I. ATTRIBUTES OF GOD
II. TRINITY OF GOD
III. GOD IN THE VISION OF THE BLESSED MARIA AGREDA
The following contains excerpts from The Forgotten God by Most Reverend Francis Clement Kelley, D.D., Ph.D., LL.D, Litt.D., Bishop of Oklahoma City and Tulsa, New York: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1932, pp. 12-21, 22-32, 45-55.
I. ATTRIBUTES OF GOD
What is there about God that causes men either to love Him with an undying love or hate Him with an everlasting hate, always daring them to ignore Him? I answer: His ineffable and terrible perfections. Good loves them, but evil hates them; for God' s love, God' s justice, and God's mercy are one. There is no dividing line between them. God is the perfection of all because He is the perfection of one. He is the perfection one because He is the perfection of all. Evil hates that inexorable and united good which cannot but triumph over it in the end.
We call God's perfections His attributes, for attributes are the essential qualities of being, and a perfect being can have only perfect attributes. God' s attributes, then, are His perfections. He has them in unity, in simplicity, in unchangeableness, in eternity, in immensity, in intelligence, in will, and in love.
When we speak of the beauty of simplicity we testify to this attribute of Him. In spite of the fact that we are living in a mechanical age, we never lose sight of the truth that complexity is danger and simplicity safety. We fear complicated things because we know that the farther we get away from simplicity the greater the chance of going wrong. It is the complicated structure of the human body that opens the door to disease and death. Simplicity is a goal of life. God is simple because He is not composed of parts. He is spiritual, and simplicity belongs to the spiritual order. God could not have parts. If He had, each part would be infinite and there would be a multiplicity of infinite perfections, which means a multiplicity of gods, for each perfect attribute would be itself God and the essential unity of God could not then exist. So when we say that God is the perfect virtue, the perfect love, the perfect justice, the perfect wisdom, we are thinking of Him as creatures think and speak. God is not divided. He possesses all perfections yet none separately. There is no literal eye of God nor hand of God. His infinity compasses all things. His acts are manifestations of a never-ending yet unchangeable activity.
God is infinite, that is, God has no bounds -- in anything. Can the mind of man reach such a conception of God? It cannot. God alone can know Himself perfectly. But we can, by an appeal to the imagination as well as to the intellect, at least know what infinity is not. It is not, first of all, anything that we can fully understand. It is not that which has limits, and all things we know have limits. Infinity, then, is that which is outside all bonds while still remaining within them. We feel the infinity in transcendent beauty, in vastness, in depth, in the kingdom of the imagination. But no words could describe what we feel. Why? Because no words or combination of words can go outside the kingdom of words. The infinite is in that kingdom but is not bound by its limitations.
To us God manifests His perfections in Creation. That creation is awe-inspiring in its smallest details. The scientist could exhaust his life in the study of God' s creation and know at the end that he had only begun to know something about the simple mollusk. Each step higher opens up to him new wonders, and before life, even in its lowest form, is reached, the scientist is on the heights of sublimity. Yet he still "sees through a glass darkly." He has not reached intellectual man, nor the angelic spirits who are a step beyond man upward to God. Add the unseen spirit creation to the seen material creation and still infinity could make new material and spiritual creations, each greater than the one which preceded it, go on forever raising them higher and higher, and yet never arrive at the end of infinity's power, wonders, beauty, and glory. Only an effort to raise created things to the level of its own greatness is beyond infinity's power. God can do all things that are in accord with His nature; but it is not in accord with His nature that He could have an equal.
Another attribute of God, also treated separately because the mind of man apprehends only through separating and dividing, is His immensity. God is not only everywhere and contained in all things but all things are lost in Him. One of the questions oftenest asked of parents by children is in reference to the presence of God in all that they see around them. "Is He right here now, Mother?" "Is He outside playing with Bill?" "Does He go with me to school?" "How can God be everywhere at the same time?" Different parents answer in different ways. The philosopher says that "God's immensity is the boundless diffusion of the divine essence." God cannot change. He could not be in one place and later on in another for, if He could, He would thus acquire relations to time and space that He did not have before. He acquires nothing because He possesses all in perfection. By diffusion of the divine essence He sustains all things, watches over all things, is the law of all things. His presence is actual and substantial. But He is present in a special way also in His grace to us. There is a special presence of God in the souls of all intelligent beings through what is known as sufficient grace; which means the power given us while we live on earth to turn to Him. The means to make that grace effective is cooperation.
