Knowing Christ in Creation, Scripture and Faith: Insight from Great Saints

Fr. Edlefsen's Sunday Column

Some people, in order to discover God, read books.

But there is a great book:  the very appearance of created things.

Look above you!  Look below you! 

Note it.  Read it.

God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink.

Instead, He set before your eyes the things that He had made.

Can you ask for a louder voice than that?

Why, heaven and earth shout to you:

“God made me!”

(St. Augustine, “The City of God,” Book XVI)


Saint Leo the Great (6th – 7th century):  Knowing Christ in Creation

Our Lord Jesus Christ, born true man without ever ceasing to be true God, began in his person a new creation and by the manner of his birth gave man a spiritual origin. What mind can grasp this mystery, what tongue can fittingly recount this gift of love? Guilt becomes innocence, old becomes new, strangers are adopted, and outsiders are made heirs. Rouse yourself, man, and recognize the dignity of your nature. Remember that you were made in God’s image; though corrupted in Adam, that image has been restored in Christ.


Use creatures as they should be used: the earth, the sea, the sky, the air, the springs and the rivers. Give praise and glory to their Creator for all that you find beautiful and wonderful in them. See with your bodily eyes the light that shines on earth, but embrace with your whole soul and all your affections “the true light which enlightens every man who comes into this world.” Speaking of this light the prophet said: “Draw close to him and let his light shine upon you and your face will not blush with shame.”  If we are indeed the temple of God, and if the Spirit of God lives in us, then what every believer has within himself is greater than what he admires in the skies.


Our words and exhortations are not intended to make you disdain God’s works or think there is anything contrary to your faith in creation, for the good God has himself made all things good. What we do ask is that you use reasonably and with moderation all the marvelous creatures which adorn this world; as the Apostle says: “The things that are seen are transient but the things that are unseen are eternal.”


For we are born in the present only to be reborn in the future. Our attachment, therefore, should not be to what is transitory; instead, we must be intent upon the eternal. Let us think of how divine grace has transformed our earthly natures so that we may contemplate more closely our heavenly hope. We hear the Apostle say: “You are dead and your life is hidden with Christ in God. But when Christ your life appears, then you will also appear in glory with him,” who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen. 


Saint Bonaventure (13th century):  Knowing Christ in Scripture

The source of sacred Scripture was not human research but divine revelation. This revelation comes “from the Father of Light from whom the whole concept of fatherhood in heaven and on earth derives.” From him, through Jesus Christ his Son, the Holy Spirit enters into us. Then, through the Holy Spirit who allots and apportions his gifts to each person as he wishes, we receive the gift of faith, and “through faith Christ lives in our hearts.”  So we come to know Christ and this knowledge becomes the main source of a firm understanding of the truth of all sacred Scripture. It is impossible, therefore, for anyone to achieve this understanding unless he first received the gift of faith in Christ. This faith is the firm basis of all supernatural enlightenment, the light guiding us to it, and the doorway through which we enter upon it. What is more, the extent of our faith is the measure of the wisdom which God has given us. Thus, “no one should overestimate his wisdom; instead, he should soberly make his assessment according to the extent of the faith which God has given him.


The outcome or the fruit of reading holy Scripture is by no means negligible: it is the fullness of eternal happiness. For these are the books which tell us of eternal life, which were written not only that we might believe but also that we might have everlasting life. When we do live that life we shall understand fully, we shall love completely, and our desires will be totally satisfied. Then, with all our needs fulfilled, we shall truly know “the love that surpasses understanding” and so “be filled with the fullness of God.”  The purpose of the Scriptures, which come to us from God, is to lead us to this fullness according to the truths contained in those sayings of the Apostles to which I have referred. In order to achieve this, we must study holy Scripture carefully, and teach it and listen to it in the same way.


If we are to attain the ultimate goal of eternal happiness by the path of virtue described in the Scriptures, we have to begin at the very beginning. We must come with a pure faith to the Father of Light and acknowledge him in our hearts. We must ask him to give us, through his Son and in the Holy Spirit, a true knowledge of Jesus Christ, and along with that knowledge a love of him. Knowing and loving him in this way, confirmed in our faith and grounded in our love, we can know “the length and breadth and height and depth” of his sacred Scripture. Through that knowledge we can come at last to know perfectly and love completely the most blessed Trinity, whom the saints desire to know and love and in whom all that is good and true finds its meaning and fulfillment. 


Saint Augustine (4th – 5th century): Knowing Christ in Faith

The Apostle [St. Paul] says, “Be like me”…. I now consider carnal things of small importance. And he adds, “For I am as you are,” that is to say: For I, like you, am a man. Then he tactfully reminds them of his love so that they will not look on him as an enemy: “Brothers, I beseech you,” he says, “you did me no wrong,” as if to say, “Do not imagine that I want to wrong you.” And to have them imitate him as they would a parent, he addresses them as little children: “My little children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ be formed in you”. Actually he is here speaking more in the person of Mother Church than his own. So, too, he says elsewhere: “I was gentle among you like a nurse fondling her little ones.” 

Christ is formed in the believer by faith of the inner man, called to the freedom that grace bestows, meek and gentle, not boasting of nonexistent merits, but through grace making some beginning of merit. Hence he can be called “my least one” by him who said: “Inasmuch as you did it to the least of my brethren you did it to me.


Christ is formed in him who receives Christ’s mold, who clings to him in spiritual love. By imitating him he becomes, as far as is possible to his condition, what Christ is. John says: “He who remains in Christ should walk as he did.” 


Children are conceived in order to be formed in their mother’s womb, and when they have been so formed, mothers are in travail to give them birth. We can thus understand Paul’s words: “With whom I am in labor until Christ be formed in you.”  By labor we understand his anxiety for those with whom he is in travail, that they be born unto Christ. And he is again in labor when he sees them in danger of being led astray. These anxieties, which can be likened to the pangs of childbirth, will continue until they “come to full age in Christ, so as not to be moved by every wind of doctrine.” 


He is not therefore talking about the beginnings of faith by which they were born, but of strong and perfect faith when he says: “With whom I am again in labor until Christ be formed in you.”  He also refers elsewhere in different words to his being in labor, when he says: “There is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?”