Faith Is Greater Than Human Wisdom

“I think philosophy,” declares the future Pope Benedict XVI, but “I receive faith.”

Peter Paul Rubens, “The Incredulity of St. Thomas,” 1613
Peter Paul Rubens, “The Incredulity of St. Thomas,” 1613 (photo: Public Domain)

Is there a difference between human and divine wisdom? The answer is yes, obviously, but it all depends on whether we generate it, or God gives it. If it comes from us, which means a source both finite and limited, and thus subject to sin and error, then it is not something on which we can ultimately depend. On the other hand, if the source transcends the capacity of even the highest created intelligence, human or angelic, then it is a wisdom no greater than which can be imagined. 

Consider the faith of a child, for example, freshly imbued with the grace of First Holy Communion. For all that the child does not know, may never know, the simple faith given him in baptism, now consummated by the Bread of Angels — and, one hopes, nurtured along the way by a few necessary instructions in catechism class — will equip him with advantages so decidedly superior that even the most learned and sophisticated student of philosophy will never catch up. That is because the faith he has received, however inchoate his understanding of it, anneals him in an affirmation of truth divinely delivered by God himself, whose impact will forever strike the child as something he could never himself deliver. Followed, of course, by an obligation laid upon him so totalizing that his little life will never be the same again. “I think philosophy,” declares Josef Ratzinger, in one those many books of his that have blazed countless theological trails, “I receive faith.”

Unlike philosophy, then, which grows out of one’s own thought, never mind how rigorous or profound the inquiry, faith is the fruit of something heard, a word spoken. It comes, therefore, from outside, from above, which is a source, a point of origin, entirely transcendent to the created world. And this faith we are given as children, which we are to carry with us even unto death, is not a matter merely of this or that truth, to which we are expected to conform our minds. Rather it is faith in a person, one who bears a unique and unrepeatable name, a Someone on whom I am prepared to stake my entire life. “It is,” says Ratzinger, “the encounter with the human being Jesus, and in this encounter it experiences the meaning of the world as a person.” Who, in the shattering event of the Cross, shows himself as the purest expression of divine incarnate crucified love, offering his life for my own. Ratzinger reminds us in a moving passage from his classic work, Introduction To Christianity:

“Thus faith is the finding of a ‘You’ that bears me up and amid all the unfulfilled — and in the last resort unfulfillable — hope of human encounters gives me the promise of an indestructible love which not only longs for eternity but guarantees it. Christian faith lives on the discovery that not only is there such a thing as objective meaning, but this meaning knows me and loves me, I can entrust myself to it like the child that knows all its questions answered in the ‘You’ of its mother.”

Who would not wish for a faith that certain? A faith whose attachment is not to this or that axiom of divine wisdom, as though the adherence of faith were no more than an exercise in abstraction, but a faith sustained from moment to moment by Wisdom himself, God’s very Word. How beautifully this is shown in John’s Gospel (5:31-47), when Jesus tells the Jews that it is not enough their having sent emissaries to John the Baptist, knowing that “he testified to the truth.” Because the merely human will never enough, given its tendency to relapse into the inhuman. But Jesus possesses a “testimony greater than John’s,” owing to his status as the Son of God. And while John may have been this “burning and shining lamp,” whose radiant holiness shone forth to the world, the incandescence of Jesus remains infinitely and forever brighter. His light is the eternal light of the Son, which no man can put out.

And yet, such is the perversity of the human heart, they would not believe, averting their gaze from the glory that overflows the entire universe. 

“When I heard some people saying,” recounts the bishop and martyr Ignatius of Antioch in one of his letters, “’If I don’t find it in the original documents, I don’t believe it in the Gospel,’ I answered them … it is Jesus Christ who is the original documents. The inviolable archives are his cross and death and his resurrection and the faith that came by him.”

One could hardly find a better footnote to impress upon the mind and heart of believers, especially the simplest among us, than the sheer fact of Jesus Christ, who came among us to perform his Father’s works. Let that be our testimony as well.

Caravaggio (1571–1610), “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas”

For We Walk by Faith, Not by Sight

“Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.’” (John 20:27-29)