Archive for the ‘Fr. Jean Daniélou’ Category


Reading Selections from An Introduction To Jean Daniélou 2 by Jonah Lynch

May 7, 2013
The Christian community… is not a return to the beginning, a nostalgia for an earlier, still undifferentiated condition, but it is that continuous creation of charity praised by St. Paul." Charity is hard, hard as a diamond, lucid, transparent, penetrating to the depths; hard, but not inflicting pain. Violence bruises, irony inflicts pinpricks; charity goes straight to the heart and heals the sufferer... One is obliged to confess, to lay bare the most hidden sores, and to know that in spite of this, one is loved with a never-failing love, which plumbs the depths of misery without harm or derision, and which restores the taste of life to the most despairing of souls.

The Christian community… is not a return to the beginning, a nostalgia for an earlier, still undifferentiated condition, but it is that continuous creation of charity praised by St. Paul.” Charity is hard, hard as a diamond, lucid, transparent, penetrating to the depths; hard, but not inflicting pain. Violence bruises, irony inflicts pinpricks; charity goes straight to the heart and heals the sufferer… One is obliged to confess, to lay bare the most hidden sores, and to know that in spite of this, one is loved with a never-failing love, which plumbs the depths of misery without harm or derision, and which restores the taste of life to the most despairing of souls.

Recently featured in Communio, a piece we discussed in our study group. Some reading selections follow, see previous post also.


Treat God as the Subject par excellence
The young theologian began to be known with the publication of an article in 1946 entitled Les orientations presentes de la pensee religieuse (Current directions in religious thought).” [Jean Daniélou, "Les orientations presentes de la pensee religieuse," Etudes 79 (1946): 5-21.] In it he describes the situation of theology immediately following World War II:

On the one hand, [there is] the loss of the sense of God’s transcendence by a rationalized theology that treated God as just another object of thought; on the other hand, the mummification of thinking that remained fixed in its scholastic forms and had lost contact with the movement of philosophy and science. But in trying to react against the first, modernism fell into agnosticism, and in seeking to remedy the second, it has arrived at the abuses of critical exegesis.”
[Jean Daniélou, "Les orientations presentes de la pensee religieuse," Etudes 79 (1946): 6.]


present-day theology is facing a threefold task: it must treat God as God, not as an object but as the Subject par excellence ; it must respond to the experiences of the modern soul and take into account the new dimensions that science and history have given to space and time … ; finally it must be a Jean Daniélou concrete attitude toward life, a response, at least, that involves the whole man, the interior light of an action in which life is played out in its entirety. Theology will be alive only if it responds to these aspirations.
[Jean Daniélou, "Les orientations presentes de la pensee religieuse," Etudes 79 (1946): 7]

The Task of Theology
The article then develops in more detail this threefold task under three headings: “Return to the sources,” “Philosophical influences,” and “Contact with life.” In these pages, Daniélou recovers a not-entirely negative reading of the philosophers of the past few centuries: “the human universe that writers like Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, or Kierkegaard have discovered for us, the material universe that opens up to our imaginations the depths of the history of the earth or of the starry skies, oblige theological thinking to expand to the same extent.” [Jean Daniélou, "Les orientations presentes de la pensee religieuse," Etudes 79 (1946): 13] Next he makes a rapid review of the main philosophical currents present at that time, while attempting to indicate some ways in which they should be evaluated.

Theology Must Have Contact With Life
Daniélou insists on contact with life. Theology, he writes,

must take into account the needs of souls, must be animated by an apostolic spirit and be entirely involved in the work of building up the Body of Christ…. It is impossible in our world to separate thought and life; an idea that is not first a testimony appears to be a negligible quantity. Therefore what the men and women of today, living in the world, will ask of theology is to explain to them the meaning of their life. It is no longer possible to dissociate theology and spirituality, as has been done too much in the past.
[Jean Daniélou, "Les orientations presentes de la pensee religieuse," Etudes 79 (1946): 17]

Theology Must Return To Its Sources
But the path that will prove most fruitful is the return to the sources: the Bible, the Fathers of the Church, the liturgy. From the Fathers he will learn to look for figures or types of Christ in the Old Testament. This search revolving around the figure — typology — will permit him to recover categories that were familiar to the Fathers but had been lost in scholastic theology. First of all, the category of history.

In his doctorate on Gregory of Nyssa, Daniélou had already found in epektasis a powerful key for rereading Christian doctrine in harmony with the development of a history, the progressive “economy” through which God manifests himself and lifts up humanity. This was evident already in his first book, Le signe du Temple (The Presence of God). He intuited that in this way one could do justice to a whole galaxy of themes that are dear to modernity without straying from orthodoxy. In the central part of his magisterial The Lord of History: Reflections on the Inner Meaning of History, Daniélou develops this intuition by emphasizing the action of God in history, the magnalia dei. History is the place in which one can know God, who reveals man to himself.”

[FN:  It is interesting to note that the famous formula in Gaudium et spes, 22, "Christ reveals man to himself," has precedents in the teaching of de Lubac during the years in which Daniélou was his student in Fourviere. In the Mystery of the Supernatural, de Lubac writes: "In revealing himself to us, Bérulle used to say, God revealed us to ourselves. All light shed upon God is light shed upon man." Cited in E. de Boysson, Le cardinal et l'hinduiste (Paris: Petite Renaissance, 2008), 119. A recent study by William Newton ("John Paul II and Gaudium et Spes 22," Anthropotes 24, no. 2 [2008]: 375-412) shows the key role that Daniélou played during the drafting of that document]

But Daniélou is not interested in the accomplishment of a Hegelian, this-worldly, deterministic scheme. He does not want to dissolve every enigma in a grandiose synthesis: rather, he is attracted by the dynamic character of an unceasing relationship with God.

Comprehensiveness and Completeness
Some men are called to specialize and to study precise arguments in greater depth, like miners who follow the vein of minerals along winding paths; Daniélou felt that he personally was required to do just this. Few scholars have done as much as he to promote theological and philological science.

But following these scientific paths could never be at the cost of comprehensiveness and completeness. Daniélou felt that the essential truth of the faith must be accessible to all human beings, within the span of time allowed for an ordinary life made up of much work and many preoccupations. Truth is not accessible only to specialists. “It is very important today to emphasize the fundamental, constitutive elements of the faith.”
E. de Boysson, Le cardinal et l’hinduiste (Paris: Petite Renaissance, 2008), 201

This demand for what is essential not only concerned the moral truths necessary to live well, but extended to every field of knowledge. Let us take the example of the scientific method applied to biblical exegesis, to which we have already alluded. According to Daniélou, it is necessary that

the Old Testament cease to be an archeological curiosity and become a vital food for souls. Today, however, this attempt runs up against the suspicions of some adherents of scientific exegesis who, rightly pleased that they have won out over a reactionary exegesis and restored to science its rights in the study of Scripture, fear that the return to the Fathers might signal a step backward and an easy short cut. But obviously there can be no question of that. The effort that is demanded of us is to recover, in light of the findings of contemporary scholarship, an interpretation that restores to the Old Testament its prophetic and figurative character, which makes up a large part of its interest for us.
Les orientations presentes de la pensee religieuse, 9

Theology Must Be Vital Food for Souls
There are two fundamental requirements expressed in this passage. First of all, in order for biblical exegesis to be “vital food for souls,” it must be possible to expound its essential contribution in a simple way that is accessible to the Christian people. No less importantly, this essential message must not be a distortion of the material itself. It is necessary for a biblical theology to be closely connected with “the findings of contemporary scholarship.” Danielou’s intention is neither to establish a circle of “the enlightened” nor to consult difficult scientific work with any less rigor.

These desires are quite apparent in his 1942 book, Le signe du Temple. The book inaugurates a sustained series of short popular works aimed at the general public that would continue throughout his life. In its eighty or so pages it tells the story of the world from the creation to the Parousia by way of the sign of the temple. Precisely along the lines that we saw earlier, this book is not just a learned exercise in symbolic interpretation.

In developing the theme of the Temple [our reflection] will discover in Scripture various ways in which God has dwelt among men — since this is what the Temple signifies — in an increasingly prominent fashion. Then this will guide us from the familiar God of the origins to the “hidden” God of Sinai; it will lead us from the indwelling of the Three Persons in the historical humanity of Jesus to his sojourn in the Mystical Body, the Temple of the new economy, and in each member of. this Mystical Body; finally it will reveal to us in his sacramental presence the prophetic anticipation and symbol in the time of the building of the eschatological Temple that St. John describes in his Apocalypse. Thus the Bible will have handed over to us some of its deepest mysteries.
Les orientations presentes de la pensee religieuse, 12

The Story Of Salvation As The Place Of God’s Affectionate Presence
Danielou’s text is written in calm, beautiful prose, full of wonder and devoid of fear, which helps the reader to perceive the immense story of salvation as the place of an affectionate Presence, like a river that carries us toward the sea of God, or a glorious epic. Danielou begins with cosmic religion. He has sympathy for the pagan who perceives a higher presence in the beauty of creation and in the power of natural forces, in the seasons and the cycles of fertility. Through visible things it is possible to know the invisible.

In this sense he does not accept the pessimism of much Protestant theology, in particular of Karl Barth, which regards paganism principally as an obstacle to faith in Jesus Christ. For Danielou, in contrast, this first position of man faced with the cosmos, confronted by the mystery of his own existence, is an entryway to the profound reality of God. Creation speaks to us about the profound unity of salvation history. “The Christian mystery is the mystery of creation,”[Jean Danielou, Le signe du Temple, ou, De la presence de Dieu (Paris: Gallimard, 1942) 9] reads the first sentence. A few pages later, Daniélou makes this more concrete:

God has in some way left creation unfinished, and man’s mission is to bring it to fulfillment. Through his work he exploits unknown material resources, and thus work is sacred, being co-operation in the task of creation. . . . Man is thus the mediator through whom the visible universe is gathered together and offered up, the priest of that virginal creation over which God lovingly watches.
Jean Danielou, Le signe du Temple, ou, De la presence de Dieu (Paris: Gallimard, 1942). Cited from the English translation by Walter Roberts, The Presence of God (Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1959), 11-12

The biblical account also educates us into the current vocation of human beings: man is called not only to respect creation but to collaborate with the Creator so as to bring it to completion. All work participates in this dimension, which is accomplished in the sacrifice of the Mass, in which “the fruit of the earth and work of human hands” becomes the Body and Blood of Christ.

The Temple of the Church
Next, Danielou turns to look not only at the past but also at to the present and the future. The central chapter is dedicated to the “temple of the Church,” the temple of our present day. Here we find the most fascinating pages in the whole book: “[T]he Presence of God is bound up with charity: `If we love one another, God abideth in us” [Jean Daniélou, Le signe du Temple] The Christian community… is not a return to the beginning, a nostalgia for an earlier, still undifferentiated condition, but it is that continuous creation of charity praised by St. Paul.” Charity is hard,

hard as a diamond, lucid, transparent, penetrating to the depths; hard, but not inflicting pain. Violence bruises, irony inflicts pinpricks; charity goes straight to the heart and heals the sufferer… One is obliged to confess, to lay bare the most hidden sores, and to know that in spite of this, one is loved with a never-failing love, which plumbs the depths of misery without harm or derision, and which restores the taste of life to the most despairing of souls.
Jean Daniélou, Le signe du Temple, ou, De la presence de Dieu (Paris: Gallimard, 1942) 32-33

The Church, which is much more than an edifice or an institution, however venerable, is reborn and rebuilt in charity. These vertiginous pages then open the way to the final chapters, which are dedicated to the “prophetic,” “mystical,” and “heavenly” temple. Or better, to the presence of God in contemplation and prayer, in the experience of the mystics, and in the eternal life that awaits and attracts us. From this very first book we can see the style that will be the hallmark of all Daniélou’s literary production: it brings everything in — poetic passages and philological research, typology and e discoveries of archeology — while leading to a precise and attractive description of the mystery of man and God.

He knew how to use scientific instruments cordially, without being content, however, with the cut-and-dry rationalism that is often their final product. He preferred to investigate the entirety of the real to the dogged pursuit of a detail. It is a method that respects the breadth of vision of the Fathers, who were often poets and pastors, theologians and exegetes, without creating any opposition among the disciplines. The adventure of knowledge involves the whole man, including his emotions, his desires, and the symbols that resist exhaustive comprehension but link us back to the beginnings of time and spur us onward toward our luminous celestial destiny.

Let us note, in conclusion, that Danielou seems to anticipate by around sixty years the exegetical method that Pope Benedict XVI recently proposed in his three volumes on Jesus of Nazareth, in which he respectfully uses the historical-critical method but invites scholars to proceed further.

[FN: If scholarly exegesis is not to exhaust itself in constantly new hypotheses, becoming theologically irrelevant, it must take a methodological step forward and see itself once again as a theological discipline, without abandoning its historical character.... It must recognize that a properly developed faith-hermeneutic is appropriate to the text and can be combined with a historical hermeneutic, aware of its limits, so as to form a methodological whole... .

In Dei Verbum, 12
Fundamentally this is a matter of finally putting into practice the methodological principles formulated for exegesis by the Second Vatican Council (in Dei Verbum, 12), a task that unfortunately has scarcely been attempted thus far"
(Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week -- From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, trans. Philip J. Whitmore [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011], xiv-xv). It would be interesting to examine more closely this convergence of intentions.]

Not only the text, but also the Spirit; not only the fact, but also its significance within the great story of God with man. Time is not the abyss that separates us from the beatitude of Eden, leaving in our hands only a few fragments of parchment that are irremediably corrupted. On the contrary: time is the canvas on which an even more grandiose work than the first one is being executed. The work of Daniélou helps us to see it emerge.


Reading Selections from An Introduction To Jean Daniélou 1 by Jonah Lynch

May 6, 2013
I believe very deeply that a truth exists, in other words, that ultimately things are one way and not another, that one cannot manipulate things at will...The only thing that interests me is the marvelous adventure of the intellect, the exploration of this inexhaustible world which is at the same time the world of beauty, of the person, and of God. The intellect is, for me, this slow, progressive disclosure of what is real.

I believe very deeply that a truth exists, in other words, that ultimately things are one way and not another, that one cannot manipulate things at will…The only thing that interests me is the marvelous adventure of the intellect, the exploration of this inexhaustible world which is at the same time the world of beauty, of the person, and of God. The intellect is, for me, this slow, progressive disclosure of what is real.

Jonah Lynch, F.S.C.B., a priest of the Missionary Fraternity of St. Charles Borromeo, is rector of the Fraternity’s house of formation in Rome.


[Daniélou ] does not want to dissolve every enigma in a grandiose synthesis: rather, he is attracted by the dynamic character of an unceasing relationship with God. The Christian Mystery Is The Mystery Of Creation


Who Was Cardinal Jean Daniélou?
One of the forgotten figures of the impassioned theological times before and after the Second Vatican Council is Cardinal Jean Daniélou  (1905-1974). He was one of the driving forces of the nouvelle theologie, among the founders of Sources Chretiennes, the editor of theological journals, the author of around sixty books, and one of the most authoritative voices at the Council.

Also a fine philologist, Daniélou was capable of painstaking studies from the scientific perspective — we need only think of his monumental three-volume work on the history of Christian doctrine before Nicea. [FN: Theologie du Judeo-christianisme (Tournai: Desclee, 1958); Message evangelique et culture hellenistique (Tournai: Desclee, 1961); Les origines du christianisme latin (Paris: Cerf, 1978). English editions translated and edited by John Austin Baker, vol. 3 with David Smith: The Theology of Jewish Christianity; Gospel Message and Hellenistic Culture; Origins of Latin Christianity (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1964, 1973, 1976). In a recent article in L’Osservatore Romano, Manlio Simonetti writes that these three volumes were "epochal" because of their value and influence on subsequent studies ("L'eredità di Jean Daniélou," L'Osservatore Romano [1 July 2011], 8).]

