- Did the Saviour See the Father? Christ, Salvation, and the Vision of God by Simon Francis Gaine, O.P.
Simon Francis Gaine, O.P., has written an important and refreshing monograph on the topic of Christ's beatific vision on earth. The book is refreshing in two ways: first, because it tackles an issue which has become rather unfashionable, and second, because the book freely roams the frontier area between historical, biblical, and systematic scholarship.
The first chapter chronicles how the view that Christ possessed the beatific vision during his earthly lifetime has gone utterly out of theological fashion since Pius XII's Mystici Corporis Christi (1943). In the second half of the twentieth century, there arose a near consensus amongst scholars that the traditional view was in need of revision, if not utter rejection. The Catechism of the Catholic Church did not explicitly retain the doctrine either. Chapter 2 examines the biblical sources of the doctrine. Gaine's account is nuanced. He acknowledges that the terminology of "beatific vision" cannot be found in the Scriptures—but then again, neither can key creedal terms such as homoousion. Of course, there are a number of texts that suggest that the New Testament asserts belief in an eschatological future vision of God, and he discusses these [End Page 443] (Rev 22:4; 1 John 3:2; 1 Cor 13:11-12; and Matt 5:8). The question is then raised: did Christ possess this vision on earth? Gaine argues that Christ's authoritative teaching (see Matt 11:25-26), which struck his contemporaries (see Mark 6:2), allows us to hold that Christ saw the Father (see John 1:18; 6:46) on earth: "though Christ's beatific vision as such may not be thus openly attested Scripture, there is something in Scripture that can invite us to suppose by way of further theological reflection that Christ possessed this vision after all" (39). Christ's "role as teacher … requires him to have not only a source in divine knowledge as well as humanly communicable knowledge, but also a kind of continuity between his divine mind and his human mind rather than isolation of one from the other" (40).
The third chapter considers the patristic sources, and Gaine acknowledges that "the results … are admittedly meagre" (53). After a brief outline of Candidus (who falls somewhat outside the patristic canon in chronological terms), he discusses question 65 of Augustine's De diversis quaestionibus LXXXIII (which appears to imply the teaching) and Contra Maximinum, where Augustine connects the vision of Christ's humanity with the heavenly vision of the saints, and, finally, Fulgentius (64-69), from whom the Scholastics took their cue. Ultimately, so Gaine observes, the argument for Christ's beatific vision on earth hinges on whether or not one accepts the Chalcedonian teaching that Christ's "human and divine knowing," although "distinct," "do not exist in isolation from one another" (70).
Chapter 4 begins to sketch out a positive case for the plausibility of the earthly Christ's beatific vision, arguing that it is consistent with the intimate knowledge of the Father attributed in the New Testament to Christ as the human communicator of divine truth. While Peter Lombard included the thesis in his Sentences, it is Thomas Aquinas's analysis (mainly from the Summa theologiae and Summa contra Gentiles, less so from the Sentences commentary) that Gaine outlines in some detail (75ff.), and contrasts to the views of Karl Rahner and other modern theologians.
Part 2, then, considers some common objections. Chapter 5 raises the question whether or not Christ had faith, and Gaine argues (convincingly in my view) that the New Testament does not ascribe faith to Christ, which further strengthens his overall argument (given the fact that faith and vision are mutually exclusive; see 2 Cor 5:7). The following chapter examines whether the beatific vision of the earthly Christ can be reconciled with Christ...