The Gift of Knowledge
And the Beatitude of Mourning
The first and Original Sin of man engendered a very great paradox at the center of every man’s life and knowledge of the world. What before was unadulterated goodness, God’s created world, now becomes a threat to man – not because created things have suddenly become evil in themselves – but because man’s disordered intellect and will are always tempted to consume these things in inordinate self-love and use them in violation of God’s Truth and Will. Due to this paradox, many key words in Holy Scripture are used in ways which may at first appear contradictory. We can read, for instance, that “God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son.” (John 3:16). Yet, Christ says, “I am not of this world.” (John 8:23), and “I pray not for the world (John 17:9);” and St. John flatly declares, “If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him.” (1John 1:15). Our world, our language, and our own selves are all full of apparent contradictions because our minds and hearts have contradicted God. There is, on the other hand, no contradiction in God Himself.
We tend to think of this “contradicting of God” as primarily an action of our lower appetites. Most of us are familiar with St. Paul’s teaching concerning the war which occurs in all men between these lower appetites and the “higher” mind:
“For the good which I will, I do not; but the evil which I will not, that I do.
Now if I do that which I will not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that when I have a will to do good, evil is present with me. For I am delighted with the law of God, according to the inward man: But I see another law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind, and captivating me in the law of sin, that is in my members.
“Unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? The grace of God, by Jesus Christ my Lord. Therefore, I myself, with the mind serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Rom 7:19-25).
We tend to interpret this passage as saying that the root cause of sin lies “in the flesh” – in other words, in the lower appetites, and in the war which they wage against what the mind knows to be the truth. In this we are simply wrong. It certainly is true that these appetites of the flesh do war against the law of God written on our hearts and mind, but this rebellion of the flesh is, in reality, a secondary effect of a much more profound rebellion. We need to go back and understand the nature of original sin in order to understand the real roots of all actual sin, and the effects that sin has upon our perception of reality.
On this subject St. Thomas has the following to offer:
“Now man was so appointed in the state of innocence, that there was no rebellion of the flesh against the spirit. Wherefore it was not possible for the first inordinateness [disorder] of the human appetite to result from his coveting a sensible good, to which the concupiscence of the flesh tends against the order of reason. It remains therefore that the first inordinateness of the human appetite resulted from his coveting inordinately some spiritual good. Now he would not have coveted it inordinately, by desiring it according to his measure as established by the Divine rule. Hence it follows that man’s first sin consisted in his coveting some spiritual good above his measure: and this pertains to pride. Therefore it is evident that man’s first sin was pride….Now the first thing he coveted inordinately was his own excellence; and consequently his disobedience was the result of his pride….Gluttony also had a place in the sin of our first parents. For it is written (Gen 3:6): ‘The woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold, and she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat’. Yet the very goodness and beauty of the fruit was not their first motive for sinning, but the persuasive words of the serpent, who said: ‘Your eyes shall be opened and you shall be as Gods’: and it was by coveting this that the woman fell into pride. Hence the sin of gluttony resulted from the sin of pride….The desire for knowledge resulted in our first parents from their inordinate desire for excellence. Hence the serpent began by saying: ‘You shall be as Gods, and added: Knowing good and evil’.” (II,II, Q.163, a.1).
To put this in very simple terms, we might say that all sin has its roots in that fundamental act of man by which he attempts to replace God by seeking to “know” creation, and all the truths concerning creation, independently of God, and without God at the root of each created thing. Such knowledge constitutes not only a rebellion against God; it also deprives man of his intellectual foundation in the Being and Truth of God, destroys his ability to perceive reality, and profoundly perverts his whole moral life. St. Paul analyzes the effects produced in men’s souls when they reject God as creator and refuse to see God’s presence and power at the root of all created things:
“And as they liked not to have God in their knowledge, God delivered them up to a reprobate sense, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all iniquity, malice, fornication, avarice, wickedness, full of envy, murder, contention, deceit, malignity, whisperers, detractors, hateful to God, contumelious, proud, haughty, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, foolish, dissolute, without affection, without fidelity, without mercy.” (Rom 1: 28-31).
