The Divine Life in Man
BASED ON THE WRITINGS OF THE SUMMA OF ST. THOMAS AQUINAS
FOR THE CONFRATERNITY OF THE PRECIOUS BLOOD
BY FRS. WALTER FARRELL AND MARTIN HEALY
CHAPTER 10, IMITATIONS OF HAPPINESS
THE LIFE OF FAITH that leads to happiness is not an easy one. One of its darkest difficulties is the fact that it is a life based on faith. The vision of God---man's final destiny---is not on display in the windows of our large department stores. You cannot find it enthroned in the main room of our museums. A man cannot see it in this life; he must believe in it, hope for it, work for it in the darkness of this present life.
BUT GOD IS GOOD AND WISE. He knows that those who toll in the dark depths of the mine of life must glimpse an occasional pinpoint of light to strengthen their faith in the existence of the sun. In His great generosity God gives man intimations of His own existence and power and love. In this way He confirms man's faith, strengthens his hope and increases his love for Himself. God gives these intimations to man in the gifts of prophecy, speech and miracle.
THROUGH PROPHECY God reveals to man things that are knowable only to God Himself. It is by prophecy that man has come to know the deep secrets of the Divine life, such as the mystery of the Trinity. More importantly, from the point of view of man himself and his need for certainty, the prophets of God have been able to foretell the future, especially the free future acts of God and men. The mysteries of the Divine life are so profound that men might not accept them from a prophet; but the accurate forecasting of free future acts is a clear sign of the Divinity. It is an intellectual miracle confirming the truth of the Divine revelation given to men by God through the prophets.
GOD CAN SPEAK to His prophets in different ways. He may send them visible and audible sights and sounds in which His message to men is contained; He may act directly upon the imagination of the prophet; or He may illumine the intellect of the prophet immediately, making him aware of the Divine judgment he must manifest to men.
THE PROPHET HIMSELF needs no previous preparation or disposition to be the recipient of a Divine message. He may not even fully realize the meaning of what he himself sees or transmits to men; but in the hands of God he is a chosen vessel carrying the light of Divine wisdom to men.
OCCASIONALLY the prophet is carried out of himself in rapture. His soul remains in his body; but it withdraws or is withdrawn from the turmoil of the life of the senses, and the prophet gazes for a moment on the face of Divinity Itself. Refreshed and inspired by this glimpse of God Himself, the prophet can speak with authority to men and impart to them his own conviction of the truth and love of God.
AS FAR AS PUBLIC REVELATION is concerned---that is, the revelation which God has entrusted to His Church to be proposed to all men for belief---the age of prophecy ceased at the time and with the work of Christ and His Apostles. But God still sends private revelations to men as signs of His continuing love and care for them.
IF GOD'S MESSAGE to men is to be properly appreciated by men, it must be preached to them. This means that it must be preached in all the languages of all the nations of the earth, and it must be preached man's history on earth, God has not left the preaching of His message to the unaided efforts and talents of men. In order to give the infant Church of Christ a good beginning, God bestowed on the Apostles the gift of tongues. He infused into their minds a knowledge of the various languages of men, so that they could preach God's message to all men and understand their questions. In addition, down through history He has given His missioners---from time to time---the power to preach His word persuasively. Finally, throughout the history of His Church, God has continuously confirmed the preaching of His word by miracles. Through the power of God, the blind have their sight restored to them, the deaf hear again and the lame walk. The preachers of God's word heal the sick and forecast the future, to confirm the truth of God's message to men. In all these wonderful ways God gives to men an occasional glimpse of the splendor which is Himself, of the great light of happiness which awaits those who love and serve God.
MAN HIMSELF stretches his hand out to this happiness by living a life of virtue. And as he lives this life of virtue, his very life becomes to him a source of hope and happiness. The life of virtue in man may be either active or contemplative. The contemplative man devotes most of his energy to the truth, especially that sublime Truth which is God. The active man gives most of his energy to action, especially the action of the moral virtues in his life. Of course, when we speak in this way of the contemplative or the active man, we are not saying that the contemplative never acts or the active man never contemplates truth. It is a matter of proportion and intention. The contemplative dedicates himself chiefly to the contemplation of God, and the active man intends to devote himself principally to the work of the moral virtues.
