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Class 6

Pure Nature

We will finish off what we began the last time. The term "pure nature" which appears in modern Catholic theology, against which the orthodox protest very much, is found in Saint Thomas. It does not mean in his writing an existing state, even before the sin of Adam. When Saint Thomas uses this term (rarely), he is using it as a theological exercise. He uses it to describe nature looked upon purely philosophically. But he does not imply that it ever existed. We can look at nature abstracting from the light of revelation; but even philosophically, we discern the transcending hunger toward God. We cannot accept the modern theological idea of a natural and supernatural end, which pushed out the supernatural end to the level of the heroic. Canon 6 of the Second Synod of Orange (529) said that whenever we enter into the supernatural life, it comes from grace. Saint Thomas, in talking about the natural desire to see God, is talking at the level of metaphysics. When he uses the word "desire," he is talking metaphysically, not psychologically or emotionally. He does so to say that when we receive grace, it corresponds to the inherent structure of our nature. Whenever we activate that orientation by an act, there is already an action on the supernatural level which has its origin in God. There is no transfer from the natural to the supernatural on our own part. The first grace always comes from God, but afterward we can merit growth in the spiritual life. Saint Thomas said that although man is inclined naturally toward his ultimate end, he needs grace to achieve it. Scotus said that the higher the creature, the more it needs God. We have the hunger toward God, but we need God to get there.

What we mean by happiness

A polish philosopher proposed four meanings. The first was the Latin fortuna, success or fortune which falls on us. This is objective. The second is subjective, a feeling of inner joy or satisfaction. The external conditions that caused the happiness are immaterial; the important part is psychological. The third is philosophical: the greatest measure of goods that are available to man (eudomonia). Boethius defined happiness to be the state of a perfect accumulation of all the goods. He who has attained happiness would want nothing more. The fourth meaning would be contentment of life taken as a whole, not just possessions. The third meaning, that of Boethius, is the one Saint Thomas follows, but we have to note that there is no separation between the notion of good and the notion of happiness. Saint Thomas defines the good as that to which all things strive. So the good is the cause of happiness, and happiness is an effect of adhering to goodness. The separation of the perfect good and the happiness is one of the most serious phenomena in the history of morality, Fr. Pinckaers says. That which is truly good grants happiness. But the plenitude of happiness is attained when the desire gets its fulfillment. When God gifts himself, we are given supreme happiness. We know of this response uniquely through revelation. The gift of God far exceeds our imagination. We can aspire for a lot, but we will receive something that far exceeds our expectations. God wants to lead us to that plenitude evoked by the parable of the banquet feast. By revelation we know that God is the object of our ultimate happiness. Each divine person will reveal himself to us in the relationships he has to the other persons. This lief of the Blessed Trinity is offered to us as the supreme good. The heart of God will become ours. The presence of God will mean that the root of our spirit will be adapted to fit the divine. God will say to us, "all I have is yours." It is only the vision of God that satisfies the deepest aspirations of our faculties. And so the glory of heaven is a participation in the glory of the Son of God, who communicates to us in his humanity a participation in his own nature. He makes us like the Father whose image Christ is. This communication of our spirit with the life of God will give us all the other of Gods.

This union with God in the soul does not deny at all the importance of our bodies, which will be resurrected. The general resurrection represents the ultimate happiness, it will be a transformation of matter from within. Saint Thomas says that all the powers of the body are apt to follow the movement of the HS. We have a foretaste of this reality here and now, when we receive graces that transform us. There is something beautiful that only those with a spiritual awareness can perceive. Spiritual paternity and maternity consists in such a transformation of our personality radiates a spiritual depth that attracts other people, in the case of the Pope or of Mother Teresa. The knowing of God as he knows us and the loving as he loves us, will bring us to know and love our neighbor .This will be a transparency of God’s knowledge an love. Beatitude will be fraternal, where all will be relatives of the Trinity. "Come, let all who are thirsty come, all may have the water of life and have it freely."