Daniélou’s Influence
Today Daniélou remains a highly relevant, if somewhat undervalued, voice. His thought and his pastoral activity anticipated by several decades the efforts of ecumenism and of interreligious dialogue that continue in our day.
Evidence of Daniélou’s approach to the interpretation of Scripture can be found in the work of the Pope Benedict XVI:

What Pope Benedict XVI announces in the foreword of his first volume Jesus could be the program of Daniélou ‘s whole oeuvre:

“You can see that Old and New Testaments belong together. This Christological hermeneutic which sees Jesus Christ as the key to the whole and learns from him how to understand the Bible as a unity, presupposes a prior act of faith. It cannot be the conclusion of a purely historical method. But this act of faith is based upon — historical reason — and so makes it possible to see the internal unity of Scripture. By the same token, it enables us to understand anew the individual elements that have shaped it, without robbing them of their historical finality…”

If instead we take this conviction of faith as our starting point for reading the texts with the help of historical methodology and its intrinsic openness to something greater, they are opened up and they reveal a way and a figure that are worthy of belief”
Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, trans. Adrian J. Walker [New York: Doubleday, 2007], xix — xxxiii).]

The Realism of Daniélou
Daniélou had the fundamental openness of a realist, of someone who believes in the goodness of creation and hence is interested in knowing every aspect of what is real. He had a profound confidence in reality, and he believed that the world has an order and that s order is knowable:

I believe very deeply that a truth exists, in other words, that ultimately things are one way and not another, that one cannot manipulate things at will…. The only thing that interests me is the marvelous adventure of the intellect, the exploration of this inexhaustible world which is at the same time the world of beauty, of the person, and of God. The intellect is, for me, this slow, progressive disclosure of what is real. [Jean Daniélou , Et qui est mon prochain?: Mémoires (Paris: Editions Stock, 1974), 27-28]

The cardinal understood that what is real discloses itself slowly, which is why he tended not to make statements dial that go beyond experience.

A Willingness To Dwell Within The Mystery
Like the French poet Charles Peguy, Daniélou was not always able to arrive at a neat decision with regard to the problem that he was confronting.

This willingness to dwell within the mystery, not to reduce life to a definition, to prefer the symbol to the syllogism, made him flexible and open to discover the ways of the Spirit even in places which at first glance were not very promising. This is one of the fundamental features in Daniélou ‘s work, one of the most important motifs in his continual openness toward the cultures and religions of the world.

In his spiritual retreats Daniélou plainly, almost exaggeratedly, posed the burning questions of faith: “But what is the ground of my right to believe this impossible fact that God has intervened in the history of man? What justifies my right to hold to the truth of the sacred history?

Have I the right to place absolute trust in the testimony of Scripture?” [Jean Daniélou , Mythes paiens et mystere chretien (Paris: Fayard, 1966), 80; English edition Myth and Mystery, trans. P. J. Hepburne-Scott (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1968), 107.] And he answered in the affirmative, testifying to the beauty of the faith as a response to the problems of life:

The message of Christ has never had a brighter future ahead of it. It is the only one to offer a response to radical evil, to the forces of death and misfortune to which man is captive and that economic, social, political, and scientific reforms cannot reach. Christ alone descended into these endless depths of misery that are inaccessible to man, on which he has no grasp, in order to destroy the venomous source from which every evil and suffering spreads through humanity. Considering all religions, all ideologies, the message of the risen Christ is the only one to resolve the ultimate drama of the human condition.
Daniélou , Et qui est mon prochain?: Mémoires (Paris: Editions Stock, 1974), p. 236]

Daniélou on Contemplation and Action
In the preface to his French translation of St. Gregory of Nyssa’s The Life of Moses, the inaugural volume of the series Sources Chrétiennes, Daniélou writes:

The purpose of Gregory’s exegesis … is not just to discover the spiritual sense, but also to bring to light the organic character of the spiritual life — and thereby to develop strictly speaking a theology of the spiritual life having a scientific character.
Gregoire de Nysse, La Vie de Moise (Paris: Cerf, 1942), 24-25

Something similar could be said about the literary production of the French cardinal. He too wanted not only to reassert the existence and the importance of topics that had been left in obscurity, but much more: to propose anew a theology rooted in prayer. Activity exhausts itself in busyness unless it is founded in contemplation. A purely scientific approach to theology, which gives activity the privileged position, guarantees nothing, since the object of theology is knowable only insofar as it is revealed. We must wait for this revelation. Daniélou understood that the primacy of contemplation remains true in all aspects of life — “I become fast only after being slow,” he writes.”[Daniélou , Et qui est mon prochain?, 22]

This insistence on the order whereby action follows contemplation is by no means the expression of disengagement. Daniélou ‘s openness and willingness to act in and for the world was foreshadowed in the verse from St. John he chose for the prayer cards commemorating his ordination: “And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1John 3:16).

Daniélou’s Purity Of Spirit
Daniélou learned this self-giving from the great tradition of the Church and also from his contemporaries, such as Georges Bernanos and Francois Mauriac. He learned from their novels an image of a priest who was completely devoted to the people only because he was completely reliant on God. The spirit of the Cure of Ars attracted Daniélou : “not very intelligent, not very cunning, full of temptations, but the bearer of something mystical.”[Daniélou , Et qui est mon prochain?, 69] As an apostle, Daniélou imitated Christ by going down into the miseries of the world without regard for himself or his reputation.

“Day or night he found time for people of every kind,” writes Hans Urs von Balthasar in the foreword to Daniélou ‘s book, Prayer. For “the members of his Cercle Saint JeanBaptiste …: for philosophers, writers, artists; and also for those dubious circles he entered with Parzival-like naturalness — he never shunned contact with them.” [Hans Urs von Balthasar, foreword to Prayer: The Mission cf the Church, by Jean Daniélou , trans. David Louis Schindler, Jr. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), xi-xii.] This refusal to submit to social norms brought the cardinal calumny at the time of his death on 20 May 1974. But it matters little: Daniélou ‘s whole life testifies to his purity of spirit.


The Presence Of God– Jean Daniélou

May 2, 2013
After his short spell as a military chaplain ended with the fall of France in 1940, he devoted himself to the study of the Fathers of the Church, and with Fr. Henri de Lubac was one of the founders of Sources Chrétiennes, a popular yet scholarly series of key writings from the patristic period. Over the years, Daniélou produced a flow of books and articles on the worship and theology of the Early Church. Such was his reputation and influence that Blessed Pope John XXIII named him as a theological expert for the Second Vatican Council. In 1969 he was made a cardinal by Pope Paul VI, and elected to the Académie Française

After his short spell as a military chaplain ended with the fall of France in 1940, he devoted himself to the study of the Fathers of the Church, and with Fr. Henri de Lubac was one of the founders of Sources Chrétiennes, a popular yet scholarly series of key writings from the patristic period. Over the years, Daniélou produced a flow of books and articles on the worship and theology of the Early Church. Such was his reputation and influence that Blessed Pope John XXIII named him as a theological expert for the Second Vatican Council. In 1969 he was made a cardinal by Pope Paul VI, and elected to the Académie Française

An incredible essay which requires an intense reading by the late Cardinal Jean Daniélou, taken from The Presence of God, trans. Walter Roberts Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1960), ch. 1: The Cosmic Temple, 9-14. Jean Daniélou, S.J. (1905-1974), was an influential French theologian and author, one of the main movers of Vatican II.

This was one of our readings for the Boston Communio Study Group meeting at St. Clement’s Eucharistic Shrine in Boston. Our focus is the monthly Communio International Catholic Review. We each choose an article from the review and discuss. We discussed this essay along with another An Introduction To Jean Daniélou by Fr. Jonah Lynch. You are more than welcome to join us. We’ll be there next at 3:00pm on May 19th. Contact me and I will make sure you have the readings for the next meeting. We are a monthly reading group and if you like payingattentiontothesky you will love the Christian fellowship you will gain with the group.


Through man the silent litany of things becomes an explicit act of worship.


On the lowest level, which is not essentially Christian, but is part of the historical heritage of Christianity, though generally separated from it, the Christian mystery is the mystery of creation. I mean by its not only an original dependence of the universe in relation to a personal and transcendent God, but also the actual dependence of all things in his sight, and consequently a divine Presence which confers upon the whole cosmos a sacramental value.

At the birth of mankind, the whole creation, issuing from the hands of God, is holy; the earthly Paradise is nature in a state of grace. The House of God is the whole cosmos. Heaven is his tent, his tabernacle; the earth is his “footstool.” There is a whole cosmic liturgy, that of the source of the flowers and birds.

Multiplied blessings made an overflow,
The silence of the soul was a still pond.
The rising sun became a monstrance now,
Filling the heavens with a shining sound.
Smoke was a censer, and the cedar-trees
Composed an ever-mounting barricade.
Days of delight were as a colonnade
Fanned by the calmness of the twilight breeze.
Charles Peguy, “Eve,” in Ouvres Poetiques Completes (Paris: Gallimard, 1948), 710

The time of the patriarchs still retains something of this paradisal grace. The Spirit of God still broods upon the waters. Yahweh is not yet the hidden God, dwelling apart within the tabernacle. He talks with Noah on familiar terms. His relationship with Abraham is that of a friend:

And the Lord appeared to him in the vale of Mambre as he was sitting at the door of his tent, in the very heat of the day. And when he lifted up his eyes, there appeared to him three men standing near him: and as soon as he saw them, he ran to meet them from the door of his tent, and adored down to the ground. And he said: Lord, if I have found favor in thy sight, pass not away from thy servant: but I will fetch a little water; and wash ye your feet, and rest ye under the tree.
Genesis 8:1-4

Abraham has that parrhesia with God, that freedom of speech which, in the days of ancient Greece, was the right of a free citizen, and by which St. Paul and the brethren symbolized the liberty of the children of God with their Father. The whole of nature is still a temple consecrated to him. A group of trees, a spring of fresh water, these are fragments of Paradise in which he offers sacrifices; a rough stone is an altar dedicated to him.

This is the primitive level, common to all men, whose traces are still to be found, twisted, soiled, perverted, in every religion. So in Greek religion we have the sacred wood, the alsos, with its fountain; but polytheism has corrupted the primitive gesture. God “in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless he left not himself without testimony, doing good from heaven, giving rains and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” [Acts 14:16-17]

Only the wise men continued to seek for signs in the heavenly Temple, contemplating, examining, and defining, according to the positions of the stars, the sites of towns and altars. The shepherds and the Magi are, as it were, the flowering in the Gospel of this underlying, primary stratum, which corruption has not altogether spoiled, nor Mosaic revelation destroyed.

For us today, it still constitutes the holy in its rudimentary form, which darkly hints at the Divine Presence in the silence of the night, in the shadows of the forest, in the vastness of the desert, in the lightning-flash of genius, in the purity of love. It is this basic level that was recognized by that Boer farmer to whom Otto refers, who in the solitude of the desert, where the sun poured forth its rays upon the plain, was aware of a voice speaking to him. It is this level that explains the religious awe with which the Earth deserves to be surrounded.

But this sacramental element has no meaning except in relation to a personal Presence. “Awe,” writes Peguy, “stretches forth indeed to encompass the whole universe. We too easily forget that the universe is creation; and awe, like charity, is due to every creature.” It is the personal Presence, at once hidden and revealed by signs, that awakens in us this holy dread.

In the cosmic Temple, man is not living primarily in his own house, but in the house of God. This is why he knows that he should revere those creatures who do not belong to him, that he can lay hands on nothing without permission. All is holy; the trees are heavy with sacramental mysteries. Primitive sacrifice is simply the cognition of the sovereign realm of God. He takes the first-fruits, and leaves the rest to man. But at the same time, man is part of creation and has his role to play in it. God has in some way left creation unfinished, and man’s mission is to bring it to fulfillment. Through his work he exploits unknown material resources, and thus work is sacred, being co-operation in the task of creation. Through knowledge and art he removes it from its ephemeral condition to enable it subsist spiritually.

[FN:  This is well expressed by P.J. Toulet:
Whispering woods, if I should die,
Perish without my artistry.]

Indeed, by sacramental use man confers on visible things their supreme dignity, not merely as signs and symbols, but as effective means of grace in the soul. So water effects purification, oil communicates power and unction, salt gives the savor of heavenly things. Man is thus the mediator through whom the visible universe verse is gathered together and offered up, the priest of that virginal creation over which God lovingly watches. Through man the silent litany of things becomes an explicit act of worship.

Nature without me is vain, it is I who give it a meaning;
All things become in me eternal, are laid on my altar.
Water now washes the soul, not only the travel-worn body;
My bread becomes for me the very substance of God.
Paul Claudel, Cinq Grandes Odes (Paris: Gallimard, 1936), 174.

Thus the whole of nature, as St. Paul says, expects that man will lead it to its end. The sacred character of love, in particular, is not derived from the shadowy presence of the race using individuals for its own ends, but from the Presence of God in the handiwork that love causes men to share. “When I was close to him I nearly always had the sense of God’s actual presence,” wrote Alice Ollé-Laprune of her husband.

Such is the innocence of creation. Creatures are holy, expecting that man will lead them to their goal. But man has the power to violate this order. When he turns away from God, when he profanes himself by ceasing to be a consecrated creature, he also profanes the world on which he imposes sacrilegious uses.

The material inventions that are meant to help men to free themselves from matter and bring to realization the community of mankind, we transform into instruments of hatred. The beauty of the body, which is the lovely reflection of the beauty of the soul, its visible “glory” which should awaken in us loving awe, we transform into an instrument of selfish pleasure. The blessings of culture, intended to help men to become more truly human by developing the powers of their minds, we transform into an instrument of perverted specialization and highbrow aestheticism.

But creation itself is free from all these faults, wherever she may “suffer violence.” She, too, rebels in her holiness and purity against such profanation by sacrilegious rites; and she expresses her rebellion by the resistance that she makes when we turn her aside from her goal. Between her and us there is a battle waged, which is the result of sin.

You know nothing in the vast universe
That may not be a means of unhappiness.
Charles Peguy, “Eve,” in Ouvres Poetiques Completes

This is the hostile world that we know so well, where everything is threatening; and the more sensitive we are, the more it is so. No one has felt this more acutely than Rilke:

The terrible in every breath of air,
You breathe it all too clearly
No citation was given in the original translated publication.

The rebellion of creatures is the cause of suffering, which is the resistance of matter to our will. It was unknown in Paradise, it will be unknown in Paradise Regained, and Jesus already restores this Paradise, mastering the winds and waves, healing the sick. It is the cloudiness of the world that, far from showing us God, hides Him from us and confines us to earth. So we become slaves, we that are called to be kings. What are the fires of hell but the rebellion of the creature, defined all too clearly?

How are we to rediscover the lost harmony, how are we to reconciled with things? Here is the nostalgia that lies perhaps at the center of poetry, which is a quest for the cosmic privileges of Paradise Lost, a glorification of the body without using the conversion of the heart as intermediary.

But everything depends on this conversion. Things themselves have never changed. They remain what they always were; they await us in brotherly innocence. It is we that are “underlings.” If I seek to rediscover the joys of Paradise, to move at ease amid created things, I must give them back their proper meaning, I must restore their honorable mission as servants of humanity. Then they will cease to burden me with silent reproaches, they will begin once again to chant before me:

None but the pure heart knows
The perfume of the rose
Paul Claudel, Figures et Paraboles (Paris: Gallimard, 1936), 28.

