The Truth We Can’t See
When faith weakens, people struggle to see the invisible God as a living reality. And if they drift into pantheism, they place the Creator within his creation, either making nature sacred or giving virtually every thing a soul-like dignity (1). In so doing, a pantheist compensates for the invisible truth he can’t see by placing God in visible, material things. In 1947, C.S. Lewis wrote a book entitled, Miracles, where he rejected pantheism and its belief in God as “’diffused’…in all things…a universal medium rather than a concrete entity” (2). He insisted that God is not “a featureless generality” (3).
St. Martin chops down a tree for truth
A famous story illustrates what Lewis rejected in pantheism. Author, Henri Daniel-Rops, attributes it to St. Martin of Tours; others, to St. Boniface. His version occurred in the village of Autun, 380 A.D., where Martin fought pantheism by chopping down a tree the villagers regarded as sacred. The villagers objected, saying, “To kill a sacred tree was murder; to slash into godly flesh a crime!” (4). But Martin replied, “The true God is the creator of all trees, but He is not himself a tree” (5).
The idea of God in a tree sounds silly in today’s culture, doesn’t it? It’s certainly bad theology. But at least, the villagers maintained a sense of God. Can our culture say the same thing, or does it treat the tree as real, and God as myth?
Pope Benedict XVI didn’t emulate St. Martin by chopping down trees. Nevertheless, he fought a similar error in today’s positivism by reaffirming “the primacy of the invisible as the truly real” (6):
[Christians believe] that what cannot be seen is more real than what can be seen. It is…the invisible [that is] truly real, which upholds us and hence enables us to face the visible with calm composure” (7)
“What cannot be seen is more real than what can be seen”
How can the invisible be more real than the visible? First, a positivist might demand, “Prove that an invisible reality exists!” He forgets about the cell phone waves moving around him, or the antibiotics at work on his bacterial infection. Without demanding proof, he trusts in their reality. So, why is it implausible to also trust in God’s reality?
“OK, invisible realities exist,” the positivist concedes. “But show me how God’s invisible reality is more real than what I see!” It’s typically a mistake to try to prove faith. St. Thomas Aquinas, however, applied reason to make faith more understandable. For example, he directed us to the order of perfection. Created things reflect varying degrees of goodness, truth, and nobility. Those variations point us to something that is the “truest”, the “best”, and the “noblest” (8).
[We understand] something which is most being, for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being. … [T]here must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God (9)
Where can we “see” God’s reality on earth?
God, the first cause, and the highest perfection and being, is “more real than what can be seen” (10). Unlike the pantheists, we don’t confuse the Creator with His creation. Unlike the positivists, we acknowledge God’s invisible reality. And in the Eucharist, “we encounter that reality against which we…measure every other reality” (11). Faith gives us the ability to “see” what our eyes can’t. St. Peter Eymard tells us that “faith is the eye of the soul; to believe is really to see” (12). Through the eyes of faith, we see God in the Eucharist.
We can look to St. Paul to sum up the relationship between faith, understanding, and God’s greater, invisible reality:
“Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. … By faith we understand that the universe was ordered by the word of God, so that what is visible came into being through the invisible”—Hebrews 11:1, 3
Now it’s your turn:
- Was there a specific moment when your faith allowed you to “see” truth more vividly?
- How else would you respond–in a way that does not confront but guides a person to Christ–to someone who challenges God’s invisible reality?
- Dissent from the Creed, Hogan, 105
- Miracles, C.S. Lewis, 134-5
- Ibid, 145
- Heroes of God, Henri Daniel-Rops, 26
- Ibid, 26
- Introduction to Christianity, Ratzinger, 74
- Ibid, 74
- Summa Theologica, Q2, Art 3, Aquinas
- Intro, 74
- God is Near Us, Ratzinger, 87-8
- The Real Presence, Eymard, 293