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TH E E MERGENCE O F ETE RNA L L IFE

The question of whether life exists beyond death remains one of the
most pertinent of our existence, and theologians continue to address
what relevance the answer has for our life in the present. In this
book, William J. Hoye employs the phenomenon of emergence
the way higher forms of existence arise from a collection of simpler
interactions as a framework for understanding and defending the
concept of Eternal Life, showing how it emerges from our present
life, our human longing for fulfillment and happiness, and our
striving for knowledge of reality. Hoye uses the work of Karl Rahner
and Thomas Aquinas to explore questions concerning suffering, the
ultimate relevance of morality, and how the fundamental idea of
responsibility changes when viewed eschatologically. Contemporary
reasons for denying an afterlife are examined critically and extensively.
This book will be of great interest to those studying systematic
theology, theological anthropology, and Catholic theology.
william j. hoye is Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Munster. He is the author of many books, including most
recently Die Wirklichkeit der Wahrheit (2013); Tugenden. Was sie wert
sind, warum wir sie brauchen (2010); Liebgewordene theologische Denkfehler (2006); and Die mystische Theologie des Nicolaus Cusanus (2004).

THE EMERGENCE OF
ET ERNAL LIF E
WILLIAM J. HOYE

University Printing House, Cambridge cb2 8bs, United Kingdom


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William J. Hoye 2013
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First published 2013
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Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication data
Hoye, William J.
The emergence of eternal life / William J. Hoye.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
isbn 978-1-107-04121-9 (hardback)
1. Future life Christianity. 2. Catholic Church Doctrines.
bt903.h69 2013
236 .2 dc23
2013026463

I. Title.

isbn 978-1-107-04121-9 Hardback


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accurate or appropriate.

To
my friend Mitch,
Alden F. Mitchell

Contents

1 Introduction to the question


1.1
1.2

Emergence: The causality of Eternal Life


The happening of reality (Creation)

2 Motivations for disbelief in a life after death


2.1
2.2
2.3
2.4
2.5

Difficulties
The Experience Prejudice
The Praxis Prejudice
Hedonism
The ambivalent teaching of Christian Faith

3 A justification of the traditional Christian belief


in Eternal Life
3.1
3.2

3.3
3.4
3.5
3.6
3.7
3.8
3.9

The question
Transcendental hope in ones own resurrection as the horizon for
experiencing the resurrection of Jesus
Reality as the liberating horizon
Wonder
By his very nature man strives for fulfillment
The rationality of reality
The final and comprehensive goal of human nature
The expectation of the fulfillment of human desire
The compatibility of the dogma on hell with the foregoing
argumentation

4 Eternal Life as the vision of God


4.1
4.2
4.3

4.4
4.5
4.6

Emergence as the light of glory


The act of attention
The Biblical teaching that Eternal Life consists in contemplative
knowledge
The widespread acknowledgment of the primacy of knowledge in
the European tradition until the modern age
Mans eschatological union with God as the apprehension of truth
Truth and the predicative structure of experience

vii

page 1
5
10
13
13
20
42
58
64
77
77
80
84
85
86
92
97
99
104
111
112
119
120
122
129
135

viii

Contents
4.7
4.8
4.9
4.10
4.11

The necessary structure of the vision of God


The mode of Gods presence: The forma intelligibilis
The vision of God as the whole of Eternal Life enfolded
Never-ending wonder in the vision of God
Interim conclusion

5 The human factor


5.1
5.2
5.3

Happiness and human nature


A minimal and maximal heuristic principle
The desire for truth

6 Life history as the predetermination of Eternal Life


6.1
6.2
6.3
6.4
6.5
6.6

The eternity of salvation as the fulfillment of time


Time and eternity
Longing in time as the predetermination of the vision of God
The theological notion of memory
The eternal significance of temporal suffering
The eternal relevance of morality

7 Sensuality: the resurrection of the body


7.1
7.2
7.3
7.4
7.5

Sensuality as an end in itself


Sensual pleasure as a part of eternal happiness
The difference between joy and happiness
The corporeal unfolding of the vision
The soul and the body

144
148
153
157
167
169
169
171
176
180
181
183
191
201
204
216
237
243
247
249
252
258

8 The emergence of Eternal Life a conclusion

276

Bibliography
Index

278
290

chapter o ne

Introduction to the question

Is it really possible, or likely, as is often asserted, that we can know nothing


about the goal of human life? In the wake of this question, many related
problems are entailed. Are we free, or compelled, to define the ultimate
meaning of our own lives? Can we defy our own nature, from which the
very idea of a meaning in life arises? If there were no meaning in life,
could we even conceive of the question of the meaning of life? If life has
a purpose, then this purpose should certainly be of relevance during life.
If death is the absolute end of ones existence or if the goal of life has to
be reached before death, then one will surely attempt to live differently.
How does one make deliberate choices in crucial situations if one has no
idea of the meaning of life? Is it meaningless to die for an ideal? Is the life
of heroes who have sacrificed their own life for others a failure? Is survival
of absolute value? Can the motivation of a suicidal terrorist who kills
himself for religious reasons be understandable in some kind of rational
categories?
Whoever writes seriously today on such questions cannot avoid experiencing a feeling of embarrassment. The most frequent reactions that I
encounter are skepticism and rejection. Furthermore, even most believers
are unable to articulate in any meaningful way what it is that they believe.
How is this teaching to be understood? What does the skeptic actually
reject?
The assertion that it cannot be understood at all raises a claim that
logically goes considerably further than maintaining that it can only be
inadequately understood. Even a little knowledge of the question can be of
great value. If we are lost in the woods, a signpost can be decisive; at least
it points in the right direction. The proof for the absolute denial is highly
demanding and certainly not fulfilled by simply repeating old negations.
A theological statement that negates requires as much demonstration as
a positive statement. As is often evidenced in the history of orthodox
theology, knowledge of what God is not requires a deeper knowledge than
1

Introduction to the question

of what God is. It is typical for contemporary culture that serious people,
including scientists, believe that they know with clear certainty and without
further ado that there exists no life after death. They need not bother
studying theology; they know it quasi-intuitively. On the one hand, this
attitude has the positive aspect in that it shows that a theological position
is something that everyman has, but, on the other hand, it also reveals the
light-mindedness that prevails in theological matters.
Educated believers in Eternal Life are normally well acquainted with the
thesis that it is merely a wish projection or simply a pious imagination
for the purpose of distracting ones attention from the responsibilities or
joys of this world. Who today is not aware of the Marxist criticism of
religion? Rather, one is surprised that these critical objections continue to
be repeated.
A careful agnosticism is easier to respect. Applying the principle of
Occams Razor, the believer can take the burden of proof on himself. But
it is one thing to argue in favor of ones own belief and another to refute
negations. A negation should be falsifiable if it purports to make a truth
claim.
The skeptical argument that one cannot imagine a life after death or,
better, cannot understand it or cannot even think of it responsibly cannot
be answered with the remark, first of all, that the believer need not maintain
that our imagination can have any validity in this matter. It is no great feat
to realize that the afterlife transcends imagination.
Thinking about it is another matter. If the afterlife could not be an object
of thought in any way, then we would have to consider it to be nothing,
and then it would be impossible to believe in it. But it is possible to know
that something is not understandable, that it transcends understanding
and this can be thought and demonstrated.
A peculiarity of Eternal Life is that it challenges understanding. It attacks
the prevalent mindset. For us, it is especially difficult to conceive of because
it stands in contradiction to our contemporary understanding of reality. In
the long run, this is, in fact, even a plausible reason for positively believing
in Eternal Life not in the sense that I believe because it is absurd but
rather that I believe because it challenges my understanding.
In fact, the Christian idea of Eternal Life seems rather to be a provocation,
for it teaches that the purpose and result of all of our work consists finally in
knowledge of some kind. And Eternal Life is this: to know you, the only
true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (Jn 17:3). Specifically,
it is knowledge of God, which is what we are ultimately striving for in
whatsoever we pursue. All human activity has intellectual speculation for

Introduction to the question

its end, as Thomas Aquinas dares to put it.1 This tells the man of praxis
that his happiness consists in theory. The knowledge of God therefore is
the final end of all human study and activity.2 Life has ultimate meaning
only at its end. The opium that Christianity has to offer is hardly what
the average person today would consider to be a desirable pleasure, not to
mention the fact that hell is also a component of Christian eschatology
and can hardly be called opium.
How is a teaching like this to be rendered comprehensible? If Eternal
Life is what human beings are really interested in, then the relevancy of an
intellectual pursuit of the question should be evident in any case.
It is possible that we have replaced our belief in the afterlife with a belief
in something in this world. The popular idea that ones immortality consists
in being remembered by others in the future might be an example of this
kind of secularization. A similar idea is that we can achieve perpetuity in
our works. Of course, this is not a real ersatz for eternity. Remembrance,
books, and art works may have a practically unlimited duration, but they
are obviously not eternal and offer no really adequate solution to the
problem of death. Death assumes the role of the Final Judgment and gives
rise to the problem of perpetuity.3 What in the Christian perspective had
been called acedia becomes depression in the secularized world.4
Max Horkheimer expressed the hypothesis that the idea of society may
also represent a secularized form of life after death. The individual lives his
own life to its natural end and has contributed in some way to the life of
society. Society itself takes on the aura of eternity. An indication of this can
be seen in the strength of protests against weapons that could annihilate all
mankind. The species seems to contain more reality and importance than
the sum of the individual members. Horkheimer states: The meaning that
every action in life won from the thought of eternity is replaced by the
absolutizing of the collective, in which the individuals feel integrated.5
1
3

2 Ibid.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 25.
Rosa, Beschleunigung, 288, suggests that the relinquishment of the idea of a life after death having
validity beyond question and supported as a binding cultural component, from which and with
respect to which life before death receives its meaning and direction, must unavoidably have to put
into question the basis of its subjective and cultural meaning . . . If previously the end of ones own
life was seen in a perspective with the expected end of the world, which, at the same time, signalized
the beginning of true time, both time horizons moved visibly apart owing to the fading of the
latter (emphasis in original).
It is a question of a psychic condition that is characterized by barrenness and emptiness (accompanied at the same time by an inner restlessness) and a paralysis of the soul as the result of the
souls inability to direct its energy toward a firm, definitive and convincingly worthwhile goal and
energetically develop it. Ibid., 388.
Horkheimer, Bedrohung, 21.

Introduction to the question

Under this presumption, the possibility that human society could some
day be extinguished appears unbearable.
The teleological structure of such ideas at least resembles and is presumably inherited from Christian belief. The final state gives meaning to
every action. The expected future classless society serves as the justification
for present activity. The whole relationship between the final state and the
meaning of life is characteristic. Marxism, for example, justifies present
activity on the basis of an expected future state. Daily life does not exhaust
its significance within the bounds of each day. Understanding life as a
network of final causes, culminating in an ultimate final cause, is possibly
a frame of thinking that is simply natural and unavoidable.
More essential than such comparisons is an analysis based on concrete
experience. What is the most important aspect of life as we know it?
Although this question is not so easily answered, I think that it would be
safe to say that reality, or the awareness of reality, is what is most important
to human beings. If you imagined a situation in which you could have
something desirable say, pleasure or a friend but without this being real
(in the sense of being more than merely my own subjectivity), what would
you prefer: reality with its normal pains and problems or pleasure as nothing
more than a feeling or your friend but only as an imagined thought? Are we
really happiest when we are day-dreaming? As Augustine remarked: And
how much human nature loves the knowledge of its existence, and how it
shrinks from being deceived, will be sufficiently understood from this fact
that every man prefers to grieve in a sane mind, rather than to be glad in
madness.6 Since the presence of reality is what I would call truth, the
question is whether one prefers living in truth or in falsehood regardless
of how delightful the falsehood may be. This makes it understandable
how Thomas Aquinas can claim that what gives us most delight is the
knowledge of divine things, regardless of how inadequate it may be:
Everything desires most of all its own last end. But the human mind is
moved to more desire and love and delight over the knowledge of divine
things, little as it can discern about them, than over the perfect knowledge
that it has of the lowest things.7

Otherwise, this assertion that knowledge of God is the goal of human life
would sound incredible.

Augustine, De civitate Dei, XI, 27.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 25.

1.1 Emergence: The causality of Eternal Life

1.1 Emergence: The causality of Eternal Life


Reality occurs in different modes. Something can become more real. For
example, New York can exist in my imagination. But standing in the
physically real New York makes the city more real than in my imagination.
Eternal Life is a more real form of the reality that I now know. Actually,
this is precisely what it is; in other words, not heaven as opposed to Earth
but rather the original as opposed to the copy. Eternal Life is not like a
prize for a victory although this metaphor is not impossible. Emerging
into Eternal Life means becoming more real that is, rising to a higher
mode of being but still my being. The change takes place somehow in our
kind of reality. God does not change. This extremely important teaching
was expressed by Thomas Aquinas:
Suppose that two things are not united at first, and then later they are united;
this must be done by changing both of them, or at least one. Now, suppose
that a created intellect starts for the first time to see Gods substance; then,
necessarily, according to the preceding arguments, the divine essence must
be united with it for the first time as an intelligible species. Of course, it is
not possible for the divine essence to be changed . . . So, this union must
start to exist by means of a change in the created intellect. In fact, this change
can only come about by means of the created intellect acquiring some new
disposition.8

Admittedly, the notion of emergence does not provide a concrete explanation of how something occurs, but it does, at least, convey the rudimentary
knowledge that what occurs is real, that is, a participation in reality.
Reality does not simply exist, it changes and develops. Reality happens.
Reality is not merely a collection of realities. It is more like an energy field.
It is dynamic; it is moving, evolving. Within it, new realities can emerge.
New wholes are more than the sum of the elements out of which they
have arisen. The analogy to light is helpful. Light is not just there, it is
happening, it is energy making, as it were, colors emerge in objects. If
the light desists, so do the colors immediately.
The idea of a whole is, of course, an analogous notion. There are wholes
that are nothing more than a collection of elements; however, it is important
to acknowledge that there exist many wholes that are more than their
elements. A melody is more than a collection of notes. A word is more
than a collection of letters. Dgo is not a word, dog is. And dog, again,
is more than a word; it is also a notion, possessing meaning, which is more
8

Ibid., c. 53.

Introduction to the question

than just the word. Furthermore, a sentence is more than the words of
which it is composed; in contrast to words, a sentence can have the quality
of being true or false. Out of letters, meaning emerges; out of words, truth.
Out of matter, life emerges, an animal being more than the chemicals of
which it is composed. Out of living beings, conscious life emerges; out of
human life, Eternal Life which is, so to speak, the meaning of human
life, like the notion connected with the word.
As the classical principle, found in Aristotle, asserts: in some cases, the
whole is greater than the sum of its parts, that is, more than just a heap.9 In
this case, Aristotle concludes that there must be a cause of the unification of
wholes that are more than aggregates. He calls the cause reality [;
actus], which is more than a reality. The cause of the whole that is a
human being is then the soul, the primordial act of reality [actus primus]
of a natural body having the potentiality to live. It is extremely difficult
to translate the Greek word energeia [] or the Latin word actus
into contemporary language. Should one say reality or actuality? Since
actuality is obviously the translation of actualitas, which was coined in
medieval theology during the lifetime of Thomas Aquinas and used by him
as distinct from actus the phrase actualitas omnium actuum (although it
occurs only once in Thomass work) is important I prefer using the
translation reality. One must remember, however, that reality is to be
thought of in the sense of an act, or actualization, or realization, that is,
not as a collection of elements. Reality is not simply a universal notion;
it is more like a light field, in which colors emerge.
A different approach to the phenomenon of the emergence of organic
species in time employs the idea of so-called seminal reasons [rationes
seminales]. With this notion, Augustine explained how there can be development within creation. Accordingly, when God originally created the
world, he instilled things with seminal reasons that is, virtual principles of things later to evolve. With time, they develop into actual being.
Evolution is, accordingly, the maturation of quasi-seeds, hidden in matter
from the beginning. Consequently, change is simply the realization of what
already exists virtually. The concept was possibly influenced by Platos theory of recollection, according to which knowledge involves remembering
what one already knew. Bonaventure is a later defender of this idea, arguing
that the forms that come into existence are all present in matter. The substance of matter, he writes, is pregnant with everything.10 This would
9
10

Cf. Aristotle, Metaphysics, VIII, 6; 1045 a 810.


Bonaventure, In IV. Sententiarum, dist. 43, a. 1, q. 4, concl.

1.1 Emergence: The causality of Eternal Life

be like taking the immortality of the spiritual soul for the cause of Eternal
Life, implying that the cause lies within the nature of human beings.
It is more plausible to interpret Eternal Life as a case of what is called
emergence, provided that emergence be viewed ontologically that is,
as a development of being. The result is not already present from the start,
but a capacity for it is. Obviously, existing reality contains more realities
than have been thus far revealed. It evolves and grows. When an individual
grows, reality grows. Reality happens. Light reveals more about reality than,
say, a stone. As shown herein, new realities are not merely collections of their
parts. In this case, the whole is more than its parts. It may well be that new
realities are susceptible to a method of reduction, but evolution cannot be
adequately explained by the factors that can be found by reduction. What
develops is not predestined in the original elements from which it arises. In
view of evolutionary phenomena such as loss-of-function mutations, not
all evolution can be explained by reductionism.11
The physicist Philip W. Anderson (Princeton University) describes the
principle of emergence as a philosophical foundation for modern science.12
As he puts it: The watchword is not reductionism but emergence. Emergent complex phenomena are by no means a violation of the microscopic
laws, but they do not appear as logically consequent on these laws13 a
potentia obedientialis (see page 103), so to speak. The method of reduction
cannot be reversed, so that developments would be predestined. Anderson
notes:
The ability to reduce everything to simple fundamental laws does not imply
the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe. The constructionist hypothesis breaks down when confronted with the twin difficulties of scale and complexity. At each level of complexity entirely new
properties appear. Psychology is not applied biology, nor is biology applied
chemistry. We can now see that the whole becomes not merely more, but
very different from the sum of its parts.14

11

12

13

Cf. Brandt, Konnen Tiere denken?, 1516: Materialistic reductionism has been overcome by the
new emergence research on biological systems. It has arrived at the acceptance of characteristics that
cannot be predicted by an individual examination of the physical components (physics, chemistry).
This principle of emergence is as pervasive a philosophical foundation of the viewpoint of modern
science as is reductionism. It underlies, for example, all of biology . . . and much of geology. It
represents an open frontier for the physicist, a frontier which has no practical barriers in terms of
expense or feasibility, merely intellectual ones. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 92 (July 1995), in an
introductory paper at a colloquium entitled Physics: The Opening to Complexity, held June 26
and 27, 1994, at the National Academy of Sciences, in Irvine, CA, 6653.
14 Anderson, More Is Different, 393396.
Ibid., 66536654.

Introduction to the question

Konrad Lorenz criticized the notion of emergence because he felt that it


suggested that something that had already existed but had been hidden
now comes to light. He preferred instead to use the notion of fulguration
(i. e., the act of flashing like lightning), as though the new quality arose
suddenly and without having any preexistence whatsoever.
Emergent wholes are qualitatively different from their individual parts.
A sentence is different from a list of individual words. It possesses the
capacity to be true or false, whereas a list of words no matter how many
does not possess this quality (although a phrase may be composed of many
words). A word can have a meaning, whereas the collection of letters that
has the external appearance of a word may be void of meaning.
A hurricane is an example for emergence. Another example of emergence
that is often cited is an ant colony. The queen is not the monarch, giving
direct orders and communicating to the different ants what they must do.
Instead of there being a hierarchical structure, each ant reacts to stimuli
that occur in the form of chemical scent from larvae, other ants, intruders,
food, and buildup of waste, leaving behind a chemical trail, that, in turn,
provides a stimulus to other ants. Here, each ant represents an autonomous
whole, which reacts depending on only its local environment and the
genetically encoded rules for its variety of ant. Nevertheless, despite the
lack of centralized decision making, ant colonies reveal complex social
behavior.
Emergence is not magic and neither is Eternal Life a miracle. In a sense,
both entail getting something out of nothing. The question that causes
problems for physics is naming the cause. Aristotle explains the idea that
the whole may be more than the sum of its parts by distinguishing between
form and matter. But if, as we say, one element is matter and another is
form, and one is potential and the other actual, the question will no longer
be thought a difficulty.15 With these categories, Thomas Aquinas was able
to explain the unity of a human person by viewing the human spirit as
the form of the material body. However, these explanations are intended
to explain the unity of the whole but do not explain the phenomenon of
emergence itself. What brings about the unity?
The temperature of gases is also cited. While gas has a temperature,
the individual molecules of which it is composed do not. In other words,
the whole has a quality that the parts lack. Organisms have life, but a cell
is not a tiger, just as even a single gold atom is not yellow and gleaming. Moreover, within consciousness, we directly experience a kind of
15

Aristotle, Metaphysics, VIII, 6.

1.1 Emergence: The causality of Eternal Life

emergence, which may serve as an analogy. When a physical object appears


in my consciousness, this is a startling instance of emergence. Out of something singular and material, an entity arises that is universal and can be
thought about independently of the original object. For instance, I can see
a tree. It is really this tree that is now in my consciousness but without the
matter for example, the wood in its materiality, although I am including it in my thought. Then I can imagine other trees. Without counting
one by one, I can calculate: one tree plus two trees equals three trees
regardless of whether three trees can now actually be seen. Or I am able
to compare two trees that are separate in reality; that is, I can see them
together in a single apprehension and conclude that one is bigger than the
other.
An early exponent of the idea of emergence is Aristotle: That which is
compounded out of something, so that the whole is one, not like a heap
but like a syllable now the syllable is not its elements, ba is not the same
as b and a.16
Reality should not be thought of as a material cause. It is more like an
efficient cause, if one must choose between the two, similar to the way
light causes colors. It makes them appear. Aristotle said: This is a sort
of positive state like light; for in a sense light makes potential colors into
actual colors. Mind in this sense of it is separable, impassible, unmixed,
since it is in its essential nature activity.17 Actually, I can wonder at the
fact that when I open my eyes I see reality, without doing anything other
than making myself receptive. Reality is active and affects me.
Wonder is the human reaction to reality, seen in this two-fold way.
Wonder arises, according to Aristotle, when we see something as caused
without knowing the cause itself. Applied to reality, it means that we see a
reality and realize that it has received its reality. We wonder then about the
source of its reality.
It is possible that the loss of the body can have the result that the spiritual
becomes stronger.18 Immanuel Kant writes that the soul after death will
see the world not as it appears but as it is. He interprets the separation
of the soul from the body as the change of sensual perception to spiritual
perception. This is what Kant calls the other world. Accordingly, the other
world is not another place, but only another perception.19 One remains
in this world, he explains, but has a spiritual perception of everything.20
16
18
19

17 Aristotle, De anima, III, 6; 430 a.


Ibid., VII, 17.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, II, c. 80/81.
20 Ibid., 256.
Kant, Zustand der Seele, 255.

10

Introduction to the question

1.2 The happening of reality (Creation)


Reality happens; it is actuality; it is not simply a collection of realities.
A reality is not a thing, an entity, but rather an act. Reality itself is not
merely the collection, or set, of all realities, that is, an abstract notion
for all realities, the name of the set. To think about the afterlife, it is
absolutely essential to keep this in mind. The world is in constant motion
and change. Change belongs to the quintessence of reality as we know
it. The definition of change that goes back to Aristotle is the reality, or
actualization, of a possibility. (More precisely: change, or motion, is the
actuality of a possibility as such.21 ) This characteristic of reality is the basis
for our experience of time. The universe exists in time by the fact that it is
real and the reality of the world is composed of possibilities and actualities,
with actualities always presupposing the corresponding possibilities. Even
if everything in the universe comes to a standstill, time will still somehow
continue; otherwise, the standstill would not be thinkable.
Although we may not be explicitly conscious of it, we constantly experience existence as something that happens. Existence plays no role in the
critical reflection of the natural sciences, although it is the primordial fact.
The natural sciences deal with happening in time, but they ignore the fact of
the existence of evolution. Time itself is not further questioned. Questions
of this kind belong to the perspective of philosophy and theology.
The reason why the natural sciences neglect existence is that they investigate change, whereas creating, as Thomas Aquinas understands it, does
not cause a change. He compares the creation of a new creature with the
addition of a geometric point to a line. This does not cause the line to
extend any farther. This is analogous to Gods unchangeableness. If God
were changeable, then he could become an object of physics. As it is,
creation happens without time.
The apprehension at the basis of the idea of creation is the same as the
apprehension of self-reflection. Self-consciousness is the apprehension of
the act of existing.
The act of creation does not require matter as a presupposition. This
truth divine Scripture confirms, saying: In the beginning God created
heaven and earth (Gn 1:1). For to create is nothing else than to bring a
thing into being without any pre-existent material.22
The causality of being encompasses the entire thing caused, whereas
other forms of causality are limited. This aspect makes divine causality
21

Cf. Aristotle, Physics, III, 1.

22

Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, II, c. 16.

1.2 The happening of reality (Creation)

11

essentially different from every other kind of causality that we know. As an


idea, it is not thinkable for the natural sciences, which always presuppose
something from which something arises. Physics knows of no causality
from nothing. Thomas Aquinas argues as follows:
The more universal the effect, the higher the cause: for the higher the cause,
the wider its range of efficiency. Now being is more universal than motion.
Therefore above any cause that acts only by moving and transmitting must
be that cause which is the first principle of being; and that we have shown
to be God. God therefore does not act merely by moving and transmuting:
whereas every cause that can only bring things into being out of pre-existing
material acts merely in that way, for a thing is made out of material by
movement or some change.23

It is fundamental and specific to theology that the cause of being as such


transcends change:
It is not proper to the universal cause of being, as such, to act only by
movement and change: for not by movement and change is being, as such,
made out of not-being, as such, but being this is made out of not being
this. But God is the universal principle of being. Therefore, it is not proper
to him to act only by movement or change, or to need pre-existent material
to make anything.24

Rather than involving change, creation is a relationship of dependence of


created being on the creator. To us, creation appears as a change, although,
strictly speaking, this is an illusion. As Aquinas observes: Creation is
spoken of as a change according to our mode of conceiving it, inasmuch
as our understanding takes one and the same thing to be now non-existent
and afterwards existing.25
Creation of anything whatsoever in the theological sense cannot be
studied by the theory of evolution because there is no succession involved.
If that is difficult to comprehend, then theology is difficult to comprehend
but evading the strenuousness implies evading theology. Since evolution
presupposes a succession, the question of creation cannot be treated by it.
This is simply a corollary to the previous thesis: Succession characterizes
motion. But creation is not a motion, nor the term of a motion, as change
is; hence, there is no succession in it.26
Thomas argues from the fact that there can be no medium between
being and non-being:
23

Ibid.

24

Ibid.

25

Ibid., c. 18.

26

Ibid., c. 19.

12

Introduction to the question


In every successive motion, furthermore, there exists some mean between
the extremes of the motion; for a mean is that which a continuously moved
thing attains first before reaching the terminal point. But between being
and non-being, which are, as it were, the extremes of creation, no mean can
possibly exist. Therefore, in creation there is no succession.27

Creation happens in an instant: A thing is at once in the act of being


created and is created, as light is at once being shed and is shining.28
The idea of creation presents a basis for viewing Eternal Life as an
emergence out of temporal life. Being includes endless possibilities.
27

Ibid.

28

Ibid.

chapter t wo

Motivations for disbelief in a life after death

2.1 Difficulties
This book pursues two intentions: (1) the question of whether there really
exists life beyond death is to be examined as stringently as possible, and
(2) the relevance of such knowledge for our present life is to be studied.
With the ingenuousness appropriate to such questions, I intend to present
an affirmative answer to the first question and to show that life after death
reveals the ultimate meaning of the present life; however, a number of
obstacles stand in the way.
2.1.1 The inevitable naiveness of statements on Eternal Life
The expression life after death is, of course, deliberately naive. Speaking
of after in a context that has to do with eternity has to be either ambivalent
or meaningless. There can be nothing like a continuation in eternity, as
though one continued on to exist after death, although in a different
manner. Furthermore, the term life is not less naive. Nevertheless, this
use of language has advantages over a well-defined technical terminology,
which could convey the impression of precise univocity, whereas obviously
inadequate language serves as a reminder that our theological categories
are ineluctably ambivalent. This rudimentary fact is all the less likely to
escape notice if simple, everyday language is used. Life after death is, in
truth, a paradoxical expression and this is appropriate.
The teaching that no true sentence about God can ever be univocal
was taught not only in the Middle Ages by Thomas Aquinas with his
thesis that notions justly predicated of God are always analogous but
also by someone like the contemporary physicist and philosopher Carl
Friedrich von Weizsacker. He demands from theological statements that
they be both incomprehensible and, nonetheless, stimulating. Logical
univocity, he writes, is the manner in which humans speak of their
13

14

Disbelief in a life after death

own, for them understandable matters.1 According to him, all talk about
divine things in the human language must have the form of stimulating
incomprehensibility.2
It is quite appropriate when Thomas Aquinas claims that pictures and
symbols of God that are more dissimilar to him are to be preferred to those
that possess more similarity. At the beginning of his Summa theologiae,
Thomas defends this principle. He refers to Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, who wrote: We cannot be enlightened by the divine rays except
they be hidden within the covering of many sacred veils.3 Accordingly,
it is advisable to predicate qualities of God that clearly cannot be taken
literally. It is more fitting to communicate divine things in the figures of
vile bodies than in those of noble bodies. Thomas explains that with this
method,
mens minds are the better preserved from error. For then it is clear that these
things are not literal descriptions of divine truths, which might have been
open to doubt had they been expressed under the figure of nobler bodies,
especially for those who could think of nothing nobler than bodies.4

Because, from a Christian perspective, life after death consists in a union


with God, whoever speaks in this life about life after death in an understandable manner misses the point. What is related to God cannot be
understandable. Univocality is a guarantee that one is speaking either about
present reality or about nothing. Eschatology, that is, speaking or thinking
about the beyond, requires language that is neither univocal nor equivocal; it requires the dissimilar similarity and the similar dissimilarity of
analogy. Symbols are employed but they are employed self-critically, that
is, their falsehood is conscious. For our present state, Thomas holds that
negative knowledge is in itself more appropriate, our present knowledge of
God referring to what he is not rather than to what he is. Hence, he argues,
similitudes drawn from things furthest away from God form within us a
truer estimate that God is above whatsoever we may say or think of him.5
2.1.2 The natural aversion to belief in a life after death
Although belief in a life after death may be quite natural and perhaps in
itself even self-evident, the average person living in our present-day culture
1
3
4

2 Ibid.
Weizsacker, Wahrnehmung, 267.
Dionysius the Areopagite, De caelesti hierarchia, c. 1. Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 1,
a. 9c.
5 Ibid.
Ibid., ad 3.

2.1 Difficulties

15

surely feels a deep and spontaneous reluctance to accept this conviction.


