As we continue our reflections and our musings, musings about the relationship between Christian theology and natural science, we would like to raise the issue today for your contemplation and your own musings, your own reflection, your own thought, about how faith and knowledge relate to each other and how reason and revelation relate to each other. We could even say how faith relates to reason and how knowledge relates to revelation. Can you really speak about faith having its reasons? Can you speak about knowing revelation in any sense that that term, “knowledge,” could be understandable to people?
We remember, of course, that the very term “science”—scientia in Latin—means “knowledge.” So can there be really a knowledge of God, or can there only be knowledge of natural realities, especially physical and material natural realities, and even human realities that you can see, that you can observe, that you can study, that you can weigh, that you can measure, that you can do experiments on and so on?
How does faith relate to knowledge? How does knowledge relate to faith? How does reason and rationality relate to, I would say religion, in the sense of Christian theology being religion here. I don’t know how it relates to other religions, but certainly if Christianity is a religion, we have to ask: Is it reasonable or not, and what place does the reason take? And then: How does what we call and what is called very often revelation, how does that differ, or does it differ at all [from] what we would call natural phenomena that we study? Is it really something of a completely different order?
This is, again, a very old issue, very early on, even pre-Christian in many ways, but certainly in the earliest Christianity there was this debate: Why do you believe what you believe? Why do you think that it’s true? Can you really know it? Is what you claim to be revealed to you in Christ, what you can see and hear and touch and taste in him, how do you relate to that? How do you assess it? How do you test it? Is it reasonable? Is it rational?
There are those who would say, especially as development of Christian doctrine went through the centuries… And here again we would have to mention how in many, many ways it was so different in the ancient Christian Church than it came to be in the Scholastic Middle Ages and then, even in St. Augustine and after St. Augustine in the West, and then certainly in the time of the Protestant Reformation, how different those issues developed. Then they developed in the Christian East. Some folks in the West would even say the Christian East, they never even developed; they just stopped at a certain point.
There used to be an old joke about: What is Eastern Orthodoxy? Well, Eastern Orthodoxy is an ancient Christian religion that developed in isolation from the Christian West. It did not know St. Augustine. It did not know the High Middle Ages. It did not know the Scholastic period. It did know the Reformation. And it certainly did not know the Enlightenment and the modern secularized world. So Eastern Christianity was seen to be as a type of retarded religion. I mean, there was a guy named—a very famous man; I shouldn’t call him a guy; he’s a very, very famous man, wrote a history of doctrine and so on. Forgive me in my old age here. I just quickly kind of lost the name. It’ll come to me in a minute. But he wrote The Essence of Christianity, and he wrote Christian doctrine, and he said that Eastern Christianity is a kind of form of old-fashioned retarded Roman Catholicism, but it couldn’t even be high-level Catholicism, because it had no Scholastic theology and it did not have the papacy and did not have the Scholastic development that you had in the Christian West, particularly in the second millennium of the Christian era.
There is a sense in which this debate still remains between East and West. What is faith? What is knowledge? What is theology? What is reason? Where does it work? How do you understand revelation? What is revelation? Which would then beg the question: What about the Bible? What about the holy Scriptures? When I was young, of course, there were people who were highly critical of ancient Christianity, patristic Christianity, and modern or recent modern Eastern Orthodox Christianity because it had no critical studies of the Bible and it was seen as a type of mystical fundamentalism or something, by people who hardly ever… didn’t even know that the Church Fathers existed.
They may have heard the name Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or maybe Bonaventure or somebody like that, maybe Anselm. Then they knew Luther, Calvin, and whatever, but had never heard of Irenaeus of Lyons and Athanasius of Alexandria and Cyril of Alexandria and John Chrysostom and Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory the Theologian and Maximus the Confessor. They hardly even knew in the West people like Ambrose and Hilary and Vincent. There’s a lot of ignorance around about all these kind of issues, and there’s different ways in which they played out historically and different ways in which they ended up in American and impacted the whole debate about Darwinism, about evolution, about science, about science and religion.
These are still very hot issues. I keep saying this on every broadcast, every podcast, but they’re important to keep mentioning, because we’ve got to find a way, certainly members of the Eastern Orthodox Church do, but anyone who’s interested in Christianity at all, of how it would be what Eastern Orthodox would consider to be the original and the ancient and the really traditional ways of doing Christian theology: how do these issues of belief and knowledge, reason and revelation, how do they all fit together? How do you understand them?
