The Best of Both Worlds

In the world of Catholicism there is a saying: “both / and” (or, for ye who prefer it, “et / et”). Talk to any Catholic who knows a thing or two about the faith and, sure enough, you’ll hear this little adage somewhere in the conversation. I first heard it in my high school religion class and it has stuck with me to this day as one of the most fundamental ‘doctrines’ of the entire Catholic faith. But, you may certainly be asking, what in the world am I talking about?

God’s very existence is mysterious, and the Trinitarian life of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is something altogether beyond our comprehension. Nevertheless, we are called by the same God to know him and love him with our whole heart. While this initially seems an impossibility (because of his very ‘unknowable’ and transcendent nature), this is precisely where the “Catholic both / and” comes into play; we are both called to realize that God is beyond us in all things, and to know him and love him. The seeming contradiction is, at least grammatically, resolved.

If only life were that easy, though. Simply saying those two things in conjunction with one another is not sufficient in actually supposing that it is possible to do them. But, does that mean that the “both / and” did not work? The answer is no. It did work, because the same “both / and” applies to other areas of the faith, which help us to resolve the superficial—and, for many who are misinformed, insurmountable—paradoxes of the faith. Principally, I am speaking of the call to take into account both the Sacred Scriptures and the Tradition of the Church. In the Bible, God reveals himself as “I AM WHO AM” to Moses in the Book of Exodus; something altogether beyond human capacity. However, Christ tells us in the Gospels to love the Lord with our whole being; this includes our mind, which is incapable of grasping his perfection. However (and thankfully), the Catholic Tradition provides us with a history of the faith, passed down from the first Apostles, which gives innumerable examples of those willing to shed their very blood for the God they worshiped and loved.

In short, our love of God cannot be something strictly derived from biblical texts; we would never be able to grapple with the seemingly impossible realities on our own. Likewise, our love cannot be informed only by our fellow human beings, since left to ourselves we would all be helpless in the face of the universe, which is much bigger than we are, and therefore so much beyond our comprehension. The Catholic “both / and,” though, leads us to see that by involving both the Scriptures and the Church Tradition in our idea of who God is, and what his creation tells us about himself, we are able to form a genuine and true love for him that surpasses anything that would be produced by either one isolated from the other. This inseparable fusion of Scripture and Tradition, in particular, is one of the most beautiful and sustaining elements of the entire Catholic faith.