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Our Supernatural Knowledge of God
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Remember the master theme that we are looking at now is our knowledge of God. We have already seen something of what the Scripture tells us about our natural rational knowledge of God. Why natural? Because, we can acquire knowledge of God by the use of our natural native reason. Through reflection of the works of nature beginning with the sun, moon and stars, the mountains and the seas and ending with the beauty of a small child or the budding of the trees in spring. In the present conference we shall reflect on our revealed or supernatural knowledge of God. And we begin by observing that the natural knowledge of God just described, though very important, is not of itself sufficient for salvation. No one, and the word is no one, will reach heaven from his or her own natural rational knowledge of God. Only the supernatural knowledge otherwise known as divine faith is adequate as the foundation for salvation. Thus we are told by St. Paul in the letter to the Hebrews "without faith it is impossible to please God." "Everyone" says Paul "who will be saved must believe not merely rationally, no, must know super rationally or supernaturally that God exists and that He rewards those who serve Him."
The foundation for the present meditation, therefore, is the declaration of St. Paul in his eleventh chapter to the Hebrews; sixth verse, "Sine fide autem impossibile est placere Deo;" Without faith it is impossible to please God. What we shall, then, be reflecting on during these few minutes in our Lords Eucharistic presence is on one, two, three, four, five questions. And I will restrain myself and not say all that I could say in answering in each of these five questions. The ordinary course in theology on the subject of divine faith is two semesters 30 weeks, three classes a week.
Question One: What is faith in God? Faith in God is our voluntary assent to God's revelation about Himself. Or as I like to put it when I have a blackboard behind me, in mathematical terms, the numerator: God speaks, then I draw a line, underneath: we listen. What is God speaking? That is revelation. What is our listening? That is faith. Notice I say listen as by now we have experienced often enough. We can talk to somebody and it is perfectly obvious he or she is not listening. One of the first things a teacher must recognize when the students are looking intently, maybe smiling, and when they are really listening. To hear someone is not the same as to listen to that person. Hearing can be involuntary. Listening is very, very voluntary. That is faith. When we want to hear what God tells us about Himself and the most fundamental faculty over which our wills have sovereign control is our mind. If I wish to open my mind to the voice of God, I will. If I do not, I will not. And no one, not even God Himself, will compel me to believe. We are still on our first question: What is faith in God? And we add by saying it is a supernatural knowledge of God. Those who believe in God know Him of course. Faith is knowledge. But unlike the knowledge of God we can acquire by, reasoning to His existence and His attributes from the marvels of creation He produced, faith requires God's revelation, which is therefore more than nature around us. And it demands grace, which is more than our naked intellect alone. Faith is therefore supernatural knowledge of God twice over. Once super, pause, natural because the source of that knowledge is not the world of space and time but God's revelation and supernatural again because this knowledge is acquired not by our own native reason, reasoning. But only through the gift of God's grace.
Question number two: What is the purpose of faith in God? Or in other words what is the value of this supernatural and not merely natural knowledge of God to which because of God's revelation and the gift of His grace we have access? The purpose of our faith in God is two-fold. I just hope these conferences will not sound too much like classes in theology. I will do my best to keep them from sounding academic. But I have to step out of my own skin not to inevitably try to teach even when I want to preach. What is the value of faith? The first function or purpose of our faith in God beyond our natural knowledge of God is that everyone and not just the learned but everyone might come to know God. Secondly, that everyone might come to know God easily. You do not even have to go to school to know God by faith. Isn't that wonderful? I have talked to too many bored students over the years. Some falling asleep on me, not to know that natural knowledge makes a bloody entrance. The value of faith is that the knowledge of God is made available to everyone and easily as a child. As I tell mothers, do not wait until the psychological dawn of reason to begin to teach your child about God. Long before the reason is the dawn of faith. I watched too many two-year olders whom I asked, can you make the sign of the cross? And the mother, hovering above the child hoping the child would know. It seems about half of the two-year olders use their left hand. But most failed. The supernatural knowledge of God accessible to everyone easily, conferred because of God's grace such absolute certitude had give people even the most otherwise naturally unlearned convictions. Faith gives conviction. And you do not have to get a doctorate in theology to be sure that what you believe is true. Thank God. And finally the value of this supernatural knowledge of God is to ensure that our knowledge of Him and His will has no admixture of error, that our knowledge of God is not polluted by untruth. But that is only half the value of faith in God. The other half, and how important this is, it is as we have seen faith enables us to believe in God's mysteries which are beyond human comprehension and thus by submitting our proud intellects to the mind of God. Faith enables us to reach heaven. Faith is the, capital T, capital H, capital E, faith is THE test of man's humility. Because what God revealed about Himself is far beyond what we could ever comprehend and even after being revealed we accept on God's word without seeing how what He tells us is true.