Even religious individuals reveal at least a degree of embarrassment for
their Faith. If they express their belief explicitly, then they usually defend
it immediately by asserting, for example, that this does not mean that their
moral responsibility for their present situation is hindered by their belief
in an afterlife. We are living in an age in which we feel morally obliged to
justify this belief. We are unable to take it for granted or exempt it from
doubt. Our reluctance occurs spontaneously and is usually accompanied
by an emotion, without need of reasons or deliberation. In itself, this fact
gives fruit for thought, especially if one is aware that earlier ages reacted
in just the opposite manner. It probably caused more difficulty in earlier
ages to believe that humans would walk around the surface of the moon.
In comparison, we today have no problem pressing a few buttons on a
telephone and believing that in a few seconds a particular individual on
some other continent will be exchanging thoughts with us. We get into an
automobile or airplane with its unfathomable technology and are full of
belief that it will function.
The aversion to an eschatological belief is further supported by a reflected
philosophical position that expresses itself in a markedly aggressive way. For
this reason, the contemporary believer can hardly avoid a confrontation
with philosophical positions dominant in our mental situation. Otherwise,
this belief would have to succumb in good conscience to such positions;
belief cannot contradict truth, even if it is merely a matter of a subjective viewpoint. Under this condition, even what may be a self-evident
truth in itself demands an intellectual defense. Were there no bad philosophies, intellectual exertion in regard to philosophical questions would be
superfluous.
Human reason is influenced not only by objective reality but also by ones
own will. Whoever has acquired an unwillingness to believe in a life after
death will have to apply noticeably more exertion to believe in it honestly.
Perhaps this represents an excessive demand that can be met only with the
support of religion, for belief in life after death casts doubt on a fundamental
conviction of our contemporary Western culture. In our cultural situation,
it is no longer the disbelievers who need the courage to assert themselves; the
believers are the ones who offer resistance to the socially dominating views
and values. The spontaneous aversion, which entails more than merely a
rational skepticism or a cautious modesty, appears to be a phenomenon
that is characteristic of contemporary Western culture. The astounding fact
that young Arabic Moslems possess the willingness not only to put their
own life at risk but also to sacrifice it directly in order to gain salvation

16

Disbelief in a life after death

after their death presents our dominantly secular way of thinking with
excessive demands.
2.1.3 A counterargument: Vain curiosity
Among the arguments that are brought up against the question of life
after death is the well-known criticism that it represents nothing but vain
curiosity. We will never be able to find out anything reliable about it. It
is a matter of believing: either you believe or you do not believe. This
kind of comment is part and parcel of our culture. It makes sense only
on the presumption that Eternal Life has no intrinsic relationship to the
present life. As a critical argument, it is as old as Christianity. Cicero, who
seems to be the originator of the word curiosity, criticized the intellectual
interest in crossing over the borders of knowledge that are defined by
religion. In an excellent historical study of the notion of curiosity, Gunther
Bos notes: At a time preceding Christian authors, Cicero was aware of
the limitation of the human striving for knowledge and a point of great
importance he speaks repeatedly of the curious crossing of the border that
religion set down.6 And, in the second century ad, Apuleius promulgated
in his Metamorphoses a negative view of curiosity that is still influential
today. In this story Lucius is turned into a donkey as a punishment for
his inopportune curiosity [inprospera curiositas]. For Apuleius the highest
degree of forbidden curiosity consists in breaking a divine prohibition.
He speaks of blasphemous curiosity [sacrilegia curiositas]. (The popular
claim that previous to Christianity curiosity had no negative connotation
is obviously untrue.)
Why should it be forbidden to be interested in the goal of life? Through
the objection that such interests are mere curiosity, the project of enquiring
into questions concerning the afterlife seems to lose at once all of its
legitimacy. When I tell someone that I am giving thought to eschatological
questions, I often get the impression that he or she is offended and then
makes comments to the effect that I ought not to continue. We are allowed
to think about all sorts of questions but not about the whole. If a natural
scientist makes negative claims about religious questions that supposedly
are soon to be solved by science or at least shown to be merely pseudoquestions, even some theologians not rarely accept this and retreat. But
why should it be a priori impossible to pose questions about the meaning
of life? Why should we have to go through life blindly, on our way to some
end but without any awareness of what this end might be? Why should
6

Bos, Curiositas, 48.

17

2.1 Difficulties

we be able to set our own goals to take our life, as it is said, in our own
hands but incapable of integrating these goals into an organic unity?
Why must the purposes that I envision in my life remain in a hopelessly
disintegrated state? Why can short-range goals be possible but a final goal
remains out of the question? Why does the question about the ultimate goal
of all my goals become mere curiosity? From this question, it is worthwhile
noting, Aristotle developed his entire ethics and political philosophy.
What am I to think when the statement is expressed without any
justification that we can know only that there exists an afterlife but that
we know nothing about what it is and yet, nonetheless, that this knowledge,
coming from divine Revelation, is supposed to serve as a guidepost? This
is at least how I understand the following teaching of Joseph Ratzingers:
We found that, at any rate to some extent, we could extrapolate from the
present life to the existence if not the character of the life to come. Yet the
content of eternal life, what it is [Was] as distinct from its existence [Dass],
lies completely outside the scope of our experience, being quite simply
unknowable from our perspective. And so, in the concluding chapter of this
book, as we reflect on the hints which divine revelation offers about this
what-it-is [Was], in its fundamental possibilities, we must be alert to the
limitations of what we can say. The tradition of faith is not given to us for
the satisfying of idle curiosity. Where it exceeds the proper limits of human
experience, its aim is to direct us, not to divert, that is, to entertain us. This
is why it opens up what lies beyond only to the extent that this will be a
helpful signpost for those in the here and now.7

This would seem to imply that disbelievers are quite abandoned. The
classical idea of the inborn desire of human nature [desiderium naturale] is
replaced by a supernaturalism. In truth, as we shall see, intellectual curiosity
is essential to our question. The unquenchable striving for knowledge of
reality will be shown to be fundamental.
The same view can be found in the standard work Mysterium Salutis:
Eschatology in the New Testament does not intend to be a teaching on
the far-off end of the ages but an illumination and proclamation of the
present.8
The principles that Ratzinger formulates sound unassuming, but one
can question whether they can be conceived meaningfully. If it were true
that that which lies completely beyond the sphere of our experience is
from our standpoint utterly unknowable, then it would not be plausible
to me how divine Revelation can convey such knowledge. No one less than
St. Thomas Aquinas discards this possibility a priori. For him, Revelation
7

Ratzinger, Eschatology, 161 (emphasis in original).

Mysterium Salutis, 723.

18

Disbelief in a life after death

does not alter Gods unknowableness.9 To the contrary, the insight into
Gods unknowableness encompasses any such Revelation. Revelation does
not transcend this insight but rather serves to intensify it. According to
Thomas, the truth of Faith gives support to the divine unknowableness.10
The reason for this lies not in the nature of Revelation but rather in human
nature. Because Revelation has to reach human beings, it presupposes a
listener, a hearer of the Word. Grace presupposes nature [gratia supponit
naturam], to quote a Scholastic axiom. Thus, human nature transcendentally lays down a condition for the possibility of divine Revelation. Even
divine Revelation is unable to reveal to a hearer what he or she is by nature
unable to understand.11 However, this does not apply to concrete aspects of
Revelation; it is the fundamental mode that is pre-determined. Although
we are elevated by Revelation to know something that would otherwise be
unknown to us, states Thomas, nevertheless, we would not know anything in any other manner than through sensibles.12 Corporality remains
for Aquinas an unconditional dimension.
This implies that theologians cannot avoid disputing with philosophers.
Theology should not, however, let itself be superseded by philosophy. In
Thomass mind, there is no doubt that Christian Revelation brings new
knowledge. What he denies is only that the question of Gods unknowableness is influenced by it:
Although concerning God we do not know through the Revelation of grace
in this life what God is and thus are united with him as with the unknown,
nevertheless we do know him more fully insofar as more and higher effects
of his are shown to us and insofar as we attribute to him some things out
of divine Revelation that cannot be reached by natural reason, for example,
that God is triune and one.13

Even if God is attained in an inner experience, it is only a sign of his


essence (often called a theophany) but never, Thomas insists, his essence
itself.14 It is well to remember that it took until the lifetime of Thomas
Aquinas for the teaching to be established among Christians that in the
afterlife, the beatific vision consists in more than theophanies.15 Because,
9
10
11
12
13
14

Cf. Hoye, Gotteserkenntnis, 277, n. 33.


Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, I, c. 5.
Divina non sunt revelanda hominibus nisi secundum eorum capacitatem. Thomas Aquinas,
Summa theologiae, III, q. 101, a. 2, ad 1.
Thomas Aquinas, In De trinitate, q. 6, a. 3c, n. 2. Cf. ibid., q. 1, a. 2; q. 6, a. 2, ad 5; Summa theologiae,
I, q. 13, a. 10, ad 5; ibid., III, q. 3, a. 6c; Summa contra gentiles, I, c. 3; Super Romanos, c. 1, lect. 6.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 12, a. 13, ad 1. Cf. In IV. Sententiarum, dist. 49, q. 2, a. 7,
ad 3.
15 Cf. Hoye, Gotteserkenntnis, 269284.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 18, a. 3c.

2.1 Difficulties

19

therefore, divine Revelation does not affect Gods unknowableness, there


is no reason for concluding from the fact that Thomas acknowledges
supernatural Revelation that his teaching on Gods unknowableness is not
to be taken seriously,16 especially since he himself explicitly rejected such
inconsequence. Nicholas Thomas Wright expressed it well:
We must remind ourselves yet once more that all Christian language about
the future is a set of signposts pointing into a mist. Signposts do not normally
provide you with advance photographs of what you will find at the end of
the road, but that does not mean they are not pointing in the right direction.
They are telling you the truth, the particular sort of truth that can be told
about the future.17

2.1.4 Philosophical prejudices against life after death


Other reasons for denying an existence after death taken in a Christian
sense are indirect, deductive conclusions. They do not arise from a direct
analysis, to say nothing of observation. No one goes and looks and returns
with the piece of information that there is nothing there, like the Russian
cosmonauts who returned from space with the message that God was
nowhere to be seen. Most likely, it is a priori impossible to find an a
posteriori proof on the nonexistence of the afterlife. The arguments are
deductive: There is no life after death because this is impossible. Let there
be no misunderstanding: This is not only a legitimate way of arguing, it is
also a very potent way.
This kind of judgment is founded on a prejudgment. The logic here
is conclusive, but the truth question is risky. Conclusions arising out of
prejudices convince us with the power of self-evidence until we realize that
our point of departure is, in fact, a prejudice. In the case of prejudices
that are important to us, this reflection is anything but easy, but once
we become aware of a prejudice as such, it loses some of its convincing
strength. Although it is certainly not easy to discover a prejudice as long
as it is one of our own seeing the prejudices of our opponents is easier
it is a promising reaction to focus the light of doubt on it. A conscious
prejudice is susceptible to being rejected, revised, or rationally justified. Of
course, living without prejudices is impossible. They define the homeland
in which we feel secure and are able to live our normal life. But this can
always mean living in falsehood. Hence, it is always better to examine a
discovered prejudice.
16

As Nicolas, Dieu connu, 88, does.

17

Wright, Surprised by Hope, 132.

20

Disbelief in a life after death

There are four such prejudgments in particular that seem to me to


present the most influential opposition to a belief in life after death. I
begin my study by characterizing them before subjecting them to rational
criticism. I refer to them as experience (natural science), praxis (technology
and morality), hedonism, and Christian Faith.
To be sure, the alternative cannot be a state void of prejudices. What
is required is a prejudgment that is far-reaching enough to allow for the
possible existence of a life after death. I refer to it as the prejudice for
reality reality taken without further qualification. It would be meaningless to postulate an existence that lies so far in the beyond that it
is no longer real. The afterlife must be relevant, perhaps even enjoy a
kind of self-evidence. Eschatology is comparable to logic: We make use
of it in general without reflection, whereas making a study of it can be
strenuous.
In any case, the agnostic denial of any knowledge whatsoever about the
afterlife is considerably more demanding than the claim that we do not
know anything or do not yet have knowledge. This is normal scientific
modesty. However, the assertion that something cannot be known is of a
quite different caliber. It represents a truth claim of a high degree. To maintain that the goal and meaning of life is unknowable is an extraordinarily
weighty thesis.
The intention of the following five subchapters is to overcome the prejudices that render the afterlife impossible. Once room for belief in an
afterlife has been opened a priori, attention in the subsequent chapters can
be turned to a more positive approach. What can be called the anthropological parameter will then be treated first, allowing a study of some
fundamental factors. Finally, an attempt will be made to come to terms
with the essence of Eternal Life. The reader who is not interested in the
critical treatment of the positions rejecting Eternal Life may advance to
Chapter 3.

2.2 The Experience Prejudice


In its essence, life after death as conceived by Christianity is traditionally
called a vision of God. Although it is never actually done, this vision
could be called a kind of experience, seeing that the beatific vision is
an immaterial apprehension of God. God will be seen as he is face to
face as Christian Faith expresses it. Eternal Life is defined as a union

2.2 The Experience Prejudice

21

with God, and this union is a conscious union. It is obvious, then, that
Christianity cannot do without a notion of experience in its worldview. It
is absolutely dependent on a notion of experience that extends far enough
and deep enough to embrace the eternal vision of God himself. It must
therefore be acknowledged that Eternal Life seems in some way to be an
experiential fact, albeit no one has been there and returned with a factual
report. Nevertheless, experience taken in the usual sense seems to speak
against a belief in the afterlife.
The purpose of the present subchapter is not only to criticize the usual
notion of experience but also, above all, to broaden and deepen the customary notion of experience so that it can be valid for eschatology. What
I refer to as the Experience Prejudice is the restriction of experience to
the empirical, the sensual. The crucial breakthrough here must be the
awareness that experience embraces more than facts that is, more than
the given (data) in experience. If the Christian worldview is true, then the
realm of conscious experience is more far-reaching than one would normally presume. The notion of Erlebnis (see pages 3941) bears witness to
this.
The Experience Prejudice is the conviction that only that is real which
in some way or another is an object of empirical experience or is somehow
related to empirical experience; in its simplest form: I will only believe
it if I see it. The point of view of this prejudice is a conviction that
is presupposed without further reasoning; conversely, its filter effect is
comprehensive. It requires a priori that anything like Eternal Life must
be judged to be superfluous since it lies by definition beyond time
experience, as we know it, being something temporal. Experience is empirical, it is the participation of consciousness in empirical reality. The Experience Prejudice, which is a typical fundamental presumption of our age,
presents a major hindrance to a belief in a life after death. Empiricism
is a teaching that defines reality itself as empirical. Reality being empirical, there is no place left for Eternal Life, which cannot be reduced to
a fact or, for that matter, even to something temporal. If it were real,
it is arguable, then one would expect something as presumably important as the afterlife to be in some way empirically noticeable or at least
significant.
Relevant for a theological treatment of Eternal Life are, in particular,
three forms of the Experience Prejudice: neopositivism; Jesus Christ as the
foundation of Christian theology; and the idea of an experience of God,
as frequently understood in theology in the past few decades.

22

Disbelief in a life after death


2.2.1 Positivism and neopositivism: Reality defined
by empirical science

Hardly anyone would claim that natural science is the only access we have to
reality the claim itself is self-refuting but the opinion is quite widespread
that it is our most mature and reliable access. Positivism and neopositivism
articulate this common conviction. Positivism is the philosophical belief
that the object of empirical science is reality and vice versa. Reality is
defined as that which can be in any way treated by empirical science.
Expressed negatively: whatever is inaccessible to scientific treatment is
regarded as nonexistent. This viewpoint can be called scientism; it is, of
course, a philosophical decision and is taught in no way by natural science
itself. It makes natural science into a metaphysics. For classical positivism,
religion ranks as a preliminary stage of knowledge that will be superseded
by science.
In his extraordinarily popular book Language, Truth and Logic, Alfred J.
Ayer expresses a straightforward application of the Experience Prejudice:
We conclude, therefore, that the argument from religious experience is altogether fallacious. The fact that people have religious experiences is interesting
from the psychological point of view, but it does not in any way imply that
there is such a thing as religious knowledge . . . The theist . . . may believe
that his experiences are cognitive experiences, but, unless he can formulate
his knowledge in propositions that are empirically verifiable, we may be
sure that he is deceiving himself. It follows that those philosophers who fill
their books with assertions that they intuitively know this or that moral
or religious truth are merely providing material for the psychoanalyst. For
no act of intuition can be said to reveal a truth about any matter of fact
unless it issues in verifiable propositions.18

Ayer states outright what many contemporaries implicitly think. Metaphysics and, consequently, theological statements referring to a transcendent God are not so much false as simply meaningless:
We shall maintain that no statement which refers to a reality transcending the limits of all possible sense-experience can possibly have any literal
significance; from which it must follow that the labors of those who have
striven to describe such a reality have all been devoted to the production of
nonsense.19

Theology, therefore, need not be refuted.


18

Ayer, Language, 119120.

19

Ibid., 34.

2.2 The Experience Prejudice

23

Neopositivism does not go so far as to require that truth be always a


given in direct experience. The Verification Principle only demands that a
truth assertion have some empirical relevance.20
It is logically consistent, then, to conclude that notions like metaphysics and speculation not to mention God, heaven, and the like
are empty, thus being susceptible to pejorative meanings. Speculation is
accordingly looked on as empty thought, that is, thinking that is not related
to reality. Ironically, metaphysics is understood as lying outside of reality
although its defenders understand it as the study of being. If reality is
defined as concrete existence, then it follows automatically that there is
room for nothing beyond concrete existence. The concrete appears to be
more real than the abstract. In this view, facts are the most real realities.
This development can hardly be appreciated if one is not aware of
how previous history perceived these questions. Compared to the Platonic
tradition, which for centuries dominated Western thought, it is not only a
development, it is also an antipodal conversion. For Hegel in the nineteenth
century, the idea is absolute truth of which all phenomenal existence is
the expression; the idea embodies the Absolute. Christians developed the
teaching that the Platonic ideas are, in truth, Gods thoughts. Until the
Modern Age, the abstract was considered more real than the concrete. In
this way of thinking, the concrete enjoys merely the dependent reality of
an imperfect copy, of a shadow, of a reflection, of a likeness.
For us viewing with the eyes of the Experience Prejudice reality
appears to be just the opposite. For Plato, who originated the term idea
and for whom it was the central notion of his philosophy and theology, ideas are the fullest realities. What we call realities today are for
the Platonic view merely imperfect copies, deriving their existence from
the all-embracing fullness of the ideas. For us, ideas are no longer the
fundamentals of reality; they have been reduced to mere thoughts. And, in
our eyes, thoughts are the copies. My idea table is, for example, an image
of real tables, whereas for Platonism, it is the concrete table that is the
image. Whereas originally idea was a metaphysical notion, today it is an
epistemological one. The Oxford English Dictionary provides a typical definition of the term idea: A conception to which no reality corresponds;
something merely imagined or fancied. It can even mean something that
is in the imagination or mind as opposed to being in reality.21 In German,
20
21

Cf. ibid., 35.


A further definition: A notion or thought more or less imperfect, indefinite, or fanciful; a vague
belief, opinion, or estimate; a supposition, impression, fancy. To have no idea: (a) not to anticipate
or expect (a situation or occurrence); (b) to be unable to comprehend; usu. in phr. you have no
idea.

24

Disbelief in a life after death

the word has come to mean a very tiny quantity. In the expression to add
a pinch of salt, Germans can say Idee instead of pinch. Contemporary
culture has been carrying on a direct polemic against Platonism, retaining
the original Platonic terms and turning their meaning and importance
verily upside down.
The reduction of reality to the concrete reaches a high point in neopositivism. Neopositivism is not difficult to criticize. Because this axiom is itself
certainly not empirically verifiable, it proves itself to be inadequate through
the simple fact that it teaches that only empirically relevant knowledge is
permitted. The Verification Principle or that of Falsification has the
quality of a postulate. It is similar to a dogmatic truth. Because, however, it
is itself not susceptible to verification, a breakthrough is exposed. Through
their own explicit teaching, neopositivists demonstrate that there is truth
that cannot be verified in experience.
A particularly influential adaptation of the Experience Prejudice within
theology is exhibited in the overemphasis of the theological significance
of Jesus Christ. Time is accepted as the horizon of reality. In other words,
history becomes the all-encompassing dimension, and Jesus Christ is a definite historical figure. Treating him as the starting point and foundation of
Christian theology represents the most convincing form of the Experience
Prejudice within theology. The appeal to Christ in a theological argumentation often has the advantage of providing a relationship to experience.
Jesus belongs to the givens of history.
In theology, the Experience Prejudice finds further expression when a
separation is made between the historical Jesus and the Christ of Faith.
This is like someone claiming that the circle on the blackboard is not really
a circle but rather only little heaps of chalk and that the circle exists only
in our imagination. This leads some theologians to a denial of knowledge
about the afterlife with the argument that we have no pictures of it.
The German philosopher Richard Schaeffler pointed out that the
basic mistake of positivism is that experience is treated as self-evident.22
Schaeffler argues that experience has a dimension of transcendental
reflection and that God is the name that names the condition which
makes experience possible.23 God is the only possible explanation because
nothing that occurs within experience can ground experience. If human
transcendentality makes the relationship to objects of consciousness
possible, then an object that appears within the transcendental horizon
cannot be the condition for the opening of this horizon.24 Being not an
object of experience, God is thus the condition for the development of the
22

Cf. Schaeffler, Fahigkeit, 28.

23

Ibid., 124.

24

Ibid., 119.

2.2 The Experience Prejudice

25

horizon of experience. For this reason, Schaeffler maintains that experience


is not self-evident, and positivism treating it as self-evident neglects
to pose the question about the condition for the possibility of experience. As shown in the next subchapter, Karl Rahner exemplified this
transcendental approach in his Christology.
2.2.2 Jesus Christus as the foundation of theology
Is Christianity then not Christian, not Christian through and through?
This question is deceptive. In truth, Jesus did not begin his own theology
with Christology; he presupposed a theology, including a conception of
God and creation. His gospel is not identical to his theology; instead, it is
integrated into it. The specificum of his teaching is not the existence of God
the Creator but rather salvation. His own concern was eschatological. If
not misconstrued, it can be said that Christ is not enough for Christianity.
What is specifically Christian is not the innermost essence of Christianity.
Therefore, it is not inappropriate when summaries of Christian theology
like the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Summae of Thomas
Aquinas do not have Christology as their starting point.
Rahner made a point of warning against a Christological bottleneck
[Engfuhrung]:
Great caution seems to be called for against taking a too narrowly Christological approach . . . A too narrow concentration of the foundational course
on Jesus Christ as the key and the solution to all existential problems and
as the total foundation of Faith would be too simple a conception. It is not
true that one has only to preach Jesus Christ and then he has solved all
problems. Today Jesus Christ is himself a problem, and to realize this we
only have to look at the demythologizing theology of a post-Bultmann age.
The question is this: Why and in what sense may one risk ones life in Faith
in this concrete Jesus of Nazareth as the crucified and risen God-Man? This
is what has to be justified. Hence, we cannot begin with Jesus Christ as the
absolute and final datum, but we must begin further back than that. We
have several sources of experience and knowledge, all of which have to be
explored and mediated. There is a knowledge of God which is not mediated
completely by an encounter with Jesus Christ. It is neither necessary nor
objectively justified to begin in this foundational course simply with the
doctrine of Jesus Christ.25

To be sure, Jesus Christ might well represent the specific of Christianity,


but constricting Christianity to him leads ultimately to atheism. Christian
25

Rahner, Foundations, 13. (Throughout this volume and unless otherwise noted, Rahner refers to
Karl Rahner.)

26

Disbelief in a life after death

religion is not simply based on Christs teaching. It is similar with the


Church, if she is given a role that is overly essential. Seeing that the
Christian religion is not identical with the Christian Church, Rahner also
emphasized that the Church is not the central teaching of Christianity.26 It
is easy enough to have an institutional church that is void of religion and
to celebrate divine services without God.
Faith in Jesus Christ must be responsible. Rahner explains that Christ
himself is a question of conscience. In the opinion of Thomas Aquinas, it
would be immoral to believe in Christ if ones conscience were (erroneously)
convinced that belief in him contradicted truth. Someone in this state
would be rejecting truth if he or she believed in Christ and, thus, would
be contradicting the meaning of Faith in Christ.27 (Noteworthy is the fact
that Fyodor Dostoyevsky took the opposite position: he maintained that he
would choose Christ if he were confronted with the hypothesis of choosing
between Christ and Truth.28 ) What is important here is that there is a
kind of knowledge of God that is not adequately mediated through the
encounter with Jesus Christ.29 Jesus himself presupposes an elaborate
theology. Moreover, Christ himself represents a theological question. It is
certainly not by chance that Aquinas does not take up Christology until
the third and final part of his Summa theologiae and the fourth and final
part of his Summa contra gentiles.
It is a crucial mistake to identify what is specifically Christian with
the essence of Christianity. If Christ is to be viewed theologically, the
background must be composed of a mature theology. There exist different
Christologies because the presupposed perspectives are different. Neither
the experience of Christ nor belief in him can replace this; Faith and reason
are not alternatives. Here, too, the axiom Grace perfects nature holds.
Some would consider it ironic that it is the Catholic teaching office that
emphasizes the indispensability of philosophy within theology. To be sure,
The Catechism of the Catholic Church begins with a question about Faith
but, in order to treat this, it first explains the natural human capacity for
God [capax Dei], which consists in a desire for God [desiderium Dei]. This
is essential to understand Faith.
26
28

29

27 Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, III, q. 19, a. 5c.


Cf. ibid., 324.
Cf. his letter of February 20, 1854, to Natalja D. Fonvizin (Gesammelte Werke, Vol. XII, 297);
English: I believe that there is nothing lovelier, deeper, more sympathetic, more rational, more
manly and more perfect than the Savior . . . If anyone could prove to me that Christ is outside the
truth, and if the truth really did exclude Christ, I should prefer to stay with Christ and not the
truth. Quoted in Dirscherl, Dostoevsky, 52. A few years later, the same dilemma is recounted in
The Demons, Part II, Chapter 1, 7.
Rahner, Foundations, 13.

2.2 The Experience Prejudice

27

In his tribute to philosophy in the encyclical Fides et Ratio (1998), Pope


John Paul II underlines the fact that Christian thought allows for neither a fideism nor a Biblicism. Both fideism, which fails to recognize
the importance of rational knowledge and philosophical discourse for the
understanding of Faith, indeed for the very possibility of belief in God, and
Biblicism, which tends to make the reading and exegesis of Sacred Scripture the sole criterion of truth, overlook the role of philosophy and reason
in theology. That there can be no contradiction between Faith and reason
is a traditional Catholic conviction. As Thomas Aquinas argues, this is so
because the light of reason and the light of Faith both come from God.30
It is not possible to hear or read Revelation without being influenced by
a philosophy. Most people read the Bible in translation and are influenced
by the philosophical presuppositions of their language. Holy Scripture does
not come purely; it cannot be understood without interpretation, being
otherwise nothing but language without content. No one has the whole
of Revelation present in his consciousness of what Christianity is. We all
make selections from what is revealed and put these ideas in a hierarchy of
importance. It is not Revelation that does this.
An ideal situation would be that the theologian is his own philosopher.
He should begin his philosophy simultaneously with his theology and not
borrow a philosophy or consider it to be merely a system of categories or a
referee of logic or a language into which theological ideas can be translated.
Instead, it reveres truth as much as theology does. The touchstone for the
seriousness of the involvement of philosophy can be found in the notion
of reality. Does the theologian simply presuppose this notion or does he
himself reflect on it and take responsibility for his notion of reality?
Rahner considers the philosophical presuppositions to belong to the
content of Revelation theology.31 He calls philosophy an element within
Christian theology and maintains that there even exists a unity between
philosophy and theology insofar as both study the whole.32 According
to Pope John Paul II, the deep unity of Faith and philosophy must be
reached anew.33 There is a natural-philosophical teaching on God and, as
Rahner asserts, it is not carried on next to Revelation theology.34 Rahner
describes the philosophical element . . . as a transcendental presupposition
within the theological sphere.35 At least in his own case, philosophical
reflections are certainly not pre-theological, as has been claimed.36
30
31
33
35
36

Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, I, c. 7; John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, n. 43.
32 Ibid., 11.
Cf. Rahner, Foundations, 36.
34 Rahner, Schriften, 5051.
Cf. John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, n. 48.
A letter of July 24, 1968; as quoted in Eicher, Anthropologische Wende, 79, n. 1.
Cf. Fischer, Mensch, 160, n. 109.

28

Disbelief in a life after death

The relevance of philosophy for theology is not exhausted by the fact


that the Church has adopted philosophical notions to express dogmas.37
Much more important is that the Church has drawn from philosophy in
order to gain a deeper understanding of Faith.38 Hearing the divine word
and understanding it are two different acts. Pope John Paul II encourages
philosophers to trust in human reason and not to be overly modest in
defining their goals.39 He further recommends that it is necessary not to
abandon the passion for ultimate truth, the eagerness to search for it or
the audacity to forge new paths in the search.40 It is natural to Christian
Faith that it presents reason with a challenge. It is Faith, he states, which
stirs reason to move beyond all isolation and willingly to run risks so that
it may attain whatever is beautiful, good, and true. Faith thus becomes the
convinced and convincing advocate of reason.41
For this thoroughly positive viewpoint, which is no more than the
axiom that grace presupposes and perfects nature, Thomas Aquinas is cited
as follows:
Thomas recognized that nature, philosophys proper concern, could contribute to the understanding of divine Revelation. Faith therefore has no fear
of reason, but seeks it out and has trust in it. Just as grace builds on nature
and brings it to fulfillment, so Faith builds upon and perfects reason.42

Both philosophy and theology have the final goal of human existence as
their object.43 Both should be seeking Truth, each with its own autonomy.
Rahner describes the relationship between believing and thinking as a
circular movement between the question and the answer. The question that
the human being himself is presents the condition of the possibility for
hearing the answer that Christian Revelation is. The question establishes
the condition for real hearing, he says, and the answer first brings the
question to its reflective self-givenness.44 The circle runs between the
horizons of understanding and what is said, heard, and understood.45 In
this way, the philosophical presuppositions become a part of the content of
Revelation theology, and philosophy is seen to be a factor within Christian
theology.46
Pope John Paul II expresses a warning about the attempt to separate
theology from philosophy. The result, he notes, would not be an independent theology but rather an impoverished and enfeebled theology.
37
40
44

38 Ibid., n. 5.
39 Cf. ibid., n. 56.
Cf. John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, n. 55.
41 Ibid.
42 Cf. ibid., n. 43.
43 Cf. ibid., n. 15.
Ibid.
45 Rahner, Foundations, 24.
46 Cf. ibid., 25.
Rahner, Schriften, 23.

2.2 The Experience Prejudice

29

Without philosophy, theology is reduced to particular feelings and experiences. Thus, it would become a study of myths instead of being:
Deprived of reason, Faith has stressed feeling and experience, and so run the
risk of no longer being a universal proposition. It is an illusion to think that
Faith, tied to weak reasoning, might be more penetrating; on the contrary,
Faith then runs the grave risk of withering into myth or superstition. By the
same token, reason which is unrelated to an adult Faith is not prompted to
turn its gaze to the newness and radicality of being.47

Not for pastoral or pedagogical reasons but instead by the very nature of the
revealed word do certain tasks that are the responsibility of theology itself
demand recourse to philosophical enquiry.48 Because of this, the believer
must do philosophy before doing Christology. Faith in Christ presupposes
reason.
2.2.3 The notion of the experience of God
The form of the Experience Prejudice that is most common and influential
within theology is the idea that it is possible to experience God in the
present life. To the best of my knowledge, the term experience of God is
never used in an eschatological context. In another book, I attempted to
come to terms with the idea extensively.49 It might seem at first sight that
the acknowledgment of an experience of God [cognitio Dei experimentalis50 ]
must be supportive of Christian Faith. However, in reality, this prejudgment
has a laming effect on eschatology for it leads to the consequence that it
is difficult to think of anything meaningful under the eschatological term
vision of God. If God could already be experienced in this life, then life
after death would seem to be in principle superfluous because it would
have nothing more to offer than an experience of God. Otherwise, one
would have to conceive of an experience of God in this life that would not
be fulfilling. Rahner finds no better solution than the metaphor of spatial
closeness. In the eschatological vision, God, he teaches, is closer than in
experiences of God in this world. It must be admitted, at least, that it is
difficult to distinguish the heavenly experience of God from the alleged
mystical experience of God before death.
Hans Urs von Balthasar, who during the course of his life dissociated
himself from the notion experience of God,51 confirmed the closeness of
Eternal Life and mysticism, which he described as a thin veil, a foretaste,
47
50

48 Cf. ibid., n. 64.


John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, n. 48.
Cf. Bonaventure, In III. Sententiarum, dist. 35, q. 1, a. 1c.

