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The Double Consciousness of Christ
Bertrand de Margerie, S.J.
[In this, his first article for Faith & Reason, the internationally
renowned French theologian Bertrand de Margerie, SJ examines what
has become one of the hotly disputed questions in contemporary
theological debate. With calm reasoning and discernment, Fr. de
Margerie sets forth the Church's teaching concerning the divine
and human consciousness of our Lord.]
This title and topic makes us enter into a mysterious and controverted
field of thought, about which so much has already been written! Who is
Jesus of Nazareth in His own eyes? What did Jesus say about Himself? Was
there an unconscious zone in His human psychology? After a preamble about
the meaning of the vocabulary used, we shall consider, in the context of
the faith of the Catholic Church, the following three aspects: 1) the
divine consciousness of Jesus Christ, 2) His human consciousness as a
divine Person, and 3) the effects of this human consciousness of being the
Son of God on his mission as Revealer and Saviour.
We shall conclude with a synthetical outlook at the Eucharistic
consciousness of Christ.
This whole study might be understood as an introduction to a fruitful
reading of my booklet on "the Human Knowledge of Christ," published by the
Daughters of St. Paul. In this small book I was considering mainly the
knowledge of Jesus in his human nature, and only in passing the mystery of
His self-consciousness; here, I intend to do the reverse.
A word on methodology: much more than to try to demonstrate any thing on
the precious level of apologetics, from a rational reflection over
historical data, I wish to expose what the Catholic theologian can say,
inside faith in divine Revelation, about the mysterious consciousness of
Preamble on Vocabulary
Let us briefly recall what is understood by these four words:
consciousness, person, nature, subject.
The philosophical vocabulary of consciousness is far from being unanimously
fixed. For some--and probably for most--consciousness means an immediate
experience of self; for others, a more complex, if not confused, reality.
Here I opt for the understanding of consciousness as immediate experience
of self; or, at least, as intimate experience of self. In other terms, the
whole theological treatment of the topic would be different if I adopted a
different philosophical understanding of consciousness.
Consciousness comes from the Latin conscientia, a contraction for cum alio
scientia: a knowledge along with something else. In this line,
consciousness means the reflective knowledge a knower has of himself and of
his act in the process of knowing some thing other than himself.
Consciousness is experience, intimate experience of self and of one's acts.
In human beings, consciousness does not necessarily imply a knowledge of
one's own nature or essence, but at least of one's existence. Consciousness
is not always knowledge.
By way of consequence, consciousness is not only the awareness that the
subject has of his being here and now, but also of his past states of
thought and emotion, previously experienced and retained in the memory;
consciousness also includes them when they are no more in the field of
The PeRson is a concrete individuality existing in itself, as a substance,
not an accident of another, and in an intellectual nature, that is in a
nature open to all being and referring itself to all Being through all its
The subject is on the psychological level what the person is on the
Nature is a principle of operation, for instance, of acts of consciousness.
All these concepts are here understood in the context of Bernard Lonergan's
view of Thomism.1
The Divine Consciousness-of-Christas God and Son of God
1) If consciousness is a quality immanent to intellectual operations, it is
clear that our analogical knowledge of God allows us and even obliges us to
say that God is an Infinite Act of Being and Love, perfectly and infinitely
conscious of Himself. God is infinite, eternal Consciousness. God knows
Himself perfectly and infinitely.2 God is Light. There is no unconscious in
God. His plenitude of Being is fullness of knowledge and of consciousness.
Christ as God is infinite Self-Consciousness, infinite Light.
2) Christ is not only God. He is also God from God, Light from Light, He is
the only Son of God. He is eternally conscious of being generated by the
Father, of receiving His divine nature and His very divine consciousness
from the Father. He is eternally conscious of being loved by the Father and
of reciprocally loving Him, in that way spirating and "breathing" their
3) However, the eternal Son of God is not only conscious of Himself, of His
absolute Being. He is also conscious in Himself of unceasingly creating me,
out of nothing.
