God Hidden in Our Midst

Breton - The Blessing of the Wheat in Artois (1857)
J. Breton, The Blessing of the Wheat in Artois (1857)

David Hume writes:

It is acknowledged on all hands … that the authority, either of the scripture or of tradition, is founded merely in the testimony of the apostles, who were eye-witnesses to those miracles of our Saviour, by which he proved his divine mission. Our evidence, then, for the truth of the Christian religion is less than the evidence for the truth of our senses; because, even in the first authors of our religion, it was no greater; and it is evident it must diminish in passing from them to their disciples; nor can any one rest such confidence in their testimony, as in the immediate object of his senses. But a weaker evidence can never destroy a stronger; and therefore, were the doctrine of the real presence ever so clearly revealed in scripture, it were directly contrary to the rules of just reasoning to give our assent to it. It contradicts sense, though both the scripture and tradition, on which it is supposed to be built, carry not such evidence with them as sense; when they are considered merely as external evidences, and are not brought home to every one’s breast, by the immediate operation of the Holy Spirit. ~ Hume, Enquiries, §10, n. 1

De Koninck, in his brief essay “This Is a Hard Saying” (see John 6:61, «Durus est hic sermo»), considers Hume’s argument:

Clearly [Hume] is here guilty of a double confusion. He supposes that we assimilate the certitude of the miracle as extrinsic motive of credibility to the certitude of faith. But, what is much more insidious, he destroys the certitude of the extrinsic motive, even renders it absurd, by citing, whether by ignorance or design, the miracle of transubstantiation as exemplar of the miracles by which the truth of the Christian religion is proved. He seeks to ignore that transubstantiation is precisely an absolutely invisible miracle, that this miracle is in no way a sign of the truth of revelation and a motive of credibility. Indeed we adhere to it by divine faith alone. This miracle is in effect that which the Apostles neither saw nor touched nor tasted. They simply heard the words of Christ as we would have heard them. They have reported them to us. And like them we believe in this miracle because Christ said it. ~ “This Is a Hard Saying,” (vol. 2, p. 396)

This miracle is “absolutely invisible” because faith alone grasps its presence. The words of St. Thomas’s Adoro Te Devote and Pange Lingua Gloriosi describe this:

[Pange Lingua Gloriosi]
Et si sensus deficit,
Ad firmandum cor sincerum
Sola fides sufficit.

And if sense is deficient
to strengthen a sincere heart
Faith alone suffices.

[Adoro Te Devote]
Visus, tactus, gustus in te fallitur,
Sed auditu solo tuto creditur.

Sight, touch, taste are all deceived in their judgment of you,
But hearing suffices firmly to believe.

This invisibility is also twofold, as St. Thomas’ comparison in the Adoro Te Devote indicates:

In cruce latebat sola Deitas,
At hic latet simul et Humanitas

On the cross only the divinity was hidden,
But here the humanity is also hidden.

The Humanity of Christ and not only His Divinity is hidden in the Sacrament, the invisible miracle which demands of our senses and intelligence complete submission to what can only be perceived by faith. God comes to us in the night of faith that is so dark that it itself appears to us as night next to the night of our being, our knowledge, and our action. Our nature’s night is, by contrast, apparent and true day.

Humanity, in the great hierarchy of the universe, occupies the lowest rung. The angels fill the vast majority of creation with a natural being far more luminous than our own, for we require an entire cosmos of matter to learn and understand a mere shred of what the angels know through intensive intellectual acts by a knowledge connatural to them. Aristotle foresaw this comparison dimly when he wrote in his Metaphysics, “For just as the eyes of owls are to the light of day, so is our soul’s intellective power to those things which are by nature the most evident of all.” (II.1) Our intellects are darkened by comparison to the angelic and Divine minds: “The cosmos and its most perfect interior term, humanity, are only a remote echo of the spiritual universe—quaedam resonantia.” (Ego Sapientia, vol. 2, p. 23) This blackness of our nature is found in our substance, knowledge, and action:

Moreover, considering ourselves in our natural condition compared with pure spirits who are always in act, immutable, and incapable of error or fault in the natural order, we are already black enough: in substance, because of matter and privation; in knowledge, because of the nocturnal potentiality of intellect and the opacity of sense; in the order of action, because of the contrariety of our composed nature. (ibid., p. 25–26)

The Eucharist therefore meets us in this deep night of faith within the night of nature—“In my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loveth …” Cant. 3:1; “… night to night sheweth knowledge.” Psalm 18:3b—in a threefold way: in substance, truth, and love. Christ unites our substance to His own and thus sustains us and vivifies us for eternal life: “He that eateth Me, the same also shall live by Me.” (John 6:58) And “accordingly, Ambrose says (De Sacram. V): ‘This is the bread of everlasting life, which supports the substance of our soul.’” This union to Christ in the Sacrament is a foretaste of eternal life, which is its effect, for “it is written (John 6:52): ‘If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever.’ But eternal life is the life of glory. Therefore the attaining of glory is an effect of this sacrament.” This life a participation in God as truth and love. Thus, not only are we prepared for that vision which will exceed every natural capacity of our minds here below in this vale of tears, but our hearts our strengthened with charity to heal the wounds and divisions within our nature: “Hence Damascene (De Fide Orth. IV) compares this sacrament to the burning coal which Isaiah saw (Isaiah 6:6): ‘For a live ember is not simply wood, but wood united to fire; so also the bread of communion is not simple bread but bread united with the Godhead.’”

Thus does our God come to us in our midst now hidden, later face-to-face.

Jesu, quem velatum nunc aspicio,
Oro, fiat illud quod tam sitio:
Ut te revelata cernens facie,
Visu sim beatus tuae gloriae. Amen.

Jesus, whom now I see hidden,
I ask you to fulfill what I so desire:
That the sight of your face being unveiled
I may have the happiness of seeing your glory. Amen.

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