Chapter 1 – Religion & The Mind
MY concern in this book is not with the will but with the intellect, not with sanctity but with sanity. The difference is too often overlooked in the practice of religion. The soul has two faculties and they should be clearly distinguished. There is the will: its work is to love - and so to choose, to decide, to act. There is the intellect: its work is TO KNOW, TO UNDERSTAND, TO SEE: to see what - TO SEE WHAT'S THERE.
I have said that my concern is with the intellect rather than with the will: this not because the intellect matters more in religion than the will, but because it does matter and tends to be neglected, and the neglect is bad. I realize that salvation depends directly upon the will. We are saved or damned according to what we love. If we love God, we shall ultimately get God: we shall be saved. If we love self in preference to God then we shall get self apart from God: we shall be damned. But though in our relation to God the intellect does not matter as much as the will, (and indeed depends for its health upon the will) it does matter, and as I have said, it is too much neglected - to the great misfortune of the will, for we can never attain a maximum love of God with only a minimum knowledge of God.
For the soul's full functioning, we need a Catholic intellect as well as a Catholic will. We have a Catholic will when we love God and obey God, love the Church and obey the Church. We have a Catholic intellect when we live consciously in the presence of the realities that God through His Church has revealed. A good working test of a Catholic will is that we should do what the Church says. But for a Catholic intellect, we must also see what the Church sees. This means that when we look out upon the universe we see the same universe that the Church sees; and the enormous advantage of this is that the universe the Church sees is the real universe, because She is the Church of God. Seeing what She sees means seeing what is there. And just as loving what is good is SANCTITY, or the health of the will, so seeing what is there is SANITY, or the health of the intellect.
Now in that sense most of us have Catholic wills, but not many of us have Catholic intellects. When we look at the universe, we see pretty well what other people see, plus certain extra features taught us by our religion. So that we have not so much Catholic minds as worldly minds with Catholic patches.
If that seems to you too sweeping, consider what the Church does see when She looks at the universe. For one thing, She sees all things whatsoever held in existence from moment to moment by nothing but the continuing will of God that they should not cease to be. When She sees anything at all, in the same act She sees God holding it in existence. Do we? It is not merely a matter of knowing that this is so. Do we actually see it so? If we do not, then we are not living mentally in the same world as the Church. What is more, we are not seeing things as they are, for that is how they are.
Let us look a little longer at this first fact about anything. I can recall with great clarity the moment when for the first time I heard myself saying that God had made me and all things - of nothing. I had known it, like any other Catholic, from childhood; but I had never properly taken it in. I had said it a thousand times, but I had never heard what I was saying. In the sudden realization of this particular truth there is something quite peculiarly shattering. For although we are made of nothing, we are made into something; and since WHAT WE ARE MADE OF does not account for us, we are forced to a more intense concentration upon THE GOD WE ARE MADE BY.
What follows is very simple but revolutionary. If a carpenter makes a chair, he can leave it and the chair will not cease to be. The maker of the chair has left it, but the chair can still rely for continuance in existence upon the material he used, the wood. Similarly, if the Maker of the universe left it, the universe, too, would have to rely for continuance in existence upon the material He used? NOTHING. In short, the truth that God used no material in our making carries with it the not sufficiently realized truth that GOD CONTINUES TO HOLD US IN BEING, and that UNLESS HE DID SO WE SHOULD SIMPLY CEASE TO BE.
Spiritual beings - the human soul, for instance - have no constituent parts. Yet they do not escape this universal law. They are created by God of nothing and could not survive an instant without His conserving power.
Him, we live and move and have our being.
Therefore, if we see anything at all – our self or some other man, or the universe as a whole or any part of it - without at the same time seeing God holding it there, then we are seeing it all wrong. Seeing God everywhere and all things upheld by Him is not a matter of sanctity, but of plain sanity, because God IS everywhere and all things are upheld by Him. What we do about it may be sanctity; but merely seeing it is sanity. To overlook God's presence is not simply to be irreligious; it is a kind of insanity, like overlooking anything else that is actually there.
God is not only a fact of religion: He is a fact. Not to see Him is to be wrong about everything, which includes being wrong about one's self. It does not require any extreme of religious fanaticism for a man to want to know what he is: and this he cannot know without some study of the Being who alone brought him into existence and holds him there.
I have discussed at some length this first thing that the Church sees when She looks at the universe: what we may call the texture of the universe: what it is made of. That of course is only a beginning of what She sees. Above all She sees THE SHAPE OF THE UNIVERSE, all the things that exist and their relation one to another.
This is true of all things whatsoever. Nothing is rightly seen save in the totality to which it belongs; no part of the universe is rightly seen save in relation to the whole. BUT THE UNIVERSE CANNOT BE SEEN AS A WHOLE UNLESS ONE SEES GOD AS THE SOURCE OF THE EXISTENCE OF EVERY PART OF IT AND THE CENTER BY RELATION TO WHICH EVERY PART IS RELATED TO EACH OTHER. Just as knowing that God upholds all things, is a first step in knowing what we are, so a clear view of the shape of reality is a first step toward knowing where we are. To know where we are and what we are, that would seem to be the very minimum required by our dignity as men.
Now the Church does thus see the universe. She never sees anything at all without in the same act seeing the face of reality: God, infinite and eternal, Trinity, Unity; humanity, finite, created in time, fallen and redeemed by Christ; the individual man born into the life of nature, reborn into the life of grace, united with Christ in the Church which is His Mystical Body, aided by angels, hindered by devils, destined for heaven, in peril of hell. There in outline is the real universe. Now it would be plainly frivolous for most of us to pretend that we see things like that. We know about the individual truths concerned, but they do not combine in our minds to form the framework in which as a matter of course we see everything.
The test of anyone's mind is WHAT IS IN HIS MENTAL LANDSCAPE. And it is not even enough that we should see the same thing as other people plus the things the Church teaches. Even the things that we and they both see will not look the same or be the same; because what the Church teaches affects even the things already in the landscape, the things of ordinary experience.
To many, the idea of bringing the intellect fully into action in religion seems almost repellent. The intellect seems so cold and measured and measuring, and the will so warm and glowing. It would be a strange God who could be loved better by being known less. Love of God is not the same thing as knowledge of God; love of God is immeasurably more important than knowledge of God; but if a man loves God knowing a little about Him, he should love God more from knowing more about Him: for every new thing known about God is a new reason for loving Him. It is true that some get vast love from lesser knowledge.
We can be saved and even holy without a great deal of knowledge; for holiness is in the will and we are saved by what we love, not by how much we know. But knowledge of the truth matters enormously all the same. It matters for the reason we have already stated, namely that every new thing known about God is a new reason for loving Him. It matters also for a reason that may not at first sight appear: that, in the appallingly difficult struggle to be good, the will is helped immeasurably by the intellect's clear vision of the real universe. Unless our mind has made that kind of study, then the position is that the Church is living in one world (which happens to be the real world) and we are living in another. One practical consequence is that the laws of right living promulgated by the Church, moral laws generally, are the natural laws of that real world and would seem so to us if we were mentally living in it; whereas in the twilight world we are living in, they often seem odd and unreasonable, which does not make obedience any easier. Thus, the whole burden of right living is cast upon the will - do it because the Church says it - with no aid from the intellect, or rather with active hindrance from the intellect that naturally tends to judge by the half-reality it sees. And this is sheer cruelty.
The problem we shall consider in this book is how our minds are to "master" the Church's landscape, habituate themselves to it, move about easily in it, be at home in it. Somehow or other we must become fully conscious citizens of the real world, seeing reality as a whole and living wholly in it.