In and with Himself, the Son of God knows all His ideas, particularly the
Idea He eternally has of me--a loving and merciful Idea. It is as infinite
Consciousness of Himself that the Son of God knows, loves and creates me.
I am eternally an aspect of the divine self-consciousness of the Word,
Logos of the Father.
4) Deeper still, the Son of God is the eternal, uncreated expression of the
knowledge that the Father has of himself and of all the creation, including
of myself. In the mirror of the divine Essence, identical to Himself, God
our Father sees all possible creatures. He sees me and expresses his
knowledge of me in the eternal pronunciation of His only Word, His only
Son. In a parallel way, as Father and Son love each other, loving their
common amiability, they love all the possible reflections and images of
this common amiability (amongst whom I am) and they produce, "breathe",
their only and eternal Spirit-Link as an eternal overflow of their love for
me (Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I.37.2.3).
5) In other terms, each one of us is, so I am, eternally present in the
reciprocal consciousness of the Three divine I(s). Precisely, we reach here
a last and important point of the divine consciousness of the Son of God:
the divine science and the divine consciousness are on the side of the
nature common to the Three. Just as in man consciousness qualifies human
nature and not necessarily and immediately the human person, (who remains
such even when he is unconscious, for instance during sleep), so, in an
analogical way, there is an unique divine consciousness common to the Three
divine Persons; these three divine Subjects are each conscious of self and
of the other two through an unique consciousness. Their nature is unique,
so is their consciousness. They are for this reason three self-conscious
subjects through an unique consciousness.
This point has been beautifully stressed by Lonergan.3 This means that,
though the Son of God is infinitely different from His Father, and from
their Holy Spirit, His consciousness of me in Himself is the same as the
consciousness that Father and Holy Spirit have of me.4 And the Son of God
receives this divine consciousness from the Father, with His divine nature.
The Human Consciousness of the Son of God Made Man
In Christ, as we know through Revelation and faith, there are two natures,
one divine, the other human. That is, there are two principles of
operation. Consequently, consciousness is immediately a quality of the
nature, there are two consciousnesses in Christ: one divine, the other
However, all the actions of the human nature of Christ, all the actions
posited by this human nature, are ultimately ascribed to the divine Person
of the Logos acting through its human nature. (Let us not forget that the
same Logos, Son of God, acts both as God, as possessing the divine nature,
and as man, through his human nature.) So the acts of human consciousness
of the Incarnate Son of God are always posited by his divine Person acting
through his human nature. The divine Ego of the Son is always both the
Subject and the ultimate object of these acts.
In other words, due to the unique Person of Christ which is divine, there
is no human consciousness of Christ which would be the consciousness of a
Person only human. When Jesus says I, his divine Person expresses in this
human word and concept his human consciousness of a divine Self.
This means that the same and unique divine Ego knows himself divinely on
one side, humanly on the other. It is not a human ego who would know itself
humanly, as in our case. It is a divine Ego who knows Himself not only
divinely, but also humanly.
How? On the ultimate basis of the New Testament, on the more proximate
basis of traditional Catholic theology (recognizing since the thirteenth
century, at least, the existence in Jesus, since his conception, of the act
of Beatific Vision as affecting his human intelligence), several modern
Catholic theologians have concluded that there is a connection between this
act and His human consciousness of his divine Self. Without the permanent
elevation of the human mind of Jesus to the act of Beatific vision, that is
to say, to the face to face vision of His Eternal Father and of His own
eternal and divine Ego, there is no possible explanation of His permanent
consciousness of His divine identity.
If consciousness is Intimate knowledge and experience of self, if the
Subject in Christ is a divine Person, He can not humanly experience Himself
in an immediate way without the act of Beatific Vision. Neither sense
experience, nor reflection or reasoning on the basis of it could lead Jesus
Christ--in his human mind--to an intuitive consciousness of His divine
Person. Not even an infused conceptual knowledge of Prophetic type could
achieve such a result.5
In other words, nothing short of a permanent act of Beatific Vision, given
to Jesus ever since the first moment of the creation of His human,
immaterial, immortal soul and of its assumption by the Logos, could give to
this soul the immediate awareness of belonging to a divine Person.
