The Infinity of God

We have seen how the si~plicity of God, the simplicity oj pure spirit, of being itself, unites within itself, to the exclusior of all real distinction, such apparently opposite perfections as justice and mercy. We have seen, too, how this Divine simplicity is reflected in the outlook of a child, in that of the Saints. But it is seen especially in the exalted simplicity of our Lord's holy soul, which, like the divine simplicity, united within itself such seemingly opposite virtues as the mosl profound humility and the most grandiose magnanimity, thc most compassionate gentleness and the most heroic fortitude, a rigorous justice and a most tender mercy.

We must now consider another attribute of the Divine Being, His infinity: without it we can have no conception of Divine wisdom or providence.

This attribute at first sight appears to be opposed to the preceding; for our intellect, always more or less a slave to the imagination, represents the Divine simplicity as a point like the apex of a pyramid. Now a point is indivisible and without extension, and hence is not infinite. How can God be both supremely simple and infinite?

The reason is that the Divine simplicity is not that of a point in space; it is a spiritual simplicity, far transcendinG space and the point. Again, the infinity of God is an infinity
of perfection, far transcending what might be the material infinity of a world that would have no limits.

Many errors about the Divine infinity are the result of confusing the quantitative infinity of unlimited extension or of time without beginning, with the qualitative infinity of, say, infinite wisdom and infinite love. But the difference between them is enormous; it is the same as the difference between corporeal beings and the infinitely perfect pure Spirit.

Nor must we confuse this infinity of perfection, in the highest degree determinate and so complete as to admit of no increase, with the indetermination of matter, which is capable of receiving forms of every kind. These are at opposite poles: on the one hand, we have the absolutely imperfect indetermination of matter, and on the other, the supremely perfect infinity of the pure Spirit, who is being itself.

The a priori proof of the Divine infinity

How do we prove the Divine infinity thus conceived as an infinity of perfection?

A beautiful proof is given us by St. Thomas (Ia, q. 7, a. 1). It is a proof that will appeal to the artist. St. Thomas notes that the artistic ideal, the ideal form as conceived by the artist --- the form, for instance, of the statue of Moses in the mind of Michelangelo --- possesses a certain infinity of perfection before it is materialized or limited to a particular portion of matter and localized in space. For in the mind of Michelangelo this ideal form of the Moses is independent of any material limitation, and may be produced indefinitely in marble, clay, or bronze. The same applies to any ideal form whatever, even the specific form of things in nature: the specific form of a lily, for instance, or of a rose, a lion, or an eagle.

Before being materialized or limited to a particular portion of matter and localized in space, these specific forms have a certain formal infinity or infinity of perfection, which consists in their being independent of all material limitation. Thus the idea of a lily transcends all particular lilies, the idea of an eagle transcends all those eagles whose essence it expresses. It is a principle that "every form, before being received into matter, possesses a certain infinity of perfection."

Now, as St. Thomas notes, it is a simple matter to apply this principle to God; for of all formal perfections the most perfect is not that of a lily or an eagle or the ideal man, but that of being or existence, which is the ultimate actuality of all things. Every perfection in the universe is something susceptible of existence, but none is existence itself; it can receive existence as matter receives the form of a lily or a rose.

If, therefore, God is self-existent, St. Thomas concludes, if He is being, existence itself, He is also infinite, not in quantity but in quality or perfection. If the ideal lily is independent of every individual material limitation, the self-subsisting being will transcend every limitation whatsoever, not only of space and matter but of essence also. Even the most perfect Angel has no more than a finite existence conditioned by the limitations of his spiritual essence; whereas in God existence is not received into an essence susceptible of existence: He is the unreceived and eternally subsistent existence.

God is thus in the highest degree determinate, perfect, complete: He is absolutely incapable of receiving additions. He is at the same time infinite with an unlimited perfection, and incomprehensible, "the infinite ocean of being," says St. John Damascene, but a spiritual ocean, boundless, shoreless, far transcending space and the point and infinitely surpassing a material world supposedly infinite or limitless in quantity.

