Category Archives: Divine Attributes

The Kingdom of God

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Sometimes Christians hear or say the phrase “…advancing the Kingdom of God!” The below article explains why, theologically, this might not be the best word choice for Christians.

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-by Fr. Stephen Freeman

“The Kingdom of God is a Divine reality. It is the marriage of heaven and earth, of the created and the uncreated. It is the resurrection of the dead and the transformation of all things. It is the apokatastasis. It is solely and completely the gift of God and subject to no human effort.

The Kingdom of God and a perfect human world are not the same things. The Kingdom of God is not theological shorthand for human improvement. If all disease disappeared tomorrow and all poverty and inequality went the way of the Dodo Bird, the Kingdom of God would be nowhere nearer or further. There is no social agenda that has any relationship with the Kingdom of God.

Human response to the Kingdom does not make it come nor make it go away. Rejection of the Kingdom can only affect the one who rejects it. Rejection of the Kingdom is hell.

Christ said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” He did not say, “Help me build a Kingdom.” He did not say, “Let’s work towards the advancing of the Kingdom.” The Kingdom of God is a reality that was in-breaking in the coming of Jesus Christ. Everywhere He went, the Kingdom was at hand. Everything He did was the advent of the Kingdom of God.

This remains the nature of the Kingdom. It is both “already here” and yet “still coming.” We speak of its coming in the past tense at one point in St. John Chrysostom’s Liturgy. We can do so because the Liturgy itself is the Mystical Supper, that meal which we eat with Christ in the Kingdom. It is for this reason that all of the Sacraments of the Church begin with the invocation: “Blessed is the Kingdom, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

The phrase, “advancing the Kingdom,” and similar expressions is a 19th-century invention, something never(!) uttered in Christianity prior to that. None of the Reformers, nor Catholic nor Orthodox teachers prior to that century ever used such a phrase or similar expressions. It is deeply problematic. It easily becomes a slogan that transforms the Kingdom into a secular, historical project towards which human society is supposedly evolving.

The Kingdom of God does not evolve. It undergoes no development. It is utterly Divine in its origin and transformative in its coming. It cannot be brought about through political or economic efforts. Instead, the language of “advancing the Kingdom,” or “building up the Kingdom,” etc., has frequently been the excuse to abandon the teaching of the faith and trust in the secular works of man. (i.e. NOT divine teaching or revelation, but rather heresy!)

The work of the Church is not progressive in nature. Whatever we do, preaching the gospel, serving the poor, reconciling enemies, etc., are not a movement in history working towards or bringing about a desired end or result. We are in no way the cause of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is solely the work of God. We are called to keep the commandments in light of the Kingdom of God and its coming into the world.

The danger involved in our less-than-careful use of terms such as “advancing” and “building,” is the transformation of God’s work into man’s work. In a world dominated by the philosophy of modernity, in which man without God is seen as moving history towards some utopian or “better” state, the “Kingdom” easily becomes only a slogan for a religious project, something we do for God. (Ed. It is the deadly human sin of pride. That is not to say God does not want us to always do our best, but to accept, faithfully, the ultimate human reality in creation that creation cannot be made ‘heaven on earth’, by human effort, but rather, in the end, heaven will consume and renew all earthly things. We must submit to the Divine kingship in Jesus,  “every knee shall bend…” Rom 14:11, in humility and truth to be included.)

From the beginning, the proclamation of the gospel has been: “The Kingdom of God is at hand.”

Love, and joyfully anticipating the Kingdom,
Matthew

The Transcendentals – Unum, Bonum, Verum

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The transcendentals are properties of being.  “The Transcendentals” would also be another great name for a band, imho.  While we’re on it, “(The) Truth, (The) Beauty, (The) Goodness” would not be bad, either, but I digress.  Truth is being as known, Goodness is being as rightly desired, and Beauty is being as rightly admired.  Truth is being’s imprint on the mind, Goodness is beings imprint on the will, and Beauty is beings imprint on the emotions. So Truth, Goodness, and Beauty are all different modes of Being as apprehended by the Mind, the Will, and the Emotions.