That Jesus enjoyed the Beatific vision on earth, from the moment of his
conception, has been the conclusion to which came all the schools of
Catholic theology since at least the twelfth or thirteenth century.
Particularly, many Catholic theologians and exegetes have seen in the
Gospel of John's repeated allusions to the vision of the Father by the
earthly, prepaschal Jesus of Nazareth a strong biblical basis for this
affirmation (1,18; 5,19-20; 6,46; 8,38). These texts show that Jesus was
the permanent human seer of the Father and of the Father's plan and action
regarding the salvation of mankind. And how could Jesus see, in his human
mind, the Father face to face without seeing Himself in His Father?6
For instance, let us quote here the famous English exegete, Dodd,
commenting upon John 6:46, "The knowledge which Christ has of God has that
quality of direct vision which Hellenistic mystics claimed--falsely in the
Evangelist's view--and which for Jewish thinkers was reserved for the
supernatural life of the Age to Come."7
More importantly, Christ's knowledge as seer of the Father is
transconceptual, incommunicable as such.8 Whereas Christ's knowledge, as
Prophet and Revealer, of the data he was to transmit to mankind in the name
of the Father is indirect and mediated through concepts; such a knowledge
does not explain his human and immediate knowledge and experience of His
own divine identity and Ego, though it presupposes it.
So, even without the precise and particular Biblical foundations provided
by the Gospel of John, the general Biblical witness to the divinity of
Jesus would oblige us to postulate for Him, ever since the creation and
immediate assumption of His soul by the Logos, this beatific vision, this
beatifying and immediate experience of His divine Person by his human
intelligence--in other words, His human consciousness of His divine Ego.
Whereas, we, ordinary human beings, can be admitted to the Beatific vision
only after the creation of our souls, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the
only Man who is and always was God; so we can not admit the sudden
irruption, in what would have been an ordinary human psychology or even in
an extraordinary and prophetic one, of a consciousness of being God which
would have replaced a purely human consciousness of being a man,
unconscious of His divinity.
Nothing in the Gospel indicates in Jesus a becoming conscious of a
previously unknown identity: neither the first human words recorded by Luke
as pronounced by Jesus, in the Temple of Jerusalem, when He said to Mary:
"I had to be in my Father's house" (Lk 2:48-50, obviously meaning, not
Joseph, but his Eternal Father9), nor the first declaration of the eternal
Father witnessing to His beloved Son during His baptism by John, in the
Jordan. Jesus did not learn Who He was: He always knew it; as the Belgian
Bishops wrote in 1967, "no one had to tell him who He was."
The consciousness of Jesus is a filial consciousness,10 manifested
especially by Him when He identified Himself with the divine I am: "before
Abraham became, I am" (John 8:58).
The consciousness of Jesus is also manifested when He calls Himself--not
less than 70 times--the Son of Man:
In calling Himself the Son of Man, Jesus expresses His whole
mystery: His awareness of His preexistence, of His redemptive
death and of His glory to come: all that is before time, all that
He accomplished in time, all that awaits Him at the end of time .
. . Truly, this title expresses best His consciousness of Messiah
and Son, for He stresses His possession at the same time of a true
human origin and His heavenly origin; with this title, the
Christology of the New Testament is at its maximum since the
Through these two human concepts--I am, the Son of Man--Jesus was able to
communicate in human language the supra-conceptual knowledge derived from
his human consciousness of being the Son of God. It is true that Jesus
could not communicate to us these truths in the manner according to which
He was seeing them in the bosom of the Father, but His soul was seeing, in
the very light of Beatific Vision, through which deficient human concepts
and words the seen mysteries would be enunciated.12
The Effects of this Theandric
Self-Consciousness of Jesus
on His Mission as Revealer and Redeemer
"I am", "the Son of Man": these two human concepts, expressed in human
language, remain such when used by the Son of God. This is obvious. Any
human being can say, I am. We can also say, with Ezechiel, about any
prophet that "he is a son of man." The extraordinary use and application
that Jesus makes of these concepts does not change their intrinsic nature;
but when Jesus uses them about His own Person and destiny, they become
loaded with a transconceptual weight; as we listen to Him telling us: "When
you have lifted up the Son of Man, you shall know that I am" (John 8:28).