Reading this, is it not astounding that any Catholic parent could send their child to the public school where it is the law that the presence of God must be excluded from the study of His creation?
The Gift of Knowledge is that Gift of the Holy Spirit which restores us to a proper relationship to created things. It has been common practice to teach that it reveals to us the emptiness of all things, and therefore liberates our minds and hearts for the pursuit of God and His Ways. There certainly is truth in such an approach to this very important Gift, but it also has its limitations and dangers. Man’s sin brought death and disorder into this world, and it is therefore correct to speak of the vanity of pursuing created things. There is also, however, a very real danger in this limited approach of embracing a kind of Manichaean dualism which deprives God of His creation and seeks to degrade man’s legitimate and Christian responsibilities in this world to the status of emptiness or even evil. In other words, it certainly is very appropriate to speak of the emptiness of the pursuit of created things, but it is profoundly wrong and destructive to speak of the emptiness of the things themselves which God has created. It was Chesterton who said something to the effect that just as Christ restored man to God, so it was St, Francis and St. Thomas who penetrated through Manichaean dualism in order to restore God to the world. This does not at all mean that they did not see the dangers that were present in the things of this world, or that they did not practice a great deal of asceticism. Any one who has studied the life of St. Francis, for instance, knows the absolute absurdity of such a claim. It does mean, however, that along with this asceticism, they offered an incredibly rich knowledge which penetrated to the very heart of God’s presence within each created thing. And they did it in very different ways. We might say that St. Francis did so through a kind of divine poetry of immediate mystical perception of God’s presence within everything; and that St. Thomas accomplished the same through a mystical union with Christ which expressed itself in an intellectual analysis of the ontological nature of both God and creation. Two very different ways of doing a thing; yet both derived their unique visions of God and the world entirely from the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ. And both offered to the world a renewed vision of what it means that “In Him we live, and move, and have our being.”
The soul that is restored to this vision of “God in all things and all things in God” (without a tinge of pantheism) intuitively abhors all those forms of knowledge which presumptuously come between God and His creation. We live in a country which has enshrined in law the absolute necessity of prohibiting the inclusion of God in any way in the public education of our children. Therefore this country is at war with God and Being. There is no more appropriate way of illustrating this twofold war (against the Being of God and the being of man) than by stating the two greatest sins of this country: the exclusion of God from the education of our children, and the virtual unrestricted legal right to the murder of the unborn. This war, however, is not exclusive to this country or any group of countries. It is inherent in the system of so-called “classical education”, largely an outgrowth of Renaissance philosophy, which has sought to place virtually all knowledge on a foundation of human reasoning and experience independent of God’s Being and Revelation. It is therefore incumbent upon those who wish to struggle for a return to God, and for that holy simplicity which establishes the soul in God, to examine the whole educational curriculum and renew it in the light of God’s life and wisdom. This, of course, requires first and foremost that parents take their children out of public schools (and certainly most private schools, including most of those which call themselves Catholic), and take upon themselves the primary task and responsibility for their education.
All human life is created by God to be established in the mystery of His life. This is a mystery which does not shut down our hearts and minds, but rather one which is designed to open up our hearts (like those of children) in order to draw us deeply into the beauty and glory of His presence. St. Paul speaks of “the mystery which hath been hidden from ages and generations, but now is manifested to his saints….which is Christ, in you the hope of glory.” (Col 1:26-27). This mystery of God, however, is not just within us, but in all of creation, which is designed to be seen by the “single eye” of man as the wondrous footprints of God. Our proper response to all created things is therefore meant to be wonder, and the glorification and praise of God which such wonder evokes. Anyone who has prayed the Divine Office is quite familiar to what degree the Psalms embody this spirit. It is our primary duty in regard to both our own education and that of our children to exercise that art of Catholic creativeness which sees to it that this presence of God is brought into all the fields of our studies; and that we expend every effort to rid such education of any “reductiveness” in our view of creation, and to unite all of our perceptions and experiences of creation into that singleness of vision and intention which sees and passionately desires God through all things.
