Wednesday, January 16, 2008

St. Irenaeus: On the Occasin of the Office of Readings, Wednesday of Week 1, Ordinary Time.

St. Irenaeus on the Knowledge of God by Experience: Mt. 11, 27.

“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.
[1] 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 al 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 it. 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. 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 aw 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.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

The real God who is Creator and Lord of all is invisible but within the range of experience. But not sensible experience.

The pagan gods are projections by us of our sensible experience. They belong to the world of the senses. They become explanatory principles of order like laws of nature (cosmic evolution) or first causes of motion (Aristotle’s first unmoved Mover [self-contemplating intelligence]) or intelligibility (Plato’s “One”).

John Henry Newman says: “As regards the first principles expressed in such propositions as ‘There is aright and a wrong,’ ‘a true and a false,’ ‘a just and an unjust,’ ‘a beautiful and a deformed;’ they are abstractions to which we give a notional assent in consequence of our particular experiences of qualities in the concrete, to which we give a real assent. As we form our notion of whiteness from the actual sight of snow, milk, a lily, or a cloud, so, after experiencing the sentiment of approbation which arises in us on the sight of certain acts one by one, we go on to assign to that sentiment a cause, and to those acts a quality, and we give to this notional cause of quality the name of virtue, which is an abstraction not a thing.

And in like manner, when we have been affected by a certain specific admiring pleasure at the sight of this or that concrete object, we proceed by an arbitrary act of the mind to give a name to the hypothetical cause of quality in the abstract, which excites it. We speak of it as beautifulness, and henceforth, when we call a thing beautiful, we mean by the word a certain quality of things which creates in us this special sensation.

“These so-called first principles, I say, are really conclusions of abstraction from particular experiences; and an assent to their existence is not an assent to things or their images, but to notions, real assent being confined to the propositions directly embodying those experiences. Such notions indeed are an evidence of the reality of the special sentiments in particular instances, without which they would not have been formed; but in themselves they are abstractions from facts [sensible experience], not elementary truths prior to reasoning.”

Newman’s Point: We do not “know” causality through sensible experience. Rather, we experience regularity in sensible experience for which the Ancients posited gods who populated the upper realms within the sensible cosmos.
[3] The arrival at the notion of “cause” is not taken “from” sensible reality by way of abstraction, but rather by way of experience of the self exercising self-mastery as part of the sensible, corporeal world. Newman appears to be favoring Hume and Kant, but is doing something quite different. He is talking about a direct experience of the self-as-being-as-cause of one’s free corporeal action.

It is here that we experience the true God of revelation. The operative concept and word here is “experience God.” This is pure John Paul II and Benedict XVI. For brevity, I quote Ratzinger commenting on John Paul II’s “Crossing the Threshold of Hope:”

“‘Be not afraid:’ with these words the pope desires to renew in us that certainty which dwells in the depths of the human soul: ‘Someone exists who holds in his hands the destiny of this passing world; Someone who holds the keys to death and the netherworld (cf. Rev. 1, 18); Someone who is the Alpha and the Omega of human history (cf. Rev. 22, 13)… and this someone is Love (cf. 1 Jn. 4, 8, 16) (222). Here the question of God meets the question of man and the question of redemption, and this three-way connection is characteristic of the thought of Karol Wojtyla. He who knows God, the true God, the living God who loves men, is redeemed, set free from fear and kept safe in loving confidence.

“This knowledge of God, in which God is no longer merely thought, but is also experienced, ripens in that dialogue with God which we call prayer. ‘Prayer is a search for God, but it is also a revelation of God,’ says the pope (25): to pray is not just to talk, but also to listen….

“God in Karol Wojtyla is not only thought but also experience. 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 is not the only kind, but that there are also other forms which are no less real and important: moral experience, human experience, religious experience

Robert Sokolowski’ “The God of Faith and Reason”[4]

Sokolowski speaks of two levels of experience: one is of the senses and the material cosmos that appears. Within that one homogeneous experience and that cosmos there are things and, for both ancients and moderns, gods. The gods are the supreme beings of most power in the world, but they are always within the world delivered to us with that one seamless experience. Sokolowski says: “In Greek and Roman religions, and in Greek and Roman philosophies, god or the gods are appreciated as the most powerful, most independent and self-sufficient, most unchanging beings in the world, but they are accepted within the context of being. Although god or the gods are conceived as the steadiest and most complete beings, the possibility that they could be even though everything that is not divine were not, is not a possibility that occurs to anyone. The being of pagan gods is to be a part, thought the most important part, of what is; no matter how independent they are, the pagan gods must be with things that are not divine….Zeus, Poseidon, Ares and Aphrodite, the Muses, and Apollo are agents that rule over their particular domains, and they are the causes, the ones responsible for what happens.”[5] But the point is that they are within the sensible world, and they could not be if everything else were not.

