A name was given to those who attributed either ignorance (agnoia) to Christ relating to subjects such as the timing of the Day of Judgment (cf. Mk. 13:32) or, alternatively, a gradual ascension to knowledge and wisdom (cf. Lk. 2:52).
In Alexandria, the issue grew out of the controversy between SEVERUS OF ANTIOCH and JULIAN OF HALICARNASSUS on the corruptibility or incorruptibility of Christ’s flesh. About 534 an Alexandrian deacon, Themistius, pushed the argument for corruptibility a further step by pointing to Christ’s ignorance concerning the moment of the Day of Judgment and in his dealing with Lazarus (Jn. 11:34; Liberatus Breviarium 19.137; John of Damascus De haeresibus 85). He also attributed to Christ the human tendency to fear (John of Damascus De haeresibus 85). Among many of Severus’ supporters, however, the views of Themistius were rejected, in particular by the patriarch of Antioch, Timothy IV (d. 535) (Liberatus Breviarium 19.137).
The debate continued, however, Themistius’ ideas being advanced by a certain Theodosius (not, probably, the Monophysite patriarch; see John of Damascus), but opposed within the Monophysite movement by John Philoponus, representing the tritheists. Later in the sixth century the controversy spread to the monks of Palestine. There exist two letters to the Chalcedonian patriarch of Alexandria, Eulogius, from Pope Gregory I (epistolae 10.35 and 10.39 of A.D. 599), drawing his attention to the issue and asking his advice. Gregory criticized the agnoetan standpoint, indicating that while total knowledge could not have arisen from Christ’s human nature, it was clearly indicated from the union of the two natures, human and divine (epistola 10.39, in PL 77, col. 1097). Gregory’s views were underlined by Patriarch Sophronius of Jerusalem (634-638), and agnoetism was formally condemned at the Sixth General Council in 680, at which Themistius was equated with Severus and Apollinaris of Laodicea as a heretic (Sacrorum conciliorum collectio, Vol. 11, col. 636).
- Gregory the Great. Epistolae, 2 vols., ed. P. Ewald and L. M. Hartmann. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Epistolae 1-2. Berlin, 1887-1893.
- John of Damascus. De haeresibus. In PG 94, cols. 677-780. Paris, 1864.
- Stokes, G. T. “Themistius.” In DCB 4, p. 898. Repr. New York, 1974.
- Vacant, A. “Agnoètes.” In Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, Vol. 1, cols. 586-96. Paris, 1923.
- H. C. FREND