Sunday, January 13, 2008


I am reading what I am already beginning to consider one of the greatest books I have ever read. It is "Transformation in Christ" by Dietrich von Hildebrand. It really is remarkable.

I am currently on chapter 3 which is self-knowledge. He quotes St Augustine who says, "could I but know Thee O Lord, and I shall know myself".

This is an interesting quote and one I think plays great relevance to the modern world.

Dr. von Hildebrand denounces self-analysis. He sees this constant looking inward as contrary to our nature but that, instead, we must continually look out of ourselves to see what is wrong, which in my opinion is deep within the tradition of the thought of JP II.

Anyways, he states that we only get to know ourself more the more we know God, as per the quote of St Augustine, and this is a position I have always held, but I just held it, I had no reason to hold it, it just seemed right.

But this book opened my eyes to come to a deeper understanding.

By experiencing God, we realize that we are created for Him to be at the center of our life. We are not supposed to look at the past or the present to figure out our problems, and we cannot look into our future experiences because they, as of yet, do not exist. To look at ourselves we are only revealed our weakness and sinfulness, we cannot depend completely on ourselves, we need redemption.

But if we come to experience God as the center of our life, our self-knowledge takes a fundamental shift. In Thomistic language, God is the Final Cause of our actions. According to both Aristotle and Thomas, the Final Cause is the cause par excellence because it gives the reason for all the other causes and for all things for all things are meant to be perfected and they are only perfected if they reach their final goal. Thus the final cause is the cause par excellence because it is the cause that gives the basis, the roots, for perfection.

Bringing this to God, we see that through our experience that we are created for God, that by coming to know God perfection is brought in us. So, by knowing God as the end of all our thoughts and actions, we experience our true purpose in life, which is to grow closer to Him. By doing so, we are fulfilling our nature and living according to our dignity as persons created in God's image and likeness.

But what does this exactly have to do with self-knowledge?

By realizing that God is at the center of our life and that we are meant for Him, that creates our raison d'etre. Through our experience of God, we experience our imperfection and grow in knowledge that we haven't quite reached the goal of perfection yet, that we have further repentance to live in our life and that we have further change to have happen. But it is central that God be at the center of our human experience for through that, and only through that, do we come to our true self understanding. For, as St Paul says, "it is no longer I that live but Christ in me". Only when Christ is the source and summit, only when Christ is the One in Whom I subsist for all assistance, only then can I become who I am called to be. I am called to be united to Christ, and I can only do that by growing to know God more. The more I know God, the more I have experienced Him and the greater my understanding becomes in what I am lacking and plead God for His mercy to rain down upon me so that I may become who He has created me to be.


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