Knowing God and Believing in God

June 25, 2006
Second Sunday After Pentecost

Father Pat’s Pastoral Ponderings

There are two apparently irreconcilable aspects to the New Testament’s affirmation of Natural Revelation.

On the one hand, it is affirmed that man is able to discover God’s existence from examining His works in nature, because “since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead” (Romans 1:20). There is not a word in this text about faith. Indeed, how can one believe in what is “clearly seen”?

On the other hand, it is equally attested that “he who comes to God must believe that He is” (Hebrews 11:6). Faith, not reason, is affirmed here. However, if faith in God’s existence is necessary, how am I to have faith in what I already know? How is it possible to know and believe in the same thing?

I did not make up this problem. The mutual exclusivity of faith and reason, when both are directed to the same object and under the same aspect, has always been recognized among rational men. Hugh of St. Victor was hardly alone when he asserted, “Those things that are entirely known by reason (ex ratione omnino nota sunt) cannot be believed, because they are known” (De Sacramentis 1.3.20). No faith is necessary, or even possible, in propositions demonstrated by reason. If, then, I already know God’s existence by reason (as I most certainly do), how is it possible for me to believe it? And yet, if I do not believe in it, how can I come to God, as the Epistle to the Hebrews says?

Since both things are affirmed in Holy Scripture, however, one suspects there is a mystery here worthy of further consideration. I want to suggest two avenues to the question.

The first avenue, elaborated by St. Bonaventure, concentrates on the special sense of “knowing” when this word refers to God as an object. When a thinker arrives at the inference “God” at the end of a logical argument, he does not know God as he knows some other object of rational regard. He does not perceive God as he perceives, for instance, the Principle of Contradiction, or the theorems of mathematics, or the validity of the Baroco Syllogism. God does not give form to his intellect in the same way that his intellect is informed by rational truths. Even as known, God remains God and therefore inaccessible to the mind’s comprehension.

Bonaventure writes, “Someone who believes that God is one and is the Creator of all, if he should begin to know this same fact (ipsum idem) from arguments of rational necessity, does not for this reason stop believing; likewise, if someone should already know this, the arrival of faith does not remove the knowledge of it. Our experience testifies to this.”

With regard to reason’s knowledge of God’s existence, Bonaventure says, “the light and certitude of this knowledge is not such that, having it, the light of faith is superfluous; indeed, it is necessary with it.” Therefore, he concludes that, in the case of God, knowing and believing “are compatible, simultaneously and in the same respect” (On the Sentences 3.24.2,3).

The Seraphic Doctor’s approach to this question prompts a second one of my own. I begin with “contingent being”–those things that exist but do not have to exist (which is to say, everything except God). When I argue from the existence of contingent beings to the existence of Necessary Being (which I have always considered the most compelling and irreducible of the cosmological arguments), I do not arrive simply at an abstract rational truth, but at a Being on whom all other things, including myself, are contingent. The prefix of this word is the key. I arrive at a Being by whom all things else are touched (con-tingo).

This may be a purely rational process, at least until the moment I reach the inference of my argument, because the Being I reach, the Being on whom all other things depend, is necessarily a Being of volition, revealed in the very act of causing contingent things to be. For contingent being to exist, after all, it is obvious that some will or decision is required of the Necessary Being. Therefore, the Necessary Being must be personal, in a sense analogous to ourselves as persons, a Being who knows and wills.

I cannot relate to such a Being simply as a concept in my mind. My mind itself screams out against such a presumption, for to know God in this way is to be known by God. As a matter of experience, then, it is impossible for me to separate scire Deum from credo Deo. That is to say, I am unable to affirm that God exists without recognizing and confessing my dependence on Him. Contingency here implies dependency. In the rational act of arriving at His existence I am drawn towards God as a personal Reality, the real God who knows me and wills me. I cannot help recognizing my utter dependence on Him, and the rational recognition of this dependence is faith. Indeed, it easily becomes hope and love.

[Posted with kind permission of Father Patrick]

The Backdrop of the Kansas Horizon

If creation tells of God, as we have on authority it does, then the uncluttered expanse of the Kansas sky tells of the wide expanse of God’s mercy and the awful power of his love.

