Category Archives: Divine Attributes

The Divine Attributes – Immutability


-by Dave Armstrong

“Orthodox, historic Catholic theology holds that God is…immutable. Descriptions such as “jealousy” applied to God are usually held by orthodox theologians to be anthropomorphic (intended to make God more comprehensible to limited human beings, rather than being literally true). Here are some typical statements in this regard, by St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas:

“God’s anger implies no perturbation of the divine mind. It is simply the divine judgment passing sentence on sin. And when God “thinks and then has second thoughts” this merely means that changeable realities come into relation with his immutable reason. For God cannot “repent” as human beings repent, of what he has done, since in regard to everything His judgment is fixed as His foreknowledge is clear … But it is only by the use of such human expressions that Scripture can make its many kinds of readers whom it wants to help to feel, as it were, at home. Only thus can Scripture frighten the proud and arouse the slothful, provoke inquiries and provide food for the convinced. This is possible only when Scripture gets right down to the level of the lowliest readers.” -(St. Augustine, City of God, 15:25)

“It is written, I AM the Lord, and change not. (Mal. 3,6) I answer that, From what precedes, it is shown that God is altogether immutable. First, there is some being, whom we call God, and that this first being must be pure act, without any admixture of potency, for the reason that, absolutely, potency is posterior to act (Q.III, A. 3). Now everything which is in any way changed is in some way in potency. Hence it is impossible for God to be in any way changeable.-(Summa Theologica, First Part, Q.9, art.1)

“God is said in turn to repent; not in the sense that his eternal disposition has changed, but some effect of his is changed. Hence Gregory says: “God does not change his plan, though at times he may change his judgment”, not, I say, the judgment which expresses his eternal disposition, but the judgment which expresses the order of inferior causes, in accord which Ezechias was to have died, or certain people were to have been punished for their sins. Now such a change of judgment is called God’s repentance, using a metaphorical way of speaking, in the sense that God is disposed like one who repents, for whom it is proper to change what he had been doing. In the same way, he is also said, metaphorically, to become angry, in the same sense that, by punishing, He produces the same effect of an angry person.”-(Summa Contra Gentiles, Bk. 3, Pt. 2, q.96:15)

Let’s examine now Catholic dogma regarding these matters. First, I consult Dr. Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (edited in English by James Canon Bastible; translated by Patrick Lynch, Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books and Publishers, 1974, from the fourth edition of May 1960; first published in German in 1952):

God is absolutely immutable. (De fide.)

The 4th Lateran Council and the Vatican Council teach that God is immutable (incommutabilis) D 428, 1782. Holy Scripture excludes all change from God and positively ascribes to Him absolute immutability . . .

The Fathers exclude all change from God . . .

St. Thomas bases the absolute immutability of God on His pure actuality, on His absolute simplicity and on His infinite perfection . . .

(pp. 35-36)”

Now I shall cite Henry Denzinger: The Sources of Catholic Dogma (I have the 13th edition of 1954; translated by Roy J. Deferrari; Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire: Loreto Publications). All bolding is my own.

LATERAN COUNCIL IV 1215

Ecumenical XII (against the Albigensians, Joachim, Waldensians etc.

The Trinity, Sacraments, Canonical Mission, etc.*

Chap. 1. The Catholic Faith

(Definition directed against the Albigensians and other heretics]

428 Firmly we believe and we confess simply that the true God is one alone, eternal, immense, and unchangeable, incomprehensible, omnipotent and ineffable, Father and Son and Holy Spirit: indeed three Persons but one essence, substance, or nature entirely simple. The Father from no one, the Son from the Father only, and the Holy Spirit equally from both; without beginning, always, and without end; the Father generating, the Son being born, and the Holy Spirit proceeding; consubstantial and coequal and omnipotent and coeternal; one beginning of all, creator of all visible and invisible things, of the spiritual and of the corporal; who by His own omnipotent power at once from the beginning of time created each creature from nothing, spiritual, and corporal, namely, angelic and mundane, and finally the human, constituted as it were, alike of the spirit and the body. For the devil and other demons were created by God good in nature, but they themselves through themselves have become wicked. But man sinned at the suggestion of the devil. This Holy Trinity according to common essence undivided, and according to personal properties distinct, granted the doctrine of salvation to the human race, first through Moses and the holy prophets and his other servants according to the most methodical disposition of the time.

