I believe precisely in order to understand.
This statement from Francis Cardinal George, late Archbishop of Chicago, struck a chord with me as I read his posthumously published book, A Godly Humanism. It resonated with a train of thought that had been chugging around in my head for the past few weeks: from the Big Bang onward, every event and element in the universe originates with and points to God, our origin and goal.
Throughout the quarter of a century he served as bishop, Cardinal George was widely recognized to be the most intellectually capable member of the US hierarchy. I was blessed to encounter him early and often during that time, and always found him kind and personable. Frank and direct would also describe him, as his intellectual rigor revealed itself in unhesitant honesty. All of this made him stand out among the many bishops I knew.
As Cardinal George prepared for death by the cancer that had come back for the third time, he meditated on the relationship between the realm of the intellect and the realm of faith, and their seeming clash in our nation and culture. He found both to be bound up inseparably not only in his own life, but in human nature and experience. It is insight from personal experience that he offers in his book.
He responds graciously and eloquently to the common assertion that faith and reason are opposites. I am so grateful for it, because this has been bothering me lately. There is so much science and discovery and insight out there, and every shred of it points to magnificence of its Creator. Everything beautiful and everything dangerous, everything thunderous and everything still, resounds with the genius and glory of God.
In a time when we have a popular television show called The Big Bang Theory, with characters who are nerdy and supposedly extremely smart, most people do not know that the eponymous theory originated with the scientific work of a priest, Fr. Georges LeMâitre, SJ. The intelligence and learning of the characters on the show include no interest in God, much less any concern for Divine instruction that would shed light on how they should live. The smug and willful ignorance depicted is both widespread and pernicious.
To call oneself “agnostic” is fashionable, but how many realize that etymologically, it simply means “without knowledge?” In common usage, it indicates a conviction that one cannot know about God, and therefore one does not know, and should not behave as if he does. On the contrary, ignorance of God not only requires a great deal of effort to maintain, but must also first be taught or instructed.
One of the phrases that Cardinal George brings out is the ancient formula, credo ut intelligam: I believe that I may understand. It is the exact opposite of what so many people assert now, the proposition that one must choose either to have faith, or to have knowledge. He explains: Because there are things beyond human understanding, faith is a vision of reality larger than that given by our own experience. It’s a way of understanding something that reason couldn’t discover. Once (divine) revelation has helped us to see things we wouldn’t see without its data, then we can begin to understand what has been given us by using the power of reason.
The irony is that faith, specifically Christian faith, is the root of so much of our scientific knowledge. The foundation for the scientific inquiry that has brought about our technological mastery was and remains our confidence in the God who is intelligible to us, and in whose likeness we are able to know Him and all His work. Therefore, you and I are better able to understand any and every science, any and every aspect of reality, because we study and believe in God.
This is why I nurture, protect, and value my faith, and why I ground every consideration and decision in what it teaches me. Because I believe precisely in order to understand.