The Mind of Christ

I am going to step in hot water on this post, but I believe the concept is worth it. For 25 years, I have wondered about this claim of St. Paul’s – “We have the mind of Christ.” My musings won’t be perfect but I hope will provoke thought.

Here goes:

I made a mistake, last week, in the title I selected for that post.

I picked: “Flight Toward the Mind of God,” because I thought it drew on two themes from that post. But I believe I was mistaken in equating the “mind of Christ,” as Paul describes it in 1 Cor 2:16, with the “mind of God.”

Let me explain.

The mind of God suggests the perfect, all seeing, all knowing, all creating intelligence of God, as it exists in God Himself, outside of space and time. It denotes an intelligence not accessible by a limited human intelligence. An intelligence necessarily without limits, beyond all human limits. A mind we cannot reach.

Hence my title made no sense. How can we ascend to the mind of God?

The mistake hinged upon my equating the mind of Christ with the mind of God.

Wait, have I just uttered a heresy? I think not. Let me explain.

This is a hard topic to discuss with authority or clarity. But I recently heard the Orthodox priest Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon comment on this notion. He had some insightful things to say. I will unpack his remarks over the next few weeks.

To begin:

Jesus Learned

In the second chapter of Luke, Jesus returns from Jerusalem, where he had stayed for three days, teaching in the Temple. During those three days, Jesus was lost to his parents, but not to the Father. He was at work, in the Temple.

But He was only 12. It was not time for Him to assume a teaching ministry in Israel; it was time for him to return home with Mary and Joseph. So he dutifully returned with them, to Nazareth. And there, we read, “He progressed in wisdom and stature and grace before God and before men.” (Lk. 2:52).

Underline that. Jesus grew in wisdom and grace before God and before men. This verse echoes the same themes in Lk 2:40, so we know it’s a point Luke wishes to make.

Now, there are some who might have difficulty with this verse. How could Jesus grow in wisdom and grace if he was God? Is not God all wise, all mighty, all knowing, all gracious? Is Jesus God or is He not?

Well, Fr. Reardon helped me see that there is another way of thinking about this verse.

The Christology of Jesus expressed in the early Councils sees in Jesus a single person with two natures; these natures are united in the single person of Jesus. Jesus had a human nature and a divine nature. He is like all men but not like all men; he is like God, but in some sense is different than God, because of His human nature.

I confess I haven’t thought too terribly much about this aspect of the Christian faith. But give this matter some thought. If Jesus had a human nature, a human intellect, He would be all the time drawing data from the world around him: through His ears, His eyes, His nose, His sense of touch, of taste. His intelligence would be all the time thinking about this data, processing it, drawing inferences, reasoning about it, remembering it, recalling things from memory. Jesus would have all the natural functions of the intellect that we have. He would grow in knowledge, as a human does, which is exactly what Luke says. In this way, His intellect is different than God’s, we might say, because it is conjoined to a human intelligence. Jesus’ mind grows. Jesus learns.

But if Jesus had human nature united with a divine nature, then His human intellect could draw data from a source which we have a harder time accessing. From the deeper layers of the Word of God. From the mysterious voice of the Spirit of God which He heard all those nights and early mornings when He went out and prayed alone. And from the revelations of God written into the silent nature of things.

Human Mind, Divine Logos

Now, I stand with the early Church Councils: Jesus did have a human nature and a divine nature. His human mind gathered wisdom and grew in wisdom from the contact of his intelligence with the sensible world as well as with the spiritual world.

I also agree with Fr. Reardon. Jesus’ human intelligence was not a fully loaded hard drive with all human and divine knowledge loaded into it, accessible at a quick click. Jesus’ intelligence was, instead, like ours. In the natural order, it developed; it learned. But it was unlike ours in that He possessed a faculty of mind that could readily take in data of the invisible, spiritual dimension of reality.

Every day his mind took in natural and spiritual data. He grew in the wisdom that that this data imparted to his intellect. For thirty years His mind deepened and grew. Thirty years of a simple life, a life of faith, labor, prayer; a life of community with Mary and Joseph. Thirty years, he grew in wisdom before God and before man.

It may seem strange to say, but it shouldn’t. Over those 30 years, the mind of Christ developed. He learned.

When he was 30, he was ready for his active ministry, to communicate with the world what He knew, in His mind and heart.

At one point, in a stunning assertion, Reardon says: I think the Word was taking flesh every day in the life of Jesus. I agree. Day by day, Jesus, fully human and fully divine, two natures in one person, was growing in wisdom and stature and grace before God and before men.

This is why the “mind of Christ” shouldn’t be loosely interchangeable with the mind of God. For God the Father never became incarnate. The Father never merged his intelligence with the intelligence of a human being, in a single person.

The mind of Christ is this rare and beautiful mind that is fully receptive to human realities – of sight, sound, smell, touch, taste and rational reflection – and yet is equally capable of taking in the dimension of the Spirit. A mind as readily receptive to the Spirit as our eyes are responsive to light.

A mind with equal receptivity to the natural order as to the supernatural.

A mind that Paul says is a grace available to the person of faith. “We have the mind of Christ.” (1 Cor 2:16) Yet do we dare to ask for it, do we seek it?



Lord Jesus Christ, with Paul I yearn to say one day, I have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16). But I’m not sure I believe it. And I’m not even sure I want it – it might cost me something. Have mercy on me! But I remember what the people in the crowd around you once said: “Give us this bread always.” And so I say here: “Give me, Lord, my share in the mind of Christ. Give me a mind that sees you, the Father, and the Spirit, as you are.”

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