here) wanted to defend two natures in Christ against those who claimed that Christ had only one nature, a divine nature. Monophysites (“One nature-ites”) propose that Christ’s humanity was entirely absorbed by His divinity and therefore He had only one nature, divine. Against monophysites, Nestorians propose that Christ has two natures, loosely united in such a way that the Person Jesus is not identical with the God the Son but rather is united with the Son, who lives in him. A Nestorian Jesus would not have the same unity of intellect and will as the real Jesus. Such a Jesus could, therefore, be imagined as being apologetic for His acts, as not knowing what He was doing, as acting in His human nature in a way that is not consistent with His divine nature – of doing things for which he ought to have and would have apologized.
On the contrary, I respond, the Lord had nothing to apologize for in being concerned firstly with His higher duty. The Lord taught this to Mary and Joseph. Scripture says in a pointed way that Mary pondered Christ’s statement. “And his mother kept all these words in her heart.” She learned to see her Son in a new way.
Christ apologizing seems to me to contradict the point of His words to Mary.
Scripture doesn’t say: “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? And they understood not the word that He spoke unto them. And therefore spoke Joseph unto Him saying, “Callest thou that an answer? What sayest Thou to Thy sorrowing mother?” And thereafter Mary, sorrowing, said “Thou art sooo grounded.”
And… does Christ apologize anywhere else in Scripture? Even when teaching hard teachings? His teaching in the Temple to His mother and Father was hard teaching, after all. Did He say in John 6: “This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead. He that eateth this bread, shall live for ever. These things he said, teaching in the synagogue, in Capharnaum. Many therefore of his disciples, hearing it, said: This saying is hard, and who can hear it? But Jesus, knowing in himself, that his disciples murmured at this, said to them, Sorry! Hey! Wait! Don’t leave! I apologize!” Or in Matthew 19: “And I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery. His disciples say unto him: If the case of a man with his wife be so, it is not expedient to marry. And He replied, Verily, you are right. I take it back. I apologize.”
Let’s move on.
Venerable Bede says in his Homilies on the Gospels 1, 19:
“Clearly the abode in the hearts of the elect of the holy Trinity, the nature of whose divinity is one and indivisible, cannot be disparate. Therefore, when He was Sitting in the temple, the Lord said, “I must be about my Father’s business,” and this is a declaration of His power and glory which are coeternal with God the Father’s. [That isn’t something to apologize for.] However, when He returned to Nazareth, He was subject to His parents, and this is an indication of His true humanity as well as an example of humility. He was subject to human beings in that human nature in which He is less than the Father. Hence He Himself said, “I go to the Father because the Father is greater than I.”
Ambrose of Milan (+397) helps us sort out the Lord’s dutiful attitude of obedience to Joseph and Mary in view of His duties to God the Father.
In Commentary on Luke II, 65 Ambrose contrasts this moment in the Temple when Christ is still on 12 years old. Remember: as God the Son, He is eternal, genitus non factus, but as Christ He was born 12 years before.
Could He do less then fulfill to perfection the duties of piety and then we are amazed that He shows deference toward the Father when He subjects Himself to His mother! This subordination does not indicate weakness certainly but only respect. Although the viper of heresy – slithering out of its sinister cave – raises its head and vomits venom from its serpentine stomach. Because the Son affirms that He is sent, the heretic says that the Father is greater than Him in order to claim that the Son is imperfect, if He can have one greater than Him, and demonstrate in this way that the one sent has need of help from another.
Ambrose seems pretty certain that it isn’t correct to see Christ as being subject to His earthly parents in a way that diminishes the truth of His divine nature and its unity with His human nature.
By the way, Ambrose goes on with a beautiful explanation of filial respect. Check it out sometime.
Sticking with Ambrose, after describing how the Lord had two births, as it were, one divine and one human, the Bishop of Milan compares the finding in the Temple with the moment when Mary asks the Lord for a miracle at the Wedding at Cana. Ambrose is answering an unspoken question about why the different interactions between Mary and the Lord, at the Temple and at Cana. By the time Mary and Christ are at Cana, Ambrose says, Mary has learned to ask things from the Lord according to His divine nature (i.e., a miracle). When the Lord was still only 12, Mary still saw Him more through the lens of His human nature than through His divine nature and, therefore, Christ’s enigmatic behavior still leaves her disconcerted, as it can leave us disconcerted. Remember that after Christ’s answer to Joseph and Mary in the Temple, she pondered His words in her heart. In other words, Christ taught her and she learned.
John of Damascus (+749) has a point to make in Orthodox Faith 3. 22 about the Finding in the Temple:
He is said to have progressed in wisdom and age and grace, because He did increase in age, and by this increase in age brought more into evidence the wisdom inherent in Him further. By making what is ours altogether His own, He made His own the progress of people in wisdom and grace, as well as the fulfillment of the Father’s will, which is to say, people’s knowledge of God and their salvation. [He progressed so as to show us that we, too, should progress. But I digress.]
