By Fr. Glenn Jones:
Do you ever wonder how future generations will look back at us and think: “Wow. They were so rudimentary in their knowledge. How could they have thought that?” We sort of balk at that idea, thinking that our own knowledge—essentially meaning “we ourselves”—is so great that it cannot be exceeded.
But who hasn’t read history and wasn’t amazed at what was once considered truth, such as that bathing was unhealthy, sickness was caused by noxious vapors, the effect of this or that heavenly event, etc. The people of that time likely made the best conclusion they could with their limited information, no doubt peppered liberally with their own biases—something that researchers and truth seekers in every age have to guard against. Likewise, future schoolchildren may one day read of us in amazed disbelief about our own limited knowledge as we do of concepts from not many decades ago.
But good ol’ science comes to rescue us over time from ignorance and misconceptions. Yet the word “science” comes from the Latin “scientia”, meaning “knowledge”. In our day we tend to think of “science” as relating specifically to the physical world, but it is hardly limited to such. Science—“knowledge”—concerns philosophy, virtue, emotions and other intangibles. And, yes, faith.
Physical sciences are the easiest to affirm, because they are physically confirm-able—they (or their effects) can be directly observed and measured by senses enhanced by technology. And, of course, advancement of physical sciences (and everything else) increases by an additive process over time—each brick contributing to the edifice of knowledge that we now enjoy. And yet, one might argue: is our edifice a tower, or simply a foundation. Certainly understanding will increase over time (hopefully wisdom as well) as development of technology helps us peel back obscurities present due to current limitations.
But the same is true of other knowledge as well, even faith. Using Christianity as an example: As more persons read and think about that faith, more realization will be had; there are infinite layers to the infinite God. As quantum physics delves ever more deeply into the subatomic world, so theology delves into the infinitely deeper mystery, knowledge and realization of the essence of the Creator. Whether one believes is immaterial to God’s actual existence. A painting’s artist IS the artist, regardless of whether people want to believe.
Faith is easily—too easily—dismissed in our time because God rarely manifests Himself in a physically-confirmable way—the way WE demand … much like doubting Thomas: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25) But our lack of sense ability cannot disprove God, especially because those senses—so limited in their scope—cannot “see” God directly. And so, along with the majority of knowledge that each of us possesses, we must depend on faith in the testimony of others; the Bible itself is human-drafted—albeit divinely inspired—testimony of men. After all, did astronauts really land on the moon? How do you know? Were you there? And are not fake videos produced all the time? But we believe they did so because of faith in reports of witnesses who have greater knowledge. In 100 years, will people still believe in moon landings? After all, they’ll only have testimony of witnesses, not direct knowledge.
Likewise, when we Christians consider our faith, we remember the testimony of those who have gone before; in fact, the many who gave up everything—often even their lives—testifying to what they had seen. These are primarily Jesus’ apostles (11 of 12 even martyred for their immovable faith), but also others who witnessed the works of Jesus and those who believed through them, as well (as we Christians would say) even more so inspired by the Spirit of God moving in them.
After all, there was explosive growth of the faith even in just a few decades and centuries. And yet … to what end? Believers suffered persecution, rejection, impoverishment, etc., but in convinced certainty of the truth of Christ … in who He was, and what He taught and did. To illustrate, we can go to a letter by St. Cyprian of Carthage: “Valerian had sent a rescript to the Senate, to the effect that bishops and presbyters and deacons should immediately be punished; but that senators, and men of importance, and Roman knights, should lose their dignity, and moreover be deprived of their property; and if, when their means were taken away, they should persist in being Christians, then they should also lose their heads; but that matrons should be deprived of their property, and sent into banishment. Moreover, people of Caesar’s household, whoever of them had either confessed before, or should now confess, should have their property confiscated, and should be sent in chains by assignment to Caesar’s estates.” (see LINK)
If the emperor condemned it, it must have been occurring. If such men and women of high rank were ready to sacrifice all as apparently they were, they certainly would have given such cost the most careful consideration. Thus, does it not behoove all to at least explore the reasoned basis for this faith—the testimonies of martyrs, the growth of the Christian faith around the world now for 2000 years, the miracles investigated minutely and affirmed by even by scientists and doctors hired by the Vatican, etc.? Is not a scientist who discards data that does not fit preconceptions a poor scientist? Thus each of us as seekers of truth—scientists—should be willing to investigate all.
We have not the capability of peeling away the infinite layers to reveal God in His essence … except in Jesus, for He as God took to Himself our humanity to become one of us … He Who IS the way, the truth and the life.
“Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy…” (1 Peter 1:8)
“Jesus said to [Thomas], ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’” (John 20:29)
Editor’s note: Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.