What I’d like to do just now is just to try to make some comments again, just to muse. Maybe it’s amusing to some, especially the ignorance of what I have to say; people might find it amusing. But I am musing, I am reflecting, I’m thinking out loud. As you know, I’m not a very orderly thinker, and I always say more or less the same things, hopefully with a little different nuance each time. But the nuance today would be faith and knowledge and reason and revelation.
Here I would just begin this way. It is just simply not true that we believe some things and know other things. That’s a very popular understanding, that you can know something scientifically, but you believe something scientifically, so that knowledge belongs to science—and even the word scientia means “knowledge”—whereas faith belongs to, using the generic term, religion. Or, if we were specific about Christian theology, Christian theology is built on faith, whereas natural science is built on knowledge.
Here I would say, just to begin, nothing could possibly be further from the truth. Absolutely nothing could be further from the truth, that both in science and in theology—and we’ll talk about these two methods more specifically next time, when we go around on this same material with another perspective—but for today I would say certainly according to the holy Scriptures, certainly according to the Bible itself, there is an absolutely deep, organic, and inextricable relationship and inseparable relationship between faith and knowledge.
It is not at all the case that we believe some things and know other things, and that what you know you know and you don’t believe and what you believe you believe and you don’t really know, and so what you believe is kind of connected to untestable realities or things that cannot be proven; what you know are only based on things that you could have some kind of experiments and prove them—although there is some truth to that, as we’ll see. And then also bringing in that faith is connected with divine revelation which is kind of invading our world from the outside and doesn’t have anything to do with nature as such. Revelation is by the grace of God, whereas nature is natural and it’s connected to reason; and that even it would be that some folks…
And very early on there was a Latin thinker who became technically a heretic as far as the classical Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church is concerned; his name was Tertullian. But Tertullian had a statement that many people still would hold. He said, “Credo quia absurdam; I believe because it’s absurd.” And almost the more absurd, the better. I think there are people around, especially Christians and especially people who are interested in religion, who are only ready to believe the most absurd and wild and esoteric and magical type of things. And the more magical, the more contra-natural, the more unnatural, the more “supra-natural”—and I criticized that last time; I won’t repeat that—the better!
It’s like one Roman Catholic writer, G.K. Chesterton said: “When people stop believing in truth, they don’t believe in nothing. They believe in anything.” Or we can actually even say that religion is, in many people’s minds, connected with fantasy, magic, and superstition by definition. That is certainly the case of some of these modern atheistic thinkers, that if you’re religious, you just don’t care about knowledge, you don’t care about real truth, you don’t care about facts, you deal with myths, you deal with fantasies, you deal with magic, you deal with miracles, you deal with supernatural phenomena; and the more supernatural and the more unnatural, the better, so to speak.
God forgive me for saying this, but I’ll say it. I’ll have to stand the Last Judgment someday, obviously, just like you will, and every single human being, according to St. Paul, whether they were religious or not. Everyone will stand and give an account to God; that’s a Christian conviction. Well, I think that what we want to say here is that everyone will have to answer for how much they really loved and cared for truth and how they believed what they believed, but when you think that the claim would be that to believe is necessary to know, and what you believe and you know has to be rational—it cannot be unreasonable, it can’t be contrary to reason—and that this would be as true, if you were studying a carbuncle or an earthworm, than if you were studying the claims of the Christian faith that Jesus was divine and human and was raised from the dead.
But sometimes—and God forgive me for saying this; this is what I began to say earlier, is that it sometimes seems that lots of folks like the more wild, the better. You have teachings like, for example, I don’t know, Mormonism, for example, and Joseph Smith and the angels and those kind of things. Some people would say that isn’t any more wild or any more—how can you say?—absurd than believing that God became a man and was born of a Virgin in Judaism in what we now call 2,000 years ago or 2,010 years ago or so, and that this man was really divine.
Well, it’s got to be tested; it’s got to be shown, but it cannot be: the more fantasy, the better. That would certainly not be an Eastern, ancient Christian teaching. In fact, I would say right now that it would be very clearly an ancient Christian teaching, certainly a biblical teaching, certainly the teaching, let’s say, for example, of the writings in the New Testament attributed to St. John the Theologian that faith and knowledge were meant to go together, and we’re never meant to believe anything that is irrational, that is contrary to reason. We are never asked to believe anything that is absurd. In fact, we are supposed to have a mind that is operating properly, that we’re supposed to have a reason, a nous, a dianoia, a logos, an hegemonikon, a governing faculty, a thinking faculty, willing faculty, that is totally reasonable, that is sane, that is sober, that makes claims that are based on experience and testing. That would be definitely, I believe, the Christian faith.
