Through Scripture and Scholarship, Fr. King Finds Faith

By Rev. Thomas King, S.J.

As one enters the Lauinger Library, one passes under a Latin text: Cognoscetis Veritatem et Veritas Liberavit Vos. That is, “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” It is Jesus speaking, as recorded in John 8:32. The quote assumes many are in a captivity of mind and spirit, but it also tells of an assent that brings liberation. I have known such a liberation; it did not happen in a library. And yet without books, I would not make sense of what occurred.

During my college years at the University of Pittsburgh, I was like many of the students I see at Georgetown, tense and unsure of myself. One evening, I seemed to be aware of Christ very close to me. I did not see or hear a thing, but He was asking me, “Do you want to be a priest?” I had dismissed that thought many years earlier, so I was amazed to find a “YES” coming forth with a rush of wild energy. I sat dazed as everything around me looked different. I recalled the fears, expectations, self-images and appetites I had known. They meant nothing to me. I was freed.

Books enabled me to understand: I had heard talk of a religious vocation, and I was not comfortable with the term. Then I came across a book by Gabriel Marcel that spoke of “an invitation to faith.” “Invitation” was the word I wanted. For I was not commanded or summoned; I had assented freely for what seemed the first time. In reading The Confessions of St. Augustine, I learned of his struggle to say yes; following this he asked the Lord, “From what profound and secret depth was my free will suddenly called forth in a moment so that I could bow my neck to your easy yoke?” That remains my question. I know some people have found Christianity a burden; I never found it that way. Others have found it confining; I can only say it is a liberation. I was freed from the captivities I see all around me. With excitement and passion I read the authors who speak much of freedom: Kierkegaard, the subject of my first course at Georgetown, and Jean Paul Sartre, about whom I wrote my dissertation.

I also read the Education of Henry Adams wherein Adams told of his professors teaching him to question everything while professing nothing. I have found that professing Christian faith goes well with an ability to question all things. At Georgetown for thirty years I have both questioned and professed, for Georgetown promotes the ideals of reason and Christian faith. How well they go together! Without questioning I could never teach, and without faith I would have nothing worth teaching.

But there is an additional text that speaks to me. I enter the Lauinger Library and above me are the words: “Cognoscetis Veritatem et Veritas Liberabit Vos.” I feel I have the inside story.

Rev. Thomas M. King, S.J., is a professor of theology.

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