I recall having heard that there was a major discussion inside the Catholic Church centuries ago about whether Christ laughed or simply smiled in the gospels. This question is not about whether he smiled or laughed, but about: has there been such discussion through "official" channels (e.g. inside an Ecumenical Council) within the Catholic Church? When did such discussion happen and were there any consequences?

  • I'd appreciate a comment about the downvote. May 31, 2017 at 7:52
  • 1
    Have you ever read Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton?
    – Peter Turner
    May 31, 2017 at 11:43
  • No, I haven't. I come from a catholic background but haven't read much outside the Bible. May 31, 2017 at 11:57
  • In past conversations with some seminary staff and students, we would ask the question if "God had a funny bone?"
    – Ken Graham
    Jun 1, 2017 at 12:03

2 Answers 2


Risibility (the ability to laugh) is a common example given by Scholastic theologians when discussing what is unique to humans (rational animals). St. Thomas Aquinas uses the term "risible" or "risibility" 172 times in his works.

Discussing whether it is sinful to lack mirth or playfulness (ludus), St. Thomas Aquinas answers that it is sinful (Summa Theologica II-II q. 168 a. 4 c.):

In human affairs whatever is against reason is a sin. Now it is against reason for a man to be burdensome to others, by offering no pleasure to others, and by hindering their enjoyment. Wherefore Seneca [*Martin of Braga, Formula Vitae Honestae: cap. De Continentia] says (De Quat. Virt., cap. De Continentia): "Let your conduct be guided by wisdom so that no one will think you rude, or despise you as a cad." Now a man who is without mirth, not only is lacking in playful speech, but is also burdensome to others, since he is deaf to the moderate mirth of others. Consequently they are vicious, and are said to be boorish or rude, as the Philosopher states (Ethic. iv, 8).

Since, however, mirth is useful for the sake of the rest and pleasures it affords; and since, in human life, pleasure and rest are not in quest for their own sake, but for the sake of operation, as stated in Ethic. x, 6, it follows that "lack of mirth is less sinful than excess thereof." Hence the Philosopher says (Ethic. ix, 10): "We should make few friends for the sake of pleasure, since but little sweetness suffices to season life, just as little salt suffices for our meat."

Since Christ is without sin, He does not lack mirth/playfulness/risibility.

Cf., e.g., John 17:13:

And now I come to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy [χαράν] filled in themselves.

A related question that St. Thomas addresses is whether Christ enjoyed His passion: "Whether Christ's entire soul enjoyed blessed fruition during the Passion?"


I for one, never heard of any discussion by the Cardinals of Catholic Church on whether Jesus laughed and made others laugh. But since I have asked myself the question many a time, I can say for sure that if at all there was a discussion, the participants would have discussed the personality of Jesus....

(i)... confronting the Samaritan woman at the well saying that she had had five husbands and the one she was then staying with was not her husband( Jn 4:18) {Imagine her reaction: first a loud laugh; then a sad soul-search ),

(ii)... making Peter to fish for a Shekel to pay the Temple-tax (Mtt 17:27), and

(iii)...telling the Scribe who had come to have a debate with Him :" You are not too far from the Kingdom of Heaven " (Mark 12:34) ...

among other instances from the scriptures.

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