The Faith and Reason of Truly Wise Men

The term "epiphany" finds its roots in a word that means "manifestation." The Christ Child is manifested not only to Jewish shepherds, but to Gentile wise men, the Magi.

The story of the Magi reveals to us important symbolism, such as the significance of the gifts presented to Jesus, and God's desire to make Himself known not only to the Jews, but to all men. The Magi's quest to find our blessed Lord also demonstrates an often overlooked lesson: the importance of using one's faith and reason to know and love Jesus better.

The Magi probably weren't kings, but wise men trained in the science of the stars. They probably were persons of means, since they had time to study the stars and didn't have to concern themselves with the affairs of earning a daily wage. Their interest in the star that appeared in the East reveals to us the complementary nature of faith and reason. The Magi are drawn to Bethlehem in two ways. First, they are drawn by intellectual curiosity — they want to learn more about the star they had studied. Second, and more importantly, they are drawn by faith. Rather than simply study the star, they bring gifts to adore the newborn King in an act of faith.

 This natural hierarchy that places faith above reason reminds us that objects of faith are more certain than objects of reason. That is why we can say that the articles of the Creed are even more certain than the simple proposition 2+2=4. Why?

Consider the source. God is the source and object of divine revelation, which the articles of the Catholic Faith express. Meanwhile, math equations are only propositions of the human mind, a far less reliable source of information and truth.

And yet the empiricist philosopher tells us to believe that x can only be true if it can be proven. Conversely, faith can't be true since it cannot be calculated. Thus, one's faith is no better than one's opinion — a merely private intellectual musing.

The classic Catholic position teaches the opposite. It says, "If God is the source of the proposition, then it must be true, and in fact more certain than anything the human mind can fathom on its own, because God can neither deceive nor be deceived."

Unfortunately, most persons in the West are taught to think, "If I can't prove it, it's probably not true" — or in moral terms, "If I don't understand or agree with the Church's teaching, the teaching is probably flawed and therefore does not bind me to obey."

St. Anselm contradicted this line of thought by asserting, "I believe so that I may understand." Keep in mind that for Catholics, faith and reason are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they should be thought of as two wings of the same bird lifting us up to discover and ponder the holy face of God.

In an age of skepticism, where the secularization of society makes faith and reason false opposites, the Magi teach us to appreciate the relationship between faith and reason. We have the capacity to use both gifts to understand better our God as He is, not who we want to make Him out to be so as to satisfy our curiosity or sense of security.

Let us heed the example of the Magi who, driven by faith and reason, were filled with joy when they discovered the Holy Family in Bethlehem.

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  • Guest

    Thank you, Fr. Magat, for an excellent article. I hope it gets a wide audience.
    I had no idea I was re-phrasing St Anslem during an extended, long-distance phone conversation with my ex-son-in-law (shortly before he became an “ex”). We spent over an hour doing the Baltimore Catechism thing–he asking questions, and I providing answers–and I was beginning to wonder what his purpose was. It finally surfaced when he “harummp”ed and declared, “I won’t believe it till I see it!” On my end, I smiled and replied, “Dear, you can’t see it UNTIL you believe it”. The call ended quickly after that, and he chose not to believe me, either. Poor man.