Archive for the ‘Frank Sheed’ Category


The Sin at Our Origin 2 – Frank Sheed

November 28, 2013
Even those who accept his existence forget his active malevolence, at most think of him as a sort of ugly extra, not a principal in the struggle of man's soul. Our Lord did not see him as negligible. He called him "a murderer from the beginning, a liar and the father of lies." As his own passion and death were approaching, he spoke of Satan again and again. Here, in the very dawn, with the first human order wrecked, God's first statement of what he would do is made to Satan and in terms of Satan's overthrow.

Even those who accept his existence forget his active malevolence, at most think of him as a sort of ugly extra, not a principal in the struggle of man’s soul. Our Lord did not see him as negligible. He called him “a murderer from the beginning, a liar and the father of lies.” As his own passion and death were approaching, he spoke of Satan again and again. Here, in the very dawn, with the first human order wrecked, God’s first statement of what he would do is made to Satan and in terms of Satan’s overthrow.

A continuation of our last post…


Results of Adam’s Fall
So all men were involved in the catastrophe of Adam’s sin. We are all born with natural life only, without the supernatural life of sanctifying grace. That was the chief thing Adam lost for each of his descendants. To reach the goal for which we are destined we must be reborn.

A certain precision is necessary here. We sometimes slip into thinking that if he had not sinned he would have kept grace and we could have inherited it from him. But grace is in the soul, and we do not inherit our souls; each soul is a new creation. Adam’s obedience was the condition on which we should all have come into existence with grace as well as nature. He disobeyed, the condition was not kept, we are born without sanctifying grace.

That is what is meant by being born in original sin, which is not to be thought of as a stain on the soul, but as the absence of that grace without which we cannot, as we have seen, reach the goal for which God destined man. We may be given grace later but we enter life without it, with nature only.

And our nature too is not as Adam’s was before he failed the condition, but as it was after. The gift of integrity, guaranteeing the harmony of man’s natural powers, has gone. Each of our powers seeks its own outlet, each of our needs its own immediate gratification; we have not the subordination of all our powers to reason and of reason to God which would unify all our striving; every one of us is a civil war.

At two points principally the disorder is at its worst, the passions and the imagination.

Passions are good things given for man’s service; but in our actual state they dominate us as often as they serve us — more often indeed, unless we make an effort at control which costs us appallingly. They were meant to be instruments which we should use; instruments should be in our grip; only too often we feel as if we were in theirs.

The imagination is a good thing, too. It is the picture-making power by which we can mentally reproduce sights seen, sounds heard, textures touched, tastes, scents. For the intellect, the knowing power, it is a necessary servant. Made as we are we could not very well live in a material universe without it. But all too often it is a master, substituting its pictures for the hard effort the intellect should be making, refusing to let the intellect accept spiritual truths simply because imagination cannot make pictures of them.

It is worth our while to pause here and think over this dominance of imagination in ourselves — the times when we meant to think some problem out and imagination so distracted us that at the end of an hour we realized no thinking had been done; the times when we made some good resolution, and the mental picture of a girl or a drink shattered the resolution in an instant. And all because we no longer have the gift of integrity.

But it is not only as individuals that we were all involved in the catastrophe; we were involved as a race too. In Adam the race was tested. Before his sin the race — in him — was united with God; after, the unity was broken. There had been unity between the race and God; now there was a breach between them. Remember that, for God, the race is a fact, a reality. Each man is not only himself; he is a member of the race.

Because Adam broke the unity, his children were born members of a fallen race, a race no longer at one with God — a race, therefore, to which heaven was closed. A given man might he virtuous, but he was a virtuous member of a fallen race. Loving God, he might gain sanctifying grace, which means the power to live the life of heaven, but he still belonged to a race to which heaven was closed. Only if the breach between his race and God could be healed could he attain his own destiny, reach heaven; even naturally we are members one of another.

This is the problem created by the sin of the representative man. The race had been at one with God; it was no longer at one; the central problem was at-one-ment, a word whose meaning we disguise by pronouncing it atonement. With at-one-ment all the rest of our theology is concerned.

How To Restore a Fallen Race?
There has been an immense amount of theological thinking on atonement, at-one-ment, as a problem; more particularly as a problem the human race had set God. The sin of the race stood, and must remain forever, an obstacle between men and their true destiny, unless either humanity could find some way of expiating it, making compensation for it, or God simply forgave it. Even with the sin expiated or written off, the breach remained and must remain unless God chose to remake the broken contact — not simply between individuals and himself but between their race and himself.

Fathers and Doctors of the Church have thought magnificently on what God could and could not do, on why the way he chose was the best way and whether it was the only way. But both the space at our disposal and our status as beginners in theology means that this discussion is not for us — not here, not yet. We shall concern ourselves with atonement not as a problem but as a reality, not what God might have done but what he did.

We know that he meant to redeem mankind and heal the breach, and make heaven once more open to men. Because that was God’s intention, he went on giving sanctifying grace to those who loved him, a gift carrying with it the power to live in heaven and meaningless if heaven were never to be open to them.

We know that he meant to redeem. We may hope that our first parents knew it too. But the first statement of what he would do was strange; it did not carry its meaning on the surface; and it was addressed not to them but to Satan — the seed of the woman should crush his head.

Satan, in the shape of a serpent as Genesis relates, had tempted men to their ruin. They were to be punished; so was he. And Genesis shows God as ironically phrasing his punishment in terms of the serpent form Satan had adopted — he should go on his belly and eat the dust of the earth forever. He would continue to tempt man and one day man would defeat him utterly; these prophecies too were cast in serpent terms — Satan should lie in wait for man’s heel, a descendant of the woman would crush his head.

I have lingered thus upon Satan because we so easily forget him. Even those who accept his existence forget his active malevolence, at most think of him as a sort of ugly extra, not a principal in the struggle of man’s soul.

Our Lord did not see him as negligible. He called him “a murderer from the beginning, a liar and the father of lies.” As his own passion and death were approaching, he spoke of Satan again and again. Here, in the very dawn, with the first human order wrecked, God’s first statement of what he would do is made to Satan and in terms of Satan’s overthrow.

What God would do, he would not do quickly. The disease admitted into humanity by the choice of self as against God was given every chance to run its course, work out its logic. God’s providence did not desert man; those who implored him were not left unaided; but it was Satan’s carnival all the same. He had gained no rights by his success over Adam, but he had gained immense power; he was the prince this world obeyed.

How long this first stage lasted we do not know, but as history at last begins to see mankind, the sight is at once heartening and horrifying: religion universal, everywhere twisted and tainted with lesser or greater perversions, but God never wholly forgotten and often marvelously remembered.

Four thousand years ago, the plan of redemption suddenly seems to take shape — at least to our eyes. God spoke to Abraham: his children were to be God’s chosen people. Out of the chaos of the nations, one nation was to bear mankind’s hopes. They were to be the guardians of monotheism, proclaiming that God is one; and of them was to be born the Savior of the world, the Messiah, the Anointed One. Of his kingdom there should be no end.

