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Man Contacts God in the Obscurity of Faith

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on God the Father
General Audience, Wednesday, 28 August 1985 - in Italian, Portuguese & Spanish  

"1. The God of our faith, the One who in a mysterious way revealed his name to Moses at the foot of Mount Horeb by stating "I am who I am" is, as regards the world, completely transcendent. He "is really and essentially distinct from the world..., and ineffably raised above all things which are outside of himself or which can be conceived as being so" (DS 3002): "est re et essentia a mundo distinctus, et super omnia quae praeter ipsum sunt aut concipi possunt ineffabiliter excelsus" [1] . This is what the First Vatican Council taught, professing the perennial faith of the Church.

Even if the existence of God can be known and demonstrated, and even if his essence is in some manner knowable in the mirror of creation, as the same Council has taught, no sign, no created image can reveal the essence of God, as such, to the human mind. It exceeds all that exists in the created world and all that could be thought in the human mind. God is the "ineffabiliter excelsus."

2. To the question "Who is God?" if it refers to the essence of God, we cannot answer with a definition in the strict sense of the term. The essence of God—which is the divinity—is found to be outside every category of genus and species which we use in our definitions. So the essence of God cannot be enclosed in any definition. If, in our thought about God, with the category of "being," we use the analogy of being, with this we bring out the "non-resemblance" much more than the resemblance. We bring out the incomparability much more than the comparability of God with the creature (as the Fourth Council of the Lateran also recorded in 1215). This affirmation holds true for all creatures, for those of the visible world as well as for those of the spiritual order, and also for man, inasmuch as he is created "in the image and likeness of God" (cf. Gen 1:26).

In this way, the fact that God can be known through creatures does not take away his essential "incomprehensibility." God is "incomprehensible," as the First Vatican Council has declared. The human intellect, inasmuch as it possesses a certain idea of God, and although it has been elevated significantly, through the revelation of the Old and of the New Covenant, to a deeper and more complete knowledge of his mystery, is unable to comprehend God adequately and exhaustively. He remains ineffable and inscrutable to the created mind. "No one has ever been able to comprehend the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God," proclaimed the Apostle Paul (1 Cor 2:11).

3. In the modern world, scientific thought is above all oriented toward that which is "visible" and in some way "measurable" in the light of sense experience and with the instruments of observation and investigation now available. In a world of positivist methodologies and of technological applications, this "incomprehensibility" of God becomes still more realized by many, particularly in the sphere of Western culture. Thus particular conditions have arisen for the expansion of agnostic or directly atheistic attitudes, due to the thought premises common to many people today. Some consider that this intellectual situation can, in its own way, favor the conviction—which pertains also to the universal religious tradition, if one may so speak, and which Christianity has, under certain aspects, emphasized—that God is incomprehensible. It would be a tribute to the infinite, real transcendence of God, which cannot be catalogued among the things of our common experience and knowledge.

4. Yes, truly, the God who has revealed himself, has manifested himself as the One who is incomprehensible, inscrutable, ineffable. The Book of Job says: "Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? It is higher than heaven; what can you do? It is deeper than Sheol; what can you know?" (Job 11:7-8).

We read in the Book of Exodus of a happening which in a significant way sets this truth in relief. Moses asked God: "Show me your glory." The Lord replied: "I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim my name before you [which had already happened in the theophany at the foot of Mount Horeb], but you will not be able to see my face, for man shall not see me and live" (Ex 33:18-20).

For his part, the prophet Isaiah confessed: "Truly you are a God who hides yourself.
O God of Israel, the Savior" (Is 45:15).

5. This God, who revealed himself by means of the prophets and finally by means of his Son, remains a "hidden God." The Apostle John wrote at the beginning of his Gospel: "No one has ever seen God; the only One, who is in the bosom of the Father, has made him known" (Jn 1:18). Through the Son, the God of revelation has, in a unique way, approached the human race. The idea of God which man acquires through faith reaches its peak in this approach. Nevertheless, even though God made himself still closer to man through the Incarnation, he continues in his essence to remain the "hidden God." "Not that anyone has seen the Father" we read in that same Gospel of John, "except him who is from God; he has seen the Father" (Jn 6:46).

In this way, therefore, God, who has revealed himself, remains an inscrutable mystery in this life. This is the mystery of faith. The first article of the creed, "I believe in God," expresses the first and fundamental truth of faith, which, at the same time, is the first and fundamental mystery of the faith. God, who has revealed himself, remains for the human intellect a Something which is at the same time known and incomprehensible. In the course of earthly life, man enters into contact with the God of revelation in the "obscurity of faith." This has been elaborated in a whole vein of classical and modern theology which insists on the ineffability of God and finds a particularly deep, and at times sad, confirmation in the experience of the great mystics. But properly this "obscurity of faith"—as St. John of the Cross affirmed—is the light which infallibly leads to God (cf. The Ascent of Mount Carmel, 2 S 9, 3).

