One of my favourite quotes comes from the Theologia Germanica. It is a mystical treatise believed to have been written in the latter 14th century by an anonymous author and was not widely known before it was published by Martin Luther. Chapter 48 says:
Christ said, ‘He who does not believe not,’ or will not or cannot believe, ‘shall be damned.’ It is truly so; for a man, while he is in this present time, does not have knowledge; and he cannot attain to it, unless he first believes. And he who would know before he believes, never comes to true knowledge. We do not speak here of the articles of the Christian faith, for everyone believes them, and they are common to every Christian man, whether he is sinful or saved, good or wicked; and they must be believed in the first place, for without that, one cannot come to know them. But we are speaking of a certain Truth which it is possible to know by experience, but which you must believe in, before that you know it by experience, or else you will never come to know it truly. This is the faith of which Christ speaks in that saying of His.
So how do we move on from believing to knowing? We begin by asking questions and seeking answers; we knock at the door trusting that, although perhaps not immediately, it will open to us.
I follow the principle that Truth is like a solid and sturdy wall. You can hammer at it, chisel away and all that will fall off is the plaster. Some of this plaster may be false opinion, some may be misunderstanding and some may be aspects of the Truth, of God’s Truth, which we have only partially understood.
Sometimes we might ask a question and only get part of answer or are unsure if it is the correct answer. In that case, park it on a shelf marked ‘Maybe’. Later on, in light of further understanding, you will probably come to a point where you can either reject it or confirm it. As this process continues it is found that a gradual and holistic picture, or understanding, of the many aspects of Truth, begins to form. It is much like a jigsaw puzzle where one piece fits in with the rest and often several pieces interlock together.
As we grow spiritually we continually become more receptive to the Light of God and this means that we are also in varying degrees of darkness. The result is that sometimes we may feel that we ‘see the light’ but all we really see is a glimmer through a cloudy haze. There are more than a few people in history who felt that they had made greater progress into the Light than in fact was the case. The result has been a significant amount of false teaching.
This is why the catholic (in the sense of ‘universal’) Churches place importance on the Apostolic Succession, that is where the ministry of the Christian Church is held to be derived from the apostles by an unbroken succession. Heavy emphasis is also placed on the teachings of the early Fathers, doctors and mystics of the Church because they are seen to have made the greatest progress into the light. (This does not mean that sometimes what they have said has always been conveyed without misunderstanding.) So it is always wise to examine whether some light we have received is confirmed elsewhere, by an authority.
Since we are knocking on the door of Truth let us go a bit further. Let us ask if what the Bible says is true? As we move more deeply into the mystical understanding of various tests in the Bible we increasingly discover how profound they are and how they are the foundations of that extensive holistic spiritual jigsaw mentioned above. They demonstrate a great wisdom which has been known from very ancient times. We cannot read the Bible just in a literal way without missing a great deal of the spiritual realities it speaks of.
So when you read or listen to Christian teachings I invite you to explore them more closely and sometimes to challenge them, as I have often done. Yet do not be too quick to assume that your conclusion is the correct and definitive one, we are all in darkness relative the greater Light.