We have seen in a number of articles that the primary “carrier” of the spiritual disease of our times is scientific materialism. Any “science” which reduces created things to their accidental realities (which, as we have seen is precisely what such modern sciences as chemistry and physics do) tends to destroy this worship, and constitutes a war upon both God and man. Since it would be imprudent (especially in regard to the demands of the State and the exigencies of modern life and technology) to ignore or eliminate these sciences entirely from our curriculums, we must focus a great deal of our efforts in placing them in their proper and truly Catholic perspectives.
We might say that our primary obligation as good Catholics in regard to the physical sciences is to de-emphasize them. This immediately will place us in a position which runs counter to the world and the State. This is necessarily true, because the world worships material and technological progress, and scientific education is the key to this “progress.” There are a number of ways to accomplish this de-emphasis.
The first, and most important, is through proper training in philosophy. Children, from a very early age, should be taught the irreducible mystery of every created thing – that the substantial nature of every created thing is not reducible to any scientifically analyzable or quantifiable being, but rather is what it is simply because of God’s creation of it from nothing. This is the foundational truth of all philosophy and true science: that the substantial being of every created thing is rooted in God and only reducible to His creative action.
It is also true that from the very earliest introduction of a child to the material sciences, they can be taught the absurdity of scientific reductionism – they will easily learn and retain the knowledge that to believe that water is equivalent to H2O or that salt is NaCl, or that the nature of anything is reducible to this kind of quantification is far more silly than believing that the world is flat. What is more, our children need to be taught that science itself has been the single greatest and most destructive engine employed in the war conducted for centuries against both the Glory of God and the dignity of man.
We strongly recommend reading the sequel to this present article, Science: War Against Both God and Man, for irrefutable evidence concerning what is written above.
Secondly, children should be encouraged to choose a life rooted in simplicity and humble work. This involves basically dropping out of the whole educational, scientific, and technological rat-race rooted in always being more, and having more, of this world. It is very difficult to retain a true philosophy, or a heart which perceives God in His creation, if we allow ourselves to be drawn into the ever-increasing vortex of secular knowledge, technology, and material progress. And, of course, most of the jobs in these “fields” of our so-called “advanced civilization” involve compromise with fundamental moral principles and truths. What is more, if the industrial revolution de-humanized our world, then the computer revolution internalizes this process of de-humanization, and destroys true rationality. There is a principal of smallness and modesty built into the human soul by God which, if violated, results in the loss of true personhood. Man is created finite, with only a finite ability to handle information. The effect of the so-called “knowledge revolution” and the massive amounts of information absorbed through TV, the Internet, and the Media has been to place souls in a mode which is predominantly passive, incapable of real rationality and creative thought or love. The legions of Hell have a tremendous investment in this revolution. There is no easier means for Satan to gain possession of a soul than through that open passivity which is now the almost universal fruit of this overload of information.
There is a second psychological principle at work here which is even more frightening in its effects. If into such an overloaded system one actually places absolute or revealed truth as one of the possible “bites” among all the other information “bites” which the mind is receiving, then the usual effect is to relativize this truth and make it only a personal option in a relativistic and pluralistic medium. True Christian conversion always requires the perception that truth is something radically different – a city seated on a mountain, a light on a candlestick, a distinct light separate from the world. Whole nations were converted by the early Christians because this “difference” was perceived in the way that Christians believed, lived, worked, recreated, and worshipped in holy simplicity.
As a third psychological principle, we can say that even when the truth is accepted through such an overloaded system it tends to become like the seed that falls on poor soil. Since this soil is lacking in simplicity, overburdened with complexities, and found to be growing in the midst of the weeds of this world, it most often fails to take deep roots and is easily choked out simply because of the superficial way in which it is received. TV evangelism and the Charismatic Movement are powerful evidence to such superficiality.
Certainly, it is at least theoretically possible to engage in scientific analysis and still retain a sense of this wonder and worship. After all, the incredible richness and complexity of material reality is a wondrous thing and points directly to God as its creator. Yet, we must ask, how is this knowledge obtained? How much of our analytical knowledge of life processes is obtained through reducing life to death, just to satisfy our lust for knowledge or unneeded material comforts and pleasures?
