Posts Tagged ‘infinity’

God of My Life

July 17, 2010 2 comments

Often readers of Rahner turn first to Foundations of Christian Faith, then maybe to Hearer of the Word and some of the Theological Investigations, and, if their really adventurous, to Spirit in the World. In my view, Hearer and various essays in TI are great places to start. Recently, however, I have been reading through Rahner’s short book Encounters with Silence and I am struck by how nicely it introduces Rahner’s thought. Published in 1938 (a year before Spirit in the World), it is a series of ten mediations on the Christian life written as prayers to God. The first is entitled “God of My Life” and it gives a great glimpse into the heart of Rahner’s early works:

Suppose I tried to be satisfied with what so many today profess to be the purpose of their lives. Suppose I defiantly determined to admit my finiteness, and glory in it alone. I could only begin to recognize this finiteness and accept it as my sole destiny, because I had previously so often stared out into the vast reaches of limitless space, to those hazy horizons where Your Endless Life is just beginning.

Without You, I should founder helplessly in my own dull and groping narrowness. I could never feel the pain of longing, not even deliberately resign myself to being content with this world, had not my mind again and again soared out over its own limitations into the hushed reaches which are filled by You alone, the Silent Infinite. Where should I flee before You, when all my yearning for the unbounded, even my bold trust in my littleness, is really confession of you?

What else is there that I can tell You about Yourself, except that You are the One without whom I cannot exist, the Eternal God from whom alone I, a creature of time, can draw strength to live, the Infinity who gives meaning to my finiteness. Ane when I tell You all this, then I have given myself my true name, the name I ever repeat when I pray in David’s Psalter, ‘Tuus sum ego.’ I am the one who belongs not to himself, but to You. I know no more than this about myself, nor about You, O God of my life, Infinity of my finiteness.

What a poor creature You have made me, O God! All I know about You and about myself is that You are the eternal mystery of my life. Lord, what a frightful puzzle man is! He belongs to You, and You are Incomprehensible – Incomprehensible in Your Being, and even more so in Your ways and judgments. For if all Your dealings with me are acts of Your freedom, quite unmerited gifts of Your grace which knows no ‘why,’ if my creation and my whole life hang absolutely on Your free decision, if all my paths are, after all, Your paths and, therefore, unsearchable, then, Lord, no amount of questioning will ever fathom Your depths – You will still be the Incomprehensible, even when I see You face to face…

But I am rambling on like a fool – excuse me, O God. You have told me through Your Son that You are the God of my love, and You have commanded me to love You. Your commands are often hard because they enjoin the opposite of what my own inclinations would lead me to do, but when You bid me love You, You are ordering something that my own inclinations would never even dare to suggest: to love You, to come intimately close to You, to love Your very life. You ask me to lose myself in You, knowing that You will take me to Your Heart, where I may speak on loving, familiar terms with You, the incomprehensible mystery of my life. And all this because You are Love Itself.

Encounters with Silence, 6-8

The immediate vision of God

February 15, 2010 8 comments

I got into a conversation with a friend recently about the possibility of seeing God directly, and I surprised myself by taking a directly Dionysian line: that the unmediated vision of God is constitutively impossible. I’ve written about Dionysius’s principle of necessary mediation before, and complained that he offered no philosophical justification for the axiom. But I don’t think that’s true. Dionysius doesn’t justify his idea that mediation has to occur stepwise down an ontological hierarchy, but he does (implicitly) justify the necessity of some form of mediation. I find the latter pretty convincing.

We have to begin from a premise (maybe controversial, I don’t know) that Dionysius just takes for granted: God is absolutely infinite. By absolutely infinite I mean not just infinite in one way, but in every way, simultaneously. To make this thinkable, though, consider one example: God as infinite being. All discrete beings are derived from/created by the divinity as infinite being, but the divinity’s being is not itself discrete. On the contrary, as infinite, God’s being encompasses every discrete being. To use Eckhart’s formula, God is indistinct from all creatures—and distinguished from them precisely in the fact that God alone is indistinct from them. (The distinctio indistinctionis he calls it: the distinction of indistinction. Beautiful, hm?) In trying to “see” God as infinite being, therefore, it makes no sense to look for something “besides” discrete, created being; God is actually seen in created being, though as transcending it. “Negative theology,” such as it exists in Dionysius, is just the name for this paradoxical way of seeing: God is this discrete being but not this discrete being.

An interesting consequence of this is that the “necessary mediation” in our vision of God ends up coinciding with a constant immediacy of vision: that creature’s being really is God’s being (which is not to say it’s not the creature’s own, but that’s another story), unmediated but partial. Just as we can only ever see a limited set of numbers in contemplating an infinite series, but what we’re seeing is not “something besides” the infinite series, so in seeing a limited being (or a limited good, etc.) we are not seeing something besides God. And that necessity of seeing God “in parts,” as it were, is intrinsic to the relation between the infinite and the finite, not a result of sin or some eschatologically surmountable limit. (One would have to explain how sin and historical limitations do affect the nature of our current vision of God, but that won’t alter this structure of mediation.)