I must recover the purity of my glance. Then only will creatures once more become bearers of light from heaven. It is this paradisal reconciliation that we find in St. Francis of Assisi, in St. John of the Cross: “Yes, the heavens are mine and e earth is mine and the peoples are mine…. What more can you sire? What do you seek, my soul?”

Nothing remains of our prostration before the powers of the cosmos and history, those words of Damocles hanging over mankind. Cosmic fear is vanquished, the universe has become once more a Temple where we are at home with God in the cool of the evening, where man comes forward, silent and composed, absorbed in his task as in a perpetual liturgy, attentive to that Presence which fills him with awe and tenderness.


The God of Jesus Christ III — by Jean Daniélou

March 16, 2012

The Holy Spirit 1750 by Corrado Giaquinto

In this concluding piece of his meditation on the God of Jesus Christ. Cardinal Jean Daniélou brings together the theology of the Holy Spirit that we find in the Old and New Testaments. A tour de force, a companion piece of which you can find here (The God of the Philosophers).


It is first of all in the order of creation that the activity of the Spirit is revealed. It is the Creator Spiritus; and indeed it makes its first appearance in verse 2 of Genesis: “The spirit (ruah) of God was stirring above the waters.” The image is that of the eagle beating the air above its nest to make the eaglets fly. So the Spirit of God arouses creation from nothingness. This theme appears again and again in the Old Testament:

If he were to take back his spirit to himself,
withdraw to himself his breath,
All flesh would perish together,
and man would return to the dust
Job 34:14-15.

The liturgy takes this up, applying it justly to the cosmos renewed by grace, in the verse that the Psalms apply to the first creation:

When you send forth your spirit,
they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth.
Psalms 103(104):30

The action of the Spirit is later revealed in history. It is to be exercised in two ways: first it is the Spirit of Yahweh who seizes upon certain people to arouse them by superhuman power to the accomplishment of certain great works of God. This appears especially in the Book of Judges, which refers to the conquest of Canaan. “The Spirit of the Lord enveloped Gideon, and he blew the horn” (Judges, 6:34); thus he aroused the courage of the troops and led them to victory. It was the same Spirit that “came upon” Samson, giving him strength to rend a young lion with his bare hands, and to slay thirty men single-handedly (Judges, 14:6-19), to break, “as flax that is consumed by fire”, the new cords that bound his arms, and then, armed with the jawbone of a donkey, to slay a thousand Philistines (Judges 15:14-15).

Elsewhere the Spirit gives certain men knowledge of God’s plan. We say in the Creed, “He has spoken through the prophets.” The prophet is he to whom the Holy Spirit shows the secret of his ways. It is the Holy Spirit alone who fathoms the depths of God and shows us his mystery. In other words, the Holy Spirit leads history through his anointed and explains it through his prophets; but it is he who is here the primal cause.

We should have to quote all the prophets at this point. Thus David: “The Spirit of the Lord hath spoken by me: and his word by my tongue” (2 Sam [2 Kings] 23:2). Thus Ezekiel: “The spirit entered into me … and he set me upon my feet: and I heard him speaking to me” (Ezek 2:2). The Second Epistle of Peter recalls this doctrine: “Holy men of God spoke, inspired by the Holy Spirit” (1:21).

Pagan antiquity also had a doctrine of prophecy and divination, but among the Ancients divination was based on another phenomenon; it was connected with the idea of pneuma; but it is a question here of a material breath, emanating from the earth, which in trances enters into the diviner, puts him in relation with unknown cosmic forces, and enables him to perceive connections that escape ordinary consciousness.

Verbeke gives a useful account of this process: “The power to predict coming events is allied to universal sympathy, to the interdependence of cosmic events; all the happenings of the cosmos are elements in a great whole, among which there is continual interaction. However, all men are not able to discover these secret connections. Yet there are certain privileged men who can attain divinatory enthusiasm.” [La Doctrine du Pneuma, p. 529] We see here the difference between the two conceptions: for pagan thought, it is a matter of hidden energies in the cosmos that must be tapped; in the biblical perspective the action of ruah raises man above his nature, bringing him into the world of God.

This action of the Spirit, which directs sacred history, is to appear in all its fullness in the third stage of the magnalia of God, that of the Incarnation. It is the Holy Spirit that is the agent here. The archangel Gabriel says to Mary, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee”;[ Luke Ch.35] and in Matthew: “Before they came together, she was found with child, of the Holy Spirit.” [Matthew 1:18] At the Baptism, the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove, to inaugurate his public life and his prophetic ministry: “And Jesus being full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the desert.” [Luke 4:1] Jesus applies to himself the words of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord … hath anointed me”, [Luke 4:18] and “I cast out devils by the Spirit of God.” [Matthew 12:28]

Thus the Incarnation opened a new age in the history of the world, that in which the Holy Spirit was plenteously spread abroad through the manhood of Jesus. After the Ascension, the Spirit that was in him was communicated to the Church, which is his Body. This outpouring of the Spirit took place on the day of Pentecost: “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting…. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak with divers tongues.” [Acts 2:2, 4]

The result of this descent of the Spirit is twofold. On the one hand, it aroused the Apostles, those weak men who had been scattered on Good Friday, with a new, superhuman power. They went forth now to bear witness, to perform the great acts of God. There came upon them a divine power whereby they spoke with authority, and with an effect beyond that of human words; they performed miracles, they converted hearts.

But all these facts that continue the action of the Spirit in the Old Testament only translate this action in an outward manner; for the new event of Pentecost is the coming of the Spirit into souls, to communicate to them the new life, that of grace. As the Spirit at the beginning brooded upon the waters, arousing in them biological life, so now the Holy Spirit performs a new act of creation, that of the spiritual life in the strict sense of the word. This life is superior to the forces of nature and intellect, for it shares in the life of God himself. The chief text here is that of the Epistle to the Romans: “You have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba” (Father). [Romans 8:15] Only the Holy Spirit can permit us to know in faith “the deep things of God”. [1 Corinthians 2:10]

In this new activity, which is that of the creation of the cosmos of grace, the Holy Spirit is revealed with greater clarity. First it appears as divine; it is the Holy Spirit, that is, its function is, strictly speaking, the divinization of the soul; it brings us into the sphere of God, and that is the whole purpose of Christianity. Already, from the beginning, it has appeared to us as performing works beyond the power of man. But here it appears as performing a work that is strictly holy and divinizing. Henceforth, the nature of ruah is revealed in this way. It is truly a divine force working in history to achieve the transfiguration of the world and the edification of the Body of Christ. The Spirit is the living, working soul of the Church, edifying the mystical Christ through the centuries.

But a further aspect, of hidden origin, now makes its appearance: this is the personal character of the Spirit. It is not only a question of an impersonal power, as the Old Testament might lead us to suppose. Christ presents the Spirit as a new intercessor and puts it on the same level as himself — and his own personality is beyond question. The Acts attribute to it personal activity; it bears witness, it teaches, it feels sorrow at unfaithfulness, it dwells in the soul; it is thus a personal presence, a presence more intimately concerned with man than the general presence of God in creation, and even connected with the nature of grace. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit, says St. Paul (1 Corinthians 3:16). Thus man is fully entitled to pray,

Veni Creator Spiritus,
Mentes tuorum visita.

We began by discussing the activity of the Holy Spirit in the life of the cosmos; then we saw how it operated in history, and finally in the world of grace. In this way it is revealed in all its reality, as God and as a Person. But elsewhere we have seen that the Word was also revealed to us as God and as a Person. Before them, the Father appeared to us as the original principle, he also being both God and a Person. Thus, little by little, the mystery has been unveiled before us of a God in whom there are Three Persons. This result is obtained by studying the evidence presented by the facts recorded in the Old and New Testaments.

But now comes the final question — that of the relationships between these Persons. For we see that, before they are revealed in nature and history, they exist eternally in God. Therefore there must be eternal relationships between them. These relationships are to be seen reflected in the mirror of the missions of the Trinity. It will be the task of theologians — and St. John is their leader — to begin with the biblical data that have an essential bearing on the activity of the Three Persons in time, and to try to contemplate and express their eternal relationships. Thus theology will rise toward primordial reality, shrouded in darkness and forbidden to human sight, but accessible to man’s understanding through its activity in the world.

The life of the Trinity is a perfect unity. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are but a single God. “I and the Father are one”, says Christ in St. John (10:30). This implies the joint possession of the same single divine nature: “All things whatsoever the Father hath, are mine” (John 16:1 5). For “the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things which himself doth” (John 5:20). He communicates to the Son the life that is his: “For as the Father hath life in himself, so he hath given to the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5:26). And as he has the power of judgment, he “bath given him power to do judgment” (John:27). Thus Christ can say of the Father, “All my things are thine, and thine are mine” (John 17:10). This perfect unity is the pattern and source of all unity: “That they may be one, as we also are one” (John 17:22).

However, this union is not the communication by the Father of a life that he first possessed alone. As Pere Lebreton has written, St. John insists on the eternal character of this union and on the perfect mutuality that it implies. He expresses this through the doctrine of the immanence of the divine Persons in one another, which implies their eternal coexistence: “I am in the Father, and the Father in me” (John, 14:10). And Christ continues, “The words that I speak to you, I speak not of myself. But the Father who abideth in me, he doth the works. Believe you not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me?” (John 14:10-11).

This mutual immanence of the Persons is the seal of their coeternity. It constitutes the insurmountable barrier between the doctrine of the Trinity and any philosophy of emanation. It makes the Trinity of Persons constitute the very being of God, and not a secondary feature in the unity of nature.

It follows from this that the Son was perfectly with the Father; he who knows him knows the Father in him in his perfect likeness, since there is nothing that distinguishes the Father except the being of the Son. This is the meaning of Christ’s reply to Philip, who asked Him, “Lord, shew us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Christ replies, “Have I been so long a time with you; and have you not known me? Philip, he that seeth me seeth the Father also” (John 14:8-9). Accordingly, he that honors the Father honors the Son also (John 5:23). Conversely, the Jews reject Christ “because they have not known the Father, nor me” (John 16:3). “He who honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father” (John 5:23); and “what things soever he doth, these the Son also doth in like manner” (John 5:19).

But this unique Godhead, the object of a unique worship, is possessed by each Person according to his distinguishing property. This node of possession is what formally constitutes him as a Person, since this alone is proper to him. The Son is he who is begotten by the Father. Throughout St. John’s Gospel, this generation is expressed by the dependence of the Son in relation to the Father, which implies no inferiority, but only a certain order: “Amen, amen, I say unto you, the Son cannot do anything of himself, but what he seeth the Father doing: for what things soever he doth, these the Son also doth in like manner” (John 5:19).

As Pere Lebreton again points out, it is not a question here of the human actions of Christ, but of his eternal, divine activity. [Origines du dogme de la Trinite, 1, 523] Similarly this eternal preexistence of the Word “in the beginning with God” was stated in the Prologue. St. John returns to this theme in his Gospel, when he reports Christ as speaking of “the glory which I had, before the world was, with thee” (John 17:5).

Just as the Son is the One God with the Father, so is he with the Spirit. As the Son perfectly knows the Father, “For the Spirit searches all things, yea, the deep things of God…. So the things also that are of God no man knoweth, but the Spirit of God.” (1 Corinthians 2: 10-11). But its own character is that it possesses this fullness of the divine Being by receiving it both from the Father and the Son. On the one hand, St. John tells us that the Spirit “proceedeth from the Father” (John 15:26) and is “the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name” (John 14:26). But elsewhere St. John shows us the Spirit as a river of living water whose source is in the Son: “He that believeth in me, as the scripture saith, Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).

Similarly, in most cases, the Spirit is presented as proceeding both from the Father and the Son. This appears in a series of texts that are seldom brought together, describing the mysterious counsels of the Three Persons during the ten days that separate the Ascension of Christ from the outpouring of the Spirit — texts that are full of a silence like that which preceded the creation of the world.

But these passages enable us to glimpse something of that “hidden mystery accomplished in the silence of God”. The only begotten Son, raised to the right hand of the Father in his glorified humanity, prays to the Father that “he shall give you another Paraclete, that he may abide with you forever” (John 14:16). The equivalence of these two Comforters already signifies that they belong to the same nature. Elsewhere, we have already seen that the Spirit can only be given by the Father, from whom it proceeds, but not without the mediation of the Son.

Thus the Spirit is sent by the Father, but in the Name of the Son — and this is a new term, referring to its twofold procession: “But the Paraclete … the Father will send in my name” (John 14:26). We may note here that the Father is always present as the origin, but the Son is always associated with him, in a procession resembling the mission of the Spirit, and this makes it clear that the Spirit proceeds from both these Persons, but according to the proper nature of each of them.

Another text, not this time from St. John, describes the Pentecost itself as the sending of the Spirit by the Son, in dependence on the Father: “Being exalted therefore by the right hand of God, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he hath poured forth this which you see and hear” (Acts 2:3 3).

But the words of Christ in St. John’s Gospel already announced this outpouring of the Spirit in its twofold relationship with the Father and the Son: “When the Paraclete cometh, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceedeth from the Father, he shall give testimony of me” (15:26). We return again and again to this twofold dependence and this order in dependence, whose primary origin is always hidden in the Father, though it is nevertheless the Son who is immediately responsible for sending the Spirit. This order of mission is a reflection of that of possession.

So it is with justice that, in the vision that we have been quoting and which dominates the Johannine writings, the Spirit is presented in the eternal outpouring of its existence and not merely in its Pentecostal descent, which is the created reflection of the “a river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Revelation 22:1).


The God of Jesus Christ II — by Jean Daniélou

March 15, 2012

Allegory of Wisdom and Strength 1580 by Paolo Veronese

These are the properties of the Persons, of which we must now speak. We shall do this by turning first to the testimony of Scripture, in which each of the Persons is revealed through the pattern of salvation. Only later shall we be able, by reflecting on the facts as given there, to understand something of the eternal relationships between the Persons. I shall chiefly emphasize the Word and the Spirit, the understanding of which is vital to the New Testament.

The first revelation is that of the Father. He is the principle, the origin, the archè of the Trinity. Thus in creation, which is the joint work of the Three, like all their works ad extra, the Father reveals himself in a special manner. It is he who proffers the creative Word: “God said, Let there be light.” And it is he who is well pleased when he surveys the accomplished work: “God saw that it was good.”

Here Gregory of Nazianzen is right in saying that the Old Testament is a revelation of the Father, although, strictly speaking, it is the revelation of the One God, and everything in it is the joint work of the Three Persons. But insofar as it is a question of origination, of the origin of creation, the origin of election, the origin of mission, the Old Testament refers especially to him.

It shows him to us also as the Father. This fatherhood with regard to creation seems to be a reflection, in the order of mission, of the eternal relationships. Thus when Christ speaks of “your Father who is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise upon the good, and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust,” [Matthew 5:45] he is not speaking of the Father in the eternal relationship that he has with his only begotten Son, but in the paternal Providence that is the continuation of creation.

Similarly, when Hosea says of God, “Because Israel was a child, and I loved him: and I called my son out of Egypt” (Hosea11: 1), he refers, as we have seen, to the relationship created by election and the covenant between Yahweh and Israel, which is a visible theophany of his Fatherhood in relation to his own begotten Son.

Thus the Person of the Father appears in the Old Testament in the reflection of his creative, providential action. But it will be fully revealed only in the New Testament, for it cannot openly appear except in relation to the Son, whom only the New Testament reveals in his personal reality. But even so, it is not at first revealed directly, but in relation to the Son in his Incarnation. So again it is through the redemptive pattern that the Fatherhood is revealed.

It is through the works he accomplishes that Christ appears in relation to his Father, when he is singled out for approval at the Baptism, when he beseeches him to let the cup pass at the Passion, when he commends his Spirit into the Father’s hands. The Trinity appears here in the mirror of the divine economy.

