Part II: Faith Seeking Understanding

The task of Part II is a particularly difficult one. The rediscovery of the true nature of faith is not limited to the conversion of individuals. It is a drama that has been unfolding in the Church's own self-reflection for almost a century. In various ways the Church has been shedding and transforming its old theology of faith, rediscovering the riches of the past, and subjecting them to more profound introspective analysis. But this is a story that is much harder to tell. We have not yet arrived at the point where we can grasp its full scope, comprehend the details of its history, and see where it will end. We are still too close to it, and, in fact, we are scarcely aware of the depth of this drama. What I would like to do, though - however inadequate and fragmentary the attempt must be - is to examine three facets of this rediscovery of the inner nature of faith: the act of faith in modern theology, wisdom and gnosis in the Scriptures and Fathers, and Jacques Maritain on knowledge through love, or what was traditionally called knowledge through connaturality. The essential message of Part II can be summed up as follows: we have, during the course of the 20th century, been rediscovering from different directions the kind of knowledge that faith is. Both Part I and Part II, the personal and the communal rediscovery of the nature of faith, will lead us to Part III, which tries to explore the inner nature of this faith and its implications.


When I was trying to come to faith, the impressions I received about it were often not much help in my search, as I have mentioned. Later I realized that these attitudes about faith were reflections about how faith had been described in the theological manuals in the early 1900s. These manuals, and their descendants, had formed generations of candidates for the priesthood up until the 1960s and had, through them, effected the rest of the Church.

From the time of the Reformation the Catholic Church had been on the defensive, reacting against what it perceived to be a series of foes: the Protestants, the humanists, the advocates of modern science, the rationalists, and so forth. And in fighting these movements it had selected various aspects of its own heritage to emphasize. The traditional Catholic treatises on the act of faith, which were derived from the works of theologians of the 16th and 17th centuries, stressed the value of reason. According to the manuals, we could demonstrate God's existence by reason and from history we could show that God, through miracles, had affirmed what Jesus had said. Reason could look into the whole matter of faith and demonstrate clearly that we ought to believe. Reason held center stage, and like a well-oiled mechanism, examined data, correlated it, and came to the firm conclusion: have faith. And then the will entered in and we believed, for it was reasonable to do so. And the exercise of the will made our act of faith meritorious.

While there is a certain plausibility to this conception of faith, it left important aspects of the nature of faith in shadow and abstracted from actual experience. Did people reason their way calmly and collectedly to faith by means of well-fashioned syllogisms? And where did such a notion of faith leave children or simple folk or, indeed, most people who were in no position to master the metaphysical proofs for God's existence or the historical debates surrounding Jesus' life, teachings and resurrection? This was a dilemma that had been recognized by theologians for a long time and given the name the analysis of faith. The dilemma read: if reason can give us the certitude we need in order to believe, how can faith be free? And if reason can't give us this certitude, how can we believe on the strength of it without acting unreasonably? In short, how can we reconcile reason and faith, certitude and freedom? There were no good answers to these kinds of questions, for the faith of the manuals, in asserting the rights of reason, had neglected other parts of its Catholic heritage. They tended to drift along, rendered sterile by fear of error, repeating what had been said in the past.


Now we come to the first road by which we can try to understand our faith, and this is the renewal of the theology of the act of faith that began around the turn of the century. Here we can follow the path blazed by Roger Aubert in his monumental The Problem of the Act of Faith. But my purpose in retelling this story is very selective. If the manuals emphasize reason, the various attempts at renewal by way of reaction and correction would have to show that not only was reason insufficient, but on the positive side, they would have to attempt to discover the kind of knowing that faith is. Starting from many different preoccupations, the three streams of renewal that we are going to examine all converge towards one central issue. There is another sort of knowledge that is operative in faith, a knowledge of the heart, a knowledge born out of our longings, aspirations and desires, a knowledge that in the past had received any number of names, but then was largely forgotten.

The first of these paths, the renewal of the theology of the act of faith, found its beginnings in the publication of Maurice Blondel's L'Action in 1893. Blondel (1861-1949), a devoted Catholic layman and student of contemporary philosophy, saw clearly that the way faith was presented in the manuals would never appeal to modern man with his highly personal and subjective point of view. Therefore, he undertook to show, as a philosopher, that an analysis of our inner lives with their needs and desires should lead us to the conclusion that our deepest aspirations cannot be fulfilled by our own actions. Instead, an attentive analysis of these inner demands would lead us to the very brink of faith.

Blondel's work addressed the particular weaknesses of the traditional doctrine, which were its excessive objectivism, which lost sight of the subject, its rationalistic cast which did not properly value the supernatural character of the act of faith, and an intellectualism that neglected the role of the will. Blondel wanted an analysis of life itself to lead to a recognition of the insufficiency of the natural order and our need for something more. With the recognition that we cannot fill this need by ourselves, we are brought to the threshold of faith. The exigencies of our own nature cannot demonstrate that revelation should exist, but if a revelation exists, it is the fulfillment of the needs we have found in ourselves. In fact, it is only in being aware of the whole movement of our inner selves that we can recognize a revelation, if it exists, as a revelation for us. It is this plunge into our own subjectivity that was the hallmark of Blondel's modernity, but he did not stay trapped within this subjectivity, but saw that its inner dynamism was such that it would lead us towards faith. These inner tendencies and attitudes and moral dispositions were an integral part of our ability, not only to see our need for faith, but to recognize and penetrate the external pronouncements of such a revelation. In place of an abstract knowledge by which reason would evaluate arguments for believing, Blondel insisted on a knowledge by connaturality, which is not given save in a spiritual experience where all the personality, intelligence, will and sentiment is engaged. Faith is not principally directed to objective truths as much as it makes us "sympathize really and profoundly with a being, as much as it unites us to the life of a subject, inasmuch as it initiates us by loving thought to another thought and to another love." (1)

This approach was such a marked departure from the prevailing ideas in France that it set off a lively debate in which Blondel's vocabulary and outlook could not easily be evaluated by the theologians of that day. Some thought he was too much under the dominion of Kant and the Protestant theologians and took too little account of the role of reason in providing motives for belief. Others like Lucien Laberthonniere (1860-1932) championed Blondel's views in theological circles, and employed many of the same themes. "Faith appears ... as the encounter of two loves and not as the liason of two ideas: it is not an abstract conclusion, it is a living action." (2)

But Laberthonniere was a man who had little taste for compromise, or for the scholasticism of the manuals. He launched violent attacks on the deficiencies of scholasticism and appeared not to see those elements in it that could be developed in response to the new awareness of faith that Blondel had brought about, even while he was aware of an Augustinian tradition that had flourished until the 13th century in which faith was an intimate disposition which elevated the spirit by giving it, by grace, a connaturality with the supernatural truth. (3) In 1906 two of his works were put on the index, and in 1913 he was silenced along with his revue, Annales de philosophie chretienne.

During the same years Alfred Loisy and George Tyrell made their own attempts to bring the Church in touch with modern aspirations and did so in a more radical way than Blondel himself. These attempts at the core of what came to be called modernism were condemned in 1907 and both men eventually left the Church.

It was a trying time. New attempts often come in new directions and often make use of new language - which is understandable enough - and they are often met with a lack of sympathy and even charity and accused of being downright wrong or incomplete. But how could they be fully formed? There were those who would have liked to see Blondel or even Newman condemned as modernists. Cardinal Newman had made his own attempts, more than a generation previously, to approach the question of faith and allied notions like doctrinal development from a fresh point of view. In his Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent published in 1870, he described another kind of logic than the deductive schemes so popular in the theology of that time. But his work fell on basically deaf ears, and it was not until the question was rekindled by Blondel and others on the continent that Newman's work was remembered.

But more perceptive minds were aware that Blondel had posed questions that could not be ignored, questions that began to create a new context for discussions about the act of faith, and Blondel, himself, tried to help the marriage of the new and old along. He borrowed the name of his friend Canon Mallet, a seminary professor at Aix, and wrote several penetrating and conciliatory articles which explored the implications of his work for the act of faith and how they related to traditional ideas. He insisted that the objective proofs of revelation are not efficacious if the subject is not prepared interiorly by grace and by personal disposition. He had no use for the widespread conviction that grace in no way entered into experience. If we do not experience grace as such, it shows itself by an indefinable inquietude of conscience and by an anonymous aspiration of the will. (4) It is this need that allows us to see that the historic revelation is speaking to us. It is a need created by grace, a question, as it were, that allows us to see the answer when it is presented, not simply by reason and the arguments for the faith, but by our whole being, by our heart which has already been touched. In this way Blondel wants to heal the breach between an excessive objectivism and an overly insistent subjectivism. There can be no solution if we limit faith to the understanding, in a narrow sense, without the involvement of the whole personality, especially the heart. The role of the will is thus greatly expanded. It does not simply ratify what reason has done or supplant it, but helps it to see.

And he found a receptive audience in different quarters. There was, for example, the noted Dominican theologian, Ambrose Gardiel, who tried to broaden the old formulations. And there was the work of Pierre Rousellot. Rousellot (1878-1915), a Jesuit and professor at the Institut Catholique in Paris, wrote an essay in 1910 entitled, "The Eyes of Faith". Inspired by Blondel and Newman but well-grounded in St. Thomas, as well, he tried to accentuate aspects of the act of faith that were neglected in the traditional treatises: how faith could be a virtue, the problem of the faith of the simple, etc. Inspired by some of Newman's ideas on the more inductive kinds of reasoning, he employed the story of two detectives, both see the same details of a crime, but only one puts them together and sees in them the solution to the case. He argues that the very arguments brought forth by reason that are meant to lead to faith have to be seen with the eyes of faith in order to be fully appreciated and find their true force. And to have the eyes of faith it is necessary to have love. And the role of love is not to dispense the intelligence from seeing, but to make it see. (5)

It is necessary "to have recourse to an infused affective habit which puts us in sympathy with the supernatural being and at the same time it establishes us in the free love of the desirable good, awakening in us a new faculty to see." (6)

Rousselot's article and subsequent writings inspired many reactions. He had sought to found his conception of faith on certain texts in St. Thomas, and his success in doing this was debated. But the discussion had the good effect of shedding some light on the question of knowledge by sympathy or connatural knowledge, dusting off, as it were, this important notion of St. Thomas. Rousselot's work gave the debates on faith another impetus but, unfortunately, he, himself, was unable to develop and defend his suggestive ideas. He died during World War I.

