OMETIMES YOU HEAR people say that reasoning and mystery are opposed to each other—that the logical deductions one finds in, say, the Summa theologiae of Saint Thomas Aquinas, or even the precise dogmatic formulations of the Church’s Magisterium, are somehow at odds with the simple acceptance of mysteries of faith that human words can never explain. But this is to see things quite incorrectly. Doctrinal definition and theological exploration only intensify the ineffable truth that no formula can exhaust, by bringing its depth of mystery more fully to light. In Catholicism both “extremes” are given full play: reason, which may go as far as it dares and can, embracing the pagan wisdom of every land and time, trembling with its fragile power like a delicate blossom proud to have burst up through the cold ground of March; mystery, which exalts to infinity the caliginous light, the luminous darkness, the incomprehensible truth of God, precisely on account of, by means of, in the “face” of, questing reason. Saint Thomas on the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Eucharist, shows us human reason at its peak, where it bows down humbly in adoration. The form of the Summa and of its every article is the archetypal form of a quest for the Grail of truth, a quest made urgent not only by the inner joy of seeking but by the continual danger of perilous detours; a pilgrimage taken by the soul journeying into God, walking by its “own” power, sustained by the power and grace of God endowing it at every moment with the power that it may call its own (participated theonomy). Each extreme of theology is what it is because of the other, and to the questing soul the denial of the one is the loss of the other. Tell reason not to search, and the unsearchable mystery will become a mystery unsearched; let haughty reason tell itself that the divine is comprehensible, and at the same moment, as though by an evil spell one must never utter, it withers at its source, collapses inwardly and dies. Dispelling mystery, you take away the heart of the mind; dispelling reason, you take away the mind of the heart. And in either event, the mind and heart of love is also afflicted for its sins. This is when clerical dissipation, ecclesial polemics, and lukewarmness have their day in the sun. Let us pray and work for a full restoration of Catholic theology, Catholic spirituality, and Catholic culture—for these three stand or fall together.
About Dr. Peter Kwasniewski
A graduate of Thomas Aquinas College (B.A. in Liberal Arts) and The Catholic University of America (M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy), Dr. Peter Kwasniewski is currently Professor at Wyoming Catholic College. He is also a published and performed composer, especially of sacred music.