This becomes still clearer in the Second Person. The Old Testament reveals him darkly as the Word of the Father. The phrase here must again be carefully interpreted. The Hebrew dabar, which the Greek translates as logos and the Latin as verbum, has a well-defined content. For the Greeks, the logos is chiefly the word as intelligibly enunciated; this is how the expression comes to mean the inward law of things, their reason. But the Hebrew dabar has quite another meaning, as Gerhard Kittel has noted. [Theological Works, N.T., IV, 89 ff] The word appears here as performing what it enunciates, as the speech of blessing or cursing. It is an act, not merely a meaning. 

Applied to the divine sphere, the Word of God is revealed, above all, as a force. It is, first of all, a creative force. “By the words of the Lord are his works”, says the son of Sirach. [Sirach 42:15] St. John, too, proclaiming the identity of the creative Word with that of the Incarnate Word, says: “All things were made by him.” The efficacy of the Word of God is clearly shown in Isaiah:

And as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
And return no more thither,
But soak the earth, and water it, and make it to spring,
And give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:
So shall my word be, which shall go forth from my mouth .. .
But it shall do whatsoever I please.
Isaiah 55:10-11

It is this creative Word, by whom all was made, and by whom every moment of time is provided, that St. John, by a foreshortening that throws into relief the staggering paradox of Christianity, shows to be none other than Jesus of Nazareth: “And the Word was made flesh.” For it is in fact the same Word on whose pattern the Father made man in the beginning, who, according to St. Irenaeus, came to touch again this plasma that was his (though it had strayed far from him), and to restore it in himself in a conclusive manner.

But the work of the Word is not only that of creation. He is also the Word who judges, the sharp sword that divides, that saves and condemns. Thus the Book of Wisdom shows him to us:

For while all things were in quiet silence,
And the night was in the midst of her course.
Thy almighty word leapt down from heaven …
With a sharp sword carrying thy unfeigned commandment.”
Wisdom 18:14-16

The Roman liturgy applies this text to the Incarnation of the Word in the introit to the Mass for Sunday in the Octave of Christmas; and Tauler comments on the eternal generation of the Word in the soul of the saints. St. John likewise applies this theme to the Incarnate Word: “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called faithful and true, and with justice doth he judge and fight … And he was clothed with a garment sprinkled with blood; and his name is called, The Word of God…. And out of his mouth proceedeth a sharp two edged sword.” [Revelations 19:11-15]; The Epistle to the Hebrews cries in its turn, “For the Word of God is living and effectual, and more piercing than any two-edged sword; and reaching unto the division of the soul and the spirit.” [Hebrews 4:12]

Finally, the Word of God is a revealing Word. It is to this that the Book of Samuel (1Kings) refers when it tells us that the child Samuel did not recognize him, because “the word of the Lord was precious in those days, there was no manifest Vision.” [1 Kings 3:1] It is this Word that is delivered to the prophets, and is the principle, as we have said, by which the revelation comes to them. But this revelation that is made to men is only a created reflection of that eternal manifestation by which the Father proffers the eternal Word, who is his perfect in-age, in whom he acknowledges his whole presence, and in whom he rejoices infinitely. Through the mission of the Word, it is eternal generation that is revealed.

If St. John shows us in the Second Person the creative, illuminative Word, St. Paul prefers to describe him as subsistent wisdom. Here again it is by reference to the Old Testament that the Second Person is characterized. Wisdom, hohkma, which the Greeks translated as sophia, meant, for the peoples of the East, prudence in the conduct of life, such as they found in the sayings of wise men.

Thus the princes of Oriental monarchies compiled books of wisdom for the education of their subjects. When Solomon made Israel a great monarchy in the Oriental style, he wished likewise to endow his people with a monument of sagacity. “Solomon also spoke three thousand parables: and his poems were a thousand and five”, as we are told in the Book of Kings. [3 Kings 4:32]  For this reason the Bible puts his name to the Books of Proverbs and Wisdom.

But the idea of “wisdom” takes on a new character when it is transplanted into Yahwist religion. It is no longer simply human prudence, but the conduct of life according to the ways of Yahweh. For Israel, the sole rule governing man’s existence is the Law of God revealed to Moses and the prophets. Wisdom is thus identified with the Torah, the Law, and it comes to mean, not merely the Law of God, such as existed in his communication with man, but the very thought of God, the underlying archetype of that law. Thus it is Wisdom that presides over the whole divine scheme; in Wisdom God has formed the plan of his mighty works, and in Wisdom he watches over their completion.

The Wisdom literature devotes some noble passages to the praise of this aspect of divinity. Proverbs contains this description:

The Lord begot me, the first-born of his ways,
the forerunner of his prodigies of long ago;
From of old I was poured forth, at the first, before the earth ..
Before the mountains were settled into place,
before the hills, I was brought forth…
Then was I beside him as his craftsman,
and I was his delight day by day,
Playing before him all the while,
playing on the surface of his earth
[and I found delight in the sons of men].”
Proverbs 8:22-31

Wisdom presides over God’s creation, but precedes it, being founded from eternity. This is one of the texts that are most often quoted by subsequent theologians.

Wisdom is described in turn by the Book of Wisdom as presiding not only over creation, but also over the destiny of God’s people. It shows Wisdom saving Noah at the time of the Flood and Lot at the destruction of Sodom. It is Wisdom who leads Joseph “in the right way” and delivers Israel from the Egyptian captivity. Here we find the sources of Irenaeus’ conception of the function of the Word in the history of salvation. Through these manifestations Wisdom reveals her essence:

For she is an aura of the might of God
and a pure effusion of the glory of the Almighty;
therefore nought that is sullied enters into her.
For she is the refulgence of eternal light,
the spotless mirror of the power of God,
the image of his goodness…
indeed, she reaches from end to end mightily
and governs all things well.”
Wisdom 7:25-8:1

Thus Wisdom appears in her eternal reality as the perfect image of God, as the complete expression of his infinite perfection.

Moreover, it is with this language that St. Paul and the whole tradition after him describe the Second Person. In Jesus there is revealed the subsistent personal reality of that Wisdom which the Old Testament described in her manifestations, though without showing them as subsistent. Thus, at the outset of the Epistle to the Colossians, Paul writes of the Son, “who is the image (eikon) of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For in him were all things created in heaven and on earth.” [Colossians 1:15-16] So, too, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, inspired by St. Paul, in a text that is the leitmotif of our present chapter, applies to the Second Person the language of Wisdom:

God, who, at sundry times and in divers manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all, in these days hath spoken to us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the world. Who being the brightness of his glory, and the figure of his substance and upholding all things by the word of his power, making purgation of sins, sitteth on the right hand of the majesty on high.
Hebrews 1:1-3

Here is expressed the whole basic theology of the Word, such as the New Testament itself inaugurates. The Apostles were confronted with the fact of Christ, who claimed divine authority and power. This was the basic, elemental, fundamental datum of revelation.

When they sought for language in which to express this fact, the Apostles turned to the Old Testament and borrowed their terminology from it. That is why this basic theology is an entirely biblical theology, showing the presence, in the Person of Christ, of that Wisdom of which the Old Testament only provided glimpses, but which is revealed in the New Testament in all its personal subsistence.

However, the term that brings us deepest into the understanding of the Second Person is that of “the Son” — an expression frequently used in the Old Testament in various senses. But its use in the New Testament, and especially by Christ himself, proves, as Vincent Taylor says, that it belongs to the knowledge that Jesus had of himself, that he was in a special sense the Son of God. [The Names of Jesus, p. 65] The first text in which the word appears makes this clear. It comes from Matthew: “All things are delivered to me by my Father. And no man knoweth the Son, but the Father: neither doth any one know the Father, but the Son, and he to whom it shall please the Son to reveal him.” [Matthew 11:27] It is clear from this that there is between the Son and the Father a unique relationship, that they belong to the same sphere of existence, that there is complete mutual contact between them.

This is the theology of the Son that pervades the Gospel according to St. John, while that of the Word appears only in the Prologue. The Son comes from the Father: “I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world.” [John 16:28] He belongs to the same order of existence as the Father. He alone knows the Father, and this is why he alone can make him known. He is the object of the Father’s love, and this love is concentrated in him. He is the Son in whom the Father is well pleased. He has one thought and one will with the Father: “The Son cannot do anything of himself, but what he seeth the Father doing.” [John 5:19] His likeness to the Father is such that he who has seen him has seen the Father. Between the Father and him there is mutual immanence: “Thou, Father, in me, and I in thee.” [John 17:21]

Thus, according to St. John, the relations between the Father and the Son in the order of the divine economy make transparently clear the perfect unity of their divine nature and the perfect distinction between their Persons. Never will human eyes penetrate more deeply into the innermost relationship between the Father and the Son than did those of the Apostle who lay upon Jesus’ breast.

The revelation of the Spirit presents a similar development, with the addition, as Gregory of Nazianzen well understood, that the Gospels are only a small part of the Spirit’s activity, and that this activity is set forth in the time of the Church, beginning at Pentecost. The Hebrew word that the Greek has translated pneuma is ruah. More than anywhere else, we must be careful here to find the exact meaning, for the word esprit is susceptible of a multitude of ambiguities that give entirely distinct meanings, as we shall see first in a frequent image, that of “breath”.

The Greeks preserved here the idea of a subtle form of matter; thus it serves to describe the nonmaterial element in man, the soul as contrasted with the body. Such is the familiar philosophical contrast. [See Verbeke, La Doctrine du Pneuma]

But for the Hebrews ruah means a breath of wind as it appears in the storm. The ideas connected with it are not those of non-materiality, but of power, of irresistible force. Consequently the idea of esprit, applied to God, does not mean his non-materiality, but his irresistible power, by which he accomplishes his mighty works. Thus in the scene at Pentecost, the outpouring of the Spirit is accompanied by a shaking of the whole house.

Applied to man, it refers to that in him which is the work of God’s power. Thus the Pauline contrast between spirit and flesh does not by any means cover that of soul and body. It is the contrast between the whole man, soul and body, when it is enlivened by divine energy, and the whole man, soul and body, when it is abandoned to its own misery. It is thus that for St. Paul there are spiritual bodies and carnal spirits, which would be a contradiction if body were contrasted with spirit.

We see how many false problems may be resolved in this way. Christians are often accused of despising the body, and it is true that we often encounter this depreciation; but this error is due to substituting Platonic opposites for Christian opposites. This can be a source of grave errors in spirituality. Similarly, Christians may give the impression that they are on the side of the world of intellect against that of matter. Again, even the word “spirituality” is ambiguous. When we speak of “Eastern spirituality”, we speak of the possession of its true inwardness; when we speak of Christian spirituality, we speak of the supernatural works of the Holy Spirit in the soul.


The God of Jesus Christ — by Jean Daniélou

March 14, 2012

God the Father (top), and the Holy Spirit (represented by a dove) depicted above Jesus, painting by Francesco Albani 1600s

The Mosaic revelation, as compared with the cosmic revelation, represents a great advance in the knowledge of the true God; but it represents, nevertheless, nothing more than a stage. It is only in Jesus Christ that the hidden God is truly revealed: “No man hath seen God at any time: the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” [John 1:18]

The Epistle to the Hebrews describes the sequence of revelations: “God, who, at sundry times and in divers manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all, in these days hath spoken to us by his Son.” [Hebrews 1:1-2] This revelation is that of the last days, after which there can be no further manifestations, for God has expressed his fullness in the Word.

The object of this revelation is the Trinity of Persons — that is, strictly speaking, the mystery of God, wholly inaccessible to human reason, hidden in darkness. All forms of knowledge and all comparisons that we bring to bear on this subject are deceiving, even those of the greatest theologians. They are justified in the sight of reason only insofar as they more or less clarify its apophatic nature, hidden as it is, and transcending all reason. For it will always remain true that the requirement of human reason, when it follows its inclination, is that of reducing everything to unity and seeing in all differences a secondary, subsidiary stage.

This is so true that theologians like Eckhardt have tended to see in the Trinity a manifestation of primordial, unfathomable unity. But in reality the paradox is that the Three is as primitive as the One. It participates in the structure of absolute Being. Without doubt the master key to Christian theology, which distinguishes it utterly from all rational theodicy, is contained in the statement that the Trinity of Persons constitutes the structure of Being, and that love is therefore as primary as existence.

At the same time, this inaccessible mystery is the whole of Christianity — not merely a single aspect, but its very essence. For Christianity is the appeal addressed to man by the Father, inviting him to share in the life of the Son through the gift of the Spirit. This constitutes the very essence of Christianity. The first words that a child hears the Church speak over him are: “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” He is thrown, as a creature of flesh and blood, into the abyss of Trinitarian life, to which all life and all eternity will have no other object than to accustom him. It is in the gift that it makes of its own life that the Trinity at the same time communicates and reveals itself, estranging man from his own ways and views in order to transfer him into itself.

Thus it remains true of this supreme revelation of God that, as we said of the preceding revelations, it is through his action in the world and in man that God makes himself known. Here again, Scripture confronts us with facts; and it is on these facts that theology is to reflect. But while the Old Testament showed us God the One making a covenant with Israel and drawing it away from idols, the New Testament confronts us with God the Three revealed in Jesus Christ.

This progressive revelation corresponds to a course of divine instruction, whose development Gregory of Nazianzen has well described: “The Old Testament has clearly, though darkly, revealed the Father and the Son. The New Testament has revealed the Son and provided a glimpse of the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Now the Holy Spirit dwells among us and is revealed more clearly.” [Theological Discourses, v, 2] It was first necessary that faith in the unity of God, in monotheism, should be profoundly rooted in a human race always inclined toward polytheism, in order that, at the heart of that unity, the Trinity of Persons could be revealed without any danger. This revelation of the oneness of God fills the Old Testament to overflowing. The New Testament reveals chiefly the divinity of the Word. According to the excellent view of Gregory, the revelation of the Holy Spirit fills the time of the Church, which is the manifestation of its mighty works.

Gregory of Nazianzen continues by saying, “It was necessary to proceed by successive perfectings, by `degrees’, in David’s phrase; it was necessary to advance from radiance to radiance, through ever more luminous movements of advance, in order that the light of the Trinity might finally be seen to shine forth.” The brightness of the Trinity is such that man’s sight could not have borne it. According to the ancient view of Irenaeus, it was necessary that God should acclimatize man gradually to the vision of his unendurable glory.

The light that blazes from the countenance of the Father is already too overwhelming a sight for men of flesh and blood. It is by gradual stages that the divinity of the Word appears darkly in the Old Testament, and clearly in the Gospel. The Holy Spirit in its turn crowns the education of mankind with the Trinitarian vision. Thus man goes on from glory to glory, and the whole history of salvation may be considered as a gradual unveiling of the ineffable Trinity.

But if the New Testament alone gives us knowledge of the Three Persons, at the same time it throws light upon the wholeness of God’s plan and displays it as being entirely the work of the Trinity. It appears, in fact, to be a history of the divine missions; all the works of God are fulfilled by the Three Persons, but each acts in a particular manner. St. Irenaeus explains this clearly when he writes, “The Father is well pleased and commands, the Son works and creates, the Spirit nourishes and gives increase, and man moves little by little towards perfection.” [Against Heresies., iv, 38, 3] The Father is He who sends; the Word and the Spirit are sent. Thus the divine missions are like a reflection of the eternal relationships between the Persons; their economy appears as theology, and it is through this epiphany of the Trinitarian life that man glimpses something of its eternal existence.

