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in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Faith, not Knowledge

From an instruction by Saint Columban, abbot

The unfathomable depths of God

God is everywhere in His immensity, and everywhere close at hand. As He says of Himself: I am a God close at hand, not a God far off. It is not a God who is far away that we are seeking, since we have Him present within us, if only we are pure of heart. He lives in us as the soul lives in the body, if only we are good servants of His; i.e., if we are dead to sin. Then indeed He lives within us, He who has said: I will dwell in them and walk among them. If we have pure hearts that allow Him to be in us, then in truth we are made alive by Him as His living members. As Saint Paul says, In Him we live and move and have our being.

Saint ColumbanWho, I ask, will search out the Most High in His own being, for He is beyond words or understanding? Who will discover the depths of God? Who will boast of knowing the infinite God who fills all things yet surrounds all things, who pervades all things yet transcends all things, who takes possession of all things but is not Himself possessed by any thing? No one has ever seen Him as He is. Therefore no one must then presume to search for the unsearchable secrets of God: His nature, the manner of His existence, what He was, how He was, His selfhood. These things are beyond description, beyond scrutiny, beyond investigation. Simply—simply but strongly—only believe that this is how God is and this is how He will be, for God cannot change.

Who then is God? He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God. Do not look for any further answers concerning God. Those who want to understand the unfathomable depths of God must first consider the natural world. Knowledge of the Trinity is rightly compared to knowledge of the depths of the sea. As Ecclesiastes says, Who will find out what is so very deep? Just as the depths of the sea are invisible to human sight, so the Godhead of the Trinity is beyond human understanding. Thus, I say, if anyone wants to know what he should believe, let him not think that he will understand better through speech than through belief; if he does that, the knowledge of God will be all the farther off than it was before.

Therefore, seek the highest wisdom, not by arguments in words but by the perfect and right action of your life, not by speech but by the faith which proceeds from purity and simplicity of heart, not from the learned speculations of the unrighteous. If you search by means of discussions and arguments for the God who cannot be defined in words, He will depart further from you than He was before. If you seek for Him by faith, wisdom will stand where wisdom lives, at the gates. Where wisdom is, wisdom will be seen, at least in part. Wisdom is, in a certain sense, truly attained when the invisible God is the object of faith, in a way that is beyond our demanding to understand Him; we must believe in God, invisible as He is, though He can be partly seen by a heart that is pure.

—Saint Columban, abbot
Office of Readings,
Thursday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time


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