49 Cf. Hoye, Gotteserfahrung?


51 Cf. Engelhard, Gotteserfahrung.

30

Disbelief in a life after death

and a shadow of the heavenly glorification.52 Balthasar cites St. John of


the Cross, who describes the ascent in the dark night to Mount Carmel
through the hindrances, which are destroyed by the consuming divine fire.
Having reached this pinnacle, one desires that the veil be torn apart, so
that a union takes place in burning love like in an infinite ocean. The soul
is compared to the irradiated shadow thrown by Gods glorious light. Such
is for him the ultimate unity of a human with God.
Worth thinking about is the fact that the expression experience of
God occurs in no official Church teaching in a positive sense. Even in
the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in which one would expect to find
it, there is not a single occurrence of the expression. In fact, it took the
Church until the thirteenth century before it was decided that a vision
of God himself takes place in the afterlife, to say nothing of the present
life. Previously, it was orthodox to define all of the experiences that involve
God, including Eternal Life, as theophanies. According to this teaching,
it is not God himself who is encountered but instead merely appearances
or revelations of God.
For Thomas Aquinas, our present state is not defined as a vision but
rather as Faith, whereby Faith implies for him precisely that the object
is not experienced, is not seen at all.53 Accordingly, the idea of a Faith
experience is an oxymoron. Faith does have, of course, a relationship to
the eschatological vision of God, being its precursor, but it does not bring
about this vision. To the contrary, says Thomas, The knowledge of Faith,
far from appeasing desire, rather excites it, since everyone desires to see that
which he believes.54 Thus, Faith provides not so much a support as a goad.
The answers provided by Faith do not lessen further enquiry. As Aquinas
notes, Faith is concerned with things absent, not with things present.55
A further consideration is the consequence for the theodicy problem. In
my opinion, this problem would be unsoluble if it were a priori possible to
enjoy the fulfilling happiness of the vision of God before death even if
only for an instant. Maintaining a belief in God in the face of the theodicy
problem is coupled with the impossibility of a fully happy existence before
death; striving as well as suffering are unavoidable as long as reflecting
human beings live in time. If it were theoretically possible for humans to
52
53

54
55

Cf. Balthasar, Theo-Drama, 428430.


The object of Faith is not truths [vera] but rather truth itself [veritas prima ut non apparens].
Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 14, a. 3, ad 6. Ratio formalis credibilis est ut sit non visum.
Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 1, a. 6, ad 2. Est autem obiectum fidei aliquid non visum circa divina.
Ibid. Creditum est non visum. Ibid.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 40.
Fides de absentibus est, non de praesentibus. Ibid.

2.2 The Experience Prejudice

31

be fully happy in this life, then there would be no way of justifying Gods
failure to bring this about; God does not play hide-and-seek games with
us. Concrete suffering is neither absolutely unavoidable nor unnatural and
meaningless when it does occur.
I now attempt to get beyond the notion of an experience of God by
broadening the horizon.56 Not in all Rahner with his idea of a transcendental experience being the best-known example but in most cases,
the notion of an experience of God is closely associated with the idea of
concreteness. An experience is usually concrete and the idea of the concrete
is held in high estimation by our modern mindset. So, most authors using
the term experience of God emphasize its concreteness. The aspect of
concreteness presents a good starting point for an analysis of the idea of
the experience of God.
Facts are concrete. Etymologically, concrete means grown together.
If one wants to do theology that is, to reflect on God then one must first
get beyond facts. Of course, they ought not to be denied, but they must be
transcended. Facts are not simply statically there; as the etymology reveals,
in some way or another, they have been made (Latin factum, thing done,
neuter past participle of facere, to do, to make). Facts must be appreciated
for what they really are. A helpful as well as time-honored analogy can be
drawn to the appreciation of what colors are when one becomes aware that
they are light waves. Colors are, so to speak, the concretization of light, its
concrete forms. Furthermore, they are references to light. Without colors,
light is invisible; when colors are perceived, then one knows, without seeing
it, that light is present.
Although, admittedly, nothing conclusive can be proven from the fact,
it is revealing to note that the word concrete originated in Christian
theology. It reveals a point of view that the Christian idea of creation
has made thinkable. Today, the term which first occurred within highly
abstract theology is part of everyday language. It is conceivable that the
term still includes hidden elements of Christian thought but in a secularized
form. It is perhaps no accident that it has been employed for an antitheological purpose. In its original meaning, concrete signified precisely
that which is not God. God was unhesitatingly considered an abstract
being. A creature was understood as that which has grown together made
as a fact and which is consequently contingent. A creature is susceptible
to corruption. The concrete is thus, by definition, a participation in God
but itself anything but God.
56

For a lengthier treatment of my arguments, the reader may want to consult my book, Gotteserfahrung?

32

Disbelief in a life after death

A further term belonging to everyday language and originally a theological concept is abstract. Both concrete and abstract taken in an
epistemological sense were coined by the Roman statesman, Christian
philosopher, and theologian Anicius Manlius Torquatus Severinus Boethius
(480524 ad). This occurred in an unmistakably theological work namely,
On the Trinity. There, the term abstract is used to define what theology
is. In contrast to physics and mathematics, theology studies the abstract,
the objects of physics and mathematics being restricted to the inabstract.
Taken in the original sense of the word abstract, one could say that without the abstract, there would be no theology. Today, the word abstract
has ironically taken on a pejorative connotation for theologians as well as
others. At the same time it is often used polemically. The values attached to
the terms abstract and concrete are in this case reversed in comparison
to the original usage. Understood in the contemporary sense, the concrete
possesses more reality than the abstract. The Oxford English Dictionary
gives as the first definition, naming a real thing. This is taken to be
the equivalent of belonging to immediate experience of actual things or
events. Abstract then has just the opposite meaning. It implies being
at a distance from reality; the more abstract something is, the weaker is its
reality. It also has the meaning of abstruse, or difficult to understand.
According to the leading German dictionary, abstract means that something occurs only in thought, being theoretical and without an immediate
relationship to reality.57 As could be expected, concrete then has the
meaning of something real, existing in the world beyond mere thought.
According to the scholarly Historical Dictionary of Philosophy [Historisches
Worterbuch der Philosophie], the presupposition that the concrete represents
the fullest reality was made popular through Marxism.58 It is ironic, then,
when theologians employ the two terms in the same sense; neither is it
surprising that the term experience of God became popular in the last
third of the twentieth century.
Marxism defines the concrete as a unity, or a totality, of various predicates: The concrete is concrete because it is the sum of many predicates,
that is, the unity of the manifold.59 The Philosophical Dictionary [Philosophisches Worterbuch], which was widespread in the German Democratic
Republic, describes concrete as a rich totality of many qualifications and
relationships.60 As in Leibniz, for a totality to be concrete, it must be such
57
58
60

Cf. Duden. Das groe Worterbuch, entry item abstrakt.


59 Marx, Outlines, 101.
Cf. Historisches Worterbuch, Vol. I, 41.
Philosophical Dictionary, Vol. I, 40.

2.2 The Experience Prejudice

33

that it embodies the possibility of being real. The elements, for example,
may not contradict one another.
For Thomas Aquinas, in contrast, the concrete is already something
real and not the totality of predicates that can become real. In his eyes,
what grows together are only two aspects: essence and being. Something
definable is given existence. An essence can be composed of a limitless
number of elements, whereas being presents only two possibilities. The
concrete is not only a set of compatible predicates; it is a unity of possibility
and actuality. The two questions that can be posed regarding the concrete
are what it is and whether it is. Every experience is qualified by this duality.
The concrete is per se the existent. Accordingly, an imagined object say,
a unicorn is not concrete. The act of existence is not included among
the predicates but is rather united to the predicates in its own right. It
is revealing that words like the existent and reality mean the concrete
whole and, nonetheless, are derived not from the predicates qualifying the
object but instead simply from its act of existence.
Even in mystical experiences this duality of the what something is and
the that it is remains valid. One of the best definitions of mysticism

found, for example, in the writings of St. Teresa of Avila


is the aware61
ness, or the feeling, of Gods presence. The twelfth-century Benedictine
William of St. Thierry gave a traditional definition a fitting expression: he
speaks of a certain inner tasting of the Divinity.62
In contemporary mystical theology, the same definition prevails. Harvey D. Egan describes the mystical experience as the knowledge of God
attained by direct, immediate, and ineffable contemplation.63 Bernard
McGinn speaks of the immediate or direct presence of God64 and, more
specifically, of the consciousness of Gods presence.65 Obviously, there is
a distinction drawn between God and his presence.
In these texts, we find, in fact, the duality that Aquinas maintains.
But for him, this alone is sufficient reason for denying an experience of
God. In every experience, even a mystical one, we can distinguish between
what is being experienced and the fact that it is being experienced. Since
this is the essential characteristic of a creature, and God in his absolute
simplicity does not fit into such categories, it cannot be God who is being
experienced. The term theophany was used in earlier centuries to name
such effects. God, as Thomas realized, has no whatness, no essence; he
is pure thatness. Expressed in the medieval terminology, this means that
61
63

62 William of St. Thierry, Nature and Dignity, c. 4, n. 31, 91.

Teresa of Avila,
Life, c. 10, 1.
64 McGinn, The Foundations, xvii.
65 McGinn, Flowering, xi.
Egan, Soundings, xviii.

34

Disbelief in a life after death

Gods quid est is unknowable. In this life, we can only know his quia est.
We can, however, learn something about what God is not (i.e., about quid
non est) and substitute this knowledge for quid est knowledge. What we
can know about God himself is only that he exists. It is distinct of God
that he does not have existence there being no whatness in him that
could have it. Creatures, in contrast, have existence.66
The Oxford English Dictionary gives the following as the first definition
for reality: The quality of being real or having an actual existence.
Other than the fact that actual existence would seem to be redundant,
this definition is perfectly appropriate. Hence, we have an awareness of
existents and existence, which is had by existents and for which reason
they are so designated. Unicorns are not existents. Moreover, we are aware
in every experience of existence itself, which is identified with God. God
cannot be an existent, just as water cannot be made wet. To say that
God exists is, according to Thomas Aquinas, like saying that running
runs.67
Aquinas acknowledges two kinds of visions of God. The first is the
eschatological vision, the second the insight into Gods unknowableness:
The vision of God is twofold. One is perfect, whereby Gods Essence is seen:
the other is imperfect, whereby, though we see not what God is, yet we see
what he is not; and whereby, the more perfectly we know God in this life,
the more we understand that he surpasses all that the mind comprehends.68

The first takes place in heaven, whereas the second is its state of inchoation,
as possessed by wayfarers.69 For Thomas it is, therefore, not an experience
of God, to say nothing of a mystical experience, which represents in this
life the reference to the eschatological vision.
What, then, are the experiences of God that are recounted in the Bible?
Thomas responds to this question with unhesitant consistency:
But that some men are spoken of in Sacred Scripture as having seen God
must be understood either in reference to an imaginary vision, or even a
corporeal one: according as the presence of divine power was manifested
through some corporeal species, whether appearing externally, or formed
internally in the imagination; or even according as some men have perceived
some intelligible knowledge of God through his spiritual effects.70
66
67
68
70

I have treated this especially in my article on Die Unerkennbarkeit.


Cf. Thomas Aquinas, In ebdomadibus, lect. 2.
69 Ibid.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 8, a. 7c.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 47. Cf. also In IV. Sententiarum, dist. 49, q. 2, a. 7,
ad 2. The expression having seen you with my own eyes (Job 42:5) is interpreted in the same way;
cf. ibid., ad 3.

2.2 The Experience Prejudice

35

However, Augustines teaching confronts Thomas with a problem, for


Augustine explicitly says that we are able to see God in the present life.
Thomas responds by differentiating between the wording and the meaning:
From these words then of Augustine it cannot be gathered that God is seen
in his substance in this life, but only as in a mirror, which the Apostle also
confesses of the knowledge of this life, saying (1 Cor 13:12): We see now as
in a glass darkly.71

Thomas further clarifies his position by maintaining that in a successful


proof of Gods existence, it is not Gods being that is attained. Proofs do not
reach God himself but rather only a sentence namely, that God exists.72
Revelation adds new truths, but it does not essentially alter the natural
situation:
Although by the Revelation of grace in this life we cannot know of God what
he is, and thus are united to him as to one unknown; still we know him more
fully according as many and more excellent of his effects are demonstrated
to us, and according as we attribute to him some things known by divine
Revelation, to which natural reason cannot reach, as, for instance, that God
is Three and One.73

Contrary to his contemporary St. Bonaventure, according to whom knowledge of Gods quid est can be attained by grace,74 Thomas allows for no
exception. An experience remains a unity of essence and existence no matter
where it originates. Thomas maintains that Revelation, in particular, does
not change Gods unknowableness, for he is not unknowable in himself
but only for us. If his Revelation is to be heard by us, then it must conform
to the human presuppositions [gratia supponit naturam]. The essence of
human beings sets down the structure transcendentally.75 Although we
are elevated by Revelation to know something that would otherwise be
unknown to us, nevertheless not with the effect that we would know in
any other way than through sensibles.76
71
72

73
74
75
76

Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 47.


Cf. ibid., I, c. 7. To be can mean either of two things. It may mean the act of essence, or it may
mean the composition of a proposition effected by the mind in joining a predicate to a subject.
Taking to be in the first sense, we cannot understand Gods existence nor his essence; but only in
the second sense. We know that this proposition which we form about God when we say God is
is true; and this we know from his effects. Summa theologiae, I, q. 3, a. 4, ad 2.
Ibid., q. 12, a. 13, ad 1. Cf. In IV. Sententiarum, dist. 49, q. 2, a. 7, ad 3.
Cf. Hoye, Gotteserkenntnis, 277, n. 33.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, III, q. 101, a. 2, ad 1.
Thomas Aquinas, In De trinitate, q. 6, a. 3c, n. 2. Cf. ibid., q. 1, a. 2; q. 6, a. 2, ad 5. Cf. Summa
theologiae, I, q. 13, a. 10, ad 5; III, q. 3, a. 6c; Summa contra gentiles, I, c. 3.

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Disbelief in a life after death

Of course, Aquinas does not doubt that we gain new knowledge from
Revelation. His denial applies only to our knowledge of Gods quid est. Even
in the case of an interior inspiration, Thomas permits no exceptions.77
Thomass position is further clarified by his solution to objections with
which he confronts himself. Even when Scripture explicitly speaks of someone having seen God face to face, he maintains his position. In such
situations in which the wording of Holy Scripture stands in contradiction to his own position, Thomas uses the hermeneutical method of the
pious interpretation [pia interpretatio]. This hermeneutics, which was
common in the Middle Ages, presumes a sharp distinction between the
verbal statement of a Faith authority and the truth that the interpreter has
in mind.78
In Gen 32:31, for example, we read that Jacob remarks: I have seen God
face to face and have survived. This would seem, as Thomas objects, to
mean that Jacob saw God himself [per essentiam], although still alive in this
life.79 As in similar cases, however, Thomas answers this argument by asserting, first, that this Scriptural authority-text requires an interpretation. This
approach results in his stating that the text cannot really mean what it seems
to say. Thomas allows different interpretations, but he absolutely excludes
the interpretation that it really was God who was seen. He insists that seeing God from face to face cannot mean that the divine essence itself is seen
but only some figure representing God.80 In this context, he also allows
the interpretation of the expression seeing God face to face that understands it as an indication of the eminence of the experience.81 Appealing
to Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, Thomas consistently holds that what
we are dealing with is always a theophany, that is, a created appearance
of God [Dei apparitio].82 However, when the beatific vision is at question, Thomas is not willing in contrast to some of his contemporaries
to let Dionysius teaching apply.
77
79

80

81

78 Cf. Hoye, Lehramtliche Aussagen.


Cf. Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 18, a. 3c.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 10, a. 11, obj. 14. Thomass response to this objection: Auctoritas
illa dupliciter exponitur in glossa. Uno modo ut intelligatur de visione imaginaria . . . Alio modo
exponit glossa Gregorii de visione intellectuali, qua sancti in contemplatione divinam veritatem
intuentur; non quidem sciendo de ea quid est, sed magis quid non est.
According to Dionysius (Coel. Hier. IV) a man is said in the Scriptures to see God in the sense that
certain figures are formed in the senses or imagination, according to some similitude representing
in part the divinity. So when Jacob says, I have seen God face to face, this does not mean the
divine essence, but some figure representing God. And this is to be referred to some high mode
of prophecy, so that God seems to speak, though in an imaginary vision . . . We may also say that
Jacob spoke thus to designate some exalted intellectual contemplation, above the ordinary state.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 12, a. 11, ad 1.
82 Cf. Thomas Aquinas, In IV. Sententiarum, dist. 49, q. 2, a. 7, ad 1.
Cf. ibid.

2.2 The Experience Prejudice

37

The problem of extraordinary religious experiences becomes acute when


Aquinas treats what he refers to as prophecy and rapture. When he does
take up these questions, it is noteworthy that he never argues from his own
mystical experiences but instead remains within the bounds of purely theological argumentation. Although prophecy and rapture go far beyond what
normally is referred to when speaking of mystical experience, observing how
Thomas treats these extreme cases will serve to accentuate his basic position. On mysticism in general, Thomas wrote nothing. Unlike his teacher
Albertus Magnus, he surprisingly wrote no commentary on the famous
work On Mystical Theology by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, although
he did write commentaries on other works of Dionysius Dionysius being
one of his greatest authorities. The extraordinary religious experiences that
he treats are presented to him normatively by Holy Scripture, not from the
spiritual life of the later Church. It might be presumed that if Thomas had
not been bound by Faith authorities, he would have taken up such topics
only in his eschatology.
With regard to what is called prophecy, Thomas teaches that such experiences never attain the divine essence, although they are involved with
knowledge that transcends natural reason and therefore require a special
supernatural illumination.83 Thomas remains uncompromising. But he is
certainly not fighting in favor of a fundamental skepticism against the idea
of experiencing God. To the contrary: he adamantly defends a direct experience of God but solely in the afterlife. To uphold this conclusion, it is
essential to his approach to exclude the idea of an experience of God in this
life. The eschatological vision, which he understands as a direct conscious
union with God, is a focal point of his whole theology. His theological
teaching on Gods unknowability is by no means a propaedeutic to mysticism. It is far from his mind to conclude, Out of this negative theology,
that is, of the impossibility of knowledge of God, there follows the mystical
step of union, of the unio mystica.84 Just the opposite is rather the case:
the possibility of mysticism undermines in his eyes a belief in a life after
death. The fulfillment of the natural desire to see God is quite different
from mysticism. For this reason, Henri de Lubacs criticism that Thomas
did not succeed in harmonizing rational thinking with mysticism entirely
misses the point.85

83
84
85

Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 171, a. 2c.


Solle, Hinreise, 152153. She makes reference to Fromm, Christusdogma, 176.
Cf. Lubac, Erkennen Gottes, 86.

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Disbelief in a life after death

Instead, Thomas underlines the difference between prophecy and the


visio beata.86 Prophecy represents something imperfect among the kinds of
divine Revelation, in comparison to which the heavenly vision is perfect.87
Thomas adopts a characterization from Pauls Letter to the Hebrews 11:13
to distinguish prophecy from the visio beata: prophecy attains its object
as being far remote from us.88 It is evident that prophetic knowledge
differs from the perfect knowledge, which we shall have in heaven so that
it is distinguished therefrom as the imperfect from the perfect.89 Moses,
he says, was as yet a seer from afar.90 The distance can be predicated
reciprocally of the subject as well as the object.91
Thomas categorically rejects any idea that prophecy involves seeing the
divine essence. He argues, moreover, that it is impossible that what is
seen be viewed in the divine essence as is the case in the beatific vision.
Therefore we must conclude, he maintains, that the prophetic vision is
not the vision of the very essence of God, and that the prophets do not see
in the divine essence itself the things they do see, but that they see them in
certain images, according as they are enlightened by the divine light.92
If there is to be any exception to the teaching that the divine essence
is never known in this life, then this would have to be the phenomenon
called rapture [raptus], the highest form of extraordinary religious experience before death. What Aquinas means by rapture is an elevation to
something supernatural without use of the senses.93 He distinguishes two,
or three, kinds of rapture. In no case does he divert from his fundamental
teaching that there are only two modes of seeing God: the permanent visio
beata after death and the insight into Gods unknowability before death.94
Accordingly, he must keep rapture clearly distinct from the eschatological
vision. In the Summa contra gentiles, which was written as a defense of
Christianity with respect to non-Christians, he notes different kinds of
rapture. All reach divine truth but fail to attain God himself. To see God
himself, the mind must be entirely free of the senses:
The higher our mind is raised to the contemplation of spiritual things, the
more it is abstracted from sensible things: but the final terminus to which
contemplation can possibly arrive is the divine substance: therefore the mind
that sees the divine substance must be totally divorced from bodily senses,
either by death or by some rapture. Hence, it is said of the person of God:
No man shall see me and live (Exod 33:20).95
86
87
91
95

Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 173, a. 1c; q. 171, a. 2c.
88 Ibid.
89 Ibid., q. 173, a. 1c.
90 Ibid., q. 174, a. 5, ad 1.
Cf. ibid., q. 174, a. 5c.
92 Ibid., q. 173, a. 1c.
93 Cf. ibid., q. 175, a. 1c.
94 See page 34.
Cf. ibid.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 47.

2.2 The Experience Prejudice

39

Thomas is so insistent that he readily disagrees with the authoritative


opinion of St. Augustine (see page 35).
The fundamental situation in which human beings find themselves is
essential for our understanding of life after death. We are present in reality
(in that sense of the word that does not allow a plural form), but we have
conscious contact only with realities. Realities are always concrete, meaning
precisely that they have being but are not their being. Human existence is
for this reason an anticipation of Eternal Life, where we shall be united
with Being itself.
2.2.4 Erlebnis and the striving for reality
We are familiar with the fact that in our present life, experience represents
a two-fold unity: the content (i.e., what is experienced) and the consciousness or better the self-consciousness of this act. In other words, the
realized apprehension represents a possibility for reflection. This structure
is predicative, and when it is expressed in language, it has the form of a
statement, comprising a subject and a predicate. Every statement, as well
as every experience, indicates a transcendence: a possibility is actualized, its
existence is received thereby pointing to existence itself. Every experience
and every indicative sentence is evidence that reality transcends experience.
But our truths are broken. They are predicative that is, divided into
subject and predicate. They grasp their object, but not as it is in its own
being. The object is the content of the knowers being. Consequently, a
kind of experience that is not cleaved in this way is at least conceivable.
The notion of Erlebnis, which is taken from German, emphasizes
an important aspect of experience. The Oxford English Dictionary defines
Erlebnis as a conscious, lived-through experience; the experience itself
rather than the content or memory of it. There seems to be almost nothing
that cannot be called an Erlebnis in advertisement. One agency offers 818
different Erlebnis gifts. In German, we are confronted with such things as
Erlebnis reading, Erlebnis hotel, Erlebnis airport, Erlebnis health,
Erlebnis planning, Erlebnis pedagogy, Erlebnis museum, Erlebnis
society, and so on. With this term, the existential immediacy of experience
is given special accentuation. Wilhelm Dilthey underlines the character of
awareness: Erlebnis does not appear over against me as a percept or an
idea . . . it is not given to us, but exists for us by virtue of the fact that we
are aware of it.96
96

Hodges, Philosophy, 40.

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Disbelief in a life after death

The German Historical Dictionary of Philosophy explains that the word


has the sound of the immediacy with which something real is grasped,
needing no other confirmation and preceding all interpretation. What is
experienced as an Erlebnis is always experienced by oneself personally
and is not in any way constructed.97 Hence, its characteristic notes are
reality, immediacy, and personally experienced. Erlebnis represents a
unity of subject and object in the light of reality.98 No other kind of
knowledge and this is crucial brings the subject in such close contact
with reality. For we have seen, as Gadamer remarks, that the coinage
Erlebnis has a condensing, intensifying meaning. If something is called
or considered an Erlebnis, that means it is rounded into the unity of a
significant whole.99 It is a mistake to believe that the fundamental unit
of knowledge is the empirical sensation; Erlebnis comes first and is more
original.
Jost Schillemeit suggests that the need for Erlebnisse derives from the
contemporary suffering from the emptiness and monotony of everyday life.
Boredom longs for Erlebnisse.100 Virtual experiences do not suffice, for
they fail to exhibit the presence of reality. A live television experience
is not alive enough. Mans deepest thirst is the longing for being. We want
a kind of knowledge that is a becoming of the known object.101
Thomas Aquinas analysis of truth at its deepest level as a becoming
finds affirmation in the need for an Erlebnis. Knowledge, he writes,
means that the known is in the knower.102 There takes place a real
union of the object with the agent, the known becomes one with the
knower.103 From this union arises knowledge; knowledge, as Aquinas
astutely observes, is an effect of truth.104
One wonders why the term did not exist before the nineteenth century.
Goethe and Schiller, for example, did not know the word.105 The earliest
example cited by the Oxford English Dictionary dates from 1909.
97
99
102
103
104
105

98 Cf. Gadamer, Truth and Method, 53.


Cf. Historisches Worterbuch, Vol. II, 703.
100 Cf. Schillemeit, Erlebnis, 330.
101 See pages 139142.
Ibid., 5758.
Cognitio est secundum quod cognitum est in cognoscente. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae,
I, q. 16, a. 1c.
Ibid., q. 54, a. 1, ad 3.
Sic ergo entitas rei praecedit rationem veritatis, sed cognitio est quidam veritatis effectus. Thomas
Aquinas, De veritate, q. 1, a. 1c.
Cf. Gadamer, Truth and Method, 53: It is surprising to find that, unlike the verb erleben, the noun
Erlebnis became common only in the 1870s. In the eighteenth century it is not to be found at all,
and even Schiller and Goethe do not know it. Cf. Schillemeit, Erlebnis, 319320: The earliest
evidence occurs sparsely and hesitatingly in the first decades of the nineteenth century . . . Not
before the middle of the century can the word be found more frequently, but in this case not easily
and with meanings that do not correspond fully to present-day usage.

2.2 The Experience Prejudice

41

So the question naturally arises of why there is a need for such a word,
which has acquired an overwhelming, inflationary popularity in innumerable areas of contemporary life. There seems to be almost nothing in
consumer advertisements to which it cannot be applied. Other European
languages have taken it over. Obviously, the problem is an acute need for
reality, real reality and not just virtual reality. Contemporary culture has
become deaf to reality, and the advertisers try to fill the need with the
promise of an Erlebnis:
Just as the remoteness from and hunger for experience, caused by distress
over the complicated working of civilization transformed by the Industrial
Revolution, brought the word Erlebnis into general usage, so also the new,
distanced attitude that historical consciousness takes to tradition gives the
concept of Erlebnis its epistemological function.106

Perhaps the word indicates a discontent with the rationalism of the


Enlightenment.
Erlebnis seems to emphasize a further aspect namely, a transcendence:
it extends beyond the immediate object:
The representation of the whole in the momentary Erlebnis obviously goes
far beyond the fact of its being determined by its object. Every experience
is, in Schleiermachers words, an element of infinite life. Georg Simmel,
who was largely responsible for the word Erlebnis becoming so fashionable,
considers the important thing about the concept of experience as this: the
objective not only becomes an image and idea, as in knowing, but an element
in the life process itself.107

According to Gadamer, life is seen as a totality in an Erlebnis.108 The


whole person is involved in the experienced reality. Erlebnis is not just an
aspect of life (life in German is Leben, from which Erlebnis stems);
it actualizes the totality of life.109 It seems to have a religious dimension:
In contrast to the abstractness of understanding and the particularity
of perception or representation, this concept implies a connection with
totality, with infinity.110 No wonder, then, if we consider it an indication
of the human hunger for fulfillment in being. Experience strives for more
than experience.
106
109

110

107 Ibid., 60.


108 Cf. ibid., 58; 60.
Gadamer, Truth and Method, 56.
If we look more closely at what is here called life and which of its aspects affect the concept of
experience, we see that the relationship of life to experience is not that of a universal to a particular.
Rather, the unity of experience as determined by its intentional content stands in an immediate
relationship to the whole, to the totality of life. Ibid., 59.
Ibid., 55.

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Disbelief in a life after death

2.3 The Praxis Prejudice


For decades, one of the strongest convictions determining the way that
we view the world has been the idea that praxis deserves fundamental
preference over theory. The primacy of praxis has become an elementary
value for which our culture is prepared to fight even in the face of ones
own experience. Looked at through the lens of the Praxis Prejudice, human
reality appears to be above all praxis, that is, composed of forms of action.
The idea of the primacy of praxis means more than that praxis is important
and theory unimportant. Rather, theory is subordinated to doing, if taken
positively or, if taken negatively, as occasionally occurs, outrightly rejected
as irrelevant or even as counterproductive.
The traditional Christian concept of Eternal Life stands in blatant opposition to this view and cannot help but open itself to attack. Christian Faith
says that Eternal Life consists in a vision of God. For ancient Greek philosophy and the succeeding Christian theology, the vision of God was
asserted to be the etymology of theory (from theos and oraw [ and
]). Eternal Life was considered to be a kind of knowledge. The attacks
against this idea can be surprisingly potent. Opponents go so far as to call
eschatology, understood in the traditional sense, immoral.
2.3.1 The immorality of eschatology in the judgment
of the Praxis Prejudice
We are living in a culture that has learned to pose morality against religion.
Eschatology is only one of the aspects of religion currently under attack,
but it seems to be the most offensive one. If action is defined as the ultimate
of what we can realize, then belief in a life after death is a priori excluded.
On this premise, the Christian belief in an afterlife would even be immoral.
The Praxis Prejudice is, thus, a strongly aggressive anti-eschatological conviction. Heaven appears then to be just opium for gullible humans looking
for an escape from the suffering of life. Their hope being directed to their
own happiness attained by leaving the present world, they neglect the
responsibility of the world in which they exist. A meaningful life, it is
claimed, does not consist in escaping from present worldly conditions but
rather in improving them.
Actually, this whole idea is grotesque if one understands Christian teaching as it is intended to be understood, for the relationship is just the opposite. If there is no afterlife in the Christian sense, then life in time will
ultimately be without meaning. As the German philosopher Jorg Splett

2.3 The Praxis Prejudice

43

remarked: One still hears that this kind of Faith implies a devaluation
of the present, as though just the opposite were not the case. To every
unprejudiced look it is evident: Only if there exists a life after death, does
true life before death exist.111
If one responded that Eternal Life has the meaning of being a reward for
a morally good life, then this would indeed be ultimate meaning. However,
this thought would undermine true morality because it would then be selfseeking, implying that one would be interested primarily in ones own
happiness. With a promise in the Beyond, morality in the present life
appears to lose its impetus. Belief in the opium of a life after death is seen
to be immoral because it distracts from responsibility. Morality requires the
improvement of this world and not an escape from it. Religion and God
are acceptable only insofar as they foster morality. The Church appears to
be a moral institution, to be judged on its influence on morality. For the
Praxis Prejudice, there is then a plausibility in the position that leading a
morally good life is enough even though one may not attend church. To
my mind, religion must be relevant for praxis.
This Marxist criticism is as strong in many minds today as it ever
has been. Aggressiveness remains one of its dominant notes. The highly
respected sociologist Ulrich Beck articulates this standpoint unequivocally.
For him, Christian eschatology is nothing but a deception, nothing but
shallow words. He claims that Christianity undermines the desire and right
for equality and interprets life in the world as unreal since real life begins
after death. Consequently, there is no real death. Death is just a change
of stage, a costume change.112
The special logic of religion lies in the comparison between the brief
afflictions of worldly existence and eternal heavenly happiness.113 Christianity requires that the believers declare their agreement with their earthly
afflictions during this life while the promised reward is not paid until one
has departed from this world. According to Beck, religion achieves peace
and solidarity by teaching that we should not look closely at our situation. It tells us not to compare our situation with the situation of others,
for your worldly suffering is fictitious; the supernatural harmony is real.
The unity of society is guaranteed through the derealization of social reality. The actual situation disappears in the fog of transitoriness. Instead
of calling for self-knowledge, Christianity says, Forget your situation!
What are hunger, sickness, hatred, longing, injustice, death, murder, war,
111
112

Splett, Freiheits-Erfahrung, 254 (emphasis in original).


