St. Anselm of Canterbury coined the motto “faith seeking understanding” (fides quaerens intellectum). It is our goal, too, to apply our active love of God to searching for deeper comprehension of both the sacred and the secular.
It should be no surprise that our religious journey winds through the library. The major religions of the West, in particular, emphasize the importance of rational thought. Jesus, for instance, taught his followers to love the Lord God not only “with all your heart, and with all your soul,” but also “with all your mind” (Mark 12:30).
While not denying the friction that occasionally marks the conjunction of religion and science, the mainstream of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam seeks a natural understanding of the world. These three great faiths agree that God created a good world, intending its fruits to benefit all creatures. Within that creation, men and women were given special responsibilities. They were to use their minds to understand what God had provided and to multiply creation’s bounty, making it accessible to past, present, and future generations. Through the ingenuity of their minds and the labor of their hands, God tasked people with becoming stewards of creation.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam also agree that God revealed Himself by acting in history and providing specific teachings and writings. The Tanakh provides a history of God’s relationship with the Jews, the promises made to Abraham and others, the faithfulness of God as He remembered those promises and saved the Hebrews from oppression in Egypt, the giving of laws at Sinai, etc. The Christian Bible then adds the story of Jesus, and especially the account of his crucifixion; vignettes from the early church as Christianity grew from Jerusalem to Rome; and many teachings of early Christians. The Holy Qur’an passes on the words God spoke to His prophet Muhammad, which were then recorded by close followers.
For adherents, the study of these sacred writings–their interpretation and meaning and the history of God’s activities–is central to the religious journey. As the Psalmist wrote:
I will meditate on your precepts,
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word (Ps. 119:15-16).
The knapsack of the pilgrim is crammed with books. Let’s embark on our journey with an active love of God and truly seeking informed understanding. Will we find meaning? Yes, if like Job and other religious travelers, we are ready to hear unexpected answers.
THE PEOPLE’S HOUSE begins with a parable by the scholar Carlos Mesters giving insight into what was lost when the enlightenment adopted a historical-critical approach to scripture. Do you agree or disagree with Mesters? Did you know that the approach advocated by Mesters has affinities with the early Christian attempt at allegorical or spiritual interpretation? For further information, see James M Dawsey, “The Lost Front Door into Scripture: The Church Fathers and Latin American Biblical Interpretation,” The Anglican Theological Review 72,3 (1990): 292-305.