The substantial presence of God in all things does not defile Him because of defilements in them. This presence of God has been well compared to the light of the sun which falls on and permeates all kinds of things, even those that are foul, while remaining ever pure, bright, and beneficial. Nothing, then, can change God. He loses nothing by our evil conduct. He gains nothing by our good conduct. It is not God but we ourselves who are affected by virtue or vice. Virtue brings us nearer to Him. Vice drags us away from Him. It pleases God when all things are in conformity with His law and thus on their way to an eternal destiny in Himself. But that pleasure makes no change in God. There is in Him only steady, all-pervading divine love for goodness; as well as steady, all-pervading divine hatred for evil.
All this is explained by another attribute of God -- His immutability or unchangeableness. When we know His infinity we know His immutability. Change means either a gain or a loss, but the infinite can neither gain nor lose. If God had anything to gain, there would then be something He once did not possess; which would be to say that once He was not the infinite, therefore not God. If God could lose anything, the Infinite could descend from His throne and become finite. He would not then be God. Here again we find a symbol of God in a human ideal.
We speak of the stable, unchanging things with admiration. There is sublimity for us even in what only appears unchangeable. The sturdy man who can be relied upon is, in a feeble way, like "the everlasting mountains," a symbol of the unchangeable God. Thus in the changing world we seek stability, and we can find it only in God. It is not in man. The stars do not shine on certain nights only, but on all nights. It is the atmospheric conditions around the earth that sometimes obscures their light. In the same way, it has been pointed out, do we change in reference to God; but His action is always the same. Our actions are dictated by changing thoughts, changing emotions, changing conditions. "They shall perish but Thou shalt continue; and they shall grow old as a garment, as a vesture Thou shalt change them and they shall be changed. But Thou art always the same."
Men blame the Roman Catholic Church for her unchangeable doctrines They say we need constant restatements of truth, restatements even of our attitude to God, that the advance of human knowledge, new discoveries of science, new light on social problems, require a constant revamping of our religious convictions. They are wrong. Truth is like God. Nothing can change it. It was never young and never can it grow old. The truth that was is the truth that is and ever will be. A fine picture by which to grasp and under- stand this was presented long ago by the great Lacordaire from his pulpit in Notre Dame of Paris:
'What a weighty privilege; a doctrine immutable, when everything upon earth changes! -- a doctrine which men hold in their hands, which poor old men guard under the key of their cabinet, and which, without any other defense, resists the course of time, the dreams of sages, the designs of kings, the fall of empires, always one, constant, identical with itself! All ages, jealous of a glory which disdained their own, have tried their strength against it. They have come one after the other to the door of the Vatican. They have knocked there with buskin and boot; and the doctrine has appeared under the frail and wasted form of some old man of threescore years and ten and has said:
- What do you desire of me?
- I never change.
- But everything is changed in this world; astronomy has changed, chemistry has changed, philosophy has changed, the empire has changed: Why are you always the same?
- Because I come from God, and because God is always the same.
- But know that we are the masters, we have a million of men under arms, we shall draw the sword; the sword which breaks down thrones is well able to cut off the head of an old man, and tear up the leaves of a book.
- Do so; blood is the aroma in which I recover my youthful vigor.
- Well, then, here is half of my purple, make a sacrifice to peace, and let us share together.
- Keep thy purple, O Ceasar, tomorrow they will bury thee in it, and we will chant over thee the Alleluja and De Profundis which never change.
"I appeal to your memory. Are not these facts? What do all the publication, spiritual and otherwise, which are printed, incessantly reproach us with? Will you then never change, race of granite? Will you never make any concessions to unity and peace? Can you not sacrifice something to us .... Gild at least the end of the gibbet which you call a cross!"
"They speak thus. The cross looks down upon them, it smiles, it weeps, it waits for them. How should we change? Immutability is the sacred root of unity; it is our crown, the fact impossible to explain, impossible to destroy; the pearl which must be bought at any price, without which everything is but a shadow and of transient duration, by which time touches eternity. Neither life nor death will take it from our hands: Empires of the world, do with it as ye will"
One of the commonest excuses made by man for sin is based upon his mistaken notions about another attribute of God -- His omniscience. It runs thus: As God knows all things, He knew that we would sin and even what our sins would be. How, then, can man avoid what God surely knew beforehand he would do? Is not the omniscience of God really a decree that man must sin, since His foreknowledge is equivalent to fate? And does not His foreknowledge of the loss of souls make it inpossible that a just God should have created man at all? The answer to that objection is found in God's attribute of eternity. What is it? Listen closely.
Time cannot measure eternity, for time can use only such rule of measurement as time possesses. Time can only multiply inches by inches and produce feet, multiply feet by feet and produce miles, multiply miles by miles and produce leagues. But in even an unending period of such measuring nothing could be produced but time. The sum of times or numbers never arrives at eternity. Eternity has no relation to time, for time is a created thing. Eternity is not merely the length of the life of God. Eternity is God. By no possibility of newer and greater measurements could we ever make the poorest comparison between time and eternity. We can think only in time, therefore are our thoughts limited and changeable.
