Signs of God in the Natural Order

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

St. Bonaventure of Bagnoreggio, a great Franciscan philosopher and Doctor of the Church, wrote a classic work entitled, Itinerarium Mentis ad Deum (literally, The Mind's Journey to God). Among Franciscans it is a seminal work that helps us to bridge the gap between the world of the senses and the world of faith. In that work, St. Bonaventure notices vestiges of God throughout the whole order of the created universe. He is not a pantheist; he does not see God in a tree or any other element of creation. He does, however, see hints of traces of who God is in the people and things that God created. St. Paul and St. Bonaventure are very much alike in this as we read in today's first reading from the Lectionary for Mass: Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. (Romans 1:20)

Unfortunately, some ancient cultures and societies were not able to distinguish between these attributes or vestiges (as St. Bonaventure calls them) and the Godhead itself. Instead, they worshipped idols that resembled these creatures. The various countries that surrounded Israel worshipped such gods. Evidence of these pagan cults fills our museums today. Most of us are familiar with the gods and goddesses of Egypt, but Egypt was but one of many such cultures that held such beliefs.

Israel and Rome held one thing in common. Just as the Jews abhorred the worship of animals and humans with animal heads or appendages, the Romans also regarded such worship as absolutely abominable. The false gods of Rome were all human in form. St. Paul builds upon this similarity in addressing the Christian Community of Rome. By showing the similarities in their beliefs, St. Paul is laying the ground work for further arguments about faith and the obedience of faith.

One of the most important parts of our relationship with God is to remember who the creator is and who the creature is. While modern cultures no longer worship animals or gods and goddesses shaped like animals, there is still a tendency for the human to take on the attributes of God in an attempt to make the decisions that are God's and God's alone. We are the creatures, the sheep of God's shepherding. God has made us male and female in God's own likeness. Unfortunately some try to return the favor.

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