The Young Messiah (TYM) is a film at once entertaining and endearing. An admittedly fictionalized imagining of Jesus as a seven year-old boy, this movie’s treatment of its subject matter is eminently respectful.
Not everyone feels this way, however.
Dave Armstrong, a “professional Catholic apologist,” concedes in Pathos that “there are several aspects of [the] development of the human knowledge of Jesus…that are legitimate and perfectly orthodox [.]” It is, though, unorthodox and, hence, illegitimate to depict Christ as “growing into… awareness” of His identity, for the Church has affirmed for centuries that, from conception, Jesus knew that He was God (italics added).
Armstrong quotes Neil Madden who, writing at Conservative Review, makes the following remark:
“’The Young Messiah’” depicts Mary and Joseph as having more knowledge about Jesus’s true nature than He does. This is a problem. If Jesus was always God, begotten and not made, surely wouldn’t an omnipotent God know who he was as he was learning and growing in preparation for His mission here on Earth?”
Though Armstrong doesn’t seem to notice it, he and Madden are actually making two distinct points. Armstrong’s point is that Jesus, in His humanity, knew that He was God from the time that He was conceived. Madden, on the other hand, refers to Jesus in His divinity.
Doubtless, this controversy stems from nothing less than the mystery of the uniquely Christian doctrine of the Incarnation, the doctrine that God became a human being in Jesus: Christ is “true God and true man,” fully divine and fully human.
Two replies to TYM’s critics are in the coming.
First, if Neil Madden is correct that Jesus, being “an omnipotent God” must have always known His own identity “as he was learning and growing in preparation for His mission here on Earth,” then there would’ve been no “learning and growing in preparation” for that mission, for “an omnipotent God” would’ve had already known all that could be known about everything and anything.
On the other hand, if the “omnipotence” of Christ in His divinity is compatible with Christ in His humanity coming to learn and grow in some matters, then it is, in principle, compatible with Christ as fully human coming to learn and grow in all matters.
Secondly, unlike Madden, Armstrong alludes to Christ in His humanity, Christ at conception. Yet even here it is a mistake to think that if Christ knew from conception that He was God that He could not have grown into an awareness of His identity.
The two propositions do not necessarily contradict one another—as long as “knowledge” isn’t construed in an unduly shallow sense.
From at least the time of Plato throughout the centuries until Freud and beyond, a great many thinkers (and non-thinkers alike) have been of the mind that knowledge can be explicit and implicit, conscious and unconscious. Examples abound to suggest that this position has something going for it.
Take, for instance, what is known as “the principle of non-contradiction,” the principle that a thing can’t be and not be in the same respect and at the same time, that “(A) and (non-A)” must be false. Though most people outside of philosophy and logic classes have never heard of this principle, everyone knows it, for it is the most fundamental law of all thought.
Students must “grow into an awareness” of the principle of non-contradiction. And yet they’ve known it all of their lives.
If knowing could consist in human subjects growing into an awareness of (at least some of) what they already implicitly know, then how much more fitting would such an approach be regarding the God-Man? Consider: As God, Christ would had to have known all things from eternity. As a man, Christ would have to have grown and developed like all humans—even if that knowledge was already in Him from conception.
In conclusion, TYM’s portrayal of Jesus as learning His divine identity from Joseph and Mary is compatible with the position that, in His divinity, He always knew His identity. It’s also compatible with the idea that Christ, in His humanity, knew His identity from conception.
The only position that the thesis of TYM obviously contradicts is the thesis that Jesus, in His humanity, or from conception, was fully conscious of his divine nature, for if this thesis was true, then it would’ve indeed been logically impossible for Jesus to have grown into a consciousness of His identity.
The Young Messiah doesn’t deviate at all from theological orthodoxy when it comes to the question of Jesus’s knowledge of His own divine identity.