We hear Someone telling us and making us understand that He transcends time
and space. It is none the less through the use of these concepts linked
with time and space that Jesus is teaching us His eternity and His
infinity, as well as His desire to lead us to participate in His eternal
and infinite happiness.
To understand better the revealing and salvific use made by Jesus of our
human language, let us recall the very precise and precious declarations of
an eminent Catholic theologian, Juan Alfaro:
Christ acquired by the normal way of human apprenticeship the
conceptual representations and the very terms with which He
translated His filial experience: it suffices to recall the
primordial influence that certain images, formulas, Old Testament
concepts (for instance the Servant of Yahweh, the Son of Man,
etc.) have exerted on His message. But these same concepts
received from the personal experience of Christ a new and
transcendental dimension. Moreover this experience could
contribute to the formation of concepts and of new terms. The
invocation abba (Mk 14:36), for example, with which Christ
expressed his intimate experience of divine filiation, was an
original creation. More than the formation of new concepts, the
personal experience of Christ contributed to the living of the
events of His existence in the transcendental light of His filial
relation with God and He understood in this same light the words
of the Prophets as realized in His Person (Mk 1:11, 2:28, 8:31,
9:7, 14:62, Lk 4:18, etc.). The absolute certitude with which
Christ utters his doctrine, affirms his divine filiation at the
risk of His life and requires from men an unconditional adhesion
to His Person, this is a reflection of that intimate,
metaconceptual light in the field of His conceptual
Thanks to His permanent, unique act of beatific vision, Jesus, the Seer of
the Father, conscious of being the Son, can use His knowledge of human
language and concepts and of divine truths to accomplish His mission of
If He were only the Seer of the Father without an accompanying knowledge in
conceptual terms, Jesus could not communicate His message to men. He needs
His human knowledge to do so.
If He were only the Seer of the Father, without an infused knowledge in
conceptual terms, Jesus could not have merited for us our salvation ever
since His entrance into this world: "This is what Christ said as coming
into the world: I am coming to obey your will, here I am" (Hb 10:5-9). Many
interpreters have seen in this inspired affirmation of Hebrews, in this
initial and redeeming, sacrificial oblation, the presence of an infused
knowledge in Jesus since the first moment of the Incarnation.
Indeed, the Act of Beatific Vision as such is not a principle of merit; it
is only through acts posited in the connection of His prophetical or of His
acquired, experiential knowledge that Jesus could merit the reward of our
Without an infused, conceptual and universal knowledge, Christ the Son of
God, the conscious human Seer and Witness of His divine Super Ego, could
not merit, as Redeemer, our eternal happiness nor know or expiate our sins
as Redeemer, nor be our Judge, as Man. But all his knowledge as Redeemer
was totally penetrated and transfigured by His self-consciousness of being
the Incarnate Son, Seer of the Father and of us in the Father.
Let us recapitulate the reasons for which the human consciousness of Christ
Jesus transcends in an incomparable way our self-consciousness:
a) We became self-conscious after having been unconscious of self. Our
self-consciousness is mediated by the knowledge of the exterior world. It
is not a permanent accident, as sleep manifests. We are only partially
self-conscious because many of our past acts have become unconscious and we
are totally unconscious of our future acts, so that the vast majority of
our human actions escape our present consciousness; even in Mary, such was
b) Whereas, in Jesus Christ, his human consciousness of self and of all his
human actions is always actual and present; nothing in His past acts
escapes His self-consciousness. Before Easter Jesus was always aware of all
His future actions. His human consciousness was always direct and did not
need any exterior mediation. In Jesus, the human self-consciousness of His
divine identity was not a transitory but a permanent accident accompanying
always the substance of His human nature.
c) There is a last transcendence of the human self-consciousness of Jesus
as Son of God to which I would like to call your attention.