I would say, also, to prove my point: I know that it’s the Christian faith at least as it is testified to in the Scriptures and the Fathers. I would say I don’t believe that; I would say I know it. On the basis of what I have studied, I have come to the conclusion, using my mind, that this is indeed the teaching of Christian theology; that Christian theology would say what we believe is reasonable. What we know is real knowledge. It is real gnosis. And that still knowledge cannot be disconnected from faith.
Here, as an example of this, I would use some of the writings of St. John in the New Testament, because you have definitely the interaction between faith and knowledge. I would invite you, for example, as an experiment, if you really want to get into this, to read the Gospel according to St. John. Just to read the Gospel according to St. John. Now I would normally not recommend that to people who had not already read and studied and had some explanation of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and I normally would not recommend this who did not believe Matthew, Mark, and Luke, because I believe that there is an order in theology—we’ll speak about that next time—a taxis, an order, where you begin in the beginning. You begin with the claims, you begin with what is taught, you begin with what is said, you begin with what is shown, and then you think about it, and you test it, and then you come to the conclusion whether or not you want to believe it. But then when you do believe it, the claim is that you enter into an area where your faith convictions can also then be tested relative to knowledge.
So if you would read the gospel of St. John, which is the theological gospel, which is what it’s called and known in ancient Christianity, by John the Theologian, I would just point out to you that in that particular gospel the word “faith” doesn’t even exist. The word “faith” is not in that gospel at all, but the verb “to believe” is over 90 times. To believe, to believe, and it is said, “This is written, that you might believe, and, believing, you might have life in his (Christ’s) name.” So it is written, and so claims are made, statements are made which are presented as factual, and there’s an invitation to believe them.
But what is interesting is that in the same Gospel according to St. John, the verb “to know” or “to see” is over a hundred times. So you have “to believe” 90 times plus, and you have “to know” or “to see, to perceive, to understand” over a hundred times. Then you have the verb “to bear witness” or “to testify” to actual, factual happenings, presented that way almost 50 times; I think it’s 44 I counted. Then such words as “truth” are 30 times. “Light” 22 times. “Life” 46 times, and even “love”—we’ll get to that at some point—many times “love,” the whole teaching of love. Because we could also put into our reflection today not only faith and reason but love. To believe, to know, and to love. Those are package plans. Those go together. According to Christian theology, they cannot be separated.
I think that I would not be inaccurate at all in claiming, and certainly on the basis of what I’ve read about natural science, that those realities are also absolutely essential to natural science. First of all, belief, faith. The scientists call us to believe certain things, but they also call us to believe certain things on the basis of what they present to us as knowledge. The main scientific geniuses were in fact, in Greek they would be called martyroi, martyrs, in the ancient meaning of that term, which is “witness” or “testifying.” So we even use that kind of language. People would say: Do you believe in the theory of evolution? Do you believe in quantum physics? Do you believe in the theory of relativity of Einstein? And you can even ask: Do you believe that the creation as we know it is billions of years old and not simply between six and ten thousand years old? Do you believe that there’s a hundred billion galaxies with a hundred thousand billion stars?
And when we are invited to believe, it’s very interesting when you listen to scientists speaking, and as I told you, I’ve been listening to these teaching company lectures about Einstein and Darwin and the joys of science and so on—you can’t imagine how many times these teachers call their listener to believe. As a specific example, when I’m listening about Einstein: How many times the professor would say, “I know that this sounds like it is contrary to common sense. On the planet earth it even is contrary to common sense, because of our limited experience of time and space. I know that it sounds unreasonable that parallel lines could meet somewhere, that space is curved, that something can weigh a different amount on a planet earth or on some other planet in the galaxy. I know that it doesn’t seem to make sense that a person can be physically younger, having lived through the same number of years on earth years, where in earth-years that same person would be very old and senile”—like I am getting to be—“but in another time-spatial category, if you took the comparative time of earth-time, the way time operates there, the person would still be pretty young and would weigh less and be taller or something.”
