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Knowledge and Love

By John Bauerschmidt

Our prayer book liturgies often contain theological and devotional treasures, overlooked even though lying in plain sight. It is the nature of liturgy to become customary and familiar: without this quality it would hardly be liturgy. This same character gives us the opportunity, and the added delight, of uncovering hidden depths in a text. An old friend turns out to have more to it than meets the eye.

Cranmer’s slight expansion of Philippians 4:7, and its conflation with 2 Peter 1:2, in the blessing that concludes the Communion service, is a case in point. The former text reads, “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” while the latter gives us, “May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” Cranmer’s blessing, in the form found in the 1662 prayer book, and preserved in Rite I of the 1979 prayer book, follows this form, “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ….”

Note the slight but significant difference. St. Paul provides the pairing of hearts and minds, and St. Peter adds the notion of knowledge, but it is Cranmer himself who has joined knowledge and love. This liturgical text, drawing upon the Scriptures, contains his own innovation, not taken over from the Latin liturgies in use in early Tudor England, nor seemingly borrowed from the reformed liturgical orders then beginning to be introduced elsewhere. It has also travelled far, finding a surprising and unattributed place in the 1969 revision of the Roman Missal, as a form of solemn blessing for Ordinary Time. I know of no other prayer book formulary that is similarly situated!

Of course, the linking of the scriptural image of hearts and minds, with the idea of the knowledge and love of God, would seem to be a natural one. Cranmer was following a well-worn groove. The mind is associated with knowledge and understanding, and the heart is linked to the affections and the will. When it comes to the business of hearts and minds, knowledge and love naturally present themselves as matter for reflection.

Moreover, the relationship between knowledge and love itself has a long pedigree in Christian reflection, going back at least as far as St. Augustine. In this, Augustine was the inheritor of the pagan tradition, but also thoroughly Christian. According to Augustine, a primary question taken up by the ancient philosophers was the “necessary conditions of happiness” (The City of God 8.3, trans. by Henry Bettenson. London: Penguin Books, 1984, 301). In seeking the truth of the blessed life, those who followed Plato came the closest to an answer: “…the Platonists, coming to a knowledge of God, have found the cause of the organized universe, the light by which truth is perceived, and the spring which offers the drink of felicity” (8.10, 313).

The later Platonists, like Plotinus and his disciple Porphyry, in order to reach this blessed state, taught the purification of the soul through contemplation, fitting it for the vision of God. Yet for Augustine, this was not enough. Knowledge and love together were the means of union with God, the true blessedness, through the Word made flesh. “If you [Porphyry] were a genuine and faithful lover [of virtue and wisdom], you would have recognized Christ, the Power of God and the Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24), instead of shying away from his saving humility, inflated with the swollen pride of useless learning” (10.28, 412).

What Christ teaches us is love of God and love of neighbor. “When a man’s resolve is to love God, and to love his neighbor as himself, not according to man’s standards but according to God’s, he is undoubtedly said to be a man of good will, because of this love” (14.7, 556). It is faith, working through love, that distinguishes the City of God. “Just as the individual righteous man lives on the basis of faith which is active in love (Gal. 5:6), so the association, or people, of righteous men lives on the same basis of faith, active in love, the love with which a man loves God as God ought to be loved, and loves the neighbor as himself” (19:23, 890).

St. Augustine makes the relationship between knowledge and love a crucial step on the path in his understanding of the Trinity. He notes that we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7), and that we do not yet see God face to face (1 Cor. 13:12).

Yet unless we love him even now, we shall never see him. But who can love what he does not know?… And what does knowing God mean but beholding him and firmly grasping him with the mind?… But then to behold God and grasp God as he can be beheld and grasped is only permitted to the pure in heart — “Blessed are the pure in heart, because they shall see God (Matt. 5:8)”… so before we are capable of doing this we must first love by faith, or it will be impossible for our hearts to be purified and become fit and worthy to see him. (The Trinity 8.6, trans. by Edmund Hill. Brooklyn: New City Press, 1991, 246)

Love becomes a kind of way of seeing, of knowing, through the love of neighbor. “‘Whoever does not love the brother whom he sees cannot love God whom he does not see (1 Jo. 4:20)’… But if he were to love with spiritual charity the one he sees with human vision, he would see God who is charity with the inner vision which he can be seen by” (8.12, 254).

In considering the relation of knowledge and love, it follows logically that no one can love what they do not know. Augustine came back to this again and again. Yet it is also true that love is what impels us to seek to know further the object of our love. Only love carries us to the fullness of knowledge; intellectual apprehension alone cannot. As John Burnaby wrote of Augustine’s synthesis, “Love does not of itself lead to knowledge, nor knowledge of itself to love. God must give His presence to the soul, both as the light that enlightens and as the fire that kindles; and knowledge and love must grow up together, mutually confirming one another” (Amor Dei. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1938, 143).

Cranmer’s text, by joining St. Paul’s articulation of hearts and minds with the theological double of knowledge and love, seems to contain an Augustinian insight along the lines identified by Burnaby. Cranmer does not match the pairs up in the most obvious way, letting hearts and minds lead him in the next clause to love and knowledge, but rather to the same, in reverse order. This is theologically astute, and not surprising in a close reader of Augustine. When it comes to the heart and mind, to knowledge and love, priority depends upon the context. For human beings, knowledge may come before love, but God, the Supreme Good, takes up our hearts and minds together in order to fit us for his kingdom.


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