Faith & Thought

‘The World Is Charged With the Grandeur of God’

In rereading Ronald Rolheiser’s exceptionally good book, “Wrestling with God” (New York: Image, 2018, pp. 198, $22.oo), I think I have learned an important lesson which I should have known previously. There are books that are so good that they not only can be read more than once but probably should be read more than once. 

In rereading “Wrestling with God” I have noticed insights that I either missed on my first reading or passed by too quickly to appreciate them and give them the reflection they deserve. In my second reading of “Wrestling with God,” I encountered an insight into the human soul that fascinates me. Having pointed out that classical theology and philosophy claim that there are four transcendental qualities that are true of everything that exists, namely oneness, truth, goodness and beauty, Rolheiser stresses that everything that is has been marked by its creator in some way with these qualities. 

I am quite familiar with this insight and believe it is central to a Catholic vision of God and God’s creation, but Rolheiser applies this insight in a way that was new to me. Rolheiser, referring to the Catholic theologian Bernard Lonergan, writes the following: 

“Lonergan asserts that God brands these four qualities, in their perfection, into the core of the human soul. Hence we come into the world already knowing, however dimly, perfect oneness, perfect truth, perfect goodness, and perfect beauty because they already lie inside us like an inerasable brand. Thus we can tell right from wrong because we already know perfect truth and goodness in the core of our soul, just as we instinctively recognize love and beauty because we already know them in a perfect way, however darkly, inside ourselves. In this life, we don’t learn truth, we recognize it; and we don’t learn love, we recognize it; and we don’t learn what is good, we recognize it. We recognize these qualities because we already possess them in the core of our souls.” (p. 34.) 

I believe that this insight should influence me as a teacher, especially as a teacher of philosophy. In trying to help students to recognize the great philosophical truths, the great mysteries of God’s creation, I am talking to an audience that has already been instructed by the Creator God. When I preach on Sunday, I will be talking to people programmed by God to recognize both truth and goodness. 

I could make similar comments about writing a weekly column or writing a book. If I am talking or writing about truth, goodness, beauty or love, God has provided an audience ready to recognize what I am either speaking or writing. I find this very encouraging. 

Rolheiser’s insight should encourage not only those of us who are teachers but anyone who is concerned about recognizing the goodness, truth and beauty of God’s creation. The wonderful first line of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, “God’s Grandeur,” has taken on a deeper meaning for me: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” 

Anyone who reads this column with any regularity knows that I often write about the danger that secularism presents to contemporary Christian believers. Some friends have told me that at times I am too negative about secular humanism and secularists. I take my friends’ criticism seriously and hope that I always distinguish between the philosophy of secularism and those who embrace that philosophy. I disagree strongly with the philosophy, but I am more than ready to admit that there may be secular humanists who are closer to God than I am. 

More than 30 years ago I read a book by a Christian theologian in which he stressed how pervasive secular humanism was in our society and how it might present obstacles to those who wish to believe in God and God’s involvement in our lives. I recall that the theologian claimed that secular humanism is so pervasive that when a preacher in a pulpit preaches about God and religion, the members of the congregation do not agree with the preacher; they do not disagree with the preacher; they have no understanding about what the preacher is saying. The theologian went on to say that the situation is so bad that even the preacher has no understanding of what he is preaching! Though I think the theologian was exaggerating, the mere fact that I recall what he said indicates the impact that his view had on me. 

In light of the insight that God has programmed every person’s soul to be able to recognize truth, goodness, and beauty, the challenge of secular humanism does not seem quite so imposing. Of course, the presence of Jesus’ Spirit allows us to be people of hope. Discouragement should never be an option! 

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.