THE INNER LIFE OF GOD
QUIET is a calm refreshment of the soul if it is not too hushed. There is reason behind a city boy’s panicky restlessness in the stillness of his first night in the country; to him, whose days have been so crowded with clamor, no sound is audible. Though he may never admit it, he is frightened by such absolute quiet, as are all those whose ears are not attuned to the workings of their own souls; as frightened as all men are by those occasional moments of mental blankness that seem to dissect life with a stroke as ominously quiet as the blow of death.
The sign of death
Completely motionless waters, waters with no hope of activity in them, leave us uneasy; they are dead, or so close to death that the air above them is tainted, the depths beneath them unclean, their surface already in preparation as a breeding ground of unhealthily lush growth. We have, quite rightly, associated life with activity; we demand activity of anything that lives, we are disturbed at lack of activity or even at the lack of signs of activity. For we know that inactivity is the herald of death, the advance guard of decay. Perhaps it is the depth of our appetite for life that makes the signs of its opposite so repulsive. At any rate the fact remains that a corrupt vegetable pollutes our hands, destroys our appetite and speeds our departure. We cannot pass a dying tree unmoved unless we wear the equivalent of a blindfold; a man who is going to seed mentally or physically misses much of the distress and repulsion he awakens only because heroic virtue is not nearly so rare as the cynic thinks; a man who is corrupting morally is a source of contamination as obnoxious to healthy cleanness as a leaking sewer. Stagnancy, decay, rottenness anywhere, in any form, is repulsive; it sets up an unmistakable sign of the end of activity, it is the sign of death.
The mark of life — activity
On the other hand, a brisk wind off a choppy sea injects new life into us. A buoyant step, the sharp, decisive click of a heel, or a laugh that skitters across the room and back like a scampering child, dissipates the fog of our sluggishness and awakens us from lethargy to a lighter, brighter, quicker life. Youth, with its vibrant life, has a beauty of its own, a clamorous, insistent beauty that will not be ignored. Freudian experts, who explain all light by darkness, would have it that thousands gather each fall to watch “a scampering boy with a ball” by way of enjoying vicarious thrills and triumphs; they forget that youth still preens itself before a glass and age enjoys the pleasant sadness of nostalgia. Age, too, has a beauty of its own, a quiet, penetrating, burning beauty that sets roaring fires in the heart of youth. A pair of eyes alive with ceaseless thought’s clashing battle are not pushed from memory with a careless gesture; they are glowing coals that give comfort only to those who seek a flame. The lines and depths written on a man’s face by the winds, storms and far horizons of long journeys over the seven seas of life offer wisdom’s refuge to fellow travelers. The sure judgment, hand carved with weighted words, is the masterpiece of time and patience.
Life and activity are too intimately bound together for either to exist by itself. There may be some solid truth in our suspicion that life is activity, at least some kind of life. It is strange that the suspicion has not driven us to a closer inspection of activity; instead, we have neglected the vista opened by it and seized upon the most obvious activity, the activity involving change, as the synonym of life. As a result we have made change the cardinal virtue and placed becoming, the acquiring of perfection, above being or the having of perfection. We have described life as a process; no wonder so many pass it on the street without a nod of recognition.
Transient activity — root of a modern mistake
It is not strange that the magic of the craftsman should fascinate us. The child sits spellbound as the pies and cakes take shape under the deftly sure fingers of a cook; years later, the adult stands gaping as a building springs into being at the urging of steel-workers and masons. We have always had a personal pride in the human art of making things, even though our role be no more than that of a spectator. It is something to be proud of; but it is not the sum total of activity, this working to the perfection of something outside the worker himself. It is tangible, vivid, fascinating: but it is only transient activity, the least of the things life does.
There is another kind of activity that remains within the very agent who produces it, an activity obviously superior to that which passes outside and beyond him. The very purpose of the pies and cakes is precisely to furnish material for one such activity, the nutrition and growth that remain within the child who so eagerly devours them. The structure of steel and stone was made precisely to enclose a world of intricate plans, daring hopes, of knowledge and love and desire; it is no more than the servant of these things that yet remain within the head and heart of a man.
