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In him [Christ] was life, and the life was the light of men.
(John 1: 4)
We are familiar of course with the Catholic truth that God created man in his own “image and likeness.” It is one of the first revealed truths in Holy Scripture: “Let us make man to our own image and likeness” (Gen 1:26). But the above verse of scripture from the Prologue to the Gospel of St. John penetrates much deeper into the meaning of what was revealed in the Old Testament. It speaks of a relationship between the life of Christ and the light of man (his consciousness, and therefore how he knows and wills, and lives) which must be considered to be something infinitely deeper than just some sort of picture-like image.
This same Prologue to the Gospel of St. John ends with the following verse (14):
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.”
Grace and Truth are the Life of Christ. And the Life of Christ, being the light of men, became flesh so that the Way of living the life of His Grace and Truth in the flesh might be known to all men, and made possible through the sanctifying grace merited by the redemptive sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. St. Paul speaks of the mystery of Christ, “which hath been hidden from ages and generations, but now is manifested to his saints”, and which is “in you the hope of glory”. (Col 1: 26, 27). The Rosary is a gift from God which unfolds the mysteries of Christ’s life before our minds and hearts, not only that we might know the life of Christ “hidden from ages and generations’, but that these mysteries might provide the light necessary for our own interior transformation into the life of Christ. The Rosary has a power over our souls which supernaturally draws us to sainthood.
What is planned here, therefore, are meditations upon each of the Mysteries of the Rosary as they relate both to the mystery of God as revealed in the incidents of the life of Christ, and also as they relate to our own interior transformation: We seek to see, that we might be changed: “But we all beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor 3:18). Anyone who has said the Rosary faithfully for any length of time knows without doubt that the Rosary possesses the power from Our Lady to change us.
The ultimate goal of this process of interior transformation is the direct vision in Heaven of the Essence of God – what the Catholic Church calls the Beatific Vision. And since this Vision of God is our ultimate happiness, and therefore must be kept before our minds and hearts at least implicitly during our entire spiritual journey, it would be well that we begin with a consideration of how such a thing is even conceivable.
What we are about to examine necessitates the use of theological and philosophical concepts which might prove challenging to some. Future articles on the Mysteries of the Rosary will not be as difficult. At the same time, however, we believe that there is much here that can be of benefit to all, and we hope that anything that might at first seem challenging will be reread and pondered.
Catholicism is the only Faith which believes in the complete perfectibility of man. It is the only religion in the world which believes with certainty that man was created for the ultimate destiny of seeing the very Essence of God (which in Catholic theology is called the Beatific Vision). This also entails that nothing truly human will be destroyed, but rather perfected – his intellect and heart, his desires and passions, his social relationships, and even his body. Nothing of true value will be lost, but only made eternally perfected and glorious.
Such a future for man can only be possible if God created man with a nature which, even though it is finite and must never in any way be identified with or made part of God, somehow bears a real spiritual relationship to God. Holy Scripture declares precisely this truth: “Let us make man to our image and likeness.” It is in penetrating to the depths of this image and likeness, which has not been lost despite all the effects of original and actual sin, that we may come to a very fruitful understanding of man’s final destiny. Further, it is only here where contemporary man, lost in the darkness of sin and disbelief, can possibly still hear the call of Truth and thus raise his mind and heart to the coming of Christ. In other words, in order to understand man’s final destiny, we must first come to an understanding of who and what he is in the depths of his being.
Creation ex Nihilo: The Life of Christ is the Light of Men
The entire structure of Catholic teaching concerning the relationship which exists between the human soul and Christ – a relationship which enables man in this life to know substantive things about the Essence of God, and to finally come to that state of Blessedness in which he possess direct knowledge and vision of the Divine Essence in Heaven – is erected upon a proper understanding of the Catholic doctrine creation ex nihilo (creation from nothing).
The doctrine creation ex nihilo is absolutely unique to the Judaeo-Christian tradition. No other religion has postulated anything even remotely similar. It can be known only through Divine Revelation. But it is also true that, although it has been historically accepted by virtually all those who consider themselves Christians, it is little understood, and even less integrated into a consistent theology and metaphysics.
The doctrine of creation ex nihilo simply states that God, through an Act of His infinite Intellect and Will, created everything which exists outside of His Divine Being from nothing. It also demands that we affirm that every created thing possesses no independent being of its own apart from the continuing sustaining-creative Act of God. St. Thomas in fact teaches that, apart from the aspect of initial creation, God’s sustaining Act is of the same nature as His creative Act. St. Paul, in addressing the sophisticated and skeptical Greeks, offers the following:
“God, who made the world, and all things therein; he, being Lord of heaven and earth, dwellleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is he served with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing; seeing it is he who giveth to all life, and breath and all things; And hath made of one, all mankind, to dwell upon the whole face of the earth, determining appointed times, and the limits of their habitation. That they should seek God, if happily they may feel after him or find him, although he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and are….” (Acts 17: 24-28).
And, again, in his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul offers something very similar:
“For in him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominations, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him and in him.” (1: 16).
When this truth – that “in him [Christ] we live, and move, and are…”is properly understood, it has immense consequences for our understanding of many other Catholic doctrines, including the actual physical constitution of created things.
Modern man largely lives in a mindset which is like a cage, destructive of his interior freedom and innate dignity. It is a cage erected by modern reductive science, in which everything human – mind, body, and passions – is reduced by what we rightly can label a reductive “atomism” (whether such alleged ultimate constituents be seen as “atoms”, “quanta”, “superstrings”, or whatever). In such a world, man is a trapped animal, determined in every conceivable way by material causation, and possessing no real freedom or individual personhood. Even his mind and consciousness are reduced to such material causation. In such a mindset, any claim to the real, absolute value of human life is delusional.
In direct opposition to such erroneous “scientific” reductionism, Catholic theology and anthropology (the science of man) teaches that the substantial nature of man and all created things is reducible only to the action of God creating them out of nothing. This is in complete opposition to the world-view of modern analytical science.
The Dilemma of Modern Reductive Science
The dilemma of modern reductive science is profoundly revealed in John Horgan’s best-selling book The End of Science (Broadway Books, 1996). Mr. Horgan, former senior writer at Scientific American, interviewed several dozen of the most famous and prize-winning scientists in the world as to their views regarding the “meaning of science”, the “end of science”, etc. He discovered and chronicles what he calls a world of “ironic” science: a world in which virtually no one is sure of any reality, or that there even is such a thing; there is total confusion in regard to the science of epistemology – whether there is or can be any true correspondence between the human mind and objective reality (or whether this is even a valid distinction or question); there is radical discontinuum between the world of ordinary human experience and perception and the “scientific” apprehension of things; and yet most, including Mr. Horgan, still continue to believe in the supremacy of analytical science as an “unfolder” of the depths of reality.
None of these scientists, for instance, would have any idea as to how to connect the “scientific” understanding of water – of two atoms of Hydrogen compounded with one of Oxygen, constituted by electrons spinning at comparatively enormous distances around nuclei, with the whole thing being comprised of 99.999999999 % void – to the marvelous substance we know as water. They are, in other worlds, and in the most profound sense, “lost” in a world of suspicion in regard to the substantial reality of God’s creation, and therefore also of God Himself. Theirs is an insane world – a schizophrenic world – in which what is experienced by their God-given intelligence as substantively real is ultimately a delusion. And this is the poisoned ambiance in which the minds and hearts of virtually all people in the so-called civilized world are immersed. It is no wonder, therefore, that virtually all the nations and cultures of the world are descending at a geometric rate into irrationality, despair, violence, the murder of their unborn, and every perversion conceivable. Why should we be good or responsible if we are only a momentary blot upon the evolutionary landscape?
In direct opposition to this reductive “scientific” view of man is the Catholic teaching concerning the nature of every human being created by God. It is possibly best, and most beautifully, expressed in what is called The Prologue to the Gospel of St. John:
“In the beginning was the Word [Christ], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1: 1-5).
It is much worth our while to ponder deeply what is meant by the truth that the life of Christ is the light of men.
Human intelligence is an extraordinary thing. There is no material explanation for the light of intelligence. We may certainly say that a certain material structure must be present in order for it to be there in a living human being, but it makes no sense to us whatever that such a spiritual phenomenon can be reduced to material causation. But intelligence is not only the light by which we know things, it is also the light by which we know things in a particular way. If physical things were reducible to atoms and their interchange with one another, and if our minds were only something which received these data and interchanges through the senses, we would never see a tree. There would in fact be no way to justify the notion that there even exists such a thing as a tree because there is no explanation for the unity and substantiality of anything. And we would certainly never be able to understand the giant oak as somehow identifiable with the small seedling that poked its head above the soil 80 years ago. We would in fact never see a human being or anything else possessing a substantial nature, but only the individual units of sense data which are in constant movement and change. And, of course, there is no explanation whatsoever of the interior identity a person experiences of being the same substantial individual at the age of 70 as he or she was at the age of 7. In other words, science cannot now, and never will, be able to explain the substantial world we see around us. Only the Catholic theology and philosophy brought to perfection in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas can.
Pope Pius XI stated succinctly: “We so heartily approve the magnificent tribute of praise bestowed upon this most divine genius that We consider that Thomas should be called not only the Angelic, but also the Common or Universal Doctor of the Church; for the Church has adopted his philosophy for her own.” ( Pius XI, Studiorum Ducem), And, Pope St. Pius X: “We therefore desired that all teachers of philosophy and sacred theology should be warned that if they deviate so much as a step, in metaphysics especially, from Aquinas, they exposed themselves to grave risk.” (Pius X, Doctoris Angelici).
So let us see first what St. Thomas says about the intellectual light that is the deepest faculty of our human souls:
“And thus we must needs say that the human soul knows all things in the eternal types, since by participation of these types we know all things. For the intellectual light itself which is in us, is nothing else than a participated likeness of the uncreated light, in which are contained the eternal types.” (I, 84, 5).
In other words, the reason we possess a true knowledge of substances is because God created the intellectual light within us as possessing a specific nature with the power to abstract from all the sense data which we received in order to perceive the substantial nature of all those real substances created by God out of nothing, whose types or substantial forms exist eternally in the mind of God. There can be no material causation for such a phenomenon. It is a gift which derives entirely from the life of Christ.
Our Natural Knowledge of God
Having established the fact that the life that is in Christ is the light which enables man to know himself and the world around him, we now must proceed to an understanding of how it enables him to know God.
St. Thomas flatly states: “All knowers know God implicitly in all they know.” (De Veritate, Q.22, .2). This may indeed seem an extraordinary statement in the face of the fact that, especially in the modern age, untold numbers of people are either atheist or agnostic. But St. Thomas’ words simply reflect the words of St. Paul”:
“For the invisible things of him [God], from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, divinity: so that they are inexcusable.” (Romans 1: 20).
The First Vatican Council declared the following: “If anyone shall say that the One true God our Creator and Lord, cannot be certainly known by the natural light of human reason through created things; let him be anathema.”
In Thomistic philosophy there are five classic ways or arguments by which the existence of God is proved: the Argument from Motion, the Argument from Efficient Causality, the Argument from Contingent Being, the Argument from the Degrees of Being, and the Argument from what is now called “Intelligent Design”. This certainly is not the place to go into detail in regard to these arguments. What is important to understand for our purpose here is that all these arguments simply express in a logical way what is integral to the God-given intellectual light that is within us, and the principles of thought by which we make sense of the world. And that this experience and thought pulsate with realities which point beyond our present world to an Infinite Being Who is the ultimate source of all the intelligence, movement, causation, etc. that we perceive and experience. We only need add that those persons who totally shut themselves off from such a possibility through atheism, can only be compared to the goldfish in a bowl who (if they could think) refuse to consider that this world is not the whole of reality. As for those who own to a position of agnosticism and thus claim to not know whether God exists, the only honest response, as scripture says, is to vehemently hunger and thirst after an answer. To do less is to hide human dignity under a bushel basket and deny any greatness to the human soul. It is simply to be a goldfish of another variety.
In other words, the man who denies the existence of God cannot claim the excuse of ignorance. Such a position can only be the product of self-deceit or ill-will.
But much more is given to us through Thomistic philosophy than proof of God’s existence. Man has once against been connected, in the deepest faculty of his soul – the light of his intellect – to God. Man’s knowledge is reliable because it is rooted in a participated likeness to the life of God’s intellect. And because we can now truly believe that man sees creation as God sees it, we can now also believe in the possibility of man seeing God, even as man is seen by God.
“We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face.”Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known.” (1 Cor 13: 12)
God, Whose intimacy to us is such that He sustains us in our natural being every moment of our lives, has yet willed for us a union with Him which infinitely surpasses our natural being and power. He has willed our deification – the vision of, and communion with, His Divine Essence.
In order to philosophically and theologically penetrate into how this can be possible, we must understand something about a very key concept in Catholic philosophy and theology: what is termed “the Analogy of Being”.
God is the One Supreme Being and, as we very well know as Catholics, this “Being” possesses a specific Nature. God created man in His own image and, therefore, the fundamental principle of man’s existence, as it is in God, is the principle of being – a being with a specific nature. Who man is, is determined by God creating his substantial form or essence out of nothing. And so we say that man is created in the image of God because he possesses a spiritual soul with the faculties of intellect and Will. The proper object of the intellect is truth; the highest expression of the will is love. And this love in order to be true, must indeed proceed from truth. Man’s nature therefore deeply reflects the Holy Trinity: The Son is eternally begotten as the Truth of the Father’s Supreme Being, and the Holy Spirit of Love proceeds from both Father and Son.
This truth concerning the Analogy of Being between man and God is immensely important for understanding man’s relationship to God, and the possibility of his deification. The essence of God is not totally incomprehensible to man. The essence of God is transcendent, but not remote. As we have seen, the Analogy of Being provides us with a way of understanding that there is an intimate relationship between our highest values and Who God is in His Essence. It also provides us, as we shall see, with the ability to understand that there is a certain proportion (St. Thomas’ word) between man and God which is the basis upon which God’s Grace can enable us to see and be united with His very Essence in the Beatific Vision.
This vision of the Essence of God is made possible, first of all, because God is not unknowable, but, on the contrary, is infinitely knowable. St. Thomas writes:
“Since everything is knowable according as it is actual, God, Who is pure act without any admixture of potentiality, is in Himself supremely knowable.” (I, 12, A.1).
As we have already demonstrated, “all knowers know God implicitly in all they know.” (De Veritate, Q. 22, a.2). This knowledge, while not explicit, yet establishes the truth that the human mind possesses an intellectual light which possesses the potentiality to be perfected, through the grace of God, in the fullness of Divine Vision.
As we have seen, this concept concerning the infinite “knowability” of God is in direct opposition to the rest of the world’s major religions.
Second, this vision of the Essence of God is possible because there is true proportion between the intellect of man and the Essence of God. This “proportion” extends to the possibility of the Vision of the Divine Essence. St. Thomas, in Summa Contra Gentiles, LIV, writes:
“There is indeed proportion between the created intellect and understanding God, a proportion not of measure, but of aptitude….”
There of course cannot be a “proportion of measure” simply because God’s Intellect is Infinite, and ours finite. But there certainly can be some sort of proportion of aptitude since the light of our intellect is a created participation in the very light and life of God. This proportion (a proportion of aptitude in accordance with the analogy of being) is also why, as St. Thomas says, the positive Names of God such as Essence, Being, Love, Truth, Goodness, and Beauty apply to God substantially. In other words, the highest values of which the human intellect can conceive bear an actual proportion to Who God Is. And this is also the reason why the grace which is called the Light of Glory is able to raise the created intellect to the direct Vision of God’s Essence. St. Thomas further writes:
“Moreover, this light raises the created intellect to the vision of God, not on account of its affinity to the divine substance, but on account of the power which it receives from God to produce such an effect: although in its being it is infinitely distant from God, as the second argument stated. For this light unites the created intellect to God, not in being but only in understanding.” (Ibid).
The human intellect, in other words, created in the image of God and bearing a proportion of aptitude to the vision of God, also bears the aptitude to receive the Grace of Glory from God which will enable it to see God’s Essence. Again, in Article 5 of Question 12, St. Thomas writes:
“On the contrary, It is written: In thy light we shall see light (Ps. xxxv. 10).
“I answer that, Everything which is raised up to what exceeds its nature, must be prepared by some disposition above its nature; as, for example, if air is to receive the form of fire, it must be prepared by some disposition for such a form. But when any created intellect sees the essence of God, the essence of God itself becomes the intelligible form of the intellect. …And this is the light spoken of in the Apocalypse (xxi. 23). The glory of God hath enlightened it – vis. the society of the blessed who see God. By this light the blessed are made deiform – that is, like to God, according to the saying: When He shall appear we shall be like to Him, because we shall see Him as He is. (1 John, ii. 2).”
St. Thomas gives us the following description of the blessed in Heaven:
“But the blessed possess these three things in God; because they see Him, and in seeing Him, possess Him as present, having the power to see Him always; and possessing Him, they enjoy Him as the ultimate fulfillment of desire.” (Ibid).
This Vision of the Divine Essence is not to be confused with “comprehending” God in all His Fullness. Again, St. Thomas:
“God, whose being is infinite, as was shown above, is infinitely knowable. Now no created intellect can know God infinitely. For the created intellect knows the divine essence more or less perfectly in proportion as it receives a greater or lesser light of glory. Since therefore the created light of glory received into any created intellect cannot be infinite, it is clearly impossible for any created intellect to know God in an infinite degree. Hence it is impossible that it should comprehend God.” (Ibid, A.7).
In other words, because we are granted the eternal vision of God’s Essence does not at all mean that we will ever totally comprehend Him. This, again, is a beautiful affirmation of our humanity which will not be destroyed, but only perfected, in Heaven. Even in terms of human relationships we speak of really coming to know a person, of somehow having seen to the very core of who he or she is, and of being united in love, without this in any way meaning that we possess total comprehension of all that is in that person’s mind and heart. In other words, man does not comprehend God, not because His Essence in unknowable, but because He is infinitely knowable and therefore never subject to full comprehension from a finite being. Eternity can therefore never exhaust the infinite depth and richness which will be the subject of our vision of Him. There is no possibility of our ever becoming bored, or that we will ever cease to be immeasurably delighted in our vision of, and life with, God.
Mary’s Role in Our Sanctification and Deification
Our Lord said: “Unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greater in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 18:3-4). We have spoken all along in this article of true Catholic intelligence, but such intelligence is in no way to be equated with merely being an intellectual. Catholic intelligence is in fact equated with that act of a human being which, with the absolutely necessary help of God’s grace, he submits his mind and heart to God’s revealed Truth. This is the act of Faith, and it is an act of spiritual childhood which responds to God’s Life and Light being presented to the soul. It is the deepest act of human intelligence by which we ascend, with the necessary aid of God’s grace, into the Life of Christ.
Our Lord’s act of the Incarnation is an act in reverse – an act by which He descended into the womb of Our Blessed Mother in order to unite himself to our humanity. And just as Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and formed within the Immaculate Womb of Mary, so He has willed that we should be conceived by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and formed into the spiritual children of God through her intercession and Motherly love. Christ’s gift of Mary to mankind (beginning with His gift of Mary as Mother to John from the Cross) is therefore something which in no way detracts from Christ as the only Mediator between God and man, but rather something which only serves to further the penetration of the fruits of His Incarnation into the hearts of men. The person who concludes that Mary detracts from Christ, might as well also conclude that the necessity of the water used in baptism does so also. Such a person simply does not understand the richness of the Incarnation, or the depths of God’s Mercy.
It has become abundantly clear over the past eight centuries that the primary means intended by Our Lady for her labor of love in effecting our interior formation and transformation into the likeness of Her Son is the recitation of the Rosary and the contemplation of its Mysteries. The Rosary must also therefore be considered a primary Way for the purification of the Church, the Triumph of Mary’s Immaculate Heart, and therefore the Triumph of the Light of Christ over all that Darkness of sin and error which now pervades the Church and the World.
In the coming months leading up to next year’s Rosary to the Interior: For the Purification of the Church on the Feast of the Presentation and Purification, 2019, this Menu will therefore be dedicated to articles attempting to explore in greater depth all the fifteen Mysteries of the Holy Rosary in order to help increase our interior participation in Our Lady’s Mission to purify the Church. For those wishing to receive notice of these articles during the coming year, we have provided a means for doing so on the homepage of our website.