Jacques Maritain Center : Natural Theology / by Bernard Boedder, S.J.

SECTION 3. -- The Will of God as supreme Life and Beatitude.

Thesis XXXI. -- God lives an infinitely perfect intellectual life, and enjoys an infinite beatitude; consequently sadness, anger, and repentance are not to be predicated of Him except in a metaphorical sense.

190. There are three principal kinds of life in this world: vegetative, sensitive, and intellectual. Vegetative life is carried on by the processes of nutrition, growth, and reproduction.

Sensitive life manifests itself in organic perception, imagination, organic instinct and craving, and in locomotion.

Intellectual life consists in acts of understanding and will.

As is proved in Psychology, plants have only vegetative life, brutes vegetative and sensitive but not intellectual life, whilst man unites in himself all three lives. God cannot have vegetative and sensitive life, for these involve a material organism, and God is a pure Spirit. But He must have intellectual life, which does not involve any essential dependence on matter, and is a pure perfection. His life is therefore essentially intellectual; and as His intellect and volition are infinitely perfect, He must be said to live an infinitely perfect life.

xvi. Even without the light of Revelation we can understand that the life of God must be infinitely blissful, a state of supreme beatitude. Beatitude is defined in scholastic language as the bonum perfectum intellectualis naturae, i.e., the fulness of everything really desirable to a rational being. Such a being has a natural longing for truth. Consequently, beatitude must attend the full possession of truth. This full possession is to be found in God, and in God alone. From this it follows that beatitude is greater in proportion as the union with God through knowledge and love increases. But God comprehends Himself with absolutely perfect knowledge, and has an infinite love for His own infinite goodness. He is therefore infinitely happy in virtue of His infinitely perfect life.

As He is unchangeable, so His beatitude can undergo no change. Neither the material universe, with its countless beauties and wonders showing forth everywhere traces of God's power, wisdom, and bounty, nor the world of created spirits, reflecting in legions of incorruptible beings the image of the Divine Majesty, nor the blessed in Heaven, praising their Creator day and night, nor the just on earth serving Him under trials and temptations, can augment His beatitude in the least. Nor does the rebellion of Lucifer and his wicked band, the indifference and ingratitude of mortals, the never-ceasing obstinacy of the damned in Hell, mar in any way the happiness of Him whose essence is the centre and the only source of all happiness. He is the Lord who embraces His servants with a care and love infinitely more pure and generous than that of the tenderest mother, but without anxiety and sorrow. His Justice sentences the impenitent to everlasting misery, but without anger and excitement, and without wishing them evil as evil, out of love to the order demanded by His infinite Wisdom. "He was," to use the words of Cardinal Newman, "from eternity ever in action, though ever at rest; ever surely in rest and peace, profound and ineffable: yet with a living present mind, self-possessed, and all-conscious, comprehending Himself and sustaining the comprehension. He rested ever, but He rested in Himself; His own resource, His own end, His own contemplation, His own blessedness."{8}

192. It is then evident that no affection of will implying want of perfect peace and serenity of mind is compatible with the infinitely blissful state proper to the Divine Existence. Sadness, therefore, especially that sort of sadness called envy, which finds a reason for grief in the prosperity of others, and which by the heathens of old was attributed to their false gods, is altogether alien to the Divine Nature. It follows from this also that anger and repentance, which have their root in some sadness, cannot be predicated of God properly.

Notwithstanding all this, there is a deep truth in the Scriptural expressions by which on certain occasions sadness, anger, and repentance are attributed to God. But they must be explained as metaphors, as Catholic Doctors have always explained them.{9}

God is said to be angry, because He decrees to inflict penalties on sinners; and thus deals with them as a king on earth might deal with a subject who had provoked his anger. But while the earthly potentate may be really angry, and act out of passion, God is neither liable to the passion of anger, nor can He inflict punishment for the sole object of causing pain. He does not punish save for justice' sake, and that in absolute calmness. Infinite, therefore, is the difference between what is metaphorically called the anger of God, and what is really the anger of man. The one resembles the other, not in its essence, but in its effects.

The same holds good of repentance, attributed to God metaphorically, and existing in man really. Repentance taken in its proper meaning is essentially sorrow and dissatisfaction arising from the consciousness of having done something evil, or omitted something good which should have been done. Such sorrow cannot be genuine, unless it includes the wish and resolution to undo the past mistake as much as possible. This purpose of following another line of action for the time to come is marked by special firmness and determination in the case of true repentance. For this reason the term "repentance" is a very apt metaphorical expression, to signify that God in virtue of His eternal decrees will henceforth either withdraw certain blessings and inflict certain penalties on account of the sins of men, or will cease to punish and pour out favours in consideration for sinners being sincerely converted to Him. In the former sense repentance is attributed to God in the Book of Genesis:{10} "It repented Him that He had made man." This phrase means that God foreseeing the spread of vice among the contemporaries of Noe, had decreed from eternity to destroy them off the face of the earth. The same term is used also to denote God's eternal decree to stay the infliction of penalties, on condition of true conversion. Thus God orders the Prophet Jeremias to speak to the cities of Juda, all the words which He had commanded him: "If so be they will hearken and be converted every one from his evil way, that I may repent Me of the evil that I think to do unto them for the wickedness of their doings."{11}

There are in Scripture other terms applied to God which signify disgust and sadness at the doings of others. This language metaphorically denotes the extreme hatred that the Divine will bears to sin, especially to those sins which are committed after the reception of special favours, or which imply want of faith and confidence in the word of God. Thus we read in reference to the ingratitude of the chosen people: "In those days the Lord began to be weary of Israel."{12} The want of faith in the unbelieving King Achaz, the representative of the house of David, calls down the reproach: "O house of David, is it a small thing for you to be grievous to men, that you are grievous to my God also?"{13}

So long as men remain sensitive-rational beings -- they will continue thus to express spiritual truths in metaphorical language. And the more they contemplate the infinite perfection of the Creator of matter and spirit, and the more their heart is set on fire with love for "the First Author of beauty,"{14} the more impressively will they speak of Him in language rich with imagery. Those who at once suspect anthropomorphism when they hear the language of metaphor used of the First Cause, are as unreasonable as he would be who should accuse men of anthropomorphizing nature when they seek a shelter against the rage of a snowstorm, protect the sensitiveness of a delicate instrument, disport themselves in the smiling meadows, or watch the sun sinking to his couch.

{8} Discourses addressed to Mixed Congregations, p. 289. (Seventh Edit.)

{9} Cf. St. Thomas, Contra Gentes, i. 89, and 91. § "Sciendum tamen."

{10} Genesis vi. 6.

{11} Jeremias xxvi. 3.

{12} 4 Kings x. 32.

{13} Isaias vii. 13.

{14} Cf. Wisdom xiii. 3.

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