Knowledge, the Product of Faith and Reason
I have already noted how faith and reason are united in the heart. I want to dwell further on this and to reflect on the heart as the instrument of knowing in the human person. As you may have guessed from the outset, what I will eventually come to is an assertion that faith, indeed, is productive of knowledge, though knowledge of a different quality than that of reason.
As I have noted previously, since Plato, knowledge has generally been understood to be “justified true belief” (though again, I note that even in the Theaetetus, where this definition is discussed, it is problematic). That is to say, knowledge is belief with some foundation or guarantee of its truth, that guarantee being one which satisfies reason’s demands. So, for example, a body of knowledge must be internally consistent, must not violate the strictures of logic, must conform to generally recognized principles that themselves have been tested by reason and have been taken to be authoritative. But note that what this particular body of knowledge must satisfy is reason’s searching investigation. If a body of knowledge in any way fails to fulfill the demands of reason, then it can be little better than an established opinion, but it cannot be knowledge.
But this assumes that the only measure of knowledge is reason, and that reason is, in this way, the only real source of knowledge. Knowledge is not grounded in or derived from the gods, religion, human feelings, or mythology. The intellect is that from which knowledge flows.
But this is, I assert, a grave mistake.
For there is, in human experience, a sort of knowing that is not attributable to reason. It is a knowing that derives from koinonia, from personal communion. The Christian Scriptures speak of sexual intercourse in terms of “knowing.” “And Adam knew his wife Eve and she conceived a son.” More than just a euphemistic metaphor, a polite obscurantism chastely drawing a veil over the intimate, it is, I would assert, descriptive of a general reality. But this sort of knowing, while not exclusive of rationality, is primarily a knowing of another sort. It is a knowing of faith, of covenant.
Personal relationships, grounded in a love involving the whole person, are a different sort of knowing than that of reason. Indeed, the knowing of faith is hardly circumscribable by reason. We know our beloved, but we cannot be said to always understand them. We each of us act in ways that are “illogical,” yet in ways that are perfectly familiar, known, by our beloved. Personal relationships are built, not on reason, but on faith, on trust. Personal relationships are not intellectual databases, conglomerations of factoids united by an overarching rational principle. Rather they are matters of faith, based in covenant, and ways of living.
It is in this way, then, that faith is productive of knowledge. We can be said to know God, though we cannot rationally prove his existence, or logically demonstrate the unity of his Trinitarian essence. For neither can we rationally prove the existence of our beloved, but we do not doubt that existence for all that. We cannot rationally prove that our beloved is who indeed they claim they are. But we know it, despite all that, through the communion of personal covenant. And the accumulation of this faithful knowing, is, indeed, a body of knowledge. It is a way of life, a tradition handed down through the personal communion of Christ’s Body. A body of knowledge not memorized through the intellect alone (though certainly not apart from it), but retained through the faithful living of what and whom we know. This body of knowledge is not so much theology as it is prayer. Or if it is theology, then it is the theology that is prayer.
God is known, then, not primarily by the mind, but by faith, and in the heart. Do we bring to bear our rational capacities on this personal relationship? Of course. But the final arbiter of the relationship’s realities is not the mind, though the mind is not excluded from this relationship based in faith.
And because the heart is the primary instrument in the human being for knowing, both of faith and of reason, it is in the heart that we have the greatest capacity for the union of rational knowing and of faithful knowing. It is in the heart that we can have a personal relationship with the rational facts of the universe. That is to say, we can, in one way, know the creation in its measurable and demonstrable instances. We can note the red shift in the background radiation of the cosmos. We can articulate the atomic weight of the air we breathe. But more than that, we can know the light of the universe as a Person. We can relate to the wind which animates our lungs as the Spirit. We can unify our mind with our emotions, our intuition with our will, the formula for the conservation of energy and mass with the warmth of the skin of our beloved, all in the inner recesses of our heart.
I remember in my undergraduate days in Bible college the strong warnings I got from some well-intended brothers in the faith about going on to seminary education (and post-graduate degrees). There was a deep concern that I would lose my fervor of faith under the onslaught of the rational. And given the deep mind-body dualist split in Western academia and philosophy, this was not a vain and idle fear.
But the fear need not paralyze. Certainly not if one remembers that the call of Christ is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Faith produces knowledge, as does reason. And while the bodies of knowledge that each human capacity produces is distinguishable, they are not divided, nor opposed. I need not lose my faith in Christ through the exercise of my mind. But neither need I lose my mind through the exercise of my faith. What is called for is to unify my faith and my reason in my heart, so that the knowing I engage is reflective of the whole of who I am, and of those facts and persons whom I claim to know. It is the faithful knowing that creates meaning, love, from the mere facts of reason. It is the rational knowing that grounds personal communion in the reality that is suffused by the Godhead, in whom we both live and move and have our being, and in whom is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Next, I would like to explore how it is one may unify the knowing of faith and reason in the heart.