It is at once the infinity of being, of pure spirit, of wisdom, goodness, love and power; for infinity is a mode of all the attributes.

Such is the a priori proof as given by St. Thomas. It proceeds from the principle that every form, like that of a lily, before being received into matter, possesses a certain infinity of perfection. Now the most formal element, the ultimate actuality in all things is existence. Therefore God, Who is being, existence itself, is infinite with an infinity of perfection transcending every limitation, whether of space or of matter or even of essence. He thus infinitely surpasses every material thing and every created pure spirit.

The a posteriori proof of the Divine infinity

There is another, an a posteriori proof of the Divine infinity, which shows that the production of finite things ex nihilo, their creation from nothing, presupposes an infinitely active power which can belong only to an infinitely perfect cause. (Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q. 45, a. 5.)

In fact the only way a finite cause can produce its effect is by transforming an already existing object capable of such transformation. Thus a sculptor, in order to carve his statue, requires a material; so also. a teacher gradually forms the intelligence of his pupil, but he did not give him intelligence.

The greater the poverty of the object to be transformed, the greater must be the wealth and fecundity of the trans forming active power. The poorer the soil, the more it must be cultivated, good seed sown in it and fertilized. But what if the soil is so poor as to be altogether worthless? It would then require an active power, not only exceedingly rich and fruitful, but infinitely perfect; and this is creative power.

 Created agents are transformative, not creative. To produce the entire being of any finite thing whatever, no matter how minute --- to produce the total entity of a grain of sand, for instance, to produce it from nothing --- an infinite power is
required, a power that can belong only to infinitely perfect Being. It follows, therefore, that the first cause of everything that comes into existence must be infinitely perfect.

Not only was it impossible for even the most exalted Angel to create the physical universe, but he cannot create so much as a speck of dust; and it will ever be so. To create anything out of nothing --- that is, without any pre-existing subject whatever --- an infinite power is required.

Against this traditional and revealed teaching, pantheism urges a somewhat trivial objection. To the infinite, it says, nothing can be added; if therefore the universe is added to the being of God, as a new reality, the being of God is not infinite.

It is easy to answer this. There can be no addition made to the infinite in the same order: that is, no addition can be made to its being, its wisdom, its goodness, its power. But there is no repugnance whatever in something being added in a lower order, as an effect is added to the transcendent cause producing it. To deny this would be to refuse to the infinite Being the power of producing an effect distinct from Himself; He would then no longer be infinite.

But if this is so, the pantheist insists, more being and perfection will exist after the production of created things than before, which is equivalent to saying that the greater comes from the less.

The traditional answer given in theology is, that after creation many beings exist, but there is not more being or more perfection than before. Similarly, when a great teacher like St. Thomas has trained several pupils, there are many that are learned, but there is no more learning than before unless the pupils excel their master in knowledge. This being so, we can with even greater truth say that after creation the world has many beings but not more being, many living beings but not more life, many intellects but not more wisdom. He who is infinite being, infinite life, infinite wisdom, already existed before creation, containing in Himself in an eminent degree the limited perfections of created beings.

Such is the infinity of God, an infinity of perfection which is the plenitude not of quantity or extension, but of being, life, wisdom, holiness, and love.

We are made for the Infinite

In this mystery of the Divine infinity we find the practical and important lesson that we are made for the Infinite --- to know infinite truth and to love the infinite good, which is God.

The proof of this truth lies in the fact that the two higher faculties in us, intellect and will, have an infinite range.

