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Saturday, April 2, 2011

God and the Transcendentals

God and the Transcendentals
By Jim J. McCrea

The philosophers tell us that being as being or "that which is" has transcendental properties - that is, properties which belong to being as being so that everything that exists partakes of them. The transcendentals identified by the classical philosophers are *unity,* *intelligibility,* *goodness, and *beauty.* These transcendentals are so identified with being that they are simply other names for being. Unity means that insofar as something has being, it is one thing. When something is made multiple by being disassembled, it ceases to be what it is. Intelligibility means that insofar as something has being, it makes sense to our intellects. When we observe around us natural things such as clouds, trees, animals, mountains, and man-made things such as houses and cars, our intellects understand what they are rather than registering a meaningless pattern of sensations. Goodness means that insofar as something has being, it is an object of love or attraction. Goodness and being are equivalent. If we study reality on the metaphysical level, we can see that the multitude of entities within it have affinities for each other - i.e. the chicks for their mother, the earth for the rain, male for female etc. Being as being is beautiful. Any objective ugliness encountered within something means that some non-being is mingled with it. In the same way, any evil encountered within something means that it contains non-being - since evil is nothing but a privation of due being or good.

The property of *naturalness* can also be considered a transcendental. Being as being is natural. Natural is simply another name for being. As intelligibility addresses the intellect, as goodness addresses the will, and as beauty addresses both the intellect and affectivity, naturalness addresses the affectivity (spiritual emotion). It can best be described as the feeling and comfort of "home." It is the comfort of an old shoe or the lack of strain and comfort of an old friend whose behavior is precisely synchronized with your personality. Nature in the outdoors is natural because everything is there as God intended it. It has an appropriateness and lack of strain beyond the capability of man to produce. Flowing water and a fire in a fireplace are soothing precisely because of their naturalness. To be natural is the opposite of anything gaudy, contrived, inappropriate, artificial - in short, anything that is out of place or "sticks out like a sore thumb." Since naturalness is a transcendental, anything which displays unnaturalness has some non-being mingled with it (in which case is would also contain evil, unintelligibility, multiplicity, and ugliness).

There is a common misconception that at advanced stages of holiness, a person becomes peculiar, strange, and eccentric. The opposite is in fact the case. God's supernatural life dwelling in a soul tends to make it more normal. Supernatural grace heals human nature. As this supernatural life grows in the soul, the kinks, imbalances, and peculiarities of the soul are straightened out. As the soul grows in grace it tends more towards the natural and more and more of its actions become appropriate to the situation at hand. This is because it is more tending towards the fullness of being. If one meets a supposedly holy person who is odd, angry, aggressive, controlling etc. his or her holiness is probably not genuine. It may be objected that there were saints who were odd, and that many devout people have noticeable personality flaws. This is in spite of their sanctity, not because of it. It is these areas of abnormality into which the transforming power of Christ has not yet reached. Many have wondered what it would be like to meet the Blessed Virgin while she lived on this earth, who was completely sinless and the closest to God of all creatures. My guess is that she would appear utterly natural, with every word and action completely appropriate to the situation at hand. There would be an atmosphere of total liberty and complete openness about her, with no trace of narrowness or concern for what is particular to her.

When the perfected soul enters heaven, which is the goal of its life, it beholds sights and understands thoughts that never have entered its understanding before (see 1 Cor 2:9). One of the supreme delights of heaven will be to see the angels there. The philosophers tell us that each one is a distinct species in itself. These are species not resembling man or any other thing existing on earth. Each angel is of a form that is utterly more exotic than anything possible in this universe. But at the same time, they are not in any way weird or uncanny (the nature of being uncanny belongs to the devils or the fallen angels). At the same time of being supremely exotic, they are supremely more natural than anything on earth. One of the causes of the surpassing happiness of heaven is that it is utterly more natural than nature on earth. This is because the level of being is much higher there.

It is a Catholic theological tradition that nine choirs or levels of heavenly spirits exist (although this is not formal Church teaching). From lowest to highest these are - angels, archangels, principalities - powers, virtues, dominions - thrones, cherubim, and seraphim. It is also traditional teaching that the degree of supernatural grace that a soul attains on earth (that is, the degree of charity) determines the choir into which it will be placed. Those who die with less grace in their souls will be assigned to a lower choir, while those with a greater degree of grace will be assigned to a higher choir. If naturalness is a transcendental property of being, the higher the level of being, the greater the naturalness. Heaven is far more natural than the physical universe because its level of being is far higher. As we ascend the choirs of heavenly spirits, we do not more and more depart from the domain of the normal and more and more enter the region of the bizarre, but encounter what is more and more deeply natural. The higher we are in heaven, the more deeply we are at home, and the more deeply we experience that everything has a "right" feel. The mystic should have no fear that as he or she ascends far above the spirituality of the average person that he or she will encounter something mysteriously disconcerting as his or her eternal lot.