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-by Tim A. Troutman, who believes in the Bible. He just couldn’t figure out how we got the one we call “the canon”. Like so many 20-somethings, Tim traveled the road of the spiritual nomad: questions, doubt, fear, and finally hope. Through this journey, he connected with 10 or so other former Reformed Christians who now tell their story and talk about the Catholic faith at the extremely popular blog site www.calledtocommunion.com.

“According to St. Thomas, integrity (or perfection) is one of the three marks of beauty. The other two are harmony (or proportion) and radiance (or brightness). 1 The term ‘integrity’ is closely related to and directly implies unity; for without unity, integrity is impossible. We derive the word ‘integrate’ from the word integrity, and integration is nothing but the acquisition of one thing into unity with another.

Moreover, Aquinas follows Boethius in arguing that “unity belongs to the idea of goodness” because “a thing exists so far as it is one” and as St. Thomas explains, both goodness and unity are convertible with being. 2 Thus, along with goodness and truth, unity is one of the ‘transcendentals’ because it is convertible with being. These transcendentals are simply being apprehended under different modes. This complements St. Augustine’s teaching that evil is not its own being but the corruption of being. All things, in so far as they exist, that is, in so far as they have being, are good and they exist in truth and unity.

Harmony or proportion is also closely related to unity. For harmony is a bringing together of two or more things into a unity while maintaining some aspect of their distinctive identity. Proportion is the perfect representation of another thing or conformity to some good. St. Thomas gives the example of the Son as the perfect image of the Father and thus said to be in perfect proportion. 3 Elsewhere he states that God is beautiful as being “the cause of the harmony and clarity of the universe.” 4 He also states that love, which is the most beautiful virtue, is “a certain harmony of the appetite with that which is apprehended as suitable.” 5

Unity and harmony, as qualities of beauty, can be understood when we consider the attractiveness of a complex piece of music (or any artwork) over something simple. All other things equal, the complexity makes the piece more beautiful. This is because the act of harmoniously incorporating additional forms and components into a greater unity approximates truth, beauty, and goodness. The unity of the Trinity is the perfect archetype of harmony and pure oneness (out of something like a plurality). A family is beautiful because of its unity; and a well ordered society is for the same reason. That is all to say that unity and harmony point to not just any truth, but to truth itself, God, as do all things beautiful.

The dissolution of a thing arises from a defect therein. Disunity is an evil because its end is the dissolution of a being in the same way that the end of sin is the dissolution of some good. The ugliness of disunity is evidenced by the pain that accompanies it. St. Thomas quotes St. Augustine saying, “what else is pain but a feeling of impatience of division or corruption?” 6 and goes on to say, “the good of each thing consists in a certain unity” in defense of his proposition that the desire for unity is a cause of sorrow.7

With all of these ideas considered, we followers of Christ ought to sorrow at the disunity of Christians and earnestly pray for the re-unification, the integration, of all Christians into one body: the Church. Unity is beautiful because it is good and Christ intended unity for His Church8 because it is His own body. Our theological differences notwithstanding, I hope that Christians of all backgrounds will join together during this week of prayer for Christian unity to petition the Holy Spirit to move on the hearts of men that we may be unified not only in spirit, but in body, that is, in Church.”

Love,
Matthew

  1. Summa Theologica, 1.39.8
  2. Ibid., 1.6.4; 2.36.3
  3. Ibid., 1.39.8
  4. Ibid., 2b.145.2. Aquinas is quoting Pseudo-Dionysius
  5. Ibid., 2.29.1
  6. De Lib. Arb. iii, 23
  7. Summa Theologica 2.36.3
  8. cf. John 17

The Divine Attributes – Immanence

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-by Br Peter Martyr Joseph Yungwirth, OP

“Sometimes it can feel like God is so far away.  Why?  Sure there is the obvious, “Well, I’m a sinner.”  But, sometimes God feels far away even when we’re in a state of grace.  (Editor’s note:  my mother ALWAYS asked her children, “Are you in the state of grace?”  If you don’t know what that means, get thee to a confessional!  The same woman who oft remarked in front of all who cared to listen, “If my children lose their faith, I have failed as a mother.”  No pressure.  Growing up Irish Catholic.  It’s a “little” different.  🙂 Why does He do this to us?

