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The MOST Theological Collection: Mary in Our Life

"Introduction: Knowledge and Love"


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MANY an eloquent speaker has told his hearers: To know God is to love Him." The statement is true but is easily misunderstood. It certainly does not mean that a mere increase in information about God automatically increases love. If such were the case, every good theologian would inevitably be on fire with love of God; whereas it is all too true that some persons with but little instruction in the faith may show more love than many a theologian. What the statement does mean is this: The more one knows, the more he ought to love God, the more motives he has at his disposal which should urge him on to love.

There are various ways in which we may know the truths about God. In heaven there is direct, face-to-face knowledge of God; in that vision it is impossible not to love. But in this life our knowledge is indirect, in a mirror, in a dim manner-to paraphrase St Paul.1 Now, there are two kinds of knowledge in this life. Suppose I read in the news that there is a famine in India I know that fact and accept it without question, yet it probably does not impress me deeply. Were I to go to India, and perhaps even feel hunger myself, I would not merely add new facts and details to my knowledge; what is more important, I would realize my knowledge. We might call my first knowledge "notional knowledge." The second kind would be "realized knowledge." The first has little if any effect on our lives; the second is vital.

Our knowledge of the truths of faith tends to remain to a large extent in the class of notional knowledge. Of course we accept these truths. With the help of grace, we would stand ready to die rather than deny them. But at present our knowledge is apt to remain mostly notional-we do not realize it sufficiently.

In the pages that follow we hope to learn a great many things about Mary. But if this knowledge is to remain merely notional, unrealized, it will do us little good. In fact, it might even be somewhat harmful to us. The reason is simple: in learning these things, we have at hand the motives for greater love of God (for love of Mary is a means to love of God). When God gives us better opportunities, He expects more of us. The greater the talents given us, the greater the return we should make. But if we learn much about God and about Mary and remain untouched by this new knowledge, we are apt to become calloused, hardened, blinded-for we do not respond to motives that ought to fire us with love.

Cardinal Manning gives us a forceful description of an extreme case of hardness, that of a sinful priest whose life does not correspond with his knowledge of God:

Next to the immutable malice of Satan is the hardness of an impenitent priest. Priests who fall, if they do not return to God with greater facility and speed than other men, may become blinder and more hardened in heart than all other sinners.2

The Cardinal continues, explaining the reason for this extreme hardness:

They have been so long familiar with all the eternal truths, they have preached them so often ... they have had so great a profusion of lights ... and all in vain, that their end is like the dying man, on whom all remedies, medicine, and skill have been exhausted, but death has fastened so firmly that the dying must surely die.

The fundamental reason underlying the development of hardness is this: there ought to be a harmony between our words and our acts,3 between what we believe and what we do. If there is such a harmony, all is well. If not, a tension arises.4 Our faith says: "Only the things of eternity are really worth while," but our actions say: "The things of eternity are of little or no importance." In time one of the conflicting sides muse give in. Either a man will bring his actions into accord with his faith and his knowledge, or he will bring his beliefs into accord with his actions.

There are many degrees of hardness. In general, the further a man's conduct varies from what his faith and knowledge call for, the more hardness is likely to result A layman who avoids mortal sin, but in other respects shows scant signs of any thought of eternity, develops a lesser callousness than the sinful priest. But Catholics who live for a long time in many habitual mortal sins may find that hardness can advance even to complete loss of faith.

There is a striking example of misused knowledge in the Gospels. When the Magi from the East came to Jerusalem to see the newborn Saviour, they appealed to King Herod for help in their quest Herod, though not himself a Jew, knew perfectly well where this information could be obtainer Calling in the Jewish theologians, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. These learned men were easily able to give the right answer to Herod and the Magi: Christ was to be born in Bethlehem. They knew that answer; they knew all the prophecies about Him: yet they themselves did not find Him. Their knowledge was not a realized, a vital thing for them; instead, they were puffed up with pride. Far from being an asset to them, their learning was actually a liability, since it served not to increase their love of God, but to inflate their pride.

Hence it should be clear that in starting out to learn more about the things of God we are taking on a greater responsibility. Our sins, if we continue to commit them, will be more terrible from the very fact that we will know more of the goodness of God and the horror of sin. We must work and pray diligently for an increase of love to match our new knowledge lest we become mere windbags of pride.

There is, however, a pleasant side to the picture. If love keeps pace with knowledge, the result is an ever-growing, solid spiritual structure; mere knowledge puffs up, but love builds up solidly.5 Not a hardened conscience, but a deeper spiritual insight is the result when a person lives his beliefs; his perception and grasp of spiritual things is sharpened. Of this St. Augustine writes: "for this [understanding] is the effect of pure and simple love of God, which gives the greatest power of vision in moral matters."6

Therefore it will help greatly if our reading of the following chapters is meditative and accompanied by prayer. This will be particularly the case in the first eight chapters, which are primarily dogmatic Some of the truths in them can be properly appreciated only with the help of thought and prayer. That means an effort-but the effort will be found worth while, for solid devotion, such as we hope to learn in the second group of chapters, can be built only upon the firm ground of dogma

This meditative approach is already a large step toward using our knowledge as a means to love. In so doing, we will not re semble the Jewish theologians who could point out the place where Christ was to be found and yet not find Him, but we will imitate Mary who "kept all these words, pondering them in her heart."7


1 I Cor. 13:12: "We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face."
2 Henry Edward Manning, The Eternal Priesthood (Baltimore, no date), 275-76.
3 When we speak of acts we do not mean only external activity: we mean to include interior activity as well, such as recollection, meditation, acts of love, and of other virtues. Some have erred greatly in virtually identifying the service of God with bustling exterior activity, to the detriment of an interior life. The spirit of recollection and love withers in such externalism. Outward activity not supported by a deep interior life is sterile. Pope Pius XII speaks of this distorted emphasis on feverish activity as "the heresy of action." See his apostolic exhortation, Menti nostrae (September 23, 1950), par. 60, in the NCWC translation.
4 See St. Augustine, The City of God, XIX, 13: "The peace of a rational soul is the well-ordered harmony of knowledge and action."
5 See I Cor. 8:1: "Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth."
6 De Moribus Ecclesiae Catholicae XVII, 31. Compare the sixth beatitude. "Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God."
7 Luke 2:19.