Eternity actually is the opposite of time. It is the life of God. It has no past, for with God nothing really ever has been. It has no future, for with God nothing really ever will be. All with Him is present. He is what is. God endowed man with free will because He intended man to be the noblest work of His creative hand. That gift raised man to the dignity of an intellectual being. Had God given man only instinct, man would never have been worthy of being united to Him. To make man higher than the beasts and give him an immortal soul, free will was necessary. It is not correct to say that God foresaw our abuse of free will for He sees us abuse it, since His range of vision covers, at one glance, the past, present, and future which make up the division of time.
All this, you say, "is beyond the power of human intelligence to grasp." That I readily admit. If it were within the power of human intelligence to reach a full and complete understanding of the attributes of God, the human intelligence would be infinite, since only infinite intelligence can know the infinite.
All we can know of God in this world is the manifestation He gives us of Himself through His creation and His revelation. When "knowledge shall be done away with," and in its place shall come the beatific vision, our happiness, the happiness of intelligent and spiritual beings, shall be in our expanded and eternally expanding vision of God; a vision that may go far beyond the wonders of this creation into other creations now hidden from our eyes and understanding. It was the grasping of this truth that made saints. On Francis of Assisi it burst with sudden splendor, drawing away the pampered and pleasure-loving youth from a world he had adorned and adored, while making him love it in a new and better way. Francis could then apostrophize the sun, not as the pagans did when they gave it divine honors, but as one faint ray of the splendor of God. He could call the birds and beasts his brothers, because they, too, came from the creative hand of God and would, in a way He had marked out for them, go back to Him. Francis could blame his body, which he called Brother Ass, for holding his thoughts down to earth when they longed to soar above its wants and appetites, Francis could love pain in anticipation of the joy to come out of it; could welcome death not as the scourge of life, but as the gateway to life's garden of reality.
Lift up your hearts, men of good will, lift them up in confidence that a hand is waiting to receive them. Burn your self-love in the censer of sacrifice. And even as the bitter grains of incense when thus burnt change into cloudlike perfumes, so let your pride be burned to ashes that the smoke of it may rise to the Omnipotent for the honor and glory of His name.
The universe is full of symbol that speak to us of God and His perfections. Were we not told to see Him "in the works of His hands"?
"Seek ye Him that maketh Arcturus and Orion, and that turneth darkness into morning, and that changeth day into night; that calleth the waters of the sea and poureth them out upon the face of the earth."
Through the whole weave of the marvelous poetry that is the Psalms, there runs the golden thread of nature's singing in praise of her Maker. But such symbols are not found alone in nature's outstanding beauties and grandeurs. They are in the small est things that our hands touch, our ears hear, our nostrils smell, and our eyes see. I look at the light on my desk, which gently but surely diffuses itself over the enclosed space that is my room, and in that diffusion I see the symbol of the divine goodness diffusing itself over the vast known and unknown spaces of creation. It is the property of goodness, as it is the property of light, thus to diffuse itself. Eternal goodness eternally gives. We again glimpse that truth through the symbol of good example, the greatest of preachers, producing far-reaching results without using the magic of words.
But such symbols are imperfect. The light exhausts itself and must be renewed. The lamp of human goodness must be replenished constantly from the current of God' s grace, supplied by that inexhaustible and never-stopping dynamo of Himself. Only divine goodness has perfect diffusion.
Nothing can escape the goodness of God sent out over the whole of creation and thus indirectly reaching all created things. Not even sin and sinners escape that beneficent general diffusion of the goodness of God, for sin walks the earth which divine goodness made and preserves; and sinners use the intelligence and faculties with which the same divine goodness has endowed all men. Even when sinners strike at God it is with the rod of freedom given by Him; while the very power they use comes from the life of which divine goodness is the author. Like the radio message that swiftly flies through the air lane, the goodness of God sends forth its blessings everywhere; but in particular to those who tune in to receive them.
Divine Goodness is not, however, merely a power. In man there is both the power, or potentiality, and the act itself. In God there is no potentiality for all is act. It is not strictly correct to say that God has the power to do all things, for His power is ever in action. In man potentiality is separate from act. In God there can be no such division. Nothing can exist in Him simply as a power to do, for power to do without the act of doing is a defect and there can be no defect in God. Unchangeable, God does not pass from one condition to another. He cannot help being perfect. He is, therefore, the immutable, steady, unalloyed, inexhaustible, and everacting source of all good.