[He goes after Nestorians…] Now, those who say that He progressed in wisdom and grace in the sense of receiving an increase in these are saying that the union was not made from the first instant of the flesh’s existence. Neither are they holding the hypostatic union, but, misled by the empty headed Nestorius they are talking falsely of a relative union and simple indwelling, “understanding neither the things they say, nor whereof they affirm.” For, if from the first instant of its existence the flesh was truly united to God the Word – rather, had existence in Him and identity of person with Him –how did it not enjoy perfectly all wisdom and grace? It did not share the grace, and neither did it participate by grace in the things of the word. Rather, because the human and divine things had to become proper to the one Christ by the hypostatic union, then, since the same was at once God and man, it gushed forth with the grace and the wisdom and the fullness of all good things for the world.
As John Damascene describes the unity of the natures of Christ, it doesn’t strike me that an apology was due for His actions in Jerusalem when He was 12. Picture this: “Sorry, Mom. Sorry, Dad. I was wrong to gush forth with the grace and the wisdom and the fullness of all good things for the world. I won’t do it again.”
Did Christ think that He did something wrong in Jerusalem when He was 12?
Or did He simply not know what He was doing?
St. Jerome (+420) said in Homily on Psalm 15 (16):
How does He who is wisdom receive understanding? “Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and grace before God and men.” This means not so much that the Son was instructed by the Father but that His human nature was instructed by His own divinity. There is the seer’s prophecy of him who blossomed from the root of Jesse, “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding.”
I’ll go out on a limb and say that Christ knew what He was doing in Jerusalem even when He was 12.
I think the Lord knew the consequences for Mary and Joseph. Far from forgetting about them, or not caring about their anxiety and hours of searching, I think He intended those consequences for the sake of bringing them to a better understanding of who He was and what their vocation was for Him. Ambrose writes in his Commentary on Luke, II, 63:
Nor is it idly that, without regard (immemor) of His parents according to the flesh, He who according to the flesh assuredly was filled with the wisdom and grace of God is found after three days in the temple. It is a sign that he who was believed dead for our faith would rise again after three days from His triumphal passion and appear on His heavenly throne with divine honor.
I don’t take immemor to mean, literally, that Christ was “forgetful”, that he forgot Mary and Joseph. Immemor can mean a range of things, including “regardless”. He was immemor in the sense that He placed His regard/thought of God the Father before his regard/thought for them. That doesn’t mean that He didn’t think of them at all.
As the adult Christ was transfigured before Peter, John and James to help them endure His Passion, the young Christ gave Mary and Joseph, a lesson so that they would understand His actions not in an earthly sense, but according to the divine will of the Father. He helped them to deal with their human sorrow and anxiety in the light of God’s mysterious plan.
St. Alphonsus Liguori (+1787 not a Father of the Church but a Doctor and pretty sharp) writes of this mystery and explains the pain that Mary and Joseph must have felt. He makes the point, with other writers, in The Glories of Mary, that perhaps the sorrow and pain she felt during this test was greater than that which she felt at all the other times because, in this case, she and the Lord were separated. She was with Him at His circumcision when Simeon said that a sword would pierce her heart. She was with Him when they had to flee in fear of Herod into Egypt.
In this episode in Jerusalem, she seeks Christ – Her Son and Lord – with longing that is both humanly maternal, but also perfect in love. She is the Immaculate Conception and never sinned. Her pain was not irrational or unhinged.
St. Alphonsus says:
This sorrow of Mary ought, in the first place, to serve as a comfort to those souls who are desolate and do not enjoy the sweet presence they once enjoyed of their Lord. They may weep, but let them weep in peace, as Mary wept in the absence of Her Son. Let them take courage, and not fear that on this account they have lost the Divine favor, for God Himself said to St. Teresa: “No one is lost without knowing it; and no one is deceived without wishing to be deceived.”
If the Lord departs from the sight of that soul who loves Him, He does not therefore depart from the heart. He often hides Himself that it may seek Him with greater desire and love. But those who would find Jesus must seek Him, not amid the delights and pleasures of the world, but amid crosses and mortifications as Mary sought Him. “We sought Thee sorrowing”, She said to Her Son.
By the way, in regard to a rebuke from Mary and Joseph, which would in normal circumstances elicit an apology from a normal 12 year old, the Doctor and great moralist adds:
By these words She did not wish to reprove Jesus, as the heretics blasphemously assert, but only to make known to Him the grief She had experienced during His absence from Her, on account of the love She bore Him. It was not a rebuke, says Blessed Denis the Carthusian, but a loving complaint.
Much of this touches on the old questions about the relationship between Christ’s perfect divine nature and His perfect human nature, about how Christ had to learn, in His human nature, to do all the things we humans do, and yet, simultaneously, He is omniscient God.
Scripture doesn’t tell us what the Lord did on the way back home to Nazareth, but I am pretty sure He didn’t apologize for being about His Father’s business.
In any event, we are shown by the Lord in this mystery that no merely human concern can take precedence over God’s will, that all of us must progress in wisdom and knowledge of our selves, our vocations and our Faith and not merely remain stagnant year after year, that God’s ways are not our ways, that we cannot judge His mysterious works on our terms and that we can – in love – complain to the Lord and tell Him our sorrows and our cares.
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