I have lived the city life of the third largest metropolitan area in the U.S. for six and a half years now. And one of the dull heartaches I carry with me is the loss of the view of the nighttime skies of Kansas. Here there is humming neon and a dull radiation that blots out the sharp pinpoints of stars. Here there are Babel towers that blot out the theater of God’s grace for the contemplation of the achievements of men. The city skies are an atheology. Not necessarily virulent or angry so much as blind and ignorant. Here is man, and here is all there is to see.

But the Kansas skies preach, and preach a gospel that will shut a man’s mouth so that the fruitful silence may be properly attended. There is no mercy that cannot be found in the bright expanse, and no soul-gripping terror that can be avoided. There are the dry summer winds that parch and dessicate, telling a man that he is insufficient unto himself. There are the powerful thunderbursts that drench and flood, revealing a man’s incapacity to shield himself from the power of the deluge. Springtime brightness gives way quickly to the whirling chaos, which destroys in a flash, and leaves heartache and loss beneath the return of luminscent blue skies. Even the stillness of the dark winter nights are full of theology, bringing clarity in the frozen death of once living things.

The Kansas skies preach, and what they preach is twofold. Man is ephemeral, sprouting quickly, but having no life in himself, ever dependent upon the mercy of rain and sun and wind. And they preach the ever-varied depth of the loving mercy of God. A mercy that is uncompromising, relentless and ever dangerous. God’s love is never safe, but it is ever good. Under the tornadic sky, man is left with destruction and chaos, brought to the realization that all his monuments, even his life itself, that gift from his Maker, may be taken from him at any moment. But under the bright blue skies that follow, man befriends man, grief greets grief with a ready hand, and love and mercy flow between men because they have first flowed from the Almighty.

If one has been born and raised under the Kansas skies, and if he is attentive, he cannot but be evangelized by creation’s seasonal gospels. For the testimony of the horizon is of a love and mercy, fearful and dangerous to be sure, which stretches to no limit that can be known and encompasses all, good and evil, within its embrace.

The Fatherhood Chronicles CII

Saving a World: A Small Town Sort of Sacramental

No one is born alone, however alone we may live and die. And that fact brings with it certain and inescapable expectations which shape and form that life before ever it can know and understand the forces that order and disorder it. Back of this dynamic is the divine intention for character: that fixing of a soul in a dynamic of synergy, an active continuing union with the infinite pluralities of grace which are God. But this divine intention is not impervious to freedom, and what is meant for good can be bent for evil.

Small towns are just this sort of soul-forming grace that God brings us. There is a tangible and thick difference between being “the Williams boy” whom no one will mistake for anyone else and in which label is writ a destiny, and being another Williams boy in a place where the distance of a few blocks renders that boy invisible and unknown to anyone else. There are, as I said, certain expectations associated with “the Williams boy” that will mark and make him what he will one day become, for good or ill, expectations that the other Williams boy will never know let alone care about, for good or ill.

But as is all too often true of sacramental graces, those whose lives are continuously marked by them seek to escape them, and those who never had them mock and misunderstand them. It takes another sort of grace for a small town soul to one day learn the divine mercy that has been given him and to return to this grace, not just in a nostalgia of mind, nor even of geographical location, but rather to return to the geography of soul formed by these small but mighty tectonic plates, and know again that polestar called home.

For there is a destiny there, and even though such a destiny can be an unmerciful one, for there is nothing inherently divine about a small town, still even the merciless is not without its theandric mercy, even the severe and soul-crushing horror of small town disorder is not able to halt the heavenly flood of godly love.

But when mercy and love combine in the sacramental grace of a small town, and when a soul has been plowed by the humble geography of place, then that destiny becomes a song whose chorus remakes and echoes in heart and mind. Voices which the unprepared might take as binding and constricting, to a ready soul sound forth the call of a great end, and a divine mission.

Yet make no mistake. This divine mission is no adolescent romantic quest for glory and renown. This mission will not save the world. Or, at least it will not do so at once. But it will save a world. A world bounded by the home and a small legacy known only by sons and daughters. However great the dreams of a small town soul just setting out in life, the divine love will bring stronger and truer dreams from the harvest of that soul. Dreams of the hearth, the still peace of a slumbering household, and the godly and silent expectation of a brightening dawn.