After all, in a solemn moment of self-revelation, God manifested Himself in a burning bush and gave Moses his name, “I AM WHO AM.” Then, while the Israelites were stuck in the desert, God did the unthinkable and came to dwell among them. Not in an Athenian temple or a Roman basilica but in the tabernacle of a movable tent. There, God was close to His people, remaining with them and guiding them by night and by day.

And if this wasn’t enough, God desired an even greater proximity to His people. So “the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us” (Jn 1:14). In the Incarnation, Jesus showed us just how close God was willing to come to be with His people. No longer was His presence in the tabernacle good enough. Now God desired to take on flesh, to be joined to humanity, and to make a virgin His new tabernacle. God became so close to His people that He literally walked among them.

That was all thousands of years ago, but what about now? Just as Moses relied on God’s support, just as the nation of Israel followed the cloud and the pillar of fire through the desert, and just as the apostles walked and talked with the Incarnate God, so too wouldn’t it be helpful if God were present with us to guide us on the way? After all, thanks to Jesus’ ascension to heaven, hasn’t God left us without His presence again?

Not at all. Jesus said to us, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt 28:20). This is especially true when we consider the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, God has done something even more marvelous than speak from a burning bush or descend into a tabernacle in the wilderness. Now, God enters into us. For a short time, we become His tabernacle where He transforms us through the power of His grace, communicated to us via His eucharistic Body and Blood. Each and every day, God comes down on our altar where He continues to manifest His great love for His people and to show us just how near He really is.

Sometimes God might feel far away, but God is not a God who is transcendent in such a way that He won’t come near us. Rather, because of His divine immanence, He is simultaneously present to us. He was immanently present in a special way to the Israelites in the wilderness and to His people in the desert tabernacle. Now, on our Catholic altars and on our tongues, He is immanently present to us again. As in the Old Testament period and now in the more profound way of the Eucharist, God comes to be with His people and to guide us on the path to Heaven.”

(Catechetical note:  Roman Catholicism does not restrict Divine Immanence to solely the Eucharist, although this is the most visible & celebrated manifestation.  The Catholic understanding of Divine Immance includes His Presence always available, universally, immediately to us.)

Love,
Matthew

The Divine Attributes – Transcendence

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-by Br Joseph-Mary Hertzog, OP

“Have you ever noticed the way some companies try to sell their products by raising them to the level of a symbol for something beyond their intrinsic value? I recently saw a commercial for an electronic gadget in which the device was never referred to—not even once—during the entire commercial. Instead, through impressive images of nature, human culture and play and the gravitas of the narrator’s voice the viewer was reminded that he or she was a “member of the human race,” that we live for things like art, beauty, passion, and love. And then we hear the nineteenth century American poet Walt Whitman asking about the meaning of life and man’s place in it, concluding that your life—even life itself—is a wonder, a kind of play to which each one may contribute a verse.

At first glance, it seems strange to sell your product by implying a higher meaning to the product (making it a mere means for satisfying some deeper desire). Then again, we human beings do this all the time. The world is built this way; we are built this way. We are always hunting for the touch of a more profound, more beautiful, and deeper meaning.

We are confronted with a world that alludes to something beyond itself, to a truth beyond experience and a meaning not of this world. This allusiveness conveys to us an awareness of a spiritual dimension of reality, our relatedness to transcendent meaning. We hunger for meaning, for truth, for goodness—this is how we know we are alive and we won’t be satisfied with anything less than a meaning, a truth that transcends all classification and division and is as extensive as reality itself.

But how does a man lift up his eyes to see a little higher than himself? The grand premise of religion is that man is able to surpass himself; that man who is part of this world may enter into a relationship with Him who is greater than this world; that man may lift up his mind and be attached to the absolute. How does one find a way in this world that would lead to an awareness of Him who is beyond this world? How does one find the way to an awareness of the transcendent God?