If the French theologians had been inspired by Blondel or reacted to him, the Germans, for the most part, paid little attention to these discussions. But a parallel movement appeared there between the Wars. It drew on the work of Edmund Husserl, and the particular interpretations made of it by Max Scheler, who applied it to the field of values. By a sort of intuitive knowledge or sentiment we experience realities that are closed to reason. Here love plays the principle role in allowing us to know things beyond the scope of reason alone. Scheler's ideas were taken into Catholic theology by Karl Adam who, like his counterparts in France, reacted against a too rational conception of faith. Faith did not repose on the motive of credibility, but on the certitude inspired by God which the soul perceives intuitively as the witness of God. (7) Adam stressed the role of the will and love, and his work inspired many and drew reactions from others. Just what was this intuition, they asked, and how would the reasonable character of faith be maintained? As in the case of Blondel, there were those who felt that it was an undo capitulation in the face of Protestant theology and modern philosophy, while the more farseeing seized upon Adam's work as a springboard to highlight the elements of Catholic tradition that had been too long neglected. This meant a rediscovery of Augustine, and thus the patristic sense of faith, and a new look at the synthesis of St. Thomas. J. Engert, for example, pointed at the role of the interior instinct in St. Thomas' conception of faith, and he found in Thomas' notion of connaturality a way to bridge the gap between Aristotle and St. Augustine. (8)

It is important to note the similarities in the process of renewal going on both in France and Germany. There is the injection of an outside point of view coming from contemporary philosophy which is taken up by certain Catholic theologians, which in its turn sets off reactions and countereactions. And in each case there is a growing awareness that there are elements in the Catholic tradition, especially under the heading of connaturality, that have been too long neglected and must once more come to the forefront. By the 1930s connaturality was receiving explicit and extensive attention from the French Dominicans. It appeared in the work of men like Chenu and Boisselot. Chenu made extensive studies of St. Thomas' notion of faith, again highlighting the role of the interior light, and the mystical character of the act of faith. Here, again, he saw these notions playing an important role both in healing the split between the subjective and objective, and having important implications for the nature of theology itself. But fear of modernism was still strong in the Church, and one of Chenu's works was condemned.

His confrere, Pierre Boisselot, in an article entitled, "Faith, Affective Knowledge", allows us to see how much progress had been made by this time in rediscovering the role of the will and the knowledge of connaturality based on it, in the act of faith, as described by St. Thomas.

Boisselot asks how we can explain the way the light of faith can give a certitude while our intellects remain deprived of evidence. The answer must be sought in the role of the will. Not only does the will command the intellect to apply itself, it can play a deeper and more vital role in which it determines or specifies the intellect. This is possible because God is not only the first truth of the mind, He is also the supreme good of the will. And faith is not purely a speculative knowledge, but according to St. Thomas, "the beginning of salvation" and a "foretaste of the beatific vision". The light of faith works not by the way of knowledge but by the way of inclination. It is an intellectual light since it is in the intellect, but a "light all penetrated by love which makes us know precisely by love." (9)

How does the will determine the intellect? The will adds nothing to the intellect in the order of truth, but adds something in the order of good. It allows the intellect to see the object in a new way by seeing it as desirable and lovable. The light of faith makes us aware of the compatibility between the object of faith and our own inner tendencies. It is a "sympathetic accord between the object of faith and our will rectified by charity..." (10)


Boisselot had pointed out the dilemma involved in the act of faith. How do we know that God, the first truth, is testifying to something so that we can believe what he says? In later years, Charles Davis concisely summed up the problem like this:

" ... how is God made present to us in our act of faith? In what way does the first truth become the norm of our thought? It would be easier to answer this if we could say that the mind sees God as truth and conforms its knowledge to what he sees. That, however, would be the intuitive vision of God reserved to the Blessed; it would not be faith. Faith is essentially a knowledge in obscurity and its motive, the First Truth, remains unseen. The paradox of faith lies here." (10A)

And his answer draws on many of the ideas that had been brought to light by the theologians in the earlier part of the century.

"How then? By arousing in us an inclination towards Himself the Supreme Truth, as an object to be desired above all ... God our supernatural end, directs us to Himself in a new way. A desire is provoked in us by His grace which the beatific vision alone will fulfill. This inclination, moving us toward full and direct intellectual union with Him, makes us seek to satisfy ourselves already here and now in an initial way. It acts in us as a directive principle of our judgments. It forms an inner light or testimony that accompanies the external revelation, not as adding to this any new object, but as giving the mind the power to discern what is presented." (11)

But as this basic position became more widely accepted, it was perhaps inevitable that theologians would focus more decisively on the interactions between knowledge and love in this act of faith. Jean Mouroux, for whom faith was a "meeting of two persons" and a "spiritual contact and a phenomenon of communion", felt that love and knowledge were inseparable in it because faith was a matter of the whole person responding and giving themselves to God. He writes:

"The act of faith is the gift of himself which the created person makes to the Uncreated Being; thus it is knowledge which is brought about by love. We must not seek the unity of this act on the level of knowledge and love; it must be sought at that deeper level at which knowledge and love are identified in the spiritual impulse of the person himself." (12)

For Mouroux the separation between knowledge and love is overcome by penetrating to a level which is beyond the distinction of intellect and will. This theme of a return to a deeper unity can be found elsewhere as well. For Georg Muschalek, we have no really adequate word to describe this fundamental kind of decision and knowledge.

"Thus this single, basic act of man in which man is decisively master of himself must be called knowledge as well as freedom. There is, therefore a knowledge that is freedom. It is not only concerned with freedom; it does not only elicit freedom, nor is it elicited by it. In a unique elementary operation of man, knowledge has reality precisely as freedom." (13)

The intention is clear. We have to explore more deeply the interaction between knowledge and love. But is this union really an identity which goes beyond intellect and will? Is this affirmation of such an identity really an explanation and a fuller development of the notion of connaturality? Or is it simply a testimony to the fact that we need a deeper understanding of this knowledge by sympathy or inclination?

Gabriel Moran poses the question like this: "Is revelation primarily something objective (doctrines, historical events, persons) or is it primarily subjective (interior light, attraction of grace, inner testimony)?" (14) And after affirming that a "deeper unity than that of subject and object must be reached or else these opposing elements cannot be held together" (15) he goes on to say: "Catholic theologians are striving to see the inner unity of the intellectual and volitional in the act of faith, but there is need for more examination of the question at the deepest levels." (16)

This is a conclusion that still holds good. We have seen in summary form how the theology of the act of faith was renewed by invoking the role of our inner aspirations, our heart, in the process of coming to faith. This, in turn, led to the rediscovery of St. Thomas and the central role that connaturality had played in his understanding of the act of faith. This knowledge by way of inclination had to appear, but it did not have to become the object of special and prolonged attention. The story of connaturality is at once everywhere in modern theology, once we start to look for it, and at the same time, nowhere in completely developed form. In fact, it would be fair to say that it is still waiting for the attention it deserves.


If the renewal of the theology of the act of faith led to a closer scrutiny of what St. Thomas had actually said on the subject, then it would be a logical next step to examine his thoughts on the matter. But there are two ways to do this. One is to look back over the centuries to St. Thomas, and the other is to try to discover where St. Thomas got his doctrine of connaturality from. Let's take the second way. Unfortunately, we have no Aubert to follow. In his place we have numerous studies that examine certain themes or treat of certain individuals who have developed over the centuries the rich theme of knowledge through love which eventually appeared in St. Thomas.


Ironies, a 2nd century Father of the Church who wrote against the false Gnostics of the time, describes how they used the verses of Scripture like bits of mosaic. But lacking faith, they produced from the pieces the picture of a dog or a fox. The Christian, on the other hand, is guided by his faith to put these pieces together correctly and discover the true image of the King.

We will not fully understand the scope of the act of faith until we meditate upon the Scriptures and the teachings of the Fathers from which our theology of faith came and still has much to learn. Let me set down, then, some of the passages that seem to resonate with my experience of faith and let us see what kind of picture begins to emerge. In the notes the interested reader is directed to some of the more technical modern studies that are slowly unveiling these riches, but it is important to read the actual texts in the light of our own experiences of faith and with a thirst for understanding.


In the Wisdom literature, especially Proverbs, Ecclesiastics and Wisdom, amid the maxims of the sages we find passages about the wisdom of God and the role it plays in the history of salvation.

Wisdom is personified and seen in an intimate relationship with God.

"She is a breath of the power of God, pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty, hence nothing impure can find a way into her. She is a reflection of the eternal light, untarnished mirror of God's active power, image of his goodness." (17)

She is created before the creation of the world and plays a role in that creation.

"By Wisdom, Yahweh set the earth on its foundations, by discernment he fixed the heavens firm." (18)

"Yahweh created me when his purpose first unfolded before the oldest of his works. From everlasting was firmly set, from the beginning, before the earth came into being ... when he laid the foundations of the earth, I was by his side a master craftsman, delighting him day by day, ever at play in his presence, at play everywhere in his world delighting to be with the sons of men." (19)

And Wisdom draws close to those called to a special covenant with God.

"Wisdom speaks her own praises ... I came forth from the mouth of the Most High and I covered the earth like a mist. I had my tent in the heights and my throne in a pillar of cloud ... Then the creator of all things instructed me, and he who created me and fixed a place for my tent. He said, 'Pitch your tent in Jacob, and make Israel your inheritance.' From eternity in the beginning he created me and for eternity I shall remain." (20)

It is wisdom who is close to God, and is given to us to draw us into that same closeness.

"In each generation she passes into holy souls and she makes them friends of God and prophets; for God loves only the man who lives with Wisdom." (21)

It is wisdom that will teach us the true knowledge of God, which surpasses all worldly wisdom.

"Yes she is an initiate in the mysteries of God's knowledge." (22)

"But who has found out where she (wisdom) lives, who has entered her treasure house? Where now are the leaders of the nations ... the way of knowledge is something they have not known ... the sons of Hagar in search of worldly wisdom, the merchants of Midian and Tema, the tale-spinners and philosophers, none of them have found the way to wisdom." (23)

Somehow, it is a knowledge that is connected with right-living and interior dispositions. It has to do with God's designs for us, and so here in the Old Testament it is associated with the law of Moses.