According to the words of St. Paul, this God is "the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see" (1 Tim 6:15-16).

The obscurity of faith inevitably accompanies the earthly pilgrimage of the human spirit toward God, in the attempt to open itself to the light of the glory that is found only in the future life, in eternity. "Now we see in a mirror, but then face to face" (1 Cor 13:12).

"In lumine tuo videbimus lumen."
"In your light we see light" (Ps 36:9)."

[1]   Const. Dei Filius, Vatican I, cap. I, ca 1-4

After the Catechesis, Pope John Paul II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai pellegrini di espressione francese

Chers Frères et Soeurs,

A tous les pèlerins de langue française, je souhaite d’achever leur temps de vacances, dans la paix de la foi, et de retrouver avec la force de l’espérance leurs taches dans leur vie familiale et professionnelle, dans la communauté chrétienne. Je salue en particulier les diocésains d’Autun venus avec leur évêque. J’offre mes voeux affectueux au groupe du mouvement “Foi et Lumière”. J’adresse aussi un cordial salut au pèlerinage de l’Union catholique des cheminots, venu de Strasbourg et de Metz. A tous je donne ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Present at today's Audience are many pilgrims and visitors from countries of the English-speaking world. I wish to greet all of you, especially the group of Australian pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Sydney.

May the Lord protect you in your travels, and may each of you enjoy the rich blessings of joy and peace in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Ai pellegrini tedeschi

Liebe Brüder und Schwestern!

Herzlich grüße ich mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung alle anwesenden deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher. Möge euch die Ferienzeit, die Zeit der Muße, auch mit diesem Geheimnis Gottes neu konfrontieren und euch helfen, es in eurem eigenen Leben noch tiefer zu erkennen. Das wünsche ich euch mit meinem besonderen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli giunti dalla Spagna e dall’America Latina

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Mi más cordial saludo a los peregrinos de España y de América Latina aquí presentes. Que el Dios de la paz y del amor os acompañe a lo largo de la vida.

Saludo también al grupo apostólico juvenil “Hogar de la Madre de la Juventud”, de Toledo (España), así como a los peregrinos de las parroquias “San José” y “Nuestra Señora de la Luz” de El Paso (Estados Unidos). Que el amor entrañable que sentís por la Madre de Dios, os empuje a irradiar los valores cristianos en vuestros ambientes.

A todos imparto de corazón mi Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli portoghesi

Caríssimos Irmãos e Irmãs de língua Portuguesa,

Quero ainda saudar, de modo especial, o grupo de peregrinos da Diocese de Viseu, com os seus sacerdotes jubilares. A todos os romeiros de Portugal e do Brasil desejo que esta passagem por Roma seja de grande proveito espiritual e cultural, fazendo sentir, de perto, a unidade e a universalidade da Igreja, com a minha Bênção Apostólica.

Ad un gruppo di giovani croati

Cordialmente saluto voi, cari giovani croati dell’arcidiocesi di Split, di Hvar, Šibenik, Slavonski Brod e Dubrovnik. Nell’anno della gioventù e nell’anno di san Metodio siete venuti nella città eterna, Roma, per rafforzare la vostra fede, come facevano i vostri antenati, mossi dalla fedeltà alla sede di Pietro e dall’affetto al Vicario di Cristo. Appoggiandosi alla roccia di Pietro, sulla quale Gesù ha costruito la sua Chiesa e attentamente ascoltando tutto quello che il papa insegna, potrete coraggiosamente testimoniare Cristo e adempiere il grande compito, affidato alla vostra generazione: trasmettere la santa fede cattolica nel terzo millennio. Saluto tutti i giovani della vostra patria. Sia lodato Gesù e Maria.

