Thomas Aquinas: Sermon: Puer Iesus


translated by Athanasius Sulavik


The child Jesus grew in age and wisdom and favor with God and men.
1. Everything that the Lord did or suffered in the flesh is an instruction and an example for our salvation, and so we find in John: I have given you an example that as I have done, so you should do also; and because the way of salvation is not absent to each age of human life, especially that age corresponding to the years of discretion, Christ's adolescence is proposed as a model for adolescents. Now, since adolescence is characterized by development and growth, Christ's growth is therefore proposed as a model for adolescents. In order that we may be able to say something about Christ's growth that will be to the honor of God and to the salvation of our souls, let us entreat the Lord at the beginning.

The child Jesus, etc.
2. If we wish to consider these words carefully, we will discover in them four aspects of Christ's growth, namely an a growth in age with respect to the body; a growth in wisdom with respect to understanding; a growth in grace with respect to God; and a growth in favor with respect to his fellowship with men.

3. Indeed, all these [different] growths are wondrous, or rather they are filled with astonishment and wonder; indeed it is wondrous that eternity grows by way of time, since the Son of God is eternity and from eternity: For ever, 0 Lord, your word endures.

4. Again, it is wondrous that truth grows by way of wisdom, since growth in wisdom is knowledge of the truth, and Christ truth itself, as we read in John: I am the way, the truth and the life.

5. Again, it is wondrous that the maker of grace grows in grace; indeed Christ is the creator of grace, as [it says] in John: Grace and truth were made through Christ.

6. Again, it is wondrous that he who surpassed all men grows in their presence deserves to be admired; men ought rather to grow in his presence. As the Psalmist says: He is high above all nations. How then will Christ grow in all these ways?

7. I say that if we rightly want to consider his growth in age, one reason comes immediately to mind. The eternal Son of God wished to enter into time so that he would be able to grow according to the ages of human life. [As it says in] Isaiah: A child is born to us. If he was born as a child, why then would he not grow up as a child?

8. The other growths of Christ present a greater difficulty. Christ assumed a complete human nature; he was born a child according to the flesh, but not according to the soul, because from the moment of his conception his most blessed soul, having been united to God, was filled with every grace and truth; as we find in John: We saw his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. He was filled with grace and truth because he was the only begotten of God; but from the moment of conception he was the only begotten; therefore, at that moment he was filled with grace and truth and he was made perfect in virtue. We read in Jeremiah: A woman shall compass a man. This occurred through perfection of mind rather than of age, but how is he said to grow by wisdom and grace?

9. It must be asserted that someone is said to grow in wisdom not only when he acquires greater wisdom but more so when wisdom is revealed within him. It is true that Christ was filled with wisdom and grace from the first moment of his conception,` but he did not reveal it from the beginning, but when others were accustomed to doing so. At that time he is said to have grown in wisdom," not in himself, but with respect to outward results by which he was growing in other areas. If he had wished to show his wisdom when he was seven years old, men could have doubted the reality of his assumed human nature, and for this reason Christ wished to be conformed to other men. Therefore, the Apostle to the Philippians says: He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. Christ made himself little by taking on our littleness; and in order that he might truly show himself to be little he was made in the likeness of men. The Apostle says: He was seen on earth and conversed with men, and Christ first revealed his wisdom at that age when wise judgement usually first appears in a person, namely, when he was twelve years old. Therefore, he wished to reveal his wisdom little by little, not [all at once], so that the truth of his human nature within him would be accepted, and so that he might give us an example of growing in wisdom.

10. Therefore, as we have already mentioned, the growth of Christ was fourfold, namely years, wisdom, grace, and in human fellowship.

11. Let us first describe Christ's growth in age, which is bodily, and which is proposed to us as a model in order that we may grow in age of body and mind like him, because a growth in bodily age is worthless if the soul does not keep pace with it; hence Christ's growth in wisdom and grace kept pace with his growth in age. For if a man fails to advance in mind at equal pace with his physical age four incongruities result from it, because this is monstrous, wasteful, burdensome or laborious, and dangerous.