Whereas our senses apprehend only a sensible mode of being, whereas the eye apprehends only color and our ear perceives only sound, the intellect grasps the being or reality of things, their existence. It perceives that being, subject to varying degrees of limitation, in the stone, the plant, the brute, and in man, does not of itself involve limitations. And so our intellect, far surpassing sense and imagination, aspires to a knowledge of finite beings and also of the infinite being, so far, at any rate, as such a knowledge is possible for us. Our intellect aspires to a knowledge not merely of the multiple and restricted truths of physics, mathematics, or psychology, but of the supreme and infinite truth, the transcendent source of all other truths. What we tell children in the catechism is this: "Why did God make you? God made me to know Him." And we add: "To love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.

As our intellect has an unlimited range, and is able to have knowledge of being in all its universality and hence of the supreme Being, so also our will has an unlimited range. The will is directed by the intellect, which conceives not merely a particular sensible good that is delectable or useful, such as a fruit or a tool, but it conceives good as such, moral good, virtues such as justice and courage. It even reaches out beyond some special moral good, such as the object of justice or temperance, and apprehends universal good, good of whatever kind, everything in fact that is capable of perfecting us. Lastly, our intellect, far superior to the senses, ascends to a knowledge of the supreme and infinite good, in which every other good has its source; then the will, illumined by the intellect, desires this supreme and infinite good. The will has a range and unlimited capacity, which can be satisfied in God alone, as we explained at some length in Part I, chapter 4, where we spoke of the sovereign good and the natural desire for happiness.

Nevertheless our intellect and will are not destined naturally to know and love God in His intimate life. In that God is the author of nature, they can attain to Him in the natural order only because His perfections are reflected in created things.
In baptism a supernatural life and inclination were given to us, far surpassing our natural faculties of intellect and will. We received sanctifying grace, which is a participation in the divine nature and the intimate life of God; and with grace we received faith, hope, and charity, which give a vaster and more exalted range to our higher faculties.

We now gradually obtain a better grasp of the meaning and import of those words of the catechism: "Why did God make you? God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next."

The purpose of our existence, therefore, is to acquire not a merely natural knowledge and love of the infinite God as the author of nature, but a supernatural knowledge and love, the beginning of that eternal life in which we shall see and love God even as He sees and loves Himself.

We shall then have an intuitive vision of that spiritual infinite, which is God, a light infinitely strong and soft. Its brightness we shall be able to bear because our intellect will be elevated and fortified by the light of glory. We shall have an intuitive vision of that God who is infinite goodness, combining all the strength of justice with all the tenderness of mercy. And this supernatural elevation to the immediate vision and love of infinite truth and goodness will be ours forever; it will be a continuous vision and love that nothing henceforth will interrupt or diminish.

Yet in one sense the infinite will still surpass us; because our vision of the Divine essence will never be the same as the vision God has of Himself, which is completely comprehensive. In Heaven each one of the blessed has this intuitive vision of God, but with a power of penetration in proportion to their merits and the intensity of their charity. Similarly here on earth we all have direct vision of a landscape stretching out before us, but we see it better if our sight is keener. In heaven our vision of the infinite God will be immediate, but proportionate to the intensity of our charity and the light of glory. Great saints like the Apostles will see Him better, and their vision will be more penetrating than ours; but they, too, will be surpassed by St. Joseph, and St. Joseph by the Blessed Virgin; and surpassing her, the holy soul of Christ united to the person of the Word. It is pleasant to think that the Blessed Virgin, whose intellect is naturally inferior to that of the Angels, has nevertheless a better vision of the divine essence than even the most exalted of them. Since her charity surpasses theirs, she has received the light of glory in a higher degree, inferior only to that of the human intellect of Jesus.

Such is the spiritual lesson we receive in this mystery of the Divine infinity. We are made for the Infinite: to know God in His intimate life and to love Him above all things. That is why nothing in this world can really satisfy us and why we are free to respond or not to the attraction offered by finite good. Each time we experience within ourselves the limitations and the poverty of these perishable things, we should give thanks to God; for it gives us the opportunity, amounting sometimes to an urgent rtecessity, of pondering on the infinite riches, the infinite fulness of truth and goodness that are in Him.