Aquinas: “Revelation comes in two volumes, nature and the Bible.”

By Matthew Fox, May 31, 2021

California poet Bill Everson affirms that “most people experience God in nature—or experience God not at all.”

Not only do we experience God in nature but we can experience God in studying nature and in studying those who study nature, namely scientists.  Aquinas’s whole life was dedicated to studying Aristotle, the best scientist of his day, and relating those studies to theology.  He was harassed and ridiculed for doing so by fellow preachers who, like fundamentalists of today, said all revelation necessary is in the Bible.

Thomas Aquinas, and Rabbi Heschel bear witness to this reality.  This wisdom, an experience of the whole, is central to indigenous spirituality and is what our hearts and minds yearn for.  It is psyche meeting up with cosmos or, as Heschel put it in defining awe, “the mind confronting the universe.”  

Aquinas brings this lesson home again and again.  We have seen how he said that our greatness as humans is that we are capable of the universe; and how we are here to “get drunk on God’s house, i.e. the universe”; and how the infinite is within us all as to love and knowledge (“infinite” was Emily Dickinson’s favorite word for the divine).  Aquinas also tells us that

“Revelation comes in two volumes: Nature and the Bible.”

Aquinas insists that all people should study nature and that meditation on nature opens up the divine to us. “One meditates on creation in order to view and marvel at divine wisdom”. Citing the psalmist who sings, “I meditate on all your works, I muse on the work of your hands” (Ps 143:5),

Were Aquinas alive now, there is no question that he would be head over heels with excitement to learn the marvels that science has revealed for us. He would be beside himself with the news of the 13.8 billion years it has taken to birth our world and the size of the universe in which we find ourselves. He would, in his own words, marvel at all these marvels.

It is telling, that the word “Lord” for Aquinas does not mean “lord and savior.” “Lord” for Aquinas is a cosmic title. He says:

The word ‘Lord’ means the maker of all creation. As in Judith 16: ‘All your creation serves you.’

The word “God” for Aquinas is not about “God and me” so much as about all of creation.

The word ‘God’ signifies the governor and provider of all things. To believe there is a God is to believe in one whose government and providence extend to all things.His very definition of God extends to and embraces all of creation. He never wanders far from the sacredness of creation. And, of course, the word and work of God suggest classic concepts of the logos and the Cosmic Christ. “In the beginning was the Word (logos)” (John 1:1).

Aquinas comments: “Meditation is indispensable for well-instructed faith.”  Since “all creatures confess that they are made by God,” it is our job as humans to examine creatures for the revelation of the divine that they carry within them.

If all things are “God’s works of art,” then to examine the art is to get to know the Artist;

Jesus teaches us to avoid anxiety by considering the birds of the sky, since there is wisdom from them. Also in Job we read, ‘Ask the cattle and they will teach you’ (Job 12:7).

Birds and cattle can be our teachers.  All of creation is eager to reveal the divine mystery, thus “there can be no question that to study creatures is to build up one’s Christian faith.” To run from science or put science down is an affront to authentic faith:

The opinion is false of those who assert that it makes no difference to the truth of the faith what anyone holds about creatures, so long as one thinks rightly about God. For error about creatures spills over into false opinion about God, and take peoples’ minds away from God, to whom faith seeks to lead them.  

That both nature and the Bible are sources of revelation appears to be stunning news, given the fundamentalism and bibliolatry of so much of what passes as Christianity today as well as the anthropocentrism that seizes so much of our secular daily discourse.  But Aquinas says bluntly: The Bible is not enough!  And never has been.  However, he also warns, Humans are not the whole picture.

Thomas Berry’s teaches that “ecology is functional cosmology.”  Waking up to Father Sky is also waking up to Mother Earth, one serves the other.

In a recent interview Jane Goodall spoke of the “divinity” she finds in things of the earth.* She says:

The world is in an awful mess right now.  There’s no question about it.  We’ve disrespected animals…We’ve brought loss of species diversity, climate change and this pandemic on ourselves.  It’s going to take every bit of energy and commitment if we are going to save the future of our own species

From living with chimpanzees in Gombe, we are told,

…she built a strong spiritual connection with the natural world, recognizing a ‘spark of the divine’ in every creature—even the trees.
We are to read creatures as we do books.  Each creature is another Christ.  Creatures can therefore be objects of the practice of lectio divina—and they ought to be. We contemplate them just as monks contemplate the biblical scriptures. Both spiritual practices awaken and strengthen the soul.

Indeed, every species has a special role to play in what she refers to as the tapestry of life. 

When one little species goes extinct, it may seem unimportant, but every time one species disappears it’s like pulling a thread from the tapestry and eventually that tapestry hangs in tatters and that can lead to ecosystem collapse.

We depend on healthy ecosystems for everything—food, water, clean air, regulation of temperature rainfall…and we go on destroying it to our peril.

Sanders insists that opening ourselves to the “world we have not made” takes faith.

Faith in what?  In our capacity for decent and loving work, in the healing energy of wildness, in the holiness of Creation.

That the universe exists at all, that it obeys laws, that those laws have brought forth galaxies and stars and planets and—on one planet, at least—life, and out of life, consciousness, and out of consciousness these words, this breath, is a chain of wonders.  I dangle from that chain and hold on tight.

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