THE VATICAN COUNCIL 1869-1870

Ecumenical XX (on Faith and the Church)

SESSION III (April 24, 1870)

Dogmatic Constitution concerning the Catholic Faith *

[ . . . ]

Chap. 1. God, Creator of All Things

1782 [The one, living, and true God and His distinction from all things.] * The holy, Catholic, Apostolic, Roman Church believes and confesses that there is one, true, living God, Creator and Lord of heaven and earth, omnipotent, eternal, immense, incomprehensible, infinite in intellect and will, and in every perfection; who, although He is one, singular, altogether simple and unchangeable spiritual substance, must be proclaimed distinct in reality and essence from the world; most blessed in Himself and of Himself, and ineffably most high above all things which are or can be conceived outside Himself [can. 1-4].

That’s only the beginning; there is much more:

ST. MARTIN I 649-653 (655)

THE LATERAN COUNCIL 649

(Against the Monothelites)

The Trinity, the Incarnation, etc.*

254 Can. 1. If anyone does not confess properly and truly in accord with the holy Fathers that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit [are a] Trinity in unity, and a unity in Trinity, that is, one God in three subsistences, consubstantial and of equal glory, one and the same Godhead, nature, substance, virtue, power, kingdom, authority, will, operation of the three, uncreated, without beginning, incomprehensible, immutable, creator and protector of all things, let him be condemned [see n. 78-82, 213].

COUNCIL OF LYONS II 1274

Ecumenical XIV (concerning the union of the Greeks)

Declaration Concerning the Procession of the Holy Spirit *

[The Most Exalted Trinity and the Catholic Faith]

[ . . . ]

Profession of Faith of Michael Palaeologus *

[ . . . ]

463 He will come to judge the living and the dead, and will return to each one according to his works whether they were good or evil. We believe also that the Holy Spirit is complete and perfect and true God, proceeding from the Father and the Son, coequal and consubstantial, co-omnipotent, and coeternal through all things with the Father and the Son. We believe that this holy Trinity is not three Gods but one God, omnipotent, eternal, invisible, and unchangeable.

A Decree in Behalf of the Jacobites *

[From the Bull “Cantata Domino,” February 4, Florentine style,

1441, modern, 1442]

703 The sacrosanct Roman Church, founded by the voice of our Lord and Savior, firmly believes, professes, and preaches one true God omnipotent, unchangeable, and eternal, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; one in essence, three in persons; . . .

* * * * *
(ST. SERGIUS I 687-701)

COUNCIL OF TOLEDO XV 685

Protestation concerning the Trinity and the Incarnation *

[From “Liber responsionis” or the “Apologia” of Julian,

Archbishop of Toledo]

294 . . . We have found that in that book of response to our faith, which we had sent to the Roman Church through Peter the regent, it had seemed to the Pope already mentioned (St Benedict II) that we had carelessly written that first chapter where we said according to divine essence: “Will begot will, as also wisdom, wisdom,” because that man in a hurried reading thought that we had used these very names according to a relative sense, or according to a comparison of the human mind; and so in his reply he commanded us to give warning saying: “In the natural order we recognize that the word takes its origin from the mind, just as reason and will, and they cannot be changed, so that it may be said that, as the word and the will proceed from the mind, so also the mind from the word or the will, and from this comparison it seemed to the Roman Pontiff that the will cannot be said to be from the will.” We, however, not according to this comparison of the human mind, nor according to a relative sense, but according to essence have said: Will from will, as also wisdom from wisdom. For this being is to God as willing: this willing as understanding. But this we cannot say concerning man. For it is one thing for man not to will that which is, and another thing to will even without understanding. In God, however, it is not so, because so perfect is His nature, that this being is to Him as willing, as understanding. . . .

The Catholic Encyclopedia reiterates the above (“The Nature and Attributes of God”):

Immutability

In God “there is no change, nor shadow of alteration” (James 1:17); “They [i.e. “the works of thy hands”] shall perish, but thou shalt continue: and they shall all grow old as a garment. And as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: but thou art the selfsame and thy years shall not fail” (Hebrews 1:10-12, Psalm 101:26-28. Cf. Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8). These are some of the Scriptural texts which clearly teach Divine immutability or unchangeableness, and this attribute is likewise emphasized in church teaching, as by the Council of Nicaea against the Arians, who attributed mutability to the Logos (Denzinger, 54-old No. 18), and by the Vatican Council in its famous definition.

