“Man is by nature and vocation a religious being…[He] lives a fully human life only if he freely lives by his bond with God.”
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44 Man is by nature and vocation a religious being. Coming from God, going toward God, man lives a fully human life only if he freely lives by his bond with God.
45 Man is made to live in communion with God in whom he finds happiness: When I am completely united to you, there will be no more sorrow or trials; entirely full of you, my life will be complete (St. Augustine, Conf. 10, 28, 39: PL 32, 795).
46 When he listens to the message of creation and to the voice of conscience, man can arrive at certainty about the existence of God, the cause and the end of everything.
47 The Church teaches that the one true God, our Creator and Lord, can be known with certainty from his works, by the natural light of human reason (cf. Vatican Council I, can. 2 # 1: DS 3026),
48 We really can name God, starting from the manifold perfections of his creatures, which are likenesses of the infinitely perfect God, even if our limited language cannot exhaust the mystery.
49 Without the Creator, the creature vanishes (GS 36). This is the reason why believers know that the love of Christ urges them to bring the light of the living God to those who do not know him or who reject him.
Man as a Religious Being
This section of the Catechism sums up the chapter on man’s capacity to know God. Man, the Church claims, is a “religious being,” an affirmation with plenty of evidence. Humanity has demonstrated itself to be religious by nature from its earliest origins.
There is something innate in us that seeks after the truth, but not just truth within our grasp. Otherwise, recent scientific advances would have obliterated man’s pursuit of faith. The predictions that science would dispel religious beliefs have proven to be wrong time and time again.
Man, however, is, by nature, a religious being. He seeks something bigger than himself, beyond the physical, beyond what he can see and observe. There is an evident and apparent spiritual aspect of man, an inkling of the existence of something beyond, a truth not merely involving the way things work, but why they work that way and the purpose behind them.
Hunger for the Spiritual
Indeed, “Man is made to live in communion with God in whom he finds happiness.” That longing that possesses us, the end for which we search, is that communion with our Creator. We desire to know the one who is the giver of life and purpose behind all things. Without finding that communion with God, we can never find satisfaction in that search.
That is what it means by “happiness.” It is not the yuppie caricature of happiness as being free from hardship or satisfied with our life’s circumstances. It’s that rest, that comfort, in finding the object for which our soul so eagerly longs.
A Religious Being Maintains Perspective
In searching for God, in approaching our surroundings with humility and perspective, recognizing that we are not the centers of the universe and not even our intellect is capable of grasping the extraordinary depths of reality and truth, we can know with certainty that God exists.
Again, however, this is not a naive statement about certainty, the idea that we can be free of all doubt. Instead, I believe it is merely an affirmation that there is enough evidence for the existence of God if we will just listen. There is enough proof to believe, even if we must cry out along the way, “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!”
In addition, as the previous section had stated, even though we cannot know God fully, we can know him nonetheless through comparisons with the natural order and allusions to our own nature. God has revealed himself and made himself knowable to us, such that we can really know him, not as a farce or a facade, but as another religious being with whom we can enter into communion and genuine relationship.
God, the Sustainer of All Things
This section ends with an affirmation of the Catholic belief that without the Creator, the creation would cease. On one level, I understand this. As a contrast against Deism, the Christian faith affirms that God remains active in his creation and continues to maintain it through his work.
That is, God has not created a self-sufficient universe that can run without his continued presence and guidance. Our ability to explain the happenings of the universe by scientific methods does not mean that God is not present and working therein. The Church, therefore, rejects the idea of the “God of the gaps.”
On the other hand, there is something about this teaching that I do not understand. Were God to remove himself from creation, why would creation cease to exist? Would gravity and other forces keeping the universe in place simply stop? What is it that the Church means here?
I frankly don’t know, and it is a matter that I mean to study further. Humility is essential in approaching the teachings of the Church.
As the citations in the Catechism demonstrate, every official teaching of the Catholic Church is backed by thousands of years of thought, expressed in Scripture, by reason, or through a Tradition that has been passed down from the earliest centuries of the Church’s existence and deciphered further by great minds—such as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas—along the way.
What we have in the Catechism is a cursory summary of all of these great works and streams of thought, and I desire to delve further into those strands of thought to understand the reasoning and basis behind them. The Catechism, however, is a great starting point.