I believe the answer starts with a recovery of a Biblical view of the world and of life: an awareness of the sublime, of wonder, of mystery, awe, and the grandeur of reality. The world itself can give no answer to man’s ultimate wonder at the world. There is no answer in the self to man’s ultimate wonder at the self. Without this awareness, the world becomes flat and the soul a vacuum. The recovery of this awareness will give us eyes to see that everything in the world and in history bears the imprint of He-Who-Is-Beyond-Everything, calling us beyond everything so that He might give us everything.”

Love,
Matthew

The Divine Attributes – Eternity

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-by Br Boniface Endorf, OP

“Often God is depicted as an old man—but is He really old? Over all these centuries, has God aged? Christian prayers do not mention God as old, but instead as eternal. But what does that mean? It means that God is not in time—God does not think back on what He did yesterday, nor ponder what He will do tomorrow, for such temporal concepts simply do not apply to Him. This does not mean that God is stuck in time, like a bug in amber or a caveman in a block of ice—God is not frozen in time, but beyond time itself.

God is beyond time because He is not a part of the created world. The world we see around us is subject to time—these things can have a past, present, and future, or they can simply not exist at a certain time. But God is not one of those things; instead He created those things. If God were just another thing in the created world, then the obvious question arises: ‘how did God create himself?’ But God is not one of those created things, rather He is above and beyond them—they depend upon Him but He doesn’t depend on them. That’s why it would sound strange to say, “I see a tree, and a squirrel, and a bench, and, oh, there’s God!” God just isn’t that type of “thing.” There is a great chasm between God and those things He created.

Think of Tolkien and his book The Hobbit: Tolkien created The Hobbit, but is not himself subject to the time within his novel. Thus as Bilbo ages within the book, Tolkien does not age accordingly. But Tolkien is still within time—he was once living and now has already grown old and died. He was not in the fictional time of The Hobbit, but was in the real time of this world. However, God is not in a different time than us, but in eternity instead.

Things in this world of time are spread out over time. I am not the same today as I was yesterday, nor as I will be tomorrow. The Hobbit is similar—it cannot be entirely present in a moment, but must be read over time. To read the first chapter is to not be reading the second or third, and so the book can only exist spread out over time. But God is not spread out like that, rather He is always fully present. It would be as if one could read all of The Hobbit in an instant rather than line by line over time. Because God is in eternity rather than time, He is always fully present and fully alive in a way that the things of this world are not.

As the Author of time itself, God rules time from eternity: God is the Lord of time. As Tolkien created and determined the plot in The Hobbit, so God does for the real world. While we often do not understand the meaning of what happens around us or know how things will turn out, God does. We do know that this world is not written as a tragedy—God is good and His love prevails. We know this because He has told us—He has given us the cliff notes for our world. He has given the Bible. Because God is the Author of this world and because He is good, we can trust Him to guide us even when difficulties seem insurmountable. We know that He can and will turn everything toward the good in the end. Unlike an old man, God will not forget about us.”

Love,
Matthew

The Divine Attributes – Impassibility

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-by Br Leo Checkai, OP

“God never wakes up on the wrong side of the bed. God never has a bad day. God never suffers. A slightly fancier way to say this is that God is “impassible.”

But doesn’t that drive a huge chasm between us and God? How can God really know and love us if he does not stand shoulder to shoulder with us in suffering? Doesn’t “impassible” really mean unresponsive and uncaring?

To be certain, Jesus Christ, True God and true man, willingly, truly suffered the pangs of death on the Cross in His human nature to which divinity was united. And so it can never be rightly said that God lacks compassion or solidarity with His people. But in the Godhead—the divine essence—no suffering ever clouds the sunny sky of God’s perfect and eternal happiness.

The act of suffering can be very meaningful to us, because great love can be shown in willing to suffer for someone or something. Yet even then, suffering is not intrinsic to love. Love has its own reality that does not depend on suffering for its existence. Suffering, in itself, is an evil, a lack of a good. God is love, and there is no lack of good in Him, either of moral good or of any other kind.

