Ver. 52.—And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in
favour with God and man. For stature the Greek has ἡλικίᾳ, “age,” or “proficiency.” See also chap. 12:25. 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, 1. 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., l. iii. c. xxix.), S. Jerome (on the words of
Jer. 31:22, “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. 5:8.
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., l. xii.), and Cyril (In Joannem, l. iii. c. xii.),
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 1:16.
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, l. 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.