The limitations of human apprehension make it jmpossible for us to understand fully that the goodness of God cannot be divided up into specific acts of goodness. All that is good is united and simply existent in God. His goodness is singular, not plural. One act of God does not follow another act. A man may be able to write and to speak, but writing and speaking are different acts which ordinarily follow one another. When a man exercises a virtue, say that of mercy, he may wound justice. When he is moved to pity he may forget firmness. It is not so with God. His justice is not injured in His mercy. His pity does not disturb His fortitude. In His goodness there is no weakness. In His strength there is no lack of consideratiou. His goodness is His life. It is from His life, the perpetual infinite act of God knowing Himself and loving Himself, that all created things proceed.
Let us turn back to look again upon the goodness of God extended to all creation and thus reaching His creatures whether they will or no. There is a perfect adaptability in all created things to the end for which each was created. That end is God. But some created things reach God through others. Inanimate things, for example, such as the earth beneath our feet, the rocks, and the minerals, reach God through service for natures higher than their own. The soil produces food for the plants and thus reaches up to God through the vegetative life. Vegetative life reaches God through like service, since the plants feed the beasts. Animal life reaches God when it feeds, clothes, and obeys man. Intelligent life gathers all other created things of the earth, the sea, and the sky into itself, and goes to God by the free choice of selecting eternal goodness as its destiny.
The goodness of God working on the whole of creation thus indirectly works on man when it comes to him through every channel of the created universe. When it was said that "the sun shines on the just and the unjust" all was said under this head. The moon, the stars, the mountains, the rivers, the trees, the flowers, the growing rain, the lower animals, the birds of the air and the fishes of the deep, all carry God's goodness to man of which they had received. The goodness of God made a storehouse and a treasury in the earth, the air, and the waters from which all life is nourished. The minerals were there stored up long ages before they could possibly be needed. As man's intellectual activity produces new inventions the means of enlarging their usefulness is discovered. One such discovery follows another, each in its proper place. These are sustained and enlarged by new discoveries, timed accurately to the needs awakened by those that preceded them. Thus the engine followed steam; steel followed iron; the telegraph and telephone followed electricity. Those who say confidently that treasures of the earth are inexhaustible may be and are technically wrong, but that there are still seemingly inexhaustible undiscovered treasures in earth, air, and sea is certain. When one treasure is used up another takes its place. When coal becomes scarce, electricity,show us means to replace it for all practical purposes. As long, then, as God has His creatures on earth He will provide for them. Indeed ages ago He had provided and He is still providing. The ash of the cigar that you fling away is not lost. Even as you seem to lose it there is begun a long process of changing it into what will be of use to generations yet to be born in the dim and distant future.
God's goodness is likewise diffused for all in the standards of virtue and order which He set up and which He preserves. When the poet wrote, "Order is heaven's first law," his thought was truth. In all of God's creation order is the law, and its power is proclaimed hy the voice of an ordered world. Now, the tendency of man is not to order. Order irks us and, time after time, we would gladly be rid of it. But by the decree of our God-implanted common sense we cling to order as a shipwrecked sailor clings to his raft. We do not need anyone to tell us that order is safety. That we know when we disturb it. Laws are heavy burdens, but no laws would leave us neither life nor burdens. It is the goodness of God that teaches us the preserving value of order. Without it society would die, thrones would totter, nations fall into ruin, and peoples decay;
"For the world was built in order
And the atoms march in tune;
Rhyme the pipe and Time the warder,
the sun obeys them, and the moon."
It is in the setting up of His eternal standard of virtue that God's goodness is most manifest in saving and preserving human society. We know God's standard, the laws of morality; and, while we struggle against them because they act as guard rails for our freedom, and thus seem to restrict it, we do not struggle without uneasiness and forebodings of danger and disaster. Men often blame the Church, but the Church is only the echo of the voice of the God of goodness. She cannot help but speak His mind. It is her mission to call out warnings, for God set her up as the guardian of His standard. It is useless to rail against her for, even stricken as if by death, she cannot cease to speak. What fools men are! While blaming the Church they know it is they themselves who are to blame, for conscience cannot be argued entirely out of truth even though the lips of men may form the lie.
Men know, for example, that the family is the unit of society and that what hurts it is fighting truth. They know that lax marriage laws and the state-authorized breaking of vows kills the family and cracks the foundation of society. They do not need even history to tell them that terrible story. They know the standard set by God in His goodness and solicitude for His creatures which tells these fools and sinners that marriage is a sacred thing, not made for lust, but that man might have the honor of cooperation with the creative act of God. Man may make and invoke his own laws in an attempt to justify his laxity, but he knows deep down in his heart that God's laws are above his, and that God's retribution strikes those who ignore or attempt to thwart them. The standard is there. It will remain. Woe to a world that tries to fling it from the pedestal of rock upon which eternal goodness has placed it! Leave the world to man and it tumbles to destruction; but give to it and all its peoples the laws of God that have, in part at least, been written on the souls of men, and it moves tranquilly on to its eternal destiny; every day more wonderful, every day more inspiring, every day more worthy of the glorious end for which its children were created.