This impassibility of God is the unshakeable ground of our great hope for true and lasting happiness. When we speak of Heaven, we speak of union with God and sharing in His happiness. Because of this, we can be sure that for those who belong to God, suffering will never have the last word. No matter how deep our sorrows run, from this vale of tears we can look with confident hope to the new life where God “will wipe every tear from [our] eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain” (Rev 21:4). God, Whose life is perfect blessedness that no suffering can invade, is able to make good on this promise, and desires to do so with the dynamic energy of His unfathomable love.”

“Sufferings gladly borne for others convert more people than sermons.”
–St. Therese of Lisieux

Love,
Matthew

The Divine Attributes – Simplicity

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With gratitude to the prayer for the feast day of St Lawrence, Aug 10:

“…The court of heaven rejoices
For his warfare-waging,
For he has prevailed this day
Against the lackeys of wickedness.”

An indie rock band named “The Lackeys of Wickedness” always appealed to me. No? 🙂  Great line!  I have also always thought a restaurant named “Nice Thai!” would also be appealing. 🙂 “The Divine Attributes” would also be a good candidate for a band name, no?  🙂  But, seriously folks, the Divine Attributes:  simplicity, impassibility, eternity, transcendence, immanence, are God’s character traits.  They describe what God is like.  Good to know, no? 🙂  Relationships require we know what the Other is about.  No?  🙂

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-by Br Philip Neeri Reese, OP

“It’s complicated . . .

The part that comes next doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, it won’t be good. Complicated relationships? Bad. Complicated questions? Bad. Complicated answers? Bad.

To make the point a bit more pointedly, here’s a challenge: can you name even one time you’ve finished a job, turned to a friend, and said, “well, at least that was complicated”?

I didn’t think so.

Few things are as universally negative as complexity. Unfortunately for us, few things are as universally true as life’s complexity. Why is it so hard to pay the bills? To raise the kids? To be a good husband or a good wife? Why are friendships as easy to break as they are tough to build? Why (to use the words of Saint Paul) is it so hard to do what my will intends?

Because we’re complicated creatures, whose emotions, intentions, thoughts, and desires swirl chaotically around that mysterious center-point we call our soul. Arriving at self-knowledge is a little like trying to grab a tornado with one hand. Coming to know ourselves and others is like trying to double-fist them. It’s no wonder we mess things up: wherever we go, we trail behind us the twin tornadoes of “me” and “you,” like riotous toilet paper stuck to the back of both shoes.

And that’s before we add sin to the mix. Sin speeds up the whirlwinds, launching cow-, tractor-, and house & barn-sized problems at our already-rickety lives.  Sin divides.  Ubi divisio, ibi peccatum, as the saying goes.   It separates us from God, separates us from each other, and even separates us from ourselves. To shift metaphors slightly, sin sets us adrift without port or anchor in a storm of our own devising.

Who can save us from our sins? Who can calm the chaos of our lives? Who can simplify our complexities?

Only Someone entirely free from all complexity and chaos. Only Someone who is totally, perfectly, and radically simple. Only God.

Nothing disturbs God. Nothing rattles Him. He is not plagued by self-doubts or second-guesses. Simply put, God is pure simplicity (and that italics is crucial: there’s no division in God at all—not in His Love, not in His Thought, not even in His Being). And when God enters our lives He brings that simplicity with Him.

Jesus Christ took on all the complexities of our humanity so that we can take on the simplicity of His Divinity. Full of love and compassion, Jesus once said to a friend, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but only One thing is necessary” (Lk. 10:41). He says the same to us today. And what is that One necessary thing? The God of Divine simplicity Himself.

When we focus on Him, everything else falls into the background. When we make Him our all, nothing else matters. When God becomes our simplicity, our peace, and our joy, He stills the whirling complexities of our lives, and we begin to hear His voice in a calming whisper: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all the rest shall be yours as well” (Mat. 6:33).”

How very true.

Love,
Matthew