The Jewish prophets multiplied their utterance upon both points — upon the one God and upon Messiah — with mixed success. By the time Messiah was due to come, indeed for centuries before, the Jews were unshakably monotheistic. But only rare ones among them had grasped the essential nature of the kingdom the Savior was to found, and the supreme truth about the Savior himself — namely, who he was — they did not know.


The Sin at Our Origin 1 – Frank Sheed

November 27, 2013
John also meant his disciples to consider when he said to them, "Behold the Lamb of God!" So we say to you, "Think of Him, study Him, know all that you about Him, look Him up and down. He is God; do you understand that He stood the sinner' stead? He is man; do you know how near akin He is to you, how sympathetic He is, a brother born for your adversity?" The person of Christ is a great marvel; how God and man can be in one person, it is impossible for us to tell. We believe what we cannot comprehend; and we rejoice in what we cannot understand. He whom God has provided to be your Savior is both God and man; He can lay His hand upon both parties, He can touch your manhood in its weakness, and touch the Godhead in its all-sufficiency. Study Christ; the most excellent of all the sciences in the knowledged of a crucified Savior. He is most learned in the university of heaven who knows most of Christ. He who hath known most of Him still says that His love surpasseth knowledge. Behold Him, then, with wonder, and behold Him with thankfulness.

John also meant his disciples to consider when he said to them, “Behold the Lamb of God!” So we say to you, “Think of Him, study Him, know all that you about Him, look Him up and down. He is God; do you understand that He stood the sinner’ stead? He is man; do you know how near akin He is to you, how sympathetic He is, a brother born for your adversity?” The person of Christ is a great marvel; how God and man can be in one person, it is impossible for us to tell. We believe what we cannot comprehend; and we rejoice in what we cannot understand. He whom God has provided to be your Savior is both God and man; He can lay His hand upon both parties, He can touch your manhood in its weakness, and touch the Godhead in its all-sufficiency. Study Christ; the most excellent of all the sciences in the knowledged of a crucified Savior. He is most learned in the university of heaven who knows most of Christ. He who hath known most of Him still says that His love surpasseth knowledge. Behold Him, then, with wonder, and behold Him with thankfulness.

I’m convinced there is a vast body of my fellow citizens now who do not know how to read the following. They will ask questions like “Do you really think there are angels?” with an incredulous look as if they are speaking with an utter moron. Or “Do you really think Adam existed and lived in a garden created by “God”? The answers to these questions have to be Yes and Yes.

But to answer them “Yes,” I need to be thinking mythically. Oh, so you don’t think they are true, sneers my imagined interlocutor and I have to answer, No, that’s not what ‘myth’ means, my friend (all imagined interlocutors are friends in my world).

Myths are ways of speaking about some of the profoundest truths known to man. Take that from us, as a cheap scientism takes the supernatural from our world to claim the supremacy of a scientific method over all forms of human activity and thought, and you kill Mozart. At this my interlocutor throws his hands up and exclaims, “Mozart! What the fuck does he have to do with anything?”


Fall of Angels
All spiritual beings, angels and men alike, are created by God with the Beatific Vision as their destiny — the direct vision of himself. All of them need supernatural life to give them the powers of seeing and loving that their destiny calls for. And for all there is an interval — for growth or testing — between the granting of supernatural life and its flowering in the Beatific Vision.

Once God is seen as he is, with the intellect in the immediate contact of sight and the will in the immediate contact of love, it is impossible for the soul to see the choice of self against God as anything but repulsive, and in the profoundest sense meaningless; in the immediate contact, the self knows beatitude, total well-being, and no element in the self could even conceive of wishing to lose it. But until then, the will, even supernaturally alive, may still choose self.

So it was with the angels. God created them with their natural life, pure spirits knowing and loving, and with supernatural life. And some of them chose self, self as against God. We know that one was their leader; him we call the devil, the rest demons; he is the named one — Lucifer (though he is never called so in Scripture), Satan which means Enemy, Apollyon which means Exterminator, Beelzebub which means the Lord of Flies, or Beelzebul, Lord of Filth. The rest are an evil, anonymous multitude.

The detail of their sin we do not know. In some form it was, like all sin, a refusal of love, a turning of the will from God, who is supreme goodness, towards self. Theologians are almost at one in thinking it was the sin of pride; all sins involve following one’s own desire in place of God’s will, but pride goes all the way, putting oneself in God’s place, making oneself the center of the universe. It is total folly of course, and the angels knew it.

But the awareness of folly does not keep us from sinning and did not keep them. The world well lost for love — that can be the cry of self-love too. One of the secondary theological excitements of the next life may be learning the detail of the angels’ sin.

The angels who stayed firm in the love of God were admitted to the Beatific Vision. The rest got what they had asked for — separation from God. He still maintained them in existence out of their original nothingness, but that was all. Note that their choice was final.

Men are given another chance, and another, and another. Not so angels. We have no experience, and never shall have it, of being pure spirits, spirits not meant for union with a body as our souls are; but philosophers who have gone deep into the concept see reasons why an angel’s decision can only be final, and a second chance therefore pointless.

The angels who sinned were separated from God. They must have known that this would mean suffering. God had made them, as he has made us, for union with himself. Their nature, like ours, is a great mass of needs, needs which only God can meet. All spiritual beings need God, as (and immeasurably more than) the body needs food and drink and air. Deprived of these the body knows torment, and at last dies.

Deprived of God a spirit knows torment, and cannot die. It is deprived of God by its own will to reject God, but this will not change; its self-love is too monstrous. The lost will not have God, who alone can meet their needs, but who by the greatness of his glory shows their own self for the poor thing it is. Union with him would be self-love’s crucifixion, and self-love has become their all.

There is more to be said of hell than that, and later more will be said; but that is the essence of it. One single detail must be added. Hell is not simply a place of self-inflicted torment; it is a place of hate. Love, like all good things, has its source in God.

Cut off from its source, it withers and dies. It is as though the moon, in love with its own light, rejected the sun. Hell is all hate: hate of God, hate of one another, hate of all the creatures of God, above all of those creatures who are made in the hated image — one remembers the demons who preferred swines’ bellies to a return to hell (Luke 8-32).

Fall of Adam
For the human race’s beginning we go to Genesis chapters two and three — written in metaphor as the story of Everyman, Everywoman, Everysin, but wholly true in all that matters to us. If we can read those two chapters and not meet ourselves in them, we need a course of remedial reading. St. Paul, Corinthians 15:21-22, and Romans 5:12-20, would be part of the course. In the next few pages I summarize the Church’s meditation on St. Paul’s meditation on the Fall.