It is this latter activity which is living activity, immanent activity, activity from within and remaining within the agent. In a thousand ways we testify to this truth; but, on the crucial point, we throw out the testimony. The difference between the growth of crystals and the growth of a plant is admittedly the difference between the activity of the non-living and the living. A leaf stretching out to its full development on a tree is not nearly so active as the seared leaf buffeted by November winds; but the one is alive, the other is dead. our very metaphors are confirmatory witnesses to the depth of this truth: a dead house is not lifeless because something has happened to the outside of it, but because something has gone out from within it; a dead face is a lantern without the inner flame; a dead heart is an empty one. It is immanent activity that is the mark of life.
The scale of life: the principle of gradation.
This is so true that the scale of life can be accurately drawn up only on the basis of immanent activity, only on the principle that the greater the immanency of the activity the greater the life. In the concrete, this principle is immediately obvious. A plant’s perfection of life consists precisely in the fact that its growth is from within and its three operations — of generation, growth and nutrition — are immanent operations. Its imperfections, which place it on the lowest scale of life, are precisely its defect: the material of its actions comes from the outside, the term of its activities continues apart from the plant; it may be moved from place to place, but will surely not stroll off for itself; and any arranging of means to its end will not be accomplished by concentrated study or agonizing worry on the part of the plant, it will come from the outside.
Concrete gradation of life: plant, animal, human, angelic
An animal has all the perfections of a plant, but, in addition, has locomotion and sensible knowledge, these two being exactly proportioned and marking out the difference, say, between an oyster and an eagle. On the side of the imperfection of life, there is the fact that the term of the animal’s activity is never within: it cannot reflect on itself, look to the goal over the head of the present; the term of its generation, its offspring, is always distinct in essence and operation; the determination of ends and means, things worth having and ways of getting these things, is always from the outside.
Going up a step higher, we find human life possessed of all of the immanent activity of plants and animals, with the inherent limitations of this activity; and, in addition, the marvellously immanent activity of human knowledge. The term of this activity, the fruit of a man’s thought, is not to be wheeled about the park in a perambulator; it is immanent, taking up permanent residence within a man’s own head. It is the man himself, not something outside of him, that determines the things worth having and the means of getting those things. But even this is not perfect life. The material of a man’s thought comes from the outside, it is measured by the world of reality outside a man, and, while a man’s thought stays within his own head, the term of a man’s thought is still not the mind of a man. The emphasis of imperfection, here as all through the scale of life, is on the notion of external as opposed lo internal; what comes from the outside or goes to the outside is not so much from life’s fullness as from its limitation. A clumsy example of our realization of this fact is to be had in the difference between our attitude towards a frail intellectual genius and a stalwart but moronic athlete; our pity goes, not to the one man’s frailty but to the other man’s lonely strength.
But obviously, from the very essential perfection of human life, there is room in the universe for yet more perfect life, for there is room for yet more perfect immanency of action. That next step lifts us to the angelic level where there is no question of growth, development, process or change; but where there is indeed question of vital activity. Here change ceases but the intensity of life increases. The world of the angels will be treated exhaustively later on in this volume; for the purposes of this chapter it will be enough to point out that an angel is as nearly an independent world in itself as it is possible for us to conceive within the world of nature, which is to say, within the essentially dependent world of creatures. Its movement from place to place is not to be compared to the effortless glide of a bird; it has about it the agile speed of thought, the closest approach among creatures to an illustration of the omnipresence of God. The angel does not have to endure the long, slow days of schooling, the back-breaking labor of thought, the tenacious effort of memory that so mark the progress of man’s mind to its maturity; the angel does not gather ideas, it is created with them. There is no progressive accumulation of knowledge; knowledge is full and immanent from the first instant. The angel knows itself, not through some other medium, even so intimate a medium as its own acts as we do, but directly, immediately, immanently. Like man, the angel has its determination of ends and means from the inside not from the outside.
But this is still not perfect life, there is still the element of the outside marking beyond all doubt a definite limitation of life’s perfection. The angel’s ideas still come from the outside, not from beneath it but from above it, for they are infused by God; it still moves from the consideration of one idea to that of another, a kind of passage from potentiality to actuality; its knowledge, while not measured by reality, is measured by something outside the angel, by the mind that measures reality, the mind of God; it is still dependent in its being and its activity on an outside source, the source of all being and all activity, the first Cause. The angel’s knowledge, while intensely immanent, is still distinct from the mind of the angel; it is not so immanent as to be identical. There is, in a word, room for perfection far above that of the angels.
