St. Irenaeus (130 -200 a.d.) is important for his works defending the Catholic faith against the errors of the Gnostics. He is also epistemologically important for our consideration today because he introduces us into an experiential knowledge of God. In the reading of today’s breviary, he says, “The glory of God gives life; those who see God receive life. For this reason God, who cannot be grasped, comprehended or seen allows himself to be seen, comprehended and grasped by men, that he may give life to those who see and receive him. It is impossible to live without life, and the actualization of life comes from participation in God, while participation in God is to see God and enjoy his goodness.
“Men will therefore see God if they are to live; through the vision of God they become immortal and attain to God himself. As I have said, this was shown in symbols by the prophets: God will be seen by men who bear his Spirit and are always waiting for him coming….
“The Word… revealed God to men and presented men to God. He safeguarded the invisibility of the Father to prevent man from treating God with contempt and to set before him a constant goal toward which to make progress. On the other hand, he revealed God to men and made him visible in many ways to prevent man from being totally separated from God and so cease to be. Life in man is the glory of God; the life of man is the vision of God.”
With the “dictatorship of relativism” that obtains today because of the hegemony of only one level of experience – sensation - , God cannot be known intellectually because he cannot be sensed. Or, if we can know Him, the knowledge is trivial and irrelevant as in "abstract." John Paul II had affirmed that God can be known on another level of experience - i.e. on the level of the being of the “I” in the moral moment of self-determination. This moral act is the act of faith or any act in which the self is given to another in love. Importantly, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger commented: “God in Karol Wojtyla is not only thought but also experienced. The pope expressly opposes the limitation of the concept of experience which occurred in Empiricism; he points out that the form of experience elaborated in the natural sciences are no less real and important: moral experience, human experience, religious experience (34). But this experience is, of course, also reflected upon and verified in its rational content…. The central core of Wojtyla’s philosophy lies in the fact that he does not accept the separation of thought and existence which typifies the modern era. Descartes, says the pope, severed thinking from existing and identified this isolated thought with reason itself: I think, therefore I am. But is not thought which determines existence, but existence which determines thought (38).”
To experience being on this level of the subject is to experience being as imaging God as a triple self-transcendence, i.e., being like God. Hence, the remarks of Irenaeus connecting life and knowledge. Self-transcendence is to live, and self-transcendence is to know.