"it is otherwise the man who devotes his soul to reflecting on the Law of the Most High ... If it is the will of the great Lord he will be filled with the spirit of understanding, he will shower forth words of wisdom ... he will ponder the Lord's hidden mysteries." (24)

"God has grasped the whole way of knowledge and confided it to his servant Jacob, to Israel his wellbeloved: so causing her to appear on earth and move among men. This is the book of the commandments of God, the Law that stands forever." (25)

Wisdom allows a man to understand what he must do in order to be pleasing to God--a knowledge which is beyond his own capabilities.

"What man indeed can know the intentions of God? Who can divine the will of the Lord? The reasonings of mortals are unsure and our intentions unstable ... It is hard enough for us to work out what is on earth, laborious to know what lies in our reach; who then can discover what is in the heavens? As for your intention, who could have learnt it, had you not granted Wisdom and sent your holy spirit from above? Thus have the paths of those on the earth been straightened and men been taught what pleases you, and saved by Wisdom." (26)

No effort is too great to obtain wisdom.

"Inwardly revolving these thoughts and considering in my heart that immortality is found in being kin to Wisdom, pure contentment in her friendship ... I went in all directions seeking by what means I might make her mine." (27)

Prayer and the interior turning of the heart are the chief ways to dispose oneself for God's gift of wisdom.

"...knowing I could not master Wisdom but by the gift of God - a mark of understanding to know whose the bounty was - I turned to the Lord and entreated him." (28)

"And so I prayed and understanding was given to me; I entreated and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I esteemed her more than sceptres and thrones; compared with her, I held riches as nothing." (29)

"When I was still a youth before I went traveling, in my prayers I asked outright for wisdom ... I have directed my soul towards her, and in purity have found her; having fixed my heart on her from the outset I shall never be deserted; my very core having yearned to discover her, I have now acquired a good possession." (30)

This knowledge of God comes to those who love Him. "If you desire wisdom, keep the commandments and the Lord will convey her to you." (31)

"Whoever loves her loves Life, those who wait on her early will be filled with happiness ... she will lead him back to the straight road and reveal her secrets to him." (32)

Love allows us to see Wisdom and understand his message.

"Wisdom is bright and does not grow dim. By those who love her she is readily seen, and found by those who look for her. Quick to anticipate those who desire her, she makes herself known to them." (33)

On the other hand, evil actions blind us and prevent us from attaining wisdom.

"Listen Israel, to commands that bring life; hear and learn what knowledge means. Why Israel, why are you in the country of your enemies ... Because you have forsaken the fountain of wisdom." (34)

"No, Wisdom will never make its way into a crafty soul nor stay in a body in debt to sin." (35)

"This is the way they reason but they are misled, their malice makes them blind. They do not know the hidden things of God." (36)

If we can find this wisdom we have entered upon a new life in the sight of God.

"Happy the man who meditates on wisdom and reasons with good sense, who studies her ways in his heart and ponders her secrets." (37)

"For the man who finds me finds life, he will find favour from Yahweh." (38)

"She will give him the bread of understanding to eat and the water of wisdom to drink ... He will find happiness and a crown of joy, he will inherit an everlasting name." (39)

This is because he has the true knowledge of God which is found by right living and leads to holiness.

"My son if you take my words to heart ... turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to truth ... you will then understand what the fear of Yahweh is, and discover the knowledge of God. For Yahweh himself is the giver of Wisdom, from his mouth issue knowledge and discernment." (40)

"Approach me, you who desire me and take your fill of my fruits ... They who eat me will hunger for more, they who drink me will thirst for more. Whoever listens to me will never have to blush, whoever acts as I dictate will never sin." (41)

I must have heard some of these passages before I had to struggle for faith, but they made no impression. I wasn't ready. There was no inner questioning, no experience that longed for self -understanding. Now I see that wisdom is a knowledge intimately connected with union with God. It is a share in His knowledge, secrets and intentions in regards to us. But it demands a conversion of our lives in order to receive it. It comes through prayer and love. This wisdom has the qualities I associate with faith in Jesus. And it is no wonder, then, when Jesus' disciples looked about for a way to talk about him, they took this rich doctrine on wisdom and applied it to him.


For St. Paul it is Christ who is intimately united to God and through whom all things are created. (42)

"He is the image of the unseen God and the firstborn of all creation, for in him were created all things in heaven and on earth: everything visible and invisible." (43)

The wisdom that is personified in the Old Testament becomes firmly identified with Christ Himself.

"If it was God's wisdom that human knowledge should not know God, it was because God wanted to save those who have faith through the foolishness of the message we preach. And so while the Jews demand miracles and the Greeks look for wisdom, here we are preaching a crucified Christ; to the Jews an obstacle they cannot get over, to the pagans madness, but to those who have been called, a Christ who is the power and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom." (44)

"It was God's purpose to reveal it to them and to show all the rich glory of this mystery to the pagans. The mystery is Christ among you, your hope of glory; this is the Christ we proclaim, this is the wisdom in which we thoroughly train everyone and instruct everyone, to make them all perfect in Christ." (45)

If wisdom is Christ himself, then wisdom as a way of knowing becomes a knowledge of God's providential designs revealed in Christ.

"It is all to bind you together in love and to stir your minds, so that your understanding may come to full development until you really know God's secret in which all the jewels of wisdom and knowledge are hidden." (46)

Christ is the hidden plan now made known to us in grace and wisdom for our salvation. Wisdom is knowledge of the living God and his plans for men.

"May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and perception of what is revealed, to bring you to the full knowledge of him. May he enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope his call holds for you, what rich glories he has promised the saints will inherit and how infinitely great is the power he has exercised for us believers." (47)

"Before the world was made he chose us, chose us in Christ, to be holy and spotless, to live through love in his presence, determining that we should become his adopted sons through Jesus Christ ... Such is the richness of the grace that he has showered on us in all wisdom and insight. He has let us know the mystery of his purpose, the hidden plan he so kindly made in Christ from the beginning to act upon when the times had run their course to the end: that he would bring everything together under Christ as head." (48)

Far from wisdom being a secular knowledge, it transcends all the wisdom of the world because it ,is a knowledge rooted in faith, and the Holy Spirit.

It is a gift of the Spirit for it is only the Spirit who knows the inner depths of God and can reveal them to us.

"But still we have a wisdom to offer those who have

reached maturity; not a philosophy of our age, still less of the masters of our age are coming to their end. The hidden wisdom of God which we teach in our mysteries is the wisdom that God predestined to be for our glory before the ages began. It is a wisdom that none of the masters of this age have ever known or else they would have not crucified the

Lord of glory; we teach what scripture calls the things no eye has seen, no ear has heard, things beyond the mind of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.

"These are the very things that God has revealed to us through the Spirit, for the Spirit reaches the depths of everything even the deep things of God. After all, the depths of a man can only be known by his own spirit, not by any other man, and in the same way the depths of God can only be known by the Spirit of God. Now instead of the spirit of the world we have received the Spirit that comes from God, to teach us to understand the gifts he has given us. Therefore we teach not in the way philosophy is taught, but in the way that the Spirit teaches us: we teach comparing spiritual things with spiritual. A psychic person is one who does not accept anything of the Spirit of God: he sees it all as nonsense; it is beyond his understanding because it can only be understood by means of the Spirit. A spiritual man, on the other hand, is able to judge the value of everything and his value is not to be judged by other men. As scripture says: Who can know the mind of the Lord, so who can teach him? But we are those who have the mind of Christ." (49)

All my own insights about faith are both humbled and inspired by the vast panorama that St. Paul paints. Wisdom is never divorced from Christ's saving mission. It is never a purely intellectual reality. It doesn't work by our natural intellect but somehow by comparing like with like, "spiritual things with spiritual". If we possess the Spirit, the Spirit becomes our principle of judgment by a sort of union, a kind of co-naturing or connaturality.

This knowledge which is an intimacy and communion with God works through love.

"My prayer is that your love for each other may increase more and more and never stop improving your knowledge and deepening your perception so you can recognize what is best." (50)

This knowledge is faith - a faith which comes through the preaching of the word, but also through believing with the heart.

"The word that is the faith that we proclaim is very near to you, it is on your lips and in your heart. If your lips confess that Jesus is Lord and you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved. By believing from the heart you are made righteous; by confessing with your lips you are saved." (51)

Our penetration into the mysteries that we are brought in contact with by faith also takes place by love.

"Out of his infinite glory may He give you the power through his Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then planted in love and built on love, you will with all the saints have the strength to grasp the breadth and the length and the height and the depth; until knowing the love of Christ which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God." (52)

In contrast, an evil life excludes a man from knowledge of God because of the close connection between knowledge and love.

"I want to urge you in the name of the Lord not to go on living the aimless sort of life the pagans live. Intellectually they are in the dark and they are estranged from the life of God, without knowledge because they have shut their hearts to it." (53)

"Their minds have been dulled indeed, to this very day the same veil is still there when the old covenant is being read, a veil never lifted since Christ alone can remove it ... we, with our unveiled faces reflecting like mirrors the brightness of the Lord, all grow brighter and brighter as we are turned into the image that we reflect; this is the work of the Lord who is Spirit." (54)

For St. Paul, then, wisdom is Christ Himself, and the true knowledge of Christ is sharing in his life, and this demands that we respond in love. Love is necessary not only to have faith, but to penetrate into the mysteries we have received in faith, and this love is meant to ultimately lead us to the vision of God face-to-face.


John the Evangelist was also deeply influenced by the Wisdom literature. Instead of calling Christ Wisdom, he called Him the Word, Who was with God, and through Whom all things were created. And he called Christ the Light through which we come to know the Father. The mystery of God that was announced in the Law now finds its fullness in Christ. (55)

"I am the Way, the Truth, the Life. No one can come to the Father except through me. if you know me, you know my Father too." (56)

"Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in the one who sent me ... I, the light, have come into the world so that whoever believes in me need not stay in the dark." (57)

But just as Wisdom in the Old Testament and in St. Paul is not a purely intellectual notion, neither are Light and Word in St. John. They are inseparable from the life we are meant to share, through Christ, in the Father. As a result, listening to the voice of Christ and believing in Him is eternal life.