And what does such coldly analytical killing do to a child’s soul? We would like to suggest, for instance, that the process of dissecting a frog is inherently conducted in some sort of milieu of spiritual degradation and revulsion. Such “science” does not have the same effect on the soul as killing for food or, as in the Old Testament, the offering of religious sacrifice. The sacrifice of a lamb to God was meant to be a sacrifice – an act that is sorrowful, and one in which man is fully conscious of his own sinfulness as being the cause of this death of God’s created life. Without this sorrow, such sacrifice would be hypocritical. In fact, every time we are obligated to kill an animal our hearts and minds should be scarred with the consciousness of our own sin and fallen nature. Such humility and sorrow are not the accompaniments of laboratory science. Rather than kindling the salutatory knowledge of our own sinfulness and mortality, it rather feeds our own callousness toward God’s creation and the insatiable desire for progress in pride and consumption.
In our teaching of science we must simply follow the following golden thread: Any study which transforms the heart and mind of a child (or adult) into wonder and praise of God through his creation is acceptable. Any means which we can use to expose the philosophical and scientific errors of reductive science, and to reveal the presence of God as the source of being in all created things – these are also of tremendous value. But most important of all, we must be willing to say no to those methodologies, textbooks, classes, programs, which can infiltrate the virus of reductive science into our children’s souls. And we must do so, even at the expense of their not keeping up with the world.
As we have said, true Catholic creativity must be exercised within all the fields of human study. The study of English literature is another example. It is incontestable that far more than ninety percent of the English literature studied in the average course of studies is written by authors who are either Protestant, agnostic, or atheistic. Many believe that this does not necessarily affect the greatness of these authors’ genius, and that these are still worth our careful study because of the depths of their artistic merit and their insights into life and reality. This belief tends to ignore one of the most important truths of the human condition, and of Catholic moral teaching. Our natures are deeply damaged by the effects of original sin, and extremely subject to the influences and temptations of the world, often at levels within our minds and hearts which are not conscious. It is extremely naïve of us to believe that there are not powerful errors and immoralities present within the writings of such non-Catholics, which can adversely affect our children (and their parents) despite our conscious efforts to be moral watchdogs.
It is one thing to study non-Catholics authors on an individual level in order to accomplish some very specific purpose (studying the writings of an evolutionist, for instance, in order to be able to refute their position); it is another to saturate a child with non-Catholic and even anti-Catholic writings as part of a curriculum adopted by a secular culture. This, of course, has been going on for centuries with virtually every English speaking Catholic child in the world. During all that time our priests were rightly counseling alcoholics to avoid bars as near occasions to sin, and admonishing those who had temptations against chastity that they must stay away from pornography and bad forms of entertainment We might well ask why they were at the same time giving their blessings to the study of John Milton or Walt Whitman. What has happened to the Catholic prescription to avoid near-occasions to sin, when these sins are temptations to the intellect, and especially to intellectual pride?
It is also important to realize that most literary genera were virtually non-existent before the Protestant Revolt, and certainly before the Renaissance. They therefore carry in their train the hubris of Renaissance humanism, and the Manichaean dualism which is characteristic of all Protestant culture. The modern novel, for instance, is a recent invention. Scripture is emphatic that we are to set our mind on things above, not those below; that no man can really know another’s heart; that we are to promote peace and overcome evil with good; and that we are to be more concerned with removing the beam from our own eye rather than focusing on the motes in the eyes of others. The novel is a genre which necessarily focuses on things below, relies on conflict in order to hold the attention of its reader; and captures the fascination of the reader with its probing into the interior emotional and psychological nature of its characters. Is all this beneficial to the formation of that “single eye” which Our Lord tells us is necessary in order to “make our whole body lightsome”?
Further, these spiritual principles should be applied to all the arts. We might draw a comparison, for instance, between the novel and the symphony. There would seem to be something grandiosely psychological and humanistic about the symphony in comparison to such things as Gregorian Chant, Palestrina, simple folk tunes of the High Middle Ages, or even Baroque music. It is not an accident that even Mozart was a Freemason.
