On Catholicism in Focus, we tackle some difficult issues of philosophy and theology. Rebelling against a culture that wants soundbites and quick answers, I choose to get the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Why, in our wonderful tradition of intellectual study, would I settle for “almost” correct when it takes just a bit more work to understand the reasoning behind something?
As Catholics have always known that there is nothing wrong with studying the natural world, engaging in philosophy, or dealing with concepts not directly related to the Bible. In fact, if God is the creator and redeemer of all, the more we learn about anything, really, is knowledge in some way about God, if we have the eyes to see. The more we learn about the created world, the more we learn about the one who created it.
At the same time, one might begin to wonder: especially when getting into the complicated depths of philosophy, are we not spending too much of our time on things that don’t really matter? Maybe in the vein of the Protestant Reformers who attacked the Catholic theologians for their useless and self-serving questions, such as “How many angels can dance on the head of a needle?” there are some today who rightly want to know how any of this benefits our faith. (As a side note, that question about angels and needles was completely made up by the Reformers as a way to illegitimatize their work, and was never actually asked by any theologian. Just so you know…)
One’s position or reasons notwithstanding, I think it is a fair objection that needs to be answered from time to time to remind us of what matters. Why do we study this stuff? Why do the details matter so much? As much as we praise those with knowledge, it means very little to faith on its own. One can be very knowledgable and use that knowledge to turn away from faith, become conceited, belittle others, or retreat to ideas at the expense of community. As Christians, knowledge is not our highest goal.
So what is? Well, being disciples and friends of Jesus Christ, of course. As we enter this time of Easter, I think it’s good to take a step back and make that clear. We study, not for our own sake or knowledge, but to grow closer to God.