113 Ibid.
Beck, Vater der Freiheit, 343.

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Disbelief in a life after death

weariness, cruelty or also pleasure, passion, human love measured against


the namelessness of that happiness that begins with death!114
Accordingly, there is no necessity to question suffering and injustice as
the result of the salubrious muteness of the accepted conditions of violence
and exploitation.115 The pressure to justify ones state was eliminated by
ecclesial dogmatic.116 Christian teaching is for Beck negative; in short:
The present becomes irrelevant.117
Other than the fact that Becks portrayal of Christian eschatology misrepresents it completely, one could also point to the fact that Christian
eschatology not only teaches a state of happiness but also eternal suffering
and punishment which is often rejected too. Moreover, it is obvious that
Christianity has an ethics, including a highly developed social ethics. It
is unimaginable how anyone can assert that the Christian attitude toward
injustice and suffering consists in a disavowal of it. It is ironic, furthermore,
that humanists believe themselves to be more moral than Christians.
The emphasis on morality in this criticism is more revealing than Beck
probably realizes. Carl Friedrich von Weizsacker made the surprising observation that it is not the absence of Faith, it is morality that is the determined enemy of religion.118 What Weizsacker has in view differs markedly
from Becks intention. Weizsacker is clearly aware of the fact that religion
involves something greater than morality, in actuality being the foundation
of morality. If religion is underestimated, then morality can lose its ultimate
meaning and there can even exist a deep contradiction between morality
and religion.119 It is true that Christianity includes a moral teaching
How can one possibly deny this? but it is not its moral teaching. This is
far from being fundamentalistic.
We are dealing here with the potency of the Praxis Prejudice. There is
no doubt that morality is concerned with action. A result of the Praxis
Prejudice is to make morality absolute. Looked at through the lens of
the Praxis Prejudice, Christianity shrinks to its morality; love of neighbor
appears more important than love of God; love becomes Charity, taken,
that is, as helping; and, finally, the church looks like an institution of
Charity; prayer, meditation, and mysticism are viewed either negatively or
as a preparation for praxis. The Church stands in the foreground and God
recedes into the background always a bad sign. Under the same influence,
eschatology is interpreted as a teaching on future time, often in the form
of political ethics. Love of God serves love of neighbor.
114
118

115 Ibid.
116 Ibid.
117 Ibid., 386.
Ibid., 344.
119 Weizs
Weizsacker, Ambivalence, 275.
acker, Seligpreisungen, 15.

2.3 The Praxis Prejudice

45

2.3.2 The technical mindset


The Praxis Prejudice arises from the generalization of the craftsmans
approach to reality, turning it into the entire view of reality. The error
lies in taking the worker, the technician, as the paradigm of our relationship to reality. Our culture is so deeply influenced by technology that we
tend to see everything from this perspective. It can be called the technical
mindset. Man is reduced to the worker. The idea of work becomes allpervading. The world is viewed as material for human work and thinking
as the preparation for work. Life is then divided into work and free time
free meaning free from work.
Marxism articulates this perspective and can be seen as the philosophy of
the technical age. It calls all of its opponents across-the-board idealists
that is, thinkers who rate thought higher than praxis. For this reason,
Marxism convinces many people by a kind of sympathy, appealing to the
viewpoint of the technological age. For Marx, the human being stands
before reality as the worker and views it as material for his action. His
activity in reality has the form of production in a quite etymological
sense (from the Latin producere, lead forth) that is, he changes the form
of reality in accordance with his ideas. He has a plan or concept and puts
it into practice. He sees human existence in terms of producing. What
happens in human life is a matter of means and ends. One imagines an
end and then seeks the means to reach it. Thus, what we do is useful.
The will dominates over reason, doing, or making, being more important
than knowing. For Marx, work is not only one aspect of human existence,
it is its essence.
In his major work Capital,120 he elucidates this philosophy with ingenuous clarity. First, it must be emphasized that it is a real philosophy and not
merely a social or economic theory. It depicts human nature, independent
of a social or historical context. In other words, it advances more deeply
than class theory. Marx states this explicitly:
What the capitalist sets the laborer to produce is a particular use-value, a
specified article. The fact that the production of use-values, or goods, is
carried on under the control of a capitalist and on his behalf, does not alter
the general character of that production. We shall, therefore, in the first
place, have to consider the labor-process independently of the particular
form it assumes under given social conditions.
120

Cf. Marx, Capital, Vol. I, Part III: The Production of Absolute Surplus-Value, Chapter 7: The
Labour-Process and the Process of Producing Surplus-Value, Section 1: The Labour-Process or
the Production of Use-Values, in Marx/Engels, Collected Works.

46

Disbelief in a life after death

At the end of his treatment, he reiterates this:


The labor-process, resolved as above into its simple elementary factors, is
human action with a view to the production of use-values, appropriation of
natural substances to human requirements; it is the necessary condition for
effecting exchange of matter between man and Nature; it is the everlasting
Nature-imposed condition of human existence, and therefore is independent
of every social phase of that existence, or rather, is common to every such
phase.

Work is a process between man and nature whereby man is the initiator.
The role of thought is not completely overlooked. It distinguishes human
work from the actions of animals:
We are not now dealing with those primitive instinctive forms of labor that
remind us of the mere animal . . . We pre-suppose labor in a form that stamps
it as exclusively human. A spider conducts operations that resemble those
of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction
of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees
is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects
it in reality.

Work implies the humanization of nature; that is, nature is changed in


accordance with the workers thought:
At the end of every labor-process, we get a result that already existed in
the imagination of the laborer at its commencement. He not only effects
a change of form in the material on which he works, but he also realizes a
purpose of his own that gives the law to his modus operandi.

The will, obeying thought, becomes the source of the action: Besides the
exertion of the bodily organs, the process demands that, during the whole
operation, the workmans will be steadily in consonance with his purpose.
This means close attention, Marx continues. Technology represents the
instrument with which thought is conveyed into nature.
Nature can be turned into tools for achieving an aim: Nature becomes
one of the organs of mans activity, one that he annexes to his own bodily
organs. As the earth is his original larder, so too it is his original tool house.
The instruments of labor become increasingly complex and sophisticated,
but the basic structure remains. All machines and computers are, so to
speak, simply extensions of the hand, which is the original tool. The
product is the conclusion of the work process. As Marx expresses it:
The process disappears in the product, the latter is a use-value, Natures
material adapted by a change of form to the wants of man. Labor has

2.3 The Praxis Prejudice

47

incorporated itself with its subject: the former is materialized, the latter
transformed. That which in the laborer appeared as movement, now appears
in the product as a fixed quality without motion.

This kind of activity is by essence productive.


This is a perfect portrayal of the Praxis Prejudice in its effect on philosophical anthropology. Theory and the activity of the will are a part of
it but are not granted a fundamental priority and are not the final state.
Thinking and willing are the beginning of activity but not the end. Human
life is seen as oriented toward use.
2.3.3 The inadequacy of the Praxis Prejudice
Josef Pieper deeply criticized the work mindset as resulting in the loss of
the essence of human life. Piepers small masterpiece, Leisure: The Basis of
Culture, remains an antidote to the compulsive busyness of our materialist
culture. His books On Love and Happiness and Contemplation develop a
more appropriately human approach to fulfillment. Leisure: The Basis of
Culture, probably his best-known work in the United States, argues that
culture arises from leisure and that leisure has its original (and proper)
context in religious cult. As relevant as the essay was in the postwar years,
it is probably even more instructive today after years of the dominance
of world culture by business. Without denying the necessity and value of
work, Pieper pointedly criticizes absolutizing it that is, viewing the whole
of human life from the point of view of work and, thus, reducing leisure to
a work category. He resists the idea that reality offers nothing but material
for human action. Against this work ideology, Pieper pleads time and again
for a radically different stance toward reality. Happiness, he believes, arises
from experiencing reality, not from making use of it, as work ideology
would have it. This was noted by Martin Heidegger: Modern technology
is a means to ends.121
Leisure, properly understood, is not simply the absence of work. It
is a self-opening, contemplative encounter with the reality around us,
often assuming the form of amazement a neglected essential of human
existence. Happiness is bound up with this kind of experience. A good sign
of it is our need to celebrate. Festivity, as Pieper proposes in his In Tune
with the World: A Theory of Festivity, rests on a fundamental affirmation of
the world as a whole. The celebration means that our general and constant
approval of the world is realized in an exceptional way. Celebration is not
121

Heidegger, Question, 313.

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Disbelief in a life after death

governed by usefulness. Fireworks are not useful from a practical point of


view. In Piepers opinion, the total dominance of the work culture makes
real festivities impossible. Ultimately, celebration signifies the realization
of what Pieper refers to as the truth of things that is, the religious
transcendence that comes into view when realities themselves become
transparent.
Heidegger was impressed by Ernst Jungers provocative thesis that
technology is the most decided anti-Christian power that has thus far
appeared.122 Although Heideggers analysis does not go as deeply as eschatology, it is nonetheless unusually radical and offers support to Christian
thought. For him, technology characterizes our understanding of the very
essence of ourselves. Living in a technological age, we see ourselves in this
light albeit in reality we are more than this.
Heidegger talks of the essence [Wesen] of technology to express the
dimension of technology that brings about a deeper influence than technological things themselves. As he puts it: The essence of technology is nothing human. The essence of technology is above all nothing technical . . .
The essence of technology dominates our existence in a manner that we
still hardly suspect.123 For Heidegger, we are dealing here with that which
is and has always been worthy of the deepest reflection. According to him,
the essence of technology is not simply a result of the dominance of technology; to the contrary, modern technology has arisen out of the essence of
technology. As long as we do not reflect on the essence of technology, we
will not know what a machine is,124 he remarks. In our age, technology has
become a metaphysics. What now is, Heidegger states, is stamped in all
areas of living by the domination of the essence of modern technology.125
Modern science is founded on the essence of technology.
The problem thus posed cannot be solved by moral measures. Coming
to grips with it is not a question of controlling technology by correcting
its aberrations with improved technology. The usual questions with regard
to the protection of nature lie at a different level. The more important
question is not What should we do? but rather How are we related
to reality? Technology presents not only ethics with problems but also,
above all, our own self-understanding that is, the way that we conceive
of our relationship to reality. Do we necessarily see reality as an object
of the activity initiated by us? As Heidegger puts it, Even the fact that
man becomes a subject and the world an object is a result of the essence of
122
123
124

Junger, Arbeiter, 154; quoted by Heidegger, Zur Seinsfrage, 20.


Heidegger, Was heit Denken?, 53. Cf. also Heidegger, Technik.
125 Heidegger, Identit
Heidegger, Was heit Denken?, 54.
at, 48 (emphasis in original).

49

2.3 The Praxis Prejudice

technology ensconcing itself, and not vice versa.126 Because it lies so deeply
in us, Heidegger calls the essence of technology the supreme danger,127
the extreme danger,128 danger in the highest sense,129 or simply the
danger.130 The perspective derived from this extends so far that we even
overlook ourselves. To be sure, we reproduce ourselves in a certain sense
through our work; we make the world more humane. In truth, however,
precisely nowhere does man today any longer encounter himself, that is,
his essence.131 What we have lost is truth, a deeper truth than the truth of
science and technology. But if we succeed in posing the forgotten question
about ourselves and reality, we have already begun to free ourselves from
this prejudice and to see beyond it. This criticism does not merely entail
an opposition to technology but also a transcendence of it.
2.3.4 The technical form of morality and religion today
Morality has become a matter of what we ought to do. Christianity has
become a morality of love. Love, as understood through the filter of the
Praxis Prejudice, is helping. In contemporary language, this kind of love
is called Charity. But this is no longer the theological virtue of love,
which is bestowed on us in grace and grants us orientation in the whole.
We no longer receive Charity, we do it. Originally, Charity was another
word for agape, the specifically Christian kind of love. Today, Charity
is humiliating for many suffering people. Dependence of this kind is
considered debasing. Why do people in need feel that Charity is degrading?
Is it not the Christian love that is exemplified in the story of the Good
Samaritan? In fact, what our age reads in the story of the Good Samaritan is
love filtered through the essence of technology. This development involves
a major change in consciousness. It has been brought about through the
power of the primacy of praxis, which changes the world but fails to
appreciate the world or the needy person whom Charity wants to help.
The question of the parable of the Good Samaritan is what neighbor
means or, as the lawyer questioning Jesus conceives of it, Who is my
neighbor? (Lk 10:29). The Praxis Prejudice tends to see the man who fell
among the robbers as a neighbor even in the face of the fact that Jesus
explicitly turns the question around: He calls the Samaritan a neighbor.
This is a decisive difference. Love entails more than just helping. In my
126
129

127 Heidegger, Question, 332.


Heidegger, Holzwege, 268.
130 Ibid., 331 (emphasis in original).
131 Ibid., 332.
Ibid.

128

Ibid., 333.

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Disbelief in a life after death

opinion, if this is not seen, then Eternal Life will have to be judged
superfluous.
Exegetes often understand the parable as simply broadening the term
neighbor, thus remaining within the horizon of the original question.
They say that everyone who needs help is my neighbor. Hans Kung interprets the parable as teaching that a neighbor is everyone who needs me.132
Need implies that the persons state can be changed; he embodies, so to
speak, a kind of receptiveness for my practice. In his commentary of Lukes
Gospel, Karl Heinrich Rengstorf expresses it crassly: To whom am I
neighbor?, that is, who is dependent upon me to accord him full selfless
love?133
As a matter of fact, Jesus does not give an answer to the question at all;
he changes the question. The parable recounts an occurrence that prepares
the listener for the new question. The emphasis is not on the suffering
man but rather on the manner in which the Samaritan experiences him.
The Samaritan becomes his neighbor. It is not, By helping I become his
neighbor.134
If one reads the original Greek text attentively and not some translations that turn it into a teaching on praxis it is clear that the verb that
Jesus uses is to become. He asks, Who has become neighbor to the man
who fell among the robbers? In other words, it is not doing that is primary
but rather becoming. Jesus does not simply repeat the question of who
is my neighbor? The act of becoming occurs before the Samaritan does
anything for the man. It happens when he sees him and is moved by compassion. The other two travelers also saw him but passed by on the other
side, whereas the Samaritan saw him and was moved by compassion.
What is translated as moved by compassion is an unusual and drastic
verb in the original Greek namely, [splagchnizomai]. The
verb comes from the Greek substantive [splagchna]. Splagchna
are the innards of an animal sacrifice the entrails, kidneys, liver, and
lungs which are the best parts. Literally, the verb would mean that one
lets his entrails be eaten. Later, it came to mean the total sacrifice of the
animal inside and outside. Today, we would use the metaphor heart
instead; we might say, He let his heart be touched by him or His
heart went out to him. Furthermore, the verb does not occur outside of
Judeo-Christian literature. In the New Testament, it is mostly used to
characterize the divineness of Jesus behavior.
132

133

Kung, On Being, 258: It is impossible to work out in advance who my neighbor will be. This is
the meaning of the story of the man fallen among thieves: my neighbor is anyone who needs me
here and now (emphasis in original).
134 Leitheiser/Pesch, Handbuch, 304.
Rengstorf, Das Neue Testament, 141.

2.3 The Praxis Prejudice

51

What happens is, first of all, the change in the Samaritans heart. He then
helps because he has become the neighbor of the man and not vice versa,
as is sometimes asserted. The main motion does not go from the Samaritan
to the man but instead in the opposite direction. The Samaritan acts on the
man actively and externally but, passively and internally, he is acted upon;
that is, he lets himself be acted upon and this is just the opposite of the
direction in which technology works. He has the ability to perceive reality
affectively, which the other two travelers seem not to have. His perception
is not simply the factual registration that a neighbor lies next to the road
and that the duty of love of neighbor applies. It is a personal, existential
experience, which is not praxis at least not in the modern sense, albeit
the Greeks would have called this praxis. From the Christian viewpoint,
it is the kind of love that is life, as 1 Jn 3:1517 expresses it: If you refuse
to love, you must remain dead . . . If a man who was rich enough in this
worlds goods saw that one of his brothers was in need, but closed his
heart [ ; ta splagchna] to him, how could the love of God be
living in him? Love is a kind of becoming. Love means union, Thomas
Aquinas teaches, defining love more precisely as a union of the affect [unio
affectus or unio affectiva]; the effective aspect of love [effectus amoris] occurs
later.135
After the Samaritan has become one with the suffering man, he then
goes to him and does something to help him. As Aristotle said, the beloved
is like another self. There is simple love, with which one desires something
for oneself, and then there is the love of friendship, which desires something
good for the other. Aquinas expresses it as follows:
Love is twofold, that is, love of concupiscence and love of friendship, each
of these arises from a kind of apprehension of the oneness of the thing loved
with the lover. For when we love a thing, by desiring it, we apprehend it
as belonging to our well-being. In like manner when a man loves another
with the love of friendship, he wills good to him, just as he wills good to
himself: wherefore he apprehends him as his other self, insofar, that is, as he
wills good to him as to himself. Hence, a friend is called a mans other self
(Nicomachean Ethics, IX, 4), and Augustine says (Confessions, IV, 6), Well
did one say to his friend: Thou half of my soul.136
135

136

The union of lover and beloved is twofold. There is real union, consisting in the conjunction of
one with the other. This union belongs to joy or pleasure, which follows desire. There is also an
affective union, consisting in an aptitude or proportion, insofar as one thing, from the very fact
of its having an aptitude for and an inclination to another, partakes of it: and love betokens such
a union. This union precedes the movement of desire. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, III,
q. 25, a. 2, ad 2.
Ibid., q. 28, a. 1c.

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Disbelief in a life after death

Presumably, the two other travelers saw the man on the wayside as their
neighbor according to the law but are not criticized by Jesus. It would seem
to follow as a confirmation of my reading that this was not the point of
the parable. What distinguishes the Samaritan from them is the manner
in which he sees. Umberto Eco wisely wrote in The Name of the Rose:
The most that one can do is to look more closely. Aquinas described the
union of love as follows: The beloved is contained in the lover insofar
as he or she is impressed in his or her affect by a kind of accompanying
delight [complacentia].137 The sequence is Love precedes desire138 and
praxis follows desire.
The becoming of love in the affect is an ontological extension of selflove. Hence, real love of another being is grounded in self-love. We are to
love our neighbor like ourselves. The beloved is a second self. To speak
of selflessness is a misunderstanding, despite the fact that many Christians
consider selflessness as the specific characteristic of Christian love.
Neither is action Christian love itself. It is an effect, as well as a sign,
of love. Love of ones neighbor is more than morality, more than the
fulfillment of a moral law. Weizsacker appreciates this when he writes: In
the end the final basis of human social life is love and not morality. Morality
is the next-to-the-final basis.139 He explains:
In real human life equality can never be completely realized. The hierarchy that not even reason can abolish is the hierarchy of reason itself. The
relationship between parents and dependent children, between teachers and
students, between doctors and patients, even between those with knowledge
and those without, cannot be symmetric. The balance is what religion calls
love. Those with knowledge treat those without knowledge basically as
their equals. One loves even the partner who cannot or does not want to be
proven equal. One loves even ones enemy. In modern civilization, exactly
because of a belief in the autonomy of reason, there are few things more
difficult than love. But without love, humankind in its community cannot
survive.140

Suffering is one source of love, the love of compassion. However, there also
are positive sources of love above all, the beautiful. Weizsacker also saw
this:
For humans, erotic love has become, next to morality, a second and completely different kind of release from the ego, and in a different way moves
the ego toward maturity. Common to both, despite all the differences of
how they are experienced, is a quality of sensation that one could perhaps
137
139

138 Amor praecedit desiderium. Ibid., corpus.


Ibid., q. 28, a. 2, ad 1.
140 Ibid., 51.
Weizsacker, Ambivalence, 87.

2.3 The Praxis Prejudice

53

call bliss, the overwhelming bliss of erotic ecstasy and the quiet bliss of the
good deed, more exactly, the good will. Perhaps what they have in common
is that both steps originate in the blindness of the ego and teach us to see
something entirely different. For the core of reality, as the Indians say, is the
trinity of being, consciousness and bliss.141

The tendency today is to overemphasize the aspect of practice. Hans Kung


presents a revealing analysis that seems to be at a loss to cope with the
essential, theoretical dimension of love when he writes:
Jesus however is not interested in universal, theoretical or poetical love. For
him love does not consist primarily in words, sentiments or feelings. For
him love means primarily the great, courageous deed. He wants practical
and therefore concrete love . . . Evidently, where love is concerned, actions
speak louder than words. It is not talk, but action which makes clear the
nature of love. Practice is the criterion.142

This is seconded by another commentator: Love is not just an attitude . . . Love is the actions of love.143
Immanuel Kant sees the essence of love in a feeling: Love is a matter of
feeling, not of willing . . . The joy over the physical or moral well-being of
another is human love.144
Paul Tillich, to the contrary, realizes that love is an ontological concept.
Its emotional element is a consequence of its ontological nature. It is false
to define love by its emotional side.145
Suffering and compassion represent one mode through which reality
changes us. Beauty is another. In the technical mindset, beauty is overlooked. It can be seen only in a contemplative perception.146
Also hidden to the technical mindset is the essence of man. In our
nature, there is something that does not submit to being manipulated by
praxis. It lies beyond our power. Traditionally, it has been religions that
have been cultivating this. Joseph Ratzinger pointed out that salvation is
not something that we can produce; it is a gift. Love in its purest form can
only be received as an unearned gift.
Be that as it may, it is in any case not difficult to understand how a
sensitive observer of the human condition in the nineteenth century
namely, Karl Marx could let himself be blinded by the importance of
work. When we are sick, health looms much more in the fore of our values
than when we are healthy. In his own experience of beauty, however, Marx
141
144
145
146

142 K
143 Wendland, Ethik, 15.
Ibid., 101.
ung, On Being, 256; 255.
Kant, Metaphysik der Sitten, VI, 401. Cf. ibid., XXIII, 407.
Tillich, Systematic Theology, Vol. I, 279.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 180, q. 2, ad 3.

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Disbelief in a life after death

refutes his philosophy. The important thing, as he obviously realizes, is, in


fact, not the alteration of the world but rather the experience of the world,
the openness to reality. In a moving letter to his wife in Trier,147 Marx
expresses this insight unmistakably:
My darling Sweetheart, I am writing to you again because I am alone and
because it is irksome to converse with you all the time in my head without
you knowing or hearing or being able to answer me . . . But I put right
what the suns rays have wrongly depicted, discovering that my eyes, spoiled
though they are by lamplight and tobacco smoke, can nevertheless paint not
only in the dreaming but also in the waking state. There you are before me,
large as life, and I lift you up in my arms and I kiss you all over from top to
toe, and I fall on my knees before you and cry: Madame, I love you, and
love you I do . . . Who of my many calumniators and venomous-tongued
enemies has ever reproached me with being called upon to play the romantic
lead in a second-rate theatre? And yet it is true. Had the scoundrels possessed
the wit, they would have depicted the productive and social relations on
one side and, on the other, myself at your feet.

Marx continues his reflections:


My love for you, as soon as you are away from me, appears for what it
is, a giant, and into it all the vigour of my mind and all the ardour of
my heart are compressed. I feel myself once more a man because I feel
intense passion . . . Love, not for Feuerbachian Man, not for Moleschottian
metabolism, not for the proletariat, but love for a sweetheart and notably
for yourself, turns a man back into a man again.

One can hardly imagine a more telling refutation of the Praxis Prejudice.
The Praxis Prejudice is like a pair of blue eyeglasses. Once I have gotten
used to them, I forget that I am wearing them and that the visible world
does not consist in variations of blue. We have become so used to this
viewpoint that we see things in accordance with it that do not fit at all. For
example, when I say God created the world in a lecture at the university,
what I am doing is called theory, as a preparation, say, for teaching in
a secondary school. But when the same sentence is said in school, it is
now called praxis. College studies a term that originally meant a kind of
love for knowledge, for theory have become use-oriented. Many study
in order to have a good job afterwards and this can mean simply to
earn more money. University studies are then basically comparable to the
manual training of a craftsman. The notion of theory has itself become
praxis-oriented; it is understood as a preparation for praxis. Theory today
147

Cf. Marx, letter to his wife, Jenny Marx, of June 21, 1856 (Marx/Engels Correspondence 1856;
MECW Vol. XL, 54).

55

2.3 The Praxis Prejudice

is a practical, a technical notion. If theory does not lead to praxis, we refer


to it derogatorily as mere theory.
Theory is a good notion to underscore the difference between the
Praxis Prejudice and the Christian position. For the former, theory is praxisoriented thought. For example, the cabinetmakers concept, the architects
plan, and the physicians knowledge all have the essential purpose of being
put into practice. For the latter, theory is rather a kind of experience of
reality. The historical development of the notion of theory is extremely
informative.
2.3.5 The primacy of theoria
The Greek word theoria has been so drastically emaciated in our time that
our word theory retains but a small remnant of the potent substance of
the original notion. Whereas theoria is the fulfillment of a person, theory implies a regression from life and reality. It is even used to assert that
something is detached from reality: Thats just pure theory, merely theoretical, and so on. Taken in the original sense, pure theory is fulfillment,
happiness, and even divine life. This is an amazing mind-frame development. We have been either enlightened or manipulated into forgetting an
essential insight into reality.
For our way of thinking, the primacy of praxis is self-evident and we
define theory in praxis categories. But for centuries, our ancestors would
have considered this unthinkable. How can we regain an appreciation for
the insight contained in the original term? That theory is the highest praxis
can perhaps be realized in the term theoretical physics. As the physicist
Weizsacker puts it: Theory is the healing of praxis.148
Aristotle uses the term theoria without the slightest hesitation and places
it at the pinnacle of the human longing for happiness, maintaining that
theorizing is the essence of divine life. The activity of god, which surpasses
all others in blessedness, must be theoretical [], he argues, and
of human activities, therefore, that which is most akin to this must be most
of the nature of happiness.149 Without much concern for further proof,
he asserts in no uncertain terms that happiness is a kind of theory:
None of the other animals is happy, since they in no way share in theoria.
Happiness extends, then, just so far as theoria does, and those to whom
theoria more fully belongs are more truly happy, not as a mere concomitant
but in virtue of the theoria; for this is in itself precious. Happiness, therefore,
must be some form of theoria.150
148

Weizsacker, Garten, 435.

149

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, X, 8.

150

Ibid.

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Disbelief in a life after death

Furthermore, this teaching does not occur in an esoteric book on mysticism


but rather at the culmination point of Aristotles philosophical ethics, which
for him is the foundation of political science. All practice leads to theory,
which is the highest form of praxis.
Robert Spaemann describes theoria in terms of celebration, expressing it
as follows:
For Aristotle this going on holiday is the highest form of being human.
Theoria is a holiday. A holiday is not in the service of the everyday; it is not
there simply to replenish energy in order to return refreshed to the everyday
world; rather, it uses strength for the best. It does not serve praxis; it is its
ultimate and highest possibility.151

Theoria implies that a person is changed, whereas praxis means that he


changes reality in accordance with his ideas. We could say that whereas
praxis means a humanization, a self-reproduction, theoria means a divinization, a becoming. The human being becomes more than he or she was
beforehand. A friend, for example, is an expanded self.
One can sense a certain polemic in our use of the terms theory and
praxis today. In fact, we are participating consciously or unconsciously
in a fight against tradition. Ironically, we retain the classical terms, turning
them upside down and then using them as weapons against their creators.
The Latin translation of theoria, namely, speculatio, a term for the deepest
apprehension of reality, is treated in this way. Speculation for us implies
a remoteness from reality. It occurs, so to speak, in our heads and neglects
reality. Instead of meaning a truth, it means the product of our imagination.
Marxism articulates this and is obviously aware of the fact that a rejection
of classical thought is at play. It would seem that atheism can do nothing
other than deny the primacy of theory. The first enemy of Marxism is,
logically, religion.
In contrast, for Thomas Aquinas, praxis has its end in speculation:
Therefore, the practical arts are ordained to the speculative, and all human
activity has intellectual speculation for its end.152 He then explains:
The end therefore of the intellect is the end of all human actions. But the
end and good of the intellect is truth; and consequently its last end is the
first truth. The last end then of the whole man and of all his activities and
desires is to know the first truth, which is God.153
151
153

Spaemann, Happiness, 59.


Ibid.

152

Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 25.

2.3 The Praxis Prejudice

57

Thomas even claims that Holy Scripture agrees with Aristotle in understanding mans final happiness as speculation. Contemporary English does
not allow the following translation of the Latin, in which Thomas emphasizes his statement with the expression the speculation of what is most
speculative [speculationem optimi speculabilis].
Nicholas of Cusa, at the end of the Middle Ages, makes the same claim:
For speculatio, or contemplatio or visio, is the most perfect act, rendering
our highest nature, namely, the intellectual, happy, as Aristotle has also
shown.154
It is obvious that the term speculation has taken on quite a different
meaning since his time, for he can write: Speculation [speculatio] is living
in peace, for it is the resting of the rational spirit, or its final happiness.155
Cusanus also refers to the speculation of truth, writing: This speculation
is for those who see life and eternal happiness.156
With the word speculation, the problematic reveals its acute challenge for today. For us, speculation represents just the contrary to what
Cusanus, together with the entire Western tradition preceding him, understood by it. It is next to impossible for us to understand speculation as
fulfilling happiness. For us, it does not signify intensive reality but rather
a separation from reality, like the word abstract. Moreover, not only has
the word been given a meaning contrary to the original, it is also a term
with a strong negative connotation. It is used in a psychological combat against the traditional meaning. For this tradition, speculation is a
deep grasping of the essence of a reality, deeper in any case than concrete,
empirical perception in time and space. Man has no better way of reaching
reality.
For Cusanus, God is closely associated with theory. The word God
[theos], he asserts, comes from the word theory.157
The Greek word theoria is also translated into Latin as meditation or
contemplation. The contemplative life [vita contemplativa], as opposed
to the practical life, is the theoretical life [ ]. As with the
words theory and speculation, the meaning in popular language has
been reversed. Whereas meditation, or contemplation, originally meant an
apprehension of reality, today the tendency is to think of them as turning
inward, away from objective reality. The perceptive thinker Weizsacker is
one of the few who realized this. He observes:
154
156
157

155 Nicholas of Cusa, Sermo XCIX, n. 2.


Nicholas of Cusa, Sermo CCLI, n. 2.
Nicholas of Cusa, Sermo CCIV, n. 8.
Cf. Nicholas of Cusa, Directio speculantis, XXIII, n. 104.

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Disbelief in a life after death


The often held opinion that meditation is narcissism and exists in opposition
to involvement with other people is an error the existence of which is
difficult to understand. There are also, though rarely, contemplative ways of
living that do more good to others through inaction or even without human
contact than through any activities.158

Meditation, he maintains,
is not a flight into ones own inner world, but it is a shield against those
innermost inhibitions that prevent us from facing our neighbor and reality.
And there is something else: A large part of what is thought to be an active
facing of reality is actually nothing but a flight from the facing of oneself.159

2.4 Hedonism
The reduction of happiness to a feeling is perhaps the dominant philosophy
of the present day. Hedonism teaches practical methods for attaining the
feeling of happiness. With the appropriate discipline, a little can bring about
the same feeling as much can. The gourmet can enjoy more pleasure in his
tiny portions than the glutton in his immoderate portions. The hedonist
attempts to be content with what he has or what is presumably acquirable.
He substitutes contentedness for happiness. The ideal of contentedness
has become, in fact, the predominant enemy of happiness and religion.
We tell ourselves, for example, that we should be content with health or
with the little that we actually have instead of striving for greater joys and
then being disappointed. The striving for happiness is curtailed or, at least
as an ideal, moderated. Hedonism can be defined as the ideal of reducing
happiness to an affect.
One form of hedonism focuses on sensual pleasure, but a higher, more
serious form revolves around spiritual joy. While it is easy to see the error
in sensual hedonism, this is more difficult in higher hedonism. Greek
hedonists such as Epicurus (342/1270 bc), who put great value on the
joys of friendship, who derived more delight from doing a good deed than
from receiving one, who considered dying for a friend good, who lived
an ascetical life were responding philosophically to the question of what
mans highest good is. In other words, what is the meaning of life? What
are we striving for ultimately and universally? Hedonism of this kind is a
qualified answer to the question of ethics: What is the goal of life?
Epicurus taught that everyone should realize that the highest good lies
not in human beings or noble things but rather in the pleasure, or delight,
we derive from them. Accordingly, the ultimate is a subjective feeling.
158

Weizsacker, Ambivalence, 25.

159

Ibid., 290. Cf. Wahrnehmung, 421; Garten, 434436.

