We move on to a new sub-heading in chapter two, “Faith as hearing and sight.”
This is a long post for a long section, so please bear with it. First, we will read of “personal knowledge” and “recognition.” These are hallmarks of a personal relationship. No matter how “true” the Truth is, there is also another context involved: that personal relationship with God initiated even before the covenant with Abraham. Indeed Adam and Eve, before and after the Fall, experienced this relationship.
29. Precisely because faith-knowledge is linked to the covenant with a faithful God who enters into a relationship of love with (people) and speaks his word to (them), the Bible presents it as a form of hearing; it is associated with the sense of hearing. Saint Paul would use a formula which became classic: fides ex auditu, “faith comes from hearing” (Rom 10:17). Knowledge linked to a word is always personal knowledge; it recognizes the voice of the one speaking, opens up to that person in freedom and follows him or her in obedience. Paul could thus speak of the “obedience of faith” (cf. Rom 1:5; 16:26).* Faith is also a knowledge bound to the passage of time, for words take time to be pronounced, and it is a knowledge assimilated only along a journey of discipleship. The experience of hearing can thus help to bring out more clearly the bond between knowledge and love.
* The longest footnote in the document:
“The obedience of faith (Rom 16:26; compare Rom 1:5, 2 Cor 10:5-6) must be our response to the God who reveals. By faith one freely submits oneself entirely to God making the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals, and willingly assenting to the revelation given by God. For this faith to be accorded, we need the grace of God, anticipating it and assisting it, as well as the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, and opens the eyes of the mind and makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth. The same Holy Spirit constantly perfects faith by his gifts, so that revelation may be more and more deeply understood” (Dei Verbum, 5).
When do our senses fail us? Or appear to be in conflict?
At times, where knowledge of the truth is concerned, hearing has been opposed to sight; it has been claimed that an emphasis on sight was characteristic of Greek culture. If light makes possible that contemplation of the whole to which humanity has always aspired, it would also seem to leave no space for freedom, since it comes down from heaven directly to the eye, without calling for a response. It would also seem to call for a kind of static contemplation, far removed from the world of history with its joys and sufferings. From this standpoint, the biblical understanding of knowledge would be antithetical to the Greek understanding, inasmuch as the latter linked knowledge to sight in its attempt to attain a comprehensive understanding of reality.
This alleged antithesis does not, however, correspond to the biblical datum. The Old Testament combined both kinds of knowledge, since hearing God’s word is accompanied by the desire to see his face. The ground was thus laid for a dialogue with Hellenistic culture, a dialogue present at the heart of sacred Scripture. Hearing emphasizes personal vocation and obedience, and the fact that truth is revealed in time. Sight provides a vision of the entire journey and allows it to be situated within God’s overall plan; without this vision, we would be left only with unconnected parts of an unknown whole.
Perhaps those more grounded in classical Greek philosophy can weigh in here.
For my part, I know the kind of society in which we live today. We are children of Israel, Christ, and the political philosophies that developed there and in a wider cultural evolution since.
To me, the important illumination here is the desire for union with God, for a deep relationship in which we can follow God’s will (or at least, struggle with it) and God in turn will permit that face-to-face contact.
I am also aware of Christ’s observation that some people indeed hear and see, but they do not perceive. They continue on in their ways as though they were deaf and blind to the spiritual realities of faith. Indeed, each of us believers has inevitable moments when we resist what we hear and see.
I’m not sure I’m totally on board with the distinctions drawn here by the Holy Father on hearing and seeing. But if we do accept it, what impact does his theory have on the liturgical arts? Does music, for example, communicate vocation and obedience better than iconography? I would want to explore that point a bit further.
As for the possible integration of seeing and hearing in the believer, the astute among you might anticipate Pope Francis will turn to John’s Gospel to help us along the way. And we’ll get to that tomorrow.