VATICAN CITY—Knowledge of God is less an intellectual process than a growth in his love, Pope John Paul II told pilgrims.

The Pope characterized as a temptation — in some cases a prejudice — to reduce the Gospel to an ethical system, complete with prohibitions and impersonal precepts.

“Certainly knowledge of God also has a dimension in the intellectual realm,” the Pope said during his Oct. 6 weekly general audience.

“But the living experience of the Father and the Son comes about in love, that is, in the last analysis, in the Holy Spirit, because God's love has been poured into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit.”

Addressing thousands of pilgrims in a chilly and cloud-covered St. Peter's Square, the Pope said the whole of Christian life can be summed up in the commandment to love. Without love, Christianity and its ethics are absolutely incomprehensible.

“Everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God,” said the Pope, quoting the First Letter of St. John.

“These sublime words, while revealing to us God's very essence as a mystery of infinite charity, lay the foundation on which the Christian ethic rests, all concentrated on the commandment to love.”

This commandment can be traced to the Old Testament covenant between God and Israel, he said. God expresses his love for man in pages brimming with tenderness, not because of his merits, but because he exists as God's creation — in spite of his weaknesses and infidelities.

“On one side, there is God's initiative of love; on the other, the response of love which he expect.,”

In the New Testament, the dynamic of love is centered on Jesus Christ, the Pope said.

The Pope reflected on Jesus’ revolutionary message, about which St. John would exclaim, “See what great love the Father has given us, that we should be called sons of God, and we really are!” (1 John 3:1).

“Humans participate in this love by knowing the Son, that is, by receiving his teaching and his redemptive work.”

“It is not possible to approach God's love except by imitating the Son in the observance of the Father's commandments.”

Initiation into this love brings full participation in Christ's filial relationship with the Father, the Pope said.

“Love transforms life and illuminates even our knowledge of God, until reaching that perfect knowledge of which St. Paul spoke.”

Christian conversion brings an authentic experience of God and his infinite love, the Pope said.

Because it is not an intellectual conversion, the Christian experience is not the living a series of soulless precepts. “The profound conversion Christianity proposes is a real experience of God,” the Pope clarified.

Christianity is not an ideology; it is a personal encounter with Christ. The most consoling effect of this encounter “is, precisely, the certainty that, this everlasting and overwhelming love with which God loves us [means] he will never abandon us.”

“The new heart, which loves and knows, beats in union with God, who loves with a perennial love.”

At the end of his audience, the Pope asked for prayers for peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which have been engaged in a sporadic border war for 17 months.

The Pope praised international mediators, especially the Organization of African Unity, for efforts to implement a negotiated settlement.

“Let us pray that the lingering obstacles will be overcome and the diffidence conquered, and that in this way, an encouraging witness that peace is always possible might be offered to the many ‘countries of sorro.”’