For Renee From Pope John Paul IIgreenspun.com : LUSENET : Catholic : One Thread
DOES GOD REALLY EXIST? The faith of those Catholic Christians, for whom you are shepherd and teacher (in the name of the One Shepherd and Teacher), has three "degrees," three "levels," each linked to the others-God, Jesus Christ, and the Church. Every Christian believes that God exists.
Thus, every Christian believes not only that God has spoken and that He assumed human flesh in a historical figure at the time of the Roman Empire: Jesus of Nazareth. But a Catholic goes beyond this, believing that God and Christ live and act-as in a "body," to use a term from the New Testament-in that Church, the visible leader of which, on earth, is the Bishop of Rome. Faith, certainly, is a gift, a divine grace. But another divine gift is reason. According to the ancient exhortations of the saints and doctors of the Church, the Christian "believes in order to understand"; but he is also called "to understand in order to believe."
Let's start, then, at the beginning. Your Holiness, from a human perspective, can (and how can) one come to the conclusion that God really exists?
Your question ultimately concerns Pascal's distinction between the Absolute-that is, the God of the philosophers (the rationalist libertins)-and the God of Jesus Christ; and, prior to Him, the God of the Patriarchs-from Abraham to Moses. Only the God of Jesus Christ is the living God. As has also been stated in the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum (no. 3), the first God mentioned above-the God of the philosophers-is the fruit of human thought, of human speculation, and capable of saying something valid about God. In the end, all rationalist arguments follow the path indicated in the Book of Wisdom and the Letter to the Romans-passing from the visible world to the invisible Absolute.
Aristotle and Plato follow this same path, but in a different manner. The Christian tradition before Thomas Aquinas, and therefore also Augustine, was tied to Plato, from whom it nonetheless rightfully wanted to distance itself. For Christians, the philosophical Absolute, considered as the First Being or Supreme Good, did not have great meaning. Why engage in philosophical speculations about God, they asked themselves, if the living God has spoken, not only by way of the Prophets but also through His own Son? The theology of the Fathers, especially in the East, broke away more and more from Plato and from philosophers in general. Philosophy itself, in the Fathers, ends up in theology (as in the case, for example, in modern times, of Vladimir Soloviev).
Saint Thomas, however, did not abandon the philosophers' approach. He began his Summa Theologica with the question "An Deus sit?"-"Does God exist?" (cf. 1, q.2, a.3). You ask the same question. This question has proven to be very useful. Not only did it create theodicy, but this question has reverberated throughout a highly developed Western civilization. Even if today, unfortunately, the Summa Theologica has been somewhat neglected, its initial question persists and continues to resound throughout our civilization.
At this point it is necessary to cite an entire passage from the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes of the Second Vatican Council: "In truth, the imbalances existing in the modern world are linked to a more profound imbalance found in the heart of man. Many elements conflict with each other in man's inner struggle. As a created being, he experiences his limitations in thousands of ways yet he also perceives himself to be boundless in his aspirations and destined to a higher life. Enticed by many options, he is continually forced to choose some and to renounce others. Furthermore, since he is weak and sinful, he often does what he detests and not what he desires. This causes him to suffer an inner division, which is the source of so many and such grievous disagreements in society. . . . With all of this, however, in face of the modern world's development, there is an ever-increasing number of people who ask themselves or who feel more keenly the most essential questions: What is man?
What is the meaning of suffering, of evil, of death, which persist despite all progress?What are these victories, purchased at so high a cost, really worth?What can man offer to society and what can he expect from it? What will there be after this life?The Church believes that Christ, who died and was resurrected for the sake of all, continuously gives to man through His Spirit the light and the strength to respond to his higher destiny. Nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved. The Church also believes that the key, the center, and the purpose of all of human history, is found in its Lord and Master" (Gaudium et Spes 10).