God created man and woman with the natural life of soul and body, and with sanctifying grace, God dwelling in his soul and pouring supernatural life into it. In addition he gave man preternatural gifts, not supernatural but rather perfections of the natural — guarding it against destruction or damage. Notable among these were immunity from suffering and death, and integrity. This last is perhaps the one we look back to with the greatest longing, for it means that man’s nature was wholly at peace; the body was subject to the soul, the lower powers of the soul to the higher, the natural habits wholly harmonious with the supernatural, the whole man united with God.

The point of union, for the first man as for all spiritual beings, was in the will, the faculty which loves, which decides. And he willed to break the union. He sinned, disobeying a command of God. The detail of the sin we do not know — Genesis describes it as the eating of forbidden fruit, but we are not bound to see this as literal. Two things about it we do know.

Man fell by the tempting of Satan; it was the first engagement in a war which has gone on ever since and which will not end until the world ends. And what Satan tempted our first parents with was the promise that, if they disobeyed, they should be like gods. Satan must have felt the full irony of it. Pride had wrecked him, pride should wreck men.

For Adam, the individual man, the results can be simply stated and simply comprehended. He had broken the union with God, and the life ceased to flow. He lost sanctifying grace; supernaturally he was dead.

He lost the preternatural gifts too. He could now suffer, he had come under the natural law of death; worst of all he had lost integrity, the subordination of lower powers to higher, in the rejection of his own subordination to God. From now on every element in him would be making for its own immediate and separate gratification; the civil war with man had begun.

For Adam, the man, the future was stateable equally simply. He could repent, turning to God again; God would remake the contact and sanctifying grace would be in him once more. But the man it was in was a very different man. The preternatural gifts were not restored, so that integrity was not there. It was to a man with his powers warring among themselves and tugging away from God as often as not, that grace was given back. To figure his condition, we have but to look at ourselves.

But Adam was not only a man. He was the man. He was the representative man. For the angels the testing had been individual; each angel who fell did so by his own decision. But the human race was tested and fell in one man, the representative man. In his catastrophe every man till the end of time was involved. There has been much mockery about this, of the “Eve-ate-the-apple-we-get-the-stomach-ache” variety. But, with no disposition to mock, we can still find something baffling in it.

The difference between the testing of men and angels is not the problem. The angelic race could not be tested in an individual angel, for there is no angelic race. Men are related to one another, because we are all brought into being, procreated, by others. Not so angels. Each is created whole and entire by God; he can call no other angel father. Our souls are the direct creation of God, but by bodily descent we are all children of Adam. And in our father we fell. But why? How could his sin involve us? That is the real problem, and we must be grateful for any lights we can get upon it.

Obviously there is something in the solidarity of the whole human race clear to God but not to us, that he could so treat the race as one thing. Some involvement in the fate of others we take for granted — a father makes decisions for his family, a ruler for his people. The solidarity of the family and the nation sufficiently explains the fact of one man’s will being decisive for all. We do not see a similar solidarity for all men whatsoever — the foreigner is remote from our mind, the dead more remote, the unborn remotest of all.

But no one of them is remote to the eye of God, who not only makes all men, but makes them in his own image. God sees the whole race, every member of which he created, as one thing — somewhat as we see a family as one thing or even a man. The mere number and variety — myriads upon myriads of men — and the uncountable ages, do not impede the vision of the eternal and omniscient God.


The Supernatural Life: A Goal Above Our Nature – Frank Sheed

November 14, 2013

The drama of the Christian life is that, in acquiring the supernatural habits, we do not lose our natural habits. For all of us it is a lifelong struggle. And its scene is the will. The will is that in us which decides, and it decides according to what it loves. In obedience to God, our will is the point of contact through which the supernatural life flows to us. A mortal sin -- a serious and deliberate choice of our own will as against God's -- breaks the contact, we lose the virtue of charity, supernaturally we are dead. We may still have the habits of faith and hope, which can be lost only by sins directly against them; but they are no longer life-giving. Only charity makes the soul and its habits come alive. That is why "the greatest of these is charity."

The drama of the Christian life is that, in acquiring the supernatural habits, we do not lose our natural habits. For all of us it is a lifelong struggle. And its scene is the will. The will is that in us which decides, and it decides according to what it loves. In obedience to God, our will is the point of contact through which the supernatural life flows to us. A mortal sin — a serious and deliberate choice of our own will as against God’s — breaks the contact, we lose the virtue of charity, supernaturally we are dead. We may still have the habits of faith and hope, which can be lost only by sins directly against them; but they are no longer life-giving. Only charity makes the soul and its habits come alive. That is why “the greatest of these is charity.”

“Eye has not seen nor has ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love him.” So St. Paul tells the Corinthians, quoting Isaiah. Until we reach heaven, we shall not know what heaven is. But, in the inspired word of God, we are given glimpses. In heaven we shall know God in a new way, and love him according to the new knowledge.

We shall know, says St. Paul (1 Corinthians 13:12), as we are known. It is a mysterious phrase, more dark than light, but soliciting our own minds powerfully. We are not to know God with the same knowledge with which he knows us — for he knows infinitely and we are incurably finite — but with a knowledge similar in kind to his, different from our present way of knowing.

In the same verse, St. Paul makes another attempt to express the difference between our knowing here and our knowing there. “Here we see through a glass in a dark manner, but then face to face.” St. John (1 John 3:2) says, “We shall see him as he is.” And we remember Our Lord saying of the angels (Matthew 18:10), “They see the face of my heavenly Father continually.” Seeing is the key to life in heaven.

We can approach the meaning in two steps. First, those in heaven shall see God, not simply believe in him as now but see him. Here on earth we do not say that we believe in the existence of our friends, we see them; and seeing them, we know them. But, second, we shall see God “face to face,” see him as he sees us.

The Church has worked out for us a first beginning of the meaning of this. Concentrate upon the way we know our friends. We have an image of them, a picture, so that we know what they look like. But also our knowing faculty, our intellect, has taken them into itself. How? By the idea it has formed of them. By means of that idea, we know them. The richer the idea, the better we know them; if there is any error in our idea of them, to that extent we do not know them as they are. This is the way of human knowledge, the “seeing through a glass in a dark manner” which is the kind of seeing proper to human nature. It is the nature of our intellect to know things by means of the ideas it forms of them.

Here below we know God like that, by the idea we have formed of him. But in heaven, our seeing will be direct. We shall see him, not “through a glass,” we shall know him, not by means of an idea. Our intellect will be in direct contact with God; nothing will come between it and God, not even an idea. The nearest we can get to it, perhaps, is to think of the idea we now have of God; then try to conceive of God himself taking the place of the idea.

That is why the very essence of the life of heaven is called the Beatific Vision — which means the seeing that causes bliss.

Just as our knowing faculty, the intellect, so our loving faculty, the will, is to be in direct contact with God, nothing coming between, God in the will, the will in God, love without detour or admixture. So it will be with every one of our powers — energizing at its very fullest upon its supreme object. And that, if you will think about it, is the definition of happiness.