They say, “I know that doesn’t sound reasonable. I know that seems contrary to knowledge, but stick with me. Stay with me. I’m going to bring my evidence. I’m going to bring my arguments. I’m going to show you what Einstein said.” Then sometimes the professors even appeal to the veracity and the credibility of the person that they’re quoting. They would say, “Einstein wasn’t out trying to dupe people. He wasn’t out trying to lie. He wasn’t trying to get people to believe in crazy things.” He was saying what he believed, and he was trying to argue from the data why he believed it, and then he was calling you to believe it, and then he would even call you to believe it as a hypothesis so that you could come to know it for yourself and not simply to believe him.
So many scientists would say: I have no reason… Let’s talk about Darwin. They would say there’s no reason to doubt that this guy was an honest man. He wasn’t lying, he wasn’t cheating, he wasn’t arrogant or proud. He seemed even to have trouble with what he himself was seeing. He got sick to his stomach, he threw up every day, he felt like a man committing murder. But he couldn’t lie about what he really believed that he was seeing. So then he wrote it all up and asked you to read it. But did he ask you to read it and simply to believe it? Well, on one level, he did. He said, “I am writing Origin of Species and I hope you believe what I’m saying here.” But he also invites us to test. He also invites us to see for ourselves. He also invites us to look at the evidence.
Then we come to know or we come to a condition where we say, “I no longer simply believe this. I would claim that I know it. I have such certitude because of the data that I have studied and all the phenomena that I have experienced, I can even say that I know this. Then when I say that I know it, I would even say that’s why I believe it.” So in a sense we believe what we know, and we know what we believe, and they’re not two different things, and they somehow even grow together. For example, St. Augustine, a long time ago, he said, “Credo ut intelligam; I believe in order to understand. I make an act of faith in this data, this testimony.” Even St. Augustine would almost use an argument like some modern scientists.
He would say: I have no reason to believe that these apostles were lying. I have no reason to believe that the Scripture is a hoax. It seems to be written by very respectable, reputable, intelligent people who were willing to die for what they believed, or to suffer for it, just like Copernicus and Galileo and Darwin and Teilhard de Chardin suffered, sometimes even from religious institutions, sometimes from scientific institutions—and by the way, it goes back and forth. There was a time when the religious institutions were persecuting the scientists. We’re now at a time, I believe, when the scientific people are persecuting the religiously believing people, the spiritual people, the theological people. In the old days, it was the scientists who would get thrown out of the university. Today, as Ben Stein shows, it’s a person who might hold a different theory about evolution who gets expelled from the university.
So there’s that whole issue of power; there’s that whole issue of who’s in charge and who’s going to win the game or something, but the real, honest, pure-at-heart people, they’re not playing a game. They’re trying to testify—that would be a good Johannine word—to bear witness to what they see and believe and have come to even know or to claim that they know. But even when they claim to know it, they would still have to say, “I believe this still. I believe it. I’m so convinced about it that I believe it and somehow even stake my life on it and am willing even to suffer for it.” That’s why people who bear witness very often have to die or be put in prison or be ridiculed or whatever for what they claim to believe and know.
But those people, whether it’s in science or in theology, are still inviting others to come to know for themselves, to believe for themselves. So you could make a case: Well, why would I doubt Charles Darwin, or why would I doubt the writers of the New Testament? I should have some good grounds if I’m going to doubt them. But if I take on faith that they seem to be honest people, trying to bear witness to what they know, it seems that that’s a pretty valid invitation for me to investigate what they’re saying, to hear what they’re saying, to listen to them.
This is where love would come in, too, because you can’t really know the truth or know anybody or do anything unless you really love it. You can’t even really know your dog unless you love him. You can’t know a tree unless you love it. You can’t know an earthworm unless you love it. According to Christian theology, you certainly cannot know Christ and God unless you love them. You cannot know your neighbor unless you love them. You can’t know anything. So love is an element here also.
But, sticking now to faith and knowledge, everyone who would invite someone to believe something, in some sense is inviting them to test it and to come to know for themselves, so that then they can make their testimony on the basis of their own empirical experience and not simply on the basis of what someone else says.
We Christian people—certainly I as a priest and theologian—would say to any person: If you’re believing something only because the Bible says so, you’re nuts. If you’re believing something only because your grandma said so, you’ve got a problem—because you may believe that, and it may even be very rational to believe that, because you believe the Bible is written by honest, good people and your grandma’s a nice lady, but at some point you’ve got to test what they’re saying to find out yourself whether you can believe it in what is usually called good faith, not secondary faith. Your faith has to be your own at some point.