This plenitude of life promised in eternal beatitude encompasses in some way the entire creation. Our cats and dogs do not participate in the love and knowledge of God.[12] Creation hopes to experience the same freedom and glory as we do; the entire creation is groaning reaching out to an encounter with God. All creation is somehow open to the transformation that will come through the power of God. This is the Biblical revelation about our future happiness, which begins here. Happiness is ultimately found in the union with God which we desire.

Saint Thomas considers several objects that people think can give them happiness. It seems that Saint Thomas has somehow drawn out the questions into eight in several sections, perhaps to symbolize the Beatitudes. In question 2 he concludes that only God can give the happiness we truly desire. As we attain material desires, we don’t need them as much, or desire them as much. Happiness is not power, which is a principle of action, not an end. Happiness isn’t found in the goods of the body, for the body is ordered to the soul. So the gratification of the body is insufficient for happiness. Saint Thomas stresses that man is not the supreme value, but that we are ordered to some end outside us to which our hearts tend. If we make man the supreme value we are reducing him. It is unworthy to search for gratifying experiences to artificially mimic happiness. What is important is not the gratification of desires, but the living of a lief that is truly good. Happiness also cannot lie in the goods of the soul, which is in potency and is drawn to something outside it. Virtues are not our ultimate end, and Saint Thomas rejects perfectionism in virtues, which would mean that the loving commerce of God is merely a means to attain our human perfection. Our perfection would be an idol. Moral perfection does not mean sanctity, to be holy means to be moved by the Holy Spirit. The last possible object is a created good, which cannot satisfy us. Each created good is simply a created good, not an ultimate good.

So Saint Thomas’s argument is that the nature of the object is formulated on the basis of our natural inclinations and faculties. In the intellect and the will there are natural inclinations toward that which is true and good, and ultimately toward God. Only when these inclinations are developed and given an end in accord with their natures do they lead to true happiness. Happiness is not against our nature and is not egoistic. Happiness is not in the gratification of our desire. It is natural for us to desire happiness. We are only happy when we follow them profoundly in their drive to supreme truth, love, and goodness.

The qualities of happiness

How do we experience happiness? God is uncreated, but as we attain God, this contact causes a created reaction within us. Happiness seen from the point of view of the agent shows us that we become happy in the process. Life is to know God and Jesus whom you have sent. The Beatific vision will be moved by love, but the essence of the eternal happiness will be the vision of God. Benedictus Deus (1336) declared that the souls in heaven will see the essence of God immediately, face-to-face. The happiness will consist of seeing God face to face. The sense faculties cannot attain God. They participate in happiness when they are subordinated to the higher faculties. The subordination of the senses to the higher faculties give them a satisfaction. In the state of original justice, there was greater joy, because their entire body was tied together in the eternal harmony of the openness to God.[13] Since the will always follows cognition, the will is drawn to a particular good, and the drawing is not the only constituent of the happiness. Happiness is more in the intellect and the will. Saint Augustine defined happiness as the joy of truth. In this vision of God, the acts of the intellect and will will be simultaneously. But ontologically, there is a priority of the intellect over the will. Just as in the Trinity, there is a relation or origin of the Spirit from the Word, so with us, we love what we know.

But in the moral order, from our point of view, there is a priority of loving over knowing. The sin of Adam consisted in replacing the love of God with intellectual curiosity, an experiment. When we experiment with God, we make Him an object. Whenever the intellect surpasses the movement of love, we fall out of the filial relationship which is more important than theological knowledge. On earth, there is a superiority of loving than knowing.

The desire for happiness which we place at the root of happiness is recognized in the cognition of the true good. This desire makes us react to the Beatitudes, because we have this desire for happiness. This elicits in us a certain fascination. This deepest desire for happiness which is the root of true liberty must be purified, to ensure that the relationship to God is the most fundamental. This purification is a cooperation between the Holy Spirit and us. We must see the perspective of spiritual growth, to be led by the Spirit in the authentic drive toward the supreme good. This purification allows us to put aside mistaken objects we mistook for happiness, and to go after God. We must keep God as the supreme object of our happiness.