Turn now in full confidence to look at the workings of eternal goodness in the soul of the individual. We may pass quickly by that manifestation of the goodness of God that is shown in the physical part of man, noting, however, that here again is order; here again the standard of virtue has been planted; for disorder in the body is disease and death. It is the soul, not the body, that feels keenly the goodness of God and that profits by it to the greater degree. What shall I say of the goodness of God to the human soul? I could not say enough, for words are poor coin with which to pay God.
No one will deny that all earthly progress, stability, and prosperity rests ultimately, not on laws, education, and customs, but upon the responsible individual citizen; which means upon tbe individual human soul. There is no escaping that fact. The body politic is composed of individuals and represents them. A minority can rule by force or fraud only for a time and that time not long. A nation is its people. Society is never better than its members. The process of corrupting a state or a society always begins with its individual members. To raise a state or a society, good must be cultivated in them. The goodness of God, as we have seen, indirectly reaches all men by its general action through God's gifts to nature. But in those things which safeguard human society and human government, the goodness of God works through the individual soul. The process, successfully carried out with human cooperation, is the process by which man is made a gentleman, for the true gentleman is the saint, since he exhibits in his life and conduct the virtues of kindness, humility, honesty, purity, and love. These are the virtues of the saints.
The perfect society, the perfect state, would be that society or state which is composed in the main of true gentlemen and, of course, true gentlewomen. A hopelessly defective society or state is that one which is made up, for the most part, of the cruel, the proud, the dishonest, the lustful, and the hate-ridden. It is not "my country right or wrong" but "my God and my country" that is true. And it is much more important for the general good to say my God and my country than to say our God and our country. The value of any soul to the community is his or her own value tested by the scales of eternal goodness. True and good democracy is power from God passing to the state through a people who honor and serve God.
The individual soul is also the unit of that condition within society which some have happily called the community of minds. Such a community cannot he successfully built or maintained in discord. It must have the binding force of common principles of good to hold it together. The community of minds must have its constitution or it rapidly degenerates into a tyranny. The worst of tyrannies is that which enslaves the human mind, for through the slavery of the mind, comes the slavery of the soul. The only possible constitution for the community of minds is truth.
The goodness of God, working through revelation and grace on the individual soul, is at once the founder and safeguard of both the body politic und of the community of minds. Why? Because the goodness of God gives to the individual soul the knowledge it needs upon which to build the communal house. For this purpose God has written His name and His perfections on every page of the book of nature. Not even one paragraph or sentence on any page has been neglected. And He has written in no puzzling terms, but in those which, while recognizing the dignity of our reason, yet lead reason swiftly and safely to the truth. In His creation God has given us enough of knowledge to test every claim of revelation. He has not asked of us blind faith, but enlightened confidence in His words and deeds. His goodness asks us only to build on the knowledge that He gave. Knowledge is the rock, and certainty the mortar, that makes the foundation of faith.
I have no hesitancy in facing the troubled world with the statement that doubt about God is a sin against the intellect; that such doubt is no intellectual man's right. What is his right is certainty and the goodness of God has given that to him. Reason is the guide and reason does not begin its work by doubting its own process or the existence of its point of departure. The existence and perfections of God are as plain as the existence and abilities of the maker of an automobile. Indeed it is far more illogical to doubt the Creator and His perfections than to doubt the maker of the car and his ability to produce it. Once we have the start we have the means of arriving at all the truth that is needed, not only to reach our destiny, but to learn with certainty the means by which we reach it. The first gift, then, that the goodness of God makes to the state and to society is that of the individual soul in which there can be knowledge, certainty, and righteousness.
Is it the same for the community of minds? Let us examine and see.
Tolerance does not make a community of minds as some think. More is needed, for tolerance is only respect for the rights of the individual conscience. What more is required? Truth. The goodness of God places truth at the service of every rational and devoted soul. Truth is not a vague cloud on an inaccessible mountain. It is a beacon that shines from a hill which can be climbed. The spark of truth is shown in all rational and intellectual beings. The hill is in their own souls. The spark is theirs to blow to brightness with the breath of life. God is its beginning and God is its end. To know that He is, is to know His greatness. To know His greatness is to know His love. To know His love is to know His providence. To know His providence is to know His mind. To know His mind is to understand that no gift is too rich, no blessing too holy, no mercy too deep, no charity too pure, for the creature who is also His son, destined to repose forever in the shelter of His arms.