Then you have to come to say: If I believe it and follow the theoria, the vision that you’re giving me, even the vision of St. John in his gospel, then I have to come to the point where I can say I have tested this, and I’m going to teach it and preach it to you because I believe it’s real, I believe it’s true, and I’m going to invite you to come and to find out for yourself, and I’m even going to tell you how you might do that. That’s what we’re going to talk about next time: the method of scientific knowing and the method of theological knowing; or I should say more accurately: the method of natural science knowing and the method of knowing God and the truths that belong to the spiritual realm, to the only creatures on the planet who are in God’s image and likeness, namely, human beings, who have to make a decision about what is true and false spiritually, metaphysically, ultimately, even religiously and theologically.
If you’re living—you don’t want to live an unexamined life, but if you’re living an examined life, then it’s really important that a person would come to a conclusion of whether they’re going to believe in God or not and have pretty good reasons for either believing or not believing and then having some experiences where they verify and try to test whether they believe or not believe and are willing to follow the method that the practitioners and the preachers and the teachers, the pro-fessors, the con-fessors, are inviting you to make.
So, for example, in St. John’s gospel, you have Jesus in the sixth chapter; Jesus does a Messianic sign: he feeds the people in the wilderness. That was one of the things that would happen when God’s kingdom would come and the Messiah would be here; there would be bread without price and poor people would eat, and even one of the questions in the Old Testament to Yahweh was: Can you spread a table in the wilderness? So the people followed Jesus. He goes into the wilderness, and he feeds them with what is called the miraculous multiplication of loaves. By the way, that’s in the Scriptures; that’s in all four gospels, and in the synoptics it’s even given twice: once with five loaves, twelve baskets left over; once seven: 4,000 people with seven left over.
Again, the scholars would tell us that probably the reason for this is that one was done in Gentile territory, one was done in Judaic territory. The twelve baskets was Judaic territory; the seven baskets was Gentile territory, and that Jesus had to show that he was the Messiah of the Jews and the Gentiles, who were brought into the covenant; and that basically he would give the bread and feed the people—and then launch into the theological discourse about he himself being the bread of life, and then moving from their physical experience—eating bread in the wilderness, eating fish—to coming to the food and drink that lasts forever that he himself is as the bread of life.
You find the same kind of dynamic in the conversation with the Samaritan woman. They start talking about physical water, drinking water, and he ends up speaking about the living water and everlasting life. Or with the man born blind. The man’s just physically blind; he can’t see. Jesus heals him, restores his sight, which is belonging to human nature, because you’re not really totally healthy and human with a human nature unless you can see. You can’t have blind eyes. But then Jesus leads him further, beyond the physical, into the metaphysical, into the theological, and into the realm of God.
But in all of those cases, the people who are involved, whom Jesus challenges in his teaching, they have to decide what they think about what they saw and experienced and what they’re going to do about it. They have to decide for themselves. It has to be a kind of a personal decision of what they’re going to believe or not believe, just like someone has to make a personal decision: Am I going to believe the theory of evolution or not? Am I going to believe the Christian faith and the Gospel or not? It can’t be what somebody else does; it’s got to become one’s own.
So in the sixth chapter of John, when this is happening and he gives this very long homily there, his very long teaching about himself being the bread of life and you have to eat his body and drink his blood and if you don’t do it you don’t have life in him and his body is food and drink and his blood is drink indeed. Of course, this leads to the Christian understanding of the holy Eucharist, which is an empirical thing. Christians participate in the Eucharist and believe and even know that they are eating and drinking the very body and blood of Christ when they eat that particular bread and drink that particular cup. That would be certainly ancient Christianity’s conviction.
But the point I want to get to now is: after Jesus finishes his discourse there, it says in St. John’s gospel: Many of his disciples, when they heard it, heard what he said, said, “This is a hard saying. Who can listen to it?” Actually, a better translation would be: “This is a hard word. Who can possibly believe it? Who can accept it? Who can stomach it?” As Flannery O’Connor one time says, “Truth itself does not change according to one’s ability to stomach it.” Sometimes truth is not very stomachy. You can say, “Who can stomach the theory of evolution? Who can stomach the teaching of the Gospel?” But you’ve got to stomach it at some point. You’ve got to make it your own. You’ve got to digest it. It’s not for nothing that in the Bible you eat the scroll and then it goes into your stomach. What could be sweet to the mouth but sour to the stomach or something.
