Bishop Gerald Wiesner
Theology is impossible without faith, retired Bishop Gerald Wiesner said in a recent talk for the Saskatoon Diocese.
Theology "is part of the very process of faith, which seeks an ever-deeper understanding of God's self-disclosure, culminating in Christ," Wiesner said, quoting the recent encyclical Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith).
Even the very word "God" we often take for granted, Wiesner pointed out, challenging his listeners to think more deeply about who God is and the experience of God in the world, in history and in our lives.
The former bishop of Prince George, B.C., now retired in Saskatoon, began the first talk in a series on Foundations: Exploring Our Faith Together by quoting a column by fellow Oblate theologian Father Ron Rolheiser about the ineffability of God.
"God cannot ever be captured in thought, imagination, or word. Any concepts, images or words we have about God are inadequate at best and idolatrous at worst," read Wiesner. "God is always beyond what we think, speak about, or imagine.
"Does this mean that faith opposes human reason? No. Faith doesn't negate human reason, it simply dwarfs it."
Wiesner said theology is a participation in God's own knowledge of himself. "First and foremost, it is seeking a deeper understanding of the word that God speaks to us, the word that God speaks about himself. Theology thus demands humility, to be touched by God."
Although we can never grasp the inexhaustible mystery of God, "theology does lead us to a deeper understanding of our God, who we worship and serve - that is the whole purpose," he said in the Oct. 7 talk at the Cathedral of the Holy Family.
Common human experiences and religious experiences converge upon a single, transcendent origin: "The ground of being; the purpose, the truth, the beauty, the love, the order."
As in other areas of life, the convergence of information and arguments help us to understand our theme a little better, he said. In this case, the convergence of experiences leads to faith in God.
Reason and faith cannot be separated, Wiesner said. "There are two ways in which we use the word 'faith': faith is not just a religious activity, but also a universal human activity. We do a lot of things in virtue of faith."
For example, it is faith that makes us sure of our friends, he said, and it is faith that enables us to accept the testimony of others. "It is a kind of faith that leads a scientist to a certitude about a particular theory."
Our transcendent experiences - and our inclination to accept God's offer - brings us to faith, he said.
"God is always ahead of us," Wiesner said. "For instance in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, we somehow think we are bringing faith to people, but God has been there long before we ever got involved. That's the supernatural inclination, and that is God giving that to us."
Divine self-disclosure comes through nature, through the events of history, through the life of the community and in individual, personal experiences, he listed, before pointing out how the Psalms address all these areas of divine disclosure.
Human beings have always used metaphors and symbols to speak of God, he added, examining how in Scripture God is variously described as a potter, a shepherd, a mother, a rock, a light, a tower of safety, a consuming fire, a king.
In Scripture, "sometimes God is very close and sometimes God is completely transcendent."
In the Old Testament God is revealed as the maker of heaven and earth; God is one; God is almighty; God is eternal; God is immense, he said. "God chose a people for the salvation of the world, and God prepared them for the coming of the Messiah."
When we look for a description of God in the New Testament, all of this is reaffirmed, he said.
"God is also the one who sent his Son into the world. God is the one who raised his Son from the dead, glorified him and gave his Holy Spirit to all believers." The New Testament also teaches that God is our Father.