Saint Thomas tells us that in heaven happiness will consist in contemplation, when the attention is directed toward the object. So happiness will be primarily in the speculative intellect, because the practical intellect is always geared to some other end. He does note that here on earth happiness consists in contemplation, and also comes through the practical intellect. The word contemplation here means a recognition of values, a simple intuition of truth. This recognition of truth draws us and gives us joy. We see the beauty of the mountains, which gives us the boost to climb the mountain. An intuition of a true good draws us to overcome our laziness, because of the beauty in the thing. In the beatific vision, we will have happiness from seeing, and it will be a union to God, as to the object of our cognition. Saint Thomas uses the preposition ad and not cum. Heaven is not a pantheistic fusion with God, which would be a reduction of our dignity, but our union toward God. We won’t be immersed in God to the loss of our existence. The ultimate union with God is one of friendship, which is of the essence of charity. God has become our friend and has allowed us to treat him as our friend. Saint Terese Lisieux sees the love of God is making him happy, which means giving him the chance to give us something. There is more joy in giving than receiving. Jesus has more joy when he is giving, rather than when he is receiving. The humility in allowing one to be gifted by grace is an opportunity to make Jesus happy.[14]

The attainment of beatitude

It comes through the full use of liberty, which is the gift of self. The orientation toward happiness is the source from which naturally flow the spiritual attitudes that govern our moral life. The striving for true beatitude gives an orientation to our moral life. Beatitude is a supernatural gift. God gives himself to us in love. Happiness is the totally gratuitous gift of God, for only God can traverse the chasm between creature and Creator. If we seek our weakness and present ourselves as a feeble child before God, it touches his heart and God is moved, though he is not forced. Beatitude is supremely fit to God, who is the only one who is absolutely happy. Happiness is his gift to others. No creature can claim to have a right to participate in the life of God. The only true attitude possible facing this gift is openness of our whole being toward that which has been revealed and promised by this revelation. We need to be spiritually poor, renouncing our self-sufficiency. Without Him, we can do nothing. We need the grace of God. Jesus is always looking for faith, the faith that places complete trust in him. Only God can grant us the gift of him; no mediation is necessary. God himself gives himself to us.

The spiritual life consists in this trust in God. The holier we are, the less we place our trust in things other than God. No creature, no angel, no person, no ideology, can make us supremely happy. We should have the trust that is at the level of impertinence. This was the first point — beatitude is a gift of God.

The second point is that we merit beatitude, that we cooperate with the gift. He created us free and desires that his gift be ours. We can compare this to a child learning to ride a bicycle. We teach, but the child wants to experience the joy of riding on his own — and the child is happy riding on his own. Happiness is a gift of God, but it requires our response, our undertaking the loving of God and the loving of our brethren in view of God. God created us without us but he will not save us without our response. By the gift of grace, we become open to the life of the Trinity, but God awaits our free choice to accept that grace, until we reach God after a long pilgrimage. In the acts of our free choice, in which we accept the love that has no mere utility, that we grow in happiness. It is not just the desire of happiness that is at the basis of morals, but the openness in us that makes happiness appealing, that makes God appealing. The Christian moral life consists in the continual consent to God and live out in response to his love. This entails baby steps toward God, steps which can become more and more trustworthy. There is no limit to the love we can offer God. There is no moment we say we cannot grow more. We have been created to surmount ourselves. To love ourselves, we must love God. To love means the gift of self, the life of humility and sacrifice.

Happiness can be compared to the heat of a machine. A worker’s attention is on the machine, not on the heat. In our spiritual life, we do not search for happiness as such. We have the desire for happiness, which allows us to recognize it. But the fullness of our attention shouldn’t be happiness, but God, and our works should be done because of our love for God. We do not use God to attain our happiness, but we reach out to God and a side-effect is happiness.