That the Divine nature is essentially immutable, or incapable of any internal change, is an obvious corollary from Divine infinity. Changeableness implies the capacity for increase or diminution of perfection, that is, it implies finiteness and imperfection. But God is infinitely perfect and is necessarily what He is. . . .

Divine Knowledge

That God is omniscient or possesses the most perfect knowledge of all things, follows from His infinite perfection. In the first place He knows and comprehends Himself fully and adequately, and in the next place He knows all created objects and comprehends their finite and contingent mode of being. Hence He knows them individually or singularly in their finite multiplicity, knows everything possible as well as actual; knows what is bad as well as what is good. Everything, in a word, which to our finite minds signifies perfection and completeness of knowledge may be predicated of Divine omniscience, and it is further to be observed that it is on Himself alone that God depends for His knowledge. To make Him in any way dependent on creatures for knowledge of created objects would destroy His infinite perfection and supremacy. Hence it is in His eternal, unchangeable, comprehensive knowledge of Himself or of His own infinite being that God knows creatures and their acts, whether there is question of what is actual or merely possible. Indeed, Divine knowledge itself is really identical with Divine essence, as are all the attributes and acts of God; but according to our finite modes of thought we feel the need of conceiving them distinctly and of representing the Divine essence as the medium or mirror in which the Divine intellect sees all truth.

The article on “Eternity” highlights the same notions of immutability and transcendence of time:

. . . That is how and why we represent the Divine existence as a life. It is a life, moreover, not only without beginning or end but also without succession — tota simul, that is without past or future; a never-changing instant or “now”. It is not so difficult to form some faint notion of a duration which never began and shall never end. We hope that our own life shall be endless; and materialists have accustomed us to the notion of a series stretching backward without limit in time, to the notion of a material universe that never came into being but was always there. The Divine existence is that and much more; excluding all succession, past and future time-indeed all time, which is succession-and to be conceived as an ever-enduring and unchanging “now”. . . .

If, now, we apply to the time-line what we have been attempting in that of space, the infinite, unchangeable point which was immensity becomes eternity; not a real succession of separate acts or changes (which is known as “time”); nor even the continuous duration of a being which is changeless in its substance, however it may vary in its actions (which is what St. Thomas understands by an aevum ); but an endless line of existence and action which not only is not actually interrupted, but is incapable of interruption or of the least change or movement whatsoever. And as, if one instant should pass away and another succeed, the present becoming past and the future present, there is necessarily a change or movement of instants; so, if we are not to be irreverent in our concept of God, but to represent Him as best we can, we must try to conceive Him as excluding all, even the least, change or succession; and his duration, consequently, as being without even a possible past or future, but a never beginning and a never-ending, absolutely unchangeable “now.” This is how eternity is presented in Catholic philosophy and theology. The notion is of special interest in helping us to realize, however, faintly, the relations of God to created things, especially with regard to His foreknowledge. In Him there is no before or after, and therefore no foreknowledge, objectively; the distinction which we are wont to draw between His knowledge of intelligence or science or prescience and His knowledge of vision is merely our way of representing things, natural enough to us, but not by any means objective or real in Him. There is no real objective difference between His intelligence and His vision, not between either of these and the Divine substance in which there is no possibility of difference or change.

. . . it is not true to say that God either saw or foresaw anything, or that He will see it, but only that He sees it. . . . It is only in relation to the finite and mutable that there can be a before and after. And when we say, that, as faith teaches, the world was created in time and was not from eternity, our meaning should not be that the existence of the Creator stretched back infinitely before He brought the world into being; but rather that while His existence remains an unchangeable present, without possibility of before or after, of change or succession, as regards itself, the succession outside the Divine existence, to each instant of which it corresponds as the centre does to any point in the circumference, had a beginning, and might have extended indefinitely further backward, without, however, escaping the omnipresence of the eternal “now” . . .

Sources

The basis of all later treatment of the question of eternity is that of ST. THOMAS, I, Q. x. For a fuller exposition see SUAREZ, De Deo, I, iv; IDEM, Metaphysica, disp. l, ss. 4 sq.; LESSIUS, De perfectionibus divinis, IV.

….The salvation or damnation of every soul is known to God and decreed from eternity. Therefore, there is no change. It always was what it is. For God it simply “is” because He is at all times “now.” An omniscient being cannot change His “mind….”

