Christian Certitude

All our knowledge of God is analogical. In brief, this means that every concept that we rightly apply to God is partly the same as, but also partly different from, that same concept as applied to creatures. (Click here for a fuller explanation.)

We know God by means of the world around us — the Book of Nature. All creation was made for God’s glory and for man’s salvation. This truth is the basis of ownership and property rights, just as it is — perhaps ironically — the basis of Saint Francis of Assisi’s celebrated love of nature. The Seraphic Father did not love “Mother Nature” as a modern Green does. He loved the God of nature; he loved God in nature. That is to say, he ascended, as Saint Paul says we can, by means of the creature to the Creator. For him, and in lesser degrees, for the rest of us, nature itself is a revelation of God.

In addition to the knowledge of God and His Law that we can have by nature, there is another revelation, one that is entirely beyond our natural capacities to know. This revelation imparts to our intellects total mysteries that are completely beyond our ability to discover, much less comprehend. The Trinity, the Incarnation, Grace and free will, the Seven Sacraments, etc., are all unknowable by our unaided human intellects. To know these and all the mysteries of Faith not found in nature, we need to have supernatural revelation.

One of the earmarks of modern philosophy is its relentless attack on sound epistemology, that is the theory of knowledge. Man can know. He was made by God to know truth. When he is possessed of the truth — which is the conformity of the mind to reality — his intellect is doing what it is meant to do.

Just as our knowledge of God by nature is a conformity of the mind to reality, so, too, the knowledge we have by revelation is also a conformity — only the criteria of knowledge are different. The criterion for supernatural knowledge is the gift and virtue of what Vatican I called “divine and Catholic faith,” which is perfected by the Holy Ghost’s gifts of knowledge and understanding.

The “author and finisher” (Heb. 12:1) of that Faith is Jesus Christ, who is the definitive revelation of the Father:

God, who, at sundry times and in divers manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all, in these days hath spoken to us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the world. Who being the brightness of his glory, and the figure of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, making purgation of sins, sitteth on the right hand of the majesty on high. (Heb 1:1)

Jesus is the Image (Col. 1:15, 2 Cor. 4:4) and the Wisdom (1 Cor. 1:24) of the Eternal Father. Being in His Person God’s own adequate self-knowledge, He clothed Himself in our flesh to reveal divine truth to us. The words of Jesus in Matthew 11:27, Luke 10:22 and John 5:19 impress this truth upon us very deeply.

Consider these profound words of Saint Irenaeus, which are worth reading several times:

No one can know the Father apart from God’s Word, that is, unless the Son reveals him, and no one can know the Son unless the Father so wills. Now the Son fulfills the Father’s good pleasure: the Father sends, the Son is sent, and he comes.

The Father is beyond our sight and comprehension; but he is known by his Word, who tells us of him who surpasses all telling. In turn, the Father alone has knowledge of his Word. And the Lord has revealed both truths. Therefore, the Son reveals the knowledge of the Father by his revelation of himself. Knowledge of the Father consists in the self-revelation of the Son, for all is revealed through the Word.

The Father’s purpose in revealing the Son was to make himself known to us all and so to welcome into eternal rest those who believe in him, establishing them in justice, preserving them from death. To believe in him means to do his will.

Through creation itself the Word reveals God the Creator. Through the world he reveals the Lord who made the world. Through all that is fashioned he reveals the craftsman who fashioned it all. Through the Son the Word reveals the Father who begot him as Son. All speak of these things in the same language, but they do not believe them in the same way. Through the law and the prophets the Word revealed himself and his Father in the same way, and though all the people equally heard the message not all equally believed it. Through the Word, made visible and palpable, the Father was revealed, though not all equally believed in him. But all saw the Father in the Son, for the Father of the Son cannot be seen, but the Son of the Father can be seen. The Son performs everything as a ministry to the Father, from beginning to end, and without the Son no one can know God. The way to know the Father is the Son. Knowledge of the Son is in the Father, and is revealed through the Son. For this reason the Lord said: No one knows the Son except the Father; and no one knows the Father except the Son, and those to whom the Son has revealed him (Matt 11:27). The word “revealed” refers not only to the future — as though the Word began to reveal the Father only when he was born of Mary; it refers equally to all time. From the beginning the Son is present to creation, reveals the Father to all, to those the Father chooses, when the Father chooses, and as the Father chooses. So, there is in all and through all one God the Father, one Word and Son, and one Spirit, and one salvation for all who believe in him.

Jesus tells us that the purpose of His coming is “to bear testimony to the truth.” To this declaration, He adds a supremely challenging statement, one that only a Divine Person might utter: “Every one that is of the truth, heareth my voice” (John 18:37).

Now that He has resurrected and gloriously ascended to the right hand of the Father, right now in Anno Domini 2014, how do we hear His voice? We can because He is yet with us in His Mystical Body, having promised not to leave us orphans (John 14:18). “As the Father hath sent me, I also send you” (John 20:21), He said to the Apostles. And elsewhere: “He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me” (Luke 10:16). On this sure epistemological foundation is built the Church’s teaching office, that Church which Saint Paul calls, “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).

It is sad to watch someone who rejects the benefit of Christian revelation, or dismisses the Church’s infallible teaching office opining about ineffable mysteries, as if we find ourselves merely in the arena of human opinion. The question arises: How do you know? What are your criteria?

God’s censorious words condemning Job’s cruel friend, Eliu, come to mind: “Who is this that wrappeth up sentences in unskillful words? … Where wast thou when I laid up the foundations of the earth? tell me if thou hast understanding” (Job 30:3,5).

Jesus was there when the Father laid up the foundations of the earth. Jesus is the revelation of the Father. Every word and deed of His reveals something of the First Person. The Sacred Heart of Jesus, called the “abyss of all virtues,” reveals to us His Father’s love. Each virtue that Christ’s sacred humanity possesses is a manifestation of an eternal perfection of the Father. As he told that Apostle who so boldly asked to be shown the Father, “Philip, he that seeth me seeth the Father also” (John 14:9).

Meditation on what the Gospels reveal to us of Jesus enlightens us about the Father also.

And lest we proudly think we can each learn all we need from the Bible alone, let us go to Peter and his infallible successors, for they can all say, like him: “And we have the more firm prophetical word: whereunto you do well to attend, as to a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: understanding this first, that no prophecy of scripture is made by private interpretation” (2 Pet. 1:19-20).

Yes, we can know the truth by the Church’s infallible Magisterium — not by the paramagisterium, which can err, but by the “Extraordinary” or “Ordinary and Universal” Magisterium — a great gift of God.