(NOTE: This transcription has been automatically generated through an AI program. Consequently, this transcript may not match everything you hear in the podcast episode, and it may contain errors such as spelling, grammar, word choice, etc., due to the limitations of current AI technology.)
Welcome everyone to this week’s episode of Midnight Carmelite. I’m Andrew Gniadek, your host. So this week I wanted to discuss something that’s been on my mind for a while because there’s often a debate about how do we know God or the nature of God. Is God simple or not and metaphysically what seems to me that’s really being debated is what we define as knowledge. So I wanted to go through two types of knowledge and two ways of knowing that human persons have as kind of a starting-point for all of us so that we can talk about how things work with loving union with God in later podcasts and as well as in previous ones.
So let’s just get started and we’ll go from there. First of all, knowledge starts with sense wonder and what that simply means is you are out in the world and you encounter something through your exterior senses. Remember, exterior senses just take in whatever is given to them. So for example, if I’m sitting next to you and I start poking you, you always feel that I’m poking you unless there’s something wrong, like for example, if your arm is numb because someone used Novocaine on it. You would not feel it obviously because the nerves have been numbed, there’s an impediment to them operating properly.
But for the most part, if you look at something even a stick that’s being bent in the water. Some will claim, “well my senses are deceiving” and I would argue that’s not true. They (your exterior senses) are simply doing their job which is taking in input and passing it on. What’s really happening, we know this, is that the way light travels through water as it causes the stick to look bent.
It doesn’t mean the stick is actually bent. And just because your eyes see it that way through sight doesn’t mean that your eyes are deceiving you. What it means is your eyes are giving you exactly what’s happening in reality, which is the lights passing through the water and causing it to look bent.
So, you know, it’s almost like a catch-22. You say, “well, my eyes are deceiving me because they’re not showing me that the stick isn’t actually bent.” But then someone may turn around and say, “well, physics says that light bends in water and causes things to look bent to your eyes.”
And it’s like, well, either the light is the cause of the things looking bent, which is what I would argue. It’s true. So that, case one, your eyes are not to blame for the fact that the stick looks bent or, case two, your eyes are to blame for the stick looking bent and light isn’t doing anything. It’s just you might as well not pay attention to light because your eyes are the problem, not the light. So a lot of these problems in my mind come down to assigning responsibility for things. What’s responsible for the phenomena that we’re dealing with. Anyway.
So the point is is you encounter the bent stick, you encounter a flower, pleasant smell, anything like that, anything with the exterior five senses. And this causes wonder. Wonder is normally considered a species of fear, interestingly, because it arrests you. You’re not quite sure what you’re looking at. You don’t know what to make of it. So it’s not that you’re avoiding it, but you’re not jumping out to it yet because you haven’t quite put it all together.
So, this wonder as a species of fear acts as the origin of any human person’s journey to understand what something is by nature. And remember in the previous podcast on the essence-existence distinction and St. John of the Cross, I would if you haven’t listened, I would recommend taking a listen after this one. It will discuss the distinctions of what I mean by nature. So, like I said, wonder engages with sense experience. And it’s an openness to this previously unknown something. So what is this unknown something?
Well, there’s different things that you may encounter. So, for example, if you see a basket of two apples, if you’re wondering how many apples are in the basket, you’d immediately apprehend pretty quickly two, you know, that’s quantity. Right? On the other hand, you may come to the conclusion that what you’re seeing is your first love, right? Like you immediately see something about this person that attracts you to them in a way. Both of these things are in a way a termination point, a kind of completion, of some sense wonder being the origin of some type of knowledge.
So that doesn’t mean that at that completion all knowledge is complete, right? Because as we, as we all know, you can always dig deeper. So what that means is you may start with wonder and then it completes that. Okay, I see there’s two apples in this basket or it completes at I think this person, you know might be the one for me; there’s something shocking and arresting here. That may be only the beginning of different pieces of the puzzle, bit you start with wonder. You say, “okay, there’s two apples in the basket,” but then you say, “well, who put those two apples in the basket?”
That’s a type of knowledge. Do you have to go discover how those apples came to the basket? Or if you think the person you’ve met is someone that may be the love of your life, then naturally you’re going to go out to that person and try and get to know them better. So, you started from the completion of the initial act, which was “I think this person is the one for me” to the next act, which is, “I’m going to get to know this person some more.” And then you say, “well, I’m going to get to that point,” that completion, then you say, “well, I’m going to get to know this person in this aspect of their life or in that aspect of the life.”
Obviously it goes on and on. You can see this chain and each act gains greater knowledge, but it’s composed of these singular acts of building, right? It’s kind of like analytical-inductive process here. The point is that since in these two examples, knowledge isn’t universal because there’s no quantity really when you’re apprehending if the person’s the one for you and there is quantity when you’re dealing with two apples and you don’t marry apples. The point is, is that being is an analogical and so the word knowledge. This is extremely important.
The word knowledge means a relation with something objective that a human person conforms to. In some way, there’s different types of knowledge. So that’s what we’re going to get into. An objection that can easily come up is given my claim of the analogy of being, knowledge doesn’t mean the same thing. In every single case someone could claim the following, they could say, “okay, Andrew, mathematical knowledge is disputable. They’ll say that math is certain, but even mathematic knowledge is disputable since numbers are merely representative.”
So, given this claim of an analogical being, basically because that’s what this is, knowledge is conforming to being in some way, someone could claim the following: “mathematical knowledge is disputable since numbers are merely representative and knowing love, even whether a person loves someone else, changes over time.” Okay, so there’s two claims going on here. First is mathematical knowledge is disputable since numbers are representative. If I say one, you’re going to say one what? Well, you’re going to say one apple, one person, one house. So the numbers represent the quantity of something.
The numbers in themselves. You know, you could just count numbers, but someone’s going to always want to ground it ultimately into something. Okay, so that’s one claim. Next is to know love, even when you love someone else, it changes over time. So,the knowledge isn’t certain because according to this objection is some people love a spouse much more in the past than the person does in the present, and then therefore, because it’s waning and waxing can’t be certain about love. How do I even know I’m in love? If the fact that it (love) wanes and waxes means that it’s not in a stable state, so I can’t be certain about this because it keeps fluctuating.
Like I just said, that love changes with how a person feels about that love. So, a person may say, “I was more in love with my spouse five years ago, and then whatever happened, and I just don’t feel that love anymore. I don’t feel the same. Therefore, if a person cannot claim an objectivity and knowledge and either something objective in certain like mathematics or something subjective like love, then there’s no difference between types of truths and types of knowledge. In fact, knowledge is elusive and uncertain.” Basically, the person, the objector here with these two claims, is saying there’s no way to know anything. And what we know is always uncertain; it’s always in flux, so there’s nothing certain and there’s nothing we can say that is true.
Here’s what I’d say to that person. I’d say: “look, first of all, numbers are representative of something, like I said, two apples, a person, house, whatever the point is, that quantity can’t exist without something underlying it. There is a certitude to the number.There has to be a something ultimately that the number represents one apple, one fire hydrant, one blade of grass.”
And as far as love, the person here is conflating what we discussed earlier, this notion of virtual quantity or qualitative strength with certitude. And in the analogical view of being, there’s always more or less more similar or less similar, greater, lesser, more noble, less noble. That’s how we judge.
For example, take an art contest. You look at the, you know, you set the standard right? And then you say of the artists who conformed close enough to the standard who was the most complete piece of art relative to that standard.So there’s a more or less, that’s the only way you can have any sort of hierarchy. And there’s obviously hierarchies in the world.
Now we have numbers underlie something, meaning that there’s always something that the number underlies. Otherwise it’s simply a logical distraction: “one of what?” And love can wax and wane, but love still exists because, remember, love isn’t feelings; it’s willing the good of the other, as St. Thomas would say, you want the other, you go out to the other person in service to them and you give yourself to them, your talent, your time, whatever, to lift them up to help them.
But remember, this is crucial, is that love isn’t a channel, it’s not you giving and leaving feeling empty and the other feeling full. You’re a reservoir and you’re giving out of your fullness, out of your overflow, and in fact, by the very fact of your giving, its freshening the water. It’s lifting you up too. So it’s almost paradoxical, real love ἀγάπη, the reservoir never goes empty and where it’s flowing to this other person you’re loving, they get filled up too and hopefully become their own reservoir.
And obviously the source of living water here would be God, right, He’s the source of all good things in his overflow. We participate in that by virtue of being made in his image and likeness. So anyway, that’s a whole separate podcast. But let’s continue. So I think we’ve answered the objection that knowledge is elusive and uncertain in both cases of quantity and of love. So let’s bring God into this now, because then another objection will be, “well, God’s not a being, he is that which makes beings be so how do I know God whose infinite, omnipotent, wise, good, love.
How do I know love? Well, knowledge of God doesn’t involve formulas; God’s a person. No one would claim that any person is reducible to a formula. And the only way that human persons have knowledge of other human persons is primarily through love. Yes, we do have knowledge by looking at quantity, that they’re one, but no one would reduce a person to their profession, which is a quality or to where they grew up which is a quality. You wouldn’t do that.
You would say, “I know this person as that person,” you’ve gone past all that to the personality to underlies the person. So you’re getting to this underlying foundation again. So when people spend time together in silence or performing other activities, you’re learning through loving. So when a person spent times in prayer with God, the person relates him or herself to another person: who is God. Again, an objection may say, “well, I don’t see how prayer relates to human activity.” Okay, well why do people go out for coffee and just talk?
What is prayer? As Saint Teresa of Avila says, an intimate sharing between friends. That’s prayer. Simply a conversation with God. And you know, we’ve gone into a little bit about where God is, you know, right? He maintains our existence right? And in-dwells in us supernaturally due to baptism and loving union. The point is that, that’s where you talk to God. So all human persons relate to themselves and those around them in either loving or non-loving way, ultimately, so that’s really what it comes down to back to knowledge being an analogical.
Let’s finally put the two claims of ultimately reducing to knowledge being elusive and uncertain to rest. Given what I’ve just said, knowledge can’t be elusive and uncertain because it’s contradicting itself. And a contradiction is any statement of fact can’t be a non-statement of fact at the same time in the same respect. And why is it a contradiction? You have things underlying the very things that they say are elusive and uncertain, which is the love, the feeling of love, willing the good of the under underlying this person’s feelings.
And that’s what love really is. And you have the essence of the apple quiddity underlying the quantity of the apple or underlying the person’s personality, underlying the quantity of a person. So it’s not elusive and uncertain. It’s based on something. And the problem is that there’s varying degrees of either understanding or love in these two types that we’re talking about. Okay, so now let’s get to the primary mode of knowing by abstraction. And this involves the intellect.
So the intellect of a person knows something of a lower order like an animal, plant, a stone. And the intellect tears away. That’s what the word “abstract” means “to tear away” the essence of a finite thing. And remember the essence is quiddity, form and nature we discussed in previous podcast and that same essence completes the intellect of the knower. In this act of knowing the knower and known become one, you’re going out to it just like when you love something, you go out to it, but what you’re doing is you’re abstracting, I mean tearing away, not taking anything away from the thing, but tearing away and intellect is meant to, and this is the key, relate to the thing.
The key thing to understand here is the intellect goes out to the finite thing and conforms to it and creates a relation. So it’s a an act of going out. So that’s crucial to understand. It’s not taking in and ideas as the terminus of thought, it’s going out using the light of reason to see and abstracting these things and taking them in to the intellect. But by the fact of going out, so it’s creating a relation here. Okay, so let’s consider mathematics back to quantity.
So when considering the objective truth of math, if reality is waveforms, vibrations, atoms, reality still reduces to some matter that subsists. So we’re back to this what’s standing under. So no matter what reality is composed of, there’s something that subsists that the quantity represents. So again, if there’s two apples in the basket and throw two more apples in baskets for apples in the basket, but the point is that whatever is responsible for the material of the apple, whether it’s waveforms, vibrations, atoms or something else, that can’t change that each is its own substance that has quantity.
So we’re back to what I said earlier. Now if we go to considering someone who is in love, you seek out, you go out to the object. Also notice that going out again, you’re going out now with the object of, but this time not with the intellect, you’re going out with your heart, your will, you’re choosing to go out to this person. And in this act, you don’t tear anything away from the beloved. But you push towards the other seeking union of some kind. So husband and wife, for a good example, before her husband could love his wife and a wife love her husband. They both had to know each other existed, right? So they had to be an intellectual judgement.
You know, so and so exists. But then they have the wonder, like I was talking about earlier, like, “oh, I think this person’s the one for me.” So by willing to be around each other, learning more about each other, they deepen their love, the relation to one another, and eventually say they’re married. And as time goes on, each spouse shows love to the other in small ways that change over time.
And this love creates knowledge. Only the husband can look at his wife and have a general idea of how she’s feeling without even asking. The wife has no physical tics that may alert a third party observer to how she feels. But the husband just knows truth, knowledge, that no one else knows because he loves her. So let’s pause for a second. You go out to that which you love. You serve that, which you love with these little actions in small ways of loving, willing to go to the other.
And what happens is there’s a union there and that union causes knowledge. So, again, you could imagine, let’s say you’re at a party and so let’s say you’re being kind of silent, you’re not feeling well, something’s bothering you, but you’re not really saying anything to your spouse. And finally, your spouse says, “hey, I think something’s bothering you.” And now a regular person wouldn’t have known you would have been acting kind of normal, at least trying to hide it. Let’s just say your spouse knows why.
Because loving union gets to that deeper knowledge, that deeper understanding that is begotten by love and not by abstractions. No tearing away. It’s this union of serving the beloved. So let’s keep going. Finally, that means there’s two different kinds of knowledge or truths. There’s truths a person knows objectively by bringing them into the intellect and truths a person knows by seeking out and loving the object of the person’s love. Go out to that which you know with the intellect, abstract the essence and you copies into your intellect.
You have a relation with that thing because the form, quiddity, nature, is the same in your intellect if you understood it properly. So you now have a relation of identity, but it comes from this abstraction. But when you go out to the person you love instead of tearing away you stay with them, you stay, you are present to them, you stay united to them. And that teaches you truth that abstraction can never teach you. And that’s the crucial thing with loving God is a human person must know something first before loving it.
You have to know God before you can love God or another human person and knowing it is a truth in its own right. But once a person loves something over time, that love creates knowledge that only the lover and the beloved know. And those are truths too, but of a type begotten by love, not abstraction. And I want to make a quick comment here about St. John of the Cross throughout his writing. He’ll always say, I can’t express what I experience. It’s ineffable, but I’m going to try to do it as best I can so that someone may read this and they can see in their own experience with God.
Like guide posts, basically, he tried to write as far as I understand, he tried to write as generically as possible, so that it can act as a guide because only the two people who have the relation of love really know have knowledge of what that love consists of. No one can look at a husband and wife and say I know what it’s like to love that other person. No. Even if even if one of the parties spill what’s going on, you know, like maybe their problems or they still can’t know because love is between two persons and it’s a way of knowing in its own right that only can exist between those two persons.
That’s the knowledge that they get from love versus knowledge from abstraction. God is infinite and beyond any person’s capability to abstract anything about Him. So that’s another key point here: remember abstraction only deals with finite things because the intellect is immaterial, but we’re finite being. So if we encounter an infinite being to use our categories of being on something that’s not a being is kind of ridiculous. For example if someone makes an argument about God’s quantity, quantity doesn’t apply to God in the same way it applies to being with a lower case B.
God’s quantity is at best analogical; our understanding of quantity is nothing like it. So you can’t abstract and finite thing can’t contain God. That’s I think another way of saying this: if you go out to one finite thing and abstract, you can contain it because it’s also finite that you have the same level of being and human beings are the top of the material creation. But God’s infinite, so you can’t abstract anything about it because abstraction requires finitude.
But thankfully, God’s a person, and that means a human person knows God by loving him. So in prayer, when you’re conversing with God in these intimate conversations, you can learn truths about God, just like a person can learn truths about friends, family members, and spouses by loving them.
That’s today’s podcast. I hope you enjoyed it. As usual, I put in the description the link to the tip jar. Also, if you want to sign up for the newsletter, head over to Luminous Tradition and click newsletter and it’ll take you down to the form so we can stay in touch.
Thanks for listening. And I’ll see you next week.