East and West In Christ

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Knowing God

I think that we spend an awful lot of time discussing God, theology, spirituality, etc. I have long grown weary of such speech and consider it a Gnostic fault of mine. I found this quote of St. Columbanus (6th Century Celtic Saint) that spoke so eloquently to that point. He was a monk in Ireland, who with 12 of his brothers, went to evangelize the Franks in Gaul in the late 6th century. My guess is that he too struggled with communicating the good news using words.


Who, I ask, will search out the Most High in his own being, for he is beyond words or understanding? Who will penetrate the secrets of God? Who will boast that he knows the infinite God, who fills all things, yet encompasses all things, who pervades all things, yet reaches beyond all things, who holds all things in his hand, yet escapes the grasp of all things? “No one has ever seen him as he is.”

No one must then presume to search for the unsearchable things of God: his nature, the manner of his existence, his selfhood. These are beyond telling, beyond scrutiny, beyond investigation. With simplicity, but also with fortitude, only believe that this is how God is and this is how he will be, for God is incapable of change.

Who then is God? He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God. Do not look for any further answers concerning God. Those who want to understand the unfathomable depths of God must first consider the world of nature. Knowledge of the Trinity is rightly compared with the depth of the sea. Wisdom asks: “Who will find out what is so very deep?” As the depths of the sea are invisible to human sight, so the godhead of the Trinity is found to be beyond the grasp of human understanding.

If any one, I say, wants to know what you should believe, you must not imagine that you understand better through speech than through belief; the knowledge of God that you seek will be all the further off than it was before.

Seek then the highest wisdom, not by arguments in words but by the perfection of your heart, not by speech but by the faith that comes from simplicity of heart, not from the learned speculations of the unrighteous.

If you search by means of discussions for the God who cannot be defined in words, he will depart further from you than he was before. If you search for him by faith, wisdom will stand where wisdom lives, “at the gates.” Where wisdom is, wisdom will be seen, at least in part.

But wisdom is also to some extent truly attained when the invisible God is the object of faith, in a way beyond our understanding, for we must believe in God, invisible as he is, though he is partially seen by a heart that is pure.

St Columbanus

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