Lumen Fidei 30

The Fourth Gospel provides ample material to support the illumination of faith by sight and sound. If you have any doubt, pay careful attention to the role of hearing and seeing in the various stories of that book, as well as the words of the Lord himself.

30. The bond between seeing and hearing in faith-knowledge is most clearly evident in John’s Gospel. For the Fourth Gospel, to believe is both to hear and to see. Faith’s hearing emerges as a form of knowing proper to love: it is a personal hearing, one which recognizes the voice of the Good Shepherd (cf. Jn 10:3-5); it is a hearing which calls for discipleship, as was the case with the first disciples: “Hearing him say these things, they followed Jesus” (Jn 1:37). But faith is also tied to sight. Seeing the signs which Jesus worked leads at times to faith, as in the case of the Jews who, following the raising of Lazarus, “having seen what he did, believed in him” (Jn 11:45). At other times, faith itself leads to deeper vision: “If you believe, you will see the glory of God” (Jn 11:40). In the end, belief and sight intersect: “Whoever believes in me believes in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me” (Jn 12:44-45). Joined to hearing, seeing then becomes a form of following Christ, and faith appears as a process of gazing, in which our eyes grow accustomed to peering into the depths. Easter morning thus passes from John who, standing in the early morning darkness before the empty tomb, “saw and believed” (Jn 20:8), to Mary Magdalene who, after seeing Jesus (cf. Jn 20:14) and wanting to cling to him, is asked to contemplate him as he ascends to the Father, and finally to her full confession before the disciples: “I have seen the Lord!” (Jn 20:18).

These passages cited are among the most profound in the Bible. The experience of Christian faith through the senses is essential to the cultivation of believers and disciples.

How does one attain this synthesis between hearing and seeing? It becomes possible through the person of Christ himself, who can be seen and heard. He is the Word made flesh, whose glory we have seen (cf. Jn 1:14). The light of faith is the light of a countenance in which the Father is seen. In the Fourth Gospel, the truth which faith attains is the revelation of the Father in the Son, in his flesh and in his earthly deeds, a truth which can be defined as the “light-filled life” of Jesus.[Cf. H. Schlier, Meditationen über den Johanneischen Begriff der Wahrheit, in Besinnung auf das Neue Testament. Exegetische Aufsätze und Vorträge 2, Freiburg, Basel, Wien, 1959, 272.] This means that faith-knowledge does not direct our gaze to a purely inward truth. The truth which faith discloses to us is a truth centred on an encounter with Christ, on the contemplation of his life and on the awareness of his presence. Saint Thomas Aquinas speaks of the Apostles’ oculata fides — a faith which sees! — in the presence of the body of the Risen Lord.[Cf. S. Th. III, q. 55, a. 2, ad 1] With their own eyes they saw the risen Jesus and they believed; in a word, they were able to peer into the depths of what they were seeing and to confess their faith in the Son of God, seated at the right hand of the Father.

I wonder about the impact of this on the spiritual life of a Christian. Consider the role in Christianity of icons, preaching, Eucharistic devotion, and other aspects of faith. What holds the strongest values for you, and does that translate into a leaning to seeing or hearing? If a balanced experience between the two, does that make you a balanced Christian? If not, what might that tell you about your own bias? What might that tell you about a possible fruitful ground to explore with God?

And finally, what about Thomas Aquinas’ famous line from the hymn?

Faith will tell us Christ is present, when our human senses fail.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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