The rungs of the ladder of life are clearly marked. The lowest is that of the plants, for this is the least immanent in its activity; up a step is animal life; still higher is human life; nearing the top we come to angelic life. But this is still not the peak of lifer for this is still not the peak of immanency; the mark of life still has some of the dross of externality in it. it is not absolutely pure. For that supreme degree of life, we must look to the divine.
From what we have seen of the existence and nature of God, it is plain that there is a divine life. God is the first cause Who sowed life so prodigally in the world; He must have it to give it. He is the supreme intelligence and intelligence is the highest form of immanent activity, that is, of life’s activity. Again, life is one of those limitless perfections that is not had in its fullness by any creature, that can only be shared, participated, received in a definite mold by anyone less than God. It is not to be discovered in an analysis of the essential characteristics of any creature; only God is life.
As seen by man: the fact of it
It is to be understood, of course, that divine life is infinitely superior to created life; that life is spoken of in God and in creatures only in an analogical sense, it is in God in an altogether eminent way. With that precaution in mind, a consideration of divine life in the terms in which we have been speaking of life in this chapter brings out sharply the perfection of divine life by focusing attention on the immanent activity of God. Here there is no question of the power from within to move from place to place; by His divine nature God is everywhere. There is no question of growth, nourishment, gradual attainment of perfection; God is eternally perfect. There is no dependence on things below Him, as there is in man; nor on things above Him, as in the angels. His mind is measured by no other mind, no other thing; He does not consider first one idea, then another; there is no distinction between the divine idea and the divine mind, for God is utterly simple. Divine activity, in other words, is absolutely immanent; which is to say, that divine life is absolutely perfect.
The manner of it
This is a far cry from the modern blindness that sees the Christian God as too static, imperfect, stagnant, divorced from life, principally because there is no advance, in divine life, from the stage of short pants to long pants, from hair down to hair up. The argument, in its absurdly simple form, is that there is no life in God because there is no change in God. The real conclusion, of course, from the absence of change in God is that there is no imperfection in the divine life. This is life at its highest, most intense, most perfect degree; intellectual life, activity perfect in its immanency.
Thus far reason can take us, and no farther. This much man can see of God with his own eyes; and no more. By these steps man comes to the edge of the abyss that lies between the finite and the infinite; there he is halted by the very limitations of his nature. This is the threshold of the inner life of God; the inner secrets are God’s and God’s alone.
As seen by God
To divine eyes, the mysterious inner life of God is completely clear; God can comprehend all its ineffable perfection, for the infinite alone can comprehend the infinite. This is knowledge that has been God’s from all eternity and that will never belong to any other though all of an eternity be given to its contemplation and all the graciously tender thoughtfulness of God be exerted in unfolding the story to lesser minds.
We are humbled before these inscrutable truths, but not humiliated; rather we are exalted as a man of mediocre virtue is exalted by contact with heroic sanctity. What a tragic thing it would be if his paltry virtue were the highest peak to which the heart of man could aspired What a traffic, desperate thing it would be if our paltry minds could encompass all truth! What an inspiring thing it is for the heart of a man to know that there is inexhaustible beauty beyond the faint shadow that he can perceive; what an incredibly gracious thing it is that man should be given, as far as he can be given, the eyes of God to see beyond the shadow into the infinite reality!
As told to man by God
Statement of the mystery of the Trinity
For God has not spoken of His mysteries in guarded whispers behind the locked gates of heaven; He has shared them, as far as they can be shared, with the least of intellects, the intellect of man. He has told us something of that ineffable inner life of His; and that something is almost too much for our minds to bear, like a joy that crowds the heart to the breaking point. The mystery of the Trinity, as God has told it to us, is the mystery of three divine persons, really distinct, in one and the same divine nature: coequal, coeternal, consubstantial, one God. Of these persons, the Second proceeds from the First by an eternal generation; the Third proceeds from the First and the Second by an eternal spiration.