This passage of the Council is immensely rich. One clearly sees that the response to the question "An Deus sit?" is not only an issue that touches the intellect; it is, at the same time, an issue that has a strong impact on all of human existence. It depends on a multitude of situations in which man searches for the significance and the meaning of his own existence. Questioning God's existence is intimately united with the purpose of human existence. Not only is it a question of intellect; it is also a question of the will, even a question of the human heart (the raisons du coeur of Blaise Pascal).
I think that it is wrong to maintain that Saint Thomas's position stands up only in the realm of the rational. One must, it is true, applaud Etienne Gilson when he agrees with Saint Thomas that the intellect is the most marvelous of God's creations, but that does not mean that we must give in to a unilateral rationalism. Saint Thomas celebrates all the richness and complexity of each created being, and especially of the human being. It is not good that his thought has been set aside in the post-conciliar period; he continues, in fact, to be the master of philosophical and theological universalism. In this context, his quinque viae-that is, his "five ways" that lead toward a response to the question "An Deus sit?"-should be read.
"PROOF": IS IT STILL VALID? Allow me a parenthetical question. Clearly one does not challenge the theoretical and philosophical validity of what you have begun to explain. Is this kind of thinking, however, still relevant today for the man who asks himself about God, His existence, His essence?
I would say, today more than ever-certainly more so than in recent times. Essentially, the positivist mentality, which developed aggressively between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, is, in a certain sense, fading today. Contemporary man has rediscovered the sacred, even if he does not always know how to identify it.
. . . Positivism has not only been a philosophy or a methodology; it has been one of those schools of suspicion that the modern era has seen grow and prosper. Is man truly capable of knowing something beyond what he sees with his eyes or hears with his ears? Does some kind of knowledge other than the strictly empirical exist? Is the human capacity for reason completely subject to the senses and internally directed by the laws of mathematics, which have been shown to be particularly useful in the rational ordering of phenomena and for guiding technical progress? If we put ourselves in the positivist perspective, concepts such as God or the soul simply lose meaning. In terms of sensory experience, in fact, nothing corresponds to God or the soul.
In some fields this positivist view is fading. This can be ascertained by comparing the early and the late works of Ludwig Wittgenstein-the Austrian philosopher from the first half of our century. The fact that human knowledge is primarily a sensory knowledge surprises no one. Neither Plato nor Aristotle nor any of the classical philosophers questioned this. Cognitive realism, both so-called naive realism and critical realism, agrees that "nihil est in intellectu, quod prius non fuerit in sensu" ("nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses"). Nevertheless, the limits of these "senses" are not exclusively sensory. We know, in fact, that man not only knows colors, tones, and forms; he also knows objects globally-for example, not only all the parts that comprise the object "man" but also man in himself (yes, man as a person). He knows, therefore, extrasensory truths, or, in other words, the transempirical. In addition, it is not possible to affirm that when something is transempirical it ceases to be empirical.
It is therefore possible to speak from a solid foundation about human experience, moral experience, or religious experience. And if it is possible to speak of such experiences, it is difficult to deny that, in the realm of human experience, one also finds good and evil, truth and beauty, and God. God Himself certainly is not an object of human empiricism; the Sacred Scripture, in its own way, emphasizes this: "No one has ever seen God" (cf. Jn 1:18). If God is a knowable object-as both the Book of Wisdom and the Letter to the Romans teach-He is such on the basis of man's experience both of the visible world and of his interior world. This is the point of departure for Immanuel Kant's study of ethical experience in which he abandons the old approach found in the writings of the Bible and of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Man recognizes himself as an ethical being, capable of acting according to criteria of good and evil, and not only those of profit and pleasure. He also recognizes himself as a religious being, capable of putting himself in contact with God. Prayer-of which we talked earlier-is in a certain sense the first verification of such a reality.
. . . In gaining some distance from positivistic convictions, contemporary thought has made notable advances toward the ever more complete discovery of man, recognizing among other things the value of metaphorical and symbolic language. Contemporary hermeneutics-examples of which are found in the work of Paul Ricoeur or, from a different perspective, in the work of Emmanuel LÚvinas-presents the truth about man and the world from new angles. Inasmuch as positivism distances us-and, in a certain sense, excludes us-from a more global understanding, hermeneutics, which explores the meaning of symbolic language, permits us to rediscover that more global understanding, and even, in some sense, to deepen it. This is said, obviously, without intending to deny the capacity of reason to form true, conceptual propositions about God and the truths of faith.
For contemporary thought the philosophy of religion is very important-for example, the work of Mircea Eliade and, for us in Poland, that of Archbishop Marian Jaworski and the school of Lublin. We are witnesses of a symptomatic return to metaphysics (the philosophy of being) through an integral anthropology. One cannot think adequately about man without reference, which for man is constitutive, to God. Saint Thomas defined this as actus essendi (essential act), in the language of the philosophy of existence. The philosophy of religion expresses this with the categories of anthropological experience.
The philosophers of dialogue, such as Martin Buber and the aforementioned LÚvinas, have contributed greatly to this experience. And we find ourselves by now very close to Saint Thomas, but the path passes not so much through being and existence as through people and their meeting each other, through the "I" and the "Thou." This is a fundamental dimension of man's existence, which is always a coexistence.
Where did the philosophers of dialogue learn this? Foremost, they learned it from their experience of the Bible. In the sphere of the everyday man's entire life is one of "coexistence"-"thou" and "I"-and also in the sphere of the absolute and definitive: "I" and "THOU." The biblical tradition revolves around this "THOU," who is first the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of the Fathers, and then the God of Jesus Christ and the apostles, the God of our faith.
Our faith is profoundly anthropological, rooted constitutively in coexistence, in the community of God's people, and in communion with this eternal "THOU." Such coexistence is essential to our Judeo-Christian tradition and comes from God's initiative. This initiative is connected with and leads to creation, and is at the same time-as Saint Paul teaches-"the eternal election of man in the Word who is the Son" (cf. Eph 1:4).
IF GOD EXISTS, WHY IS HE HIDING? God, then-the biblical God-exists. But isn't the objection of many people, yesterday as today, quite understandable? Why doesn't He reveal Himself more clearly? Why doesn't He give everyone more tangible and accessible proof of His existence? Why does His mysterious strategy seem to be that of playing hide-and-seek with His creatures? Reasons certainly do exist to believe in Him; but-as many have maintained and still maintain-there are also reasons to doubt, or even deny, His existence. Wouldn't it be simpler if His existence were evident?
The questions you ask-and which many ask-do not refer to Saint Thomas or to Augustine, or to the great Judeo-Christian tradition. It seems to me that they stem from another source, one that is purely rationalist, one that is characteristic of modern philosophy-the history of which begins with Descartes, who split thought from existence and identified existence with reason itself: "Cogito, ergo sum" ("I think, therefore I am").
How different from the approach of Saint Thomas, for whom it is not thought which determines existence, but existence, "esse," which determines thought! I think the way I think because I am that which I am-a creature-and because He is He who is, the absolute uncreated Mystery. If He were not Mystery, there would be no need for Revelation, or, more precisely, there would be no need for God to reveal Himself.
Your questions would only be legitimate if man, with his created intellect and within the limits of his own subjectivity, could overcome the entire distance that separates creation from the Creator, the contingent and not necessary being from the Necessary Being ("she who is not," according to the well-known words Christ addressed to Saint Catherine of Siena, from "He who is": cf. Raimondo da Capua, Legenda Maior 1, 10, 92).
The thoughts that concern you, and which also appear in your books, are expressed by a series of questions. They are not only yours. You wish to be a spokesman for the people of our time, placing yourself at their side on the paths-which are often difficult and intricate, often seeming to lead nowhere-in their search for God. Your anxiety is expressed in your questions: Why isn't there more concrete proof of God's existence? Why does He seem to hide Himself, almost playing with His creation? Shouldn't it all be much simpler? Shouldn't His existence be obvious? These are questions that belong to the repertory of contemporary agnosticism. Agnosticism is not atheism; more specifically it is not a systematic atheism, as was Marxist atheism and, in a different context, the atheism of the Enlightenment.