"Virtue," said Aristotle, "is a habit of which no one can make ill use." He might just as truthfully have added: and the only one. Why is virtue the one habit that can be thus described? Because virtue is imitation of the goodness of God, a loving effort of the soul to win union with Him. The goodness of God is the highest justification of virtue in man. Were it not for the goodness of God, our only happiness would be in selfishness, for there would be no desire on earth but to get every bit of satisfaction out of this life. It has its attractions to offer and for a day they invite and please us. True, they are only jeweled robes covering a corpse, but for a time at least they cover it. Why not follow the world's invitation to "eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die" if there is nothing higher and better to follow? Without the goodness of God spread out before us on every hand, and the certainty that the display is merely the shadow of eternal reality, we have no adequate reason for rejecting what the world can give and lifting our ambitions and hopes into the domain of the spirit by the practice of virtue.
Take away the goodness of God and you leave me nothing worth the having, for the more you increase my earthly store of riches and honors and pleasures the harder you make it for me to leave them. Fill my life with earthly joy and you fill it with forebodings of sorrow. Make me a king today and I shall pace the marble floor of one of palaces thinking of the swift-coming hour when my only palace will be a coffin; when another head shall wear my crown, another hand hold my scepter, and other shoulders hear my robe of ermine. Fill my ears with the sound of silver trumpets and I shall have to crush down relentlessly the thought that soon they will not be able to hear even the footsteps of those who carry me to the tomb. Dark and despairing is the outlook for man if God be not his recompense, for his struggles will end only in defeat, his hopes in death; neither shall his eyes see the light of the glowing lamp in the house of his desire when, tired and weary, the day of labor is ended and the night has come.
II. TRINITY OF GOD
When we studied God as the creator and providence of the universe and man, we were standing on the plane of created things to gaze upon the "skirts"- to steal a figure from Milton - of the uncreated. When we study the Trinity, God in three divine persons really distinct and equal and yet one, we ascend to see more clearly. A great saint said that while the study of the Trinity is the most difficult of all studies yet it pays the greatest reward. True, for one can scarcely take up the study of the Trinity without feeling the elevation of his own soul and the reward of knowledge so plentifully poured into it by the Holy Spirit. Let us humbly begin our study of the Trinity.
It was with our reason that we began the study of God, His existence and His attributes, and our reason did not disappoint us, for it brought us to the foot of His throne. But reason unaided will not show us the Trinity, since the truth of the Trinity is of the domain of faith. What reason does for us is this: it lays the foundation of authority for faith. But if reason cannot directly show us the Trinity, it can nevertheless show us that there is nothing in reason against it. The whole of creation, but especially the soul of man, can help by illustration, showing us the signs - such as the one with which we began - that have been stamped on it.
What is life? Life is action. God alone possesses life in all its fullness, so God alone can be called Perfect Action. God is pure act. We have seen that He is also the first principle, self-existing and not caused, but Himself the cause of all God's action, then, comes from himself and from Himself alone. Our actions are not perfect because with us life is not perfect. Limited and dependent life, such as ours, produces limited and dependent action, since nothing can go beyond its own inherent nature. Take the example of the plants. They have life and thus move and act, but only insofar as their nature permits them to move and act, the end for which they received life. Animal life has more, for it has sensation. It moves farther and freer than plant life, yet never beyond its inherent nature. Intellectual life moves farther and freer still, while always remaining within its natural limits adjusted to the end for which it was created. In all life, however, vegetative, animal, and intellectual, there is limited power to move, to grow, and above all, to reproduce. Mark that word - reproduce.
Now, the reproductive power is ill all life, but as God alone possesses life in perfection He alone has the reproductive power in perfection. There is a text of Isaiah which puts these words into His mouth : "Shall I that give generation to others be barren?" Significant words when consid ered side by side with the knowledge that fecundity is a greater quality than sterility. Fecundity must be in an infinite form in God. His acts are perfect and He cannot be barren. What He produces within His own nature cannot, then, but be perfect. Creation of the universe is not enough. Creation is a manifestation of God's energy, but it is limited and therefore not a supreme act of generation. The supreme act of generation can only be within the circle of the Infinite, for the supreme act of fecundity, the perfect act of generation, must be in God. Infinite action, infinite movement, infinite growth, infinite goodness require infinite fecundity. There must, too, be infinite communication of the Infinite, and the Infinite can give supremely only to the Infinite. Infinite Wisdom must be personified and Infinite Love must be manifested in an infinite way. It was, it is, and it will be done by the procession of the Son and the Holy Spirit. But there can be no break in the unity of the Infinite. The Triune God is one, even as was weakly but beautifully illustrated by the perfect musical accord.
When we speak of the Father generating the Son we must be careful not to think of paternity and sonship in our human way. The analogy which throws most light on the subject is found in the process of human thinking. Thus the idea is formed in the mind. It goes out of the mind as its product but, in its going out, the mind does not lose it. It remains in the mind and is of the very substance of the mind. Yet the idea has its own individual existence. Thousands of hearers may receive it but its generator does not lose it. The birth of the idea in the mind is a result of intellectual activity, the highest form of action.