Sole source of this knowledge
There is absolutely no way in which we could have come to this knowledge of ourselves. It had to be told us by God. It is told vaguely, dimly in the obscure words of the Old Testament, as though to prepare the mind for the terrific impact of so great a truth; then, in the New Testament, there is the clear statement both of the trinity of persons and their identity of nature; finally, in the declarations of the Church, the mystery is stated with a clear-cut brevity that staggers the mind. This is the only source of our knowledge of the Blessed Trinity — – the authority of God — only God could know of it, only God could tell of it; He has told us and we bend our minds in humbly grateful belief.
Validity of this knowledge
The modern cannot understand why we accept a truth we cannot verify by our own intellects. To us, it does not seem a wisely superior thing to doubt that God, Who gave us the intellects by which we pan out flakes of golden truth, should give us nuggets beyond the capacities of our laborious panning process, indeed, beyond our wildest dreams of rich strikes. From whatever point of view we take, it is the doubt of these mysteries that needs explanation, not their belief. We can prove, and have proved, that God is supreme intelligence, the first truth; that, consequently, He is incapable of deceiving Himself or others, of being deceived by others.. Why then doubt His word? Knowledge of God arrived at by reason from the world of reality is undoubtedly valid, as we have shown; should knowledge of Cod be less valid when it comes directly from God Himself? Or, to put the same truth in simpler terms, is first hand knowledge necessarily to be classed as inferior to second hand knowledge? Yet surely the knowledge garnered from the effects of God in the world is second hand by comparison with knowledge coming directly from God. No, the fact that this knowledge comes to us as a completely free gift from God is not a reproach to its validity but a guarantee, a divine guarantee, of it.
Reason and the mystery of the Trinity
The Trinity is a mystery; no doubt about it. Unless we had been told of its existence, we would never have suspected such a thing. Moreover, now that we know that there is a Trinity, we cannot understand it. The man who attempts to unravel the mystery is in the position of a near-sighted man straining his eyes from the Eastern Shore of Maryland for a glimpse of Spain. We cannot probe the depths of the ocean of divinity with the foot-rule of the human intellect.
It may feel grand to adopt a righteously indignant attitude against mysteries, snatch up a hatchet and sally forth as a crusader dedicated to smashing the dark windows behind which mystery carries on its revels. But why not start the crusade at home? Long before we have finished in nature, our hatchet will be dulled, our arm fatigued, our soul humbled enough to see that there are undreamed of truths in this world; undreamable truths in the world of divinity. What, for instance, do we know of electricity beyond the fact that it works and something of how it works? There is very much to be explained about radio beyond the mysterious selection of the dogged entertainers who use it as a medium of slipping into our houses. Over and above the realization that a red light gives us a choice between stopping our car and accepting a ticket, we know that it involves some 130,000,000 vibrations a second; but that is not much help. A culture developed from the brain or spinal cord of a mad dog will arrest the development of rabies; but no one knows why. And so on. yet we are surprised, indignantly surprised, that the divinity should propose truths beyond the capacities of our minds!
Ordinary common sense should tell us that this is a natural concomitant of the inevitable limitations of our nature. A small cup can hold only so much water; not the whole ocean. Our eyes can see only so much of the spectrum, not all of it, they can take in only so much light under pain of blindness; there are rays of light invisible to our eyes, sounds inaudible to our ears we take these limitations for granted. As our eyes are only human eyes, our ears only human ears, so our intellects are only human intellects; there are truths we cannot know by those intellects.
When such truths are made known to us by a superior intellect, there is not much we can do with them. Certainly we cannot prove them; we have little result from attempting to probe them; we can show they are not violations of reason, that is that they do not involve contradictions, and we can dig up a few clumsy illustrations. Thus, for instance, we can show that the idea of three persons in one nature is not inconceivable, it is not the contradictory statement that the same thing is at the same time one and three. As a matter of fact, the exclusion of this often alleged contradiction against the truth of the Trinity is absurdly simple; all it involves is the manifestation of the fact that there is a distinction between person and nature. In the construction of a cross-word puzzle, the principle by which the puzzle was drawn up is a human nature, but the principle who drew up the puzzle was John Jones. The first answers the question why such a thing was possible — – no other nature engages in such activities; the second answers the question who did the work involved. The distinction is fairly obvious from a normal man’s resentment of the inference that he is any less identically human than any other man as contrasted with his assured knowledge that there is no identity between his person and the person of any other man who has ever existed.
In the mystery of the Trinity, the persons are distinct from each other; but each one is identical with the divine nature, Here the question is not one of conceptual possibility — – assured by our perception of the distinction of person and nature in the world about us — but of fact. Is this not a violation of the mathematical principle that two things equal to a third are equal to each other? The Father is not distinct from the divine nature, the Son is not distinct from the divine nature: therefore the Father is not distinct from the Son. The revealed truth is that though Father and Son are not distinct from the divine nature, they are distinct from each other; nor does that truth violate the mathematical principle in question here. Perhaps we can see the root of the confusion if we reflect that the qualities of action and passion are the same as immanent, but not the same as each other; for example, a blow in the face as given and the blow as received are the same as immanent, i.e. at the point of contact, but they are certainly distinct from each other under their own proper and formal conception. The Son, precisely as Son, is distinct from the Father, precisely as Father; though both are identical with the divine nature.
By way of illustration we hit upon such clumsy things as the merging of three flames into a single flame; the light of a candle, which is red, yellow and blue, yet one light; or the trunk of a tree springing from the roots and the fruit coming from both root and trunk, yet all three make up one tree. These are clumsy examples, examples that limp so badly that they are a hindrance, rather than a help, to the tranquillity of our restless intellects. As has been insisted throughout this chapter, human reason cannot get much done with truths that are entirely proper to the mind of God. Perhaps the best procedure, in dealing with the Trinity, would be to single out the basic theological terms, subject them to analysis and illustration, so that we might be able to achieve an accurate statement of the mystery and maintain our slender intellectual foothold on the flowering truth of three divine persons in one divine nature.
Basis of the distinction of persons — the processions
These basic terms, which enter into the very revelation of the mystery, can be reduced to three: processions of origin, subsistent relations, and person. Examining each of these in order we shall at least come to a knowledge of what the mystery of the Trinity does not involve and of what, therefore, we are precisely to believe in believing that mystery.
By faith we know that the Son proceeds from the Father, the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son; that is, the Father is the principle of the Son, the Father and Son are one principle of the Holy Ghost. To have distinction we must have difference; and, since there is no difference whatever on the side of nature — – the three Persons having the numerically same divine nature — – the sole possibility of difference lies in the processions of one person from another. To our way of thinking, a principle is the cause of a thing. We cannot comprehend how one Person can proceed from another without depending in some way or another. This is precisely the heart of the mystery; this is precisely what we shall never understand. But we can understand the meaning of the statement: the Father is not the cause of the Son, nor are the Father and Son the cause of the Holy Ghost. This is what we are to believe. There can be no relation of causality between the divine Persons for this would destroy the truth that they are all divine. The word “principle” is used because it signifies an order of origin in an absolute way, without determining a particular mode that would be foreign to the origin of the divine Persons. In a word, this term “principle” is invaluable because of its indefiniteness, because it hides a truth we cannot understand, shading our eyes from its splendor; it does not distort that truth.
Procession, here, is not to be understood in the sense in which a word proceeds from a man’s mouth to wander up and down the world, but, analogically, as an idea proceeds from the mind of a man but stays in his head. The divine processions are not processions to the outside but within divinity itself, with all that perfection of immanency that is uniquely God’s.
Procession, then, in God is not as it is in the lowest creatures, that is, either by way of local movement or by way of cause proceeding to exterior effects. Rather it is in the order of the most perfect activity in its most perfect form, intellectual activity. In this order, what proceeds is not necessarily distinct from its source; indeed, the more perfectly it proceeds, the more closely it is one with its source, for the more perfect it is, the more immanent it is. The faith teaches us there are two of these processions in God: that of generation, by which the Son proceeds from the Father; and that of spiration, by which the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son as from a common principle. We shall touch upon these again at a somewhat greater length later on in this chapter.
Reality of the relations set up by the processions
The point to be noted here is that these two processions set up relationships in God: the double relationship of paternity and filiation arising from generation; and the double relationship of active and passive spiration arising from the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son. In our human order, a relation arising, say, from the anthropological classification of a man as Alpine, Mediterranean or Nordic, is purely a thing of the mind, a relation of reason; for it does not arise from the principles of the same nature. On the contrary, a man’s relations to his end, to his acts, to his Creator are all real relations, arising from the very principles of his nature. A visitor to Washington, however short his stay, will certainly see the massive pillars of the Supreme Court building. By his glance at those pillars, a relation is set up between him and the pillars; on the side of the pillars that relation is a relation of reason, for the nature of pillars does not give rise to the relation brought about by being seen. In the divine order, the relations of paternity, filiation, active and passive spiration are real, not rational, relations, arising from the numerically same divine nature. As real they are distinct terms: paternity is not the same as filiation, nor is active spiration the same as passive spiration. They are real, they are intimately opposed, and, as entirely distinct from any relation in the created world, they subsist. The opposing relationships constitute the three divine persons: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Only by such opposition of origin is there distinction in divine things; there are then, not four, but three divine persons since there is no opposition between active spiration and the relations set up by generation.
All this is, of course, impossible to understand. The whole purpose of this exposition was not to make the mystery intelligible but rather to make clear wherein the mystery lies that our faith might embrace it. Nevertheless, our intellects are a restless, rowdy, independent lot; they chafe under the restraint of the incomprehensible, even though that restraint in reality be a release from the chains of the natural into the unsuspected freedom of the truths proper to God. The irritation is far from logical; but it is none the less quite universally human. If we can get some little grip on a mystery, even though it is by no more than our finger-nails, we feel very much better. It was perhaps in recognition of this childish stubbornness which is so common a human weakness that God moved men to conceive the most celebrated illustration of the trinity.
The classical illustration
It is to be remembered, however, that this is only an illustration; it is not to be taken literally, univocally. It limps because it compares the divine to the human; but it does give us that finger-nail grip so necessary to pride. It goes like this. Life is activity. In the created world, it is a process of change, a process of attaining perfection or of using perfection attained. But throughout its keynote is immanency. The more perfect the immanency, the more perfect the life. The highest life, and consequently the most immanent activity, we know is intellectual. Coming to the absolutely perfect life of God, we can expect activity, the highest, the most perfect activity; hence activity of the most sublime immanency. Both from the fact of the perfection of the immanency of this activity and from the fact that God is pure intelligence, we can expect that His activity is intellectual activity, of which there are, to talk in our human fashion, only two principles: the intellect and the will.
The entirely immanent activity, then, from the side of the intellect of God, will be the knowledge of God, God knowing Himself. This knowledge depends in no way on anything or anyone outside of divinity, it is not measured; it proceeds to a term — – God known — – which is utterly perfect because utterly immanent. God knowing Himself is the principle from which proceeds the eternal Word of God, God known.
On the side of the will, which in us follows on knowledge, there is the eternal and immanent act of God’s love. God, eternally knowing Himself perfectly with sublime immanence, generates the eternal Word, the Son, the perfection of the Father; the eternal and immanent breath of love of the Son for the Father and the Father for the Son is the Holy Ghost, the sign of divine love that subsists. The perfect immanency of these acts insists that no one of these three is distinct from the divine essence but entirely identical with it; the opposition of the relationships insists that they are distinct one from another. They are one God and three divine persons: consubstantial, coeternal, coequal.
The divine persons
Father, Son and Holy Ghost are not called persons by a kind of poetic license; this is not figurative speech. They are persons. This is one point we can see clearly by clarifying our own notion of what a person is, shearing away the accidentals that the essential might stand out. A person, to put it as briefly as possible, is an individual intellectual substance, whatever kind of intellectual substance or in whatever way distinguished from other persons of the same nature; thus there are human persons, angelic persons, divine persons. The human person subsists in a human nature and is distinguished from all other human persons in the way proper to human nature, that is by signate matter; an angelic person subsists in an angelic nature and is distinguished from all other angelic persons in the way proper to angelic nature, that is, by a specific distinction; a divine person subsists in a divine nature and is distinguished from other divine persons in the way proper to divinity, that is, by the opposition of the relations of origin.
Sometimes we give these divine persons names that belong to them by reason of their divine nature; such names, for instance, as almighty, good, merciful. These names belong, not to any one person, but to all three for the numerically identical divine nature is common to all three. At other times, we address the divine persons by names that belong to them, not by reason of the divine nature, but by reason of the opposition of the relations of origin; such names, for instance, as Father, Son, Holy Ghost. These are completely proper names: the name of the Son cannot be given to the Holy Ghost, for title to it is by the relation of filiation which is proper to the Son alone. It is worth noting that when we say the “Our Father” we are addressing the whole Trinity, not merely the first Person; for God is our Father, not by the eternal generation of the Son, but by creation which, like all external operations, is common to the three Persons.
One of the most reassuring things about the mystery of the Trinity is its incomprehensibility. It is grand to have so concrete an assurance that our minds do not tell the whole glorious story of intelligence, that the crumbs of truth we amass so laboriously are only crumbs, not the sum total of truth’s banquet, that the feeble glow which hardly lights up a path for our own steps is not the light of the world. The concrete assurance of this incomprehensibility comes to the solitary human mind like the comfort of a lost child’s discovery of its parents; with a joy too big for words and too deep for laughter, with rekindled hopes and the utter, unquestioning, eager surrender of faith.
Some children, however, seem to have been born disillusioned. Someone has told them the truth about Santa Claus and now they spend their days in pouting. They are determined to be happy with the introduction to the story of intelligence, to be surfeited with the crumbs of truth, to light up the world with the match they have just blown out. They will get along without God and His incomprehensible mysteries, above all they will have nothing to do with the Trinity. Yet they never quite make their renunciation stick. Though they abolish God and the Trinity, they make a travesty on the divinity and the divine persons.
Parodies of the Trinity
It is palpably true that the man who denies God makes a god of his own with much more piteous results than the amateur wood-carver ever produces; but there is reason behind the unreason, for every man must have a goal towards which he aims his life. It is not at all clear why man should also produce a burlesque of the Trinity in abandoning it; the fact is clear enough. He makes himself and his material world as unbegotten as the Father; his intellectual effort is concentrated on self and the material world, sometimes even to the extent of that intellectual effort producing the world; from this knowledge of self and the world, a knowledge that is necessarily streaked with broad bands of ignorance, arises an abiding love that leaves room for no rival. It is an attempt at the perfection of immanency without the perfection of life that must underlie immanency, a parody of divine self-sufficiency which accomplishes eternity by overlooking the beginning and the end, a caricature, which ends in mere bustling, of the intensity of divine life.
Horror of death
Even for the undemanding purposes of burlesque there are too many characters involved; one or the other must go. So eventually, either the world is pushed aside while a man wraps the folds of his being about himself and retires into the arid oblivion of solipsism; or the individual is pulled into the maw of the world to furnish the material for the nourishment of a mass. Whichever way the choice turns one of two, or perhaps both, characteristic qualities come to the surface. If it is the mass that absorbs the individual, then there is little horror of death for death has already become a living thing; but there is a panicky fear of human life, a haunting terror that paralyzes a man at the very thought of being alone, being responsible, of possessing a life with a meaning. On the other hand, where the individual excludes the world, there is apt to be a combination of the two, a horror of death and a fear of life; his very precautions against death, his watchwords of security and safety first, his revulsion from physical hardship and sacrifice, will make it impossible to drink deeply from the hearty cup of life. He is so afraid of death that he starts his dying in the prime of life; life is so precious a thing, he dare not handle it.
Fear of life
The thing is logical enough. He has made a little trinity of himself; and no one knows better than he that that trinity is not a principle of undying life, that here there is no eternal grip on the elusive victory over death. He knows he has life only for an instant; why should he not fear death? He knows, as no one else knows, that life is too big for his little trinity, that it escapes his mind, his will, his hands; why should he not be afraid of life?
Thirst for life
Climax of life
Obviously a man cannot be consumed with a thirst for life and cut himself off from the full perfection of divine life. Obviously a man cannot be in love with life and either push it coldly from him or try to enfold its intensity within himself. Thirst for life must mean thirst for that perfection of action which is described by immanency; or in plainer terms, thirst for life must mean thirst for God, thirst for that absolutely immanent activity of the Trinity. This is the eternal and perfect life of God: all other life is a participation of this divine life: all other activity is a participation of this activity. All other life, all other activity, is perfect in proportion as it approaches to that complete immanence of divine life. This is the climax of all life, the top of the scale of life which is beyond all scales, the peak that is also the foundation, the beginning that is also the end.