12. Let me begin by saying that growing in age of body but not growing in maturity of mind is monstrous. Man is composed of a soul and a body just as a body is composed of various limbs, but let us suppose that, some body grows in one limb and its growth remains stunted in its other limbs: this is monstrous. The same is true when anyone has the body but not the mind of an adult. For this reason the Apostle says: When I was a child, I understood as a child, I spoke as a child, but when I became a man I put away those things of a child. Children think about play and of other such things. It is true that the Lord commands that we be as little children, saying in Matthew: Unless you be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. Some childlike qualities we ought to retain, because children are not malicious, but are humble. But other childlike qualities we ought to cast off, because children are lacking in wisdom; hence the Apostle says: Do not become children in understanding. But in malice be children and in understanding be perfect. We ought to bear in mind that inasmuch as we are growing in physical age we should be growing in mind as well. Suppose that someone were to experience growth in one foot and not in the other, he would make every effort to see a doctor so that his other foot would grow in the same manner. In the same way, you who are growing older should make every effort to see that your mind develops too.

13. Furthermore, growing in bodily age but not in maturity of mind is wasteful. Suppose someone had the time to acquire a great object and he allowed it to slip away in vain, he would consider this a great waste. In the same way should either the merchant who believes that he is profiting much at trading time or the student who believes that he is listening to a useful lecture lose that time, he considers himself to have lost much. Time is not given to you for acquiring such paltry things, but for God and the heavenly blessings which no one can take away; hence the Apostle says: Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,. neither has it entered into the heart of man what things God has prepared for them that love him. For this reason it is said: Let not the part of a good time pass you by; and Solomon says: Give not your honor to strangers, nor your years to the cruel, lest strangers be filled with your strength, and your labors be in another's house. Give not your honor to strangers: honor is granted to man for defeating his enemies in war; such honor is granted to you who overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. But when you offer your natural abilities to serve the devil, which were given to you to defeat the devil, then you are giving your honor away to a stranger. Next follows: Give not the years of your youth to the cruel," that is, to the devil who is cruel, because, inasmuch as it is necessary that you serve him, he will not give you rest; therefore Jeremiah says: You shall serve strange gods, who will not give you any rest. And your labors will be in another's house. Perhaps you are performing good works and have labored on their account; if you are devoted to the Lord, then your labors will be in your house. However, if you are not devoted to the Lord, then your labors will be in a stranger's house because the saints in heaven will be rejoicing over your good works and not you. Therefore, it is said in Revelation: Take hold of that which you have, lest another take your crown.

14. Moreover, growing in bodily age but not in maturity of mind is laborious. But you will say: "I am young; I want to play while I am young; when I grow old I will devote myself to the Lord". To be sure, you are committing yourself to great labor: that which a man has grown accustomed to doing from his youth is easy for him; this is evident because laboring in a field is easy for a farmer, since he has grown accustomed to it, but for you it is difficult. If you grow accustomed to having your own way and to living in your sins, either you lose hope of attaining eternal life or you store up for yourself much labor; therefore Solomon says: A young man will walk according to his way: even when he is old he will not depart from it. And Jeremiah says: It is good for a man, when he has borne the yoke of the Lord from his youth, because such a man can easily overcome difficulties, and therefore Christ has given us an example of doing good from youth, because when he was twelve years old he grew in wisdom.

15. Again, it is dangerous when anyone grows in bodily age but not in maturity of mind. God will require an accounting from everyone; thus we read in the Gospel: The kingdom of heaven is like a man settling an account with his servants. God has given you time so that you may serve Him, but it is said in Job: He has given him time and he has abused it in pride. God will require from you an accounting of your time. Isaiah [says]: And I said.. I have spent my strength without cause and in vain. He uses up his strength uselessly and without good reason who spends his time on worthless things; and therefore this follows in Isaiah: Therefore my judgement is with the Lord, and Solomon says: Rejoice therefore, 0 young man, in your youth, and know that for all these God will bring you into judgement. Will that be an easy judgement? No, because as Isaiah says: The child being one hundred years old will be accursed, that is, a sinner. Whence it says in Baruch: You have grown old in a foreign country; you are counted with them that go down to hell. But refuse to despair of God's mercy even though your deserts warrant this.