But there is another activity which we know equally well, the activity of the will which expresses itself in love. Love is a going out of the being to the object which attracts it, the giving of itself. The process rests on the intellect but it is distinct from the intellect. Intelligence is necessary in the act of love, for it is the intelligence that receives the object and brings it into itself by conceiving the image of it. Now, you cannot separate the act of the intellect and the act of the will from the personality that acts. You cannot separate the act of the will, love, from the act of the intelligence, knowletlge. All three, then, remain one even while each is distinct from the other. These same three are the personality, the intelligence, and the will, which are together the whole activity of a spiritual being. They are a perfect accord.
Lift all that up and bring its light to bear on the intellectual activity of God. The act of God in knowing Himself is an infinite act. The result, therefore, is infinite. In finite intelligence thus produces the infinite word. Together the infinite intelligence and the infinite word produce the infinite love. None of these three can be less than God, for the action is within the divine essence. All within that is God. Nothing that is less than the Infinite could exist within the circle of the Infinite.
When did this process begin? It never began. When did it end? It has not yet ended and it never will end. The necessary act of God was always part of God's nature. It always will be part of His nature. The process, the act, is going on. It is in progress now. The Son is the fullness of the divine intelligence. The Holy Ghost is the fullness of the divine charity of Father and Son, produced by the act of their reciprocal love. That process is one with God. It is eternal as well as infinite, an act of the eternal present.
It has been the custom of men who write and speak on the Trinity to refer to the words of God as recorded in the Book of Genesis: "Let Us make man to Our own image and likeness," as well as these others from the same book: "God created man to His image, to the likeness of Himself He made him." That image of God stamped on man's soul, the high and noble part of him, the real man. In the soul resides the first likeness of for God and the soul are both spirit.
What an extraordinary substance is that of the soul. The whole of creation is its playground. The body goes lumberingly as far as its chain of flesh will permit, but the soul wanders among the stars of heaven. By memory it is in a hundred places and among a hundred scenes in a few moments. By imagination it leaps ahead into centuries yet unborn. Space and time bind the body to the place and the moment, but the soul shakes off these material shackles and enlarges immeasurably its sphere of action. The soul is the seat of man's liberty and intelligence, ambitions and desires. Its perfections, to quote a great teacher, "are also the accidents and the perfections of God, and, but for the essential difference between the finite and the infinite, they are in God as well as in us."
Do we find the image of the Trinity on this wonderful soul of man? St. Augustine answers that we do. The soul knows and the soul loves and thus gives existence to both its knowledge and its love. The three, spirit, knowledge, and love, have but one life and one su trinity in unity. I spoke of the birth of the idea only a few moments ago. Did we get the full force of that? Our thought is our nearest relation. Nothing can be so close to us as our thought. We cannot cut ourselves away from it. We cannot live without it and it cannot be without us. What is the immediate object of the human thought? The Immediate object of the human thought is being who thinks. By the being and the thought comes the soul's appreciation of itself, its love for itself, the love by which man preserves himself. It is just as impossible for a human soul not to love itself as not to know itself, and that love is as much a part of the soul as is the knowledge. There is in man the force of affection as well as the force of knowledge. But the soul, the knowledge, and the love are one while each has its own existence. One or the other destroyed and you no longer have the integral man. Where they are, you have a full and complete man. The soul is the same substance as the knowledge that is born of it. The love is the same substance that proceeded from soul and knowledge. But the three are one. This image of the Trinity, given us by Augustine, is as nearly perfect as an image can be.
Let us again lift our eyes from the human to God. His knowledge of Himself is not limited as is ours of ourselves. It is infinite, immeasurable, perfect knowledge, while ours is but a reflection. God's knowledge of Himself can not be a reflection. Being perfect, it is Himself, for a reflection is less perfect than the object reflected. A reflection has no existence. The infinite, however, has existence. When we see ourselves in our thoughts what we see is less than ourselves because we cannot give to the object of our thought our own substance. We cannot make it equal to ourselves. Not having existence by our own nature we cannot communicate existence. It is not so with God. His infinite thought is identical with His infinite being, as eternal as Himself, as substantial as Himself, as living as Himself. It is His Son, His word, a real divine person, one with the Father yet distinct from Him. It is the same with the Holy Spirit. God's love for Himself is as necessary as His knowledge of Himself. We cannot conceive the living God as being without love. The source of divine love is in both His being and His knowiledge. So in essence They are one God while in person They are Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. What a marvelous picture, and it was painted on the canvas of the human soul.