…Protestant theologian John Frame has written a very informative article that is, I believe (unless I missed something) harmonious with Catholic teaching: “Open Theism and Divine Foreknowledge”. This can clear up many questions about “contingency” and conditional prophecies. See also the Catholic Encyclopedia article, “Prophecy”, though it doesn’t specifically address the issue of how God presents prophecies in relation to His foreknowledge and omniscience, and immutability.

For an extremely interesting (but not exclusively Christian or Catholic Christian) philosophical treatment of these sorts of issues, see “Prophecy” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy); also, “Immutability” in the same work. And “Divine Simplicity” and “Eternity”. Also, along similar lines: “God and Time” (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Also, St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa: First Part, Q. 10: The Eternity of God.

Paul Helm: J. I. Packer Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, has written a book defending the divine timelessness view: Eternal God: A Study of God Without Time (Oxford University Press, 1988). IVP (evangelical publisher) has put out a book: God & Time: Four Views. Protestant (?) writer George Pytlik defends God’s timelessness: “Can God Change His Mind?” (part one / part two). John Frame gives a very brief reply too.

Did the Incarnation affect God’s immutability, though? No:

“It is to be remembered that, when the Word took Flesh, there was no change in the Word; all the change was in the Flesh. At the moment of conception, in the womb of the Blessed Mother, through the forcefulness of God’s activity, not only was the human soul of Christ created but the Word assumed the man that was conceived. When God created the world, the world was changed, that is, it passed from the state of nonentity to the state of existence; and there was no change in the Logos or Creative Word of God the Father. Nor was there change in that Logos when it began to terminate the human nature. A new relation ensued, to be sure; but this new relation implied in the Logos no new reality, no real change; all new reality, all real change, was in the human nature. Anyone who wishes to go into this very intricate question of the manner of the Hypostatic Union of the two natures in the one Divine Personality, may with great profit read St. Thomas (III:4:2); Scotus (in III, Dist. i); (De Incarnatione, Disp. II, sec. 3); Gregory, of Valentia (in III, D. i, q. 4). Any modern text book on theology will give various opinions in regard to the way of the union of the Person assuming with the nature assumed.’ -(Catholic Encyclopedia: “The Incarnation”; cf. St. Thomas Aquinas’ related comments in the Summa)”

Love & mind blown,
Matthew

God is simple

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – O Lord, Thou Who art infinite simplicity, simplify my mind and my heart, that I may serve Thee in simplicity of spirit.

MEDITATION

God is the unique simple Being because He is one in His essence and in all His perfections. When St. Thomas speaks of God’s simplicity, he presents it as the absence of all that is composite. In God’s simplicity there are not quantitative parts as there are in us who are composed of body and soul. God is simple because in Him there is no matter; He is pure spirit. Angels are also pure spirits; but angels are composite beings because their essence is like ours, distinct from their existence. The angelic essence does not exist by itself but has only the capacity to exist; in fact, no angel, as likewise no man, can exist if God does not call him to life. In God, on the contrary, there is supreme simplicity, infinitely superior to that of the angels: in Him essence and existence are identical. His essence exists of itself; He is the eternally subsistent Being.

Neither do the innumerable perfections of God create in Him any multiplicity: God is not composed of goodness, beauty, wisdom, justice, but He is, at the same time, the infinitely good, beautiful, wise, and just Being. There is no distinction in Him between substance and quality, because all is substance; His infinite perfections are His very substance. God contains in one, unique and most simple perfection, the perfection of His divine Being, all the multiple perfections we find divided among creatures in addition to thousands and thousands of others, somewhat as a million dollars contains the value of many dollars. God’s simplicity is not, then, poverty, but infinite riches, infinite perfections which we ourselves ought to reflect.

Consider how rich God is in innumerable perfections and how He possesses them all in the same degree. Consider, on the other hand, how poor you are in virtues and if you have any at all, how limited they are, how mixed with faults! Moreover, for one virtue which you possess in some slight degree, how many others you lack! God is simple; you, on the contrary, are complicated! Contemplate the divine simplicity and try to imitate it by means of true simplicity of soul.

COLLOQUY

“O most high God, in Your one and simple Being You are all the virtues and grandeurs of Your attributes; for You are omnipotent, wise, good, merciful, just, strong, and loving, and You possess other infinite attributes and virtues of which we have no knowledge. You are all these things in Your simple Being.