16. This then is our first concern, that we should mature in mind just as in age. But how does man mature in mind? Surely when he matures in wisdom and grace, and, although Thessalonians mentions wisdom before grace, we will nevertheless discuss grace first, since the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

17. Grace is hidden because it is in the soul. However, hidden causes are not known except through perceptible effects. However, among all the effects of grace, none is so perceptible as peace; therefore the Apostle always joins peace to grace: The fruit of the Spirit is joy, charity, peace. And when someone has peace, it is an indication that he has grace, since there is no peace to the wicked, says the Lord. And God indicated this in the case of growth in grace because, when he was twelve years old, he entered into the place of peace, that is Jerusalem, which means "vision of peace." Therefore, during our years of discretion we ought to strive to acquire peace.

18. But many people are deceived because they do not have peace when they think that they have it; hence the false prophets said: Peace, peace, and there was no peace. In order that we may understand true peace, note that peace ought to have four conditions, since it ought to be lofty, uniformed, persevering or lasting, and cautious.

19. In the first place the peace of grace ought to be lofty. Man is set between two things, and this [situation] can produce a twofold peace; one side of him is caught between the flesh and the spirit which war against one another, because the flesh lusts against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh. The spirit is lofty and the flesh is feeble; because of this, man has two possibilities for establishing peace. If he establishes peace in such a way that the spirit yields to the flesh, this is neither a lofty nor a true peace, but is feeble and false, whence: Living in a great war of ignorance, they suffer so many and so great evils and they think peace. Such people are involved in a great war because they endure a war of ignorance and the remorse of conscience. The other peace is established when the flesh yields to the spirit. How is this peace brought about? Clearly by subjecting the flesh to the spirit through the mortification of the flesh.

20. Someone will say: "I want to establish peace in such a way that the spirit in some way accomodates the flesh, and in this way there will be peace, because afterwards the flesh will be subjected to the spirit". This cannot occur because the flesh is of its very nature servile. The more a servant is allowed, the more impudent he becomes; thus we find in Ecclesiasticus: He that nourishes his servant delicately from his childhood, afterwards shall find him stubborn. And the Philosopher says: "The appetite for the pleasurable is insatiable, and, for the one who begins and who exercises his desire its practice makes it more impulsive in every respect." If you gratify the pleasure of your flesh, it is not appeased by this, but it craves more because whoever will have drunk from this water will thirst again. How must this peace be achieved? Certainly by subduing the flesh; as Isaiah says: In battle I shall march against it and it will make peace with me. For this reason we read that the Lord went into Jerusalem, not that he descended into it. Hence it is said: He went with those going up into Jerusalem.

21. Some want the spirit to make peace with the flesh; they practice abstinence, but they do not keep to what is appropriate. They want to appear different from others, against the Lord's commandment in the Gospel: When you fast, he said, be not as the hypocrites, sad. A man ought to practice good works in secret, and he ought to be in conformity with others in public; thus we find in Ecclesiasticus: Be among them as one of them. When Augustine arrived at Milan, he discovered that the people there did not fast; however, at Rome and Carthage they did fast; his mother was very distressed over whether she should fast or not; and so Augustine, who at that time was still a catechumen, asked Ambrose whether she should fast or not; and Ambrose answered: "To whatever church you come, if you do not wish to suffer scandal or to bring scandal to others, follow its custom. Therefore, Jesus went up according to custom. Do not be singular, because God seems utterly to detest singularity.

22. But notice that he says of the feast day. If your companions want to do something that is opposed to virtue, you should not be like them in that thing; hence we find in Exodus: You shall not follow the crowd to do evil. And Jeremiah says: Ask for the old paths, and see which is the good way, and walk in it. This applies to peace. As the Psalmist says: Jerusalem, which is built as a city, which is compact together. Together, that is, according to the harmony of the opinions and of the customs of others.