"I tell you most solemnly whoever listens to my words, and believes in the one who sent me, has eternal life." (58)

"The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life." (59)

"And eternal life is this: to know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." (60)

But the acceptance of this truth which is life depends on the grace and gift of God and our own loving response. God must draw us to believe.

"No one can come to me unless he is drawn by the Father who sent me, and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets: They will all be taught by God, and to hear the teaching of God and learn from it is to come to me." (61)

And we do the work of God by believing.

"Then they said to him, "What must we do if we are to do the words that God wants?" Jesus gave them this answer: This is the working of God: you must believe in the one he has sent." (62)

Again it is the person who loves God, who knows Him in this life-giving sense.

"My dear people, let us love one another since love comes from God, and everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Anyone who fails to love can never have known God, because God is love." (63)

And if we love God we not only believe, but in some way receive a manifestation of God and have the power of discerning the true nature of His teaching.

"My teaching is not from myself: it comes from the one who sent me; and if anyone is prepared to do his will he will know whether my teaching is from God or whether my doctrine is my own." (64)

"Anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them will be the one who loves me; and anyone who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I shall love him and show myself to him." (66)

As in the rest of Scripture, the inverse is also true. Evil closes our heart to a true knowledge of God.

"On these grounds is sentence pronounced: that though the light has come into the world men have shown they prefer darkness to light because their deeds were evil." (67)

"Do you know why you cannot take in what I say? It is because you are unable to understand my language. The devil is your father and you prefer to do what your father wants." (68)

"The Jews were unable to believe because as Isaiah says again: He has blinded their eyes, he has hardened their hearts, for fear that they should see with their eyes and understand with their heart, and turn to me for healing." (69)

"If I had not performed such works among them as no one else has ever done, they would be blameless; but as it is they have seen all this and still hate both me and my Father." (70)

As in St. Paul, it is the Holy Spirit Who teaches us about Christ and manifests Him to us.

"I shall ask the Father and he will give you another advocate to be with you forever, the Spirit of Truth ... you know him because he is with you, he is in you." (71)

"You have not lost the anointing that he gave you and you do not need anyone to teach you; the anointing he gave teaches you everything." (72)

The basic message in St. Paul and St. John, building on the Wisdom literature, is straightforward: Jesus is the Wisdom of God and drawn by the Father, and responding in love, we are meant to share in His wisdom and knowledge, which surpasses all natural knowledge.

The Fathers of the Church, who received these teachings as a sacred trust, and meditated on them, would use them when they were called upon to describe the nature of true Christian knowledge or gnosis.


Irenaeus and Clement of Rome had written about the true Christian knowledge or gnosis. Clement, for example, wrote:

"Through Him, the eyes of our heart are open; through Him, our powerless and darkened understanding flowers again, turned toward His light; through Him the Master has willed that we should taste the immortal gnosis." (73)

But it was not until Clement of Alexandria that we get a lengthy exposition of the nature of this knowledge of God. With an openness to truth wherever it could be found, he uses examples drawn from Greek philosophy and literature to help his listeners discover what was for Clement, the true gnosis or wisdom, Jesus Christ. Clement produced at least three major works. The first, The Exhortation, was aimed at the conversion of the pagans. This was followed by The Tutor, which deals with the instruction of new converts. The Divine Word, or Logos, or Christ Himself, is the instructor and "His aim is to improve the soul, not to teach, and to train it up to a virtuous life, not to an intellectual one." (74) This was to be followed by a volume called The Teacher which would contain a systematic exposition on the nature of Christian perfection. Unfortunately, it was never written, and in its place we have The Stromata, or Carpets or Miscellanies, which are a rambling collection of thoughts interspersed with reflections on the way to be a true gnostic.

For Clement there is an important distinction between knowing about God and knowing God, between what can be known by Greek philosophy, and what can be known only by faith. Greek philosophy was a preparation for the Gospel, playing a role for the Greeks comparable to that of the Old Testament for the Jews. It was meant to lead them to an acceptance of the fullness of truth that comes through Christ. The Greeks could say something about God, but not declare God Himself. The Christians, on the other hand, according to Clement, possessed not just names that can be remotely applied to God, but the divine realities themselves. This direct knowledge of God comes to us through Jesus:

"If then we assert that Christ himself is Wisdom, and that it was His working which showed itself in the prophets, by which the gnostic tradition may be learned, as He himself taught the apostles during His presence; then it follows that the gnosis, which is the knowledge and apprehension of things present, past and future, which is sure and reliable, as being imparted and revealed by the Son of God, is wisdom." (75)

Here we are, back again, in the strong Scriptural tradition of Wisdom. The gnosis of the Fathers is wisdom and knowledge of Christ, Who is Wisdom, and in calling Him this, they are faithfully reflecting St. Paul. The entrance into this knowledge of God is by faith, and it is a faith that works by way of the heart:

"Faith, which the Greeks disparage, deeming it future and barbarous, is a voluntary preconception, the assent of piety - the subject of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, according to the divine apostle. Without faith it is impossible to please God." (76)

Although Clement was one of the first of the speculative theologians in the Church, he is keenly aware of the loving receptiveness that is such a vital part of faith:

"For there is no good in the very best of instruction without the exercise of the receptive faculty on the part of the learner, not even of prophecy, when there is an absence of docility on the part of those who hear; For dry twigs being ready to receive the fire are kindled with great ease." (77)

"For love, on account of its friendly alliance with faith, makes men believers; and faith, which is the foundation of love, in its turn introduces the doing of good." (78)

"Therefore volition takes the precedence of all... And in the gnostic, will, judgement and exertion are identical ... so that both his words his life and conduct are conformable to the rule. 'And a right heart seeks knowledge and hears it’. And 'God taught me wisdom and I knew the knowledge of the holy."' (79)

Our assent to faith should be transformed into a penetrating knowledge or gnosis by which we enter into the mysteries of God. Gnosis carries connotations of what later ages were to call theology and mystical experience. Knowledge of God is an imitation of God and a sharing in His life:

"He is a gnostic, who is after the image and likeness of God, who imitates God as far as possible." (80)

"By assimilation to God then, so far as that is possible, a man becomes righteous and holy with wisdom." (81)

Knowledge, or gnosis, is faith seeking understanding and cannot be separated from union with God. This knowledge is not speculative but "the communication of immortality." (82)

Like St. Paul, Clement has a clear idea of what true philosophy is:

"Now those are called philosophers among us, who love Wisdom the creator and teacher of all things, that is the knowledge of the Son of God ... And we define Wisdom to be certain knowledge, being a sure and irrefragable apprehension of things divine, and human, comprehending the present, past and future which the Lord taught us both by His Advent, and by the prophets." (83)

And as the writers of the Wisdom books, as well as the New Testament insist, this gnosis demands holiness of life. Clement says: "To know God is the highest speculation-This alone is the knowledge of wisdom from which rectitude of conduct is never disjoined." (84) And evil conduct precludes gnosis: "Assuredly it is impossible to attain gnosis by bad conduct." (85)

We should not think of gnosis as a secret knowledge, which would be furtively passed on in a special initiation, or like a treasure map, but as a knowledge which is connected with moral dispositions. We fail to grasp the secrets of the Gospel even when they are preached from the rooftops, for we have not sufficiently purified our hearts and sought the help of God in prayer:

"For he who is still blind and dumb, - not having understanding, or the undazzled and keen vision of the contemplative soul, which the Saviour confers, - like the uninitiated at the mysteries or the unmusical at dances, not being pure and worthy yet of the pure truth, but still discordant and disordered and material, must stand outside the divine choir." (86)

To the badly disposed, the truth of the Scripture is veiled:

"For only to those who approach them often and have given them a trial by faith and in their whole life, will they supply the real philosophy and true theology." (87)

It is because this knowledge is not purely rational but rather a knowledge which is eternal life, that it demands this application of the heart.

"For he who has not the knowledge of good is wicked; for there is one good, the Father; and to be ignorant of the Father is death, as to know Him is eternal life, through participation in the incorrupt One. And to be incorruptible is to participate in divinity; but revolt from knowledge of God brings corruption." (88)

Faith leads to gnosis and this knowledge, working through love, leads to eternal life.

"For love is no longer a tendency of him who loves: it is a loving intimacy which establishes the gnostic in the unity of faith, without any further need of time nor of space. Already established by love in the good things that he will possess, having anticipated hope by gnosis, he no longer tends towards anything, having everything he could tend towards. He remains, then, in one unchanging attitude, loving in gnostic fashion, and he does not have to desire to be made like beauty for he possesses beauty by love." (89)

Clement summarizes his whole doctrine of the ascent towards the heavenly kingdom in a beautiful passage in the 7th book of his Stromata:

"It is said, to him that hath shall be added, knowledge added to faith, and love to knowledge and to love, the heavenly inheritance. This is what takes place whenever anyone hangs upon the Lord by means of faith and knowledge and love and ascends up with him to the presence of God ... who is the ultimate source from which knowledge is imparted to those who are fitted and improved for it ... Faith then is a compedious knowledge of the essentials, but gnosis is a sure and firm demonstration of the things received through faith, being itself built up by the Lord's teaching on the foundation of the faith, and carrying us on to unshaken conviction and scientific certainty. As I mentioned before, there seems to be a first kind of saving change from heathenness to faith, a second from faith to knowledge; and this latter, as it passes into love, begins at once to establish a mutual friendship between that which knows and that which is known." (90)


Origen followed Clement in what is loosely called the school of Alexandria. He possessed an even bolder speculative mind, and he was, as well, one of the Church's first scriptural scholars. But in all this he remained consistent with Clement and the earlier tradition in insisting on the nature of gnosis and how it is intimately bound up both with faith and progress in the spiritual life. Again we find wisdom is the name of Christ. "If we examine with care all the denominations of Christ, wisdom is the first." (91) And from Christ comes that gift of wisdom that St. Paul noted.

"Paul made a catalogue of the charisms given by God and put the discourse of wisdom in the first place, then the discourse of knowledge and in third, lower yet, faith." (92)

The first step in this knowledge coming from Christ, and of Christ, is faith, which is caused by the heart.