But observe that all this is based upon doing something which by nature we cannot do. The natural powers of man’s intellect fall short of seeing God direct by a double limitation: as we have seen, our natural way of knowing is always by means of ideas, so that we cannot see anything direct; and God, being infinite, can never be within the hold of our natural strength, or the strength of any finite being whatever.

Putting it bluntly, the life of heaven requires powers which by nature we do not possess. If we are to live it, we must be given new powers. To make a rough comparison: if we wanted to live on another planet, we should need new breathing powers, which by nature our lungs have not got. To live the life of heaven, we need new knowing and loving powers, which by nature our souls have not got.

For heaven our natural life is not sufficient; we need supernatural life. We can have it only by God’s free gift, which is why we call it grace (the word is related to gratis). Sanctifying grace will be our next topic. Everything the Church does is connected with it, and it can be understood but cloudily if we do not grasp what it is.

Sanctifying Grace
When we come to die there is only one question that matters — have we sanctifying grace in our souls? If we have, then to heaven we shall go. There may be certain matters to be cleared, or cleansed, on the way, but to heaven we shall go, for we have the power to live there. If we have not, then to heaven we cannot go; not because we lack the price of admission, but because quite simply our soul lacks the powers that living in heaven calls for.

It is not a question of getting past the gate, but of living once we are there; there would be no advantage in finding a kindly gate-keeper, willing to let us in anyhow. The powers of intellect and will that go with our natural life are not sufficient; heaven calls for powers of knowing and loving higher than our nature of itself has. We need super-natural life, and we must get it here upon earth. To die lacking it means eternal failure.

We must look at grace more closely if we are to live our lives intelligently. Two things about it must be grasped. First: It is supernatural, it is wholly above our nature, there is not even the tiniest seed of it in our nature capable of growing, there is nothing we can do to give it to ourselves. We can have it only as God gives it, and he is entirely free in the giving. That, as we have seen, is why it is called grace; and because its object is to unite us with God, it is called sanctifying grace.

Second: Even the word supernatural does not convey how great a thing it is. It is not simply above our nature, or any created nature. It enables us to do — at our own finite level, but really — something which only God himself can do by nature; it enables us to see God direct. That is why it is called “a created share in the life of God.” That is why those who have it are called “sons of God”; a son is like in nature to his father; by this gift we have a totally new likeness to our Father in heaven.

Giving us this new life, God does not give us a new soul with new faculties. He inserts it, sets it functioning, in the soul we already have. By it our intellect, which exists to know truth, is given the power to know in a new way; our will, which exists to love goodness, is given the power to love in a new way.

We get the supernatural life here on earth. Not until we reach heaven will it enable us to see God face to face and love him in the direct contact of the will. But even on earth its elevating work has begun; it gives the intellect a new power of taking hold of truth — by faith; it gives the will new powers of reaching out to goodness — by hope and by charity (which is love).

Faith, then, does not mean simply feeling that we believe more than we used to; hope does not mean simply feeling optimistic about our chances of salvation; charity does not mean simply feeling pleased with God. All three may have their effect on our feelings; but they are not feelings; they are wholly real.

Even this first beginning is beyond our natural powers, the powers we are born with. “Unless a man is born again, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God,” Jesus tells Nicodemus (John 3:3). The supernatural life in our souls is a new fact, as real as the natural life we have to start with. The powers it gives are facts too; they enable us to do things which without them we could not do. They are as real as eyesight, and considerably more important. Without eyesight, we could not see the material world. But without sanctifying grace we should not be able to see God direct, which is the very essence of living in heaven.

Not only that. Here below we should not be sharers of the divine life, sons of God, capable already of taking hold of God by faith and hope and charity, capable of meriting increase of life. This increase of life must be realized; one can be more alive or less, and our life in heaven will differ according to the intensity of faith and hope and charity in our souls when we come to die.

We shall go on to consider these three virtues in detail. Meanwhile concentrate upon one truth: grace is not just a way of saying that a soul is in God’s favor; it is a real life, with its own proper powers, living in the soul; and he who has it is a new man.

A soul with sanctifying grace in it is indwelt by God. Here the reader may raise a question. Since every created thing has God at the very center of its being, maintaining it in existence, surely all things whatsoever are indwelt by God. In what can God’s indwelling of the soul by grace differ from that?

That first presence of God by which we exist is not called indwelling, for this word means God making himself at home in the soul, and it is not merely fanciful to think that this can only be by invitation. About the first presence we have no choice; we did not invite God to bring us into being, and it is not because we ask him that he keeps us in being. The choice is wholly his. No request of ours would move him to withdraw his presence; in the depths of hell he is there, maintaining each spirit in existence. It is a fearful thing to have nothing of God but his presence, to have existence from him and nothing more, refusing all the other gifts that the creature needs and only God can give.

But the indwelling is by invitation. If we receive sanctifying grace in infancy, the sponsor extends the invitation on our behalf; as we come to the use of reason, we make the invitation our own. At any time we can withdraw it, and God’s indwelling ceases, leaving us only his presence. The God who indwells is the Blessed Trinity. Father and Son and Holy Spirit make the soul their home, acting upon the soul, energizing within it, while it responds to their life-giving, light-giving, love-giving energy. That essentially is the process of sanctifying grace.

Faith, Hope, Charity
By it the soul has new powers — the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity; the moral virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude; the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The first three are called “theological” because they have God not only for their end but for their object. It is worth our while to pause upon the distinction. All our actions should have God for their end or purpose; that is, they should be aimed to do his will, to praise him and thank him and bring us closer to him. But they cannot all have God for their object.

The organist plays for the glory of God, the cook bakes a cake for the love of God; God is the end of their action. But he is not the object. The object of one is the organ, of the other the cake; the organist who makes God and not the organ the object of his playing will produce strange noises; the cook who makes God and not the cake the object of her action will produce an inedible mess; neither will glorify God.

The moral virtues have God for their end, but for their object they have created things — how we shall best use these to bring us to God. But for the theological virtues, God is object as well as end. By faith we believe in God, by hope we strive towards God, by charity we love God.

God is their object. God is also in a special sense their cause. They are wholly from him. By faith we have a new power in the intellect, enabling us to accept whatever God reveals simply because he reveals it. We may see it as mysterious, we may feel that it is beyond us, we may not see how to fit it in either with some other of his revealed truths or with our own experience of life.

But we do not doubt that what he says is so. By faith the soul accepts him as the source of truth. And it does so, not by its own power but his. He gives the power, not our own reasoning. He sustains faith in us. Our hold upon anything we have arrived atfor ourselves can never be surer than the mental process by which we got to it. Our faith rests upon God who initiates and sustains it.

Faith is the root of the whole supernatural life. With it come hope and charity and the rest. The soul is alive with them. To its own natural life of intellect and will, there is now added this new and higher life. The new life, like the old, is actually in the soul, as the power of sight is in the eye. And it never leaves the soul unless we withdraw the invitation.

Next we shall look more closely at hope and charity, with a glance at sin, by which the invitation is withdrawn.