2.4 Hedonism

59

Although he was well aware that most people are concerned explicitly with
other matters, Epicurus was convinced that this is the objective ideal of
human life. Whereas we today tend to think of morality as a matter of
duty, of norms, rules, commandments, prohibitions, compromises, and so
forth, the Greeks saw delight as a sign of the most mature virtue.
The purpose of morality was for them to become happy. However,
on the question of what happiness consists in, a hedonist differed from a
Platonist. For Plato, happiness is the attainment of the Good. The hedonist,
in contrast, contends that what we want ultimately and most of all is to
feel good. We have been taught to spurn Plato and, in fact, hedonism is
a popular approach in our time (filling, as it were, the place that religion
previously held). Enjoying life as much as is decently possible is for many
the highest goal. I dont feel like it today is accepted as an excuse. Carpe
diem! is the first self-evident principle of this convincing anti-eschatological
worldview. Whether it can be said that happiness is something that can
be acquired, or at least sought after, in this life is a question that will be
addressed in a subsequent chapter.
Hedonism is also concerned with pain. Avoiding pain is the negative
side of seeking pleasure. Accordingly, one must accept compromises that
arise from weighing the possible advantages and disadvantages. One may
try to either maximize pleasure or minimize pain. The former is typical
for the wealthy, who can afford the costs of pleasure. The latter, chosen
by Epicurus himself for whom the greatest pleasure lies in the avoidance
of pain in the body and in quietude in the soul involves asceticism; one
tries to reduce ones desires so that frustration is minimized. A little should
suffice. Choices become a calculation: to gain one pleasure, I may be willing
to forbear another. Health thus becomes crucial today, and the hedonist,
for example, may avoid certain tasty foods because they are detrimental to
his health. Expect as little as possible and we will be more easily content.
With the right discipline, more pleasure can be derived from what one
has. Freedom from inner turmoil called ataraxia becomes a key to
happiness ironically. That there is something wrong with this philosophy
is indicated in one of Epicurus teachings: Even on the rack the wise man
is happy . . . When on the rack, however, he will give vent to cries and
groans.160
Hedonism seeks to discover the original motivation for all decisions. It
sees that everything sought by us is accompanied by some kind of pleasure
or delight. From this, it concludes that what we always seek is delight. In
animals and babies, neither of whom have been unfittingly educated, this
160

Diogenes Laertius, Lives, X, 117118.

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is quite obvious. However, hedonism applies this principle to all human


beings. Everything else takes on the appearance of means to this end.
Hence, delight would seem to be the final end because it is an end in itself.
This implies that Eternal Life would consist more in the will than in the
understanding. To this, Thomas Aquinas offers a differentiating response:
Delight, though it is not the last end, is still a concomitant of the last
end, since from the attainment of the last end delight supervenes.161 This
relationship requires closer examination.
The primary opponent of hedonism is human nature itself, which hedonism tries to suppress or discipline. It is based on a subtle misunderstanding
of human experience. It sees something that is really there but, when reflecting on it afterwards, it misinterprets the relationships within an experience.
In reality, a feeling follows the awareness of a corresponding reality. It is
normal that when I see a person dear to me and am conscious of my seeing
him or her, delight arises. Delight is always delight about something or
someone. Delight is always dependent on the reality that comprises its
content, or definition. By nature, we do not seek delight for its own sake,
even though we talk ouselves into believing it. Consequently, hedonism
involves a contradiction, for we are not delighted most of all when we seek
nothing but delight. Spaemann appreciated this paradox:
However, just as skepticism overcomes itself by bringing the standpoint of
doubting into doubt, so does hedonism overcome itself in that the hedonistic
reflection looks at itself and questions whether we really feel our best when
we are concerned with nothing besides feeling good. The answer to this
question is no.162

Aristotle argues that we would still strive after certain activities like seeing,
knowing, remembering, and acquiring a good character, even if they did
not provide any pleasure. In his own words:
No one would choose to live with the intellect of a child throughout his
life, however much he were to be pleased with the things that children are
pleased with, nor to get enjoyment by doing some most disgraceful deed,
though he were never to feel any pain in consequence. And there are many
things we should be keen on even if they brought no pleasure, e.g., seeing,
remembering, knowing, possessing the virtues. If pleasures necessarily do
accompany these, that makes no odds; we should choose these even if no
pleasure resulted. It seems to be clear, then, that pleasure is neither the good
nor that all pleasure is desirable.163
161
163

Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 26.


Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1174 a.

162

Spaemann, Happiness, 32.

2.4 Hedonism

61

What lover who is suffering under unrequited love would prefer to do


without the knowledge of the beloved, to forget the person as though he
or she never existed? As Alfred Tennysons well-known expression puts it:
Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all.164
The problem with hedonism is not the fact that reality thwarts pleasure.
Hedonism does not say, Be realistic! It is deeper than the Freudian reality
principle, which compels one to defer pleasure when necessary because
of the obstacles arising in reality.165 Although it is true that reality all too
often opposes our wishes, this is not the error. Hedonists are well aware
of this aspect. As a child, one already experiences the fact that reality
does not permit an unlimited fulfillment of all wishes. Reality does not
adapt to us; we must adapt to reality. But this is far from calling us
hindered hedonists. What is required is more than realistically calculated
restraint.
It is a further mistake to think that reality is nothing but a negative force.
As Spaemann says: It is not at all true that reality is for us in the first place
something adverse, opposing us, to which we must perforce adapt. For it
is, at the same time, that which we want to miss at no price whatsoever.166
Through his bodily senses, mans consciousness comes into contact with
the reality of the world. His spirit is spirit-in-the-world. Consciousness
is like a light that shines on its objects, thus making them knowable
that is, present to consciousness. This fundamental structure holds true
throughout life.
Delight itself cannot be our goal because it only occurs on the presupposition that the goal has already been reached, as Aquinas argues:
Delight seems to be nothing but a resting of the will in some befitting good,
as desire is an inclination of the will to the gaining of some good. Now
it is ridiculous to say that the end of movement is not the coming to be
in ones proper place, but the satisfaction of the inclination whereby one
tended to go there. If the principle aim of nature were the satisfaction of
the inclination, there would never be an inclination. An inclination exists
so that thereby one may tend to ones proper place: when that end is gained,
there follows the satisfaction of the inclination: thus the satisfaction of the
inclination is not the end, but a concomitant of the end.167
164
165

166
167

Tennyson, In Memoriam [1850], XXVII.


In Freuds words, an ego thus educated has become reasonable; it no longer lets itself be governed
by the pleasure principle, but obeys the reality principle, which also at bottom seeks to obtain
pleasure, but pleasure which is assured through taking account of reality, even though it is pleasure
postponed and diminished. Freud, Introductory Lectures, 357.
Spaemann, Moralische Grundbegriffe, 31.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 26.

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Applying this principle to the end of human striving, Thomas concludes:


In all powers that are moved by their objects, the objects are naturally prior
to the acts of those powers. But such a power is the will, for the desirable
object moves desire. The object therefore of the will is naturally prior to
the act. The prime object of the will then precedes every act of the will. No
act of the will therefore can be the prime object of volition. But the prime
object of the will is the final end, which is happiness. Happiness therefore
cannot possibly be itself an act of the will.168

In other words, we get pleasure from having something, but the having
is not what we seek; rather, it is the something.
Feelings are not simply subjective states that are brought about by external efficient causes. By nature, feelings have an intentional character. The
realities corresponding to the feelings determine what kind of delight one
experiences; the realities are formal causes, not efficient causes. Instances
of pleasure and joy are as different as the realities inducing them. We
enjoy different people differently. It is obviously possible for parents to
love each child unconditionally, without having to divide their love. One
loves an individual person and not the state of being in love at least, this
is what nature expects. Loving Woman, eternal,169 and not a particular
woman, is insulting to the latter. Loving the state of being in love and for
that reason seeking an apt person is an insult to this unfortunate person.
Everyone seems to know naturally that we ought not to regard people as
(efficient) causes of pleasure but as the content; that is, as the formal cause,
making love for this person be what it is. Whether delight is good or bad
is determined by the reality that gives rise to it. The feelings of a sadist are
not considered to be objectively good by others. It would be foolish to say
that if someone enjoys doing something, then he should do it. It depends
on what he is doing. As Thomas says:
If delight were the last end, it would be desirable in itself. But that is false:
for it makes a difference what delight is desired, considering the object
from which delight ensues: for the delight which follows upon good and
desirable activities is good and desirable; but that which follows upon evil
activities is evil and to be shunned. Delight therefore has its goodness and
desirability from something beyond itself. Therefore, it is not itself the final
end, happiness.170

Ironically, the concentration on delight corrupts the attention on happiness. Pleasure is not detrimental in itself but only in the sense that it involves
nearsightedness. The debauchee is insatiably restless and unsatisfied.
168
170

169 Goethe, Faust, Part II, act V, scene 7, l. 12110.


Ibid.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 26.

2.4 Hedonism

63

Thomas argues further that even love, which like delight also takes place
in the will, is not the final end. The definition of love as a feeling is
drastically misleading. Spinozas definition (Love is joy, accompanied by
the image of its external cause171 ) is a classical example of this misunderstanding. Aquinas extensively discusses this question in his Summa contra
gentiles, distinguishing two ways of being fulfilled. There is, first, a kind of
fulfillment added to something that is already complete with regard to its
species; and, second, there is a kind of fulfillment required for the species
to exist at all. A house, for example, would not be a house if the purpose
of being a place to live in were not actualized in it. A house not made for
living is not really a house in the full sense of the word because it lacks
something that belongs to its definition. An airplane not made for flying
is not an airplane in the full sense. Among those attributes that belong
to the definition of something, some are elements of the essence, some
are necessary for the continuing existence of the thing. Aspects like attractiveness and comfort also belong to the definition of a house. If, however,
something exists completely in its species, then its further activities are
its ends. The normal end of a house is to be lived in, once the house is
completed. Thomas explains: And in like manner the proper activity of
each thing, which is a sort of use of it, is the end of the thing. But the
perfections which go to make up the species are not the end of the thing:
rather the thing is their end.172
This structure applies to delight, or pleasure. Like health, delight is
necessary for a being to continue living well and is thus attributed to the
species. Such things serve the completeness of a being, but they are not its
end. The relationship is just the other way around. Hence, Thomas writes:
Now when we say that delight is the perfection of activity, we do not mean
that activity specifically considered is directed to the purpose of delight
the fact is that it is ordained to other ends, as eating is ordained to the
preservation of the individual we mean that delight ranks among the
perfections which go to make up the species of a thing: for through the
delight that we take in any action we apply ourselves to it more attentively
and fittingly.173

In brief, delight is similar to beauty and bodily strength. Both serve a being
and not vice versa. The body does not exist in order to be beautiful or in
order to be healthy.

171
172

Amor est laetitia concomitante idea causae externae. Spinoza, Ethica IV, propos. 44.
173 Ibid.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 26.

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2.5 The ambivalent teaching of Christian Faith


Both believers and disbelievers often call the belief in an afterlife a matter
of Faith. But, of course, neither belief nor disbelief is capable of making an
afterlife exist or not exist. If believers rely on the supernatural authority on
which their Faith is based, then they might well reach the conviction that
an afterlife exists. But the fact must be faced that if this Faith is reflected
on, it becomes ambiguous.
The idea that one can arrive through Faith at the conviction that a life
after death exists is actually a philosophical position. Of course, an individual believer who does not reflect on his Faith can enjoy this conviction
without being disturbed by doubts. But as soon as one explicitly asserts
that Faith is the reason for believing in the afterlife, one has reached a
degree of reflection that is philosophical, regardless of the fact that a philosophical teaching like this quite likely may be no better than an unreflected
prejudgment. In general, it can be said that the defining of something as
being a matter of Faith and inaccessible to reason is probably not very well
thought through.
Is the afterlife a question of Faith? My impression is that this is not quite
so simple to decide. For many individual Christians, it may well be the
case. But a reflecting believer can but acknowledge that a number of serious
contemporary Christians do not believe in an afterlife, or, at least, that it
does not play an influential role in their lives. Some professional theologians
might even deny an afterlife outright, but for an even larger number, it
has no positive influence on their theology, for which eschatology can have
the role of an appendix. To be sure, Christian doctrine certainly provides
support for the existence of a life after death, but one must also admit
that negative texts can be read in the teaching of Revelation. In any case,
one must acknowledge that some believing Christians fail to believe. Some
even go so far as to define Christianity as a form of Faith. If this were the
case, then there would certainly be no room for an afterlife, since Christian
doctrine teaches that Faith ceases with bodily death.
All this means that whoever wants to believe in a life after death must
appeal to more than Faith. This thesis demands further explanation.
2.5.1 Belief in a life after death not from Faith alone
Medieval Scholasticism made a pedagogical principle out of starting the
treatment of a theological question by presenting various arguments for
both negative and affirmative answers. A Quaestio begins characteristically

2.5 The ambivalent teaching of Christian Faith

65

with arguments that the author himself holds to be invalid. Often enough,
such arguments were derived from Faith doctrine, especially from Scriptural
texts. However, Biblical texts were also used to establish a positive as well as
a negative answer. Peter Abelard initiated this conception shortly before the
first medieval universities arose. In his book Sic et non,174 he systematized
Faith authorities so that to every question posed, they responded both
affirmatively and negatively.
Whereas in the structure of a Quaestio, which arose out of Abelards
method, the author thereafter presented his own opinion, Abelard expressed
no opinion at all. The young students were simply left on their own. By
combining traditional doctrine with logic, Abelard forced the young students into a state of doubt. The more the teachings of the Scripture arouse
[excitant] the readers and attract them by these contradictions to search for
the truth, the more the authority of these Scriptures are commendable,175
he maintained. His purpose was to confuse his readers so that they would
be provoked [provocent] to become doubtful and then left to the use of their
own reason. From a state of doubt, provoked by an unthinkable logical
contradiction, the search for truth could commence.
With this method, the teaching of Faith undermines the idea that Faith
can simply be passed on from generation to generation. Faith itself forces
honest believers to do their own thinking. Faith without understanding
is, as Thomas Aquinas expressed it, naked. Theology professors who do
nothing more than hand down the teaching of Faith to their students
produce, according to him, empty heads. Speaking of students who learn
only the teaching of Faith without doing any of their own thinking, Thomas
remarks: If the teacher determines a question with naked authorities, then
the listeners will have the certitude that such is the case, but they will have
acquired neither knowledge nor insight and they will leave empty.176
In Christian doctrine we find, in fact, expressions that confirm a life
after death as well as some that deny it. Attempting to be orthodox does
not seem to be the solution. I find some remarks of Professor Wigand
Siebel with regard to a new catechism (Botschaft des Glaubens) published
by the Catholic bishops of Germany in 1979 informative and representative
of the situation today.177 He begins by criticizing Kungs criticism of the
catechism as being an innovation backwards. He then counters with the
remark that the German bishops are in truth not conservative, as Kung
maintains, but instead have proven to be so innovative that they have made
174
176
177

175 Ibid., verses 330350.


Cf. Abelard, Sic et non, Prologus, 103104.
Thomas Aquinas, Quaestiones quodlibetales, IV, q. 9, a. 3c.
Cf. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, August 6, 1985, n. 179, 5.

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themselves guilty of departing from Holy Scripture. According to him, the


bishops have not only left out many points of traditional doctrine but also
have gone so far as to attempt to make the resurrection understandable in
modern sociological categories. Obviously, he objects, the teaching on
the bodysoul dualism in human beings appeared to them to be suspicious.
They have replaced the resurrection of the flesh with a relationship to others
and to the world:
Instead of following the clear literal meaning of the Gospels and the traditional interpretation, the German bishops have taken account of recent
exegesis with their sociological theory, so that the notion and the understanding of the resurrection of the flesh have been considerably outdated.

The author concludes by posing the question of what the bishops will
think if Christians who are true to the Bible do not accept the bishops
new teaching, according to which no one resurrects but only receives a lost
sociological contact.
In a few sentences, Siebel construed a complicated conflict among
Catholic believers. The theologian Kung is posed against the German
bishops, who in turn are seen in opposition to Scripture and tradition but
in conformity with scholarly exegesis. Finally, the people of the Church
are placed in opposition to the bishops. The Christian Siebel, who claims
to be orthodox and finds himself in a position to judge which teaching is
orthodox, stands above all of these different Revelation sources. How am
I to decide a dispute like this among Catholics and there is no reason
to doubt that they all look upon themselves as true Christians striving for
truth in this case by simply listening to Revelation? How am I to decide
which position is the true teaching of Revelation? In any case, I will not
succeed by simply appealing to Faith.
2.5.2 Some theologians as examples
Here again, one is confronted with dissidence. The former professor for
dogmatics, editor of the new edition of the Lexicon for Theology and the
Church [Lexikon fur Theologie und Kirche], and former President of the
Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Walter Cardinal Kasper
defines eschatological statements as having the purpose of guiding us today
in view of the future. The crisis in view of the future, he writes, lies in
the question about the goals and criteria for this future. This is where theological talk about the future begins, if it is trying to present Jesus Christ as
the unique grounding and the permanent criterion for a new behavior that

2.5 The ambivalent teaching of Christian Faith

67

opens up the future.178 Hope expressions are ultimately not of a theoretical but of a practical nature, he explains. They are marks of a path that
we must walk in order to experience their power in the doing of truth.179
What the eschatological symbols communicate to us is that nothing can
come between us and the love of Christ (Rom 8:35; cf. verse 39). In the
face of such a minimum, Kasper confesses explicitly: Nothing more can
really be said theologically, and theologically nothing more is needed to be
said, because this is enough to overcome the fear of the future and to pass
the test of the present out of the strength of hope.180 In his eyes, hope
itself, without a specific object, becomes the very essence of eschatology.
The reader wonders how Kasper can know this. He presents no reasons
for such a comprehensive and radical interpretation. It is obvious that he
argues against a counterposition, but he does not tell us explicitly what
it is. Presumably, he simply relies on the presupposed convictions of his
readers to find his position plausible.
Heinrich Ott has a similar viewpoint, hardly lacking in clarity: The
eschatological sentences on Eternal Life do not express knowledge about a
future state but rather a profession of Faith in God as the future God.181
In The Common Catechism: A Book of Christian Faith, a joint project of
Protestant and Catholic theologians, there is a supposedly orthodox and
ecumenical treatment of eschatology. With no pretense of being novel, this
catechism makes assertions such as the following:
The statements in the Bible about the end and goal of history, therefore,
do not constitute a preview of future events in the history of the world
and mankind. If this supposition is correct . . . then we must renounce the
idea that eschatological statements, statements about the last things, are
telling us something about what will take place in the future.182

The future aspect of Biblical eschatology does not have the intention of
telling us anything about the future beforehand but only wants to set
in motion human actions oriented toward the future.183 The catechism
excludes any possibility of finding out anything of the contents. We must
confess, therefore: we do not actually know anything about the last things,
it concludes. Then, after this drastic view, the trivial truth is added as a
justification: We cannot in any sense picture them to ourselves.184 We are
told: Statements about the future are a particular kind of statement about
the present.185 Their purpose is to remind us that we must carry out our
irreplaceable and creative role as free creatures in the here and now. The
178
182

179 Ibid.
180 Ibid.
Kasper, Gott und die Zukunft, 24.
183 Ibid., 533.
184 Ibid., 544.
Common Catechism, 532.

181
185

Ott, Eschatologie, 36.


Ibid., 538.

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fundamental teaching of Scripture is that the future must necessarily


remain open.186 We do not know much about the last things, but we
do know enough . . . to be able to live a life that is full of meaning.187
This thesis is not as new as one might presume. In 1929, Georg Hoffmann
taught that eschatology is not a teaching on the Last Things but a teaching
on the relationship of Faith to the Last Things.188 He bases his position on
the presumption that the idea of eternity thwarts any objective knowledge
about the beyond. All objective eschatological statements miscarry.189
More recently, the Anglican bishop J. A. T. Robinson brought present
eschatology to popular attention. He calls the resurrection of the body not
a prophecy, but a myth.190 Revelation conveys no historical information
about the beginning or end of things . . . It is a picture that was devised
to bring the true depth, the full implication, of present relationships to
expression.191 The place where Christian theology places its interest does
not lie in the future, but in the present.192
Rudolf Bultmanns theology has been of enormous influence in this
respect. He demythologizes eschatology to the point of elimination, there
remaining only the present. Emil Brunner was critical of Bultmanns position. He claims that Bultmanns postulation of demythologizing was an
interpretation of Biblical eschatology that effected, in fact, an elimination.
He comments:
What in Bultmanns view remains as eschatology is no longer a hope in an
eternal future, but merely a new self-understanding for present-day man,
arrived at through ultimate decision, and which therefore can only be termed
eschatological in a sense quite other than that of the New Testament
eschatological having reference to the last things. In this re-interpretation
the dimension of the future has quite simply fallen out of the New Testament
kerygma.193

Brunner puts it well when he concludes that Bultmanns theology amounts


to a faith without hope.194
Of a quite different nature is the conception of the German physicist and
philosopher Carl Friedrich von Weizsacker, who did penetrating work on
186
189
192
193

194

187 Ibid., 550.


188 Hoffmann, Das Problem, 93.
Ibid., 539.
190
191 Ibid., 7475.
Ibid., 20.
Robinson, In the End, 101.
Ibid., 101. Cf. also Ott, Eschatologie, 36: Eschatological statements on Eternal Life do not express
knowledge about a future state, but a profession to God as the future one.
Brunner, Eternal Hope, 214. The future is represented only in the sense that man by faith is
liberated to create his future, but not in the sense that he hopes for a promised future action of
God, a final redemption in the future, a life beyond the grave and a fulfillment of history beyond
death. Ibid.
Ibid.

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2.5 The ambivalent teaching of Christian Faith

theological questions. In particular, his comments on the Beatitude Happy


the pure in heart: they shall see God (Mt 5:8) are relevant for questions
at issue here. No theologian could exhibit a more fitting appreciation than
the following: Seeing God is the highest promise that can be granted to
a human being. It is beatitude. Here the commentator is allowed no more
than to keep misunderstandings at a distance.195 But then, as a consequence of his own understanding of time and God, Weizsacker cannot but
express his own view, which is absolutely decisive: One may not presume
that the promise of a vision reaches beyond the grave.196 The future tense
in the Biblical verse, which he otherwise finds to be an important truth,
presents Weizsacker with an essential hindrance and must accordingly be
bent aright: It is valid here and now, in that future which has already
begun.197 In other words, he interprets the future tense of the verb to
mean the present, thus remaining true to Biblical Revelation and true to
his own philosophy. The apparent conflict is thus justified:
The interpretations of the Beatitudes in the present and in the future tense
can then be compatible, however, if the kingdom of heaven has already
begun and is growing: The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard
seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field.198

In this way, what is supposed to be meant is the expression of an inner


experience,199 which is to be had now. Taken in this sense, it can then
be said that the kingdom of heaven has already arrived.200 Weizsacker
concludes that the experience of God does not take place in an imaginary beyond, but here and now, precisely in those real mental (spiritual)
processes which comprise the kingdom of heaven. Mental and therefore
physical, mental and therefore social.201 Beatitude is not beyond death,
he states reflectively, beyond death there is work. Beatitude exists on the
foundation of reality, which also created death.202
2.5.3 The Biblical basis of present, or realized, eschatology
It must be admitted that there are texts in the New Testament that seem
to support the interpretation of life after death as a phenomenon of the
present. In Jn 3:36, for example, Faith itself appears to be what Eternal Life
195
196
197
199
201

Weizsacker, Garten, 500 (not included in the English translation).


Ibid. (not included in the English translation).
198 Ibid., 495.
Ibid. (not included in the English translation).
200 Cf. ibid.
Weizsacker, Bewutseinswandel, 234.
Weizsacker, Garten, 498 (not included in the English translation).

202

Ibid., 166.

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is: Anyone who believes in the Son has Eternal Life. There is no future
tense in Jn 6:47: I tell you most solemnly, everybody who believes has
Eternal Life.
Accordingly, death is life before the conversion to Christian Faith: I
tell you most solemnly whoever listens to my words, and believes in the
one who sent me, has Eternal Life; without being brought to judgment
he has passed from death to life (Jn 5:24). Jesus paradoxical statement
emphasizes the present: Jesus said, I am the resurrection and I am life. If
a man has Faith in me, even though he dies, he shall come to life; and no
one who is alive and has Faith shall ever die (Jn 11:2526).
Paul similarly depicts heaven as a state that the believer has already
reached: And in union with Christ Jesus he raised us up and enthroned
us with him in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6).
In Col 3:13, he asks, Were you not raised to life with Christ? Death
in this sense is behind us: I repeat, you died; and now your life lies hidden
with Christ in God. Death is identified with the state of sin.203
In Johns first letter, the afterlife seems to consist simply in love: We
have passed out of death and into life, and of this we can be sure because
we love our brothers. If you refuse to love, you must remain dead (1 Jn
3:1415).
Conversely, of course, texts asserting an existence after death are also
abundant. But the dissidence is the problem. How is the reader to decide
which version is Revelation truth? It is conceivable that the positive expressions are to be read metaphorically. Then, eschatology would be a set of
symbols accentuating the here and now. What is now important is that the
requisite hermeneutical tools are not provided by the Bible; they can come
only from a rational theology.
2.5.4 The resolution of the ambiguity within Faith
It cannot be the case that one simply has a free choice between options. In
his book Eternal Life [Ewiges Leben], Kung arrives at the conclusion that
neither the one view nor the other can be proven to be true and that we
therefore are, in fact, free to choose. Consequently, no one can forbid me
to believe, if I so decide.
This is a very popular point of view; however, in my opinion, the decision
is not completely left to our free will. If reason were really unable to decide,
then the principle of Occams Razor would apply. This principle, which
203

Cf. Eph 2:12.

2.5 The ambivalent teaching of Christian Faith

71

can appeal to general common sense, requires that in a situation in which


reasonable arguments are inconclusive, we presume at least temporarily
that the simpler explanation is the true one. Since the position that there
is an afterlife beyond the present one requires more than the position that
this life is all that we can hope for, a responsible thinker will have to
choose to deny an afterlife. Only if something in given experience is left
unexplained can one justifiably presume that more is needed than this life.
If the disbeliever can truly say that nothing is missing, then his disbelief
must be preferred. I shall try to demonstrate, however, that this is not the
case.
Be that as it may, it seems to me that in any case we are confronted
with the fact that the question cannot be answered by appealing to Faith
alone. We cannot justify Faith responsibly by arguing from Faith. To the
contrary, Faith forces us to employ our reason as well.
2.5.5 A general method for interpreting the revelation of
eschatological questions
Joseph Ratzinger set down the principle that Faith opens up what lies
beyond only to the extent that this will be a helpful signpost for those in
the here and now.204 As he explains: The tradition of faith is not given to
us for the satisfying of idle curiosity. Where it exceeds the proper limits of
human experience, its aim is to direct us, not to divert, that is, to entertain
us.205
This absolutely fundamental principle can be further developed, so
that a distinction can be drawn between what is to be interpreted only
metaphorically and what is literally true in eschatological statements. Rahner thought through an important hermeneutical principle: If we wish to
read the eschatological statements of the New Testament correctly, then
they are the conclusions that from the point of view of the human essence
necessarily follow out of the experience of the Christian present.206 Thus,
he can conclude, What we know about Christian eschatology is what we
know about mans present situation in the history of salvation.207 What
he intends is surely not a reduction.
Rahner can speak of a projection from the present to the future:
We do not project anything from the future into the present, but rather in
mans experience of himself and of God in grace and in Christ we project
204
206

205 Ibid.
Ratzinger, Eschatology, 161.
Rahner, Foundations, 432 (emphasis in original).

207

Ibid.

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Disbelief in a life after death


our Christian present into its future. For man cannot understand his present
in any other way except as the beginning and the coming to be of a future
and as the dynamism toward it. Man understands his present only insofar as
he understands it as the approach toward and the opening up of a future.208

This hermeneutical principle enables us to distinguish authentically eschatological from apocalyptic statements. Eschatological statements and
apocalyptic statements are not necessarily different in the means which
they employ to represent the future, Rahner writes. The same expressions
can have both a metaphorical and a literal meaning. Moreover,
apocalyptic can be understood as a mode of expression through which man
really takes the concreteness of his eschatological future seriously, and does
not forget the fact that his final and definitive future really arises out of his
present life, both individual and social, and that this future is the final and
definitive validity of his free actions.209

Thus, according to Rahner, eschatology is the prospect [Ausblick] from the


present point of departure experienced here and now. Statements on the
afterlife are simply translations of what we experience in the present into
the future.
Eschatology is mans view from the perspective of his experience of salvation,
the experience which he now has in grace and in Christ . . . If we understand
this hermeneutical basic principle correctly, that is, if we understand that
eschatological statements are a transposition into the future of something
which a Christian person experiences in grace as his present, then we have
a practical principle, and one which is very important for Faith today, for
distinguishing between the conceptual mode and the real content of an
eschatological statement.210

There is a real necessity in this relationship: It is a view of how the future


has to be if the present as the beginning of the future is what man knows
it to be in his Christian anthropology.211 Being what we are, we always
have to speak using images, and every historical situation has a set of given
images. We must therefore accept the speech imagery of other ages in the
Christian tradition. This means that it is not always so easy to distinguish
between metaphorical and literal uses of speech.
Always keeping in mind that we may be suffering under a misunderstanding, we must conclude that whatever there is in teachings on the afterlife that cannot be grounded somehow in our experience must methodically and always, ultimately, temporarily be presumed to be apocalyptic.
208

Ibid.

209

Ibid., 433.

210

Ibid.

211

Ibid.

2.5 The ambivalent teaching of Christian Faith

73

With the appropriate carefulness, it can be said: We know no more about


the last things than we know about people who have been redeemed, who
have been taken up by Christ, and who exist in Gods grace.212
Rahners hermeneutical principle is not a new idea. In the fourth century, Gregory of Nyssa made a clear distinction between the historical
and what he called the theoretical reading of Holy Scripture in his book
The Life of Moses. In the original Greek, the two parts of the book are
entitled Historia and Theoria. For Gregory, the historical meaning is legitimate but it is not the mature reading. The teaching of truth changes
according to the condition of those who hear the Word, he states. It
seems to me fitting not to pass by this knowledge without having given
it consideration. If someone only considers the historical meaning, then
how can a meaning appropriate to God be asserted? Anyone wanting to
understand Moses experience on the mountain has to ascend to a level
of apprehension higher than the historical. Merely the literal, historical
interpretation of this passage is not enough. The elevation of the spirit
to a higher level should be more useful for us. Taking certain Scriptural
passages literally may easily lead to untruth and nonsense. For example, a
literal understanding of Gods back would imply an impossible theology,
for there is a behind and a front only in respect of three-dimensional
objects . . . Whoever wants to understand Gods back literally arrives necessarily at such nonsense . . . Whoever holds on to the letter like a slave
must necessarily presume that God is transitory.213
By the time of the Middle Ages, the literal or historical meaning of
Revelation texts had become the primary one. Nonetheless, Gregorys
hermeneutics had not been lost or become obsolete; instead, what occurred
was the development of a different definition of the historical sense. The
Scholastics liked to bring the problem to a head by confronting themselves
with contradictions within the authoritative texts, thus forcing reason to
come to terms with them. Their method for dealing with such contradictions they called pious interpretation [pia interpretatio] or respectful
interpretation [reverentia interpretatio].214 If one desires to harmonize the
assertions of different thinkers, then one must say: the authorities must be
interpreted.215
212
214
215

213 Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses, passim.


Ibid., 434.
Cf. Hugh of St. Victor, De sacramentis, lib. I, 1, c. 2, 187; Thomas Aquinas, Contra errores Graecorum,
prooemium.
Thomas Aquinas, In II. Sententiarum, dist. 2, q. 1, a. 3, ad 1.

