In the encyclical, FIDES ET RATIO (Faith and Reason) Pope St. John Paul II explains how faith and reason are the foundation for human wisdom. He begins by referencing the Greek philosophical dictum, ‘Know thyself’ and then goes on to explain how revelation builds upon and completes human wisdom.
In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of revelation. God, as creator, becomes more fully known as Father. We learn that each of us is not simply a creature of God, as in the Old Testament, but beloved by God. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16).
The human wisdom that Pope St. John Paul II is referring to is the natural intelligence of man which, however unwittingly, is supported by grace. This human wisdom is in contrast to the spirit of the world that St. Paul identifies in 1 Corinthians 2:12-13:
“We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God. And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms.”
St. Paul is referring to a spirit of error that is due to the rejection of true wisdom. That worldly spirit is most evidently false in its rejection of the revelation of God, which was completed in Jesus.
The Moral Question
This spirit of error manifests itself in different ways, in different times and places. When Moses addresses the people in Deuteronomy 30:19, he contrasts the moral choice between the Spirit of God and the spirit of the world thusly, “. . . I have set before you, life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life . . .”
Likewise, Sirach (15:16-17) reiterates the moral choice as between life and death, using the analogy of choosing water or fire.
The background for this moral choice is the relationship between God and us. In Genesis 1, He reveals His relationship to us in that He is the creator and we are His creatures. In Exodus 3:14, while promising to free His chosen people from bondage in Egypt, God identifies Himself as “I Am.”
“God replied to Moses: I am who I am. Then he added: This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.” His self-identification is poignantly expressed in the New Testament when Jesus affirms, “. . . before Abraham came to be, I AM” (Jn 8:58).
Other than God and his creation, there is nothing.
Further on in the Old Testament, in Psalms, we come to know Him as lord and shepherd.
So we know God as one entity, but from different aspects. This is necessarily the human condition, because our intellectual knowledge is extrinsically dependent upon material entities, which are always particular. We do not self-consciously apprehend an entity intuitively in its fullness. In our self-consciousness, we are analytical, concentrating on one aspect to the exclusion of others.
Our True Purpose in Life
In the New Testament, in John 14:6, Jesus identifies himself as our true purpose in life, and he does not mention any alternative. He identifies himself from three different aspects, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” The only alternative is sin, which is moving away from reality and toward a shadow, which turns out to be nothing.
In sin we turn away from God, but to what do we turn? By nature we must turn to some other way, some other truth and some other life. But, all of these are false shadows.
In turning from Jesus, “the way,” to complete goodness, we delude ourselves into thinking we have turned to some other good. Rather, we have turned to isolation.
In turning from Jesus, “the truth,” we delude ourselves into thinking we have turned to some other truth. Rather, we have turned to inanity.
In turning from Jesus, “the life,” we delude ourselves into thinking we have turned to some other life. Rather, we have turned to death, i.e. nothingness.
Isolation, inanity and nothingness are three aspects of the goal of the secular spirit of the world, but, of course, under the more attractive shadow of self-sufficient fulfillment.
In embracing the spirit of the world, we have forgotten that God in creating us has defined us in our very nature. In loving us, He has elevated us to be heirs of eternal happiness in sharing His own life with us on earth, with its fulfilment in heaven. By sin we have been duped into rebellion against love himself, under the guise of liberty. It is predominantly under this guise of liberty that the spirit of the world attracts us today.
The Modern Answer is a False Liberty
In the majority opinion in a decision of June 29, 1992, SCOTUS declared:
“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of human life.”
In spite of the SCOTUS declaration, liberty is not the right to define reality, where each of us is the creator of our own nature and of all existence, where the meaning of human life, as all else, is defined upon one’s own initiative. Rather, liberty is the right to seek to discover the meaning of existence, of the natures of things, and to discover the meaning of life itself. We do so with the aid of grace and revelation.
The Modern Answer as an Ancient Parable
The SCOTUS declaration is not simply the denial of God as creator. It is the denial of any inherent intelligibility in reality other than that with which the individual chooses to imbue it.
As such, the parable of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) applies to us. The people were beholden to no creator. They proposed to demonstrate their self-sufficiency, the power of their technological art, by building a monument to themselves. However, in turning from God as creator, they unwittingly turned to isolation and the babel of inanity.
Today, as we turn from God as creator, we turn to isolation and to the babel of our own creative definitions of what is real. There is no need to list the inanities resulting from current attempts to play creator in defining oneself and in defining all of reality on one’s own initiative. Such absurdity, taken to the extreme, is the attempt to pump intelligibility into materialism by positing that reality is actually a computer simulation.
There is only one solution to the isolation and inanity of our own defining of reality. It is: I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and of earth in and in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord, the Way, the Truth and the Life. Let us pray that God may bless us all with truth.