The quote is from Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” among my favorite poems; and the source for my Google Plus tagline:
“…To follow knowledge, like a sinking star,
“Beyond the utmost bound of human thought….”
(“Ulysses,” Tennyson (1833))
I’m not “an idle king,” and take my family obligations seriously, so I won’t be setting off on a voyage of discovery. Thanks to a pretty good Internet connection and research skills, I can “follow knowledge” without leaving my desk.
My shameless curiosity may need some explanation. Or maybe not, if you read my Friday ‘science’ posts.
Despite the gusto some Christians show in their rejection of science that doesn’t fit their assumptions, we do not all see ignorance as a virtue.
And as a Catholic, I’m supposed to use my brain.
We can’t all be scientists. But being curious, thinking, and studying the universe, is part of being human. Noticing order and beauty in the universe is one way we can learn about God. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 31–32, 35–36, 301, 303–306, 311, 319, 1704, 2293–2296)
Knowledge: a Gift
Knowledge is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The other six are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:1–3; Catechism, 1831)
They make me “docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit,” helping me accept God’s authority. But they don’t make me do anything. I’ve got free will: and the responsibility that goes with it. (Catechism, 144, 150, 1730–1742, 1830–1831)
In 20-20 hindsight we see that Isaiah was talking about our Lord:
“2 The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, A spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD,”
Psalms 111:10 says “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,” but it’s not being scared of the Almighty. It’s giving God due respect.1
‘Now That We are In Control’
An author whose work I enjoy once wrote ‘…now that we are in control of the forces of nature….’
Then, in 1980, Mount St. Helens exploded.
I remember seeing news footage of what looked like wooden matchsticks swirling in a torrent of mud and water.
Then I noticed a little yellow chip among the matchsticks. It was part of one of those trucks that carry outsize logs. The matchsticks were what was left of trees.
Rocky Kolberg, the photographer who produced that picture, was about 35 miles away, and survived. Nearly 60 folks who were closer — didn’t.
The ‘now that we are in control’ attitude has given way to ‘we’re doomed’ in some quarters, but this is still true:
“4 What are humans that you are mindful of them, mere mortals that you care for them?
“5 Yet you have made them little less than a god, crowned them with glory and honor.”
And we still have trouble when we forget that “little less than a god” isn’t “God.”
I don’t think a hypersensitive God smote Harry R. Truman, David A. Johnston, Reid Blackburn, and others for the sins of the USGS.
I do think we live in a world that isn’t entirely “safe.” I’ve talked about life, the universe, and Thomas Aquinas, before. (February 10, 2017; November 18, 2016)
I also think that we are still made “in the image of God,” with responsibilities that go with our nature. (Genesis 1:27–Genesis 1:29, 2:15; Catechism, 306–308, 2293, 2417–2418)
Opening the Books
(Hubble image of the Westerlund 2 star cluster.)
I suspect that some Christians have an at-best ambivalent attitude toward science and knowledge in general because so much of what we’re learning about the universe isn’t what some of us thought was so a few centuries back.
“New” isn’t necessarily “bad,” but I think it can be unsettling.
Particularly when we haven’t figured out quite what to make of the new knowledge yet.
There’s also the matter of priorities. Putting anything ahead of God is a bad idea. (Catechism, 2112–2114)
That doesn’t make wealth, family, or knowledge, bad. Like 1 Timothy 6:10 and Hebrews 13:5 say, money isn’t the problem. It’s love of money.
Being so impressed by what we’re learning that we idolize the universe, or forget that “in the image of God” isn’t “God,” and idolizing our ability to learn? Like I said, that’s a bad idea.
But I do not think that learning more about the universe makes God unimportant. For me, it makes what we’ve known for millennia even more impressive.
“4 Indeed, before you the whole universe is as a grain from a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.
“But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook the sins of men that they may repent.”
It’s like Pope St. John Paul II wrote:
“…the Holy Spirit aids people with the gift of Knowledge. It is this gift which helps them to value things correctly in their essential dependence on the Creator. Thanks to it, as St Thomas writes, man does not esteem creatures more than they are worth and does not place in them the end of his life, but in God (ct. “Summa Theol.”. II-II, q. 9, a. 4)….”
(“Knowledge,” Regina Coeli, Pope St. John Paul II (April 23, 1989))
I think the universe is like a library, filled with books written by God. Each book is filled with beauty, wonders, and puzzles.
We are learning to read the books, using our gift of knowledge. Solving some puzzles requires information in books we didn’t know existed until recently.
The more we read, the more we can learn about the author.
But we have to open each book, and keep turning the pages.
More or less related posts:
(March 12, 2017)
- “Making a Universe: Why Bother?”
(January 29, 2017)
- “The Virtue Trap”
(October 23, 2016)
- “Faith That Matters”
(October 2, 2016) (guest post)
- “Humility isn’t Being Delusional”
(July 31, 2016)
1 Fear of the Lord is the reverence and respect God deserves. The problem goes back to consequences of a very bad decision that we’ve all been living with:
- Genesis 3:1–8
- Psalms 110:10
- General Audience
Pope Francis (June 11, 2014)
- “Fear of the Lord”
Angelus, Pope St. John Paul II (June 11, 1989)
- Catechism, 397–401, 2084–2089, 2144–2149
Being scared of God didn’t start with Jonathan Edwards, although I think his “angry God” sermon helped set America’s spiritual tone. I’ve talked about that; Mark Twain; and original sin, Catholic style, before:
- “Living With Consequences” (March 5, 2017)
- “Satan Didn’t Make Me Do It” (November 13, 2016)
- “Sin, Original and Otherwise” (November 6, 2016)
Pingback: Adam and the Animals