The ultimate and eternal happiness in heaven is the face to face vision of God and an ineffable personal union with Him. While all other things is being (or "that which is") in a finite mode - circumscribed by limitations, God is Pure Being who has no limitations and who is completely uncircumscribed. God is Infinite Existence. The transcendentals apply to Him to an infinite degree. This is the metaphysical reason for the infinite happiness of the souls in heaven. The most universally known transcendental, as applied to God, is infinite goodness. This is expressed in His infinite love. As St. John the Apostle says: "God is Love" (1 John 4:8). It is our deepest desire to love and be loved, and this will be fulfilled perfectly in heaven. However, the other transcendentals in God are just as essential to our eternal happiness. These are less known. God is infinite beauty. In heaven we will be ravished with joy and pleasure to an infinite degree because of that beauty. God is pure and absolute intelligibility. When He is seen face to face, it will infinitely make sense that He must exist and be the way He is. He will be seen as the ultimate "logic" of reality, and will completely quench our thirst for truth. As absolute unity, God is absolutely simple. He has no composition whatsoever. The attributes of intellect, will, power, beauty, goodness etc. of God are all identical to each other and to the very being of God. This denotes absolute purity, in that nothing in God is in opposition to anything else. God's infinite purity can be expressed in the statement that there is nothing in God but God. The perfect purity of heaven will be a supreme source of happiness for the blessed. Finally, the transcendental naturalness must apply to God to an infinite degree. God, being supernatural, is not a-natural or unnatural. He is infinitely natural. In union with God in heaven, we will have an infinite sense that we are home and where we are supposed to be.

*Suprageometricity* is also a transcendental property of being. To be suprageometric means to not be capturable by any formula. It bespeaks of the form of something that is in no way reducible. The only adequate expression of it is itself. Suprageometric form has a higher level of order than geometric form. Materialistic science wishes to reduce all of reality to mathematical formulae. If reality is suprageometric, however, this cannot be done. If being as being is suprageometric, the higher the being, the greater the suprageometricity. God is the supreme being, so that He is infinitely suprageometric. Although we can make true statements of Him by analogy – that is, He is powerful, good, beautiful, wise, etc. - these attributes exist in Him in a way that is completely mysterious. The way God is, is infinitely remote from being captured by any equation whatsoever. This is in contrast to the seventeenth century philosopher Spinoza who likened God to an infinite self-existing geometry. For him, God is not distinct from the world, but all things are emanations from him - or rather "it." For Spinoza, in reality, there is no real freedom or moral responsibility, but simply the compulsion of geometric law that explains everything in existence. All things exist and behave the way they do in the same way that the internal angles of a triangle must add up to 180 degrees. Spinoza is considered a rationalist. It is the hubris of the rationalists that everything in principle is understandable by the human mind because it is all encompassable by a type of mathematical reasoning. Grasping the concept of suprageometricity would help to refute that.

Finally, *subtlety* can be considered a transcendental property of being. The higher something is in the hierarchy of being, the more subtle it is. For example, plants have much more refinement than mere stones. Animals have more refinement still. Humans have such subtlety and refinement to their form, that that form cannot come from matter and cannot be supported by matter (as are the forms of the lower levels such as plants and animals). According to classical scholastic philosophy, the soul of a human is the form of his or her body. The human soul or bodily form, rather than originating from matter, is created directly by God at conception as a spiritual substance and departs this life for judgment after death, where the body disintegrates because the soul or its form is gone. The human person, therefore, is not two things - a soul within a body - but is one thing - an ensouled body. It is just like a statue is not two things - shape plus marble - but one thing - shaped marble. The subtlety of the human person is such that the very form of him or her is an immortal spirit.

Angels exist at a higher level still. Whereas man is matter united to spirit, angels are pure spirits. They are more subtle still. They are invisible to us for the precise reason that they exist on a level of subtlety below the threshold of our consciousness. Only in heaven will we have the clarity of intellect to see them as they really are.
Now God, at the top of the hierarchy of being and the one who is infinite, is infinitely subtle. Because of this, He is invisible even to the natural faculties of angels. For humans and angels to see God face the face in heaven in the beatific vision, it is required that God add a special power to their intellect that theologians call the "light of glory." It is a supernatural power that God adds to the human or angelic intellect so that the supernatural happiness of seeing God face to face in heaven is possible.

** Endnote - In classical scholastic theology, the supernatural refers to the nature of God alone (to Him or to whom He communicates it by sheer gift). By that definition the rest of the spirits are not supernatural by nature but are natural beings.