23. Moreover, this peace ought to be lasting, because it is not enough to possess it for a time, but it is necessary that man persevere in it. As Job says: Until I fail I will not depart from my innocence: my justification, which I have begun to hold, I will notforsake. He says two things: first, until I fail, that is even until death, from my innocence I will not depart. Man departs from his innocence by sinning. Thus we find in Ecclesiasticus: And he that passes over from justice to sin, God has prepared him for the saber, that is, for a sharp sword. It is not enough that a man refrain from sinning, but if you are accustomed to living uprightly, you must not forsake good works; therefore it says: my justification, which I have begun to hold, I will not forsake. Hence we find in Revelation: I have this against you, that you have left your first love; and this is indicated in today's Gospel: Having completed the feast days, Jesus remained in the temple. Some might well refrain from a sin on a feast day, but after the feast day they return to their sin. In fact, a man ought to abide in justice and innocence. This is indicated in the book of Kings, when Solomon, speaking to Semei, whose name means "obedient,"" says: Build yourself a house in Jerusalem and dwell there, and do not go forth to this place or to that place, for on whatever day you go forth, know that you will be killed. Thus this peace ought to be constant.

24. Fourth, peace ought to be cautious. Do you wish to make peace with the spirit against the flesh? If you wish to make peace with it and to bring it under your control, you should guard against its friends. Do you wish to make peace with the spirit against the flesh? You should guard against friends of the flesh; therefore Jeremiah says: Let every one beware of his neighbor, namely, of the carnal, and in any brother, namely, of the flesh, let him not trust. Because it is said in Micah: A man's enemies are they of his own household, and this is indicated in today's Gospel by the Lord's wish to remain in Jerusalem, his parents did not know. Those who are eager to attain the perfection of peace of the spirit ought to guard themselves against friends and familiarity of the flesh: As the Psalmist says: Forget your people and your father's house and the king will desire your beauty, namely, by granting [grace] in the present moment and by leading to glory in the future. This may he deem worthy to grant us, he who lives and reigns, etc.


Jesus grew, etc.

1. Today Christ's twofold growth was mentioned, namely growth in age and growth in grace; it now remains to speak about the other two growths, namely about growth in wisdom and in human fellowship.

2. Just as growth in grace is revealed in peace, so growth in wisdom is revealed in contemplation; hence, Solomon says in Ecclesiastes: I have surpassed all in wisdom who were before me in Jerusalem. Why is this? He adds: My mind has contemplated many things wisely. Whoever contemplates many things wisely grows in wisdom. Consider this: either "temple" is derived from "contemplating" or "contemplation" is derived from "temple." It is for this reason, therefore, that the Lord is found in the temple: he is showing us his eagerness for contemplation. But the Psalmist also says that contemplation is signified by a temple: One thing I have asked, he said, from you, this I will seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life and may visit his holy temple. That person truly visits the temple who goes into the temple not for trifling and frivolous reasons, but so that he might contemplate the will of God. Let us see what Christ did in the temple, and through that contemplation we are able to learn if a man grows in a temple.

3. For a man to grow in wisdom four things are necessary, namely that he should listen willingly, seek diligently, respond prudently, and meditate attentively.

4. First of all, I say this: for a man to grow in wisdom, it is necessary that he should listen willingly, since wisdom is so profound that no man is sufficient by himself to contemplate himself by himself. It is necessary, therefore, that he should listen; hence we find in Ecclesiasticus: If you love to listen, you will be wise. You will say: "I am wise enough, I am unwilling to listen." For this reason he added: A wise man listening to wisdom will be wiser. There is no one so wise as not to learn more by listening, therefore, they found Jesus listening.

5. But how should you listen? To be sure perseveringly. Certain people want to hear a reading once so as to gain a passing knowledge of it; but they do not put their heart into it. But after three days they found Jesus assiduously [listening]; you ought to listen this way too; thus in Proverbs: Blessed is the man that listens to me and that watches daily at my gates.

6. Next, we should not only listen to one person but to many people, because as the Apostle says: there are a variety of graces. But no one man is perfect in all things. Blessed Gregory knew morals the best, blessed Augustine solved questions [the best], and blessed Ambrose allegorized the best. What you do not learn from one, you learn from another; thus in Ecclesiasticus: Stand in the midst of the wise elders, and join yourself from your heart to their wisdom, that you may listen to the discourse of God. What one does not tell you, another does. I am not saying that 1 believe that it is useful for those who are beginning to first listen to any sort of knowledge for the sake of listening to different people, but they ought to listen to one person until they become well versed, and when they have become well versed, then they should listen to different people so that they might be able to pick flowers from different opinions, in other words, those things which are helpful.

