Ways of Coming to Know God (Reading the Catechism)

I’ve been reading the Catechism since July, and I’ve decided to post some thoughts and reactions, so here they are. Enjoy. (All citations are taken from the 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph numbers included in cited blockquotes)

31 Created in God’s image and called to know and love him, the person who seeks God discovers certain ways of coming to know him. These are also called proofs for the existence of God, not in the sense of proofs in the natural sciences, but rather in the sense of “converging and convincing arguments”, which allow us to attain certainty about the truth. These “ways” of approaching God from creation have a twofold point of departure: the physical world, and the human person.

Now this, strikes me as fascinating. I’ve always loved the Abraham Joshua Heschel quote, “There are no proofs for the existence of God, only witnesses.” And I still love that quote. I think Heschel has a serious point. Man does not begin his search for God in quest of proof as he would search for clues to solve a mystery, he begins with the desire to witness, and thus finds all the proof he needs.

Now, I understand the differences in culture and emphasis, but I think I also missed something when I was radically siding with Karl Barth and Abraham Joshua Heschel on the matter. Natural theology is not synonymous with faith, but it can prepare the way. I think the Church has sided with natural theology against a purely revelation based claim partially because of her history, and partially because of her culture, but natural theology is no great evil provided we remember one simple lesson: you cannot reach the God of Jesus Christ through natural theology. You might reach a higher power who can speak and convict you, but ‘how shall wo/men have faith without hearing, and how shall they hear without a preacher?’

Barth is right to attack the liberal Protestant theology of his day, and reminds us to do the same and not conflate revelation with the world, but only because of a strictly Christological focus.  I’m still working on how a theistic appproach to faith might be better than Barth’s dogmatics if at all, but luckily I have Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s Christological Theism within the Faith to help me along the way recovering from radical orthodoxy into true Orthodoxy.

Another Paragraph stikes me as important in this discussion:

34 The world, and man, attest that they contain within themselves neither their first principle nor their final end, but rather that they participate in Being itself, which alone is without origin or end. Thus, in different ways, man can come to know that there exists a reality which is the first cause and final end of all things, a reality “that everyone calls God”

35 Man’s faculties make him capable of coming to a knowledge of the existence of a personal God. But for man to be able to enter into real intimacy with him, God willed both to reveal himself to man and to give him the grace of being able to welcome this revelation in faith. The proofs of God’s existence, however, can predispose one to faith and help one to see that faith is not opposed to reason.

These statements sum up all and answer all my concerns about natural theology in a preliminary fashion and simply point philosophically and theologically to a fact of the matter Truth.

We know that the universe participates in Being and cannot contain within itself either its genesis or it’s telos. From this fact all humanity may come to different conclusions about the one the Septuagint calls Kyrios ho hapas, The Lord of All.

There has to be a correlative dimension of the faith that is open to broader reality, even if that correlation is merely an alongside that must be transcended, and if this is what we call natural theology, certainly it is not an evil so long as catechesis destroys our idols and re-stories us within the biblical narrative and her specific claims. At the end of the day we must remember that faith and reason are correlative to making humanity a witness to God.

In closing let”s turn to the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II who said in his encyclical Fides et Ratio:

Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (cf. Ex 33:18; Ps 27:8-9; 63:2-3; Jn 14:8; 1 Jn 3:2).


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