Our third question: How does faith in God enable us to reach heaven? This we said is the second and most important value of the supernatural knowledge of God, otherwise known as divine faith. It enables us, gives us the capacity, the power, if you will, of reaching our immortal destiny: We ask how. Our faith in God enables us to reach heaven because this faith of ours is the foundation of our hope. As the same St. Paul tells us, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for." I like the Latin. One of my greatest mortification is to teach theology in English. Fides, says St. Paul, est substantio rerum sperumdadum. Only those who trust in God will be saved. Very well. What is the foundation of our trust or what is the same thing of our hope, our faith? We hope to obtain only what we believe. And we believe what He said that what we believe this side of eternity, we do not comprehend. And our hope will only be as strong as our faith. Hopeless people are all, no exception, faithless people. We shall trust God and how he tries the hope of His chosen ones. Right? Lord it does not make sense. And God will say, silly it is not supposed to make sense. I speak as one who would be insulted and if anyone called me stupid. But I know the difference between faith in things unseen that I do not comprehend as the foundation of my hope. We are not supposed to make sense of God's sometimes mysterious, Lord forgive me, sometimes, of God's constantly mysterious providence in our lives. How is faith the foundation of our hope? By giving us convictions that what we believe in is true and therefore what we hope in is real, that eternity and heaven are not a mirage. Moreover, you are asking the question, how does faith in God enable us to reach heaven? And we said first by giving us the foundation for our hope. But again by giving us the knowledge of God as the foundation of our charity. I have taught too many people, too many priests the theology of faith not to know how easy it is to underestimate the need for a strong faith in order to practice even the rudiments of charity. Not to say the kind of charity that God expects of those who claim they love Him. Natural reason, rational psychology are very clear in telling us whom we love. We love loveable people. Stands to reason. Whom else do you except to love? By reason alone, no one. Unless we draw or there be sources of faith enlightening our love we will think it is sheer nonsense that God wants us to love unlovable people. You can not be serious. But I am and leave it to God to put unlovable people into our lives. I do not want to say too much here. There is much more coming about love before this retreat is over. Just to lay the groundwork.
Our fourth question: What do we know about God through revelation and therefore on faith that is unknown by mere reason? Is there a difference in the depth or wealth of supernatural knowledge of God and the natural rational knowledge accessible to man's reason? There sure is. Man alone, the genius of an Aristotle or Plato, would never even begin to conceive of a God who on revelation tells us He is not a solitary person but God, God is a community. It therefore required God, revealing Himself to tell us, I am a society. So then when we reread the first chapters of Genesis and see there Yahweh saying, "Let us", get the plural, "let us make man to our image and likeness." Check it for yourselves. Way back in Genesis God began using the plural about Himself and this my friends is not polytheism. There is only one God. But this one God is a society. We are made as human beings to live with others. And how much as we shall see the knowledge of God as a Trinity of persons tells us about who God is and how He wants us to become like Him. Again what more does God tell us about Himself through revelation that we should never have known by reason alone. We know from revelation what is beyond the conception of the human mind apart from revelation that God so loved the world that He became man to become like us and one of us. With apologies for the adjective love is a simulative. Love wants to become like the one whom it loves. What mind boggling truth we believe in when we believe, as we do on faith, that the God of creation, the God of the billowing seas and the towering mountains and the stars millions of light years away, this God became a little child. What more does divine revelation tell us about God that we should never have known by reason alone? That God became man not only to become like us but in order that He might suffer and die for us. What shattering consequences follow because if God's love for us is to be the pattern of ours for Him and if He suffered and died for us, well Lord if I love you I want to, I want to suffer and die for you. No intellect, no thousand human intellects would ever conceive of a God like this unless He had vouchsafe to reveal Himself as the God who died on the cross. More still, in fact, I told my students over the years Christianity can all be locked up in monosyllable, the word more. Revelation tells us more about God then we would ever have possibly known about Him. By His revealing Himself God became man in order to teach us who He is and what He wants us to do in other words God wanted to reveal Himself as the truth become man. Moreover God revealed Himself to show us how we are to serve Him. That is why He came into the world a speechless child, infant, so that by following in His footsteps as the way we might reach the God from whom we came. More still and finally, what is there more to God's revelation about Himself then we could ever acquire by natural reason? We learn from God become man that He wants to share not only creatures, He wants to share Himself with us. So that by sharing Himself with us we might want to share ourselves with Him.
We still have one more.
Our fifth question: It is a short question and I will give only a short answer because we are just finishing the first day of the retreat. Question. How can we grow in our supernatural knowledge of God? In other words, how can we grow in our faith in God? You would almost expect the answer, we grow in our supernatural knowledge of God otherwise known as our faith in God by prayer, by the use of the sacraments and by the practice of good works. No motive studying, no number of graduate degrees will deepen our supernatural knowledge of God without prayer. Those who pray not only grow in the faith but keep the faith. Those who do not pray not only do not grow in the faith, let me tell you, they loose the faith. Prayer, the sacraments, note the plural. God as man instituted the sacraments in order that by receiving the sacraments especially of reconciliation and the Eucharist the principle purpose of the sacraments is to deepen and strengthen our faith. Please never forget that. And finally we grow in our supernatural knowledge of God, otherwise known as our faith, by putting our faith into practice. In other words, believing that God exists, believing that God became man out of love for us, believing that this God man showed us how He wants us to serve Him and then, watch it, putting into practice what we believe is the surest and most effective way of growing and deepening our faith.
Lord Jesus you are the Son of God become man to lead us into heaven. We believe in your Father with whom you were one God from all eternity. We believe that you, the Son of Mary are the only begotten Son of the Father. We believe that you and the Father have sent us the Holy Spirit deepen our faith in you so that by believing in you on earth we may see you in heaven and eternity. Amen. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
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