As we discussed previously, the gift of knowledge is there to make us “complete thinkers,” to connect one thing with another and to connect what is of earth to what is of heaven. This is often surprising both to secularists and to Christians of a certain stripe who imagine that the only thing a spiritual gift should concern is “spiritual” (by which they mean “disembodied”) things.
So it can be disorienting to hear that, say, Nicolaus Copernicus, who was a priest, was being a good Catholic in working through his calculations to show that the Earth went around the sun or that Father George Lemaitre was being a good Catholic in formulating the Big Bang Theory or that St. Albert the Great was being a good Catholic in trying to do natural history or that Louis Pasteur was being a good Catholic by studying anthrax or that Gregor Mendel was being a good Catholic by inventing the science of genetics.
But since, as St. Thomas made clear, all truth is God’s truth, Catholics exercising the gift of knowledge do this because they know that earth and heaven are bound together by two unbreakable cords: the fact that the universe was created by God and the fact that God has joined himself to earth in the incarnation of the Son of God.
That’s why the gift of knowledge is a sanctifying gift. To sanctify is to make holy, to set apart, to give to God. The main thing made holy by the sanctifying gift of knowledge is, of course, the saint. But the saint’s task is then to sanctify the world around him. So when we are infused with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit by a sort of instinct that refuses to cut earth off from heaven, but instead insists on glorifying God the Creator who is also Christ the Redeemer.
We refuse to pit earth against heaven, and the earth is part of God’s creation and subject to his governance. So, for instance, we do not truncate our thought by saying things like, “People used to think lightning was caused by God, but now we know it’s just electricity obeying the laws of nature.” Instead, we say, “Why is there electricity? Why is there anything at all, including laws of nature? And why is it intelligible to us? Because all comes from our loving God and Father.”
So we live sacramentally and acknowledge that “heaven and earth are full of God’s glory.”
That’s why knowledge perfects, not denies, the theological virtue of faith. The object of knowledge is, in the words of Servant of God Father John Hardon, “the whole spectrum of created things insofar as they lead one to God.”
This means that the gift of knowledge is ultimately personal, not abstract, because God is personal. Knowledge is no more about the mere cataloging of factoids about God or creation than architecture is about piling up bricks in a heap. Knowledge is about seeking to trace out the grand design of God in the cathedral of creation and redemption — and of our place in it. Through the exercise of knowledge, we discern God’s purpose in our lives and our place in his purposes. That is why such knowledge is sometimes called “the science of the saints” and theology (i.e., the study of God) the “queen of the sciences.”
By the gift of knowledge, says Jesus, “my sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27) and discern both earthly and heavenly truths in their proper relation to one another. Judging all things in the light of Divine truth, we cannot only distinguish between the promptings of God and the subtle wiles of the devil, we can see and praise the manifold ways in which God is glorified in his creatures.
In doing so, we honor the God who has spanned the gap from heaven to Bethlehem, that we may know him.
Next: the gift of piety.
Mark Shea is a Register blogger and columnist.