THE CHIEF ACT of contemplation is a simple contemplation of the truth, especially Divine truth. This is an act most natural to man. The life of plants is said to consist in nourishment and generation. The life of animals consists in sensation and movement. But the life of man consists in intellectual understanding and in moral action according to reason. In the intellectual contemplation of truth man, then, finds the fulfillment of his noblest human endowment, the power to know. But the intellect of man is moved to action by the human will. Love, therefore, is the motive cause of contemplation. A man pursues contemplation because he loves the truth, and wishes to know it and understand it.
NOR CAN IT BE SAID that the moral virtues have no relation to contemplation. The mind of man cannot raise itself easily to the contemplation of truth unless his passions are under control. The lustful man can hardly find time to consider the sublime truths of the Divine life. The moral virtues, then, are a disposition of man to contemplation. When the moral virtues have given a man control of himself, then he can raise his mind and heart to God and the thought of God.
AS WE HAVE ALREADY SAID, contemplation consists in the act of gazing at truth. But before a man reaches the perfection of this simple gaze at truth, ordinarily there will be many other intellectual acts to be performed. A man must first of all accept the principles from which he will proceed to the contemplation of truth. These principles are chiefly the truths that God has revealed to man about Himself and His action in the world. Then man must meditate on, or reason out, the meaning of these principles. Finally he arrives at the simple contemplation of truth. The truth which man contemplates will be God as He can be known through the world He has made, and God as He is in Himself.
TO THE CONTEMPLATIVE MAN contemplation is a delight. The very act itself is the perfect act of man's highest faculty, the power to know the truth. This alone brings the highest satisfaction to man. Besides, in true contemplation God Himself is the object of the mind's gaze, and so through contemplation man receives a foretaste of the perfect happiness of the vision of God.
THE ACTIVE MAN gives himself principally to external actions; he is more concerned with external good works. Since we are speaking here of the good human life, it is clear that these exterior works will be works of virtue, especially of the moral virtues.
OF THE TWO TYPES of human life possible to men, the contemplative life in itself is more perfect and more meritorious. Man's ultimate goal is the contemplation of God face to face. The contemplative, then, is already directly preparing himself for his chief act in Heaven. The active man is preparing himself for Heaven, but not so directly. However, this does not mean that every man must seek contemplation rather than action in this life. Some men are called by God to contemplation, and others are destined for action. By temperament and virtue, some are more prepared for contemplation than others. Some need a life of action to keep their passions in check. In any case, since the active life depends on the moral virtues, even the contemplative must prepare himself for contemplation by a life of action, that is, he must practise the moral virtues so that his passions may be brought under control and offer no hindrance to contemplation.
BASICALLY, OF COURSE, a good man chooses either the active or the contemplative life only as a means of achieving his ultimate goal, the vision of God. Naturally, too, since every man is unique---unique in the freedom of his own deliberate choices in life---he will build his life and realize his goal in his own inimitable way. But despite the uniqueness of each human life, it is possible to distinguish the states of life in which men actually work for happiness.
THE TERM "STATE OF LIFE" as St. Thomas uses it here is not the equivalent of the expression "station in life". By "station in life", people usually mean such things as whether a man is rich or poor, a professor or a postman, a banker or a politician. By the expression "state of life" St. Thomas means something more permanent and stable than a temporary station in life. It implies a certain immovableness in a man's moral position in life, and a relation to the obligations which bind his person. In the moral order, there are two basic states of life. A man is free or he is a slave; he stands on his own or depends on another.
UNDER THESE GENERAL STATES OF LIFE---freedom or servitude---there will be many more particular states of life, according to the various works to which men must devote themselves. St. Thomas, naturally enough, since he is a theologian, concerns himself here only with states of life in the Church and therefore spiritual states of life.
IN THE SPIRITUAL ORDER, different states of life are distinguished by their relation to moral or spiritual perfection. Spiritual perfection consists in charity, which unites a man to God. From this point of view, we can distinguish two freedoms and two slaveries. A man may be a slave to sin, and this is the state of the habitual sinner; or he may be a slave to justice, and this is the state of the habitually just man. A man may be free from sin, and this is the state of the good man who has mastered himself; or he may be free from justice, and this is the state of the man who is not held back from evil by the love of justice.