In any case, they say, “This is a hard teaching. Who can listen to it? Who can heed it? Who can take it?” Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, “Do you take offense at me?” That could literally be translated: “Are you scandalized by what I’m saying?” I can imagine a Darwinian scientist saying to a fundamentalist Christian, “Are you scandalized by what I am saying? Can you listen to what I am saying? Yes, it’s a hard saying what I am saying, but I’m saying it because I think it’s true, and the evidence that I have seems to show that it’s true. And the vision of reality that my studies have led me to come to are exactly this. And I can’t go beyond them. I can’t speak about origins, destiny, meaning, significance, but all I can tell you is: When I study fossils and embryos and plants and animals and their relation to each other and how they develop and extinction and all these kind of things, these are the conclusions that I come to, and they’re hard sayings. Are you scandalized by them?”
But then Jesus in this text, he says, “Are you scandalized at what I am saying? Then what if you were to see?” And he says, “To see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” So he says, “You see this. What happens if you see me being wrapped up and taken up into the depth of God?” Of course, he said that because he knew that some of them there would see it. They would experience that reality. Spiritually, all the believers would become convinced of it, of the enthronement of Christ at the right hand of God in symbolic theological language, but in his total point that he is God’s Son who came into the world and returns, taking us with him into the very realm of God, into the kingdom of God which we expect at the end of the ages. That would be the point here.
Then it continues. He says, “There are some of you that do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who those were who did not believe and who it was that would betray him. And he said, “That is why I told you: No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” So he’s speaking about how one can come to believe in him, not in the theory of evolution or in the relativity theory of Einstein, but in him as being God’s Son: a theological conviction, a theological faith. But I still haven’t gotten to the line I want you to hear now, because it continues.
After this, many of his disciples drew back and no longer went around with him, no longer followed him. It said they found his teaching so scandalous and they couldn’t believe it, they couldn’t understand it, they couldn’t stomach it, it went contrary to everything that they thought as being true and right, so they just left! They just left. And then they left, his disciples, and disciples means students, by the way. He’s the teacher; they’re the students. But then it continues.
Jesus said to the Twelve, meaning the twelve apostles, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” And then he said, “And we have believed and have come to know that you are the holy One of God.” That’s the sentence: We have believed believed and have come to know. And that shows the process. That shows the process. You have to first believe, and then you come to know.
However, that first belief is itself not without knowledge, because what are you asked to believe? You’re asked to believe that something that you see and hear, and in some sense know. In the case of Jesus, if you’re going to believe in him, you first have to know who he is, what he said, what he did, what he claimed, and then you test it, and then you believe it. Once you believe it, then you come to know it. That’s why in St. John’s gospel it says, “This is eternal life: to know the only true God.” But you cannot know the only true God unless you believe, but you cannot believe unless you also first know. It’s like a circle. It goes around together.
For example, if I said to you, “Believe in me. I am the Son of God,” well, anybody who would know me—I mean know me: experience me, see me, hear me, whatever—would say, “I’ll never believe it. Tom Hopko is not God. He is not the Son of God. Believe me: I know him.” But we would say, “Believe me; I know him,” right? But at the same time, if you met Jesus of Nazareth, you saw what he said and did, you stuck with it, then you made an act of faith in saying, “My goodness, what he is doing seems to be very credible and believable,” and then you gave yourself over to it and began to go deeper into it—the claim of the gospel of John would be, you would come to know it.
And that’s the claim of the Apostle Paul as well. If you read the Apostle Paul, he is saying of course we’re saved by faith through grace and all these kind of things, but read Colossians, read Ephesians, read those letters of Paul where how often he himself speaks about, not faith, but knowledge—knowledge. Here’s an example from Colossians. He said, “We heard the Gospel; we believed it,” and so on. Then it says:
And so from the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.
And there’s the issue of wisdom here, too, sapientia, because the claim of the Scriptures certainly would be: knowledge is not enough. You’ve got to have the practical application of the knowledge in the practicalities of human life. You’ve got to see beyond the data. So knowledge in the Bible is empirical; it’s by experience. When it says that Abraham knew Sarah, it didn’t mean he could make a hypothetical definition of her through a mathematical equation. The verb “to know” in Hebrew is the same verb for sexual intercourse. It’s an empirical thing.
But when you know, you know on the basis of experience, but then knowledge could be just simply—how can you say—practical or abstract, but wisdom is when you have the deeper insight, when you see beyond what the data itself is simply capable of giving in and of itself, where you draw the conclusions on the basis of your own reason and your own experience and your own knowledge and your own faith, into a realm that is beyond what we call nowadays the knowledge of the natural world—trees and plants and worms and animals and even human beings.
