Thursday, September 24, 2009

Knowledge and Goodness

1. Joseph DeMaistre's views on the relationship between knowledge and goodness may seem a little extreme, but they are nothing but the truth. "If the guardianship of education is not restored to the Church, and if knowledge is not everywhere subordinated to goodness, the evils which await us will be incalculable. Science will brutalise us. Because of it men will become more savage than the barbarians."

We do not wish to speak slightingly of knowledge. It is a gift from God, Who has given us our intellects to know the truth. But truth, like every created thing, comes from God and should lead us back to God. It is the same with knowledge. If we investigate the secrets of nature and do not make of them a ladder which helps us to climb towards our Creator, we turn the natural order upside down and inevitably fall backwards. We can gain by our labours a mastery over the hidden forces of nature. If we do not use them to benefit humanity, but to destroy those of our brothers whom we call our enemies, we are worse than Cain. Science which does not serve goodness is worse than barbarism. The latter has very few instruments of destruction at its disposal. When science rebels against sound idealism, however, and makes itself absolute, it can destroy all that we have inherited of beauty and goodness throughout the centuries.

2. The supremacy of goodness over knowledge has to be admitted in practice as well as in theory. It is useless and even harmful for us to be courageous if we are not also good. Very often knowledge is like a weapon in the hands of a child. If the child is naughty or careless he can do a great deal of damage with the weapon. Before everything else we must be good. We must have that Christian goodness which embraces all the virtues and culminates in the love of God and of our neighbour. Once we have acquired this goodness, science will benefit by it. It will become a powerful means of enlightenment rather than of destruction. It will no longer be mere knowledge; it will be wisdom. It will teach us how to live and show us our proper destination. In short, it will become an instrument of virtue which will contribute enormously to the welfare of the human race.

3. Science is too easily glorified today. But knowledge for the sake of knowledge does not lead us to God and is very often stupidity or worse. It can be an instrument of evil and of physical and spiritual destruction. This is why St. Paul wrote: Let no one rate himself more than he ought, but let him rate himself according to moderation, and according as God has apportioned to each one the measure of faith (Rom. 12:3). Knowledge puffs up, he said, but charity edifies (1 Cor. 8:1).

"The humble knowledge of oneself," The Imitation of Christ tells us, "is a surer way to God than deep researches after science. Knowledge is not to be blamed...but a good conscience and a virtuous life are always to be preferred. But because many take more pains to be learned than to lead good lives, therefore they often go astray" (Bk. 1, Ch. 3). So let us learn everything which our position in life requires of us, and as much besides as we are able. But above all let us learn to be good and holy. If we fail in this, the rest is useless and dangerous.

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