Faith is directed to God as supremely truthful, hope to God as supremely desirable, charity to God as supremely good. Faith we have already glanced at; it is the simple acceptance of God as our teacher.

Hope is more complex. There are three elements in it; it desires final union with God, sees this as difficult, sees it as attainable. The nature of hope comes out more clearly as we see the two ways of sinning against it, by presumption and by despair.

Despair will not believe in the attainability, the sinner seeing himself as beyond the reach of God’s power to save. Presumption ignores the difficulty, either by assuming that no effort on our part is necessary since God will save us whatever we do, or by assuming that no aid from God is necessary since our own effort can save us unaided. The answer to both is St. Paul’s “I can do all things in him that strengthens me.”

Charity is simple again. It is love of God. As a necessary consequence it is love of all that God loves, it is love of every image or trace or reflection of God it finds in any creature. Many writers prefer the word “love” rather than “charity.” But “love” has such a variety of meanings in daily speech — including lust!  – that its use can mislead. One might tell oneself that one is committing adultery through love.

Charity is less likely to lend itself to that kind of misuse. Whatever the soul in charity loves, it loves for what of God is in it, the amount of God’s goodness it expresses or mirrors. This is true love, since it means loving things or persons not for what we can get out of them but for what God has put into them, not for what they can do for us but for what is real in thent. It means loving things or persons for what they are, and it is rooted in loving God for what he is. (This we have already noted is the strongest reason for learning what he is — that is, for studying theology.)

Supernatural Habits
Faith, hope, and charity are called habits by the theologians, and this is not simply a technicality. If we think over our natural habits, we see that there is a real change in ourselves after we acquire them, something in our very natures leading us to act in certain ways — to drink cocktails, for instance, or answer back sarcastically. We say that a given habit grows on us. Really it grows in us, becomes second nature. The theologians apply the word to any modification, whether in body or soul, which disposes us either to do things we did not do before or to do more easily or competently things we did. The skill of a pianist is a habit.

It is in this sense that the theological virtues are habits. They are really in our very souls, and they enable us to do things which without them would be impossible for us. They differ from natural habits in the way we acquire them. A natural habit is acquired gradually, as we repeat some particular action over and over again; supernatural habits are given to us in an instant by God. They differ again in the way they are lost. To be rid of a natural habit — drinking cocktails again — we must make a long series of efforts; supernatural habits are lost by one mortal sin against them. But while we have them, habits they are, in the meaning just given.

The drama of the Christian life is that, in acquiring the supernatural habits, we do not lose the natural habits. Our soul has the supernatural power to act towards God, but it has a natural habit of acting for self, ignoring God. It has the supernatural ability to make the unseen its goal, but a natural habit of being overwhelmed by the attractions of the visible. By steadily acting upon such natural habits as run counter to the supernatural we may, with our own efforts and God’s grace, bring our nature and its habits wholly into harmony with supernature and the habits that belong to it.

For all of us it is a lifelong struggle. And its scene is the will. The will is that in us which decides, and it decides according to what it loves. In obedience to God, our will is the point of contact through which the supernatural life flows to us. A mortal sin — a serious and deliberate choice of our own will as against God’s — breaks the contact, we lose the virtue of charity, supernaturally we are dead. We may still have the habits of faith and hope, which can be lost only by sins directly against them; but they are no longer life-giving. Only charity makes the soul and its habits come alive. That is why “the greatest of these is charity.”

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
St. Paul 1 Corinthians 13


The Three Persons – Frank Sheed

October 16, 2013
The artist Joe Forkan has fun with Supper at Emmaus.

The artist Joe Forkan has fun with Supper at Emmaus. See our blog image above for the real thing by Caravaggio.

Father and Son
The heavenly Father has a Son; the Gospels tell of their relation. We must now look at it more closely.

A son is a distinct person from his father; there is no way in which a father can be his own son. But though they are distinct persons, they are like in nature — the son of a man is a man, of a lion a lion. In this solitary case, the Father’s nature is infinite; so the Son too must have an infinite nature. But there cannot be two infinite natures — one would be limited by not being the other and by not having power over the other. Therefore, since the Son has infinite nature, it must be the same identical nature as the Father’s.

This truth, that Father and Son possess the one same nature, might remain wholly dark to us if St. John had not given us another term for their relation — the second person is the Word of the first. In the first eighteen verses of his Gospel we learn that God has uttered a Word, a Word who is with God (abiding therefore, not passing in the utterance), a Word who is God; by this Word all things were made.

So God utters a word — not .framed by the mouth, of course, for God has no mouth. He is pure spirit. So it is a word in the mind of God, not sounding outwardly as our words sound, akin rather to a thought or an idea. What idea produced in God’s mind could possibly be God?

Christian thinking saw early that it could be only the idea God has of himself. The link between having a son and having an idea of oneself is that both are ways of producing likeness. Your son is like in nature to yourself; your idea of yourself bears some resemblance to you too — though it may be imperfect, for we seldom see ourselves very clearly; too many elements in us we see as we wish they were, too many we do not see at all.

Are we venturing too far if we feel that God does not have the idea for the sake of information about himself, but for the sake of companionship. However this may be, the idea that God has of himself cannot be imperfect. Whatever is in the Father must be in his idea of himself, and must be exactly the same as it is in himself. Otherwise God would have an inadequate idea of himself, which would be nonsense. Thus, because God is infinite, eternal, all-powerful, his idea of himself is infinite, eternal, all-powerful. Because God is God, his idea is God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. And the Word was God.”

So far, the reader may feel that all this is still rather remote — full of significance, no doubt, to theologians, but not saying much to the rest of us. With the next step we take, that feeling must vanish. The Father knows and loves; so his idea knows and loves. In other words the idea is a person. Men have ideas, and any given idea is something. God’s idea of himself is not something only; it is Someone, for it can know and love.

The thinker and the idea are distinct, the one is not the other, Father and Son are two persons. But they are not separate. An idea can exist only in the mind of the thinker; it cannot, as it were, go off and start a separate life of its own. The idea is in the same identical nature; we could equally well say that the nature is in the idea, for there is nothing that the Father has which his Word, his Son, has not. “Whatsoever the Father has, that the Son has in like manner” (John 16:15). Each possesses the divine nature, but each is wholly himself, conscious of himself as himself, of the other as other.

One immediate difficulty presents itself. We can hardly help thinking of sons as younger than their fathers — so felt the painters who gave the Father a long beard, the Son a shortbeard. Is the second person younger than the first? If not, how can he be his Son? But this is another of those points where we must not argue from the image (ourselves) to the original (God). Among men, fathers are always older than sons simply because a human being cannot start generating the moment he exists; he must wait till he develops to the point where he can generate.

But God has not to wait for a certain amount of eternity to roll by before he is sufficiently developed. Eternity does not roll by; it is an abiding now; and God has all perfections in their fullness, not needing to develop. Merely by being God, he knows himself with infinite knowing power, and utters his total self-knowledge in the totally adequate idea of himself which is his co-eternal Son.