So again we follow the very order of revelation, when we begin our account of the Trinity of Persons with their action in the world. The New Testament is in fact essentially a testimony borne to this action; it shows us Christ, who is God, and who is distinct from the Father; it shows us the Spirit, who is God since he bestows the life of God, and who is sent by the Father and the Son. It is through the divine works carried out by the Three Persons that theology is to discover little by little, in an endless task of contemplation, what they are in themselves. That is why we shall speak of the Trinity as revealed in Scripture — above all as a series of missions. Later we shall develop theologically the mystery of their relationship. Before speaking in particular of the Word and the Spirit, we shall speak of these missions in general.

They begin, we said, with creation. All is the work of the Three Persons. St. John says of the Word, “All things were made by him” [John 1:3] and the Epistle to the Hebrews, in the sequel to the passage we quoted above, declares that God “in these days hath spoken to us by his Son, whom he bath appointed heir of all things.” [Hebrews 1:2] Against the Gnostics, who contrasted the God of creation with the God of redemption, St. Irenaeus insists on the unity of God’s plan. Christ is that same Word of God who created the world and man in the beginning, and who, in the fullness of time, came down to earth to reawaken his creature, to restore him and grant him incorruptibility.

We have already had occasion to encounter the theme of creation, both in relation to cosmic religion and to Mosaic revelation. But each of these revelations shows us new wonders. On the level of cosmic religion, the theme appeared as a sign of the fundamental distinction between God and the creature, and of the creature’s subsistence in his basic dependence on God. On the level of Mosaic revelation, we encountered the theme as the first phase in the history of salvation, of God’s plan which began with time (since it is time itself), but whose content remained veiled. From the beginning, the Three Persons created in their own image a human being, called to share in their life and to be led by them into Paradise.

Thus the light of the New Testament comes to illuminate, retrospectively, the Old. In Origen’s phrase, it “whitens the fields of the Scriptures for the harvest,”[Commentary Job., XIII, 46] by bringing forth what was only a seed. In the beginning, says St. Irenaeus, the gift of the Spirit was still tentative, for the hand of God, which is the Word, had not yet grasped man in that everlasting grip which was to be known one day as the Incarnation.

But meanwhile these beginnings of mankind were bathed in a supernatural light, and the artists of the Middle Ages were right to show us Adam and Eve talking with the Three Persons. Since man appeared, formed by the Three Persons, he has been called to share in their life. Paradise is the place where the divine energy is at work, and where that tree of life is to be found which communicates incorruptibility. In all this there is a foreshadowing of the Church.

This is expressed by the Fathers of the Church in the doctrine of “man created in the image and likeness of God”. Faithful to the literal meaning of the biblical text, Athanasius and Gregory of Nyssa do not see in the image and likeness two different realities, but two aspects of the same reality. [R. Bernard, L'Image de Dieu d'apres SaintAthanase, pp. 22-38; Jean Danielou, Platonisme et theologie mystique, pp. 48-61.] For them, this reality is not reason, which is simply nature, but that sharing in the life of the Trinity which is grace.

Made in the image of the only begotten Son, who is the perfect image of the Father, the first Adam is already called in the Son to be the child of the Father and the temple of the Spirit. Thus the creation of man appears, in the light of the New Testament, already to be plunged in the sphere of Trinitarian grace.

The history of God’s people, Israel, in its turn sheds fresh light on the subject, for it becomes the place of the magnalia of the Trinity [vocab: the magnalia dei, the great deeds God has done for us in creation and redemption.]. For if it is the shape of God’s total plan that it should be through the Word and the Spirit that the Father should accomplish his mysterious designs, this was also true in the time of the Old Covenant. St. Paul already states this when he shows us in the desert rock, from which a stream arises, a foretelling of Christ — that is, an act of the Word in the history of the world. St. Irenaeus is faithful to this spirit when he sees in the history of Israel the action of the Word and the Holy Spirit, by whom man was created, and who acclimatize him gradually to the life of the Trinity in order to prepare him for that inwardness of human and divine nature that is to be fulfilled in due time in the Incarnation. In this way the Fathers of the Church acknowledged the theophanies of the Old Testament as revelations of the Word.

No one has expressed this view more profoundly than St. Irenaeus. “All the visions of the Old Testament”, he writes, “represent the Son of God speaking with men and living in their midst. He did not leave the human race, but remained with them, foretelling what must happen and teaching men the things of God. Thus He foreshadowed in our terms, and showed us through imagery, what was to come.” [The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, V] So, like creation, the covenant shines, in the light of the Old Testament, with the brightness of the Trinity. We said that the covenant foreshadowed the Incarnation, insofar as it was a sign of a God who comes to meet man and establish with him a living kinship. But now, to be more accurate, it is the Word of God who, according to Irenaeus, foreshadows his Incarnation by making himself familiar with the ways of men.

This familiarizing of the Word of God with the ways of men prepares for the Incarnation, insofar as the latter is a movement of God toward man. But Irenaeus notices, too, another aspect: the Word of God at the same time familiarizes man with the things of God, in order to make him fit to enter, through the Incarnation, into full communion with him: “God created man from the beginning, because of His munificence; He chose the patriarchs for their salvation; He educated His restless people, by teaching them to serve God; He sent His prophets into the world, accustoming man to bear His Spirit and live in communion with God.” [Against Heresies, IV, 14, 2]

And later Irenaeus says, “Thus the Word of God, traversing all times, educated His people, calling them through secondary things to primary things, through imagery to reality, through things temporal to things eternal, through the carnal to the spiritual.” [Against Heresies, IV, 14, 3]

But only the light of Christianity enables us to see in the Old Testament this manifestation of the Trinity, whereas it is the very subject matter of the New Testament, whose purpose is to bear witness to the Incarnation of the Word and the outpouring of the Spirit, and which through these two missions teaches us to distinguish them from the Father. All these mysteries of Christ appear as the work of the Three Persons. St. Luke shows us the Holy Spirit descending on Mary to arouse in her the humanity of Christ, and St. John shows us the Word of God becoming “flesh”, that is, taking human nature.

It is the Spirit who leads Zechariah to the Temple and Jesus to the desert. It is he whom the Incarnate Word, present in Mary, shows forth in John the Baptist at the Visitation. Above all, the Three Persons appear in the great theophany of the Baptism, when the voice of the Father bears witness that Christ, who plunges in the waters of Jordan, is his beloved Son, while the Spirit descends upon him in the likeness of a dove. On two further occasions, the voice of the Father is to bear witness to Christ — at two solemn moments, that of the Transfiguration, and that of the Agony, according to St. John.’ [John 12:27-28]

This revelation, which remains veiled in the Synoptics, appears in all its fullness in St. John’s Gospel. The only begotten Son, distinct front the Father, shares completely in his divine nature: “I and the Father are one.” The work of salvation is the joint work of the Father and the Son: “For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things which himself doth.” [John 5:20]

The Son is sent by the Father. He fulfills the work that the Father has given him. His mission is to make known the Father and communicate his life. But, as he does nothing save with the Father, he who sees him sees the Father, and he who believes in him has eternal life. Thus, through the mission of the Word, the Trinity of Persons is revealed at the same time as their unity; eternal life, which is the life of God, draws near to man through him, to take hold of man and awaken him.

For this work of redemption is not only Threefold insofar as it leads mankind, through the mediation of Jesus, to share in the life of the Three Persons; it is the mystery of filial adoption that is the boundary of the divine work, that design hidden in God which St. Paul describes: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath … [chosen] us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in his sight in charity … hath predestinated us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the purpose of his will: unto the praise of the glory of his grace.” [Ephesians 1:3-6] This adoption as children, accomplished in substance by the Incarnation of the Word, is conveyed by the gift of the Spirit, which is “the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba (Father).” [Romans 8:15]

This outpouring of the Spirit is granted in baptism. The time of the Church continues to be that of the great works of the Trinity. These are the sacraments that are strictly divine works, effecting a divine life in man. Thus in the time of the Church the Trinity continues to be revealed through its works. Baptism, as St. Paul has shown, conforms man to the death and Resurrection of Christ. [Romans 6:3] Thus he conveys spiritual life to man through the gift of the Spirit; and man is led through baptism to intimate contact with the Father, in the freedom of the sons of God. Thus to be a Christian is to be born into the life of the Trinity, which is the incorruptible life of God, possessed by the Three Persons and conveyed by them in a pattern of incomprehensible love.

None has described better than St. Irenaeus this birth in the Trinity:

When we are born again through baptism in the Name of the Three Persons, we are enriched, by a second birth, with the good things that are in God the Father, by means of His Son, with the Holy Spirit. Those who are baptized receive the Spirit of God, who gives them to the Word, that is, the Son; and the Son takes them and offers them to the Father, and the Father grants them incorruptibility.

Therefore without the Holy Spirit we cannot see the Word of God, and without the Son no one can come to the Father; since the knowledge of the Father is the Son, and the knowledge of the Son of God is gained by means of the Holy Spirit; but it is the Son whose function it is to distribute the Holy Spirit, according to the good pleasure of the Father, to those whom the Father chooses and in the way that the Father chooses.
Against Heresies, IV, 20, 7

But all this is a mystery that is wholly spiritual and forbidden to carnal man. Only the Holy Spirit gives us understanding of it. Carnal man has no means of grasping it by himself. This is why it remains alien to him, since it is in truth alien to him; yet the reality of the Trinity is revealed through this very strangeness. It is the hidden life of the transcendent God; and if it became accessible to carnal man it would not be one and the same.

In conveying it to man, the Trinity remains a mystery. It is not to man that it adapts itself, it is man whom it raises above himself and adapts to itself. This is why the Christian life, which is the life of the Trinity, is itself an incomprehensible mystery and a stumbling block to those who see it from outside. The darkness that conceals the Trinity from profane sight also conceals from it the mysterious acts of the Trinity in the soul of the saints.

Just as it is through the covenant that the ways of the living God are revealed to us, and that he appears to us as justice, truth, and love, so it is through adoption that the Persons are revealed to us as Father, Son, and Spirit.


The Philosophical Problem Of God Is A Limit Problem by Jean Daniélou

February 17, 2012

The paradox of philosophy, then, would seem to be that it is caught between two alternatives: either it is an assertion of the sufficiency of reason itself and a negation of God, or else it is an assertion of the sufficiency of God to himself and a negation of man. But the possibility of the coexistence of God and other things appears to be untenable. This brings us back to the problem of creation, which we must now examine more deeply.

The difficulty is as old as philosophy. We may say that it is the philosophical problem. Ancient thought had given two different answers. For Parmenides, only the One exists, and all multiplicity is an illusion. Thus God is affirmed, and the world is denied. This is what is called acosmism. In the Indian tradition it is the doctrine of Sankara, which drives Indian monism in the direction of world negation. Nothing ever existed but God alone; the rest is a dream from which one wakes, and philosophy is the awakening.

In face of acosmism [Vocab: Acosmism, in contrast to pantheism, denies the reality of the universe, seeing it as ultimately illusory, (the prefix "a-" in Greek meaning negation; like "un-" in English), and only the infinite unmanifest Absolute as real.This philosophy begins with the premise that there is only one real thing, and it is infinite, and non-dual; The Absolute. But the phenomenal reality of which we are normally aware is just the opposite: finite, and dualistic. And since the Absolute is the only reality, that means that everything that is not-Absolute cannot be real. Thus, according to this viewpoint, the phenomenal dualistic world is ultimately an illusion (maya to use the technical Indian term), irrespective of the apparent reality it possesses at the mundane or empirical level.], antiquity offers us another solution, that of pantheism, which, however, is in the last analysis only a less rigorous way of expressing the same concept. Here again creation does not exist, has no proper consistency. It is the unfolding of unity — or, in other words, being, which is one and is God, existing in a collected form, which is God, and in a dispersed form, which is the world. But it is enough for man to recollect himself, to pass from the divine that is in everything to the divine that is in hint. The rhythm of the life of man is thus identical with the rhythm of the cosmos, which is for him, too, expansion and contraction. This is the pantheism that in the West found expression in Spinoza.

The nineteenth century put the question differently. The development of the idea of progress led to the assignment of value to becoming and gave it a positive meaning. Reality is the perpetual arising of creative newness. Yet this appears to be annulled, and progress deprived of all creative value, in that everything super-exists preeminently in God.

Progress, then, does nothing but rediscover what has always been known and produce what has always existed. The preexistence of God seems to empty it of all content and necessarily leads to a philosophy of the eternal, which is the negation of the value of time. So modern pantheism, reversing the perspective, makes God not he who has always existed, but he who no longer exists. God, the absolute Mind of Hegel, is the end of history. History becomes theogenetics.

We may say that this constitutes the philosophy of the nineteenth century. Hegel gave it an idealist look. Strauss applies it to the history of religion. Becoming materialist with Marx, it retains none the less a religious basis, the idea of man the demiurge ofGod-humanity.

Teilhard de Chardin struggled to provide a version acceptable to Christians, but was only partially successful. We can estimate the extent to which it overflows the banks of systematic philosophy and has infected the structure of the modern spirit by reading this passage from Rilke:

“Why not prove that God is He who shall come, He who from all eternity must come, that He is the future, the completed fruit of a tree whose leaves we are? Don’t you think everything that happens is a beginning? Wouldn’t it be God’s beginning? What meaning could there be in our quest, if He whom we are looking for belonged already to the past?”
[Teilhard de Chardin, Lettres a un jeune poete, 1937]

In contemporary philosophy, this fundamental difficulty has found fresh expression in Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. Sartre, metaphysically elaborating the Nietzschean theme of the death of God as the condition for the existence of man, claims in the Preface to his Descartes that, existence being identical with creative liberty, man only exists if his free act is an absolute beginning, if no essence precedes existence. Les Mouches illustrates the theme in dramatic terms. Oreste exists only when he has killed Agamemnon. Merleau-Ponty in his turn criticizes the Christianity of transcendence and opposes to it what he calls a Christianity of incarnation, in which God becomes man, not in the Christian sense of the word, by remaining God, but by identifying himself with man. The existence of a God distinct from man seems to him incompatible with man’s existence, for man then becomes an object for God, and this annihilates him. God must therefore exist and man must not exist, or man must exist and God must not exist.

The existentialism of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty removes the obstacle in the sense of affirming man and denying God. It has its exact counterpart in the theology of Karl Barth, who renews the acosmism of Parmenides and Sankara. Taking up the solus Deus of Luther, he denounces all claims to human liberty, which seem to him usurpations of the absolute sovereignty of divine liberty. All that God does not work in man is nothingness. There is no knowledge of God except that which God works in the spirit, and any claim to a philosophical knowledge of God is idolatry and illusion. There are no virtues but those that the grace of God works in man, and any idea of merit, of a partnership of God with man in his salvation, is denounced as pride.

Man seems to Barth to be unworthy of damnation. Barth’s predestinationism leads, paradoxically, to a doctrine of universal salvation. Thus man is despoiled of the last thing that he imagined he could still call his own and subtract from the divine omnipotence: the right to go to hell in his own way. For, as Jouhandeau has well said, hell is the ultimate expression of the value of human liberty. To deny it is to say either that liberty is incapable of resisting effective grace or that sin is finally so absurd as not even to deserve punishment.

This reference to Barth draws our attention to the most striking aspect of the fundamental difficulty, which is that of the coexistence of the absolute power of God and of man’s divine liberty. But this is only an aspect of the problem. Let it be a question of the being of God and of the creature, of the power of God and of human liberty, and we are always brought up against the same difficulty.

For if God is all, does all, says all, where is a place to be found for anything else? Metaphysically, we can scarcely see how to justify its existence; we reach an apparently insoluble contradiction. Psychologically, human life seems tasteless, and man feels frustrated, dispossessed, expropriated.