So he speaks about knowledge and wisdom and understanding. “To lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit and every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” It doesn’t say the faith; he says the knowledge. So you have this right from the beginning here in Colossians that it is the knowledge. Then he says; in the second chapter he would say this, that he wants those to whom he writes to have all the riches of assured understanding and the knowledge, gnosis—and there’s even another New Testamental word, epignosis, super-duper knowledge, deep knowledge, full knowledge—the assured understanding and knowledge of God’s mystery of Christ in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Then of course the Apostle speaks about human traditions and empty deceit and elemental spirits and devils and demons, and then all the whole moral and spiritual dimension, which we’ll talk about later. Because if a person is vain or proud or greedy or power-hungry, they will never know the truth, and they will even screw up scientific knowledge. This is as true about science as it is about theology. People whose heart is not pure never see, and Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart: they will see God.” Well, if you don’t have a pure heart, you’ll never even see a carbuncle or an earthworm, not properly, because you’ll screw it up by your own subjective understandings and fantasies.
So you have to be a kind of an honest person, a pure person, a sober person—you could even say a loving person, in order to come to a knowledge of the truth. Of course, the Apostle Paul says God desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth—epignosis tes aletheias is almost a technical term in Christian faith; it’s almost a technical term in Christian liturgy, that we are to come to a knowledge of truth. This is what we have to have, but the claim would be: It’s impossible to have it without faith, but it’s equally impossible to have faith without knowledge. So there’s interrelationship between the two.
Here also we could say: What’s the place of reason, ratio? In fact, Pope John Paul II, the famous pope just before the present one, one of his famous encyclicals was Fides et Ratio: Faith and Reason. He was trying to speak about the relationship between the two, the relationship between what is reasonable and what is belief. I honestly believe that he did not pull it off very well, because I think he was still misled by some of the categories of Scholastic theology, because there were those who thought that reason is how you know natural phenomena and that reason doesn’t have anything to do with faith. You could be a perfectly reasoning person, not only if you were not a believer, but even if you were a lecher or a greedy man or an arrogant man. If you had a properly operating mind and you had the proper data, you could come to true conclusions, by syllogisms.
In my youth, when I went to Fordham University in the ‘50s, late ‘50s, before it hit the fan, you know, with Vatican II and everything, there were Jesuits who actually taught: If you have proper, true data, like true propositions—and they would consider the statements of the Bible to be true—and you had a proper dianoia, proper reasoning instrument—you had a good brain—you could draw theological conclusions and write the Summa Theologica not even being a believer. You could be a lecher and a disbeliever, but if you had the proper propositions and had a proper functioning reason, that you could then come to know things that are true.
Now, I think that that’s absolutely absurd and insane, because, first of all, knowledge isn’t based on propositions on pieces of paper, and it’s not based on making proper reason, logical conclusions from syllogisms. Now, there is induction and deduction, and there is reasoning on the basis of experience, but ultimately one has to come to know by an empirical conviction in communion with the realities that one is speaking about. That was even the reason why Vladimir Lossky wrote his famous book, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church: to show that spiritual life and prayer and fasting and all those elements are necessary for the knowledge of God. They may not totally be necessary for the knowledge of worms, earthworms, and trees and orchids and I don’t know what—fish; but even then I believe the people of the scientific community would believe that you have to be an honest man and love those fish and those orchids and those pigeons in order to come to know them, and you can’t be a deceitful person and you can’t be a proud person and you can’t be someone who’s simply living for carnal pleasures or something: you’ll never be a great scientist.
Many of the greatest scientists were very ascetic in their human behavior, very disciplined and trying to be absolutely as cold-bloodedly honest as they could possibly be and get rid of all passion and emotion and all that kind of thing. But even there passion and emotion and desire are necessary. You’ve got to be really desiring to know. You have to have a hunger and thirst for what is right, according to Jesus. All these things are connected together, and they belong together, whether it’s in science or in theology. But we’ll see next time how they function differently in each of those two disciplines. How they would function if you were studying earthworms and pigeons and orchids, and how it would work if you’re studying God Almighty himself and the word of God and the truth of God and the revelation of God that comes to us.
