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The Immensity of God
God, God, we have said, is infinite: not in quantity, as though He were an unlimited material body, but in quality or perfection, the only kind of infinity possible with Him who is purest spirit, who is being itself subsisting in His immateriality at the summit of all things. This infinity is a mode of all His attributes, and thus we speak of His infinite wisdom, His infinite goodness, His infinite power.
And now, if we are to have a right idea of providence and its universal scope including every age and every place, we must consider the Divine immensity and eternity in their relation to space and time, which are on an infinitely lower plane.
If we consider the perfect being of God as related to space, we attribute to Him immensity and ubiquity. When we say He is immense, we mean that He is immeasurable and able to be in every place. In attributing ubiquity to Him, we affirm that He is actually present everywhere. Before creation God was immense, but He was not actually present in all things, since things as yet did not exist.
It would be a gross error to picture the Divine immensity as unlimited space, and it is equally false to conceive the Divine eternity as unlimited time as we shall see later on.
God is pure spirit: there cannot be parts in Him as there are in what is extended; we cannot distinguish in Him the three spatial dimensions, length, breadth, and height or depth. When we apply these terms occasionally to the Divine intellect, we do so purely by way of metaphor. In reality, God infinitely transcends space, even unlimited space, as the Divine eternity infinitely transcends time, even unlimited time.
It was in attributing this spatial immensity to God that Spinoza erred. Were it so, God would no longer be pure spirit but would have a body, and thus one part of Him would be less perfect than another; He would not be perfection itself. Hence the Divine immensity is not something material, but spiritual, and in an order infinitely transcending space.
If we would have some idea of the majesty of this Divine perfection, three quite distinct modes of Divine presence must be considered:
1) The general presence of God in all things by His immensity.
2) The special presence of God in the souls of the just.
3) The unique presence of the Word in the humanity of our Savior, and the reflection of this presence in the Church and in the vicar of Christ.
The general presence of God by His immensity
God is everywhere. What meaning are we to give to this phrase which so often occurs in Holy Scripture? First, God is everywhere by His power, to which all things are subjected, through which also He sets every being in motion, and directs it to action. Secondly, God is everywhere by His presence, in that all things are known to Him. All things are laid bare to His sight, even to the minutest detail, to the most profound secrets of our hearts and the innermost recesses of conscience. Lastly, God is present by His essence, in that by His preservative action, which is identical with His very being, He maintains every creature in existence.
Moreover, as in creation God's action is immediate without any creature or instrument intervening, so too His preservative action, which is the continuation of His creative act, is exercized immediately in every creature and upon what is most intimate in them, their very being. He is thus present even to those far distant nebulae which our telescopes barely succeed in bringing to view.
Therefore God, though not corporeal, is everywhere, not as a material body is in place, but by a simple virtual contact of His creative and preservative power, wherever in fact there are bodies to be maintained in existence. Besides this, in a sphere of being transcending space, He is present to every spirit, whom He maintains in being as He does the rest of creatures.
And so God as pure spirit is in every being, in every soul, of which He is the transcendent center as the apex of the pyramid contains in a transcendent manner all its sides. God is that spiritual force which maintains everything in existence. As the liturgy has it:
Rerum Deus tenax vigor
Immotus in te permanens.
(God powerful sustainer of all things
Thou Who dost remain permanently unmoved.)
The special presence of God in the just
There is another presence of God, which is peculiar to the soul in the state of grace whether on earth, in Purgatory, or in Heaven. God is no longer present simply as conserving cause --- as such He is within even inanimate bodies --- but He dwells in the souls of the just as in a temple, the object of a quasi-experimental knowledge and love.
Our Lord said: "If any man love Me, he will keep My word. And My Father will love him: and We will come to him and will make Our abode with him" (John 14:23). What is meant by "We will come"? Who will come? Is it simply created grace? No, in the souls of the just the three Divine Persons come to take up their abode: the Father and the Son, and with them the Holy Ghost, Whom the Son has promised.
This is what the Apostle St. John understood it to mean when he said: "God is charity: and he that abideth in charity, abideth in God, and God in him" (1 John 4:16).
However great the earthly distance separating souls that are in the state of grace, be it from Rome to Japan, it is the same God who dwells in them all, enlightening, strengthening, and drawing them to Himself.
The same is brought out by St. Paul (1 Cor. 3:16): "Know you not that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you,?" "Know you not that your members are the temple of the Holy Ghost, who is in you, whom you have from God: and you are not your own? For you are bought with a great price. Glorify and bear God in your body" (Ibid., 6:19-20), that is, by comporting yourselves in a manner worthy of Him. And St. Paul says to the Romans (5: 5): "The charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, Who is given to us."
This sublime doctrine was a commonplace in the early Church: the Martyrs proclaimed it openly before their judges. Thus St. Lucy of Syracuse answers the judge Paschasius: "Words can never be wanting to those who bear within them the Holy Ghost." "Is the Holy Ghost within thee, then?" "Yes, all who lead a chaste and upright life are the temples of the Holy Ghost."
The creeds and councils of the Church, the Council of Trent, for instance, affirm that the Blessed Trinity dwells in the souls of the just as in a temple and from time to time makes its presence felt by a more luminous inspiration, a more profound peace, like that which the disciples experienced as they conversed with our Lord on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:42) : "Was not our heart burning within us, whilst He spoke in the way, and opened to us the Scripture?" In fine, as St. Paul says to the Romans (8:16), "the Spirit Himself giveth testimony to our spirit that we are the sons of God."
God makes this special presence of His felt in us by that filial love for Him with which He himself inspires us and which, like the peace it brings us, can come only from Him. (Cf. St. Thomas, Comment. in Ep. ad Rom., 8:16.)
The unique presence of God in the humanity of Jesus
Surpassing the general presence of God in all things, even His special presence in the souls of the just, is that unique and quite exceptional presence of the Word in the humanity of Jesus.
This presence of the Word in the sacred humanity of Jesus is not, as in the Saints, a purely accidental union of knowledge and love.
It is a union that is substantial in the sense that the Word assumed and made His Own forever the humanity of Jesus which consisted of His holy soul and His body virginally conceived. There is thus in Jesus Christ but one Person, possessing both the Divine nature and a human nature without mutual confusion, in some such way as each one of us possesses his soul and body unconfused.
Obviously this substantial union of Christ's humanity with the Word of God immeasurably surpasses both the general presence of God in all things by immensity and even that special presence of His in the souls of the just on earth, in Purgatory, or in Heaven.
Moreover, in the sacred humanity of Jesus there is a wonderful participation in the Divine immensity, since by Eucharistic consecration His Body is made present throughout the world on every altar where the consecrated host is reserved. His Body is present there not as localized in space, but after the manner of substance. Substance is not of itself extended; in certain respects it transcends extension and space; and this helps us to understand how the selfsame body of Christ remaining present in Heaven can, without being multiplied, become really present throughout the world in every tabernacle where there are consecrated hosts. We have here a remote likeness to that presence by which God Himself is in every material being, maintaining it in existence; it is a reflection of the Divine immensity.
A further reflection of this divine perfection is seen in that universal sway exerted by the Church simultaneously in every quarter of the globe. In a certain sense we can say that the Church is everywhere present upon the face of the earth, for the soul of the Church includes all who are in the state of grace. Moreover, the Church, being both one and catholic, exercises the same supernatural influence wherever the Gospel is preached.
In spite of the diversity of nations, races, manners, customs, and institutions, the Church, wheresoever her influence extends, effects a unity of faith and hierarchical obedience; unity of worship, especially in the Mass; one common nourishment in communion; unity of life, since all must find their nourishment in Jesus Christ; unity of Christian dispositions, of hope and charity. Since grace here on earth and glory hereafter are the principle of life for all, they have in the merits of Christ the same resources and a common inheritance in eternal life.