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Serdecznie witam pielgrzymów z diecezji w Drohiczynie nad Bugiem wraz z księdzem biskupem Władysławem Jędruszukiem; z parafii Królowej Polski na Woli Justowskiej w Krakowie; wspólnotę akademicką od ojców jezuitów i duszpasterstwo akademickie z parafii św. Kazimierza w Krakowie; młodzież akademicką pracującą od ojców jezuitów z Krakowa-Przegorzały; z parafii Bobrek w archidiecezji krakowskiej, serdecznie witam wszystkich z księdzem proboszczem; pielgrzymkę katedralną z Tarnowa; z parafii Matki Bożej Bolesnej z Nowego Sącza; przedstawicieli śląskiego środowiska akademickiego z Katowic; z parafii Matki Bożej Królowej Świata z Mikuszowic Śląskich, diecezja katowicka; z parafii Wniebowzięcia Matki Bożej z Rzeszowa, ojcowie bernardyni; grupę przewodników turystycznych PTTK; duszpasterstwo młodzieży pracującej z Rzeszowa; młodzież z Kraśnika, diecezja lubelska; pielgrzymkę z parafii Świętej Trójcy - Starachowice, z diecezji sandomiersko-radomskiej; młodzież Klubu Inteligencji Katolickiej oo. jezuitów z Warszawy; z parafii Matki Bożej Zwycięskiej z Bydgoszczy; z parafii św. Wincentego a Paulo z Bydgoszczy, ks. misjonarze; z parafii M. B. Częstochowskiej z Bydgoszczy; z parafii Matki Bożej Ostrobramskiej z Bydgoszczy; z parafii Matki Bożej z Góry Karmel, archidiecezja gnieźnieńska; pielgrzymów z diecezji opolskiej, z dekanatu Olesno; z parafii Najświęstszego Serca Pana Jezusa z Lubina, archidiecezja wrocławska; duszpasterstwo akademickie oo. dominikanów we Wrocławiu, z Akademii Rolniczej we Wrocławiu; Zespół Madrygalistów im. Wacława z Szamotuł z Poznania; Chór Mariański z Krakowa przy parafii Matki Bożej z Lourdes oraz Zespół Studencki Muzyki Dawnej z Czechowic-Dziedzic; grupę Almaturu z Lublina i uczestników grup turystycznych Orbisu, PTTK i PKS. Wszystkich serdecznie witam i pozdrawiam. Bardzo serdecznie dziękuję chórom, które tutaj wypowiedziały się, na placu Świętego Piotra, równolegle z chórem, który przybył z Tokio . . . Jeszcze raz dziękując wszystkim za odwiedziny w Rzymie, proszę, abyście anieśli błogosławieństwo, do Polski, do waszych środowisk, do waszych rodzin, do waszych parafii, do waszych diecezji, do wszystkich, którzy cięrpia, i do całego mojego umiłowanego narodu, z którym jestem szczególnie zjednoczony zwłaszcza w tym miesiącu sierpniu, który jest pełen wydarzeń znamiennych w historii dawniejszej i bliższej, wydarzeń ważnych dla potwierdzenia naszej chrześcijańskiej i narodowej tożsamości.

Ai pellegrini italiani

Rivolgo un cordiale saluto ai pellegrini italiani, venuti a Roma da città e regioni diverse, per prendere parte all’udienza generale. Desidero ricordare in particolare le Suore di Gesù Bambino, venute da Venezia per festeggiare il primo centenario della loro fondazione; i partecipanti al Corso annuale di animazione vocazionale per catechisti e laici impegnati nella pastorale parrocchiale, organizzato dal Centro di spiritualità “Rogate”; il gruppo di Pove del Grappa, in diocesi di Padova, che, insieme con i dirigenti delle “Feste quinquennali del Divin Crocifisso” son venuti per far benedire la “Fiaccola della pace”.

Ai giovani

Ma in modo speciale amo rivolgermi ai giovani presenti a questa udienza. Sono convinto che, in questo periodo di vacanze, avete saputo ricercare - e sempre vi sforzerete di farlo - non soltanto le meravigliose bellezze della natura, ma intravedervi anche colui che, per un gesto di infinito amore, le ha create per l’umanità, trovandole “buone, molto buone” (Cfr. Gen. 1).

Accogliete con particolare spirito di disponibilità, in questo tempo di serenità fisica e spirituale, la parola di Dio per farla crescere e maturare nella concreta testimonianza dell’adesione al messaggio di Cristo.

Agli ammalati

Uno speciale ricordo e saluto ho anche per voi, cari infermi, che nel vostro corpo e nel vostro spirito partecipate intimamente alla passione di Cristo.

Aderite volontariamente e consapevolmente a questo mistero di amore e di dolore, qual è la vostra presente malattia, e, generosamente e umilmente, offritela alla Trinità perché nel mondo trionfi la civiltà dell’amore e scompaiano l’odio e la violenza.

Agli sposi novelli

A voi, infine, sposi novelli, che avete voluto confermare il vostro amore nel sacramento del matrimonio, auguro che operiate sempre in modo che la vostra famiglia cristiana, ora agli inizi, sia sempre animata e corroborata dalle virtù tipiche degli sposi credenti in Cristo: la generosità, la dedizione, la comprensione, ma soprattutto la fede, forte e serena, nella divina provvidenza. Affido questi miei voti e voi stessi all’attenzione vigile e premurosa di Maria santissima e del suo castissimo sposo san Giuseppe.

Su voi tutti e tutte la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

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