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For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

Say what you will about the King James version, but its cadences, minted when the English language was in its most vigorous phase, are unmistakable and hit home. That passage comes, of course, at the end of S Paul’s long encomium on the virtues of Christian love, from which it is plain enough that if we have such love, then we fulfil what Christ called the summation of the Law and the Prophets. Our earthly knowledge will pass away, but if we have used it as a tool to build up Christian love, then when the times comes, that will, as Chrysostom says in his homily on the Epistle, help us to the full knowledge which will then be ours by God’s Grace.

S Augustine put it well, when he commented that:

as this faith, which works by love, begins to penetrate the soul, it tends, through the vital power of goodness, to change into sight, so that the holy and perfect in heart catch glimpses of that ineffable beauty whose full vision is our highest happiness … We begin in faith, we are perfected in sight’

That is why the works of mystics such as St Isaac the Syrian, or Julian of Norwich (about whom Neo wrote so well on Tuesday) repay our attention. Not all members of the body of Christ have the same gifts, and those ‘holy and perfect in heart’ see less darkly through that glass than those of us with other charisms (and whatever we think, we all have them). We cannot, and should not try to, reduce our faith to sets of intellectual propositions. Dogma and doctrine are important, indeed, like Newman, I cannot understand a faith which lacks them, as it would amount to little more than a general feeling of goodwill, which, whilst not undesirable, is not and cannot be the same as faith in the Risen Christ. But these are the boundary fences which tell us where the limits are, they do no and cannot define the whole of our knowledge of God. Indeed, it is precisely because of this fact that they matter.

There are many spirits in this world, and not all are of God; and those which are not do not undeceive us, and undo their own work, by telling us of their real origin. So we might think we have this or that by personal revelation, and if it matches, or does not contravene the teachings we receive from the Apostles through Christ’s Church, then we can rest secure in them; but if it does not, we need to be most wary.

So we see, with holy men and women, a wrestling with the spirits of darkness, most of them talk, with S John of the Cross, of the ‘dark might of the soul’, and closer the walk with God, the more perilous, because the more the demons will seek your destruction; it is not their business to meddle with those already on the high road to destruction; it is their lot to tempt those who are, from their master’s point of view, in danger of being lost to him.

Though the last century offers ample proof of the opposite, it is typical of modern man to think that it shows the devil does not exist. If we are to hold to the narrow way, the light from the Church is essential, and if t it we can add the lessons and example of women like Julian, or men like S Isaac, we are the better for it.