THE MAN who is seeking true happiness strives to be free from sin and a slave to justice. The root of this spiritual freedom is charity, and the freedom itself grows out of charity commanding the other virtues to their acts. As in all cases of growth, we can distinguish three stages of the perfection of charity: the beginners, the proficient and the perfect. It is important to remember that in all three stages charity itself is present as the basic cause of freedom from sin.
SPIRITUAL PERFECTION consists primarily in the observance of the commandments, that is in the love of God and our neighbor. To sin against the commandments is to act contrary to charity, and therefore to lose charity, the essence of perfection. Secondarily and instrumentally, perfection is found in the observance of the counsels, poverty, chastity and obedience. Wealth and marriage, for example, are neither sinful nor contrary to charity itself, but they may hinder the act of charity. The father of a family cannot devote as much time to the service of God as the nun who is observing the vow of chastity.
THIS DOES NOT MEAN that real perfection is impossible to anyone but priests and religious. Through the grace of God, it is possible for anyone to be spiritually perfect, that is, to live well the life of charity for God and man. The housewife who lives across the street from the convent may be more perfect than some of the nuns in the convent. Yet, in technical language, the nuns are living in a state of perfection, and the housewife is not. The term "state" means something permanent and immovable, and the nuns have bound themselves by their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to a way of life to which the housewife has not bound herself.
BISHOPS OF THE CHURCH and religious---that is, those who have freely bound themselves by the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience---are in the state of perfection. Bishops are in the state of perfection because their office binds them to work for the spiritual perfection of the flock entrusted to their care, and in order to bring others to perfection they must be perfect themselves.
RELIGIOUS are in the state of perfection because they are bound by the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The essence of perfection is charity or the love of God above all things. Now a man can fail to love God above all things because he loves external possessions too much, or his body too much, or his own will too much. By the vow of poverty the religious gives up external possessions. By the vow of chastity he gives up the legitimate use of the pleasures of his body. By the vow of obedience he gives up his own willfulness and submits himself to God through his superior. In this way the religious voluntarily withdraws himself from the things which might lead him away from God. By pledging himself to a life of poverty, chastity and obedience, he binds himself to seek perfection, that is, to seek to love God perfectly. His vows give him a certain stability or immovableness in the search for spiritual perfection, and it is for this reason that he is said to be in a state of perfection; he has promised, by his vows, to seek perfection.
THE SPIRITUAL PERFECTION of bishops and religious is a sign of their success in the search for happiness. It is an example to all men. Their whole-hearted pursuit of God is like a beacon on a mountain top showing other men the way to happiness. As we said in the very beginning of this essay on man, the image of God, the final goal of every human life is happiness---the vision of God. And the meaning of every human act is found in its relation to this goal. If it turns a man away from this goal, it is evil and leads to unhappiness. If it leads man on to this goal, it is good and will bring man to happiness. If men are to fulfill the true destiny of human nature, they must use all their powers to seek God. The human body, the human soul, the passions of man, his reason and will, his habits and virtues, the grace of God and the supernatural virtues which come to man with grace---all these wonderful powers must be used in the pursuit of happiness. Through temperance man learns to control himself in the pursuit of pleasure. Through fortitude man strengthens himself in the pursuit of good in the face of difficulty and danger. Through justice man learns to establish peace and order between himself and the rest of men, between man and God. Through prudence the mind of man becomes capable of directing all his human actions well. Through faith man learns for the first time of the great goal of human life---the vision of God. Through hope his heart is raised up to this goal. Through charity man begins to love God as he ought. Through charity man already possesses God. If charity directs all his human actions, his life on earth will be filled with the beauty and the strength of God. As long as grace and charity remain in man's soul, man is the image and the likeness of God. Like God, he has the power to see and to love God. If man perseveres in the love of God, one day he will reach his goal, his ultimate happiness. He will see God face to face and he will love God as God loves Himself. Then man will be what God always meant man to be---the image and likeness of God.
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