The ultimate divine beatitude commences on earth. It begins here, given as a germ in the life of faith and charity. It is hidden, and we approach it in faith. But we possess since Baptism the essence of divine life within us. The Christian life consists in the nourishment of that divine in-blood resident in our souls. We aspire to seeing God face-to-face, and on the measure of our charity, we experience that happiness here on earth. The true Christian ceases to see evil everywhere, because he can see the loving hand of the Father in everything. He knows that he is an heir looking toward the inheritance of eternal life. He is convinced of the triumph of God and can say maranatha.

On earth we need grace. In heaven, we need the lumen gloriae, the conclusion of the Council of Vienne. But the happiness in heaven will be perfect and will not fail. But although it will be perfect for everyone, it will differ. But no one on a lesser degree of glory will envy those at a higher degree. The more we love here on earth, the greater will be our happiness.

Possible Objections about Saint Thomas’ notion of Beatitude

Is it not a mistake to present the cognition of God as the supreme object of beatitude? Saint Thomas here is following Aristotle, but this seems to be outlandish. If the object of our ultimate end is to attract us, to grant an orientation in our life, we would want the object to be closer to us. It seems to be something that would satisfy only metaphysicians. The meaning of the term contemplation and the distinction between the active and the contemplative life is not easy. The term contemplatio, meditatio, speculatio seem to be interchangeable and not always precise. What does he mean that the supreme happiness in contemplation of God? These terms developed after Saint Thomas. According to Aristotle, the contemplation of truth is a divine activity, something greater than all virtue, than all other activity. The Greek word, theoreia, denotes an attentive watching, like watching a play (theater). The Latins translated the Aristotelian theoretical study as the contemplative or speculative study, this looking just to know. This is a different activity than the cognition of the practical intellect, which knows something for a purpose. The speculative and the practical reason mean the same human mind with a different focus.

Can fascination with truth qua truth be the source of true happiness? Today, the idea of the contemplation of eternal truths doesn’t attract. We want to be efficacious, to be doing things. But our understanding of speculation has been marred by the later medieval playing around concepts without a reference to what is real. That there is an inclination of the reason toward truth and the will toward goodness was denied by the Nominalists in the 14th century. So there is a divorce between our experience and the object of contemplation. Furthermore, an ethics built on voluntarism and legalism put contemplation to the sphere of the extraordinary. Such a notion of contemplation didn’t fit into a legalist notion of what people ought to do. The Carmelites gave contemplatio a new, spiritual meaning. But for Saint Thomas, contemplatio doesn’t refer specifically to prayer. Modern scientists claim they cannot know the essences of things, so Saint Thomas’s and Aristotle’s point that we will see the essence of God face-to-face fails to attract.

Veritatis Splendor caused opposition and fascination, because there is a splendor in the truth. What is this splendor? In Aristotle and Saint Thomas, we have a unified system. Aristotle centers action on the rational choice, action in which one is attracted by knowledge of the good. So there is no big separation between knowledge and will. The entire person focuses on speculative truth and the practical intellect. Contemplation, hence, moves the whole person. We see the goodness, and this urges us to act. The contemplation of truth doesn’t mean we’re lying on our bed just beholding, but it causes the moral virtues to be at the service of the higher faculties. The higher faculties cause an echo in the virtues. Truth known by the mind becomes the reference for further action. If we deny we can know truth, it isn’t possible to do anything sensible. We cannot make commitments, not only on the level of faith, but on the natural level. This capacity to know truth is essential for life. It is not true that the Aristotelian notion of truth is dry and passive. It is tied to friendship, which is a sharing, a sharing of contemplation which makes the friendship solid and great. We can be a friend with someone who also perceives the same values. Saint Thomas follows this intuition of Aristotle.


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