JUNE 29, 2005, SAINTS PETER AND PAUL: MATTHEW 16:13-19

BLESSED ARE YOU SIMON, SON OF JONAH, FOR IT WAS NOT FLESH AND BLOOD THAT REVEALED THIS TO YOU BUT MY FATHER WHO IS IN HEAVEN. This declaration that the source of true knowledge of the Lord Jesus is a revelation given freely by the Father will always be fundamental for the faith. These words of our Lord are not the only ones in which he affirms the same truth. On another occasion Jesus informs us that what he here says to Peter applies to all those who recognize him as Son of God: "I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to little children. (11: 25)" Interestingly, this statement occurs just after Jesus expresses his judgment on the cities with their share of the wise and learnd, that refused belief in him though they witnessed his miracles. Our Lord learned by experience that true understanding of his person and accepting the salvation that he brings is a gift of faith, not the fruit of human intelligence alone.

Repeatedly this basic truth has been demonstrated in the history of the Church. Every generation has had to learn this lesson; our own age and those who will follow us are certainly no exception. We live in a time when the horizons of human knowledge are being vastly expanded. This applies with a particular pointedness to the understanding of nature and the cosmos. Not to mention the recent findings of astronomy that provide a new and astonishing picture of the nature and extent of the cosmos, in the last sixty years the biosciences have made discoveries including the human body, that have led to a radically new conception of our relation to all the forms of life on earth. In 1953 nature’s way of storing the information necessary for the propagation and growth of living organisms, including the human body, was worked out in elaborate detail. This discovery came just eight years after the atom was split thus opening the way to understand the process involved in the burning of the sun and all the stars. Since then life on earth and the cosmos as a whole seem to many to hold no secrets that science cannot discover and pronounce upon. This would be all to the good so long as it is recognized for the limited scientific knowledge that it is. But many of the scientific community feel called upon to interpret all of reality, as if nothing is real save matter and physical energy. Reality is reduced to with what falls under observation and is subject to measure. Based on this erroneus belief they preach the meaning of life and death, which they are now able to explain within the limits of the physical. Of course there are serious gaps in their knowledge. Undaunted by the lack of evidence they fill these in by recourse to chance and luck, invoked in ways reminiscent of the ancient Romans who built a temple to the goddess Fortuna (luck, chance) and made it their practice to call upon her at need.

This materialist doctrine, widely spread in the University community today, is the modern equivalent of that false gnosis against which St John, St Paul and the early fathers beginning with Irenaeus, witnessed in their writings.

While the details of such knowledge are indeed quite new and growing daily, the conclusions that many draw from these data are far from new. They are of the same order as those arrived at by many of the wise and learned of earlier times. The Book of Wisdom (about 50 A.D.) describes the philosophy of the unbelieving searchers of the hidden things of this world. His description summarizes quite accurately an article in a recent issue of Scientific American."We came into being by chance and afterwards shall be as though we had never been. The breath in our nostrils is a puff of smoke, reason a spark from the beating of our heart [the movement of electrons’ in the modern version], extinguish this and the body turns to ashes and the spirit melts away like the yielding air. ... our end is without return. ... Come then, let us enjoy the good things of today. (2:1ff)" The author of Wisdom answers them with an act of faith: "This is the way they reason but they are misled. ...They do not know the hidden things of God, they do not hope for the reward of holiness. ... For God created human beings to be immortal, he made them as an image of his own nature. (2:21 ff)"

One of the more striking among many instances of the Church’s fidelity to the belief that God the Father, not human intelligence and learning is the source of true understanding of life was the Council of Rimini, Italy, in the fourth century. There the large majority of Bishops, the more gifted and learned, were Arian, holding that the Son was a god but inferior to the Father. A smaller group of some fifty Italian Bishops however, refused consent to this teaching. The integrity of the faith in the West was preserved by this minority. Their argument was very simple: "What you teach is not what our fathers taught us. We cannot accept it."

On this feast of the two great apostles, Peter the universal pastor, and Paul, missionary to the nations, both of whom witnessed to the true faith with their lives and heir blood, we thank God for His gift of faith. We are grateful that through the centuries He has continued to reveal Himself to those who lovingly put their trust in Him as in our Father and in the Son He sent to be our Savior. By fidelity to the teaching of his apostles and in imitation of their lives may we prove worthy of such fathers in the faith and give our best for the building up of his Church until the day we meet with all those who have become children in the kingdom of God our Father, Lord of heaven and of the cosmos.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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