The Christian understanding of God involves a notion of God that is distinct from the world in the sense that if the world did not exist, God would not be less. And that it does exist, God is not more. This means that there must be an experience of the God that is distinct from the experience of the world, which is in contradistinction to what we have just seen above. We saw above that the experience of the world and the gods was of the same type of experience, since the gods were/are “within” the world.

Since the Christian God and the world are two different notions, they are coming from two different kinds of experience. One is the experience of sensible reality through sensation. The other is an experience of the self as “being” different from the world.
Sokolowski says: “Christian theology is differentiated from pagan religious and philosophical reflection primarily by the introduction of a new distinction, the distinction between the world understood as possibly not having existed and God understood as possibly being all that there is, with no diminution of goodness or greatness. It is not the case that God and the world are each separately understood in this new way, and only subsequently related to each other; they are determined in the distinction, not each apart from the other. The Christian distinct on between the world and God may receive its precise verbal formulation in a theoretical context, since it is described especially by theologians and philosophers, but the distinction does not emerge for the first time in this theoretical setting. It receives its formulation in reflective thought because it has already been achieved in the life that goes on before reflective thinking occurs. The distinction is lived in Christian life, and most originally it was lived and expressed in the life of Jesus…”

This corresponds to Ratzinger’s understanding of revelation and faith in his original habilitation thesis. Revelation is an action that is the Incarnation itself. Faith is the action of receiving that action and becoming one with it such that revelation takes place in the subject receiving who is believing. This is the experience of God in oneself that produces the consciousness of being that is not part of the world. Hence, on reflection, a distinction – the “Christian Distinction” – is made by the mind that understands God to be so transcendentally such that if the world did not exist, He would not be less. And this because what is experienced is of another level of being. It is being as relation, as self-transcending that is not perceived by the senses. It is precisely because of this that God is not able to be perceived by the senses, although He is eminently present and active “in” the world. He is in it, but not of it since He is Creator, and would not be less if the world were not. And so, the Christian perception involves two kinds of experience yielding two kinds of consciousness, both of which correspond to the two dimensions of being of the human person: the divine (as image) and the human.

Therefore, the pagan does not know the God that the Christian knows. And when we say “know” we mean that the Christian knows God experientially in himself because he, the Christian, has entered into the self-transcendence of faith that is a distinct ontological way of being (and therefore, knowing). And the Christian’s is a natural knowing according to a divine way of being (which makes sense since the prototype of the human person is Jesus Christ, and not Adam, nor the Greek abstraction of “individual substance of a rational nature”).There is no such thing as a “natural man” since his ontological constitution as embodied person tends toward the “supernatural” Trinitarian Life (see CCC #27: “Man’s Capacity for God: I. The Desire for God: 27: “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for”).

[1] Consider Jn. 17, 3: “Now this is everlasting life, that they may know thee, the only true God, and him whom thou hast sent, Jesus Christ.”
[2] A Grammar of Assent, UNDP (1992) 69-75.
[3] Newman makes the major point that we experience causality – never through the external senses – only as the self exercising dominion over self and the external world. In apparent agreement with Hume and Kant, Newman posits causality in the self, but not as a false idol or an a priori category of the mind, but as the experience of the self: “One of the first experiences of an infant is that of his willing and doing; and, as time goes on, one of the first temptations of the boy is to bring home to himself the fact of his sovereign arbitrary power, though it be at the price of waywardness’, mischievousness, and disobedience. And when his parents, as antagonists of this willfulness, begins to restrain him, and to bring his mind and conduct into shape, then he has a second series of experiences of causes and effect, and that upon a principle or rule. Thus the notion of causation is one of the first lessons which he learns from experience that experience limiting it to agents possessed of intelligence and will. It is the notion of power combined with a purpose and an end. Physical phenomena, as such , are without sense; and experience teaches us nothing about physical phenomena as causes;” “(B)ut when we come to the question of cause, then, as I have said, we have no experience of any cause but Will. If, then, I must answer the question, What is to alter the order of nature? I reply, That which willed it; That which willed it, can unwill it; and invariableness of law depends on the unchangeableness of that Will;” A Grammar of Assent, UNDP (1992) 69-75.
[4] UNDP ((1982)
[5] R. Sokolowski, “The God of Faith and Reason,” UNDP (1981) 12.
[6] Ibid 23.


Anonymous said...

How exactly does one achieve intimacy or at least work toward it and avoid the coldness of "by the rules" orthodoxy? How can one pray to know and love the PERSON Jesus Christ?

Rev. Robert A. Connor said...

By praying to the person of Jesus Christ. How does a duck learn to swim?

Anonymous said...

Right. I guess it is that simple.