Prologue: To Know Is To Love

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To Know Is To LoveEvery great love story begins with the lover and beloved getting to know each other. It is this intimate communion of knowing and understanding which brings out the best in human love.

Theology thus is its own manner of loving, for the knowledge of God leads one into a deeper union with the source of all being and the epitome of all loveliness. Faith is not a blind step into the darkness but rather the hand drawing back the curtains to let in the light.

Richard of St. Victor envisions this journey into knowing God as the goal of the Christian experience, for only in understanding is faith brought to perfection. Using marital language, faith finds it consummation in the mind’s grasping of the divine mysteries.

But this is not an esoteric exercise left to the theologians; for Richard any truth of faith is only meaningful if it can find consonance with reason and experience. While we certainly cannot fully comprehend the eternal nature of God, neither are we simply minds trapped in bodies of flesh. The reason with which we are endowed and the experience that forms the manner in which we understand reality are not obstacles to understanding God but rather pathways towards that end.

Richard understands this by means of the metaphor of the three ‘heavens’ of contemplation, each successive height another glimpse into the unfathomable mystery of the Creator. The first is immortality, the truth of which our mortality proves in its longing for permanence. The second is incorruptibility, or more colloquially to always be what one is meant to be. The angels naturally experience this vision of God, and humans by progress in virtue may attain this plane. The final heaven of contemplation is eternity, a plateau which God alone inhabits, for only God the source of his own being. This heaven can never be attained by any creature, save by participation, which is the purpose of seeking after God with all of one’s being.

Faith is such that in its pure and genuine state is cannot be content with anything less than all of God, which naturally leads the understanding into wanting to know more. In light of the mystery of the Trinity, faith begins the journey as it opens the door, beckoning the heart aflame with love to enter in.