The human intellect is created primarily to seek, know and embrace the truth about God, since it is only in doing so that we can achieve real and lasting fulfillment. Coming to know the truth and falling deeply in love with it, is integral to the divine plan of God.
By F. K. Bartels
27 April 2013
Dennis Sporre writes in his popular textbook on the arts and humanities:
In the physical world, things have changed drastically since the time of our Paleolithic ancestors, and the pace of change seems to accelerate daily. In terms of the fundamentals of who we are as human beings, however, the changes seem almost superficial. The accumulation of material goods and the superficial gloss of technology may camouflage more important issues concerning what it means to be human and what it means to live a meaningful life. We can put a rover on Mars, but we cannot determine how to live in harmony with those around us. . . .
At least one contemporary historian and scholar has suggested that we have come to the end of history. That challenging theory invites us to consider whether anything really ‘new’ has happened to humanity at any time in history. The answers to questions about ourselves and our relationships to other people and an ultimate creator or force beyond us seem just as mysterious today as at the dawn of history. (The Creative Impulse: An Introduction to the Arts 559).
Sporre has noticed something all of us come face to face with on examining humankind: we are a wounded people. Despite technological progress, we continue to sin, create disaster, injure ourselves and others, and cause damage to society and pain in those closest to us. It is clear that human nature itself is to some extent damaged, fallen. Things are not as they should be. As the cause of the tendency to sin (concupiscence) that we are born with, the Catholic Church points to the sin of Adam and Eve (The Fall/Original Sin) at the dawn of history and its effects (please read the CCC 385 ff.). Of course, the fact that we are tempted to sin is no license to freely choose to sin. We incur personal responsibility (guilt) for those sinful choices and actions we make.
Nevertheless, the focus of this essay is that Sporre has, however indirectly, articulated the deepest longing of the human heart: to know the truth about God and thus the truth about ourselves. The human intellect is created primarily to seek, know and embrace the truth about God, since it is only in doing so that we can achieve real and lasting fulfillment. A lack of this understanding is perhaps the cause of our greatest pain, since we go about our lives seeking after all kinds of things, devoting significant energy to traveling down what are dead-end roads, all the while pitifully failing to realize what we really want and need. It is like being led to a priceless treasure buried in a field but refusing to dig. Instead, we go off and scratch elsewhere.
Of course, there are innumerable people who want God apart from truth. Rather than open their hearts and minds, engaging in diligent, reasoned and serious study, they prefer to project their own subjective, internal images of who they would like God to be onto God. It’s easier that way. It’s more comfortable—at least for a time—since change/repentance/conversion is not a requirement of a god of arbitrary design. As is obvious, this practice results in the fabrication of false gods.
On the other hand, there are millions upon millions of others who do crave the truth about the Divine Other who is humanity’s origin and end; they know they are seeking and they are determined to continue, yet they also notice something is terribly wrong. That is, it becomes quickly apparent that there are uncountable opinions regarding the nature of God, religion, salvation, worship, sin, sacraments, saints, heaven, hell, the afterlife, the human soul, ad infinitum. Frustrated by this mind-numbing chorus of contradiction, they are not sure where to turn. Nevertheless, the pressing question remains: where is the truth?
Further, there are millions of Christians who notice similar things. While the Bible is widely read, there exits a deplorable amount of disagreement on key doctrines (which has all too often led to discarding those doctrines under pretense of unity). Given that hundreds of churches sprout daily, many of which present diverse or contradictory teaching, Christians often find themselves on what seems a perpetual search for the elusive “right place.” The uncertainty by which they are surrounded leaves them with a nagging feeling, because, as they know, Scripture affirms there is one body and one Spirit, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all” (Eph 4:4-6).
The Holy Spirit does not first say this and then that. God is one and unchanging; he is Truth Itself. Christ is “the way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6); and “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever” (Heb 13:8). Given the changeless, permanent nature of God and his truth, what are we to make of the constant state of flux and disunity found in contemporary Christendom? St. Paul exhorts the Philippians to live in harmony and be of one mind (2:2). Nowhere does Scripture advance an “each to his own” philosophy.
Many Christians want to know the truth about God and Scripture and every other aspect of the Christian faith. They want to know what is morally right, what true freedom is, who and what the human person is, and the real meaning of human life. They want to know the truth about marriage, family, society, sin, sacraments, dogma and faith and works and all the rest. Simply, they desire to know the truth and adhere to it in free and loving obedience. While they are averse to the thought of turning onto the wrong path, worse yet, finding themselves on the wide road of destruction, they nevertheless often continue resolutely onward for lack of knowing what else to do, even though they experience a feeling of uncertainty over the path they are on, even though they sense things are “not right” in Christendom. Again, the pressing question is, where is the truth?