Yet what appears to be a fundamental difficulty turns out to be a sign that we are working in the right direction. For in fact we are brought back to the principles that we stated at the outset. What really characterizes the problem of God, we were saying then, is that it is a limit problem — that it cannot be mastered by reason; and it is just through this that the reality of God comes to bear upon the problem in that which specifically constitutes him — that is, in the fact that he transcends reason.

Moreover, it is just to this that we are led by the fundamental difficulty. We are brought to the point of making two statements, which to all appearances are contradictory. On the one hand, all being loses itself in God; on the other, some being exists outside God. Or again, God determines everything, and yet human liberty determines itself. We are confronted here by a defect in logic, by the impossibility of making our two statements coincide; and they are both of the utmost importance.

Thus the error in all the answers we have found to the problem is just this, that they all fail to accept this opposition, and that they rule out one of the data in the problem. They boil down in the end to the claim of reason to master the difficulty. This is also true of the position of Barth, which returns finally to that of Parmenides, and which involves taking up a philosophical position contrary to analogy. Catholic theology has also made efforts to surmount the problem. We know what an important place the question of grace and liberty has held in its history. But finally these attempts have come to a checkmate; neither Banez nor Molina has found a satisfactory solution. This is a sign that we are really dealing with the mystery of God, which cannot be reduced to entire intelligibility by created mind, but remains fundamentally independent in a realm of sovereign subjectivity.

Yet there is more to be said. What characterizes limit problems is not only that they cannot be elucidated by reason, but that they compel us to leave the order of discourse, that they drive us toward conversion. Moreover, this is eminently true of the case we are considering. When Sartre and MerleauPonty say that the existence of God annihilates man, they are expressing something perfectly real. In that it means that God is the whole of being and that the whole of being comes into God, it means that man possesses nothing of himself; or rather the only thing proper to him is nothingness, for it is only the action of God that arouses him at every single moment from nothingness. Jacques Riviere felt this strongly when he said about sin: “This at least is really mine.” He was expressing in this way the fundamental truth that all goodness proceeds from God, just as all happiness does. What God asks of us is to let ourselves love through him, to agree to receive from him both being and goodness.

But this is what man refuses to do. For this acceptance is a confession of his utter poverty. It dispossesses him of everything. Moreover, man’s passion is to belong to himself. It is repugnant to him to acknowledge his complete dependence, to agree to receive himself at every single moment from another, to leave the entire initiative to God, to be able to hold fast only to something that exists before him and outside him, although this may be more himself than he is. This is why, when his metaphysical perspicacity brings him to acknowledge that all goodness comes from God, he revels in his sins; that all happiness comes from God, he revels in his misery; that all being comes from God, he revels in nothingness. For this is the only way for him to deny himself to God, if all that is comes from him, and if the acceptance of being involves the acknowledgment of his dependence.

But the fact that the being that I possess does not belong to me, but is received from another, does not mean, for all that, that this being does not exist. Such is precisely the condition of created being. There is no necessity in it, it is perfectly contingent, it introduces nothing new; and in this sense it is entirely gratuitous, or rather entirely under grace. I am not my own origin. Since my existence began, we have been two. My existence is in its very essence a relationship. I only subsist insofar as I am uttered by another. To acknowledge this fundamental dependence is simply to ratify what I am. I do not exist except insofar as I am loved. For me, to exist will be to love in my turn, to answer through grace to the action of grace.

Thus created being is not dispossessed of existence, as Sartre claims, but of the appropriation of existence. What I am dispossessed of is my will to self-sufficiency. From the beginning, I am drawn into the cycle of love, of grace and the action of grace. It is impossible for me to separate myself. I enter, then, into the region of “dissemblance”, according to the phrase of St. Bernard — that is, of nonbeing. By a remarkable paradox, it is in my will to sufficiency that I find destruction, while when I acknowledge my insufficiency, I assert my true self. The very notion of creature, which is correlative to the divine aseity [Aseity: (from Latin a "from" and se "self", plus -ity) refers to the property by which a being exists in and of itself, from itself, or exists as so-and-such of and from itself.The word is often used to refer to the Christian belief that God contains within himself the cause of himself, is the first cause, though many Jewish and Muslim theologians have also believed God to be independent in this way. Notions of aseity as the highest principle go back at least to Plato and have been in wide circulation since Augustine, though the use of the word 'aseity' began only in the Middle Ages.], can, then, be recognized only in that I accept myself existentially as a creature. And that, too, is a limit notion.

Thus we are led afresh to the idea of creation. It is this that expresses the tension between the existence of a God who exhausts in himself the possibilities of real being, and the existence of a reality before God, which yet has its own existence. But this idea represents a threshold on which philosophical thinking left to itself has never succeeded in standing upright. Gilson has correctly seen in this a category of Christian philosophy, insofar as it is only when relying on revelation that reason has accurately stated it. But even so, the idea remains mysterious. It is affirmed, but not plainly intelligible. It puts forward the two terms, but it does not grasp how they can coexist. Even this intelligibility is the expression, within the scheme of thought, of its reality in the order of existence.

What we said of the fundamental difficulty indicates, then, that it is at the same time the manifestation of the value of reason and of the limits of reason; and that it is just because it is both that it is the right way of putting philosophically the question of God. This applies to philosophy as a whole. It is altogether a threshold. Its supreme act is, therefore, to cross-examine itself, and to show by this means that the cross-examination, which affirms a realm beyond reason, is stipulated by reason.

Thus it will appear reasonable to affirm a revelation. A god whom reason dominated would be neither a personal god nor a transcendent god. It is by affirming at the same time that God exists and that he surpasses reason, that reason itself knows him to be God indeed. A more perfect knowledge of him would only be his free gift. He is subjective sovereignty, the darkness to which none is able to break through, but which is revealed when and how it wishes. And this is what we call the revelation.


The God Of True Philosophy by Jean Daniélou

February 16, 2012

Toward the end of his career, Rodin began to use giant hands in a series of original and idiosyncratic arrangements, with titles such as The Hand of God, The Hand of the Devil (1903), The Cathedral (1908), and The Secret (ca. 1910). The Hand of God (seen above) represents divine creation expressed in terms of the sculptor's art: the rough stone is both primeval matter and the sculptor's medium; the smooth, white emerging forms held by the hand are the bodies of the first man and woman, while the great, life-giving hand itself is a symbol of the original Creator, and, perhaps quite literally, of the sculptor as well. The Hand of God was another of Rodin's works that has had wide appeal, and there are numerous versions of it, both in marble and in bronze. This marble was commissioned from Rodin in 1906 by one of the Metropolitan Museum's trustees.

It remains for us to ask how the human mind can, by the sole light of intellect, rise to the knowledge of divine personality. The latter results from the absolute independence of God within being, from his aseity [vocab: God is self-existent, God has always been. Our Maker exists in an eternal, self-sustaining, necessary way necessary, that is, in the sense that God does not have it in Him to go out of existence, just as we do not have it in us to live forever. We necessarily age and die, because it is our present nature to do that; God necessarily continues forever unchanged, because it is His eternal nature to do that. This is one of many contrasts between creature and Creator]. In fact this being that necessarily exists, since it is necessary that there should be being which exists through itself, from the mere fact that it possesses existence in itself, is also necessarily a substance, because that is the very definition of substantial being. It is even the most perfect of substances — since the independence in being that defines substance is not complete in created substances (which are always at the same time dependent), it could only be from being that they receive existence; while in being, which is a se, there is, on the contrary, absolute sufficiency within itself to exist, a total independence within being.

It could not be a se without being, by the same token, in se. Every form of pantheism is hence excluded. The proper existence of the Creator is irreducibly distinguished from that which he communicates to his creature. Being subsists by essence in itself. “Ecce distinctio personalis: Ego sum qui sum.” [Summa Theologiae, Part I, q14., a2 and 2] God can say “I”.

We may notice, on the other hand, that the transcendence of a personal God is that of a spiritual and willing substance, one that not only subsists in itself, but moreover perfectly possesses itself through the will and perfectly knows itself through the intellect; it is the transcendence of a being who can say “I”. It follows, as we have said, that the divine personality participates, to a sovereign degree, in the “dignity” that attaches to the person as such, and which seems the first thing that comes to mind in the current use of the word; a person is contrasted with a thing in that it has a right to a certain respect. Pere de Grandmaison emphasizes this aspect when he defines the person as “a living, knowing, willing and loving ego whom one cannot, without doing him an injustice, treat as a thing, who cannot without revaluation be considered as such”.

If human personality implies this dignity, it is abundantly clear that, insofar as God has not been conceded personality, there is at least one sense, that of spiritual substance, in which man is not transcended. If God is not a person and man is one, insofar as he is a person, insofar as he judges and chooses; he escapes from the domain of God.

Perhaps it would be necessary to seek here for the deep reason that causes the wise men of this world to be reluctant to acknowledge God as a person. In fact it is for this reason that God deserves, to an infinite degree, that respect which we owe to a person as such — and which, in his case, is adoration. It is for this reason that we fundamentally depend on hint, not only in the physical, but in the moral order as well.

It is this — that it offends a person and violates the sacred rights of an infinite person — that underlies the gravity of moral evil and marks it off from physical evil. “Because man is a sovereign personality the notion of sin has meaning: to wound the order of that which is committed to the free-will of self-rule, is to wound God Himself.” [Jacques Maritain, Les Degrés du Savoir ]This also makes it clear, as Gilson remarks,  that the true idea of moral good and evil only appeared with the clear idea of a personal God.

Divine personality expresses, above all, the infinite abyss that separates God from his creature. God is sufficient to himself, the whole creation lies before him as pure nothingness, it adds nothing to what he already is. But to this first aspect there is added a second, which seems at first sight to contradict it: the very attribute that succeeds in making God inaccessible is at the same time the one that will permit us to enter into a relationship with him. “This sovereign personality”, says Maritain, “is at once that which removes Him farthest from us — the inflexible infinite stands face to face with me, a wretched mortal — and at the same time brings Him nearest to us, since the incomprehensible purity has a countenance, a voice, and has set me before it so that I may gaze upon Him, so that I may speak to Him and He to me.” [The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, Etienne Gilson]

A new aspect now appears in the notion of personality. After incommunicability, communicativeness; after self-possession, self-giving. We have to determine to what extent philosophy is justified in seeing this as an element in the constitution of personality. But we should take good note of the fact that in the current usage of the word this aspect is as primitive as the previous one. The very name “person”, the Greek prosopon, signifies at the same time that a being has a face of his own, and also that he faces other people. A person faces other people, the universe, God; he holds converse with another person, communes or communicates with him according to intellect and affection.”

But the contrast between openness toward others and sufficiency toward himself, which personality implies, is only too apparent. Possession and giving are opposites when it comes to material objects, whose possession by one excludes possession by another, but it is no longer the same when it comes to spiritual personalities. Not only can they give themselves, commune with one another without ceasing to possess themselves, but it is this possession that they have of themselves that permits them to commune with one another, just as the understanding of oneself is, as Max Scheler rightly said, “the first condition requisite in order that a person may be able to make another person understand who he is”.

Let it not be objected either that human personality is often self-centered, for this refers rather to shortcomings entailed by its connection with individuality and with its material condition than to the very essence of personality. “The human person”, says Pere de Regnon, “is inclined to refer everything to himself, and to refer himself to himself. I shall leave it an open question whether this is a necessary constituent of his nature or a vicious defect…. Of God, the opposite is to be believed.

When it is said that God is personal, it seems that with his transcendence what is meant above all is that it is possible to enter into communication, into communion with him. It is just in this that the God of true philosophy is to be contrasted with the impersonal God of idealism, and even with the God of Aristotle and Plotinus, who is indifferent to the world. This prepares the way for the revelation of the God of Abraham who “speaks” to his people, who “governs” them, who enfolds them in his “love”.

Yet these are characteristics of personality as such. As Pere de Regnon profoundly says, ” `Saying’ and `loving’ are directed towards a person, and consequently issue from a person, as against `thinking’ and `willing,’ which are acts of nature considered as the principle of activity.” ” If speaking and loving signify communicating oneself to persons and are characteristics of personality, it seems we can say that the power at least to communicate oneself forms part of the conception of personality.

This explains how when we said that God is personal we meant not only that he infinitely transcends us, but moreover that he knows us and loves us. Whereas divine personality seemed to us just now to be the basis of true morality, it becomes now the foundation of religion, that is, of the connections that unite man to God, since it is the divine personality that makes God infinitely far from us, and at the same time enables us to commune with him. Because God is a person, we can speak to him and love him, just as he speaks to us and loves us. As the divine personality permits us to distinguish true philosophy from false, it now permits us to distinguish true religion from its substitutes. “All spirituality is a dialogue; a spirituality that is addressed to an anonymous impersonal companion proves itself by that very fact a lying witness.” [Jacques Maritain, Les Degrés du Savoir]

But it remains none the less true that philosophy knows in a very different manner what the divine personality reveals about incommunicability, and what it reveals about communication and relationship. Under the first aspect, philosophy knows it as a necessity; so this is what it really means when it says that God is personal. Under the second aspect, on the contrary, it knows it only as a possibility. Philosophy really knows nothing about communication in God except that which he makes to his creatures by existing.

Yet creation, being a strictly contingent fact, and not being in any way required by the divine essence, would not by any means permit us to conclude that it is of God’s essence to communicate himself and thus to make the gift of himself a constituent element in the divine personality. Once again we reach a limit problem, which reason puts forward but cannot solve. Only the revelation of the Trinity will provide the answer.

Philosophical statement about God consists, then, in saying with Pseudo-Dionysus that he is all that is, that he possesses in himself in a preeminent fashion the value of all that is. We may comment here that there is often a tendency to identify God with such an aspect of reality. It is thus that Plato ranges God on the side of mind, by contrast with the world of matter. But this is ambiguous. For if it is true that God is esprit, it remains true also that the world of bodies is not alien to him. But he possesses in himself in a preeminent fashion both that which creates the value of mind and that which creates the value of matter.

Christianity is not a spiritualism in the Platonic sense of the word, which identifies the divine with the sphere of spirit. But Christianity implies also a materialist aspect. This is of great practical consequence, for it is by not making this sufficiently clear that Christians may well have given the impression to men who have more to do with matter, and who respected its potentialities, that they were strangers to them.

We may make a similar comment on other ideas. It is commonly said that God is immovable, and it is right to say so. The meaning is that God is entirely detached from the vicissitudes of becoming, from change and evolution. But this runs the risk of giving the impression that God is on the side of immobility and security, that he is opposed to novelty, to motion. Yet, if there is perfection in rest, there is also perfection in motion. If on the human level motion is a sign of insufficiency and thus unworthy of God, this only represents a shortcoming. But in God motion exists in its preeminent value, as pure act, as intensity of life, as immanent activity. This is what Bergson clearly saw, when he contrasted the becoming of time with the immanent activity of the mind in pure duration.

Here again, Pseudo-Dionysus expresses this universal analogy with admirable courage. He shows that it is false to say that God is great, unless we add that he is small, for there is a perfection in smallness, just as there is a perfection in greatness. God possesses the one quality just as much as the other. He is as near to what is small as to what is great. “The Scriptures celebrate God as Great, and under the mode of Greatness, and yet they also speak of that divine littleness which is manifested in a puff of wind.” Equally, if it is true that God possesses the perfection of that which is identical, he also possesses that which is active. “He is stable and immobile, dwelling always in the same place, and yet mobile, since He radiates through all things.”

This amounts precisely to saying that there is no reality that does not abound preeminently in God, in that all the perfection that it has is a participation of God in the limitations that belong to created being. Thus what we love in any creature is only that which is reflected from him. The whole world of the soul and the angels is a book that speaks to us of God and awakes in us a thirst that only God can slake, for it cannot give us the fullness of that which it prompts us to desire. “If the world did not speak so much of you,” says Claudel, “my weariness would not be so great.” It is this search for God among the creatures that are only his reflection, which is described in the Confessions of St. Augustine: “Beauty so old and so new, late have I loved you. You were within me and I was outside myself, and there it was that I sought you; I scattered myself among your works, and I withered at the touch of their beauty; and those things kept me far from you, which would not be themselves if they did not rest in you.”

Not only does all being exist preeminently in God, but it exists in him in a sufficient manner, that is, in an absolute fullness that exhausts every possibility. Plato had already noted this feature of divine being, when he said that God is without needs (anendees), that he is absolutely self-sufficing, since he expresses in himself the fullness of that which is; therefore he can receive nothing, he abides only in himself. This is the “aseity” that distinguishes him utterly from the creature, whose essence is to receive its being from another. Equally, God’s will is fully satisfied and fulfilled within himself, in the perfect possession of his fullness. Therefore he who possesses him possesses all in him. As Catherine of Genoa says, “He who desires some thing loses what he desires, to know God, who is all things.”

But it must be added that all this exists in God in a transcendent manner, that after having asserted that he possesses the being of all things, we must deny it, for God possesses this being in a manner utterly other than that in which he exists in created things; and this manner is entirely inconceivable to us; we can only assert it. He is not the being of all; he is the being who is beyond all, not through essence, but super-essence — according to a word dear to Pseudo-Dionysus — and “the unknowing of that super-essence, which surpasses reason, thought and essence, such should be the object of super-essential science”.

But this super-essential science is no longer philosophy. Only faith, which is participation in the knowledge of that which God himself knows, penetrates that darkness and knows God not only as he who is all, but as he who transcends all, not only the same, but the utterly other, not other than love but yet (to use a phrase of Pere Henri de Lubac) an otherness of love.

Finally, what philosophy can assert of God is that he is preeminently the being in whom the reality of all things is exhausted. But even this assertion will be the source of what we may well call the fundamental difficulty of philosophy, which no philosophy has entirely succeeded in overcoming, without the light of revelation. This difficulty is that, if God exhausts reality in himself, we cannot see how there can exist and how there does exist any other thing than he.


The Divine Person — Cardinal Jean Daniélou S.J.

February 15, 2012

Cardinal Jean Guénolé Louis Marie Daniélou Daniélou S.J., was a one of the Twentieth Century's most renowned Theologians, a keen Historian, and Member of the Académie Française.

We continue Fr. Daniélou’s essay on the God of the Philosophers. He deals with the concept of “person” and how it relates to the divine, particularly how it needs to overcome the obvious anthropomorphism that it appears to contain.


We have tried to make clear the status of the philosophical knowledge of God within the Christian scheme, and we arrive at a twofold result: reason can know God’s existence when it operates in the region that alone is real, that of existent being, and when, leaving contingent existence behind, it links it again to God as a personal existent. This implies an existential relationship between reason and perception; by reflecting on itself as an existent subject, reason comes to acknowledge its relationship to an existent transcendent subject who is God.

But for all that, it does not grasp who this God is. He is the object of a statement, not of an intuition. His existence is stated, but his ousia remains unknowable — and that precisely is the heart of the matter. For reason, to know God is to state the existence of the unknowable, that is, the existence of that which transcends its knowledge; and it is clear that the claim to know “what” this unknowable “is” would be the denial of its essence. This would put it in the world of that which is on the level of reason, and it would then be no longer a question of God. That is the core of the paradox of the knowledge of God, that is what makes it an order apart, on the frontiers of knowledge and non-knowledge.

But we must establish that the concourse of philosophies has proved its inability to remain on this narrow frontier, and that they almost always run to one excess or another. Exaggerating the non-knowledge of God, they will arrive either at agnosticism, which refuses to say anything about him, even that he exists, and maintains a questioning position, or at atheism, which denies the existence of that which lies beyond the light of reason. Or, exaggerating knowledge, they will claim to possess God’s essence; but the God whom they think they know is only their own mind, so they run either into rationalism, which reduces God to the measure of the intelligible realities of the mind, or into pantheism, which makes him the immanent inward being of all reality, the primordial unity of all things. In each of these ways they fail to reach him as a person, therefore it is not he whom they reach.

Must we, then, resign ourselves to saying nothing about God without making an attempt to define his transcendence? At first sight, yes. To affirm God is surely in effect to affirm that he is nothing that falls within the field of our experience, that he is altogether Other; and it remains true that this is the first thing we must say about him. The great patristic theologians rightly insisted on this incomprehensibility of the divine essence, against the Christian NeoPlatonist Eunonius, who declared that the notion of unbegotten, agennetos, was an adequate concept of the divine essence. Those against him, John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, Cyril of Jerusalem, were never weary of affirming that the divine ousia was a mystery inaccessible to human reason.

But in face of this, it is true also that, if we cannot directly know, by an immediate intuition, the divine nature, something of it is accessible to our intellect through the created world. We have already seen, in relation to cosmic religion, that visible realities are hierophanies of God, and that the human soul is his created image. This is true of all the realities of this world. Thus each of them tells us something about God. Having said that we can say nothing about him, we must now say that we can say an infinite number of things about him. We find here once again the paradox that is always presented by the knowledge of God. We must at the same time deny everything about him and affirm everything about him. It is this union of positive and negative theology that gives us the true knowledge of God.

No writer has shown this better than Pseudo-Dionysus. “Thus instructed,” he says,

the theologians praise it by every name — and as the Nameless One. For they call it nameless when they speak of how the supreme Deity, during a mysterious revelation of the symbolical appearance of God, rebuked the man who asked, “What is your name?” and led him away from the knowledge of the divine name by countering, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?” This surely is the wonderful “name which is above every name” and is therefore without a name. It is surely the name established “above every name that is named either in this age or in that which is to come.”

And yet on the other hand they give it many names, such as “I am being,” “life,” “light,” “God,” the “truth.” These same wise writers, when praising the Cause of everything that is, use names drawn from all the things caused: good, beautiful, wise, beloved, God of gods, Lord of Lords, Holy of Holies, eternal, existent, Cause of the ages. They call him source of life, wisdom, mind, word, knower, possessor beforehand of all the treasures of knowledge, power, powerful, and King of Kings, ancient of days, the unaging and unchanging, salvation, righteousness and sanctification, redemption, greatest of all and yet the one in the still breeze.

They say he is in our minds, in our souls, and in our bodies, in heaven and on earth, that while remaining ever within himself he is also in and around and above the world, that he is above heaven and above all being, that he is sun, star, and fire, water, wind, and dew, cloud, archetypal stone, and rock, that he is all, that he is no thing.
Treatise on the Divine Names, I, 6. Translation by Coins Lulbheid, PseudoDionysius: The Complete Works (New York: Paulist Press, 1987)

So we can understand the remark of that old Christian who said to Origen, “It is always dangerous to speak of God.” For every time I say something about him, I must immediately say the opposite. In fact, there is a great danger of picturing God in the image of man. This anthropomorphic representation of God arouses difficulties in many minds. They rightly reject a representation of God that seems to them to bring him down to human realities.

But if I say nothing of God, I thus betray my mission as a theologian. To speak of him I must use words borrowed from human experience and proclaim his love or his beauty, while knowing how much these expressions lend themselves to equivocation. Such is the tragic position of the theologian, who must speak of what is beyond speech. Such, too, is the difficulty of using analogies. I shall give only one example of this, but it is a crucial one — the possibility, for reason, of knowing that God is personal. I mean by this that he possesses preeminently the perfection that personality on the human level constitutes. Even the idea of impersonal mind is a contradiction. The person seems to be the supreme value on the human level, and therefore it must needs exist in God.

This, then, is an essential truth; one is all the more struck by the fact that most philosophers have overlooked or misunderstood it. The Ancients seem hardly to have reached it. This is certainly true of Indian philosophy, which has never been able to bear the idea of divine transcendence; and if Plato or Plotinus glimpsed something of divine personality, they never expressed it clearly. It is after the revelation that philosophy was able to make this ultimate progress in the natural knowledge that it could have of God. “Theoretically,” writes Borne with justice, “reason could have risen by her own efforts to the notion of a personal God; but in fact it was necessary for her attention to be attracted by faith towards charity, in order that she might concern herself with what she already knew implicitly, that God is a person.” [E. Borne, Le Problème de la philosophie Chrétienne, Esprit]

Modern philosophers in their turn have stumbled against this idea. The pantheism of Spinoza, as well as the idealism of Hegel or Brunchvicg, deny the impersonality of a God subsisting apart from the world. All their difficulties derive from that of reconciling the infinity of the divine perfection with the limitation that seems to be implied by the notion of personality. “God the person and God the principle of unity exclude one another by all their characteristics,” says Parodi, “the former implying determinacy and singularity, the latter infinity and indeterminacy.”  He could not have expressed more neatly the antinomy that was already a stumbling block to Plotinus. It results in the rejection of a personal God as an anthropomorphism; God is taken to be nothing but the supreme ideal principle of explanation.

How are we to reply to this difficulty? Some thinkers, struck by the apparent impossibility for philosophy of reconciling these two notions of God and not wishing to sacrifice either, have admitted that of itself philosophy could only reach God the supreme principle of intelligibility, and that the notion of God the Person belonged to the realm of moral and religious experience. Thus Pere Laberthonniere contrasted the God of Nature, the unmoved abode of the ideas, of Greek idealism, with God the Person, the source of life, of Christian realism. Le Roy makes the same distinction:

There is a duality, almost an antinomy, in the prevailing conception of God; for he is regarded from a twofold standpoint — that of metaphysics, in which he appears as the supreme principle of explanation and the center of intelligible unity; and that of morality and religion, in which God is, above all, the basis and guarantee of human values, with whom man enters into spiritual communion. I have maintained that here, in a certain sense, is to be found the contrast between Hellenism and Judaism.

But it seems to us that such a distinction is unacceptable, founded as it is upon the idealist conception of philosophy, which eliminates from the field of metaphysics any consideration of existences, in order to concentrate on intelligibility, on the essence of things. It is abundantly clear that such a philosophy could not admit the idea of a person, which is a perfection of the existential concrete order.

But that is an undue mutilation of metaphysics, whose aim is to know beings in all that they require for existence, that is, at the same time in their nature and in their substance. The distinction between God the Person and the God of Nature leads finally to a distinction between two modes of attribution of the divine perfections, those indeed which St. Thomas distinguishes at the beginning of the Summa: “De Deo loquentes utimur nominibus concretis ut significemus ejus subsistenciam, quia apud nos non subsistunt nisi composita, et utimur nominibus abstractis, ut significemus ejus simplicitatem.” 

Subsistencia, simplicitas, personality, unity — these are the very terms of the antinomy presented above by Parodi, and it is here that we see them resolved.

In opposition to M. Le Roy, who declares that “pure philosophy is not required to demonstrate any reality with regard to divine personality”, we hold with Maritain that “metaphysics knows demonstrably that the divine essence subsists in itself as infinite personality”. If in fact human reason did not already know divine personality before the revelation, it could nevertheless arrive at it by its own resources, it already knew it implicitly. In this matter, as in others, revelation led metaphysics to the discovery of truths that were new, but that none the less were strictly metaphysical.

To understand this, we must first of all make it clear in a general way what are the constituents of this perfection of personality that we claim to attribute to God. In fact it is in the very idea that they have of “person” that for many people the real difficulty lies, when it is a question of giving this name to God. “Person” is conceived by them in an anthropomorphic manner, as something essentially finite; how, on that basis, are they to avoid contradicting the divine infinity? For if, in spite of everything, God is to be regarded as a person, they would have, with Renouvier, to make him a finite being. Le Roy puts the antinomy as follows: “Either we shall define the word `personality’ and so fall into the pit of anthropomorphism, or we shall leave it undefined and fall into the no less terrible pit of agnosticism.” ”

I shall not insist on the error that lurks in identifying all “determinacy” (as Parodi did just now) or all “definition” (as Le Roy now does) with limitation. I shall turn without delay to the fundamental charge of anthropomorphism. What do I mean by this? If it is maintained that we ought not to picture God as a human person, with all the imperfections that personality implies in man, I shall be quite willing to agree. “But”, as Maritain rightly says,

all that is laborious and complicated, all that is twisted round an inadequate center and based on an inadequate design, in the current usage of the word “personality”, the whole anthropomorphic burden that weighs the word down, refers uniquely to that in us which connects personality with individuality, and thus with material conditions…. We must deliver the idea of personality from this matrix, in order to grasp its transcendent value and its anoetic power.
Jacques Maritain, Les Degrés du Savoir

If, on the other hand, by the charge of anthropomorphism we mean a refusal to the mind of the strict right to form positive notions of infinite being — starting with man, who is a finite being — when these notions do not imply any limitation, the criticism falls to the ground. In fact, between anthropomorphism, strictly understood, and agnosticism, there is a certain analogy. But, rightly considered, the main difficulty that the moderns find in comprehending divine personality is the intellectual contempt that makes them misunderstand the analogy and reject as anthropomorphic every effort aimed at knowing God through the medium of man. This is what Pere de Grandmaison replied to M. Le Roy:

Divine personality presents a difficulty if, as it seems, anthropomorphism is here inevitable, and if, in the desire to eliminate it, we risk depriving what we are saying of all precise meaning. It is true that we naturally model our distinct concept of a person on the ever-present reality that we are. But a more careful reflection reveals, beneath this anthropomorphic image which usually conceals them, certain features that do not necessarily imply the mode of human existence, and which surpass human limitations.
Père de Grandmaison, Le Dogme Chrétien

We have, therefore, the right to form our own idea of divine personality, beginning with the only personality we know, human personality, but on condition that we retain only its essential features, those that have analogical value and so justify the attribution of personality at once to God and the creature.

Thus we can set aside the preliminary objection that sees in its attribution to God a form of anthropomorphism. We must say, on the other hand, that if, in the order of knowledge, it is on the basis of knowledge of human persons that we form our notion of divine personality, in the order of being it is to God that primarily and properly belongs the personality in which our inadequate human persons are only feeble participations. In fact, there is nothing in the concept of a person that indicates anything other than the perfection of being that is in itself at all the levels of knowledge which it implies.


The God of the Philosophers I by Jean Daniélou

February 14, 2012
The Christian Scientist … “When I was undertaking my doctoral research in molecular biology at Oxford University, I was frequently confronted with a number of theories offering to explain a given observation. In the end, I had to make a judgment concerning which of them possessed the greatest internal consistency, the greatest degree of predictive ability. Unless I was to abandon any possibility of advance in understanding, I was obliged to make such a judgment… I would claim the right to speak of the ‘superiority’ of Christianity in this explicative sense” Alister McGrath

Although not as well-known today as his fellow Jesuit Henri de Lubac and theological contemporary Hans Urs von Balthasar, Jean Daniélou occupies a key place in twentieth-century Catholic theology, recognized for his dialogue with other world religions, his writings on the Church Fathers and Scripture, and his insights into the nature of divine revelation and Tradition. Trained in philology — the study of classical languages — and theology, Daniélou was a professor at the Institut Catholique in Paris and a vital member of the controversial “New Theology” or ressourcement movement.


 The God of the philosophers is one of the signs of the contradictory nature of religious thought. Christian theology,  from St. Thomas Aquinas to the Vatican Council, has always maintained the possibility of a rational knowledge of the existence and attributes of God; and this remains a principle of Catholic thinking. But even in the heart of Christianity another current has never ceased to pulsate — that which regards the God of reason as a stumbling block, to whom the God of faith is opposed.

Thus Pascal speaks of “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, not the God of the philosophers and scholars”; thus Kierkegaard, for whom reason leads to despair, and despair to faith; thus Chestov [Lev Isaakovich Shestov was a Ukrainian/Russian existentialist philosopher. Born in Kiev (Russian Empire) on February 13 1866, he emigrated to France in 1921, fleeing from the aftermath of the October Revolution. He lived in Paris until his death on November 19, 1938. In France he is well known as Léon Chestov], contrasting Job, the Christian philosopher, with Socrates, the wise man after the flesh; thus Barth, denouncing the God of the philosophers, in whom the spirit of man is reflected, as the supreme idol.

My plan here is not to inquire whether in the order of existence philosophy has ever led man to God, for this is a fictitious problem. Conversion to God is always a development of the whole man; and since the order in which we find ourselves historically is an order of grace and sin, the real progress of man is not a progress of pure reason. My purpose here is different. I set myself within this real order, which is in fact an order of grace, within the history of salvation. I ask myself what is the status of philosophy within a theological perspective, just as I have asked this question about religion. And as with the god of the religions, I shall attempt to prove that there is a good and bad use of philosophy, that there is a false god of the philosophers, and yet also a true philosophy of God.

Before studying the means by which philosophy may approach the knowledge of God, we must first deal with the legitimacy of such a practice, for this is what is now in question. Its legitimacy is challenged from widely differing motives. For some, reason, being fundamentally corrupted on account of original sin, is incapable of attaining to truth. For others, God being in essence beyond the capture of the human mind, all claim on the part of this mind to know him cannot be other than illusory. Some are struck by the contradictions among the philosophers and think that it is dangerous on this account to put their faith in God on rational grounds. Positivist minds, trained in scientific disciplines, are disconcerted by the trend of metaphysics, in which they fail to find their criteria of certainty and take refuge in religious experience.

All these objections contain something valuable and rightly warn us against any blind confidence in reason. The encyclical Humani Generis, while endorsing the possibility that reason may arrive at the knowledge of God, recognizes that man in fact attains it with difficulty unless he has the support of grace. Moreover, it is true that the ancient philosophers never reached any but imperfect and conflicting notions of God, and that reason has not been able to gain right knowledge of him except with the help of revelation.

This is the meaning that Gilson rightly gives to the idea of Christian philosophy. It is still more true that the living God cannot be circumscribed by the intellect, and that a god who was entirely intelligible to man would surely not be the true God. Finally it is true that metaphysical certainties belong to another order than mathematical certainties, and that the same criteria of evidence cannot be applied to both.

But all the same, do the limitations of reason justify us in depreciating it? Many men of our time contrast it with personal religious experience. Certainly it is a fact that the knowledge of the true God always implies a personal encounter and an inward conversion. But first of all, religious experience is preeminently subjective. The certainty to which it attains is incommunicable. One is tempted to conclude, then, that the knowledge of God is the expression of an instinct connected with man’s psychological structure. There will be religious and nonreligious temperaments; belief in God will be regarded as the expression of an inner need, the projection of a thirst for happiness that cannot be satisfied by any created thing.

There is no need to emphasize the danger of such an outlook. It justifies the frequent taunt of nonbelievers who hold that belief in God is prompted by the need for security, inward comfort, and consolation. To this we must reply that belief in God has nothing to do with the religious instinct. It is objectively imposed alike on the mystical and the positive temperament.

But far from admitting that the harmony between God’s existence and our affective desires is a criterion of his existence, we must state on the contrary that God’s reality is imposed on us far more in an objective manner, in that he contradicts our desires, in that his reality disconcerts our intellect and his will upsets our plans, in that we are compelled to recognize him, in some sense against our will.

On the other hand, if it is true that the encounter with God is a personal event, it is no less true that this event needs afterward to be controlled and placed within the scheme of things. It is never a development of pure reason, but it must always be subsequently submitted to criticism and sifted by reason. It is only then that I can make certain that I am not the plaything of an illusion, that I am not being carried away by an affective impulse. Only a belief in God that has thus been tested by reason and found solid, which has been brought into relation with the other data and acknowledged to be consistent with them, carries real weight and assures us that our conviction has a sound basis.

Just as reason is necessary to the establishment of the knowledge of God, so is it necessary in exercising this knowledge. Nothing is more dangerous than a religion that claims to have outdistanced reason; it can only lead to fanaticism, illuminism, obscurantism; it is lost in a jungle of superstition. Above all, it runs the risk of being an idle solution. Recourse to the supernatural easily turns into an escapist’s paradise. It claims to find mystery where there may only be ignorance, and thus to justify the positivist critic for whom religion corresponds to a prescientific stage of thought. But the true religious mystery is quite different; it is concerned with what cannot be explained in any other way. Yet there is a danger of confusing the two regions. The function of scientific criticism is precisely that of clearing up this confusion.

If rationalism and that pride of the mind which claims to possess God and deal with him are a serious danger, how noble, on the other hand, are the courageous efforts of the intellect, which in respect for mystery never renounces its determination to understand and which goes on to the limit of its capacity and never halts until it is conquered by the overwhelming pressure of a blinding light! This boldness of the intellect in exploring the mystery is the quality on which the imperishable greatness of St. Thomas Aquinas rests. It implies a difficult equilibrium, seldom realized, between the abyss of rationalism and that of fideism. But it is doubtless this perfectly balanced equilibrium that the instinct of the Church acknowledged when she proclaimed him as the supreme theologian.

This is particularly relevant to the very problem we are discussing. For none has shown better than he, both the limitations and the value of the rational knowledge of God. First, as to the limitations: until his time Christian philosophers, especially St. Augustine, more or less yielded to the temptation presented by Platonism, of seeing in the divine the proper object of the intellect, obscured only by its immersion in the flesh. St. Thomas had the courage to break entirely with this tendency and to refuse to admit that we could form for ourselves any sound or intelligible notion of God, since our concepts are always abstracted from the sensible world. He thus reaffirmed the view of Gregory of Nyssa, whom, however, he scarcely knew. Christian tradition gave him good reason to reject any kind of ontologism, and to deny that there could be any natural intuition of God.

Thus reason can never approach God except mediately, insofar as his existence is postulated by the contingency of what it does not attain. Reason can affirm existence and transcendence. But, as Gilson says so well in his summary of St. Thomas’ thought:

Once this is said, all that man can say is said. This divine essence, whose existence he assumes, is not penetrated by his intellect, and we know that of himself he will never reach it. Denys is right in saying that the God toward whom our reason strives is still, so to speak, an unknown God. For we know well that he is, and what he is not. But what he is remains for us entirely unknown.
The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, Etienne Gilson

In other words, reason can know God — and that is its supreme greatness; but it can know him only from outside, and that is its infinite limitation. Reason is compelled to affirm him in order to remain faithful to itself; and by this very affirmation reason recognizes its limits.

But this is at the same time a courageous affirmation of the power of reason. For if the knowledge that it has of God is never adequate, it is none the less perfectly real. There is no trace in St. Thomas of skepticism or agnosticism. In fact, reason has a secure knowledge of God’s existence. The latter, as necessary cause, is implied in the existence of contingent being; as absolute truth, it is presupposed by the very exercise of the intellect; as perfect good, it is postulated by the existence of morality. Not only does reason know his existence, but it can form for itself some idea of him, insofar as he participates in contingent being, and insofar as all the perfections of the latter are a defective, but real, image of his infinite perfection.

We must go further still. Imperfect as it is, the created spirit still has a capacity to become all things. If its proper object is created being, it remains true that no created being exhausts its possibilities. It is thus a frontier between two worlds, as St. Thomas admirably describes it. The created spirit lies on the far side of all determinate beings, and yet remains on the near side of that Being who transcends all determinacy. Thus, if it cannot directly grasp him, there is yet in it an instinct to grasp him, the “natural desire” of that real, though ineffective, vision which the grace of God could bring to perfection by communicating to it, through grace, a mysterious share in the divine Being.

Such is the admirable manner in which St. Thomas defines the status of reason in the sphere of the knowledge of God. By presenting at the same time in a rigorous fashion the value and the limitations of the rational knowledge of God, he reveals the paradox of the philosophical quest. For God is at the same time its object and its boundary, its supreme end and its question mark. The goal of philosophy is to prove his existence, but it can do this only by acknowledging its powerlessness.

In that it refuses to make this confession of its limitations, in that it yields to the Platonist temptation, the god at whom it arrives is not the true God. In fact, it is clear that, as Gregory of Nyssa says, “God being beyond all determinacy, he who thinks that God is something determinate deceives himself when he believes that what he knows is God”. [Life of Moses, Gregory of Nyssa] Thus the problem of God reveals the inward contradiction of philosophy; and it is here that at the same time he justifies it and defines its position.

But it is precisely this position, which constitutes the status of philosophy in the Christian scheme of things, that the majority of philosophers refuse to accept. Philosophy seems to them to lose its significance if it lacks a complete grasp of the intelligibility of being, if it is not supreme knowledge. They do not resign themselves to having to acknowledge a principle that is not perfectly intelligible to them. It is this perfect intelligibility that they call by the name of God; and it is this false god of the philosophers that we may justly oppose to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But this deity is not the God of reason, but the idol of rationalism.

Let us be more precise. The requirement of philosophy is a requirement of intelligibility. Confronted by the apparent disorder of things, the philosophical mind seeks to establish order, to build up sequences, to demonstrate a chain of causes. Beyond concrete realities, it seeks to disclose the very structure of being itself. In this search for being, it desires to arrive at the first principle, that which is at once the cause, the pattern, the end of all that is. This principle is called God. The philosophical quest comes necessarily to the problem of God, which is in reality the only one that concerns it.

But here it meets temptation. For the principle that it calls God, it arrives at through its demand for intelligibility. He represents for philosophy a requirement. Philosophy proceeds to apply to God the principle that has led it to him; God is expected also to be intelligible, and the intelligibility that philosophy applies to him is the law of the human mind. Thus philosophy proceeds to define him with its accustomed categories, calling him the One, intellectual Love, absolute Mind, and so forth. Many great philosophers have reduced the totality of the real to a perfectly coherent system, of which God is the immanent law. Their mind is perfectly satisfied with thus having mastered the totality of being.

But it happens that, by a strange contradiction, it is precisely at the moment when they imagine in their audacity that they have reached God that they have in reality lost him. In fact, they thought they had reached him when the demand of their mind for intelligibility was completely satisfied. But for all that, they had made their mind the measure of God. Yet the very essence of God is precisely to be that which is measured by nothing and which measures all things.

On the level of God, the problem of intelligibility is reversed. He is the unintelligible for whom everything else is intelligible. But in reducing him to intelligibles, they deny his specific reality. He is not found within intelligibility, but he is that which constitutes it. So, as Pascal says, the most reasonable course is the disavowal of reason; and that is where the knowledge of God lies.

But this runs counter to the claims of reason. It refuses to leave open this wound in its side, this crack in its edifice. Erecting into an absolute the intelligibility that is proper to itself, it pulls everything down to that level. Reason cannot allow anything to escape it. It refuses to acknowledge that it is checkmated; yet it is just this checkmate that was the knowledge of God which threw wide the gates of mystery. It would have found God by acknowledging its powerlessness; it loses him by claiming to possess him. The One of Plotinus, the Brahman of Sankara, the Being of Spinoza, the absolute Mind of Hegel, are finally idols, not so much by being the object of reason as by being the sufficiency of reason.

The error of all rationalism is that of putting God on the same basis as other objects of reason, higher, no doubt, but not really other. To paraphrase Gabriel Marcel, God cannot be treated as a problem. He represents the boundary of reason. His dazzling light prevents the eye from seeing him. Consequently, all that we say of him is inadequate. He cannot be contained by any concept. But at the same time all that we say of him is true. “He is all that is and nothing that is”, says Pseudo-Dionysus.

The moderns will say knowledge of him is dialectical, that all statements about him imply their opposite. Already St. Thomas showed that all that is said of him must also be denied, that negative theology is the necessary complement of positive theology. This is that very doctrine of analogy which enables us to speak of God in words borrowed from creation, but on condition that we make it clear that they apply to him in a different way from that in which they apply to his creatures.

Moreover, we can see that what is true of God is also true of other “limit problems” that imply an apparent contradiction, and about which it is only possible to construct propositions that seem to be irreconcilable because the place where they are reconciled is beyond the reach of sight. So with liberty, which is a limit problem, and one that is irreducible to complete intelligibility, since we must at the same time say that man is free and that God is the cause of all and since nobody has ever shown or will ever show how these two statements are to be reconciled. So, too, with evil, which is imposed upon us as a tragic reality and seems irreconcilable with the goodness of God. The real problems of metaphysics are also those that bring metaphysics up against a boundary line.

But their function is precisely to do this. They prevent reason from getting shut in on itself; they are windows opening toward the mystery of being. That mystery cannot be fathomed by reason, but at least it can lead toward it, and this is indeed its function. It leads the spirit as far as its frontiers; it discerns the region of mystery. By clarifying all that is within its domain, reason prevents us from placing the mystery where it does not lie. It demystifies the natural realities that people are trying to make into mysteries. This is its critical, purifying function. But none the less it points toward the true mysteries. It would betray its mission if it refused to acknowledge them and denied the reality of all that the brightness of its gaze does not penetrate.

But these limit problems, the thresholds of reason, are not characterized only by the fact that they are placed somewhat beyond its reach and so cannot be neatly defined. Another feature that they possess is that they cannot be broached from the standpoint of straightforward discussion, but demand a total outlook, an existential conversion.

So it is with suffering — all attempts to provide an explanation are unbearable. We cannot hold a discussion with a man who is suffering. That is what Job’s comforters did, and it cannot be tolerated. Neither can suffering be analyzed and counterattacked. This is why Christ seems the only answer to it, because he gives no rational explanation, but unravels it existentially. So, too, with hell, which is a limit problem, at the same time necessary (for without it nothing would any longer be important or serious) and nevertheless intolerable — and again it can only be met by an existential attitude.

If limit problems compel us to conversion, that is because they involve the being of a person, they engage his existence. I have no right to treat anyone as a mere object of thought; moreover it is impossible to do so, for a person represents a nucleus irreducible by discursive analysis; he presents himself as existing in himself, as a distinct spiritual center. This irreducible nucleus can be reached only by love, which compels me to go out of myself. This is why an idealist philosophy that reduces everything to thought is a truncated philosophy. An integral philosophy could only be a spiritual realism, which would compel me to hold on by love to the person of the other, and make me reach in that other what is really real, that is, what I cannot make use of, what cannot be reduced to having and remains in the region of being.

This is really true of God. He is, above all, the one whom I cannot make use of. The error of false philosophies is precisely that of making God an object, of claiming to possess him through the intellect. But that which the intellect possesses could not be God. On the contrary, it must be said that the encounter with God drives the intellect to a fundamental conversion, to a decentralization from the self; and this conversion is the knowledge of God himself. For God can be broached only as an existent and as a personal existent. On his level, my act of intellect seems itself to be an existential act, the act of an existent; and thus far it depends on God. To know God is not, then, to hold him in my intellect, but on the contrary to rediscover myself as measured by him.

So we see at the same time how the knowledge of God is a work of reason and a challenge to reason. It is in this sense that “nothing is more reasonable than the disavowal of reason”. Reason is the necessary means of knowledge in that it prevents us from placing God where he is not and keeps us from idols, including that of the mind of man himself. Surveying the world of bodies and the world of spirits, it fails to find God there. Reason implores the angels to reveal his name, but they refuse to tell it. Then “she [reason] understands that the true knowledge of Him whom she seeks and her true vision consist in seeing that He is invisible and in knowing that He transcends all knowledge, separated from all things by His incomprehensibility as by darkness.” [Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses]


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