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Disbelief in a life after death

Accordingly, the understanding of a text is derived from two sources:


the text itself and the readers own intellect. At the end of the Middle Ages,
Melchor Cano recapitulated the established position with his teaching that
theology has two sources [loci]: the Bible and the book of nature.216 The
metaphor of the two books written by God is common throughout the
Middle Ages. The intellect, which reads the book of nature, is regarded
as a source of divine Revelation. There being no other source of truth
than God, Thomas Aquinas can say that philosophers have received truth
through Gods Revelation [Deo illis revelante].217 An analysis of Revelation
thus leads to the necessity of introducing reason in order to solve the
dilemma. In the quaestiones, the method initiated by Peter Abelard of
starting with contradictions was further developed. Reason is granted a
decisive role in finding and establishing truths and Revelation is treated as
a text. The term authority comes to mean not a person or a quality of an
author but rather his text.218 Hence, truth becomes central, thus uniting
Revelation with reality.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky conceived of the extreme question of whether
posed with a choice between the two he would choose Christ or truth.
He himself chooses quite differently from the leading medieval Scholastic,
Thomas Aquinas. While Dostoyevsky in this hypothetical question opts
for Christ (see page 26), Thomas Aquinas, who is convinced that belief in
Christ is the necessary requisite for salvation, prefers truth.219 For him, the
question has the form of asking whether it is evil to believe in Christ if
ones conscience of course, erroneously is convinced that this is against
Truth.
Medieval Scholastics harmonized Revelation and reason with one
another without any compromises; they affirmed both unconditionally.
John Scotus Eriugena formulated the conviction categorically: An authority cannot really contradict reason, and reason cannot really contradict an
authority.220 The theological meaning of an authoritative text is, for the
Schoolmen, that which is relevant to reality, not what the human author
intended. It is of little concern to us, as Thomas Aquinas puts it, because
the study of philosophy aims not at knowing what men feel, but at what
the truth of things [veritas rerum] is.221
216
217
218
219
220
221

Cf. Cano, De locis theologicis, I, c. 2.


Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 167, a. 1, ad 3.
Cf. Chenu, Toward Understanding, 138173; Hofstadter, Academic Freedom, 13.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, III, q. 19, a. 5c.
Eriugena, De divinis naturis, I, 66. Nil enim aliud videtur mihi esse vera auctoritas, nisi rationis
virtute reperta veritas. Perphyseon, I, 69; 198, 7.
Thomas Aquinas, In De caelo et mundo, I, c. 10, lect. 22.

2.5 The ambivalent teaching of Christian Faith

75

Thomas refers to a tradition going back to St. Augustine when he


explains how Scriptural texts are to be interpreted:
In discussing questions of this kind two rules are to be observed, as Augustine
teaches (Gen. ad lit., I, 18). The first is to maintain the truth of Scripture
unwaveringly. The second is that since Holy Scripture can be explained in
a multiplicity of senses, one should adhere to a particular explanation only
in such measure as to be ready to abandon it, if it be proved with certainty
to be false; lest Holy Scripture be exposed to the ridicule of unbelievers, and
obstacles be placed to their believing.222

Thus, Thomas lays down three rules of interpreting Scripture: first, one
may not presume that a Scriptural text has but one meaning; second, the
interpretation that is attributed to the text must be a truth in its own right;
and third, this meaning must conform to the wording of the text. What
the human author intended is not decisive.
It is important to note that the meaning involved here is not one of the
spiritual senses of Scripture but rather the literal, historical sense. Thomass
well-known teaching on the four senses of Scripture is not what is being
treated here; it is the literal, historical sense that itself has more than one
meaning. This is possible because it is not a human author who is being
considered but rather God, who is Truth itself. Since the literal sense is
that which the author intends, and since the author of Holy Scripture is
God, who by one act comprehends all things by his intellect, Thomas
argues, it is not unfitting, as Augustine says (Confessiones, XII), if, even
according to the literal sense, one word in Holy Scripture should have
several senses.223
Thomas concludes that every meaning that represents a truth in itself
and does not contradict the text is a literal meaning intended by God:
Every truth which, respecting the letter of the text [salva litterae circumstantia], can be adapted [aptari] to divine Scripture is its meaning.224
This implies an unexpected individualism. This pertains to the dignity of
divine Scripture that under one letter many meanings are contained. And
thus it harmonizes with the diverse thoughts of different individuals, so
that each one is amazed to find in divine Scripture the truth which he has
thought in his own mind.225
The notion of truth is the key to this position: No matter who says it,
every truth comes from the Holy Spirit.226
222
223
224
226

Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 68, a. 1c. Cf. De potentia, q. 4, a. 1c.


Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 1, a. 10. Cf. De potentia, q. 4, a. 1c.
225 Ibid.
Ibid.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, III, q. 109, a. 1, ad 1.

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Disbelief in a life after death


Meister Eckhart sums up the teaching:
Since therefore the literal meaning is the meaning intended by the author
of the text and the author of Sacred Scripture is God, every meaning that
is true is a literal meaning. For it is a fact that every particular truth stems
from Truth itself, is included in it, is derived from it and is intended by it.227

However, by the seventeenth century, this hermeneutics was no longer


dominant. Galileo Galilei stood between the Middle Ages and the Modern
Age when he appealed to the book of nature, which can be read by the
scientist. In the Inquisition process, he argued that the best way to find out
how Scripture is to be read would be to find out the actual truth by reading
the book of nature. Because God cannot contradict himself, we would then
know whether the Biblical text is to be read literally or metaphorically.
The Inquisition, however, did not mention this standpoint but argued
sociologically, that is, in a modern manner. In the condemnation, Galileo
was depicted as an arrogant individual who imagines that he could know the
truth while society errs. The Inquisition remonstrated: To the objections
raised against you several times from Sacred Scripture you have responded
by interpreting Scripture according to your own opinion.228 We are far
from medieval Scholasticism.
I have never noticed that in the Middle Ages a position was rejected
because it was that of an individual. This is a political point of view that is
still common today. When, for example, Nicholas of Cusa in the fifteenth
century wrote that the Earth is not the middle of the universe and that it
moves, there was no reaction on the part of Church authorities.
Our hermeneutical rule presupposes our given knowledge and convictions about reality. It is crucial that these be true. Convictions that hinder
a belief in an afterlife must be overcome if one is to hold the afterlife as a
truth. There exist convictions today that lie deeply in contemporary consciousness, having the form of philosophical prejudices. It is essential to
appreciate them and break through the intellectual fetters that they induce.
The primary work of the theologian is concerned with errors. The errors
that distort our vision must be corrected so that we can see clearly what
has always been outside.
We may conclude: To cope with the ambivalence of Scriptural teaching
on the afterlife, recourse must be taken to reason. Faith and reason belong
together. A hermeneutics that allows for different interpretations demands
the use of responsible reason.
227

Eckhart, Liber parabolarum Genesis, n. 2.

228

Galilei, Opere, Vol. XIX, 403.

chapter t hree

A justification of the traditional Christian


belief in Eternal Life

3.1 The question


If there really is a life after death, then it should be as natural and
wondrous as the birth of a child, to which it is, in fact, often compared. This implies that it is not decisive whether a person understands
this or interprets the end of his or her life accordingly. It must be valid
independently of individual conviction; that is, it must be objectively true
in itself, not just a matter of Faith, for otherwise it is not credible. If life
has a meaning, then this meaning must hold true for all humans, including skeptics and deniers, and not only for those who are convinced of it.
Belief is surely important, but it does not open the door; it acknowledges
the opening and draws endless consequences on its further journey. This
would seem to imply that the question should not be too difficult unless we
are obstructed by strong preconceptions. These present the problems that
must be addressed. They lie not in the soul but in the head. Before reflecting on what Eternal Life might consist in, the question can first be posed
of whether life after death, as we say, exists at all. Opponents, in the wake
of Ludwig Feuerbach, normally acknowledge the naturalness of the belief,
arguing from this that the belief is caused by the natural desire for immortality. In other words, it is so natural that it must be a delusion, derived
from wishful thinking.
The force of conviction associated with Christianity derives from the
fact that its teaching simply fits so well to the human condition, regardless
of whether proofs of its validity can be presented. Similarly, scientists
acknowledge the relevancy of mathematics not because they have proven
by deduction that mathematics is helpful; rather, it simply fits naturally.
Reason being a part of the human condition, Faith even expects that the
expectations of a Christian can somehow be established by reason. In Peters
First Letter (3:15), the frequently cited verse enjoins believers to always have
your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that
77

78

Justification of belief in Eternal Life

you have. But this does not come down to a Cartesian method of doubt,
as if the believer were expected to prove his conviction before he believed
or to presume that his Faith played no role. Descartes wanted to doubt
everything possible and discovered even under this condition that he could
not get beyond his own thinking. Reason is not the first step. Rather, one
begins with an awareness, a self-reflection, a kind of connatural knowledge,
convincing by means of an affective concordance, a sympathy. It is a matter
of a kind of circular movement. To give my reason for believing in logic, I
do not have to, and I cannot, abstract from logic and prove its legitimacy
before doing it. Methodical doubt does not go that deep. If I find no
reason to deny logic, then I am adequately justified in believing in it. If,
to cite another analogy, I want to justify the fact that I am writing this
book in English, then I will hardly avoid using the English language to
defend myself. Many things in life are like this. To have a mother tongue,
one must start learning a language at an early age. One cannot wait until
one is old enough to make a rationally grounded decision on the question;
then it is too late. To be sure, one can later find good reasons to retain
ones mother tongue or to desist in using it and learn another language
although this new language will hardly ever become a mother tongue.
But how can I find plausible reasons for believing in an afterlife? The
question is instead how the misunderstandings that deny it can be cleared
up. This is down to earth; it is not dealing with reality beyond the empirical
world but rather with human thoughts occurring here and now. The
theological work in this case resembles that of a window cleaner, who
merely removes the obstructions to a clear view.
Various approaches to an answer are worth considering. In addition to
simply turning to the teaching of Faith (see page 64) say, in the Apostles
Creed one can argue from Christs Resurrection. The conviction can also
be approached as being something basically natural.
One of the obstructing misunderstandings that must be corrected is
the influential idea that belief in the immortality of the soul is something
medieval and has been overcome by the Enlightenment. The historical fact
is that precisely Enlightenment thinkers not only believed in but also put
great emphasis on the idea of the immortality of the soul. This conviction
could even be called a dogma of the Enlightenment. A few examples can
prove instructive.
In 1767, one of the most influential books of German Enlightenment
philosophy appeared: Moses Mendelssohns Phaedo, or on the Immortality
of the Soul, which became extremely widely read and discussed. Gotthold
Ephraim Lessings Education of the Human Race, published in 1780, shortly

3.1 The question

79

before the end of his life, summed up the whole of Christian teaching in
a single sentence: And so Christ became the first reliable practical teacher
of the immortality of the soul.1 Both Rousseau and Robespierre believed
in a personal God and in divine providence, as well as in the immortality
of the soul. In 1794, Robespierre had the Convention promulgate the brief
decree stating that the French nation believed in the immortality of the
soul as well as in a Supreme Being. After declaring, To the tomb, and
to immortality! in his last speech to the National Convention before his
execution, Robespierre added, Death is the beginning of immortality.
Goethe claimed to have been caused a good deal of trouble by the poem
Urania, written by Christoph August Tiedge and ending with the stanza:
When my eyes their final tears have shed
You beckon, call me to divinity.
A man, a pilgrim, lays down his weary head,
A god begins his passage instantly.

Goethe was annoyed by the time when nothing was sung and nothing
declaimed except Urania. Wherever you went, you found the Urania on
all tables; Urania and immortality were the subject of every conversation.
He complained that stupid women who plumed themselves on believing
in immortality along with Tiedge had sometimes examined [him] on this
point in a very conceited way.2
It is not surprising that immortality has been called the real central
dogma of the Enlightenment.3 In his lectures on the destiny of the
scholar, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, the enlightened philosopher par excellence, emphatically sung the praises of immortality:
What is called death cannot interrupt my work . . . I have . . . seized hold of
eternity. I lift my head boldly to the threatening precipice, to the raging
cataract and to the rumbling clouds swimming in a sea of fire, and say: I
am eternal, and I defy your power. Rend apart the last mote of the body I
call mine: my will alone . . . will soar boldly and coldly above the ruins of
the universe.4

A solution to the problem of harmonizing natural catastrophes like the


Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 was found in the immortality of the soul.
Rousseau, for example, argued:
If God exists, he is perfect; if he is perfect, he is wise, powerful and just;
if he is wise and powerful, all is well; if he is just and powerful, my soul
1
3

2 Pieper, Werke, Vol. V, 376377.


Paragraph 56, which contains only this one sentence.
4 Fichte, Bestimmung, 322323.
Stange, Unsterblichkeit, 105.

80

Justification of belief in Eternal Life


is immortal; if my soul is immortal, thirty years of life are nothing to me,
and they are perhaps necessary to the preservation of the universe. If I am
granted the first proposition, the ones that follow will never be shaken; if it
is denied, there is no use arguing about its consequences.5

Kant, too, maintains that the theodicy problem can be solved only if the
soul is immortal.
Not only in the European Enlightenment does the belief in immortality
play an important role. The American statesman and political theorist
Thomas Jefferson also held it high. The second point in his three-point
creed is that there is a future state of rewards and punishments.6 The
elder statesman Benjamin Franklin, who represented the essentials of a
secularized Christianity, listed in his own credo that the soul of man is
immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its
conduct in this.7
Nonetheless, I hesitate to presume that the immortality of the soul can
justify the Christian belief in Eternal Life. Actually, in itself it could not even
be called life but simply bare existence. Not only is some kind of realization
of sensuality necessary but, above all, God is required. As Benedict XVI has
expressed it, Belief in Eternal Life is merely the application of belief in God
to our own existence.8 In a further sense, it can be seen in relationship to
the belief in Christs Resurrection, which ultimately represents an unfolding
of the belief in God. The human hope for fulfillment is a participation in
belief in God. This aspect was deeply reflected on by Rahner.

3.2 Transcendental hope in ones own resurrection as the


horizon for experiencing the resurrection of Jesus
Rahner developed what he refers to as a transcendental Christology, which
means a Christology that takes account of general human experience and
emphasizes the distinction between the concrete and the abstract. He
entitles his treatment Transcendental Hope in the Resurrection as the
Horizon for Experiencing the Resurrection of Jesus.9 By arguing from the
nature of human consciousness, according to Rahner, one can establish
some preliminary knowledge about Christ. As Rahner states:
A transcendental Christology presupposes an understanding of the relationship of mutual conditioning and mediation in human existence between
what is transcendentally necessary and what is concretely and contingently
5
7
9

6 Writings of Thomas Jefferson, XV, 384385.


Rousseau, Letter to M. de Voltaire, 242.
8 Benedict XVI, Gott ist uns nahe, 151.
Franklin, Writings, Vol. X, 84.
Rahner, Foundations, 268.

3.2 Transcendental hope in ones own resurrection

81

historical. It is a relationship of such a kind that both elements in mans


historical existence can only appear together and mutually condition each
other: the transcendental element is always an intrinsic condition of the historical element in the historical itself, and, in spite of its being freely posited,
the historical element co-determines existence in an absolute sense.10

This procedure derives its


starting-point in the experiences which man always and inescapably has,
even when it takes the form of a protest against them, experiences which
cannot satisfy the claim to absoluteness or to absolute fulfillment and
salvation in the immediate objects which are in the foreground of the
experience and through which these experiences are mediated, a claim
nevertheless which man inevitably makes in view of these experiences.11

Rahner argues that an act of hope in ones own resurrection is something


which takes place in every person.12 This act lies at the deepest level of consciousness, below what is explicit and what is free. If one reflects on it, one
can affirm or deny it, but this explicit response does not essentially change
the fundamental fact (although it is certainly not without consequence).
The reason for Rahners thesis is that
every person wants to survive in some final and definitive sense, and experiences this claim in his acts of freedom and responsibility, whether he is able
to make this implication of the exercise of his freedom thematic or not, and
whether he accepts it in Faith or rejects it in despair.13

Therefore, the assertion of the abiding validity of ones existence, and not
the ontological immortality of the soul, is the essential point that grounds
ones belief in Eternal Life.
Of course, resurrection does not concern just the body. It encompasses
the whole of mans concrete existence. It promises the abiding validity
of his single and entire existence.14 This cannot mean that what human
longing desires is to continue to live on forever in time as we now know it.
Time becomes madness if it cannot reach fulfillment. To be able to go on
forever would be the hell of empty meaninglessness. No moment would
have any importance because one could postpone and put everything off
until an empty later which will always be there.15 The present would have
no special value since it would return incessantly.
Christs Resurrection is not the presuppositionless proof of my own
resurrection. Rather, it has for me the form of a confirmation of hope. We
are prejudiced by our instinctive longing. We have a certain expectation
10
13

11 Ibid., 208209.
Ibid., 208.
14 Ibid.
15 Ibid., 271.
Ibid.

12

Ibid., 268.

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Justification of belief in Eternal Life

that some kind of historical mediation and confirmation in which it can


be explicit16 will occur or has already occurred (as is, in fact, the case with
Christ). The only real alternative is neither belief nor denial but instead
seeking or finding. This is the only legitimate alternative, Rahner writes
and explains that what is appropriate for man is either the promise which is
still simply outstanding, or life within a hope which has already experienced
fulfillment.17 Therefore, it is not reasonable to commence ones treatment
of the afterlife by starting at step one. Even mathematics does not try to
prove its self-evident axioms. The justification does not have to presuppose
an absolute skepticism, which remains uncommitted pending proof.
The fact that human life comprises a unity can be appreciated by reflecting on ones own death. The future-perfect tense shows our ability to reflect
somehow on the whole of life, including the phase that has not yet taken
place. Being aware, in the future-perfect tense, that I will have lived offers
me a perspective on my life as an entirety. It does not simply go on from
day to day. In a certain sense, it is present to me as a whole, in both my
memory and my expectation. I am able to speak of my life, to ask about the
meaning of my life, to ask who I am. Somehow, in reflection, I transcend
my own concrete life.
The language of love says to the beloved, You shall not die!, not
only, as Gabriel Marcels expression is sometimes cited: You should not
die.18 Love rebels against time; not everything in life is confined to time.
Rahner poses the question: When the deceased is gone, can his real self
not continue to exist, transformed and transposed beyond physical time
and space?19 There is more to temporal life than merely the interplay of
the elementary particles of physics and biochemistry.20 For it was love
and fidelity, and perhaps also sheer ordinariness, and other similar things
which come to be in time and space but do not reach fulfillment there.21
Growth would never reach maturity.
If the afterlife meant a continuation of time, it would be meaningless.
As Rahner notes, Anyone who simply allows time to continue for mans
soul beyond death so that new time arises gets into insuperable difficulties
both in the understanding and in the existential actualization of the true
finality of man which takes place in death.22 He maintains that a time
which spins on endlessly in its empty course into something ever new
which constantly annuls the old is really impossible and more terrible than
hell.23 To the contrary, eternity comes to be in time. It is the mature fruit
16
19

Ibid., 269.
Ibid., 271.

17
20

Ibid. (emphasis in original).


21 Ibid.
22 Ibid.
Ibid.

18

Marcel, Thou Shall Not Die.


23 Ibid.

3.2 Transcendental hope in ones own resurrection

83

of time, as a baby is the fruit of a pregnancy. Eternity rather subsumes time


by being released from the time which came to be temporarily, and came
to be so that the final and definitive could be done in freedom.24 Eternity
can be understood only as the maturing of time. Without a relationship to
time, it would be vacuous.
This does not deny that our imagination has no choice but to conceive of
eternity in temporal categories; we speak of after death and the afterlife.
It is difficult to avoid this, but we can be aware that it is a falsification.
Abstracted from our imagination, we can know that through death there
comes to be the final and definitive validity of mans existence which has
been achieved and has come to maturity in freedom.25 Rahner clarifies this
with a deliberate paradoxical expression: And this happens in such a way
that becoming ceases when being begins, and we do not notice anything
of it because we ourselves are still in the process of becoming.26 In various
ways, we can gain an awareness of this eternity, at least in a desire for it.
But all joy wants eternity wants deep, wants deep eternity, to quote
Nietzsche.27
This is the context in which Christ must be seen. Within our own
lives, we cannot find a confirmation of the impetus to definitive validity.
But it is possible to look for this confirmation in the experience of the
final and definitive fulfillment of another person. Christs Resurrection
corresponds to this hope. Thus, Rahner arrives at his principal thesis
regarding resurrection:
The transcendental experience of the expectation of ones own resurrection,
an experience man can reach by his very essence, is the horizon of understanding within which and within which alone something like a Resurrection
of Jesus can be expected and experienced at all.28

Hence, it is not the case that we have no contact at all with Christs
Resurrection and that we examine it without prejudice. The searching
awareness in our being comes together with the historical witness to his
Resurrection, which surprisingly is unique, for where else in our culture
does one find a similar claim? (Even mystics to whom Christ appears
do not claim to have an experience of the Resurrection.) The searching
presupposes a kind of knowledge that is sought. Rahner claims that only
he is able to believe in Christs Resurrection who has already had this kind
of experience himself.29 The influence is reciprocal.
24
26
28

25 Ibid., 272.
Ibid. (emphasis in original).
27 Nietzsche, Thus Spoke, The Drunken Song, c. 59.
Ibid.
29 Ibid., 274.
Rahner, Foundations, 273274.

84

Justification of belief in Eternal Life

Accordingly, it is not applicable to demand from the witness of the


apostles that their claim fulfill all of the requirements for a reliable witness.
If the testimony of the apostles about the resurrection were to be judged
only according to the secular model of a witnesss statement, it would have
to be rejected as incredible, Rahner asserts.30
He further writes: We ourselves experience the resurrection of Jesus in
the Spirit because we experience him and his cause as living and victorious.31 Of course, the historical event conforms to the laws of temporal
reality. Christs heavenly beatitude, for example, is not visible and if it
were to become visible, then it would no longer be a heavenly beatitude.
What can be said is that enough is revealed in time to conclude that Jesus
overcame death and therefore that my hope finds affirmation.

3.3 Reality as the liberating horizon


The key idea in the justification for belief in Eternal Life is reality.
Nothing is closer to us and more natural than that but, admittedly, the
study of reality as such, that is, metaphysics, has become unfamiliar, to say
the least. The birth of a child is surprising, almost like a miracle, although
it is perfectly natural. It is also almost like a miracle that physical realities
can somehow rise into my consciousness and take on a different quality of
being. For example, upon opening my eyes, I see things consciously and
can reflect on them by using universal notions: I can see two trees and
think that one is bigger than the other.
To reach beyond time and space, praxis and experience, a consciousness
is required that transcends them without, of course, excluding them. Our
notion of reality achieves this, for they are all real, that is, modes of reality.
Reality both includes and transcends them. The idea of reality opens us
to think in some legitimate, albeit inadequate, way about Eternal Life.
Accordingly, Eternal Life is human reality in its fullness.
The answer to the question of what something is could never be it
is a reality, whereas the other question of whether something is does
correspond to reality. It is far from being meaningless, but it has a unique
nature, which does not submit to a definition. Nevertheless, it is not just
a word denoting everything, like the words the whole, the world, the
universe. It indicates more than just the general name of a universal
set. To the contrary, it articulates the impossibility of comprehending the
whole. Absolute Being is the absolute mystery. Precisely because he is not
30

Ibid., 275 (emphasis in original).

31

Ibid.

3.4 Wonder

85

a being [ens] but rather being itself [esse ipsum], God remains unknowable
for us. As Thomas Aquinas argues:
In truth, the first cause lies above being [ens], insofar as it is infinite being
itself [ipsum esse]. Being [ens] is what finitely participates in being [esse] and
this is proportionate to our intellect . . . Only what has a quiddity participating in being can be grasped by our intellect. But Gods quiddity is being
itself [ipsum esse] and hence lies beyond our intellect.32

Being in the sense attributed to God is, of course, not human fulfillment
but rather the necessary precondition for it.

3.4 Wonder
Human beings are able to wonder about being. Wonder arises, as Thomas
Aquinas observes, in agreement with Aristotle, when an effect is manifest
and its cause hidden.33 When we see an effect as such, we naturally wonder
about the cause.34 In the present question, what we are concerned with
is reality; we wonder about the cause of reality namely, God, absolute
Being.35 Of course, all animals have contact with reality but only selfreflection is capable of knowing reality as reality. In this case, the cause is
not an efficient cause but is more like a formal cause, similar to light as the
cause of colors, or to meanings as the cause of sentences, or health as the
final cause of a surgical operation.
If we apprehend a reality precisely as a reality and wonder about it, then
our attention is factually directed toward God. As Thomas Aquinas wrote:
The rational nature, in as much as it apprehends the universal notion
of good and being [universalem boni et entis rationem], is immediately
related to the universal principle of being [essendi principium].36 Religion
begins not with an experience of God but with such existential wonder. It
awakens, moreover, a striving. Wonder about reality is an indication that
we are destined for the future, no matter what might come. Wonder is the
connector between reality and belief. Believing is trusting in the dynamics
of wonder about reality. God is not the content of religion, as Thomas
astutely asserts; he is its end.37
Hence, the fundamental relationship to God is not initiated by Faith.
Faith is not necessary to enter a relationship with God. Its necessity arises
32
33
34
36

Thomas Aquinas, Super De causis, lect. 6.


Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 105, a. 7c. Cf. ibid., IIII, q. 180, a. 3, ad 3.
35 Cf. ibid.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 25.
37 Cf. ibid., q. 81, a. 5, ad 2.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 2, a. 3.

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Justification of belief in Eternal Life

when the eschatological dimension of the relationship is taken into consideration.38 In other words, to achieve salvation, Faith is necessary. The three
theological virtues articulate this. Faith presupposes wonder and means
trusting in the dynamics of wonder. Hope indicates the orientation to the
future, whereas love represents the aspect of desire (which in the future is
to emerge as delight).

3.5 By his very nature man strives for fulfillment


It is obvious that we are unfinished entities. We are neither what we could
be nor what we should be. There exists a dynamic in us that is thwarted
time and again. We want reality, but we cannot reach it adequately, albeit
nothing is more important to us.
It is impossible for a human being not to strive for fulfilling and definitive
happiness. Although it is the ground for all free decisions, this determination itself is not free. Free choices are rather the concretizations of the
striving for happiness. For Rahner, this striving implies an expectation of
Eternal Life. He grants, furthermore, the possibility that it might be more
than an expectation:
Man is understood as someone who dares to hope (and shows that hope is
possible in the very act of this courageous hope) that his existence is borne by
this all-pervasive mystery . . . Man finds the courage to dare this most radical
hope within himself. He accepts it in freedom, he reflects upon it, and he
recognizes perhaps that in order for this movement to be possible, it must
already be borne by the self-communication of its goal as the dynamism
toward it.39

(Presumably, Rahner says this because he knows that this is, in fact, the
position of Aquinas.) Be that as it may, this striving does not consist in a
direct striving for God. It is rather a striving for fulfilling happiness, which
in turn requires God for its realization.
By nature, human beings strive for joy and pleasure and shun suffering
and pain. Essentially, this striving cannot be totally fulfilled as long as we
exist in time. No joy lasts forever, death being in any case an absolute
barrier. Self-consciousness lies even deeper in human nature than time.
We live in countless ways, and we are often aware that we are living.
Reflection heightens life and, at the same time, undermines it, bringing
experience into the light, so to speak, but also putting us in a certain
sense above experience. We observe ourselves and realize our inadequacy.
38

Cf. ibid., I, q. 1, a. 5c; IIII, q. 2, a. 5.

39

Rahner, Foundations, 209210 (emphasis in original).

3.5 By his very nature man strives for fulfillment

87

This means that there is more in our consciousness than what we are
presently experiencing. Whatever activity has arisen into the light of selfconsciousness becomes relativized. All experiences become ambivalent.
Even when they appear fulfilling, they open a new perspective for still
greater fulfillment. Disappointment lies deeper in human life than either
joy or suffering. In its deepest essence, life is thirst and desire.
The feeling of joy should not, however, be identified with happiness. In
his autobiography, C. S. Lewis attributes his conversion to a unique experience of joy; he was surprised by joy, as he entitles the book. He describes
it as an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other
satisfaction.40 He takes the term from Wordsworth: Surprised by joy
impatient as the wind.41 The experience has a positive and negative aspect.
It might almost equally well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or
grief.42 He then adds the important qualification: But then it is a kind we
want.43 It lasts only briefly and occurs quite unexpectedly, but it awakens
an insatiable longing that is enough for this life. And before I knew what I
desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world
turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing
that had just ceased.44 This intense desire appears as incalculably important, although unexpected. It opens consciousness to a new perspective.
The peculiar fact that desiring it is having it cannot be overestimated. In
other words, this particular desire is its own fulfillment. Lewis describes
the experience in the following words:
It had been a particular hill walk on a morning of white mist. The other
volumes of the Ring (The Rheingold and The Valkyrie) had just arrived as a
Christmas present from my father, and the thought of all the reading before
me, mixed with the coldness and loneliness of the hillside, the drops of
moisture on every branch, and the distant murmur of the concealed town,
had produced a longing (yet it was also fruition) which had flowed over
from the mind and seemed to involve the whole body. That walk I now
remembered. It seemed to me that I had tasted heaven then. If only such a
moment could return! But what I never realized was that it had returned
that the remembering of that walk was itself a new experience of just the
same kind. True, it was desire, not possession. But then what I had felt
on the walk had also been desire, and only possession insofar as that kind
of desire is itself desirable, is the fullest possession we can know on earth;
or rather, because the very nature of Joy makes nonsense of our common
distinction between having and wanting. There, to have is to want and to
40
41
42

Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 1718. Cf. Feinendegen, Denk-Weg, 231243.


Wordsworth, The Poetical Works, Part 1, Sonnet XXVII, 204.
43 Ibid.
44 Ibid., 16.
Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 18.

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Justification of belief in Eternal Life


want is to have. Thus, the very moment when I longed to be so stabbed
again, was itself again such a stabbing.45

Thomas Aquinas refers to a similar awareness:


In their sufferings the martyrs perceived something of divine glory, not as
if they drank it at its source, as do those who see God through his essence,
but, rather, they were refreshed by a sprinkling of that glory.46

What is important is that desire is itself directed to an object, whereas joy


is only an accompanying phenomenon. As Lewis explains:
It is a by-product. Its very existence presupposes that you desire not it but
something other and outer. If by any perverse askesis or the use of any drug
it could be produced from within, it would at once be seen to be of no value.
For take away the object, and what, after all, would be left? a whirl of
images, a fluttering sensation in the diaphragm, a momentary abstraction.
And who could want this?47

The desire is a pointer to eternity. In itself it cannot be fulfilling, although


it does cause joy.
Lucretius, in the century before Christ, described the interrelationship
between joy and desire in the dilemma of the passion of love caused by
human nature as well as one could describe it today:
This craving tis thats Venus unto us:
From this, engender all the lures of love,
From this, O first hath into human hearts
Trickled that drop of joyance which ere long
Is by chill care succeeded. Since, indeed,
Though she thou lovest now be far away,
Yet idol-images of her are near
And the sweet name is floating in thy ear.
...
Yea, in the very moment of possessing,
Surges the heat of lovers to and fro,
Restive, uncertain; and they cannot fix
On what to first enjoy with eyes and hands.
...
This same delight
Is not unmixed; and underneath are stings
Which goad a man to hurt the very thing,
Whateer it be, from whence arise for him
45
46
47

Ibid., 166.
Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 13, a. 3, ad 9. Cf. Augustine, De Genesi, XII, 26, 54.
Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 168.

3.5 By his very nature man strives for fulfillment

89

Those germs of madness.


But with gentle touch
Venus subdues the pangs in midst of love,
And the admixture of a fondling joy
Doth curb the bites of passion. For they hope
That by the very body whence they caught
The heats of love their flames can be put out.
But Nature protests tis all quite otherwise;
For this same love it is the one sole thing
Of which, the more we have, the fiercer burns
The breast with fell desire.
...
When once again they seek and crave to reach
They know not what, all powerless to find
The artifice to subjugate the bane.
In such uncertain state they waste away
With unseen wound.48

A person is not simply what he or she is, a person is what he or she has
become. In an important sense, a person is more than what he or she is.
In other words, we are also determined by what we love and for which
we are striving. Actually, our longing to be more than we are comprises
the most relevant aspects of our life. Our will is more important than our
achievements. Moreover, our will is more important than our reason. A
person is defined by what he or she loves. Love is not the fulfillment of a
desire to be united with the beloved; it is the union of desire itself [unio
affectus] with the beloved.49 I am not simply what I am. What I want is
decisive. This is the primary criterion for the meaning of life.
It is important to acknowledge the object of willing, for willing itself is
not what I desire but rather its object. Desire is not empty; it is always the
desire of something, as Lewis said.
Desire is comprehensive, being both diverse and unified. The idea of
happiness is defined in such a way that it embraces all desires and defines
the meaning of life. Everything that we do and love is directed to an end.
Life is a history, defined ultimately by goals, and the human spirit embraces
the body. As Rahner expresses it:
For the spiritual soul, of course, as spirit, and as form of the body, does not
possess two completely different functions but in both its partial functions it
has only one, namely, to fulfill its unitary nature as spirit. Consequently, its
corporeality is necessarily an integrating factor of its constitution as spirit,
48
49

Lucretius, On the Nature, Book IV (at end).