"Belief comes about in two fashions: corporeally in the case of a man who does not collaborate by his will; spiritually, when the will of man is a cause of belief." (93)

Gnosis or wisdom is a deeper understanding of the Word but founded on faith and good conduct. (94)

"Knowledge is a contemplation that takes place by means of faith." (95)

"It is necessary to search for wisdom in our words, but after faith, and after the acquisition of good conduct, according as it is written: You have desired wisdom, keep the commandments." (96)

This knowledge of the Word is expressed in terms of the illumination given by Wisdom to those who ponder the scriptures. Knowledge of the scriptures and union with the Word are one, for the Word draws near to illumine the mind.

"... if at any time a soul is in the thick of an argument about some passage - and everyone knows from his own experience how when one gets into a tight corner like this, one gets shut up in the straits of propositions and enquiries - if at any time some riddles or obscure sayings of the Law or the Prophets hem in the soul ... when He has begun more and more to draw near to her senses and to illuminate the things that are obscure ... He then suggests to her interpretations of a high and lofty sort." (97)

" ... when the Bride's mind is filled with divine perception and understanding, without the agency of human or angelic ministration, then she may believe she has received the kisses of the Word of God himself." (98)

" ... in this continual meditation, the Logos (enlightens) our hearts suddenly in order to illumine us concerning the knowledge of his glory." (99)

And the heart plays a vital role in attaining this knowledge.

"In this study (of the scriptures) search for, with fortitude, and with a faith that cannot be extinguished, the sense of the divine writings hidden from the crowd. Do not content yourself with knocking at the door, and searching, because prayer is absolutely necessary in order to comprehend divine realities." (100)

"Open then in yourself the way of the Lord by good conduct, pave the road of your good works so that the Word can enter without encumbrance, and he will give you the science of his mysteries ... 11 (101)

"It is necessary to search carefully for the truth of doctrines, secondly to ask God to unveil for us the mysteries of his wisdom ... thirdly, to strike at the door, and after having penetrated the doors of Wisdom, to confess (God)." (102)

And like so many times before, if the heart leads to this knowledge of God, evil blinds our understanding.

"They are below, living in the flesh, the superior realities are closed to them; they are not able to comprehend them or to see their beauty, because they do not wish to contemplate them." (103)

"It is not God who hides from us his glory, but we ourselves in placing on our intelligence the veil of malice." (104)

"If you see a soul which comprehends ordinary things with facility, but does not meditate on the words of God you will know that it is not a natural blindness that hinders it from seeing what is in the Scriptures; it is not that it is in darkness, but it has closed its eyes." (105)

Theology and spirituality are united in Origen like they are in most of the Fathers. In his commentary on The Canticle of Canticles, a work that had an important influence on the whole of Christian spirituality which was to follow, Origen describes the different stages in a person's union with God, and outlines a doctrine of the spiritual senses by which we can know God.

"Thus also the Spirit of God is said to go around and seek for worthy souls such as can be rendered fit for Wisdom to inhabit. But that He is said to "look through the nets" of the windows, doubtless points to the fact that so long as the soul is in the house of the body, she cannot receive the naked and plain wisdom of God, but beholds the invisible and incorporeal by means of certain analogies and tokens and images of visible things." (106)

"And in this way he who has reached the peak of perfection and beatitude will be delighted by the Word of God in all his senses...they must not take anything we have said with reference to bodily functions, but rather employ them for grasping the divine senses of the inner man." (107)

"The Word of God speaks first to the beautiful soul. It appears to him by the senses of his body, as by windows ... He invites it to go forth from that so that living outside of the corporeal senses, it ceases to be in the flesh ... Because the Word of God would not call it: my neighbor, if the soul were not united to Him in order to become one spirit with him." (108)

Origen never let his great knowledge degenerate into scholarship separated from spiritual growth.

" ... when she has come to the knowledge of the mysteries and the divine judgements, when she has reached the gates of wisdom itself, of the "wisdom that is not of this world, neither of the princes of this world who come to nought", but is the very wisdom of God ... when I say the soul ascends to the recognition of so great a mystery, she has cause to say: "the fragrance of Thine ointments" - that is, the spiritual and mystical meaning - "is above all spices" of moral and natural philosophy." (109)

"The Levites symbolize ... those who have surpassed all visible glory, and in the Wisdom of God alone, his Word, have put their life and activity ... They have desired wisdom, the knowledge of the secrets of God; where your heart is so will your treasure be. They do not have their heritage on the earth ... they find their delights in the Lord, in his Word, his Wisdom, in the pleasures of his science." (110)

Finally, like Clement, he sees that the love that runs through faith and gnosis brings us to our final end.

"What strength, what vigour will these maidens get from His Very Self, if ever they are able to by some means attain to His actual, incomprehensible, unutterable Self? I think myself that if they ever did attain to this they would no longer walk or run, but bound as it were by the bands of His love, cleave

to Him, and would have no further power to ever move again. For they would be one spirit with Him and that which is written: As Thou Father in me and I in Thee are one, so may these also be one in us, would be fulfilled."


In Augustine we find many of the same themes of the moral dispositions necessary for faith, but now reworked in a more personal and psychological style, no doubt under the influence of Augustine's own conversion. The richest collection of texts about the role of the heart is found in his commentaries on the Gospel of St. John. There he speaks of the heart as an "organ by which light can be seen", or how the "eye of the heart has been blinded", or how "faith works by love". But when he comes to commenting on the passage in St. John where Jesus says, "No man can come to me unless the Father draw him", Augustine excels himself.

"Murmur not among yourselves: no man can come to me unless the Father draw him. Noble excellence of grace! No man comes unless drawn ... A man can come to the Church unwillingly, he can approach the altar unwillingly, partake of the sacrament unwillingly: but he cannot believe unless he is willing. If we believed with the body, men could be made to believe against their will. But believing is not a thing done by the body. Listen to the Apostle: "With the heart man believes unto righteousness." And what follows? And with the mouth confession is made unto salvation... Since then with the heart man believes on Christ which no man does against his will, and since he that is drawn seems as if he is forced against his will, how are we to solve this question, "No man comes to me, unless the Father who sent me, draws him'?" ... we do not run to Christ on foot, but by the inclination of the heart we draw near to Him-Don't think that you are drawn against your will. The mind is drawn also by love. I say that it is not enough to be drawn by the will; you are drawn by delight. What is it to be drawn by delight? "Delight yourself in the Lord and He shall give thee the desires of your heart"...There is a pleasure of the heart to which the bread of heaven is sweet. Moreover, if it was right for the poet to say, "every man is drawn by his own pleasure", not necessity, but pleasure; not obligation but delight - how much more boldly ought we to say that a man is drawn to Christ when he delights in the truth, when he delights in the blessedness, delights in the righteousness, delights in everlasting life, all of which Christ is? ... Give me a man that longs, that hungers - one that is traveling in this wilderness and thirsting and panting after the fountain of his eternal home; give me such a man and he knows what I say ... This revealing (of Christ) is itself the drawing. You hold out a green twig to a sheep and you draw it. Nuts are shown to a child and it is attracted; he drawn by what he runs to, drawn by loving it, drawn without hurt to the body, drawn by a cord of the heart. If then these things which among earthly delights and pleasures, when they are shown to those who love them, draw them, since it is true that "everyman is drawn by his own pleasure" does not Christ revealed by the Father draw? For what does the soul more strongly desire than the truth? For what ought it to have a greedy appetite ... unless it be to eat and drink wisdom, righteousness, truth and eternity?" (112)

We know by an inclination of love, by being taught within, and from without. We hear the Gospel and must assent to it with our hearts, hearts which have been drawn to this assent by God.

"For it is written in the prophets, "And they shall all be taught of God For all the men of that kingdom shall be taught of God and not learn from men. And though they do learn of men, yet what they understand is given them with flashes within, is revealed within. What do men do that proclaim tidings from without? What am I doing even now when I speak? I am pouring a clatter of words in your ears. What is that that I say or that I speak unless He that is within reveals it? Without is the planter of the tree, within is the tree's Creator." (113)

"For what is believing but consenting to the truth of what is said? ... the very will by which we believe is attributed to a gift of God because it arises out of our free will that we received at creation ... but also because God acts on us by the suasion of our perceptions, so that we may will and believe." (114)

Faith is no mere assent to some propositions about God, but it is an entering into Christ by love.

"Who does not know that to work the work of God, this is to do the will of God? But the Lord himself says..."This is the work of God that you believe in Him who He has sent." "That you believe in Him" not that you believe Him. But if you believe in Him, you believe Him; yet he that believe Him does not necessarily believe in Him. For even the devils believed Him. What then is it to believe in Him." By believing, to love Him, by believing to esteem highly, by believing to go into Him and to be incorporated in His members...Not any kind of faith, but faith that works by love." (115)

And once we have faith, then we will understand, and this understanding is also the fruit of love.

"Let him who says he has not yet understood, hear counsel. For since it was so great and profound matter, the Lord gave counsel. Do you wish to

understand? Believe. For God said by the prophet: "Unless you believe, you will not understand." To the same purpose..."If any man is willing to do his will he will know of the doctrine whether it be of God or whether I speak of myself." What is the meaning of this, "If any man be willing to do his will?" but I had said if any man believe; and I gave this counsel: If you have not understood as 1, believe. For understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore do not seek to understand in order to believe, but believe in order that you may understand ... Our Lord Jesus Christ has added this very thing..."If any man does his will, he shall know of the doctrine." (116)

"Grow in the charity, which has been poured into your hearts by the Holy Spirit, who has been given to you so that by a fervent spirit loving spiritual things you will be able to know the spiritual lights and word which carnal men cannot understand ... A man can't love what he is entirely ignorant of but if a man loves even a little bit, that which he knows, then the love makes him know it better and more fully." (117)

And Augustine, like his predecessors, sees that faith is meant to blossom into understanding and the fullness of love.

"If however, he has not this desire, and thinks that it is sufficient to hold fast to the faith without aspiring to an understanding, he ignores the true end and utility of faith. For as pious faith has no desire to exist without hope and charity, it is needful that the faithful should believe what he does not yet see in such a way that he may hope for and love a vision of it." (118)


The themes that were rediscovered in St. Thomas in the first half of this century were the same themes that were so dear to the sacred writers and the Fathers. And by approaching St. Thomas from the past we are in a better position to appreciate his thoughts, thoughts scattered through his work and permeated by this common patrimony, as the following passages show.