Now the Church thus present among the nations for nearly two thousand years would not be able to exercise this influence of hers without the supreme pastor appointed by our lord to be His vicar. The exercise of papal and episcopal jurisdiction preserves intact the doctrines of the Gospel in the bosom of the Church through an infallible teaching office, and safeguards Christian morality and Christian perfection by maintaining the Divine law and imposing ecclesiastical laws, and safeguards Christian worship also through the various forms of the liturgy.
Christ Jesus promised to St. Peter and his successors and conferred on them the primacy of jurisdiction over the universal Church (Matt. 16:16; John 21:15). He also said to them: "I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world."
To sum up, then: God, pure spirit, is immense and everywhere present inasmuch as through His creative power He maintains in existence and sets in motion every creature, corporeal and spiritual, and all things are laid bare to His sight, even the most intimate secrets of the heart, secrets that not even the Angels can discern by their natural knowledge.
Besides this universal presence in every creature, there is that special presence of God in the souls of the just, who are in the state of grace. He is within them as in a temple, to be known and loved by them, and He makes His presence felt there from time to time in that filial love for Him which He alone can inspire.
In a manner still more distinctive the Word of God is present in the humanity of Christ, with which He is united not merely in an accidental way through knowledge and love, but substantially, forming with it but one Person, one being, yet without confusion of the two natures. As a wonderful reflection of the Divine immensity, our Savior's sacred humanity is really and substantially present throughout the world in every tabernacle where the consecrated host is reserved. Everywhere it is the same body of the Savior, unmultiplied yet really present, after the manner of substance --- a remote resemblance to that presence by which God is within all creatures as pure spirit and unmultiplied, maintaining them in existence.
And lastly, there is that other reflection of the Divine immensity in the vicar of Christ. As visible head of the Church, through the influence of his teaching and jurisdiction he is present to the entire Church. In a certain sense he reaches out to each one of the faithful in every clime and nation, preserving them all in the unity of faith, obedience, and worship, of hope and charity, and as supreme shepherd leading them on to the eternal pastures. As in God this space --- transcending immensity is united with an eternity that transcends time, so is it with the power of the pastoral office in the Church. It extends to all the faithful in space, and also extends to them all as they succeed one another in time, from the foundation of the Church until the end of the world. The majesty of the Church is most clearly seen when viewed in the higher light of the Divine perfections reflected in her: the Divine immensity in her catholicity, the Divine eternity in her indefectibility, the Divine unity and holiness in her own unity and holiness. Dominating the various dioceses and religious orders, the majesty of the Church is already a participation in the majesty of Christ and of God Himself. In spite of human shortcomings, which creep in wherever men are to be found, this supernatural beauty of the Church is clearly the beauty of God's Own kingdom. We should rid ourselves of the habit of viewing things horizontally and superficially, as if all had the same value and importance. This is a materialist point of view, a leveling conception that blots out all elevation and depth. We should accustom ourselves rather to look down upon things vertically, so to speak, or in their depth. Above all is God, pure spirit, unchangeable, eternal, immense, conserving and giving life to all things. Then comes the humanity of our Savior, the channel through which every grace is transmitted to us and which is present in all the tabernacles of the world. Lower still is our Lady, the mediatrix and coredemptrix; and after her the Saints; then come the supreme pastor of the Church and the bishops. After them the faithful who are in the state of grace and those Christians also who, though not in the state of grace, yet as Catholics, keep the faith as revealed by God. And last of all are those souls who are seeking for the truth and those, too, who are still wandering astray, who yet at certain moments receive from God and our Lord graces of illumination and inspiration.
This way of looking at things as it were perpendicularly or, if you will, in their height and depth rather than superficially, is precisely that contemplation which proceeds from faith illumined by the gifts of understanding and wisdom. It should normally be accompanied by a prayer that is catholic, or universal --- a prayer ascending to the eternity and immensity of God through the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the intercession of Mary. Such a prayer begs God to pour out the abundance of His mercy upon the supreme pastor of the Church, upon the bishops and generals of orders, and upon all the faithful, that they may be loyal to the vocation to which they have been called, responding to whatever God demands of them, and so walk in the path of holiness that leads to Him.