Nevertheless, your questions contain statements that re-echo the Old and New Testaments. When you speak of God as hiding, you use almost the same language as Moses, who wanted to see God face to face but could only see his "back" (cf. Ex 33:23). Isn't knowledge through creation suggested here? When you speak of "playing," I think of words from the Book of Proverbs, which show Wisdom "playing [among the sons of man] on the surface of his earth" (cf. Prv 8:31). Doesn't this mean that the Wisdom of God bestows itself upon all creatures, while at the same time not revealing to them all His Mystery?
God's self-revelation comes about in a special way by his "becoming man." Once again, according to the words of Ludwig Feuerbach, the great temptation is to make the classical reduction of that which is divine to that which is human. It was from Feuerbach's words that Marxist atheism was inspired, but-ut minus sapiens, "I am talking like a madman" (cf. 2 Cor 11:23)-the challenge comes from God Himself, since He really became man in His Son and was born of the Virgin. It is precisely in this birth, and then through the Passion, the Cross, and the Resurrection that the self-revelation of God in the history of man reached its zenith-the revelation of the invisible God in the visible humanity of Christ.
Even the day before the Passion the apostles asked Christ: "Show us the Father" (Jn 14:8). His response remains fundamental: "How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?...Or else, believe because of the works themselves....The Father and I are one" (cf. Jn 14:9-11; 10:30). Christ's words are far-reaching. We are almost at the point of that direct experience to which contemporary man aspires. But this immediacy is not the knowledge of God "face to face" (1 Cor 13:12), the knowledge of God as God.
Let's try to be impartial in our reasoning: Could God go further in His stooping down, in His drawing near to man, thereby expanding the possibilities of our knowing Him? In truth, it seems that He has gone as far as possible. He could not go further. In a certain sense God has gone too far! Didn't Christ perhaps become "a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" (1 Cor 1:23)? Precisely because He called God His Father, because He revealed Him so openly in Himself, He could not but elicit the impression that it was too much....Man was no longer able to tolerate such closeness, and thus the protests began.
This great protest has precise names-first it is called the Synagogue, and then Islam. Neither can accept a God who is so human. "It is not suitable to speak of God in this way," they protest. "He must remain absolutely transcendent; He must remain pure Majesty. Majesty full of mercy, certainly, but not to the point of paying for the faults of His own creatures, for their sins."
From one point of view it is right to say that God revealed too much of Himself to man, too much of that which is most divine, that which is His intimate life; He revealed Himself in His Mystery. He was not mindful of the fact that such an unveiling would in a certain way obscure Him in the eyes of man, because man is not capable of withstanding an excess of the Mystery. He does not want to be pervaded and overwhelmed by it. Yes, man knows that God is the One in whom "we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28); but why must that be confirmed by His Death and Resurrection? Yet Saint Paul writes: "If Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty, too, your faith" (1 Cor 15:14).
-- Kiwi (email@example.com), May 07, 2003
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-- J. F. Gecik (firstname.lastname@example.org), May 07, 2003.
Kiwi: from where to where are the words of the Pope? From where to where are the words of the Bible?
-- Elpidio Gonzalez (email@example.com), May 07, 2003.
There are three questions posed by a jounalist each question is a few lines long.
1.DOES GOD REALLY EXIST?
2. "PROOF": IS IT STILL VALID?
3. IF GOD EXISTS, WHY IS HE HIDING?
You should be able to see where the Pope begins his answers to these questions, but apart from the questions it is all the Popes own thoughts taken from Crossing the Thresehold of Hope. As for the Bible references you see the Pope is just justifying his comments through the relevant using scripture. That is, he makes a statement and where necessary shows us where scripture or tradtion supports his statements.
-- Kiwi (firstname.lastname@example.org), May 07, 2003.