Thomas places his writings in the context of Wisdom, who is Jesus Christ:

"By compiling the sentences of the sacred doctors, I have assumed an exposition of the wisdom of the Gospels, hidden from all ages in God but now brought to light by the Wisdom of God incarnate." (119)

"Our Wisdom does not consist in knowing the nature of things, or in the courses of the stars, or realities of this kind, but it consists in Jesus Christ alone." (120)

"Among the numerous opinions put forward by various persons to define the true Wisdom, the Apostle has offered one of singular solidity and truth when he said: Christ the power of God, and the Wisdom of God...For through the Wisdom of God, the secrets of God have been manifested, and the works of creation have been produced; not only have they been produced, but restored and fulfilled-such (subject matter) is the intention of the Book of the Sentences." (121)

Love is, again, the necessary condition for understanding.

"He therefore learns the word, who understands it according to the nature of him who speaks, the Word of God, who breathes forth love. He who learns, therefore, is he who receives and understands the Word with the fervor of love: "He gives himself to holy souls; He makes them his prophets, and his friends."" (122)

"For unless the Holy Spirit is present in the heart of him who listens, the discourse of the doctor will count for nothing." (123)

The role of the heart is made particularly clear in the act of faith. The preaching of the Gospel must be accompanied by an interior calling.

"The beginning of the predestination of man is to be found in his calling which is a twofold one: one is exterior, by the mouth of the preacher; ... the other is an interior calling which is nothing other than a certain instinct of the mind by which the heart of man is moved by God, to assent to those things which are of faith and virtue ... And this calling is necessary since our heart does not convert itself to God unless God draws us to himself." (124)

"It must be said that the interior instinct by which Christ is able to manifest himself without exterior miracles pertains to the strength of the First Truth who interiorly illumines and teaches man." (125)

We have the power to refuse this drawing by God, but if we refuse, we are not doing the work of God, which is believing.

"If You had not done works in them such as no one

else had done, they would be blameless. (JN 15:24) This must be understood not only of visible things, but also of an interior instinct and the attraction of doctrine, which if it had not been done in them, they would not have sinned." (126)

There was no way that Thomas, immersed in the Scriptures and the Fathers, especially St. Augustine, could ignore, or even minimize the role of the heart in the act of faith.

"The light of faith ... does not move by way of the intellect, but more by way of the will: it does not compel assent by giving the evidence of truths which are to be believed; it brings about adherence by an acquiescence of the will ... In faith, by which we believe in God, there is not only the acceptance of those things to which we assent, but also that which inclines us to assent, and this is a certain light, the habit of faith divinely infused in the human mind... the light of faith which is a certain sort of sealing of the First Truth (quasi sigillatio quaedam) is not able to be mistaken, as God is not able to deceive or lie; so that this light suffices for judging. Nevertheless, this habit does not move by way of the intellect, but more by way of the will; hence it does not see those things which are believed nor understand the assent, but voluntarily assents. And so it is clear that faith is in two ways from God, namely, from the part of the interior light that induces assent, and from the part of those things which are exteriorly proposed, which arise from divine revelation." (127)

Our hearts are moved because of a contact with the divine light, which we feel to be our good and our end.

"We Christians are carried to believe the revealed message because if we believe we are promised the reward of eternal life; it is the attraction of this recompense that carries the will to the assent of faith despite the lack of intellectual motives." (128)

And this inclination of the heart for what is its good, and its goal, carries over into an ability to discern the truths of faith.

"Just as someone adheres to the first principles by the natural light of the intelligence (without any discursive reasoning) likewise a virtuous man, thanks to his virtue, judges with exactitude concerning virtuous matters; and in the same way, thanks to the habit of faith, a man adheres to the truths of faith and not to those which are contrary to them." (129)

This knowledge of God that is rooted in faith flowers in mystical experience as it did for Origen.

"Rectitude of judgement is able to come about in two ways: either according to the use of reason or by a certain connaturality with the things to be judged. For example, in the question of chastity someone can judge rightly, who knows moral science and uses this knowledge, but the man who has the virtue of chastity can also judge rightly by a certain connaturality to the same moral science ... to judge rightly about divine things by a certain connaturality with them pertains to wisdom which is a gift of the Holy Spirit; as Dionysius says: "Hierotheus is perfect in divine things not only by learning them but by suffering them." The compassion or connaturality of this kind with divine things comes about through charity which unites us to God as it is said in I Cor., "He who adheres to God is one spirit with him." Therefore wisdom which is a gift, has its cause in the will, namely charity, but its essence is in the intellect." (130)


But if the gnosis of the Scriptures and Fathers flowed into St. Thomas, it underwent a fundamental reorganization there. In the Scriptures and Fathers knowledge of God was always bound to life and love; to know God was to be united with Him and to share in His life. Knowledge and truth were intimately related to life and holiness. Knowledge existed for the sake of love and union. The Fathers spoke in order to convert, exhort and perfect. Strictly speaking, they were not primarily concerned with developing a theology or philosophy. Patristic theology was a rich mixture of philosophy, theology and mystical longings all serving the ultimate goal of union with God. The disparate elements which are found in their writings are held together by this overriding intention.

In Clement and Origen, for example, their speculative gifts are constantly being put in the service of the ultimate goal of divine union. In the same way, Augustine used his great erudition to foster love, and Augustinianism in its best sense was the overriding sense of the ultimacy of charity and divine union which shapes all knowledge to that end. (131) The same attitude towards theology can be found in someone like St. Bonaventure in the Middle Ages, but now we are at a crossroads. The undifferentiated Patristic theology, this theology that was much more than the way we understand theology today, had reached a point where it could no longer contain within itself the various maturing disciplines that it had nurtured. Philosophy, theology and mysticism all demanded to be distinguished from each other and achieve a more coherent form according to their own intrinsic principles, and this is the process of differentiation that was the work of St. Thomas.

Distinctions that were virtual and lived now became explicit. The rich gnosis or knowledge of God of the past was refracted in Thomas by this inevitable process of elaboration. His treatise on faith still contains the basic elements about the instinct of God working within and the notion of connaturality. But now they are imbedded in a more scientific framework, and elaborated into distinct questions. And for St. Thomas to conceive theology in this way posed no problem. His powerful intuitions ranged the breadth and depth of the Summa with its hundreds of questions and welded them into one living vision. The treatise on faith is distinct from the treatise on charity and the treatise of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but Thomas clearly saw that charity is the living heart of faith and just as clearly declares that the gifts of the Holy Spirit, far from being the rare jewels of the mystic, are necessary, for everyone, for salvation. The more the rich unity of the past underwent this inevitable process of elaboration and clarification, the greater the temptation was to lose sight of the unity altogether. The various parts of St. Thomas' vision, though distinct, were incessantly intertwined and mutually influencing each other in his own thought, but as time went on and the intuitive powers of his followers faded, they became separate and drifted apart.

It was not as if there were inherent contradictory impulses in his great program of unification, but rather, he had put together currents of thought that had their own histories and directions of momentum and could only remain readily together under an inspiration of genius. Thomas, for example, was accused of reducing the Gospel to the categories of Aristotle, and it is interesting to note that in all the major sources we have looked at there has been at one time or another the accusation made of Hellenization: the Book of Wisdom, rendered suspect by its birth in the Jewish community at Alexandria, the works of St. Paul and St. John, the writings of Clement and Origen, and so forth. For the most part these charges have proven false, as much recent scholarship has shown, but it is no accident that the men who tried to say the most about a theory of knowledge would be so accused. It is precisely because they had something to say that they were suspect, for any attempt would inevitably be influenced by the prevailing language, especially of the Greek schools of the day, but far from this being an assimilation of Christian truth to Greek philosophy, it was, on the whole, a transformation of Greek concepts in a context which remained fundamentally Christian and biblical. (132) Such a transformation was not always successful and happy, but the fundamental intent was there. In terms of Christian gnosis where it was a question to understand the distinctive biblical sense of knowing God, where love and knowledge were always intimately bound together, if anything, Greek philosophy provided a rather poor instrument to explore this richness, and it is here we must place one of the reasons why the development of the idea of connaturality has been so long in coming. If it were central to the Scriptures, it was certainly not equally central to the Greeks, and therefore our authors had to struggle as best they could to express in a properly theological way what this knowledge was like.

We can see this in a particular way in St. Thomas. Thomas did not simply take the philosophy of Aristotle, as it was, and employ it in theology. He had a much more creative role to play. Aristotle's emphasis on being as essence was transformed by Thomas to whom being primarily meant the act of existence. This realization of the primacy Of existence over essence was a metaphysical revolution of the first order, and it was brought about by Thomas philosophizing and reading Aristotle from a distinctly Christian perspective without the result failing to be properly metaphysical. But Thomas, having wrought the revolution, could not have been expected to trace out all its implications. (133) He lived in a time where objectivity was a momentous discovery in contrast to the pleasing yet confused personalism and subjectivity of patristic theology. He effaced himself before his task. He labored to fashion the great synthesis found in his Summa, but he did not inject his own personality in it. As in the construction of the great cathedrals of the time, individual creative effort was submerged and subordinated to the great work to be accomplished. All things find their place under God and in Christendom. But this objectivity could not be maintained as the final and irrevocable step in the development of Christian thought. It was a major stage in a dialectic where subjectivity would yield to objectivity and differentiation, which in turn, ought to yield to a richer sense of subjectivity itself. The primacy of existence in St. Thomas was meant to blossom into a metaphysics of subjectivity. Instead, it often degenerated to an identification of Thomas' metaphysics with Aristotle's and a mechanical repetition of it.

With the Renaissance and Reformation came a growing awareness as man as a subject with inalienable rights that spring from his personality. The theocentrism of the past was confronted with a growing and militant anthropocentrism, and as is often the case, each side had its genuine insights and exaggerations. The old theology had the riches of the past but transmitted them in increasingly rigid forms. The new age was exhilarated by its genuine insights about the rights of the individual and his psychological inwardness. Yet, mixed with these insights was Often a hostility to the past. Instead of the theological schools showing their vitality by their power of genuine assimilation, they turned in upon themselves and became more wedded to deductive reasoning. (134) The Church began to take on the fortress Mentality that was so evident in the manuals at the beginning of the century and which it kept until the Second Vatican Council. But the sense of subjectivity which was the hallmark of its opponents was not without difficulties. It was a subjectivity that became increasingly separated from its roots. Descartes introduced a definitive split between subject and object, between interior and the exterior and founded modern philosophy enamored and bedeviled by idealism. The modern sense of the subject gave rise to democracy and the flourishing of the natural sciences, but mixed with these blessings are curses. There is an increasing sense of how we are imprisoned in our subjectivity and cannot escape it. Our self-awareness has become so accentuated and turned in upon itself that it can become only an instrument of self-torture. The natural sciences insist that they are the only genuine ways of knowing. Philosophy, following Descartes and Kant, makes it a commonplace that we cannot know things in themselves, still less the existence of God. We are within and all else is without. Our precious subjectivity becomes a burden of loneliness. We delve increasingly into our concrete experience of our inner selves, but become so preoccupied with our private perceptions and agonies that we cannot fathom their true import. We are trapped inside ourselves with nothing greater to serve.