Jesus, in virtue of His beatific vision even before Easter, was the only
Man able to see here below, unceasingly, His Father creating--out of
nothing--His humanity, His own human consciousness of being the Son of God.
We do not see here below the creation of our own immortal souls, of our
self-consciousness as they are created by God from nothingness.
Precisely because Jesus was unceasingly seeing--as a Man--the position in
being--out of nothingness--of His human soul and self-consciousness, it was
mysteriously easier for Him, so conscious of His human contingency, to
accept and embrace the will of the Eternal Father on the death of his
mortal body for the eternal life of the world: "I know the Father and I lay
down my life of my own free will . . . This is the commandment I have been
given by the Father" (John 10:15,18).14
The Eucharistic Consciousness of Jesus Christ
We can now somehow understand the beautiful statement of Pope Pius XII in
his doctrinal Encyclical on the Mystical Body of Christ:
The knowledge and love of our divine Redeemer, of which we were
the objects from the first moment of His Incarnation, are more
than any human intellect or heart can hope to grasp. In the womb
of the Mother of God, he began to enjoy the Beatific vision and in
that vision all the members of His mystical Body were continually
and unceasingly present to Him and He embraced them with His
redeeming love. In the manger, on the Cross, Jesus knows and loves
all the members of His Church better, much better than a mother
knows and loves her own child and that anybody knows and loves
In other words, Jesus, humanly conscious of being the Son of God and of His
salvific mission, is also--inseparably--as Man, lovingly conscious of each
one of us; each one of us can and should say with the Apostle Paul16: "The
Son of God loved me and delivered Himself up for me" (Ga 2:20). Otherwise,
how would he have humanly expiated my sins? How would He have humanly
redeemed humanity? His kenosis did not consist in the (impossible)
suppression of His divine consciousness nor in the suspensions of His human
knowledge, but in the painful assumption of the human knowledge of the sins
and sorrows of men.
He loved me not only in His divine "form and condition," but also in His
"human form," in His "form and condition of slave" (Ph 2:6-8). He loved me
in spite of my sins, in order to save me from them and it is because He
knew me--and knew them--in that human form that He offered Himself for me
on the Cross and ever offers Himself for me on all the altars of the world.
The Church has never believed that the man Jesus knew me on the Cross only
as God, loved me on the Cross only with a divine love. Never has she
believed that the man Jesus as man did not know my sins and my person at
the moment of dying for my salvation.17
As we receive the Eucharistic Christ18, we receive Him who, in the womb of
His Mother, in the Crib, during His agony in the Garden, during the last
Supper, on the Cross, has always known and loved us both as Son of God and
as Man. Always lovingly and humanly conscious of being the Son of God, He
wants to help us become more conscious of being, in faith, adopted sons of
His heavenly Father, so as to lead us to the Beatific vision, eternally, of
His own divine consciousness and of His own indefectible human
consciousness of being our Redeemer and Saviour.
In this beatific vision, we shall understand better how Jesus, the Christ,
both as God and as Man, has always been lovingly conscious of each one of
us. That is, Jesus Christ never knew Himself as God and as Man without
knowing us in Himself, He never loved Himself without loving us in and with
In other words, for Jesus Christ, "conscientia" is always "cum alio
scientia". If, already, as certain psychologists and philosophers think,
the human subject becomes conscious thanks to an exterior object but in the
context of another human subject; if, consequently, on the ordinary human
level, consciousness is intersubjective, and if we do not forget that man
is the image of the Trinity, we understand better that, in Christ Jesus,
consciousness implies science of God inside the science of man, science of
man inside the science of God, science or knowledge of the Father inside
the knowledge of the brother and conversely. In his human consciousness,
Jesus knows and loves the Heart of His Father, His own Heart and all human
hearts, including my own.
