The epistemological role of love

March 31, 2007 at 4:55 pm Leave a comment

(Don’t let the title scare you. I promise it’s not that bad!)

While doing some research for my senior thesis yesterday, I was speed-reading through a book on medieval theology, when, in the middle of chapter one, my eye suddenly snagged on something about the “epistemological role of love.”

heart.jpgWhoa, I thought, and backed up a couple sentences. What in the world is this all about?!

Now before the rest of this post will make any sense, I have to interrupt myself with one preliminary note:

One of the most urgent questions of life is how one can know God—know that He exists, know anything about Him, know Him.

Personally, I am used to approaching these questions through reason: I try to demonstrate logically that God must exist, and then I try to rationally decipher his characteristics. (Unfortunately, this approach is rather weak even at producing knowledge about God, let alone a relationship with God.)

With this background, the response of the 12th century monastic theologians caught me completely off guard: You know God through loving Him.

Whereas I tend to get wrapped up in speculative knowledge about God, the monks were much more interested in knowing God through experiencing Him. For them, real knowledge is the sort of knowledge that comes from experienced oneness between knower and known—totally different from the knowledge one might get through, say, logical reasoning.

But how is it, exactly, that loving God produce understanding of God?

According to the 12th century monastic theologians, it happens through one simple principle: Love unites and conforms knower to known. The knowledge achieved through loving God comes from becoming like the thing known—so that one understands from the inside, as one understands oneself.

St. Augustine in the fourth century had established the relationship between faith and reason with this simple principle: “I believe in order to understand.” Here the monastic theologians take Augustine’s notion one (very enlightened) step further to say: “I love in order to understand.”

For my rationalistic little brain, this approach to knowledge is tough. But I can’t help but think those monks were on to something.


Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

(Thinking about) believing We are what we behold

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profile.jpgI am working on my M.A. in Religion at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Besides having a big interest in theology, history, ethics, and the deep stuff of life, I am also very fond of Mediterranean food, snow, and the color red.

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