O wondrous excellence of God! O abyss of delights, which are the more abundant in proportion as Your riches are all contained in the infinite simplicity and unity of Your sole Being, so that each one is known and experienced in such a way that the perfect knowledge and absorption of the other is not impeded thereby, but rather each grace and virtue that exists in You is light for some other of Your grandeurs, so that through Your purity, O divine Wisdom, many things are seen in You when one thing is seen” (John of the Cross, Living Flame of Love 3, 2.17).

“O divine Essence, bottomless and boundless abyss of wonders! O unfathomable ocean of greatness, O Unity of my God, O Simplicity, O Eternity without beginning and without end, to Whom everything is continually present! O Immensity, which fills all things and contains all things! O Infinity, which embraces all imaginable perfections, O Immutability, O Immortality, O inaccessible Splendor! O incomprehensible Truth, O abyss of Knowledge and Wisdom, O Truth of my God…. O divine Power, creating and sustaining all things! O divine Providence, governing all! O Justice, O Goodness, O Mercy, O Beauty, O Glory, O Fidelity!… O great God, in You I adore all the grandeurs and perfections which I have been contemplating, as well as all the innumerable and inconceivable others which are, and will remain, unknown to me. I adore You, praise You, glorify and love You for all that You are. Oh! how my heart rejoices to see You so great, and so overflowing with every kind of treasure and splendor! Certainly, if I possessed all these grandeurs and You had none of them, I would want to strip myself of them at once and give them to You” (St. John Eudes).

Love,
Matthew

The God Who does not feel


-by Br Isaiah Beiter, OP

“In this season of penance, we ask God to have mercy. Human mercy involves compassion, looking upon someone’s misery and feeling it as your own. But God, in His eternity, can’t feel misery—he can’t feel anything. I don’t mean that the Holy Trinity does not comprehend what misery is, nor that He does not love. He made our heart in His image (Ps 94:7-11):

They say, “The Lord does not see;
the God of Jacob takes no notice.”
Understand, you stupid people!
You fools, when will you be wise?
Does the One Who shaped the ear not hear?
The One Who formed the eye not see?
Does the One Who guides nations not rebuke?
The One Who teaches man not have knowledge?
The Lord knows the plans of man;
they are like a fleeting breath.

, and He knows most intimately all of our experiences, but not by enduring them Himself. This is because God doesn’t change: He perfectly enjoys an unchanging and infinite happiness beyond happiness.  (Impassibility) Feelings imply changeability and dependence on another. God is above this.

But don’t we hear about the depth of God’s feeling heart through His prophets? Don’t we hear God cry out, “I writhe in pain!” (Jer 4:10) or that “the Lord takes pleasure in His people” (Ps 149:4)? Does this contradict the unchangeability of God?

No. God speaks this way not to say that we are pulling on His heart, but that His heart is freely given to us: “I have graven you on the palms of My hands” (Is 49:16). The eternal Godhead doesn’t feel sorrow for our misery in the way that we do, but He establishes a covenant with us: “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as My people, and I will be your God” (Ex 6:6–7). His mercy is no weaker for the fact that the Divinity has no heartstrings to pull. In fact, it is all the stronger because it flows from a choice that is infinitely free.

That should have been enough for us, but it wasn’t. God’s people continued to complain that He didn’t care for them, that He had tricked or abandoned them: “Why is the Lord bringing us into this land only to have us fall by the sword?” (Num 14:3). So all the passages from the prophets above, and many others, express God’s repeated pleas to his wayward people, trying to convey to them the depth of His love.

Consider what it means that God didn’t stop there. If it wasn’t enough for us to know His peace, now He takes upon Himself the ability to feel our misery and death. literally. If it wasn’t enough that He had made a covenant with us, He becomes a covenant Himself. For the Son of God became flesh, the Son to Whom it is said, “I have given you as a covenant to the people” (Is 49:8). God is still unchangeable in His divinity, but in the assumed humanity of Jesus Christ, He truly feels our misery and pain—even unto death. And the blood of this covenant stands forever.

What misery, what mystery, what mercy! He took upon Himself the Lent that belonged to us, and now we follow Him through it, yearning to see His Easter—and call it our own.”

Love,
Matthew

The Kingdom of God

what-is-the-kingdom-of-God-copy-2

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.

revstephenfreeman
-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

transcendence

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.

timtroutman

-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.”

“Life is not just a succession of events or experiences. It is a search for the true, the good & the beautiful.”-Pope Benedict XVI

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

God-Impassible-Passion-Prism2


-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

simplicity

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?  🙂

philipnerireeseop

-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