“The truth of our faith becomes a matter of ridicule among the infidels if any Catholic, not gifted with the necessary scientific learning, presents as dogma what scientific scrutiny shows to be false.” St Thomas Aquinas
I am always amazed at Christians, of any denomination or people of other religions rush to proclaim belief as absolute dogma, even when it is contradicted by science and new learning. I think that such attitudes are based more on fear that somehow God is not big enough to withstand scrutiny and that if God cannot withstand scrutiny that what they believe is threatened.
Somehow I do not think that God in his wisdom determined that our faith as Christians was to remain unscrutinized and frozen in the time and culture of the ancient near east. I think that was part of St Thomas’ attraction to Aristotelian philosophy. For his day Thomas was a modern thinker, and from reading his works I cannot imagine him being afraid of any advance in science, nor being afraid to hold Christian, or Catholic dogma up to the lens of scientific scrutiny.
I guess that is why I am not afraid of science, scientific advances, archeological or literary discoveries that shed new light on what we as Christians believe. Somehow I think that God is bigger than any paradigm that I or for that matter that we as human beings can describe or imagine.
I am convinced that we have been given the Scriptures, the Creeds and the Councils as steps to understanding the revelation of God in Christ. That being said I cannot imagine that God has stopped revealing himself to people in various ways over the 2000 years of the Church, or that his spirt has not given men and women insight into both the Divine and human aspects of faith and life, to include the physical, the spiritual and the intellectual.
When I look up at the sky on a clear night and see the multitude of stars and planets I cannot help but imagine that God is far bigger and more mysterious than any of us can explain in any number of volumes of theology or Biblical commentary. Nor do I believe that any one person, or for that matter any church as a certain point in time knows all truth. I know that doesn’t sound like a safe way to do “faith” but when was faith, or attempting to follow God in faith ever safe or belief completely certain? That is not the case with those that followed God whose accounts are in recorded in the canonized books of the Christian Bible, much less stories recorded the non-canonical books not included in the Bible or the writings of Jewish and early Christian writers that recorded the history and lives of the faithful as well as interpreted the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.
In fact I believe that God allows us to navigate an often unsafe universe as we live and evolve as his people and that in our walk, in our faith, in our search for truth that God does not mind allowing us to get a bloody nose sometimes. That doesn’t mean that God does not love us, but like the people that we read about in our Scriptures, that none of us knows all truth and all of us are capable of misreading the mind of God. I am reminded of a quote from Star Trek the Next Generation where the being known as “Q” chastises Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise after their initial encounter with the Borg: “If you can’t take a little bloody nose, maybe you oughtta go back home and crawl under your bed. It’s not safe out here. It’s wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross; but it’s not for the timid.” I think in his great mercy God also allows us to get a bloody nose once in a while as we attempt to navigate this life of faith.
Doubt and faith are inexorably linked, faith without doubt is not faith. Faith and belief always has to be held up under the scrutiny of the new knowledge that is acquired as human being explore the universe and human condition with instruments undreamed of by the writers of Scripture or those who came after them. I think that is what St Thomas meant when he wrote the passage that I quoted at the beginning of this little article. I think that is a key to having a living faith, not that we know everything now or even are sure that we have interpreted what has been handed to us by tens of generations of the faithful. I think when we approach God we must do so with the utmost of humility knowing that we can never fully understand all of God, the human condition or the universe.
St Anselm of Canterbury prayed “My God, I pray that I may so know you and love you that I may rejoice in you. And if I may not do so fully in this life let me go steadily on to the day when I come to that fullness…”