A question on natural reason

A question on natural reason January 8, 2012

As part of diaconate formation, we are embarking on a close reading of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  I imagine that as we go through it, a variety of interesting questions will come up.

Here is the first:  the CCC starts with a discussion of the knowledge of God.  While avoiding the trap of philosophical “proofs” of the existence of God, it sketches some plausible arguments that show that by natural reason alone we can come to the knowledge of the existence of God as the “first cause and final end of all things.” (CCC 34).

However, in paragraph 35 it then goes on to assert that “Man’s faculties make him capable of coming to a knowledge of the existence of a personal God” (emphasis added).  And in Paragraph 37 it quotes Pope Pius XII:  “human reason is, strictly speaking, truly capable by its own natural power and light of attaining to a true and certain knowledge of the one personal God…” (Humanae Generis 561).

I do not see how to make this leap from the existence of a “Prime Mover” (a rather abstract and distant notion of God, and certainly not a God who loves us) to the knowledge of a personal God.   By speaking of “capabilities” the text may seem to be hedging a bit, suggesting that we can but have not (or perhaps in our sinfulness will not).   Nevertheless, there appears to be a gap in the reasoning here.  If I recall correctly, C. S. Lewis makes the argument that by reason humanity might deduce the existence of God but only as a prime mover, and that it requires  Revelation for God to reveal Himself to us as a person (indeed as a Trinity of Persons) who loves us.

Am I missing something, or is the Catechism glossing over a substantive limit in human reason?  For my own part, I am doubtful of the ability of human reason alone to come to the knowledge of a personal God:  it seems more in line with our fallen nature that we will find “gods” more in tune with our own prejudices and limitations.


Browse Our Archives