7. Moreover, Jesus was found listening to many people and standing in their midst; this is the role of a just judge; for the duty of a judge is to be attentive to the listener, since he ought to judge justly upon what he hears: Does not the ear discern words, says Job. A student ought to be a just judge, but some students follow the opinion of their teachers because they hear them; but no one ought to cherish a friend over the truth, but he should adhere to the truth alone, since the Philosopher says that a disagreement among opinions is not opposed to friendship. Christ was in the midst, because as it says in Ecclesiasticus: In the midst of the church the Lord shall open his mouth, and shall fill him with the spirit of wisdom and understanding.

8. But the perfection of wisdom requires that a man diligently seeks after it, since wisdom is more precious than all things which could be desired; hence we find in Proverbs: She is more precious than jewels; and all the things that are desired are not to be compared with her. And in the book of Wisdom we read: I preferred her to kingdoms and thrones.

9. Consider this: those who are in need of a perishable item are not content to merely have it offered to them, but diligently seek after it. In the same way, we also ought to diligently seek after wisdom; hence Solomon says: If you seek her as money, you will find her. Some people will cross mountains and the sea in order to acquire money; so you too ought to labor on behalf of wisdom. Hence, they also found Jesus inquiring and seeking after wisdom in the temple, so that he might give us an example of seeking after wisdom, namely where you

10. First wisdom is to be sought from a teacher or from those who are wiser; hence in Deuteronomy: Ask your father, that is to say your teacher, because just as your father begot you physically, so your teacher begot you spiritually, and he will declare to you; ask your elders, that is, ask those who are wiser, and they will tell you.

11. Next, you should not only be content to ask those who are present, but you ought to ask the ancients and those who are absent. If you have limited access to such people, you nevertheless have access to their writings. When you read the writings of Augustine and Ambrose, then you are asking those very men. As Job says: Inquire of the former generation and search diligently into the memory of the fathers, that is, the remembrance that they left for you.

12. Furthermore, it is not merely enough that you ask those men or even examine their writings, but you should reflect upon. creation because it says in Ecclesiasticus: God poured out his wisdom upon all his works. The works of God are the judgements of his wisdom, just so with a crafted object whereby we are able to discern from it many things about the wisdom of its artisan, hence Job says: Ask the beasts and they will teach you, and the birds of the air and they will tell you.

13. Moreover, a man ought to acquire wisdom by sharing it with others, thus in Wisdom: Which I have learned without guile, and communicated without envy. Anyone at all. can find out that no one advances in knowledge so profitably than by sharing what he knows with others; in fact this is an obligation so that a man might answer another about that which he knows; hence in Proverbs: That I might show you the certainty and the words of truth, to answer these who sent you. Christ answered, and all were astonished at his prudence and his answers.

14. A threefold prudence is required in a response.

15. First, prudence is necessary so that the response may correspond to the intellectual ability of the respondent. If someone were to ask you something that is beyond your intellectual capacity, you would not be obliged to respond. Hence: If you have understanding, answer your neighbor; if not, place your hand over your mouth, lest you be surprised in an unskillful word, and be confounded.

16. Second, prudence is required in a response so that the response will correspond to the character of the listener. It is not always necessary to respond to anyone since it does on occasion occur that a person asks you something to provoke temptation or blame, as it says in Proverbs: Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be made like him. But what is the mark of a fool? To be sure, a fool inquires after offensive things, as it says in Proverbs: the question of a fool is meddling with reproaches. But you should answer a fool according to his own folly lest, as Solomon says, you appear foolish to him. Christ did this well, when others asked him by what authority he performs miracles, he answered them by means of another question.

17. Third, prudence ought to be in a response so that it may correspond to the question and so that it may not be embellished with many words, but would answer the question; otherwise the response would be full of wind. Therefore we find in Job: Will a wise man answer into the wind? Christ responded prudently, therefore all were astonished at his wisdom and answers.

18. Fourth, the highest degree of prudence is achieved when a man meditates attentively. As the Psalmist says: The meditation of my heart is always in your sight? We have an example in the blessed Virgin who kept all the words pondering them in her heart. In an explanation of these words a certain Greek says that a notable word suffices: "Consider, he says, how Mary, the most prudent of women, truly the mother of wisdom, becomes the scholar of her child, and furthermore she does not perceive him as a boy nor as a man, but as God, so that as she had conceived the Word itself in her womb, so she then conceived all his deeds and words in her heart."