Neither the objectivity of a theology in decline, nor a subjectivity antagonistic to the human intelligence makes an appealing path to follow, but they are not exclusive. We are not compelled to choose either the objective or the subjective. St. Thomas' objectivity provides the foundation on which a genuine metaphysics of subjectivity can be erected, and to be a genuine metaphysics of subjectivity it must be an open subjectivity, an intersubjectivity. We have to grasp the primacy of existence and to see that existence has its highest manifestation in persons and in love. Again, Greek philosophy is not a particularly apt instrument for exploring the intersubjectivity of charity, but Thomas leaves many indications of the directions in which the attempts should be made. (135) It is such a metaphysics of love which is one of the prerequisites for a theology of connaturality, and this, of course, is another reason why the whole idea of connaturality has been so slow to develop. But let us return to our theme.

There can be no return to the undifferentiated theology of the Fathers, but there must be unification of the fragmented state that resulted from a disintegration of the synthesis of St. Thomas. If Thomas had received, preserved and developed the riches of the past, just how did they fade and fail to reach us? The separation of theology from mysticism provides one clue. (136)

If St. Thomas clearly distinguished the gifts of the Holy Spirit from the theological virtues, he was well aware of the essential continuity between the virtue of faith and the gifts of knowledge and wisdom. In later ages the gifts were to become separated and relegated to the realms of mystical theology. It is during the 17th century that a historian of the spiritual life might find this distinction becoming a separation and the gifts disappearing from the theological horizon. A mystic of the first rank like John of the Cross is an excellent example of how the basic unity of the life of faith that ought to flower in the gifts had been maintained and even developed in the final decades of the 16th century. John of St. Thomas, writing in the first half of the 17th century, leaves us his masterful treatment of the gifts of the Holy Spirit which marks the high point of their development. But times were changing. The enthusiasm for the spiritual life that found an impetus in the writings of St. Teresa and St. John began to spread widely and unfortunately, in many cases, became more shallow. The sublimity of St. John's transition from meditation to infused contemplation became replaced in many quarters by a doctrine of acquired contemplation, one of whose outstanding characteristics was to misconstrue the passive nature of contemplation in which the spirit is moved by God through those dispositions which are the gifts themselves and to replace it with an inert and dead passivity, which was the result of an active suppression of all thoughts and aspirations. This doctrine of acquired contemplation in its most extreme forms blended with quietism. And when quietism was condemned at the end of the 17th century the curtain fell over the drama of a new understanding of the contemplative life that had been raised by the writings of the great Carmelite mystics. But can we not say that it fell, as well, over the possibility of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, making their way readily back into theology? If the gifts were inextricably linked with mystical experience, any fall from grace of the practical possibilities of contemplation would lead the gifts themselves to oblivion. The split, then, between theology and mysticism which became definitive during this time, and from which we still suffer, meant the increasing relegation of connaturality to the limbo of mystical theology. The genius with which John of St. Thomas had exploited this notion in his treatment of the gift of wisdom was prevented from making its way back into the mainstream of theology and effecting our understanding of the act of faith and the method of theology.

If connaturality became inextricably bound to the gifts and the gifts with mysticism as a whole were relegated to oblivion, then where did this leave the act of faith? It would be increasingly allied to reason. Aubert gives the suggestive date of 1662, and the work of Michael of Elizalde, in which the assertion appeared for the first time that the motives of credibility could allow us to know the fact of revelation without any possibility of error. (137) As emphasis on the reasonable qualities of the act of faith grew the vital hints that existed in the doctrine of connaturality receded further into the background until it had virtually disappeared from the manuals at the turn of the century.

In summary, we have seen briefly two attempts to recapture this central notion of knowledge working through love and intimately united to it. It runs as a unifying thread through quite disparate attempts to renew the theology of faith in our time, and it courses like a powerful stream in the scriptural and patristic sources out of which a deeper appreciation of faith ought to come. Yet it needs to be contemplated more directly and for itself, and Jacques Maritain can help us do this. Here we come to the third act in the story of connaturality.


The person who came closest to understanding the full range of connaturality was Jacques Maritain. Maritain is thought of as a philosopher, and that is how he thought of himself. But I can't help but think that in a world where the line between philosophy and theology was less sharply drawn Maritain would have done more theological work and we would have been richer for it. As it was, he has laid a philosophical foundation for an understanding of connaturality which can blossom into a theology of faith.


Maritain remains an intriguing but neglected figure some 25 years after his death. It is almost as if the Catholic world of philosophy and theology, while recognizing his achievements, is somewhat hesitant to render a final verdict. This hesitation may be the result of the difficulty that exists in deciding where Maritain stood in the spectrum of attempts at renewal. Was he a liberal or a conservative? A modern reformer or a traditionalist? A case can be built for each side. There is Maritain, the Thomist of the strict observance, in his niche between a more doctrinaire Garrigou-LaGrange and a more genial Gilson. There is the Maritain who broke with Bergson and became his incisive critic. There is the man who wished to be thought a paleo-Thomist more than a neo-Thomist.

Yet, on the other hand, there is another Maritain who had the courage of his convictions in pro-Franco Catholic circles during the Civil War and whose political and social philosophy angered the fascists of World War II. Here is a man who consciously allied himself with Saul Alinsky, the radical social organizer, and Eduardo Frei, the reforming president of Chile. Can we put these apparent dichotomies together under the heading: a doctrinal conservative and social liberal? That is part of it, but an oversimplification. Just how, then, can we solve these paradoxes and understand a man who was at once honored as an intellectual at the Vatican Council and who wrote The Peasant of the Garonne?

It is really not as great a mystery as it might appear. His own personal history gives us a clue to his attitudes. Born in Paris, the grandson of Jules Favre, the democratic and liberal statesman, he grew up in the liberal Protestant world and salons of his mother. He had as his birthright a place in the intellectual and social life of France. One of his closest high school friends was Ernest Psichari, the grandson of Renan. But as a student of the Sorbonne in science and philosophy he gradually came to realize that this world that he lived in could not answer his deepest questions or satisfy his inner longings for an ultimate sense of the meaning and purpose of life. He and his fellow student and wife, Raissa, were driven to the brink of despair by these questions they could find no answers to. The gloom began to lighten when they found Bergson who seemed to them to be fighting, almost single-handedly, against the materialism and rationalism of the time, and pointing in the direction of the possibility of a genuine metaphysics and knowledge of the absolute. Bergson had brought them one step on the road they were to travel, and it was Leon Bloy, a man of very different temper, who helped them complete their journey that led to faith. Bloy drew people to himself not by any rationalistic apologetics, but by fiery exhortations which held up the lives of the saints as visible manifestations of the supernatural nature of the Church. For the Maritains, to become converts to Catholicism meant resisting the social pressure of all their relatives and friends, renouncing the whole world they had lived in, and even more, it seemed, to mark an end to a life of philosophy, though, happily, this was not to be the case. (138)

As a new convert Jacques tried to reconcile his Bergsonianism with his Catholicism. Finally, after much soul-searching, he came to the conclusion that there were fundamental and irreconcilable differences between Bergson's thought and the philosophical principles implicit in his Catholic faith. When he finally discovered St. Thomas it was not the Thomism of the manuals that he found, but Thomas speaking to his personal needs and his thirst for philosophy. It was the basic principles of the philosophy of St. Thomas, not hoary and decrepit with age, but "still fresh with dew, and themselves newer even than the dawn." (139)

But how does this help us understand the divergent views that exist about Maritain? The answer is simply this: Maritain came from the world to the Church, and this colored his whole outlook. Many of the other leading figures of the Catholic renewal were coming from the opposite direction. They had been born in and had grown up in the Church. Blondel, for example, was a devout Catholic layman. Rousellot, Marichal, and later Rahner, were all Jesuits. They wanted to bridge the gap between the Church and the world and enrich Catholic thought by a genuine appreciation of philosophy. They were rediscovering St. Thomas in the light of their sympathy for the contemporary world, that very world, indeed, that the Church ought to take root in. But Maritain looked at things in another way. He knew from his own experience how the world could kill genuine impulses of the intellectual and spiritual life, how it could lead to a death of the spirit. He attacked its pretensions by which, with a mocking smile or a lifted eyebrow, it turned the search for a genuine metaphysics or faith into a project for fools. His criticisms sometimes had a barbed pointedness which he later regretted. But it is crucial to see where he is coming from. His St. Thomas was not the St. Thomas droned on about in some classroom. It was a Thomas whose Summa had entered his life like a luminous flood, and showed him the way to truly philosophize. (140)

With two so different perspectives misunderstandings were inevitable. To a less than discerning eye Maritain would appear to be one of the conceptualists and a more sophisticated exponent of the Thomism of the manuals. He would have broken with Bergson during the condemnations of Modernism and taken refuge in a rigid adherence to St. Thomas. But such a portrait is historically untenable. He was no more an uncritical friend of the manualists than he was an unqualified enthusiast for contemporary philosophy. He followed his own road, his own vision of truth, despite criticisms that came from both left and right.


It is by understanding the interplay between intuition and concept that we can clear the way for an understanding of knowledge by connaturality. Intuition is a very fluid notion, but at heart it means a direct and immediate knowledge. In Thomism's past it had been used in a strict sense to mean the knowledge God has of Himself, or the knowledge an angel has of himself, or the knowledge we have of God in the beatific vision. (141) But Maritain extended its meaning, in an analogous way, to knowledge working through concepts.

