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IsItTrue? wrote:

Hi, guys —

I recently heard that there is a teaching in the Catechism that all nations are aware of a supreme God, but that knowledge of Jesus Christ only comes through the revelation of Scripture. This seems right to me but I was told that the Catechism states something along the lines of philosophers of all nations had learned of the existence of a supreme God.

This is supposed to be in the section titled, The Revelation of God. It was also communicated to me that Saints such as Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas taught a similar idea, however, I cannot find such a statement in the Catechism.

  • Can you shed any light on this for me?
  • Perhaps this idea is stated in a different version of the Catechism?

Thanks,

IsItTrue?

  { Can you tell me where this phrase is in the Catechism of the Catholic Church? }

Mike replied:

Dear IsItTrue?,

You said:
I recently heard that there is a teaching in the Catechism that all nations are aware of a supreme God, but that knowledge of Jesus Christ only comes through the revelation of Scripture.

This is not a teaching of the Church and will not be able to be found in the Catechism. The Scriptures do say the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth. (1 Timothy 3:15) This is what the Catechism of that Church does say in CCC 76:

In the apostolic preaching. . .

76 In keeping with the Lord's command, the Gospel was handed on in two ways:

  1. orally by the Apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received - whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit

  2. in writing by those Apostles and other men associated with the Apostles who, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, committed the message of salvation to writing.

. . . continued in apostolic succession

You said:
This seems right to me but I was told that the Catechism states something along the lines of philosophers of all nations had learned of the existence of a supreme God.

I believe you are quoting from a Wikipedia page titled: Viracocha. According to that Wikipedia page: Viracocha is the great creator deity in the pre-Inca and Inca mythology in the Andes region of South America. On this page it says:

Christian scholars such as San Agustín and Tomás de Aquino held that philosophers of all nations had learned of the existence of a supreme God. [30]

but you did not mention the next line that followed it:

Nevertheless, medieval European philosophy believed that without the aid of revelation, no one could fully understand such great truths such as the nature of “The Trinity”.

The Church does believe this statement.

Footnote 30 from that page is missing vital source information because it quoted two versions of a Catholic Catechism but does not supply the paragraph number where that quote came from.

I would question the writer of that statement.

The only place philosophy or philosophers can be found in the Catechism is at CCC 39 and 285.

I have provided a web page link so you can go to the Catholic source to read what we believe about this in context, from the Catechism, not from a web page dealing with a "creator deity in the pre-Inca and Inca mythology".

philosophy

39 In defending the ability of human reason to know God, the Church is expressing her confidence in the possibility of speaking about him to all men and with all men, and therefore of dialogue with other religions, with philosophy and science, as well as with unbelievers and atheists.

philosophers

285 Since the beginning the Christian faith has been challenged by responses to the question of origins that differ from its own. Ancient religions and cultures produced many myths concerning origins. Some philosophers have said that everything is God, that the world is God, or that the development of the world is the development of God (Pantheism). Others have said that the world is a necessary emanation arising from God and returning to him. Still others have affirmed the existence of two eternal principles, Good and Evil, Light and Darkness, locked, in permanent conflict (Dualism, Manichaeism).

According to some of these conceptions, the world (at least the physical world) is evil, the product of a fall, and is thus to be rejected or left behind (Gnosticism). Some admit that the world was made by God, but as by a watchmaker who, once he has made a watch, abandons it to itself (Deism). Finally, others reject any transcendent origin for the world but see it as merely the interplay of matter that has always existed (Materialism). All these attempts bear witness to the permanence and universality of the question of origins. This inquiry is distinctively human.

I hope this helps,

Mike

John replied:

IsItTrue?,

Actually I need to correct my colleague Mike.

Both the Scriptures and the Church do teach that the existence of God is revealed to all people in and through creation and through the natural law which is written in man's heart.

St. Paul makes it clear in Romans Chapter 1:18-22

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; 19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God has showed it unto them. 20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and deity; so that they are without excuse: 21 Because, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

St Paul makes a similar argument to the Epicurean philosophers on Mars Hill, in Acts 17. He appeals to their statue to the Unknown God... and then quotes one of their own pagan poets.... "In Him, we live, and move, and have our being." (Acts 17:26-28)

So all men can come to a general knowledge of God, through reason, observation, and by listening to the calling of the natural law written in every man's heart.

Today's Gospel reading from Matthew 25 also indicates that God works His grace in those who don't know Him fully.

It's the parable of the sheep and goats being judged. It is not the judgment of Christians. Most people don't get that because they miss what's going on in the text.

First of all, it says He's judging the nations. Matthew was written to Jews and when the Jews hear the word Nations or Goyim they understand it refers to those visibly outside the covenant. Next look at what Jesus says.

Jesus says to sheep when I was hungry you gave me to eat . . . etc. etc.
To the goats, He says when I was hungry, you didn't feed me. . . etc. etc.

Now notice both the sheep and goats responded the same way.

  • When did we do this for you? As if to say, who are you?

No Christian would answer like that. For one thing, we've all heard this text a million times.
For another, we know that what we do for others, we do for Christ.

So this text is talking about those who did not hear or understand the Gospel in this present life but responded to the Grace shown to them, through their actions in faith.

I can't quote the exact paragraphs from the Catechism but there are paragraphs that deal with general revelation, the natural law, etc.

The Church also holds that to come to a full and specific knowledge of Christ, it takes Divine Revelation which is transmitted through the Church in both Scripture and Sacred Tradition, guided by the Magisterium of the Church. And when the Church preaches the Word of God, the Holy Spirit quickens the person by grace which is put on his/her heart. Often times the Holy Spirit has already been working to call that person for some period of time before they hear the full truth about God.

Again St. Paul writes in Romans 10:14-17

14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed our report? (Isaiah 53:1) 17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

I hope this clarifies things for you.

Under His Mercy,

John

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