On this issue of revelation here, there’s one last thing that needs to be said today. There are some people who believe that religion and theology deals with revelations and science deals with facts; and facts are verifiable and can be disproved, and revelations can’t, so you can only take them on faith. Then in the Middle Ages, certainly in a kind of Scholastic world, there was even the claim following Aristotle that there are certain things that can be known by reason alone, and then there were things that could only be known by revelation. Then when you were studying the natural world, you just used your reason, and there was no revelation; but when you studied Scripture or mystical experience or theology, then you were dealing with revelation.
Here I would say that this is not biblical and it is not ancient Christian and it is certainly not patristic, because I believe that the ancient Christians and the holy Fathers would say the following. They would say that creation itself is a revelation of God. St. Paul would say that. He would say: If you see revelation for what it really is and your heart is pure and you’re ready to obey and to believe and to honor and to worship and to show gratitude, you’ll come to see God in everything that exists. You’ll see his divine actions, his energies, his powers. You’ll see all those things in him. So this is what the claim would be.
Then the flip side of that would be that revelation is not something over and against what you see in natural theology, but revelation is also dealing with things that are reasonable, things that can be known, things that can be tested in their own way and proper way, but they’re still testing. So it’s not right to say, and in some systems they would even say there’s natural love and then there’s theological virtue. There’s natural virtue; there’s theological virtue. There’s natural knowledge, and then there’s supernatural knowledge or theological knowledge. Then there’s regular love that anybody can have, and then there’s love that only comes what you get from believing in God, consciously and purposefully. I frankly don’t believe that’s true. I don’t think that there’s scientific truth and religious truth. I think there’s just truth. I don’t think that there’s natural love and then Christian love; there’s just love. I don’t think that there is natural virtue and then theological or Christian virtue; there’s just virtue. Good is good, bad is bad, true is true, false is false, love is love, hate is hate—reality is reality, whatever it is.
And all of them require that the human being would function as a person made in the image and likeness of God, namely, reasonably, with knowledge, with understanding, with wisdom, with testing, without being a fool, and we are invited always to test the Christian faith, to see if it is convincing to us, but we have to know the manner of that test the same way we’d have to know the manner of the test in a scientific laboratory, a scientific workshop. How does the test work? What is it you’re trying to know? What is the data that you’re dealing with, and how do you function with that particular data? Here it would be very clear: If you’re dealing with created realities, it’s one way. If you’re dealing with physical realities, it’s one way. If you’re dealing with created realities that are spiritual, like love, like beauty, it’s another way. And if you’re dealing with God Almighty it’s still another way. They are interrelated, but they are not the same, but they have to be kept distinct. That’s very important, and that is what we will speak about next time.
But what we have to see now is that faith and knowledge go together, whether you’re in science or in theology. Reason is involved in both, each in its own way, and in their own way each one is also a revelation, a revelation of reality, a revelation of truth, of beauty, of glory, and in some sense even a revelation of God; that nature is a revelation of God in a different way from the way that the way that the writings of Scripture are. But Scriptures themselves are appealing to cosmic and to human experiences, and they also have to be tested.
So what we don’t want to do, though, is to separate faith and knowledge, reason and revelation, faith and reason, knowledge and revelation. Yes, they are distinct, but there’s some sense in which every human enterprise which is really human, and certainly natural science and certainly Christian theology all involve belief, faith, knowledge, experience, reason, reasoning, data, and they are all in some way revelatory. It’s interesting that in the Greek language, the word for truth is aletheia, which means uncovering, revealing, manifesting, showing itself. So when an earthworm shows itself, there’s a revelation. And in that earthworm there may ultimately be a revelation of God. But when God is showing God’s self in this world, there can be a real knowledge of God by communion and empirical conviction, and within that knowledge will also be in some sense related to that particular earthworm that you have studied in your lab, about which Charles Darwin wrote something like 4,000 volumes or something. He wrote a big long thing on earthworms.
So whether it’s an earthworm or whether it’s God Almighty, whatever it is, in the human world, it necessarily involves belief, faith, knowledge, knowing, seeing, perceiving, reasoning; it involves manifestation, revelation, reception of what is given to us, what we can see and hear. It involves all those things, and it is never irrational. But in that reality, it might be that there are certain realities that can be dealt with and quite a rational, easy way. But when it comes to God, there has to be at least some dimension where God is above reason, where reason can lead you beyond itself into a realm that is beyond reason but has its own convictions. But we’ll speak about that next time.
But for today, let’s just again say it one more time. Faith, knowledge, reason, revelation—they all go together in whatever enterprise a human being is involved in and certainly, whether it’s natural science or Christian theology.