Intuition, in this sense, meant the intellect as seeing. The intellect desires to see, to know, to become one with the thing known. And the most familiar way of knowing for us is a knowing that takes place through concepts and ideas. Maritain never tired of insisting that intellect makes use of concepts in order to see. He was keenly aware of the criticisms that his old master Bergson had leveled against the concept. Bergson had tried to rescue metaphysics by sacrificing the concept which had become deadened through the course of modern philosophy. He wanted to replace this concept with an intuition powerful enough to make metaphysics possible again, but it was an intuition that Bergson conceived as supra-intellectual, a kind of powerful sympathy that would put the mind in contact with things.

But Maritain as a young convert had realized that these radical objections to concepts could not be maintained, for his own faith used concepts to express supernatural truths. This set him on the road that led to St. Thomas and to a lengthy process of discovering how Thomism, profiting from modern philosophy, could enrich its understanding of intuition, concept and connaturality. The concept had to be seen, not as something to be known first in order that we could then know something else, but the very formal means by which the reality itself becomes known. The concept is subordinated to the intuitive nature of the intellect. This had two important consequences. First, even in knowledge by concepts, the intellect could not be identified with reason understood in the sense of the careful elaboration of concepts, judgments and syllogisms. It was a much freer and vital power than logic alone could convey. The intellect in its depths brought forth concepts that were primordial words engendered in its depth and pregnant with reason at the very moment that it transcended reason and was its source:

"It is a question of calling forth a brand new Word, never yet conceived, from the dark yet fecund waters which have poured into the soul through the sluice-gates of the senses. Intellect gropes its way, strives, waits; it seeks a gift which will come to it from its nature. It must retain everything it knows about things, and forget what it knows about the ideas it has already learned (especially philosophical ideas), plunge into a bath of active forgetting, render soluble and virtual and bring to a state of confused vital tension its acquired experience, sympathize with the real as it would in mimicking it. Beneath its inner active light, at some unforeseeable moment of decisive emotion, the coveted ideas will be born." (142)

Secondly and more importantly, if we are to understand connaturality, not all knowledge makes use of concepts. The intellect can not only see by concepts when it illuminates with its active spiritual light the images that have come to it through the senses to unleash their universal qualities, it can see in other ways. It can illuminate our memories, emotions, instincts and volitions. It can illuminate our inner inclinations and orientations of spirit, not to articulate them in concepts, but to attain an obscure but invaluable knowledge.

And how does this knowledge take place? How can an emotion or affective inclination "take the place of the concept in becoming for the intellect a determining means or instrumental vehicle through which reality is grasped?" (143)

Maritain, writing of the emotion that plays such an important role in the creative intuition out of which poetry issues, said:

"it spreads into the entire soul" bringing with it certain particular aspects of things. It falls "into the living springs" of the spirit and is penetrated by the active illuminating light of the intellect and "then, while remaining emotion, it is made - with respect to the aspects in things which are connatural to, or like, the soul it imbues - into an instrument of intelligence judging through connaturality, and plays, in the process of this knowledge through likeness between reality and subjectivity, the part of a nonconceptual intrinsic determination of intelligence in its preconscious activity." (144)

This role of emotion in poetry was in his mind but one face of connaturality and one application of John of St. Thomas' amor transit in conditionem objecti, "love passes on to the sphere of the intentional means of objective grasping", whose treatise on the gifts of the Holy Spirit Raissa had translated into French.

Stimulated, then, by Bergson, deeply interested in art, poetry and mysticism, Maritain read the classic texts of St. Thomas in which the ancient wisdom and gnosis had become condensed. He read, for example, what St. Thomas had to say about the two ways of making a judgment - one through the mode of knowledge and the other through the mode of inclination. One Thomas called the way of knowledge or pure speculation, or through study, and the other, the way of inclination, a certain connaturality, similitude, love, aptitude or proportion, and in this manner Maritain found his way back to this traditional idea and it became a flexible principle in his hands. He applied it to the analyses of art and poetry, to moral behavior and mystical experience. He saw it in the inspirations and hunches of the empirical scientists groping towards a new theory, and in the work of the artists following dim perceptions that do not reach full awareness except in the work of art produced. And finally, Maritain saw that it could play a role in the act of faith itself.

Maritain's thoughts on faith would always have a living context, created first by his own conversion together with Raissa and her sister Vera, and reinforced by the other conversions they aided and witnessed. It was in writing of his friend Ernest Psichari, for example, that he reflected on the gratuitous and supernatural character of faith. Psichari, a soldier in the desert of North Africa, was led to faith without the normal human aids, for "God spoke to the soul, in that center of the soul, where only that mystical glance penetrates and the soul listens and responds." (145)

For Maritain this conversion as Psichari wandered in the desert was an excellent illustration of the Thomistic doctrine of faith. "It is an act of the intelligence, but the intelligence commanded by the will, itself rectified and oriented towards God." (146) " " Faith is essentially supernatural, supernatural as far as substance and consequently it resolves itself not in the human truth of apologetic demonstrations, but in the revelation itself of the first truth which is at once that which we believe and by which we believe as light is at the same time that which is seen and that by which we see; and faith rests formally on a supernatural illumination and inspiration, on a grace infused from on high which makes us receive in us the witness of God ... It is from the light that God infuses that faith gets its certitude." (147)

It is understanding how this light enters into us and how we respond to it that is the task of a theology of faith. Maritain has left some precious clues in an essay that touches on this issue, "The Immanent Dialectic of the First Act of Freedom". In it he imagines a child who, reaching the age of reason, makes his first fundamental moral choice by doing good precisely because it is good. It is a moment in which the child gives a certain fundamental direction to his life, even if the matter of his choice is small, for his choice transcends the empirical limits of the experience and in seeking good as good strives towards the Good which is God without the necessity of there being any explicit conceptual awareness of this choice of the ultimate Good.

"He knows God because, by virtue of the internal dynamism of his choice of the good for the sake of the good, he wills and loves the Separate Good as ultimate end of his existence. Thus, his intellect has of God a vital and non-conceptual knowledge which is involved both in the practical notion (confusedly and intuitively grasped, but with its full intentional energy), of the moral good as formal motive of his first act of freedom, and in the movement of his will toward this good and, all at once, toward the Good." (148)

And what is this non-conceptual knowledge but a knowledge through connaturality in which "the will, hiddenly, secretly, obscurely moving..." carries the intellect to that beyond which is the Good and "which at this point no longer enjoys the use of its regular instruments, and, as a result, is only actualized below the threshold of reflective consciousness, in a night without concept and without utterable knowledge"'? (149)

This natural, even connatural, knowledge of God, this "purely practical, non-conceptual and non-conscious knowledge of God" is surrounded and permeated by grace. We are called to a supernatural end of union with God which is the "only true end existentially given of human life." (150) This call of grace enters into the depths of our moral acts and transforms them and strengthens them. Then the first act of freedom, or any of the fundamental acts we make that reach to the roots of being and reaffirm or reorient it, are acts that have a supernatural character. They become acts of faith or disbelief.

But how can this inner non-conscious act be an act of faith when we have no explicit knowledge of God and are not consciously seeking Him? This is a vital point. If we can follow Maritain's arguments which show how a child can have faith without an explicit and conscious knowledge of God, then we will have precious clues to how faith works in us.

"Such a knowledge is neither implicit nor explicit, but, although inexpressible, is a knowledge actual and formal, through which the intellect knows in a practical manner the Separate Good per conformitatem ad appetitum rectum and as the actual terminus of the will's movement." (151)

And if this knowledge of the separate good through grace appears as the "good by means of which 'I shall be saved"', then if I seek this good, I am seeking God as my Savior. Then the will under the light of faith passes "into the sphere of objective actualization and becomes, in the stead of any concept, the means of a knowledge which is speculative though escaping formulation and reflective consciousness, and in which it is the movement of the will which, in its own way, actualizes the analogical values contained in the intuition and more or less confused concept of the moral good "by which I shall be saved." It is the movement of the will which, reaching beyond this good to the mysterious Existent it implies, makes this Existent become an object of the speculative intellect." (152)

In making the distinction between the choice of the moral good leading to the separate Good and God as Savior, Maritain is echoing John of St. Thomas. For John of St. Thomas, focusing on the objective qualities of the act of faith rather than the "psychological modalities in which they are realized in the subject" - in short, influenced by the love for objectivity of the past - feels that faith demands that God send an angel or a preacher.

Maritain exploring the subjective side of faith sees that moral good that becomes the "good by means of which I shall be saved" is a "mystical reality pertaining to the supernatural order ... under the influence of divine inspiration..." (153) This is a new objective content for the mind which springs from the fact that the will is directed to God as Savior and passes "into the sphere of objective actualization" and the "intellect adheres, on the inner testimony of God, to the divine reality thus revealed to it. Under the light of faith the Savior-God toward Whom the elan of the will moves has become the object of a non-conceptual speculative knowledge which comes about through the instrumentality of this very elan of the will." (154) This knowledge "remains below the threshold of consciousness, or crosses that threshold only in remaining inexpressible to reflective consciousness."

All of this can be applied to any act of faith, for it transcends whatever rational motives we have for making it. What we are seeing at its most basic level is how the very dynamics of the will when it seeks a particular good moves towards the Separate Good, and this natural movement is taken up and permeated by grace so that the Separate Good or Good of all the limited goods is seen by the intellect as that Good which is my final good and salvation.

And how does this take place? It is the will itself elevated by grace and united intimately with the reality to be known that passes into a state of objective actualization and becomes the means of knowing. We become aware, beyond the level of concepts and reflective consciousness, of the engagement of the will, its congruity with the Good, and this engagement becomes the food of the intellect which then dimly perceives and knows that that which the will is embracing is the Good of the whole person. When it is a question of an adult conversion of faith, then this mysterious process which may have been operative below the level of consciousness

becomes a matter of conscious reflection on the part of the intellect, which then often struggles, for it cannot comprehend with its normal conceptual methods the knowledge that is engaging it through the will. It is the task of Part III to utilize this notion of connaturality and our experiences of faith to lead us to a deeper understanding of the inner nature of faith.


We have seen in the course of our brief survey how the notion of connaturality began to come alive in recent times and how rooted it is in the Scriptures and the Fathers. There is no need to try to reduce our experience of faith to the narrow categories of a theology too enamored by reason, or to the models provided by the natural sciences. Instead, we have to go forward and draw out the implications of this central role of connaturality; draw them out and live them out.

Part III


Back to Theology