Nor should the fact that something is quite specifically “religious” enable it to escape our scrutiny. Compare, for instance, the gracious and modest genius of Fra Angelico’s art with the grandiose crudeness of Michelangelo. Both are geniuses, but is the art of both truly conducive to moral purity and growth? Someone once commented that in the work of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel even the knuckles on the hands of his women are biceps. From a distance this work might appear awesome and overwhelming. We would suggest that from close-up it is gross, crude, sensuous, and debilitating to the spiritual life, and especially insulting to women.
Finally, we must mention that there is nothing which has been more effective in the diffusion of cultural and religious error than has been the discipline and teaching of history. From the labeling of the High Middle Ages as the “Dark Ages”; the designation of the Protestant Revolt as the Protestant Reformation ; the conferring of the title “Good Queen Bess” upon the perverted mass-murderer Queen Elizabeth I; the canonization of the American “Fathers” as those who established true liberty; the vilification of Cortez; the silence in regard to the horrendous martyrdom of Mexican Catholicism; the glorification of the “republicans” in the Spanish Civil War (in a period of six months to one year they destroyed 20,000 churches, murdered almost 7,000 priests and religious and untold numbers of lay Catholics); the vilification of Pope Pius XII as “Hitler’s Pope”; the absolute failure to recognize that in the 20th century more human beings were slaughtered than in all the other centuries of human history combined, and that, in the West at least, this carnage was almost totally directed by such things as militant Communism and Nazism against Christianity – all these and many more extraordinary distortions of true history have created a cultural milieu which is profoundly anti-Catholic, militantly pluralistic, and deeply immoral.
In this discussion of the Gift of Knowledge we have focused very specifically on various subjects of education, especially of our children. We have done so because the classical education curriculum has been the primary means of fostering that duplicity in our lives by which we attempt to serve both God and Satan. St. James declares, “Religion clean and undefiled before God and the Father, is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their tribulation: and to keep one’s self unspotted from this world.” (James 1:27). What we pursue as knowledge is the primary means by which this simplicity and “singleness” are violated. St. James also says, “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners: and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to sorrow. Be humbled in the sight of the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:8-10). The purifying of our minds and hearts and the restoration of single-minded love of God is remedied by the Beatitude of Mourning, which in turn is the fruit of true Knowledge.
As we said, we may justly speak of that mourning which sees the emptiness and vanity of created things, and thus causes the soul to turn to God for its comfort and fulfillment. This “negative” mourning does not, however, plumb the depths of sorrow to be found in the world. The greater sorrow of our lives is that all which is good in God’s creation has been damaged; what was created for eternal life is now subject to death and decay; that which was pure is now besmirched with sin, and all things which were created “by Him and in Him” (Col 1:16) now lie in confusion and darkness. St. Paul does not say that he cannot wait to be rid of a body which is simply worthless or evil, but that he moans and groans “waiting for the adoption of the sons of God, the redemption of our body.” (Rom 8:23). It is this “positive” mourning which is the fruit of true knowledge, frees us from bondage to created things, and inflames in us that single-minded passion which seeks to restore all things in Christ.
There can be nothing part-time about genuine Christianity. This may be our single greatest delusion: that the Christian faith is a possession among other possessions, and that it does not therefore require the full attention of every element and moment of our life. We worship a jealous God. We do not, in fact, appreciate the nature and extent of the jealousy of Our God. Scripture is emphatic: “The Lord his name is Jealous, he is a jealous God.” (Exodus 34:14). Let us repeat that to ourselves: “his name is Jealous”, and this is so “Because the Lord thy God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” (Deut 4:24).
It should not surprise the reader, therefore, the extent to which, in our discussion of the Gift of Knowledge and the Beatitude of Mourning, we have descended to the very particular and concrete. Is it not true, after all, that what we chose to make the matter of our education and knowledge is also that which we chose to pursue and love? It is said that true love pays attention to details, and is known and proved by the particulars of its attentions and actions. There is nowhere that this is more evidenced than in our choice of education curricula. We must therefore choose very carefully. We will be judged upon these choices, especially in regard to our children.
Please also read our sequel to this article: “Science: The War Against Both God and Man”.