Holy Spirit
The production of a Second Person does not exhaust the infinite richness of the divine nature. Our Lord tells of a third person. There is a Spirit, to whom Our Lord will entrust his followers when he himself shall have ascended to the Father. “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Paraclete, that he may abide with you” (John 14:16). The Spirit, like the Word, is a person — he, not it. “But the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things” (John 14:26).

As we have already seen, there is one huge and instant difference between God’s idea and any idea we may form. His is someone, ours is only something. With an idea which is only something, there can be no mutuality. The thinker can know it, it cannot know him; he can admire its beauty, it cannot admire his; he can love it, it cannot return his love.

But God’s idea is someone, and an infinite someone; between thinker and idea there is an infinite dialogue, an infinite interflow. Father and Son love each other, with infinite intensity. What we could not know, if it were not revealed to us, is that they unite to express their love and that the expression is a third divine person. In the Son, the Father utters his self-knowledge; in the Holy Spirit, Father and Son utter their mutual love.

Their love is infinite; its expression cannot be less. Infinite love does not express its very self finitely; it can no more produce inadequate expression than infinite knowledge can produce an inadequate idea. Each gives himself wholly to the outpouring of his love for the other, holding nothing back — indeed the very thought of holding back is ridiculous; if they give themselves at all, they can give themselves only totally — they possess nothing but their totality. The uttered love of Father and Son is infinite, lacks no perfection that they have, is God, a person, someone.

As the one great operation of spirit, knowing, produces the second person, so the other, loving, produces the third. But be careful upon this — the second proceeds from, is produced by, the first alone; but the third, the Holy Spirit, proceeds from Father and Son, as they combine to express their love. Thus in the Nicene Creed we say of him qui ex patre filioque procedit who proceeds from the Father and the Son; and in the Tantum Ergo we sing procedenti ab utroque — to him who proceeds from both.

We have seen the fitness of the names “Son” and “Word” for the second person. Why is the third called “Spirit”?

Here the word “spirit” — like the old English “ghost” — is best understood as “breath.” This is the root meaning; our ordinary word “spirit” comes from it, because spirit is invisible, as air is. It is in its root meaning that “Spirit” is the name of the third person — he is the “breath” or “breathing” of Father and Son.

That is Our Lord’s chosen name for him, and it is more than a name used merely because he has to be called something. There is some deep meaning in it. For Christ breathes upon the Apostles as he says, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit”; when the Holy Spirit descends upon them at Pentecost, there is at first the rushing of a mighty wind.

Observe that the third person is never spoken of as a Son, never said to have been begotten or generated. Theologians use the word “spirated” which is simply “breathed.” We may wonder why the third person who is the utterance of the love of Father and Son should be called their Breath.

Let us note two things. It is of universal experience that love has an effect upon the breathing; it is a simple fact that the lover’s breath comes faster. And there is a close connection between breath and life — when we stop breathing, we stop living. In the Nicene Creed the Holy Spirit is called “the Lord and giver of life.” The link between life and love is not hard to see, for love is a total self-giving, and so a giving of life.

One final reminder. We saw how the second person is within the same nature, as an idea is always within the thinker’s mind. So with the third person. The utterance of love by Father and Son fills the whole of their nature, producing another person, but still within the same identical divine nature. Try to see the nature of God wholly expressed as thinker, wholly expressed as idea, wholly expressed as lovingness.

Equality in Majesty
The truths God has revealed to us of his innermost life are not easy for us to take hold of and make our own. They do not yield much of their meaning at a first glance. I can only urge readers to go back over the last sections many times. Remember that we are making this study not to discover whether there are three persons in God (for he has revealed that there are), still less to verify it (for no effort of our mind could make it any surer than God’s own word), but simply to get more light on it and from it.

It is hardly my place to urge readers to pray for understanding. I can only state the plain fact that without prayer there will be precious little understanding. Our minds cannot take God’s inner life by storm; we shall see as much as he gives us light to see.

But while we are talking of prayer, it should be noted that there is special light to be got from the Church’s prayers, if we try to bring our new knowledge of the doctrines into saying them. The Preface of the Blessed Trinity in the Mass, for instance, is a blaze of meaning; so are the creeds and some of the great hymns, especially the Veni Sancte Spiritus and the Veni Creator. No book on doctrine will teach you as much as the Missal — provided you bring some knowledge with you. This book and books like it exist to provide the knowledge which the Missal assumes we have!

With what has gone before reread and meditated, we can go onto the completion of a first rough sketch of the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity.

We have already glanced at the erroneous idea that if God has a Son, the Son must be younger; Father and Son are coeternal, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit likewise are coeternal. We must be on guard against thinking that first the Father had a Son, then Father and Son united to produce the Holy Spirit — and who knows what person may next emerge within the infinite fecundity of God? There is no question of succession, for there is no succession in eternity. The Father did not have to wait until he was old enough or mature enough to beget a Son or lonely enough to want one. He eternally is, in the plentitude of life and power. Merely by being, he knows himself with that limitless intensity of knowledge which necessarily produces the idea, the Son.

Nor must Father and Son wait while their love grows to the point where it can utter itself in a third person. Merely by being, they love with the fullness of loving-power; merely by loving thus intensely they utter their love: the Holy Spirit is as inevitable as Father and Son.

We have used the words “necessarily” and “inevitable.” They are worth a closer look. It is possible that the Son may seem less real to us because he is an idea in the mind of his Father. He is, we may feel, only a thought after all, whereas we ourselves are not simply thoughts in God’s mind; we really exist. But we exist only because God wills us to exist; if he willed us not to exist, we should cease to be.

But he cannot will the second person out of existence, any more than he willed him into existence. We must not imagine the Father feeling that it would be nice to have a son and thinking one into existence, and as liable to think him out of existence again if the humor took him. It is an exigency of the divine nature that the Father should thus know himself; simply by being himself the Father knows himself, generates the idea of himself; there is no element whatever of contingency in the existence of the second person; there is origin but no dependence. God is as necessarily Son as he is Father.

The same line of thought shows us the Holy Spirit, too, as necessarily existing. There is no difference among the three in eternity or necessity; and there is no inequality. The Father possesses the divine nature unreceived; Son and Holy Spirit possess it as received, but they possess it in its totality. They have received everything from the Father, everything. To quote again from the Preface of the Trinity:

Whatever we believe, on Thy revelation, of Thy glory, we hold the same of the Son, the same of the Holy Ghost, without any difference to separate them. So that in the affirmation of the true and eternal Godhead, we adore distinction in the Persons, oneness in the Essence, equality in majesty.

The distinction of action among the persons of the Blessed Trinity is a fact of the inner life of God. It is within the divine nature that each lives, knows, loves, as himself, distinct.