To get to the bottom of this question, it is necessary to reflect on both God’s love for us and the history of our people. Indeed, something “new” has happened to humanity: the Son of God became man! Jesus Christ lived among our people; he taught us by word and example; he suffered and died on the cross for love of humankind; he rose from the dead on the third day and, later, ascended into heaven. He promised to “go and prepare a place” for us in his Father’s house (Jn 14:2-3), and stated that those who eat his flesh and drink his blood have eternal life, and will be raised on the last day (Jn 6:54).
But before Jesus suffered and died, giving us his flesh and blood as real food and drink in the Eucharist, he founded the Church—not “a church” nor “churches” but the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church—to stand as a “pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15), when he said, “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:18-19).
It is unthinkable that Christ would suffer and die on the cross for the truth about God and divine love, only to leave us to sort things out by chance or majority rule over thousands of years without an authoritative ground in the truth, without the living community of the Church guided infallibly by the Holy Spirit whose purpose is to transmit the deposit of faith in its entirety to all nations. Given the depth of God’s love and the fact that God is truth, how could we possibly entertain the idea that God would provide nothing but the Bible and innumerable individualistic interpretations of its meaning, as the only source for coming to know the truth? Not only would it be illogical, but it would be inconsistent with God’s perfection and omniscience. Such a situation is in no way a sure means of finding the truth; on the contrary, it is a sure means of losing it.
The Bible cannot speak, defend itself, nor interpret itself; it cannot settle every dispute about Christian faith and doctrine. Christ did not die for the Bible but for the living community of his Church: he poured out his blood for his Bride whose words transmit the mind of Christ to humankind.
As sacred as Holy Scripture is, it is also clear that sola scriptura (the Bible as the sole rule of faith), one of the three foundational pillars of the Protestant reformers, is not in harmony with God’s plan. The test of time has proven sola scriptura a failure. The remedy for this situation, what is crucial for the continued authentic transmission of the deposit of faith, is the threefold oneness of Tradition, Scripture, and the Magisterium (teaching authority) of the Church.
It is clear therefore that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls. (CCC 95)
None of this is meant to be accusatory or derogatory toward our Protestant and non-Catholic Christian brothers and sisters. Nor to anyone else of good will. The intent here is to present the beauty and importance of the truth; to convey to all people, everywhere, that the fullness of truth subsists in the Catholic Church, and that the Church is indeed the Father’s plan for humanity.
Given the twenty centuries of continuity of doctrine and unity within the Church, surviving even under nearly continuous, severe and egregious opposition from powerful forces in the world, one can only conclude that the Church is indeed founded as indestructible by God himself. There is no other explanation for her continuance. As God cannot be destroyed, neither can his Church.
The Church is for all people; she is the goal of all things, since she is the body of Christ. The Church is, then, in a real way Christ. She is an organic, specific and definite, visible and invisible, divine and human, earthly and heavenly singular reality through which we receive the words of truth and the sacraments of life. This means that the earthly Church is no mere abstract reality: she has an “address”; she is governed by a leadership structure (hierarchy); she can and does settle disputes and define faith and morals (authority); she has a definite, singular voice that is accessible to everyone. It is through the Church that we hear and learn the truth; it is in her motherly arms that we attain to the fullness of life; it is through her that Christ transmits his voice throughout the world; it is by her hand, led by the Holy Spirit, that we learn not only how to live but how to die.
Christians of the first centuries said, ‘The world was created for the sake of the Church.’ God created the world for the sake of communion with his divine life, a communion brought about by the ‘convocation’ of men in Christ, and this ‘convocation’ is the Church. The Church is the goal of all things, and God permitted such painful upheavals as the angels’ fall and man’s sin only as occasions and means for displaying all the power of his arm and the whole measure of the love he wanted to give the world: Just as God’s will is creation and is called ‘the world,’ so his intention is the salvation of men, and it is called ‘the Church.’ (CCC 760)
Pope Benedict XVI noted that truth is necessary for the authentic development of the human person. It is certain that the transmission of truth in its fullness is the divine plan of God, “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). As we rest comfortably in the truth transmitted in its fullness by the Church, we find an indescribable and sublime level of peace, security and joy in knowing that we have with certainty found the voice of Christ, the treasure above all treasures, who himself came into the world not to condemn but to save (Jn 3:17), and to bear witness to the truth (Jn 18:37).
Above, Dennis Sporre invited us to consider whether humanity has reached the end of history. Has anything really “new” happened to humanity? Yes indeed! Do the answers to life’s most pressing questions about ourselves, our relationships to others, and about the nature of God seem just as mysterious today as at the dawn of history? Nope.
Truth is the divine plan of God. The Church transmits that truth in its fullness with love, compassion and mercy. It is the treasure of treasures. Do you want it? All you need do is say “yes” with conviction. You don’t even have to dig.
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Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel.