I. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD
The knowledge of God consists in the knowledge of His perfections, His works, His will, and the means of grace instituted by Him. St. Paul bids us “increase in the knowledge of God” (Col. i. 10). Now we only know God through a glass in a dark manner; only in heaven shall we see Him face to face, and have a clear knowledge of His perfections (1 Cor. xiii. 12).
1. The happiness of the angels and the saints consists in the knowledge of God.
Our Lord tells us that “this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent” (John xvii. 3). This is the food of which the archangel Raphael spoke, when he said to Tobias: “I use an invisible meat and drink, which cannot be seen by men” (Tob. xii. 19). In heaven the saints and angels have an immediate knowledge of God in the beatific vision. We on earth only know God through the medium of His works and of what He has revealed to us. Our knowledge, compared with that of the saints and angels, is like the knowledge of a country that one gets from maps and pictures as compared with the knowledge of one who has himself visited it.
2. The knowledge of God is all-important, for without it there cannot be any happiness on earth, or a well-ordered life.
The knowledge of God is the food of our soul. Without it the soul feels hungry; we become discontented. He who does not possess interior peace, cannot enjoy riches, health, or any of the goods of this life; they all become distasteful to him. Yet few think about this food of the soul; they busy themselves, as Our Lord says, with the “meat that perishes” (John vi. 27). Without the knowledge of God a man is like one who walks in the dark, and stumbles at every step; he has no end or aim in life, no consolation in misfortune, and no hope in death. He cannot have any solid or lasting happiness, or any true contentment. Without a knowledge of God a well-ordered life is impossible. Just as an untilled field produces no good fruit, so a man who has not the knowledge of God can produce no good works. Ignorance and forgetfulness of God are the causes of most of the sins that men commit. Rash and false oaths, neglect of the service of God and of the sacraments, the love of gold, the sinful indulgence of the passions, are all due to willful ignorance and forgetfulness of God. Thus the prophet Osee exclaims “There is no knowledge of God in the land. Cursing and lying and killing and theft and adultery have overflowed” (Osee iv. 2, 3). And St. Ignatius of Loyola cries out, “O God, Thou joy of my soul, if only men knew Thee, they never would offend Thee,” and experience shows that in the jails the greater part of the prisoners are those who knew nothing of God. When Frederick of Prussia at length recognized that the want of the knowledge of God was the cause of the increase in crime, he exclaimed, “Then I will have religion introduced into the country.” This is why the learning and the understanding of the Catechism, which is nothing else than an abridgment of the Christian religion, is all-important. But a mere knowledge of the truths of religion is not sufficient; they must also be practiced.
3. We arrive at a right knowledge of God through faith in the truths which God has revealed.
It is true that by means of reason and from the contemplation of the creatures that God has made man can arrive at a knowledge of God (Rom. i. 20). “The heavens show forth the glory of God” (Ps. xviii. 2). But our reason is so weak and prone to err, that without revelation it is very difficult for man to attain to a clear and correct knowledge of God. What strange and perverted views of the Deity we find among heathen nations (cf. Wisd. ix. 16, 17). God therefore in His mercy comes to our aid with revelation. Through believing the truths that God has revealed, man attains to a clear and correct knowledge of God. Hence St. Anselm says, “The more I am nourished with the food of faith, the more my understanding is satisfied.” Faith is a divine light that shines in our souls (2 Cor. iv. 6). It is like a watch tower, from which we can see that which cannot be seen from the plain below; we learn respecting God that which cannot be learned by mere reason from the world around. It is a glass through which we perceive all the divine perfections. It is a staff which supports our feeble reason, and enables it to know God better. There are two books from which we gain a knowledge of God; the book of Nature, and Holy Scripture, which is the book of revelation.
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