But the actions of the divine nature upon created beings — ourselves, for example — are the actions of all three persons, acting together as one principle of action. It is by Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that, for example, the universe is created and sustained in being, that each individual soul is created and sanctified in grace. There is no external operation of the divine nature which is the work of one person as distinct from the others.

Yet Scripture and Liturgy are constantly attributing certain divine operations to Father or Son or Holy Spirit. In the Nicene Creed, for instance, the Father is Creator, the Son is Redeemer, the Holy Spirit is Sanctifier, giver of life. That the Son should be called Redeemer is obvious enough: he did in fact become man and die for our salvation.

But since all three Persons create, why is the Father called Creator? Since all three persons sanctify, why is the Holy Spirit called Sanctifier? Why — to use a theological term — is creation appropriated to the one, sanctification to the other?

If there is to be appropriation, of course, we can see why it is done like this; we can see, in other words, how these particular appropriations are appropriate. Within the divine nature, the Father is Origin; Son and Holy Spirit both proceed from him. Creation — by which the world originates, and by which each soul originates — is spoken of as belonging especially to the Father.

Again, within the divine nature, the Holy Spirit is Love, the utterance of the love of Father and Son. Sanctification, grace — these are gifts, and gifts are the work of love; they are appropriated to the Holy Spirit. Grace is a created gift of love; the Holy Spirit is the uncreated gift of love. By grace, Father and Son express their love for us — as eternally they express their love for each other — in the Holy Spirit.

Is there any similar appropriation to the second person? As we have noted, he is called Redeemer; but not by appropriation, since he did in fact redeem us himself; it was not Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who became man and died for us, but the Son only (the Redemption was not an operation of the divine nature but of the human nature he made his own). But he has his appropriation all the same.

In the Creed, God the Father is called Creator, and we have just seen why. But in the opening of St. John’s Gospel, the second person seems to be Creator too. Creation, as a work of origination, bringing something into existence where nothing was, is appropriated to the Father.

But what was brought into existence was not a chaos; it was a universe ordered in its elements; it was a work of wisdom, therefore, and as such appropriated to the second person, the Word of God, who proceeds by the way of knowledge. The structure of the universe and all things in it, the order of the universe, is attributed especially to the Son; and when the order was brought to disorder by sin, it was the Son who became man to repair the disorder and make the new order of redeemed mankind.

But the perfect aptness of the attribution of operations to one or other person must not blind us to the reality that in all these operations all three persons are at work. Grace comes, says Our Lord, from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our souls; but he also says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him.” So it is in fact an indwelling of all three persons. Then why have appropriation at all?

In order, one may perhaps assume, to keep the distinction of the three persons ever present to our minds. If we invariably spoke of every divine operation upon us as the work of God, or the work of the three persons, we might come to feel that there was no real distinction between them at all, that Father, Son, and Spirit were simply three ways of saying the same thing.

But appropriation is a constant reminder to us that they are distinct; not only that, it reminds us of the personal character of each — that the Father is Origin, the Son proceeds by the way of Knowledge, the Holy Spirit by the way of Love.


Spirit by Frank Sheed

December 21, 2012
Sebastiano Bombelli:The Dove of the Holy Spirit

Sebastiano Bombelli:The Dove of the Holy Spirit

Frank Sheed had a distinguished career as evangelist, publisher, lecturer and writer. He and his wife, Maisie Ward, founded Sheed & Ward, the publishing house in London, introducing such Catholic giants as Dorothy Day, Jacques Maritain, François Mauriac and G.K. Chesterton to the world. The man never wrote a bad sentence and his power as an apologist was a parade of scholarship: “he wrote simply but never simplistically, in the clarity of thought which is the thought of the Church.”


Spirit Knows, Loves, Is Powerful
When I was very new as a street-corner speaker for the Catholic Evidence Guild, a questioner asked me what I meant by spirit. I answered, “A spirit has no shape, has no size, has no color, has no weight, does not occupy space.” He said, “That’s the best definition of nothing I ever heard.” Which was very reasonable of him. I had given him a list of things spirit is not, without a hint as to what it is.

In theology, spirit is not only a key word, it is the key word. Our Lord said to the Samaritan woman: “God is a spirit.”  Unless we know the meaning of the word spirit, we do not know what he said. It is as though he had said “God is a  – .” Which tells us nothing at all. The same is true of every doctrine; they all include spirit. In theology we are studying spirit all the time. And the mind with which we are studying it is a spirit too.

We simply must know what it is. And I don’t mean just a definition. We must live with the idea, make it our own, learn to handle it comfortably and skillfully. That is why I shall dwell upon it rather lengthily. Slow careful thinking here will pay dividends later.

We begin with our own spirit, the one we know best. Spirit is the element in us by which we know and love, by which therefore we decide. Our body knows nothing; it loves nothing (bodily pleasures are not enjoyed by the body; it reacts to them physically, with heightened pulse, for instance, or acid stomach; but it is the knowing mind that enjoys the reactions or dislikes them); the body decides nothing (though our will may decide in favor of things that give us bodily pleasure).

Spirit knows and loves. A slightly longer look at ourselves reveals that spirit has power, too. It is the mind of man that splits the atom; the atom cannot split the mind, it cannot even split itself, it does not know about its own electrons.

Spirit Produces What Matter Cannot
Mind, we say, splits the atom and calculates the light-years. It is true that in both these operations it uses the body. But observe that there is no question which is the user and which is the used. The mind uses the body, not asking the body’s consent. The mind is the principal, the body the instrument. Is the instrument essential? Must the mind use it to cope with matter? We have evidence in our own experience of mind affecting matter directly. We will to raise our arm, for example, and we raise it. The raising of the arm is a very complicated anatomical activity, but it is set in motion by a decision of the will. And as we shall see, the direct power the human mind has over its own body, mightier spirits have over all matter.

This mingling of spirit and matter in human actions arises from a fact which distinguishes man’s spirit from all others. Ours is the only spirit which is also a soul — that is to say, the life principle in a body. God is a spirit, but has no body; the angels are spirits, but have no body. Only in man spirit is united with a body, animates the body, makes it to be a living body.

Every living body — vegetable, lower animal, human — has a life-principle, a soul. And just as ours is the only spirit which is a soul, so ours is the only soul which is a spirit. Later we shall be discussing the union of spirit and matter in man to see what light it sheds upon ourselves. But for the present our interest is in spirit.

We have seen that in us spirit does a number of things; it knows and loves, and it animates a body. But what, at the end of all this, is spirit?

We can get at it by looking into our own soul, examining in particular one of the things it does. It produces ideas. I remember a dialogue one of our Catholic Evidence Guild speakers had with a materialist, who asserted that his idea of justice was the result of a purely bodily activity, produced by man’s material brain.

Speaker: How many inches long is it?

Questioner: Don’t be silly, ideas have no length.

Speaker: O.K. How much does it weigh?

Questioner: What are you doing? Trying to make a fool of me?

Speaker: No. I’m taking you at your word. What color is it? What shape?

The discussion at this point broke down, the materialist saying the Catholic was talking nonsense. It is nonsense, of course, to speak of a thought having length or weight or color or shape. But the materialist had said that thought is material, and the speaker was simply asking what material attributes it had. In fact, it has none, and the materialist knew this perfectly well. Only he had not drawn the obvious conclusion. If we are continuously producing things which have no attribute of matter, it seems reasonable to conclude that there is in us some element which is not matter to produce them. This element we call spirit.

Oddly enough, the materialist thinks of us as superstitious people who believe in a fantasy called spirit, of himself as the plain blunt man who asserts that ideas are produced by a bodily organ, the brain. What he is asserting is that matter produces offspring which have not one single attribute in common with it, and what could be more fantastic than that. We are the plain blunt men and we should insist on it.

Occasionally a materialist will argue that there are changes in the brain when we think, grooves or electrical discharges or what not. But these only accompany the thought; they are not the thought. When we think of justice, for instance, we are not thinking of the grooves in the brain; most of us are not even aware of them. Justice has a meaning, and it does not mean grooves. When I say that mercy is kinder than justice, I am not comparing mercy’s grooves with the stricter grooves of justice.

Our ideas are not material. They have no resemblance to our body. Their resemblance is to our spirit. They have no shape, no size, no color, no weight, no space. Neither has spirit, whose offspring they are. But no one can call it nothing, for it produces thought, and thought is the most powerful thing in the world — unless love is, which spirit also produces.

Spirit Is Not in Space
We have now come to the hardest part of our examination of spirit. It will have much sweat and strain in it, for you, for me; but everything will be easier afterwards.

We begin with a statement that sounds negative, but isn’t. A spirit differs from a material thing by having no parts. Once we have made our own the meaning of this, we are close to our goal.

A part is any element in a being which is not the whole of it, as my chest is a part of my body, or an electron a part of an atom. A spirit has no parts. There is no element in it which is not the whole of it. There is no division of parts as there is in matter. Our body has parts, each with its own specialized function; it uses its lungs to breathe with, its eyes to see with, its legs to walk with. Our soul has no parts, for it is a spirit. There is no element in our soul which is not the whole soul. It does a remarkable variety of things — knowing, loving, animating a body — but each of them is done by the whole soul; it has no parts among which to divide them up.

This partlessness of spirit is the difficulty for the beginner. Concentrate on what follows: a being which has no parts does not occupy space. There is hardly anything one can say to make this truth any clearer; you merely go on looking at it, until suddenly you find yourself seeing it. The most any teacher can do is to offer a- few observations. Think of anything one pleases that occupies space, and one sees that it must have parts; there must be elements in it which are not the whole of it — this end is not that, the top is not the bottom, the inside is not the outside. If it occupies space at all, be it ever so microscopic, or so infinitesimally submicroscopic, there must be some “spread.” Space is simply what matter spreads its parts in. But a being with no parts at all has no spread. Space and it have nothing whatever in common; it is spaceless; it is superior to the need for space.

The trouble is that we find it hard to think of a thing existing if it is not in space, and we find it very hard to think of a thing acting if it has no parts. As against the first difficulty we must remind ourselves that space is merely emptiness, and emptiness can hardly be essential to existence. As against the second we must remind ourselves that parts are only divisions, and dividedness can hardly be an indispensable aid to action.

As against both we may be helped a little by thinking of one of our own commonest operations, the judgments we are all the time making. When in our mind we judge that in a given case mercy is more useful than justice, we hardly realize what a surprising thing we have done. We have taken three ideas or concepts, mercy, justice, and usefulness. We have found some kind of identity between mercy and usefulness; mercy is useful. This means that we must have got mercy and usefulness together in our mind.

There can be no “distance” between the two concepts; if there were, they could not be got together for comparison and judgment. If the mind were spread out as the brain is, with the concept mercy in one part of the mind, and the concept usefulness in another, they would have to stay uncompared. The concepts justice and usefulness must similarly be together and some identity affirmed between them, the judgment made that justice is useful. That is not all. All three concepts must be together, so that the superior usefulness of mercy can be affirmed. The power to make judgments is at the very root of man’s power to live and to develop in the mastery of himself and his environment. And the power to make judgments is dependent upon the partlessness of the soul — one single, undivided thinking principle to take hold of and hold in one all the concepts we wish to compare.

One further truth remains to be stated about spirit. It is the permanent thing, the abiding thing.

Spirit Is Always Itself
As we have seen, a steady gaze will show us that a being which has no parts, no element in it that is not the whole of it, cannot occupy space. Continue to gaze, and we see that it cannot be changed into anything else; it cannot by any natural process be destroyed. We have at last arrived at the deepest truth about spirit — spirit is the being which has a permanent hold upon what it is, so that it can never become anything else.

Material beings can be destroyed in the sense that they can be broken up into their constituent parts; what has parts can be taken apart. But a partless being lies beyond all this. Nothing can be taken from it, because there is nothing in it but its whole self. We can conceive, of course, of its whole self being taken out of existence. This would be annihilation. But just as only God can create from nothing by willing a being to exist, so only God can reduce a being to nothing by willing it no longer to exist; and for the human soul, God has told us that he will not thus will it out of existence.

A spiritual being, therefore, cannot lose its identity. It can experience changes in its relation to other beings — e.g., it can gain new knowledge or lose knowledge that it has; it can transfer its love from this object to that; it can develop its power over matter; its own body can cease to respond to its animating power and death follows for the body — but with all these changes it remains itself, conscious of itself, permanent.

The student to whom all this is new should keep on thinking over these truths, turning back to them at odd moments — on the way to work, for instance, or in periods of insomnia. He should keep on looking at the relation between having parts and occupying space till he sees, really sees, that a partless being cannot be in space. He should keep on looking at the relation between having parts and ceasing to exist, till he sees as clearly that a partless being cannot ever be anything but itself.

We should try to bring together, to see together, all these separate truths about spirit. One way is to concentrate upon our own soul, the spirit we know best — wholly itself, forever itself, doing each thing that it does with its whole self. Yet the human soul is the lowest of spirits. The least of the angels is unimaginably superior in power (those baby angels, all cute and cuddly, which disfigure our children’s books, have nothing whatever to do with angels).

The philosophers tell us that angels could, so powerful are they, destroy our material universe if the mightier power of God did not prevent them — as that same power will prevent man from destroying it until God wills that it should end.

It is not enough to have learned what spirit is. We must build the knowledge into the very structure of our minds. Seeing spiritual reality must become one of the mind’s habits. When it does, we have reached the first stage of maturity. Materialism, however persuasively argued, can no longer take hold on us. We may not always be able to answer the arguments, but it makes no difference.

Materialism is repulsive; all our mental habits are set against it. It is as if a scientist were to produce arguments in favor of walking on all fours: we should find the idea repulsive; all our bodily habits would be set against us. That indeed is no bad comparison. The man who knows of the universe of spirit walks upright, the materialist hugs the earth.


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