Cf. Hoye, Human Love, 516524 (see pages 51 and 195 in this volume).

90

Justification of belief in Eternal Life


not something alien to spirit but a limited factor in the accomplishment of
spirit itself.50

Human nature strives for definitive fulfillment. This is not a choice but
more like an instinct, being natural but not really free. Nonetheless, we
are in full agreement with it. This striving cannot find fulfillment in
temporal reality and it cannot be extinguished. We are unable not to desire
fulfillment. Life runs in the form of becoming conscious of realities, desiring
them and becoming disappointed by self-reflection, which transcends all
contents. What we strive for can be either goals that I conceive of and
project into the future or into consequent realization or goals that, so to
speak, pull on me. Love is a striving, but the striving itself is pulled. As
Weizsacker expressed it: It can be said that ascent is eros and descent
is agape, but one must add that ascent will be agape craving its own
possibility.51 That our desire for happiness does not consist in a projection
is clear from the fact that we are unable to define the content of happiness.
The word is the name for all that we desire but it does not indicate what
it is that we desire. We are being drawn by it without being able to say
what it is. (We can know that God is, but the unending openness is not an
experience not even a transcendental experience of God.) This striving
for absolute fulfillment cannot be satisfied under the present temporal
conditions. Human beings exist in an inner tension, a quasi-frustration.
There is a kind of reflection involved in this self-transcendent desire
that is not simply the apprehension of an apprehension but rather one
simultaneous act of consciousness. When I see a tree, I know simultaneously, in the same act, that I am seeing the tree. But, in itself, this does
not demand eternity. The apprehension of the apprehension can take place
at a later step, so that self-consciousness in this case would consist of two
conscious acts. For example, through memory, I can in the present recall
experiences of the past; however, that is not self-reflection in the full sense.
In one present act there can occur a two-fold apprehension. While I am
seeing something, I am aware of my seeing. This kind of self-reflection has
a peculiar structure. It is not as though I had two pictures simultaneously,
one of the tree and one of my seeing the tree. Instead, I have an awareness
of my seeing, concomitant with the act of seeing something. Looked at
more closely, what is happening is that I am experiencing something visual
and the fact of existence of this act. Self-reflection, in the full sense of the
term, is simultaneously seeing something and grasping the existence of this
seeing something. Moreover, by directing my attention to the object, it can
50

Rahner, Hominisation, 58.

51

Weizsacker, Ambivalence, 129.

3.5 By his very nature man strives for fulfillment

91

also be a grasping of the existence of the object. Then I see it not just as a
tree but instead as a mode of being.
Furthermore, I do not merely apprehend existence at the moment. I
have a notion of existence. My awareness of existence is not bound to
certain temporal moments. This implies an openness of a special kind
that is, an openness toward eternal infinity but not in the sense that we
have contact directly with eternal infinity. Rather, our striving is endless,
never being fulfilled, and in this sense it indirectly implies eternal infinity.
As Aquinas wrote:
Man naturally craves after permanent continuance: as is shown by this,
that while existence is desired by all, man by his understanding apprehends
existence, not in the present moment only, as dumb animals do, but existence
absolutely. Therefore, man attains to permanence on the part of his soul,
whereby he apprehends existence absolute and for all time.52

Owing to reflection, human life involves disappointment. Dissatisfaction


can arise only because we make claims, claims that cannot be fulfilled in
time.
This is, to repeat, not a transcendental experience of God. God lies
neither in its middle nor at its horizon. Rather, reflective experience tends
toward God indirectly by reason of its endlessness. Neither is immortality
the object of the striving. Immortality can be associated with it, but what
it is directly striving for is fulfilling happiness. God is implied owing to the
endlessness. But the desire does not tend to God directly. Rather, it tends
to ones own fulfillment. It may be true that fulfillment is only possible if
God exists, but it does not seem possible to draw the conclusion from this
that God actually does exist. God is not the projection whether imagined
or real of the desire of human nature.
The end of lifes striving is neither morality that is, the realization of
virtue, as Aristotle taught nor Faith. Faith is not the fulfilling answer
but rather the intensification of the desire. The answer is salvation. As
Thomas Aquinas teaches: Happiness being the last end, all natural desire
is thereby appeased. But the knowledge of Faith, far from appeasing desire,
rather excites it, since everyone desires to see that which he believes.53 The
longing of human nature lies deeper than Faith and Revelation. Expressed
differently, hope remains a theological virtue until death, when it is dissolved: We are always full of confidence, then, realizing that as long as we
are at home in the body we are exiled from the Lord, guided by Faith and
not yet by sight (2 Cor 5:67).
52

Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, II, c. 79.

53

Ibid., III, c. 40.

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Justification of belief in Eternal Life

In conclusion: for various reasons, as explained herein, it obviously


remains impossible for us in this life to achieve fulfillment.
Is the fact of our unfulfillable striving an indication that fulfillment will
take place once death has occurred? In any case, it would not be surprising
and fits perfectly; the temporal and the eternal fit together like a keyhole
and the corresponding key, or like a libretto and the performance.
According to the well-known dissident and first president of the Czech
Republic, Vaclav Havel, there is nothing that could really stand in contradiction to this natural striving. I am convinced, he claimed, that there is
nothing in this vale of tears that, of itself, can rob man of hope, Faith and
the meaning of life.54 There is no positive opposition to it; one cannot
really directly oppose it. What is possible is lethargy:
I think that resignation, indifference, the hardening of the heart and laziness
of the spirit are dimensions of a genuine unbelief and a genuine loss of
meaning. The person who has fallen into that state not only ceases to ask
himself what meaning life has, he no longer even spontaneously responds to
the question existentially by living for something simply because he must,
because it will not let him alone, because he is the way he is. The person who
has completely lost all sense of the meaning of life is merely vegetating and
does not mind it; he lives like a parasite and does not mind it; he is entirely
absorbed in the problem of his own metabolism and essentially nothing
beyond that interests him: other people, society, the world, Being for him
they are all simply things to be either consumed or avoided, or turned into
a comfortable place to make his bed.55

Not even atheism can oppose mans natural striving, for atheism does
not occur at the same level as Faith in the transcendent meaning of life.
Transcendence is a peculiarity of human life. Denying transcendence robs
it of an indispensable factor. The alternative to a truly human life is the
life of an unreflecting animal:
To give up on any form of transcending oneself means, de facto, to give up
on ones own human existence and to be contented with belonging to the
animal kingdom. The tragedy of modern man is not that he knows less and
less about the meaning of his own life, but that it bothers him less and less.56

3.6 The rationality of reality


It is obvious that the universe is not outright meaningless. Where would
we otherwise get the idea of meaningfulness? As C. S. Lewis reasons:
54
56

55 Ibid., 236237.
Havel, Letters, 236.
Ibid., 237. Without the awareness of death, nothing like the meaning of life could exist, and
human life would therefore have nothing human in it: it would remain on the animal level. Ibid.,
240.

3.6 The rationality of reality

93

If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that
it has no meaning just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore
no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a
word without meaning.57

It is a source of wonder that natural laws exist and are valid and this
without a single exception. We assume, moreover, that they always have
been and always will be valid. The world can be studied; it can be read
like a book. Science is possible an astonishing fact, which should not
go unacknowledged. The rationality of nature is astounding. Even when
something goes wrong for instance, an airplane crashes we do not jump
to the conclusion that something has gone wrong in physics. We depend
imperturbably on the reliability of natural laws and the mathematics governing the world. In the physical world where one would least expect
it rationality prevails.
The rationality of nature becomes especially evident in irrational things.
Whatever happens, for example, is followed by something else, connected
by a continuity of time. The world not only is, it becomes. Evolution
characterizes nature. The physical world is governed by natural laws. Such
laws, as they are called, are temporal. They are not a description of the
present but rather a determination of the future or the past. Natural laws
testify to the innate teleology of nature; that is, the phenomenon that nature
is directed toward ends, that events seem to have a purpose. Nature is in
motion, the past determining the present and the future, and the future
being a result of the present. There is, in other words, an interconnection
within the temporal dimension.
There are countless mathematical values in nature that arouse wonder.
In John Updikes novel Rogers Version, a character is depicted who sees
a revelation of a divine creator in the improbability of the mathematical
precision in nature:
Nobody knows how much dark matter there is in the galaxies, or if the
neutrino has mass. The point is, its debatable, its that close. For it to be
that close now, it had to be terrifically close then, at the outset. Why? Why
so? These amounts are arbitrary, they could have been anything. And there
is dozens of amounts like them that have to be just what they are in order
to give life time to evolve. Take the strong force, which binds the atomic
nuclei together. Make it five percent weaker, and the deuteron couldnt form
and there would be no deuterium, which means the main nuclear reaction
chain used by the sun couldnt function; if it were two percent stronger, two
protons could stick together and the existence of the di-protons would make
hydrogen so explosive the present universe would consist entirely of helium.
57

Lewis, Mere Christianity, 42 (emphasis in original).

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Justification of belief in Eternal Life


In either case, we wouldnt be here, would we? There wouldnt even be a here
to be here in . . . Or take the weak force . . . Its about ten-to-the-tenth times
weaker than the strong, which is mighty weak; but if it were any weaker,
neutrinos couldnt exert enough pressure on the outer shell of a dying star
to bring about a supernova, and without supernova explosions there would
be no heavy elements scattered in space, and planets like the Earth wouldnt
exist, and structures like you and me with the carbon and calcium and iron
our bodies have to have wouldnt exist either.58

The rationality of material nature is, moreover, reliable. Scientific knowledge knows no temporal boundary. There exists dependable order. The
world is capable of being studied and, by respecting and relying on its laws,
of being manipulated. Natural laws that never apply in reality are impossible, perhaps even unthinkable. Can a natural law be without effect?
We also trust the rules of logic. Unhesitatingly, we rely on the principle
of noncontradiction, which demands absolute recognition from us and
enjoys unlimited validity, often even being applicable to God. Even more
wondrous is the fact that inanimate nature also reveals teleological rationality, often even with mathematical stringency. Thus, a certain amount
of rational order in nature cannot be denied.
Natural laws, for example, exist even in the least rational matter; mathematics rules matter; spirit (i.e., rationality) somehow exists in matter and
determines it. What happens in the physical world is governed by these
laws and they are so dominant that they permit no real exceptions whatsoever. If nothing at all happened in the world, then the question could
be posed whether natural laws would really exist. If, for example, nothing
ever fell, would Galileis laws be real? We foster no doubt that the laws will
still hold the next day. In fact, we probably believe, without reflecting on
it, that they will hold forever. What will happen next year is thus often
necessarily determined by what is happening today. We trust natural laws
and mathematics unhesitatingly. They mark the inner content of reality.
The physical universe consists in a unity. Natural laws seem to apply
everywhere and at every time. Research can be done on everything. We rely
on the knowableness of reality. The world is a book that we can read with
the light of our reason.59 This trust extends even so far that many people
expect justice from history; we feel an impetus to rebel when injustice or
any other kind of meaninglessness prevails. It seems to be a common idea
that the physical world is not just physical or that the physical is not devoid
of the rational. The cosmos certainly appears to be rational.
58
59

Updike, Rogers Version, 1314 (emphasis in original).

Cf. Hoye, Hermeneutische Uberlegungen,


5684.

3.6 The rationality of reality

95

Even when we do not see it, we are still convinced that what happens in
the world makes sense, or, at least, we tend to believe that it makes sense.
Often, when something tragic occurs, we try to make sense of it, presuming
that there must be some meaning in it. Although we do not see any sense,
we protest and demand meaningfulness. We even think that some kinds of
extreme suffering are unjust: Why should this innocent child be suffering?
This indicates that we strongly believe that existence ought to be just. It is
difficult to be fatalistic in the face of overt injustice. There seems to be a
conviction that particular events in the world ought to make sense. When
we say that a particular death is senseless, we are uttering a complaint, not
an expression of regretful resignation. When a disaster occurs, one often
hears complaints about the meaninglessness of the tragic occurrence. The
point is that the strength of our protest depends on the strength of our
belief in ultimate meaning. Our complaints presuppose the belief that the
world ought to be rational and just. We try to fit apparently senseless events
into a general picture of sensibleness, such as the conviction that when an
airplane crashes, natural laws cannot have failed.
Another dimension in which the world is considered meaningful by us
is revealed in the idea of responsibility. We even find the idea of being
responsible for the entire world sensible. We speak of responsibility sometimes despite the fact that there is no one to whom responsibility should
be directed.
Our natural desire for fulfillment is a further case of immanent rationality. The future-oriented tendency in human nature that is most important
to us is the desire for happiness. It lies in human nature itself and not in
conscious decisions or desires. By nature one could say instinctively
human beings strive for fulfillment. However, such fulfillment cannot be
reached in this life. These two facts justify the belief in Eternal Life after
death. Thomas Aquinas argues as follows:
The natural desire of man must be fulfilled by his arrival at his final end.
But that is impossible in this life: therefore it must be attained after this life.
It is impossible for a natural desire to be empty and vain: for nature does
nothing in vain. But the desire of nature (for happiness) would be empty
and vain, if it could never possibly be fulfilled. Therefore this natural desire
of man is fulfillable. But not in this life. Therefore it must be fulfilled after
this life.60

Since the human soul is incorruptible, there exists a supporting basis for
this.
60

Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 48.

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Justification of belief in Eternal Life

This natural striving is comprehensive, encompassing all conscious


desires. It is not limited to a special, individual desire but instead embraces
all desires that have become conscious that is, wherever the I is present.
Included in the natural desire for happiness are, for example, the desire
for friends, meaningful work, and good food, as well as innumerable other
things. Being natural, the desire for happiness is not free; that is, we are
not free to desire not to be happy. Conversely, it is not something forced
on our will. Rather, our desire for happiness is in full agreement with what
we freely want. It is the deepest desire of our self.
Thomass argument is based on a teleological worldview, which is deeply
imbedded in us. Aristotle presupposes the principle that nature and god
do nothing in vain (see pages 99102). In accordance with this, a natural
striving cannot be in vain.61 This applies only to strivings that belong to
nature, not to others. Being hungry cannot imply that one is going to find
food, but it does imply that food of some kind exists. As Thomas Aquinas
says: Nothing moves to what cannot possibly be reached. Therefore every
agent acts because of some end.62
Reality, as we know it, is teleologically structured. Nothing happens
completely independently of anything else. Where there are effects, there
are causes; one thing usually leads to another. There is, for example, a
connection between the present and the future. Many happenings exhibit
an obvious purpose. The acorn and the tree and the caterpillar and the
butterfly have little resemblance to one another but are nonetheless related
and occur in a set sequence, one after the other (i.e., a butterfly never turns
back into a caterpillar). What occurs in the present has an effect in the
future but remains irreversible. Reality is not static, it is in development;
that is, it comprises a unity embracing temporal moments. We should
wonder about the existence of such things as final causes, goals and ends,
and results. They imply that we are simultaneously in both the present
and the future. A high degree of intelligence is demanded to be able to see
reality like this. In thought, two things remain two but are also one. If the
whole of reality could be viewed in this way, then we could speak of an
intelligent designer. However, such a picture would be anthropomorphic.
An agent who has plans and intentions can be only a creature. The Creator
of being cannot be like this, for he does not separate the present and the
future.

61
62

Cf. ibid., II, c. 55: Impossibile est naturale desiderium esse inane: natura enim nihil facit frustra.
Ibid., III, c. 2.

3.7 The final and comprehensive goal of human nature

97

As already mentioned, we should avoid thinking that the Creator has


intentions when he creates. God does not have final causes of his own. He
himself is the final cause of everything, for all things strive for actualization.
This means that all agents, except God, strive for some goal and, at the same
time, are recipients. These are imperfect agents, and to these it belongs to
intend, even while acting, the acquisition of something.63 Because he is in
himself the absolute plenitude of being, God has no final end, as Aquinas
explains:
It does not belong to the First Agent, who is agent only, to act for the
acquisition of some end; he intends only to communicate his perfection,
which is his goodness; while every creature intends to acquire its own
perfection, which is the likeness of the divine perfection and goodness.
Therefore the divine goodness is the end of all things.64

Every agent strives for something good and, since nothing is good and
desirable except insofar as it participates in the likeness of God goodness
itself all agents strive ineluctably for God, regardless of whether the agent
is aware of this.
Hence, we ought to avoid speaking of the intelligent designer, although
from our own point of view, we may discern intelligent design in nature.
God does not have plans or intentions. He does not strive for goodness but
rather simply communicates his goodness. As Augustine explains, using the
argument of the unity of time in God, the divine consciousness embraces
all three modes of time but in a more perfect way than we do. He knows the
past but not by looking back and the future but not by looking forward.
For he does not pass from this to that by transition of thought, but beholds
all things with absolute unchangeableness.65

3.7 The final and comprehensive goal of human nature


Can human life represent a teleological whole? Is there a comprehensive
goal including all other goals in life? Does human nature include everything
that occurs in human life? Do all of our desires converge? Is it possible to
view all strivings as tributaries to the one definitive striving? Or do they just
go on endlessly and disparately until they are finally terminated by death?
Is my life fundamentally a unity? Or am I just a collection of diverging
interests? Is my self merely a name for a plethora of activities? In other
words, does there really exist a meaning of life?
63
65

Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 4, a. 4.


Augustine, De civitate Dei, XI, c. 21.

64

Ibid.

98

Justification of belief in Eternal Life

If our goals simply went on endlessly, never tending toward a final goal,
then there would be no motivation for striving for anything at all. Nothing
would be urgent since opportunities would be eternally repeated. A major
opponent to life after death is the ideal of contentment, which implies a
reneging of striving. But human nature refuses to be content in this life. A
consciousness of the future is essential to human life.
In the notion of happiness, the diversity of life is gathered together
in a collective term, although the naming of it is not a real definition.
It can be said that happiness is, at the least, the realization of the sum
of all conscious strivings. Nevertheless, it is my diversity, my happiness.
Happiness is individual. My life forms an individual unity in the mode of
a striving.
To be precise, not all of human life is included in the orientation toward
a final end. The unconscious biological activities in my body are not
integrated into these dynamics. As a rule of thumb, one could say that
whatever can be predicated of the I is united. Because it is I who
am walking, am thinking, am enjoying myself, we have an indication of the fact that all of these actions belong to one and the same
life. But the self (i.e., the I) is not a central point or a core of it
all. Instead, it embraces everything, like a network. It is not the conductor but rather the orchestra. I and my actions are not separate entities.
The I comes to exist because of reflection that is, not through a direct
apprehension. My actions are incidents of self-awareness. My self is the
self-consciousness of concrete actions but not an entity of its own. Thus,
my self embraces all of my conscious acts but is not independent of them.
(There is no verb that is attributable solely to the I.) It would make no
sense to say that the self, or the soul, alone is fulfilled. The soul is not
a being separate from the rest of the person and capable of Eternal Life.
It is a persons act of being, animating the content but in itself without
content.
Without my deciding it, my life is not just a doing or an experiencing.
I act on reality and I receive reality in my consciousness. However, at the
same time, consciousness is permeated with desire. I am a willing being.
I seek being and self-actualization. The will is directed to goals, including
my own existing. Goals are the content of willing. I do not simply will; I
always will something (although the object must not be separate from the
willing). Mental life is directed to the other. Life is obedience to reality.
Furthermore, I can relate different goals to one another, so that some goals
become means to other goals. In my desire for fulfilling reality, all of my
goals and means become means to this one goal. It is like the vanishing

3.8 The expectation of the fulfillment of human desire

99

point in a painting, toward which everything is directed but which is in


itself, so to speak, empty. We see our life, however, not as something static
but as a movement; not as a painting but as a story. Human life is a
curriculum vitae: it is a dynamic, ongoing story, one individual story.
All strivings can, in fact, be subsumed into one all-embracing striving
provided that we consider that all are strivings for modes of being or, more
precisely, either strivings for self-actualization or for some kind of external
being. We have only one will and it is always directed to some object. We
do not want to be fragmented. What my nature wants exists all at one and
the same time. Simply continuing on and on forever is not fulfilling. The
transcendence of human nature wants to concentrate time. Now we are
split into the three temporal modes of past, present, and future. This alone
implies suffering; but what we desire is an existence without suffering,
which implies the uniting of the temporal modes.
This striving for fulfillment, for happiness, is given; however, just as
clearly given is the fact that it is impossible in the temporal world, as we
know it, for our transcendence knows no end, whereas temporal existence
certainly does.

3.8 The expectation of the fulfillment of human desire


Is ultimate fulfillment only an object of hope or can we count on its actual
existence? Is perhaps hope of this kind only possible at all if its fulfillment
exists? Without going so far as to claim the status of an unquestionable
proof, nevertheless, there can be found a principle in tradition that is
relevant to this problem. As seen herein, it states simply that nature does
nothing for nothing. A striving that is innate in nature cannot in principle
and a priori be in vain. The idea goes back to Aristotle. Often, he clarifies
it by saying god and nature66 (but not god or nature). It is supported
by theologians like Albert the Great67 ; Thomas Aquinas, who argues this
way to show that human consciousness is incorruptible that is, that spirit
cannot be disintegrated68 ; and Henry of Ghent, who distinguishes between
66

67
68

Cf. Aristotle, On the Heavens, I, 4; 271 a 33; On the Soul, III, 9; 432 b 21sq.; 12; 434 a 3132. Cf. Huby,
What Did Aristotle Mean, 158166; Aristotles De Partibus Animalium, 9398; Johnson, Aristotle
on Teleology, 8082; Lennox, Aristotles Philosophy, 205224; Kullmann, Die Teleologie, 2425.
Cf. Albertus Magnus, Super Dion. Epist. V, p. 494, 5765, who draws a comparison to the way light
is seen in everything visible.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 75, a. 6c: Therefore, it is impossible for the intellectual
soul to be corruptible. Moreover, we may take a sign of this from the fact that everything naturally
aspires to existence after its own manner. Now, in things that have knowledge, desire ensues upon
knowledge. The senses indeed do not know existence, except under the conditions of here and

100

Justification of belief in Eternal Life

God and nature and allows for exceptions, claiming that God upholds the
rule more than nature.69
Against this it could be objected that animals have a natural desire to
exist and nonetheless they die. The difference is that as far as we know,
animals, in fact, do not crave after permanent existence. Only a being that
can reflect on its temporal existence is capable of this. So the question is
an exclusively personal one.
On the basis that it is impossible that a natural desire be in vain, for
nature does nothing in vain,70 Aquinas expands the principle to include
the human striving for fulfilling happiness. Commenting on Aristotle,
Thomas sees God as the reason for natures doing nothing in vain. God
causes with intelligence, he argues, implying that God has an end for his
actions viewed in human categories. God does nothing in vain because,
being an agent by way of intellect, his action has an end.71 Since God
is like the primary cause and nature is like a secondary cause, the divine
intelligence is concretized in nature. The famous analogy of Thomass is
that of the arrow shot off by the archer, who has a certain target in view.
He is the primary cause. The arrow is a merely secondary cause when it
moves to the target. The secondary cause does not have to have its final
cause explicitly in view in order to strive for it objectively.
Thomas also argues that the reason for natures doing nothing in vain
lies in the fact that everything in nature exists for a reason other than
itself.72 That is, nature itself is in a state of becoming. There exists an
interconnectedness among events in the world. Actions entail reactions. If
something is moving, in an instant later it will be in a different place than
it is now; it is impossible that it is moving and getting literally nowhere.
Movement is by nature teleological. It is impossible that something is
changing now but has no future. It is impossible that the longing for
happiness is a longing for nothing. In other words, emergence is an essential
characteristic of nature. Hence, as we have seen, the desire for happiness,

69
70
71
72

now, whereas the intellect apprehends existence absolutely, and for all time; so that everything that
has an intellect naturally desires always to exist. But a natural desire cannot be in vain. Therefore,
every intellectual substance is incorruptible. Cf. also Summa contra gentiles, II, c. 79: A natural
craving cannot be in vain. But man naturally craves after permanent continuance: as is shown by
this, that while existence is desired by all, man by his understanding apprehends existence, not in
the present moment only, as dumb animals do, but existence absolutely. Therefore, man attains to
permanence on the part of his soul, whereby he apprehends existence absolutely and for all time.
Cf. Henry of Ghent, In De caelo, I, c. 4; 271 a 33; In De anima, III, c. 9; 432 b 21sq.; Summa,
a. XXXVXL, a. XXXV, q. 6; p. 43; a. XLVIILII, a. XLVII, p. 4.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, II, c. 55.
Thomas Aquinas, In De caelo, I, lect. 8, n. 14.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, In De anima, III, lect. 17, n. 5.

3.8 The expectation of the fulfillment of human desire

101

and not the immortality of the soul, is, according to Thomas Aquinas, the
basis for asserting a life after death.73 Here, the Christian Thomas differs
explicitly from Aristotle:
By the name of beatitude the ultimate perfection of rational or of intellectual
nature is understood; and hence it is that it is naturally desired, since
everything naturally desires its ultimate perfection. Now there is a twofold
ultimate perfection of rational or of intellectual nature. The first is one
which it can procure of its own natural power; and this is in a measure
called beatitude or happiness. Hence, Aristotle says that mans ultimate
happiness consists in his most perfect contemplation, whereby in this life he
can behold the best intelligible object; and that is God. Above this happiness
there is still another, which we look forward to in the future, whereby we
shall see God as he is. This is beyond the nature of every created intellect.74

It would seem that the reason for the difference results from the Thomistic
notion of being. Whereas in the eyes of Aristotle, being [ousia] is an abstract
notion for beings, which for Aquinas is entitas, Thomass own conception
of being is the act of being [esse, or actus essendi]. He therefore has an
awareness of human striving that transcends beings. This aspect makes
it understandable why Aristotle never extended his principle to apply to
an afterlife. Having no notion of Being itself [esse] but only of beingness
[entitas], his perspective is limited to concrete being. Thus, he is unable to
see spirit and body as a unity.
Nicholas of Cusa offers an argument based on the presumption that God
is not a sadist. According to Cusanus, God cannot contradict himself. Being
directed by his intellect, he would be contradicting himself if he caused
man to live in frustration never to be fulfilled since he would be directing
human beings to an end that could never be reached. But this is impossible,
Nicholas reasons, because God only bestows good things, in accord with
reason.75 This is something quite different from Gods permitting suffering.
In itself, suffering does not imply an unavoidable contradiction to the
divine goodness, but the frustration of the desire for happiness would
involve a contradiction and is for this reason impossible.
This principle is, of course, not valid for all kinds of desires. It is limited
to desires that are embedded in the very nature of things. Animals, for
73
74
75

Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 48 (quoted on page 95).
Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 62, a. 1c.
Cf. Nicholas of Cusa, Sermo CCXI, n. 10, 122: Deus enim nihil frustra agit, et dare torturam,
quod optimo Deo non est ascribendum, qui solum novit dare bona. Cf. also De docta ignorantia,
III, c. 4; De visione Dei, c. 19; Sermo CXXXV, n. 14, 916; Sermo XLI, n. 8, 3236; Cribratio Alkorani,
Prol. 1; De docta ignorantia, I, c. 1.

102

Justification of belief in Eternal Life

example, have a natural desire for food, but it cannot be concluded on the
basis of this principle that they are going to find food. Among those desires
that human beings imagine but that do not fall under the principle are
those arising from free choice. Free choices are not natural in the sense
meant here. It would seem that the end comes first and then the desire for
it. If Paris did not exist, I could not plan a trip to Paris. If I take a normal
French flag into the sunshine, red, white, and blue are going to be visible.
Why is this necessary?
We have no reason to think that reality does not include the kind of
existence called Eternal Life. However, we know of no alternative that
would explain our longing. Human nature is not like the speed of light,
which presents an absolute limitation. There is no reason why emergence
should stop with the human species. Are we like Fourth of July rockets
that shoot up and, when extinguished, drop as ashes? Or does evolution
continue?
The specifically human act of reflection is the key. Aristotles thought
remains within the world of realities [entitates] but does not reach as far as
reality in the sense of the act of being [esse] although, of course, despite his
philosophy, he himself exists in being. Through reflection, we apprehend
the act of existence, of which Aristotles philosophy does not take account.
We apprehend it in a reality that has existence. We wonder about the
ground of existence. Why is there something and not rather nothing? Why
do I exist? From where does my existence come? Not just What is that?
That it is at all is the point. This opens us to universality as well as to the
idea of happiness. But as long as our reflection is limited to realities, the
longing cannot be fulfilled.
The end of our striving is not something existing absolutely in the
future. We strive for being at every moment. We do not have our eyes set
on the beyond, and in and through this striving we seek God, the ground
of being. All things, by desiring their own perfection, asserts Aquinas,
desire God himself, inasmuch as the perfections of all things are so many
similitudes of the divine being.76 All of the therapeutic activities of a
physician, for example, converge in the striving for health. When he treats
me in a certain way no matter what he is trying to bring about my
health. Every striving for reality, whether as something (e.g., chocolate)
or someone or as some actuality (e.g., eating or writing), converges in
the fundamental, all-encompassing striving for being. The end does not
have to be temporally separated from the means. Reality here is not too
76

Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 6, a. 1, ad 2.

3.8 The expectation of the fulfillment of human desire

103

abstract; it is, indeed, the only notion that adequately fits the situation.
Nothing less can articulate the specific horizon of human life.
Owing to our ability to reflect on our whole life, we have the capacity to
be happy. But we are not and can never be completely happy in temporal
reality. These paradoxical characteristics can be brought together by calling
us a potentia obedientialis for Eternal Life. This constitutes the deepest
definition of man. The term obediential potency indicates that Eternal
Life arises out of both natural and supernatural factors. On the one hand,
we are unable to achieve Eternal Life on our own but, on the other hand, we
have the capability to receive it as a gift. So it is not purely supernatural.77
According to Rahner, the obediential potency represents the consummation of philosophical anthropology, which grasps man as the obediential potency for supernatural Eternal Life. It entails the entire human
person, not just some particular sphere of his being. The potentia obedientialis, he states, must be identical with the spiritual-personal essence
of man.78 The obediential potency is our conscious-life history. It is not
simply something we have but it is we ourselves, with all that belongs to
our conscious-life history.
Aquinas, in contrast, argues negatively. He does not establish the existence of Eternal Life by claiming that man is striving for God and the
vision of God. Rather, he argues from the fact that our striving for happiness can never find fulfillment in the present life. To show this, he goes to
surprisingly great lengths to establish that we cannot be fully happy in this
life. He eliminates a series of possible answers, such as finding happiness in
virtue (as Aristotle did) or in Faith (as Christians might imagine) or even in
other kinds of knowledge of God (e.g., metaphysics).79 Neither morality
nor religion nor any philosophical knowledge of God can, in fact, fulfill
human nature. Of course, Thomas does not deny that such things are necessary prerequisites for happiness, without which we cannot be completely
happy. But he makes a surprisingly extensive effort to show that happiness
entails more.
Thomas then arrives indirectly at the conclusion that the fulfillment
must take place after death, there being no further alternative to consider.80

77

78
79

The beatific vision and knowledge are to some extent above the nature of the rational soul,
inasmuch as it cannot reach it on its own strength; but in another way it is in accordance with its
nature, inasmuch as it is capable of it by nature, having been made to the likeness of God. Ibid.,
III, q. 9, a. 2, ad 3.
Rahner, Potentia oboedientialis, 62.
80 Cf. ibid.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 48 (quoted herein on page 133).