There is another picture on that soul which Augustine did not fail to see: our three faculties of memory, intelligence, and will. These three are distinct but of one substance. The intelligence operates through three faculties of its own: the idea, the judgment, and the reason. The idea, in turn, supposes three things: the subject seeing, the object that is seen, and the relationship between the two. Lose one and there is no idea. The judgment likewise supposes three things: the subject, the argument, and the attribute, each essential one to the other; all distinct, yet forming but one judgment.
Let us turn now to the battle field on which the soul fights for the highest prize. What does man strive most earnestly to win? You have often heard the answer from pulpit and platform. You have read it over and over again in literature. Man strives most earnestly for the true, the beautiful, and the good. The intelligence works for the true, the heart works for the beautiful, and the will works for thc good. The intelligence is made for truth. Falsehood, even when outwardly accepted, distresses and wounds it. The heart moves the senses to avoid what is deformed or ugly. The will cannot be at ease unless it rejects evil and accepts good. God has given us in all three desires His own image and likeness, for the true, the beautiful, and the good are "the natural channels of man's thought, sentiment, and action." They are three in one.
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity, as I said, is a revealed doctrine We receive it as true because we have faith that God cannot deceive us. We, however, also submit it to the test of reason and reason does not fail us, for reason says that while this transcendent truth is above it, yet it is not against it. Our experience with nature, and especially the nature of the soul, says the same. But the act of faith is only strengthened hy reason and experience. The doctrine of the Trinity is the first test of faith.
The human soul flies out of the nest of the divine into the clouds and sunshine of life, carrying with it the gift of reason and the gift of confidence; the one to show the way back, the other to give strength to its heart and to the wings of its intelligence, so that the return may be safe and sure. In life the soul buffets the storms, drinks of waters bitter and sweet, finds nourishment for its body, toils at its duty basks in the light and warmth of the sun, and sings its prayer of praise in the cool of the forest. When night comes, it feels rather than hears the call of home. Swifter than the swallow, it shoots straight for the nest, if it has not squandered its gifts of reason and faith in the vanities and follies of life. Back in the nest of the divine it finds the welcome and joy of its dreams, the end of its wanderings, and the peace of rest; for there is the Father who created it, the Word who taught it, and the Charity whose gentle call drew it to the eternal shelter.
"The world is impatient of your mysteries," says Unbelief. "One by one the secrets of nature are being dragged into the light. The day of mysteries is past." Does he really believe that? If he does, he has made an act of faith in man on much weaker grounds than I have made an act of faith in God.
Man lives only on the surface of a globe that has as many mysteries as it has atoms. Beneath his feet lie untouched depths full of mysteries, awaiting discovery for our temporal good. Every bright spot in the heavens is a composite of like mysteries, and thcy are millions. Has man solved the mysteries on the surface of his own planet ? He tramples on mysteries as he trods the grass of his lawn, and eats them with his food, wears them in his clothes, breathes them in the air that enters his lungs, gazes on them unseeing in the glass of water he drinks, skates over them on the frozen river, absorbs them in the rays of the sun, protects himself from a flood of them in the snow, the sleet, and the rain, uses them to warm his houses, fears them in sickness, and is saddened hv them in death. In the depths of the sea, as in the dept of the earth, they are multiplied by billions; yet these are only the mysteries of nature. But they serve a double purpose; since one after the other they, contribute to the progress and comfort of the human race and, what is more, the very existence of them is an invitation to genius and a lure to progress. A treatise could be written on the utility to man of the unsolved mysteries of nature. For what marvelous development in science have not these mysteries of nature been responsible!
Are not the mysteries of the spiritual kingdom for the soul what the mysteries of nature are for the intellect still in the bounds of the flesh? We learn by parable and sign, and parable and sign we have for the mysteries of faith in the mysteries of nature. And as these mysteries of nature are one by one dragged out of the shadow and here on earth the eternal process of knowing God which will be its reward exceeding great in the kingdom of the hereafter.
III. GOD IN THE VISION OF THE BLESSED MARIA AGREDA
The following is based on visions of the Blessed Maria Agreda, author of The City of God, The Divine History and Life of the Virgin Mother of God, Volume 1 The Conception, Ave Maria Institute, Washington, New Jersey 07882, 1902, pp. 46-50.
In this knowledge of God, which primarily is called the knowledge of pure intelligence (scientia simplicis intelligentiae), we must, according to the natural precedence of the intelligence before the will, not overlook a certain succession, not indeed of time, but of nature. Hence we perceive that the act of intelligence preceded by its nature the act of the will. For in our way of reflecting on things, we think of the act of intelligence by itself, abstractedly from the decree of wishing to create anything. In this first stage or instant the three Persons through an act of intelligence confirmed the opportuneness of the work ad extra and of all creatures, which have been, are, and are to be.
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"Who is like unto God?"
Created July 16, 1996. Ninth update: June 18, 1997 Anniversary of Our Lady Apparitions at Bayside, New York.