The commandment to know that God exists: The First מצוה

Of the 613 commandments which Maimonides listed in order of their appearance in the Torah, the very first commandment he listed is this:

To know that there is a God (Exodus 20:2).

It is interesting that the very first מצוה is to come to know that there is a God. In Catholicism it is maintained that man can come to know with certainty that God exists, and it is consequently not an article of faith, but a presupposition of faith, that God exists.

31 Created in God’s image and called to know and love him, the person who seeks God discovers certain ways of coming to know him. These are also called proofs for the existence of God, not in the sense of proofs in the natural sciences, but rather in the sense of “converging and convincing arguments”, which allow us to attain certainty about the truth. These “ways” of approaching God from creation have a twofold point of departure: the physical world, and the human person.

32 The world: starting from movement, becoming, contingency, and the world’s order and beauty, one can come to a knowledge of God as the origin and the end of the universe.

As St. Paul says of the Gentiles: For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.
And St. Augustine issues this challenge: Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the sea, question the beauty of the air distending and diffusing itself, question the beauty of the sky. . . question all these realities. All respond: “See, we are beautiful.” Their beauty is a profession [confessio]. These beauties are subject to change. Who made them if not the Beautiful One [Pulcher] who is not subject to change?

33 The human person: with his openness to truth and beauty, his sense of moral goodness, his freedom and the voice of his conscience, with his longings for the infinite and for happiness, man questions himself about God’s existence. In all this he discerns signs of his spiritual soul. The soul, the “seed of eternity we bear in ourselves, irreducible to the merely material”, can have its origin only in God.

34 The world, and man, attest that they contain within themselves neither their first principle nor their final end, but rather that they participate in Being itself, which alone is without origin or end. Thus, in different ways, man can come to know that there exists a reality which is the first cause and final end of all things, a reality “that everyone calls God”.

35 Man’s faculties make him capable of coming to a knowledge of the existence of a personal God. But for man to be able to enter into real intimacy with him, God willed both to reveal himself to man and to give him the grace of being able to welcome this revelation in faith. The proofs of God’s existence, however, can predispose one to faith and help one to see that faith is not opposed to reason.
~Catechism of the Catholic Church

It is therefore an article of faith that man can acquire this certainty that God does exist, and thus man has a moral duty to cultivate this awareness within himself. In other words, the first commandment of the Torah is one to which all men are bound generally precisely because it is generally possible for all men to obey it, for there would be no sense in there being a commandment which man could not fulfill or could not be expected to fulfill. This reflection highlights the consonance and complimentarity of the Jewish and Catholic traditions.


About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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2 Responses to The commandment to know that God exists: The First מצוה

  1. Wait, what?

    Commanded to know? Not in any translation of which I am aware, Catholic or otherwise. (How would that even work? Even at gunpoint, I can’t simply swap out beliefs about whether it is currently raining outside, as easily as if I’m changing my socks!)

    But I suppose it’s moot, since he specifically addresses it to some dudes he “brought out of slavery in Egypt”, and to the best of my knowledge I have never been there.

    • It may not be easy, but so long as one does have doxastic voluntarism with respect to belief in God, the commandment can be enjoined not just to the Jews but to all mankind. The idea, here, is precisely that the laws given to Israel are extensions, in one way or another, of natural law, such that, though not all the commandments of the Torah are part of natural law, they are all intended either to elucidate natural law, or else to point towards Christ as the end (telos) of the law. In this case, I take it that this commandment is part of natural law.

      Perhaps you’re right that one cannot believe in God at the drop of a hat, but then, it seems to me, it’s only necessary that in the course of one’s life one has the ability to work towards that end such that the end could really be attained. Perhaps one cannot believe in God at some time t1, but I think that could be explained by the fact that prior to t1 that person had already made libertarian decisions such that had some or all of those decisions been different, one could have had the right disposition to believe at t1.

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