The call of the small town on a soul can bring about the grace for which it has been divinely designed: to save a world, and in saving that world, return grace for grace by saving the small town which gave that world birth.

When a man loves his wife until death and beyond, when sons and daughters bring to a man their sons and daughters, when the prayers a man prayed at his bedside come round full circle and he prays them with his sons’ sons and his daughters’ daughters, then the world is saved because a world has been saved.

Buh-bye Soccer Moms, Hello Mommybloggers

You know the drill by now: elite feminists bewail the failure of their sisters to stay the course of childlessness, husbandlessness and dedication to breaking the glass ceiling. Even worse, these sisters haven’t failed to stay the course–they’ve chosen another altogether. They’ve–gulp–abandoned career for husband and children.

Such elite feminist criticism of their sisters has been met by an apparently rising tide of new feminist: the mommybloggers.

I’ll let SpunkyHomeSchool take it from here in a post called The Wrath of Stay-at-Home Moms:

So let me see if I have this right. It’s okay for Ms. Hirshman to preach the gospel of Betty Friedan. But let a bunch of uncomplicated, unfulfilled, stay-at-home moms blog the Truth of Jesus Christ and share tips on housekeeping; and she gets her legal briefs all twisted and labels us “aggresively domestic?” Oh, please!

Or could it be that the “queen bee” of the working woman has been dethroned by a growing number of little bees busy in the blogosphere and she doesn’t like it? Today, the voices of stay at home moms can be heard by anyone willing to click over and read what we’re saying. And for the first time in a generation, women are hearing another side to the story and she feels threatened by their buzz? . . .

As elite educated women, we’ve betrayed the cause. We’ve stopped reading and believing the baseless, self-absorbed feminist philosophy. Instead we’ve gone back to the Truth and are making the choice to stay home and have a baby. (Maybe even more than one!) And making matters even worse, we’re daring enough to tell others the good news too. You may call that “aggressively domestic.” I prefer to call it, “fundamentally feminine”. And while we’re busy raising our children, we’re raising a few hard questions of our own. After all, if we don’t, who will?


My money’s on Ms. (or Mrs.) Spunky.

The Fatherhood Chronicles CI

Stablizing Domesticity

I had had some concerns, when Anna and the girls returned from staying with family in Oklahoma, that the transition back to the sort of ordered family living we strive for in our home would be bumpy as well as long. I have, God be praised, been blessed by the opposite reality.

But that is not to say there haven’t been some wince-inducing moments, and some tough, if short-lived, battles. On the wince-inducing part: Sofie greeted Anna, when she woke up the morning after Anna had returned from Nawlins, “Where’s daddy?” I, of course, was in the bed across the room. But poor Sofie had been without me around on a daily basis for two and a half months. And the first weekend Anna had been back home, she went down to the ALA convention. Sofie clearly expected that with one parent present, the other must have been gone. Such has been her experience these past several weeks.

But now that she’s had both of us around for another week, now that we have gone together to the Divine Liturgy as a family for the first time since Pascha, her life is being bounded again by recognizable parameters. And she is less anxious.

Delaina’s anxiety has been, this past couple of weeks, expressed more in not being willing to relinquish her grasp of the parent holding her. After Delaina was born, we began immediately to pass her around at Church so she was used to being held by our extended church family, with the result that she once fell asleep in one of our fellow parishioner’s arms. But last week she refused to be handed to anyone else, clinging tightly to me and turning her head. She didn’t even want me to set her down so she could crawl around. Today, however, though she still had some reluctance, she was much more ready to venture from mine or Anna’s embrace into someone else’s grasp.

Even the girls’ sleep cycles have returned to previous normalcy, with earlier risings and bed times. Delaina has learned to kiss icons, and Sofie is learning to make the sign of the cross for herself. And their Church behavior isn’t really all that different from before. It will take a few weeks for Sofie to get used again to the length of the services, but she did pretty well these past two Sundays.

God’s design for the ordered Christian home is clearly to the benefit of the children. I’m thankful for the prayers of my family and friends toward the reestablishing of our domestic rituals and balance.

I’m also grateful to God for his mercy and kindness toward us, and for the prayers of his saints for our houshehold, especially the Mother of God and St. John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco.