Excerpt: First Maxim: The Knowledge of God and the knowledge of self By the ladder of sanctity, men ascend and descend at the same time All Christian sanctity is contained in two things: the knowledge of God, and the knowledge of self. ‘Lord, that I may know Thee’ cried St. Augustine, ‘and that I may know myself’. A short prayer, but one opening out on to an infinite horizon. The knowledge of God elevates the soul; knowledge of self keeps it humble. The former raises the soul to contemplate something of the depths of the divine perfections, the latter lowers it to the abyss of its own nothingness and sin. (1) The amazing thing is that the very knowledge of God which raises man up, at the same time humbles him by the comparison of himself with God. Similarly self-knowledge, while it humbles him, lifts him up by the very necessity of approaching God in order to find solace in his misery. Marvellous ladder of sanctity, whereon men descend even as they ascend. For the true elevation of man is inseparable from his true humiliation. The one without the other is pride, while the latter without the former is to be unhappy without hope. Of what use would be the most sublime knowledge of God to us, if the knowledge of ourselves did not keep us little in our own eyes? Similarly, would we not fall into terrible despair, if the knowledge of our exceeding meanness and misery were not counterbalanced by our knowledge of God? But this two-fold knowledge serves to sanctify us. To be a saint, we must know and admit that we are nothing of ourselves, that we receive all things from God in the order of nature and grace, and that we expect all things from Him in the order of glory. By the knowledge of God, I do not mean abstract and purely ideal knowledge such as was possessed by pagan philosophers, who lost their way in vain and barren speculations, the only effect of which was to increase their pride. For the Christian, the knowledge of God is not an endless course of reasoning as to His essence and perfections, such as that of a mathematician concerned with the properties of a triangle or circle. There have been many philosophers and even theologians who held fine and noble ideas of God, but were none the more virtuous or holy as a result of it. The knowledge we must have is what God Himself has revealed concerning the Blessed Trinity; the work of each of the Persons in creating, redeeming and sanctifying us. We must know the scope of His power, His providence, His holiness, His justice and His love. We must know the extent and multitude of His mercies, the marvellous economy of His grace, the magnificence of His promises and rewards, the terror of His warnings and the rigour of His chastisements; the worship He requires, the precepts He imposes, the virtues He makes known as our duty, and the motives by which He incites us to their practice. In a word, we must know what He is to us, and what He wills that we should be to Him. This is the true and profitable knowledge of God taught in every page of Holy Scripture, and necessary for all Christians. It cannot be too deeply studied, and without it none can become holy, for the substance of it is indispensably necessary to salvation. This should be the great object of our reflection and meditation, and of our constant prayer for light. Let no one fancy that he can ever know enough, or enter sufficiently into so rich a subject. It is in every sense inexhaustible. The more we discover in it, the more we see there is yet to be discovered. It is an ever-deepening ocean for the navigator, an unattainable mountain height for the traveller, whose scope of vision increases with every upward step. The knowledge of God grows in us together with our own holiness: both are capable of extending continually, and we must set no bounds to either.
John Nicholas Grou SJ, Paperback, ISBN 10: 1499360479, ISBN 13: 9781499360479