19. Consider three aspects about the meditation of the blessed Virgin Mary.

20. First, that it was fruitful. What is the fruit of meditation? I say that meditation is the key to memory. You will be able to read and hear many things, but you will not be able to retain them unless you meditate. As the Psalmist says: I have understood more than all my teachers because your testimonies are my meditation. In fact just as food does not give you nourishment unless it is first chewed, so you will not be able to advance in knowledge unless, through frequent meditation, you chew upon those things you have heard.

21. Also, the blessed Virgin's meditation was complete because she kept all the words. A man ought to meditate upon all the things he has heard.

22. Moreover, the blessed Virgin's meditation was profound. Some people only want to meditate superficially. If you cannot meditate at one time upon all things, then you should meditate at another time. Mary kept all the words pondering them in her heart. As the Psalmist says: I meditated in the night with my own heart and I was exercised and I search my spirit. There is not doubt that the person who gladly listens, prudently responds, diligently inquires, and attentively meditates, will advance in wisdom a great deal. This is the way of growing in wisdom.

23. It now remains to speak about growth in human fellowship. It is true that whoever gleans enough from this Gospel will be able to understand human fellowship so far as it concerns subordinates and superiors, and since there are few superiors and many subordinates here, let us speak about subordinates. It is necessary for you to know that if you want to grow in human fellowship you must have four things, namely respect, purity, humility and discretion.

24. Well first of all, if you want to grow in human fellowship, you must have respect. Some people only have respect for themselves so that they might live in peace and grow in wisdom, but they do not want to lower themselves before others. Such men are able to grow in favor with God but not with men; but Jesus grew in favor and wisdom with God and with men. This is signified in Jesus' going down with them. Jesus remained on his own for a time in Jerusalem, but when he wished, he went down. Hence, it says in the Song of Songs: My beloved is gone down into his garden, that is into the garden of delights. And on the ladder which Jacob envisioned, he saw angels descending and ascending; so too should we ascend by means of spiritual growth and descend through a genuine respect for our neighbor.

25. Some lower themselves before others, but excessively, even to the point of sin. Christ went down into Nazareth, which means flower, by which purity is symbolized, thus in the Song of Songs: Our bed is flourishing, and blessed is he who in his conscience has nothing shameful or worthy of reproach but only the fragrance of a good reputation, hence we find in the Song of Songs: My flowers are the fruit of honor and riches. There is fruit in meritorious action, therefore the Apostle says: You have your fruit in sanctification; flowers are in the homeland to come.

26. Third, we ought to have humility; hence Augustine says: "A man should grow ashamed to become proud from the fact that God was born of humble estate." Christ was subject to men so that you might be subject to your superiors. Gregory says: "Whoever is made perfect by moving forward, never forsakes obedience. Before a man may come to the perfection of human fellowship, he must see obedience as leading to good, and so Christ had the highest obedience. There are some people who are good at obeying in nonessential matters, but not in important ones; Christ, however, was obedient in important matters; hence, [it says] about this: He was obedient to them, and to whom those were, the Gloss says: "They were just and honorable, nonetheless they were poor and were in want of the necessities of life; the manger which served the venerable birth bears witness to the fact that through their continual labors they were seeking basic material needs". Christ also labored with them: I am poor and in labors from my youth. There are many who come to the studium and want to grow in wisdom, however their intent is not to descend but to ascend, not so that they might be in Nazareth, but in the depravity of sin; not so that they may be subordinates, but so that they might [become] superiors; Christ, however, went down into Nazareth, where he was obedient to them.

27. Fourth, discretion is necessary. What does it mean to show discretion in obeying? To be sure we owe obedience to our superiors in those matters which do not lead us away from God, hence blessed Peter says: We ought to obey God rather than man. Christ had this discretion: in those matters which did not lead him away from God he was obedient to them. Do you not know, he said, that I must be about my father's business? As the Psalmist says: It is good for me to adhere to God, namely, in the present time through grace and in the future through glory, which is for you and for us, etc.