1. We have derived great profit from the study of N. Spaccapelo, S.J., "La
coscienza di Cristo," Science et Esprit, 26 (1974) 5-37. This study takes
its inspiration from B. Lonergan.
2. B. de Margerie, S.J., Les Perfections du Dieu de Jesus-Christ, Paris,
1981, ch. VI, pp. 145-157.
3. B. Lonergan, S.J., De Deo trino, Rome, 1964, vol. II, pp. 186-196; cf.
B. de Margerie, The Christian Trinity in History, translated by E. J.
Fortman, S.J., St. Bede's Publications, Still River, MA, 1982, p. 267.
5. Except if it is linked with Beatific Vision: cf. P. Galtier, S.J., De
Incarnatione et Redemptione, Paris, 1947, section 334, p. 263, commenting
upon Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, III.11.1.
6. see B. de Margerie, The human knowledge of Christ, Boston, 1980, section
16, pp. 22 ff: "If Christ is a prophet never in error, it is precisely
because He enjoys as man the vision of His Father, a vision which is the
supreme source of infallibility and immutability in the perception of truth
by the human soul of the God-Man. Christ Himself tells us that His teaching
is worthy of belief because He speaks of what He has seen (Jn 3:11, 3:31-
32, 8:38). The Gospel of John specifically presents Christ as superior to
Moses for that reason: Moses has not seen God (cf. Jn 1:18) while Jesus has
seen and continually sees the Father, who, in this context, draws men to
His Son as an infallible Master (Jn 6:45-46). It is precisely to guarantee
the truth and credibility of His teaching and His Person that Jesus
presents Himself as the Seer of the Father. In 6:46, John uses the verb to
see in the Greek perfect tense ("eoraka") emphasizing the lasting result of
the action of seeing. Jesus is always the seer of the Father." See also
7. Dodd, Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, Cambridge, 1968, p. 167.
8. cf. B. de Margerie, Human Knowledge of Christ (quoted n. 6), section 26,
n. 31: there are exposed some precious distinctions of Cardinal Billot (De
Verbo Incarnato, Rome, 1912, p. 233 n. 2): Jesus did know, in his trans-
conceptual vision, the concepts, the human concepts through which he wanted
to communicate to mankind his salvific message; the mode of his knowledge,
not the knowledge itself was incommunicable.
9. see J. Galot, Esprit et Vie, 1982, p. 121.
10. see J.T. O'Connor, The Father's Son, Boston, 1984, p. 103: "The Son
only knows Himself in knowing the Father. . . Jesus, in His human self-
awareness knows Himself as from the Father, and of the Father, and for the
11. Fr. Uricchio, OFM Conv., "Presenza della Chiesa primitiva nel Vangelo
di S. Marco," Misc. Franc. 66 (1966) pp. 42-47; quoted by B. de Margerie,
The Human Knowledge of Christ, op. cit., section 42, p. 49.
12. see n. 8.
13. J. Alfaro, S.J., Encarnacion y Revelacion, Gregorianum 1968, pp. 455-
456; quoted in The Human Knowledge of Christ, n. 53, pp. 70-71.
14. see B. de Margerie, Les sept yeux de l'Agneau, Divus Thomas (Piacenza)
86 (1983) p. 10: this study continues the analysis of the Biblical,
Patristic, Magisterial and theological "dossiers" presented in The Human
Knowledge of Christ; for another presentation of the same topic, see
William Most, The Consciousness of Christ, Christendom College Press, 1980.
15. Pius XII, Mystici Corporis Christi, AAS 35 (1943) 230 and 215.
16. We can hold, in the context of Ph 2:5-11, that Paul is here speaking of
the two loves of Christ for me: as God and as Man.
17. The Human Knowledge of Christ, section 49, p. 54-55.
18. J.M. McDermott, S.J., Luc XII, 8-9: Pierre angulaire, Revue Biblique,
1978, pp. 397-401: une conscience sacramentelle.
1 FAITH & REASON
DE MARGERIE ON CONSCIOUSNESS OF CHRIST 1