Three kinds of error that block man's course to God

Basing his reflections on the reading from Paul's Letter to the Romans (1:8-23), the Holy Father spoke at the general audience on Wednesday, 26 October, of three types of error that man must overcome as he strives to reach God.

l. Dearest brothers and sisters, the Apostle Paul has spoken to us about "men who stifle truth in injustice" (Rom 1:18), and wind up straying from the path that, by the experience of the created world, should have led them to God. In this way that insuppressible yearning for the Divine is frustrated, that yearning which is pressing in the soul of every man capable of reflecting seriously on his experience as man.

What are the rocks on which man's ship most frequently runs aground on its course towards the Infinite? In a brief synthesis, we could classify them under three great categories of error.

There is first of all that kind of arrogance, hubris (in Greek), which leads man to ignore the fact that he is a creature, structurally dependent, as such, on an Other. This illusion is present in today's man in a particularly stubborn way. A child of the modern pretence of autonomy, dazzled by his own splendour ("... I am wonderfully made" ? Ps 139:14), he forgets that he is a creature. As the Bible teaches us, he is under the spell of the temptation to rise up against God with the insinuating argument of the Serpent in the earthly Paradise: "You will be like God" (Gen 3:5).

In reality, there is something divine in man. Beginning with the Bible, the great Christian tradition has always proclaimed this profound truth with the doctrine of the image of God. God created man in his own image. Thomas and the great scholastics express this truth with the words of the psalm: "O Lord, let the light of your countenance shine upon us" (Ps 4:7). But the source of this light is not in man, it is in God. Man, in fact, is a creature. In him is caught only the reflection of the Creator's glory.

Even those who do not know Jesus Christ, but seriously face their experience as man, cannot fail to realize this truth, cannot fail to perceive with every fibre of their being, from the depths of their very existence, this presence of an Other greater than they, on whom the judgment and the measure of good and evil truly depend. Saint Paul is categorical in this: he considers the Romans responsible for their sins because "...since the creation of the world, invisible realities, God's eternal power and divinity, have become visible, recognized through the things he has made..." (Rom 1:20).

When man does not acknowledge that he is dependent on God, whom the liturgy defines as "Rerum... tenax vigor" ("He who holds everything together in his hands") (Roman Breviary, Hymn for the Hour of None), then he inevitably winds up losing his way. His reason claims to be the measure of reality, thinking that what cannot be measured by it is non-existent. Likewise, his will no longer feels bound by the law the Creator has placed in his mind (cf. Rm 7:23) and he ceases to pursue the good by which he also feels attracted. Conceiving himself as the absolute arbiter with regard to truth and error, he represents them, deceiving himself, as indifferently equidistant. Thus the spiritual dimension of reality, and consequently the capacity to perceive the Mystery, disappears from the horizon of human experience.

At this point, how will man be able to perceive that tension that he has in himself between his "I ", laden with needs, and his incapacity to satisfy them? How will he be able to notice that stinging contradiction between his desire for the Infinite Being and Good, and his limited living as a being among beings? How will he be able to have an authentic experience of himself, sensing at the deepest roots of his being the yearning for Redemption?

2. The second type of error that hinders an authentic human experience is the one that leads man to try to extinguish in himself every question and every desire that goes beyond his limited being, in order to put himself on the level of what he possesses. This is perhaps the saddest of the ways in which man can forget himself, because it implies a true and proper alienation: he becomes estranged from his truer being in order to dissipate himself in the goods that are possessed and can be consumed.

The effort that man puts forth to give himself and his dear ones material and social security is certainly not to be scorned. Marvellous is the search for stability and consistency with which nature, through the complex phenomenon of affection, leads man to woman and woman to man. But how easy it is in practice for these praiseworthy human securities to become partialized or pushed beyond limits so as to enkindle in man illusive mirages and false hopes! Jesus has some terrifying expressions in the Gospel against this sin (Lk 12: 16-21).

In this case, too, man is deprived of an integral human experience because he does not acknowledge his true nature as a spiritual creature and he lets almost die in his heart every yearning for that truth about himself that will open him to the wonderful gift of Redemption.

3. The third type of error into which man falls in his search for a genuine experience is manifested when he invests all his energies —intellect, will, sensitivity—in an endless and exasperating search directed only towards his interior nature. He thus becomes incapable of realizing that every psychological experience, in order to happen, requires the acceptance of objective reality. Having arrived at this acceptance, the subject can return upon himself in a complete way. The man who locks himself up in this voluntary psychological solitude becomes incapable of any objective communication with reality. For this human figure, egoistic and pathetic, other people wind up being reduced to a phantasm that can be easily made a tool of.

But the man who opposes the innate necessity of opening himself to reality as it is in itself and to life with its dramatic truth, in the final analysis rises up against their Author, precluding the possibility of finding in him the answer which alone could satisfy him.

Beloved, the importance of having recalled these difficulties man has in living his integral human experience lies in the fact that we too, in this Holy Year of the Redemption, feel called again to the urgent need to be new men and women through our faith. We too, who have met Christ the Redeemer, must ever and again be upright in front of him by overcoming in ourselves the temptation to sin, so that "he who has begun the good work in us can carry it through to completion" (Phil 1:6).

L'Osservatore Romano October 31, 1983
Reprinted with permission