Dogma and Mystery

The dogmas—the Trinitarian dogma, the dogma of the utterly free and gratuitous creation of the universe, the dogmas of the Incarnation, of the redemptive sacrifice, of transubstantiation, the sacramental dogmas, the Marian dogma—are the great declarations which the Church has made known against rationalization of the wonderful revelations of Holy Scripture. Far from weakening the mystery, they mark its outlines in order that the spirit may enter further into its darkness and lose itself in its depths.

The Church is divinely assisted by the prophetic light of infallibility in order to present them to us. But it is not on its created authority that we believe—the presentation which the Church offers conditions our assent to their truth, it does not provide the basis for the assent; it is on the uncreated and direct authority of God, revealing himself to us and revealing to us his work, that we believe. Faith, theological faith, is the inward, personal light by which God comes to the understanding and will of each man, so as, if no obstacle is met with, to raise them to himself. “He who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself, habet testimonium Dei in se” (1 Jn 5:10); “Who is it that overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (5:5).

The Knowledge of Simple Faith

At the first moment when it is received in the soul, the light of Christianity bestows both the prophetic gifts of divine revelation and also the power to recognize them, that is, the sanctifying light of theological faith that causes us to assent to their mysterious depths and that is thus seen to be the root of the whole work of justification. [1] The believer is encompassed by ideas, revealed statements, in which is expressed his Creed, what he believes about God and God’s work, creation, redemption, salvation, the last ends. His faith makes use of these statements in an intuitive, not a discursive, way. It is concerned to make the whole human person assent to the truth of what they contain.

Mystical Knowledge

Let us pass on to the second moment. Let us suppose that the divine light in the believer attains its supreme intensity. Let us suppose that theological faith, fostered by love, and not content to adapt the soul to the truth of revealed statements, begins to show that there is, in the truth of these revealed statements, still more truth than they can express. “The light of faith”, says St. Thomas, “makes us see the mysteries which are believed”; [2] it encounters them, it touches them in some sense in the darkness; it is on the path which divine faith opens out by means of revealed notions that God’s love draws the understanding of faith to go beyond these notions. Then it rises upon the wings of love and of the gifts of the Holy Ghost toward those things eye has not seen nor ear heard (1 Cor 2:9); it plunges into a silent contemplation in which all concepts are hushed; it is swallowed up in the mystery of “the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God” (Rom 11:33). Here, in this supreme act, is the realm of mystical knowledge.

But—and this is the point which must be emphasized at the end of these few pages—conceptual knowledge of revealed truths is not in any way laid aside, or in any way got rid of, it is merely for the moment covered over, transcended. All the dogmas thus subsist in the faith of the contemplative, but like the stars in the midday sunlight. In fact they are never so necessarily, so effectively present. The passing light which throws them into the shade strengthens them to a wonderful degree. When it withdraws, they reappear like stars in the evening sky, but invested with, and illuminated by, a little of its brightness.

When St. John of the Cross was engulfed in the “midday” of God, which is “midnight” for faith, how was it possible for him to think distinctly and successively of each of the mysteries of the childhood or of the Passion of the Savior? It was a silent contemplation which he was sent to teach the world. But as soon as the dazzling light of unity allowed him some respite, he found again distinctly each of these Christian mysteries and was, as it were, inebriated with them. At Baeza he carried in his arms the Child from the cradle, at Avila he sketched out his vision of the Crucified, he was on fire with love as he touched the Blessed Sacrament. [3] A mystical contemplation that, at the moment when it began and ceased, was not ready to allow each of the Gospel mysteries to appear, contained in it like petals in the rose, would not be Christian contemplation. [4]
Dogma and Contemplation | Charles Cardinal Journet | From What Is Dogma? | Ignatius Insight


[1] Council of Trent, Session 6, chap. 8; Denz. 801.

[2] IIa-IIae, Q. I, art. 4, ad 3.

[3] Bruno de Jésus-Marie, Saint Jean de la Croix (Paris: Desclée De Brouwer, 1961), pp. 163, 259, 309; English trans. St John of the Cross (London, 1936), pp. 220ff.

[4] Cf. my Introduction à la Théologie, pp. 312-13.

What Is Dogma?

by Cardinal Charles Journet

What Is Dogma? (Electronic Book Download)

Dogma is one of those words. Many people see dogma as a bad thing-as the unreasonable, unthinking adherence to a belief, even in the face of contrary evidence. But when the Catholic Church presents some of her teachings as dogmas, she does not mean that these tenets are irrational or to be thoughtlessly embraced. Dogma is the bedrock of truth, an inexhaustible feast for the mind, not an impediment to thinking. Why? Because dogmas rest on the Word of God, Truth Himself, who can neither deceive nor be deceived, and who wants his Word to be known.

The great theologian Charles Journet explores the meaning of dogma in his classic work What is Dogma? In what sense are dogmas an object of faith? How do reason and faith relate to dogmas? How are dogmas both essentially unchangeable and yet open to development? Are dogmas accessible only in learned theological language or are there common-sense ways of understanding them? Journet addresses these and other important questions. He also discusses examples of dogmatic development: the dogmas of the Trinity, of Christology, and of Mariology. And he explores the relationship of dogma and mystical contemplation. In short, Journet shows why “dogma” is a subject of which Catholics need not be afraid.

Charles Cardinal Journet (1891-1975) was a well-known and highly respected 20th Century theologian. He greatly contributed to theology before and after the Second Vatican Council, for which he was a theological consultant. Pope Paul VI named him a cardinal in 1965. Among his most famous works is his multi-volume The Church of the Word Incarnate, a single-volume, updated edition which is available in his Theology of the Church.

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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