104

Justification of belief in Eternal Life

When nature does anything at all, then it has already reached an end
in the very doing itself. Although the nature of talking is to communicate
thoughts, when I talk, no matter what I say, I am already actualizing at
least one end namely, the act of talking. Here, obviously nature cannot be
frustrated no matter what I say. This must hold, analogically, for Eternal
Life.
The desire for Eternal Life exists now and is actualized in the general
ontological form of desire. At death, the desire does not change and God
does not initiate a new activity a second creation, so to speak. God
does not change, neither when he creates nor when he re-creates. The only
possibility is that the quasi-light of being continues to shine and now, at the
death of the body, Eternal Life is caused by it. The emergence into Eternal
Life does not mean that one is transported somewhere else, any more than
being conscious of an object means departing from it to another sphere.
Consciousness is a different mode of being but not a total separation from
its object. In the same way, Eternal Life is not a totally new way of living
but simply a higher level. But why does this freedom from empirical reality
result in a higher level of life?
Death means that we are no longer bound down to time and the concrete.
More of what is contained in reality can reveal itself. Man always bears the
openness to more reality in himself, but he is unable to leave the temporal
ground until the physical collapses. If an experience of God were to occur
before biological death, then the person would already be, in an essential
sense, dead. There exist only two possibilities for us. Either we exist in time
or we exist in times eternal fulfillment that comes with death.

3.9 The compatibility of the dogma on hell


with the foregoing argumentation
My intention here is not to attempt to explain what hell is but simply to ask
whether it contradicts the principle defended in the foregoing argumentation, which is in one sentence that the desire for happiness arising from
nature cannot be in vain. But the existence of hell, or even the idea of hell,
seems to imply that not all humans attain happiness. The question is: Must
the idea of hell be understood in such a way that it poses a contradiction
to the principle, or is it legitimately possible to conceive of hell in a way
that is not incompatible with it? Can reason find harmony here?
After all, the dogma of hell is primarily directed to our conduct in the
present life. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1036, states:

3.9 The dogma on hell

105

The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on


the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to
make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are, at the same
time, an urgent call to conversion.

According to Ratzinger, the belief in hell, being primarily not informative


about the afterlife but rather kerygmatic for the concerns of the present
life,81 grants us a relevant point of view in order to appreciate what
definitive failure implies. The condemnation means that God permits
some to fall away [deficere] from their end.82 Condemnation and hatred
refer to someone not desiring Eternal Life.83 Thomas calls this situation
an abandonment from God [derelictionis a Deo].84
Strictly speaking, hatred of God can only mean the rejection of something within the world. This can be interpreted indirectly as hatred for
the divine creator of the world:
Since Gods substance and universal goodness are one and the same, all who
behold Gods essence are by the same movement of love moved toward the
divine essence as it is distinct from other things, and according as it is
the universal good. And because he is naturally loved by all so far as he is
the universal good, it is impossible that whoever sees him in his essence
should not love him. But those who do not behold his essence know him
by some particular effects, which are sometimes opposed to their will. So
in this way they are said to hate God; yet nevertheless, so far as he is the
universal good of all, every thing naturally loves God more than itself.85

It is safe to presume that Faith teaching does not provide a great deal of
information about hell. Not much more can be asserted than the existence
and the eternity of hell. The idea that hell can be abbreviated if this
makes any sense in the realm of eternity does not alter the dilemma.
A further aspect is the teaching that hell begins immediately upon death.
The teaching magisterium leaves open the question about the nature of the
punishment. In the article on hell in the German Lexicon for Theology and
the Church, Ratzinger writes: There exist no dogmatic determinations on
the nature of the punishments of hell.86
There is general agreement that the essential punishment is to be
viewed as a distance from God. The authoritative Historical Dictionary of
81
83
86

82 Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 23, a. 3c.


Ratzinger, Holle, 448.
84 Ibid.
85 Ibid., q. 60 a. 5, ad 5.
Ibid., ad 1.
Ratzinger, Holle, 446447. The teaching office set down a simple and clear premise: Hell exists
and its punishments are eternal. Bender, Weggehen, 130.

106

Justification of belief in Eternal Life

Philosophy accepts this definition.87 Precisely, hell is a deficiency, not


except possibly metaphorically the antipode of heaven.
I know of no better appreciation of this than the thought of Thomas
Aquinas. He has consistently maintained this teaching even in the case of
pure spirits, who are not influenced by concupiscence as human beings are
and whose deficiency cannot be explained as a moral deficiency. He comes
to the conclusion that even a fallen angel could not desire something evil
in itself; rather, the deficiency must lie in the manner in which the angel
desires the good. Thomas refers to Dionysius the Areopagite in his subtle
teaching: Just so, Dionysius says in his work On the Divine Names: Evil
for devils, therefore, consists in a turning away, namely, inasmuch as their
desires turned away from the direction of a higher rule, and too much of
suitable things, namely, inasmuch as they exceeded their due measure in
desiring suitable goods.88
Aquinas exacerbates the dilemma involved in the discrepancy between
the idea of hell and the universal desire for happiness by treating it, furthermore, from the perspective of predestination. As is his habit, he does not
deviate from his principles. God causes the pains of hell: The reason for
the predestination of some and reprobation of others, must be sought for
in the goodness of God.89 He then goes on to explain how punishment
comes from divine goodness. He considers it to be insane to imagine
that the merits of the saved are the cause of their divine predestination,
for God knows no motivations for his willing. This represents a way of
thinking that has no place in God. He does not examine the sinner and
then decide to punish him. In sinning, the sinner causes his own punishment. Aquinas sees God as the primary cause and the creature as the
secondary cause. The secondary cause determines what the primary cause
wills:
We cannot assign any cause of the divine will on the part of the act of willing;
but a reason can be found on the part of the things willed; inasmuch as God
wills one thing on account of something else. Wherefore nobody has been
so insane as to say that merit is the cause of divine predestination as regards
the act of the predestinator.90

Understood in this way, there can be no discrepancy between the will of


God and the free will of the creature. In Thomass own words:
87
88
89

Cf. Historisches Worterbuch, Vol. III, 1168.


Thomas Aquinas, De malo, q. 16, a. 2, ad 4.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 23, a. 5, ad 3.

90

Ibid., corpus.

3.9 The dogma on hell

107

There is no distinction between what flows from free will and what is
of predestination; as there is no distinction between what flows from a
secondary cause and from a first cause. For the providence of God produces
effects through the operation of secondary causes. Wherefore, that which
flows from free-will is also of predestination.91

Therefore, the divine punishment corresponds to the will of the individual.


The essence of sin can be examined from the perspective of grace. Thomas
takes grace and Eternal Life as his starting point. Both are not owed.
Accordingly, sin is not the opposite of grace but rather a lack of grace.
With regard to the devil, Thomas concludes that what he lacks belongs to
the supernatural order and is not a deficiency in the natural order.92
Turning away from God cannot take on the form of a revolt against God.
Actually, in the extreme case of the devil, Thomas interprets it as an absence
of the recognition of supernatural grace. His sin does not lie in a striving
for autonomy. It is impossible to imagine hypothetically that an angel is
able to rebel against God, for it would imply his own annihilation.93
The devils sin must lie in a lack of knowledge. The devils sin did not
result from a defect that would have the nature of contrariety, Thomas
writes, since they did not approve evil as good or truth as falsity, but only
from a defect having the nature of negation, namely, inasmuch as their will
did not obey the rule of Gods governance.94 Their ignorance pertains to
the supernatural aspect.95 The devils neglected objectively the necessity of
divine grace. For Thomas, it is essential to realize that sinners do not affirm
evil directly. They love something good but not the greater possible good
that they ought to love or ought to love more.96 If one wants to conceive
of the sin of pure spirits, who do not know the inner conflicts that humans
know, the only plausible explanation is that they love an agreeable good
without relating it to God, which is to be turned away from God.97 No
creature loves evil as such. For the sake of some good, which the human
sinner prefers, the adjoining evil is indirectly accepted. Sin comes from
preferring the lesser good: when the will loves the lesser good more.98
91
92
95

96
98

Ibid. For further explanations, cf. Hoye, Sunde, 206234.


93 Cf. ibid.
94 Ibid., a. 2, ad 7.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, De malo, q. 16, a. 3c.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 58, a. 5, ad 1. Since the minds of demons are utterly
perverted from the divine wisdom, they at times form their opinions of things simply according
to the natural conditions of the same. Nor are they ever deceived as to the natural properties of
anything; but they can be misled with regard to supernatural matters; for example, on seeing a dead
man, they may suppose that he will not rise again, or, on beholding Christ, they may judge him
not to be God. Ibid., corpus.
97 Ibid.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, De malo, q. 7, a. 9, ad 2.
Est autem voluntas inordinata, quando minus bonum magis amat. Thomas Aquinas, Summa
theologiae, III, q. 78, a. 1c.

108

Justification of belief in Eternal Life

The cognitive defect consists in the absence of consideration:


In another way, sin comes of free-will by choosing something good in itself,
but not according to proper measure or rule; so that the defect which
induces sin is only on the part of the choice which is not properly regulated, but not on the part of the thing chosen; as if one were to pray,
without heeding the order established by the Church. Such a sin does not
presuppose ignorance, but merely absence of consideration of the things
which ought to be considered. In this way the angel sinned, by seeking his
own good, from his own free-will, insubordinately to the rule of the divine
will.99

It is a logical consequence when Thomas concludes that the devil is unaware


of his guilt100 : The devil does not think that he has done evil because he
does not understand his moral fault as evil and still persists in evil with an
obstinate mind. And so this belongs to the falsity of practical knowledge or
knowledge related to desire.101 Thomas calls it affective knowledge. It lies
within the movement of his will toward the act, although it is not an object
of his intellect. In the case of human beings, the same analysis would have
to apply.
If the preceding argumentation is valid, then it would seem that the
only plausible interpretation of the state of hell would be what I would call
objective loneliness. It is not a loneliness that is subjectively felt. Something
important is missing and it is so radically missing that it is not even missed.
It is a tragedy that lacks even the awareness of itself. The condemned
seek happiness but are nearsighted. Not without good reason can it be
called an objective punishment. The tragedy of life is not hatred but
rather contentedness contentedness with too little. The most radical
forgetting is forgetting that one has forgotten. However, not in the sense
that one is left completely alone, for God is present wherever being is.
Charles Dickenss pitiful Scrooge is a figure who has all that he wants but
who wants too little, as he himself finally discovers. Such is the nature of
human tragedy: falling short of ones possibilities and neither knowing nor
regretting it.
Christian tradition has a name for the source of this state: acedia. Acedia is defined as a sadness in regard to the ultimate meaning of life. It
leads to despair, which is the worst thing that can happen to a human person, being the direct contradiction of ones own nature. Rahner expressed
it as
99
101

Ibid., I, q. 63, a. 1, ad 4.
Ibid., a. 6, ad 8.

100

Cf. Thomas Aquinas, De malo, q. 16, a. 5, ad 5.

3.9 The dogma on hell

109

a despairing involvement in the categorical realm of human existence. The


person goes about his business, he reads, he gets angry, he does his work,
he does research, he achieves something, he earns money. And in a final,
perhaps unadmitted despair he says to himself that the whole as a whole
makes no sense, and that one does well to suppress the question about the
meaning of it all and to reject it as an unanswerable and hence meaningless
question.102

Rahner sees this state as a loss of humanity. It would be the life of a zombie:
Man would forget all about himself in his preoccupation with all the individual details of his world and his existence . . . He would remain mired in
the world and in himself, and no longer go through that mysterious process
which he is . . . Man would have forgotten the totality and its ground, and,
at the same time, if we can put it this way, would have forgotten that he had
forgotten . . . He would have ceased being a man. He would have regressed
to the level of a clever animal.103

Hell is neither hatred nor disappointed love. It can be nothing other


than deficient love. In hell, there can be no conscious suffering, for this
would be itself a kind of desire and, as Goethe wrote: Whoever / Strives
forward with unswerving will, / Him can we aye deliver.104
Hell, according to Ratzinger, is real, total loneliness.105 Hell is a lack.
It is an irrevocable closing up in the emptiness of ones own self.106 The
loneliness into which love can no longer advance is hell.107 A unique
presentation of this theology is C. S. Lewiss The Great Divorce, in which
residents of hell (i.e., the gray city) take a bus ride to the entrance of
heaven, where well-meaning individuals try to convince them to enter.
The repeated attempts to lift the lost souls to their own fulfillment in some
cases fail insofar as they have no desire to depart from the gray city. Lewis
depicts aptly the bodies of the lost ones as transparent; that is, they are weak
in being (but not, to be sure, devoid of being). In truth, these people have
always been in hell from the time before their death; it is their personal
nature. Mercy is only effective if the person regrets his or her state. As
Lewis expressed it: There are only two kinds of people in the end: those

102
104
106
107

103 Ibid., 48 (emphasis in original).


Rahner, Foundations, 33.
105 Ratzinger, Introduction, 300.
Goethe, Faust, Second Part, act V.
Cf. Ratzinger, Holle, 449. Cf. also Kehl, Holle, 234: a universal torpor and denial of all life
and all relationships in an absolute egocentricity.
Ratzinger, Introduction, 301.

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Justification of belief in Eternal Life

who say to God, Thy will be done, and those to whom God says, in the
end, Thy will be done. All that are in Hell chose it.108
God is not totally absent; that would mean annihilation, which would
be a punishment literally for nobody.
The differentiation of hell is based on the same principle as the differentiation of heaven: Different degrees and kinds of love are determinative.
The natural desire for happiness is, in any case, the basis. Both heaven
and hell depend on it. In the case of hell, it can be said that hell is the
fulfillment of an underdeveloped desiderium naturale.109 It is justifiable to
conclude: Theologically interesting about this teaching is that it seems to
resolve the tension between divine mercy and justice.110 Thus, there is no
need to balance mercy and justice; they do not stand in conflict with one
another. Strictly speaking, therefore, hell must not be a contradiction to
heaven.
108

109

Lewis, Great Divorce, 72 (emphasis in original). The passage continues: Without that self-choice
there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those
who seek find.
110 Ibid., 147.
Bender, Weggehen, 145.

chapter four

Eternal Life as the vision of God

Eternal Life, in its essence, is the union of human consciousness with God.
By calling it a vision, emphasis is put on the immediateness of the union
with the known in its own reality that is, with existential objectivity.
A vision in this sense is different from an inner picture, enclosed in
consciousness; it is intentional; that is, it implies a relationship to the
known in its own being. But a vision of the Truth is not an understanding
of the Truth and neither is vision the same as insight.
To start treating Eternal Life in a way that distinguishes it from temporal
life, the common distinction between abstract and concrete can be
helpful. Since we are able to abstract from concrete matter, we have an
ability to conceive of abstractions; that is, we can apprehend realities in such
a way that we transcend their individuality in an immaterial mode. Owing
to the act of abstraction, we are able to open ourselves in a rudimentary way
to higher reality but without necessarily sacrificing the experienced reality.
Taken in this sense, the act of abstraction is not a cutting off of an aspect
of the object, separated from the object, but rather what Thomas Aquinas
calls an abstraction of the whole1 from a part. For example, the abstraction
white prescinds from the whole of the concrete object, whereas tree
includes leaves, roots, branches, and so on. This kind of access to abstract
forms presents a basic capacity for Eternal Life.2 Nonetheless, this capabilty
1
2

Cf. Thomas Aquinas, In De Trinitate, pars 3, q. 5, a. 3, co. 4.


The sense of sight, as being altogether material, cannot be raised up to immateriality. But our
intellect, or the angelic intellect, inasmuch as it is elevated above matter in its own nature, can be
raised up above its own nature to a higher level by grace. The proof is that sight cannot in any way
know abstractedly what it knows concretely; for in no way can it perceive a nature except as this
one particular nature; whereas our intellect is able to consider abstractedly what it knows concretely.
Now although it knows things which have a form residing in matter, still it resolves the composite
into both of these elements; and it considers the form separately by itself . . . Since therefore the
created intellect is naturally capable of apprehending the concrete form, and the concrete being
abstractedly, by way of a kind of resolution of parts; it can by grace be raised up to know separate
subsisting substance and separate subsisting existence. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 12,
a. 4, ad 3.

111

112

Eternal Life as the vision of God

of consciousness to be open to more than the concrete object should not be


overestimated. Under present conditions, it is not a vision of God. Rather,
it is the emergence of religion, which is a directedness toward God without,
however, being an experience of him.
But if in the case of Eternal Life God is the object of consciousness,
there must be an essential abstraction not just from the materiality of
reality but also from the material senses themselves, whereby the senses are,
nonetheless, not eliminated.3 Sensuality as an abstract notion is neither
itself sensual nor does it exclude the senses. Abstraction is the human
way of being in contact with concrete reality. We live in the concrete
world abstractly that is, in the human manner. Differentiating between
concrete and abstract is the specific human mode of encountering reality.
(If it succeeds, then we have what is called truth.) Nevertheless, the union
with God in Eternal Life is not a comprehension; it is not the mode in
which God knows himself.4

4.1 Emergence as the light of glory


God does not change. As a heuristic principle, this is important. It implies
that all of the change from temporal to Eternal Life occurs on the part of
the human being. God remains as he has always been and shall be. Thomas
Aquinas appreciated this: But it is impossible for the divine essence to
change; and therefore this union must start to exist by means of a change
in the created intellect. In fact, this change can only come about by means
of the created intellect acquiring some new disposition.5 This cannot
take place in the form of a new action by God. When a dog is born, the
dictionaries do not change the definition of dog; when a red car drives
by me, the light that makes the red color appear does not change; when a
creature comes into being, Being itself does not grow; when God becomes
a man, he has not become more.
The traditional name for the new disposition is light of glory.6 Light
is especially appropriate as a metaphor because light has no content of its
own; it is invisible to the eye. Here, of course, light is meant analogically.
3

4
5
6

Non oportet quod per quemlibet actum intellectus fiat abstractio a sensibus. Oportet tamen quod
fiat per actum vehementissimum, qui est visio Dei per essentiam. Thomas Aquinas, De veritate,
q. 13, a. 3, ad 5.
According to Rahner, Geheimnis, 595, it is the divine incomprehensibility itself that is the object
of the beatific vision.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 53.
Cf. ibid.: That disposition therefore whereby a created intelligence is raised to the intellectual vision
of the divine substance is called the light of glory.

4.1 Emergence as the light of glory

113

The first mode of light is physical light, which enables the eyes to see
things. The second mode is the light of the agent intellect, which enables
the person to know conscious objects. The light of glory is a third kind,
but it does not replace the light of the agent intellect. What it does is to
enable consciousness to actually know its objects. This is in my opinion
the same as the act of creation, the light of Being.
Being identical with absolute Being, the light of glory is analogous to the
emergence of the human soul. More precisely, it is absolute Being insofar
as it enlightens or, better, is united to a human consciousness. The
vision of God is a union with God in consciousness, actualized by absolute
Being.
Every experience has two aspects namely, what is experienced and that
it is experienced. In the beatific vision, there can be no other alternative
but that God be both, seeing that God is an autonomous reality being his
own being and not just having it. This implies that God has no distinct
forma (whatness) but rather is pure being. Expressed differently, the
divine forma is identical with his Being. Consequently, it is impossible to
distinguish in him between his knowableness and his Being. If God unites
himself to a consciousness, it must therefore be his Being itself that touches
consciousness.
Thus, the vision of God is essentially different from normal experiences.
It would be as if a stone that is being seen were in all its concrete materiality
within consciousness itself. Conversely, when we know immaterial things
like numbers or justice, for example, then it is in fact the whole thing that is
within consciousness since these are forms that are abstracted from matter
in which they otherwise exist. The problem of experiencing God could
be expressed by saying that God cannot be grasped predicatively. In other
words, our consciousness of him and he himself are not separate. To be
experienced predicatively, the object must be a creature. Rather, God can
be discovered through predication our normal way of reaching reality
but not experienced, for he is not concrete; that is, he is not a composition
of forma and existence.
One way of looking at it would be to apply the idea of light. We can then
see Gods union with the consciousness of the human being as analogous
to the way light makes the seeing of something possible. In thy light
they see the light (Ps 36:10) thus can be taken quite precisely, albeit not
literally. Studying the idea of the light of glory more closely can be helpful
in understanding the structure of Eternal Life.
The notion light of glory arose during the thirteenth century and has
since remained a basic element of Christian eschatology. It was, however,

114

Eternal Life as the vision of God

not until 1241 that it became a sanctioned Faith teaching.7 Even today, the
interpretation of this doctrine, which undoubtedly calls for an interpretation, is still open.
The fact that it took more than a millennium for Christianity to commit itself to the idea that God himself is, strictly speaking, the object of
the vision in the afterlife is worth reflecting on. Until the thirteenth century, the question was open to dispute. Those theologians who were of
the opinion that God himself will be experienced in heaven based their
position especially on the authority of Augustine, who taught that the
divine substance itself will be seen.8 Augustine interpreted the invisibility
of God as applying to the incarnated corporeality.9 The opposite opinion appealed especially to the authority of Dionysius the Areopagite, John
Chrysostom, and John Damascene, as well as John Scotus Eriugena.10
Their interpretation maintained that not God himself but rather merely
intermediaries, called theophanies (i.e., appearances), will be seen. After
1241, this alternative interpretation was no longer acceptable. Now the
question in theology was no longer whether but how God will be seen.
Thus, today, Carl Friedrich von Weizsacker can wisely state without more
ado that seeing God is the highest promise that can be granted to a human
being (see page 69).
For Albert the Great, the eschatological vision takes place without a
medium that is, without any theophany.11 The substantial presence of
God in Eternal Life makes a theophany superfluous. Rather than rejecting the idea of theophanies, however, Albert reinterprets it by regarding a
theophany not as a medium quo but as a medium sub quo, thus opening the
possibility of interpreting theophanies as the light of glory.12 Regardless of
its subtlety, this development can be considered one of the most important
steps in the history of Christian eschatology (an ingenious reinterpretation13 ). A medium quo is the presence of an object in thought through
which the object itself is known. A medium sub quo is a condition that
enables objective knowledge to take place. It is not a content of knowledge.
To see something visible, three things are required: an object, a subject,
and light enveloping both. In some way, the object enters the subjects
consciousness so that it is seen; not, however, as it exists in itself. If this
7
9
10
11
12

8 Cf. Augustine, De trinitate, I, n. 3.


Cf. Hoye, Gotteserkenntnis, 270.
Cf. Augustine, Epistula 147, n. 48.
Cf. Dondaine, Lobjet, 60130; Cognoscere, 7278; Wicki, Lehre, 113141.
On the question of immediacy, cf. Weber, Linterpretation, 431433.
13 Wicki, Lehre, 154.
Cf. Wicki, Lehre, 156; Dondaine, Le corpus Dionysien, 127.

4.1 Emergence as the light of glory

115

process takes place correctly, then we have truth that is, the (albeit deficient) presence of a reality in consciousness.
Thomas Aquinas follows Albert in defining the lumen gloriae as a medium
sub quo. Furthermore, he interprets the light of glory as a disposition,
analogous to a habitus.14 This teaching might seem to present a rather
unexpected turn since it means that man has a natural capacity for the
vision of God but that this capacity has to be enhanced, and this must
be done in the manner of a habit. Thomas is clearly stretching the light
metaphor. Certainly, it would be impossible to imagine a light in which
God and man were united; God cannot be enveloped by some light. By
comparison, my eye, for example, is capable by nature of seeing colored
things and colored things are capable of being seen, but actual seeing will
take place only if there is light present, shining on the object and my eye.
When Thomas calls the light of glory a habit, it is important to realize that
a habit is neither an act nor a potency, but it is the ultimate perfection of
a capability, rendering the actualization easier and stable. The professional
athlete, the soprano at the opera, the scientist, the prize-winning author
all do things that most of us can do in a very basic manner, but they have
brought this ability to maturity. In other words, with them, it has become a
habit. In them, natural capabilities have been developed but not replaced.
Thomas interprets the light of glory as such a habit namely, as the full
development of a capability, but not as a new capability. In other words, the
eschatological development fits to the principle of emergence. A human
being cannot immediately emerge out of a plant. An animal having no
wings is not going to fly suddenly. An animal without a highly developed
brain is not going to start thinking one day.
A further aspect is that the realization of the eschatological vision is
supernatural. It must be caused by God,15 although God does nothing
new:
The property of a higher nature cannot be attained by a lower nature except
by the action of that higher nature to which it properly belongs. But to
see God by the divine essence is the property of the divine nature: for it is
proper to every agent to act by its own proper form. Therefore no subsistent
intelligence can see God by the divine essence except through the action of
God bringing it about . . . To see the substance of God transcends the limits
of every created nature.16
14
15
16

Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 12, a. 5, ad 1; corpus.


Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 52.
Ibid. Cf. In IV. Sententiarum, dist. 49, q. 2, a. 6c; a. 7c; De veritate, q. 10, a. 11c.

116

Eternal Life as the vision of God

Hence, there must be some divine action.17 Nevertheless, this cannot mean
that a new action occurs on the part of God, who is, after all, unchangeable.
This is similar to his direct creation of human souls. Only from the point
of view of the human does it appear that something new has happened.
But the occurrence of colors previously not seen in a room does not mean
that the light in the room has changed; the explanation lies, of course, in
the introduction of new objects.
For knowledge to take place, the object must in some way or another be
present in consciousness. This ontological truth, which is the real presence
of an object in consciousness in contrast to cognitional truth, is the presupposition for knowledge, as Thomas Aquinas expresses it.18 In the case
of God, this presence requires a special disposition in man beyond what
is natural. If something is a content of knowledge, then its presence in
consciousness is called a forma intelligibilis. Hence, God must be united
to consciousness like a forma intelligibilis.19 In other words, there must be
some kind of divine similitude present.20 God himself is then both the
possibility to see himself and what is seen.21 The light of glory is God
himself.
God can be united to a human consciousness because he is absolute
Being [esse ipsum], whereas everything else is a being. When related to
consciousness, absolute Being has the form of absolute Truth itself [veritas
ipsa]. As absolute Truth, God can be united with human consciousness but
not in the form of a truth.22 Whatever else is united with our consciousness
is a being [ens] or a truth [verum] but not Being itself nor Truth itself.
Moreover, the same light of glory makes it possible to experience everything
else in addition to God. As Thomas says: When then an understanding
is raised by divine light to see the substance of God, it is much more
perfected by the same light to understand all other objects in nature.23
This demands that only God can be united to our consciousness in his
entirety. Everything else can be known but retains its own being. The tree
that I look at does not enter my consciousness in its own being; I truly know
17
18
19

20
22

23

Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 52.


Knowledge is an effect of truth. Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 1, a. 1c.
Ad hoc quod intellectus Deum per essentiam videat, oportet quod essentia divina uniatur intellectui
nostro quodammodo ut forma intelligibilis. Thomas Aquinas, In IV. Sententiarum, dist. 49, q. 2,
a. 6c.
21 Cf. ibid., c. 51
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 53.
Cf. ibid.: Since the perfection of the intellect is what is true [verum], in the order of intelligible
objects, that object which is a purely formal intelligible will be truth itself [veritas ipsa]. And this
characteristic applies only to God, for, since the true [verum] is consequent on being [esse], that
alone is its own truth [sua veritas] which is its own being [suum esse]. But this is proper to God
only.
Ibid., c. 59.

4.1 Emergence as the light of glory

117

it that is, I grasp it in the manner of truth. Truth itself is comparable to


a light, rendering all concrete truths possible. Without Truth, there could
be no truths. That we do not now have the capacity to know Truth itself
is evident, for otherwise we would have known it from the start.24
Consequently, in the beatific vision, God can in a certain sense be
compared to a content of consciousness.25 It must be Gods whole being
that is united with consciousness since his existence is identical with his
essence.26 For this reason, only God can be united in his entirety with
human consciousness. In every other case of epistemological union, there
remains a difference, for all beings except God are a unity of existence and
essence. They have there existence, whereas God is his existence. Life in
the world means an inadequacy of truth. Consciousness is never wholly
grasped by reflection. When something is known, it is known in accordance
with the being of the knower. Because we have bodies, our knowledge has
an affinity to empirical objects. Since human being is participative being
and not absolute, we are incapable of experiencing God in the present
life, for we have our existence and that which is its existence transcends
our capability.27 This ultimate ontological duality defines the fundamental
limits of our experience. In other words, beings having existence define the
horizon of human knowledge.
The vision of God is both supernatural and natural for us. Although it
is natural for the human understanding at some time to reach the vision
of God through his essence, Thomas explains, it is not natural for it to
reach this in the conditions of this life.28 The light of glory is supernatural
since we are unable to see God by our own power. Yet, the beatifying vision
is something natural since it remains within the horizon of the striving of
human nature:
The beatific vision and knowledge are to some extent above the nature of
the rational soul, inasmuch as it cannot reach it of its own strength; but in
another way it is in accordance with its nature, inasmuch as it is capable of
it by nature, having been made to the likeness of God.29

24
25
26

27
28
29

Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Compendium theologiae, I, c. 105.


Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 51.
The divine essence has this exclusive characteristic that our intellect can be united to it without
the medium of any likeness. The reason is that the divine essence itself is its own existence or being,
which is true of no other form . . . Accordingly, the soul that is beatified by the vision of God is
made one with him in understanding. The knower and the known must somehow be one. Thomas
Aquinas, Compendium theologiae, II, c. 9.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 12, a. 4c.
Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 13, a. 3, ad 6.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, III, q. 9, a. 2, ad 3.

118

Eternal Life as the vision of God

The heavenly vision is not a miracle, seeing that it is the fulfillment of a

natural desire. Etienne


Gilson even goes so far as to assert that a Christian
has a right to happiness insofar as he is a human being.30 Accordingly, the
beatific vision is under one aspect natural and under another supernatural.
What takes place is determined by human nature, while the fact that it
takes place presupposes a causality beyond human powers.
What does the light of glory do? The term light is, of course, a
metaphor. It is light in the sense that the act of creating can be compared
to light. Thomas comes to the conclusion that what the light of glory
does is to actualize the normal light of consciousness, the so-called agent
intellect. In a Quaestio quodlibetalis, Thomas describes the effect of the
light of glory: Created consciousness is made to see in actuality the divine
essence, and this is enough.31 Enough, that is, in the sense that no other
media other than a medium sub quo are required, neither a medium quo nor
a medium in quo. But this is also what creation does. The light of glory is
nothing other than the light of Being.
The light of consciousness must be active now too [etiam nunc].
Thomas makes an incisive observation:
The only medium required in that vision will be the light of glory, by which
the intellect is perfected to see the divine essence . . . But this light is not
necessary in order to make something knowable in potency knowable in
actuality, for which we require the light of the agent intellect, since the
divine essence is in itself already actually knowable because it is separated
from matter. But it will be necessary only for perfecting the intellect so that
now too [etiam nunc] the agent intellect is effective.32

However, the light of glory does not function the way the light of the
intellect, the agent intellect, does. It does not make anything knowable, as
the agent intellect does. What it does precisely is to make it possible for
the intellect to actually know.33
Every other object of knowledge needs light in order to be known, but
God is himself light and therefore is knowable without a further medium.
In this case, the light that makes knowledge possible is itself the content of
the knowledge. As Thomas writes:
Visible things are not light alone and therefore not only a light is required
in order for them to determine vision but also a species of the thing seen.
30
31
33

Gilson, Sur la problematique, 86.


32 Ibid., corpus.
Thomas Aquinas, Quaestiones quodlibetales, VII, q. 1, a. 1, ad 2.
This disposition whereby the created intellect is raised to the intellectual vision of divine substance
is fittingly called the light of glory; not because it makes some object actually intelligible, as does
the light of the agent intellect, but because it makes the intellect actually capable of understanding.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 53.

4.2 The act of attention

119

But the divine essence is itself pure light and therefore it does not require
any other species than the light itself in order to be seen.34

Therefore, it can be said that the light of glory is the medium sub quo, the
medium quo, and the quod. If the divine essence is to be seen, then it can
only be seen in and through itself. It can be said that it is the content of
the vision that is, that which is seen, as well as that by which it is seen. In
other words, the divine essence must be the quod and the quo of the vision.35
Since God is seen as the light of glory, he remains incomprehensible in
Eternal Life, even more so than in this life. Sunlight can be blinding, but
that is little in comparison to looking directly into the sun itself.

4.2 The act of attention


For our way of thinking, the idea that contemplation is the fulfillment of
human nature is disconcerting; we are hardly able to take it seriously. It is
difficult for us to imagine how knowledge can be the goal and fulfillment
of life. It would seem to be the obvious conclusion that we have lost
contact with Christian tradition, for good or for worse. Does the dominant
attitude represent progress or regress? It is important, therefore, especially
for today, to appreciate this teaching. My conviction is that the teaching on
the beatifying vision tells us something very important about the present
life and that, for this reason alone, it is worth thinking about.
Undoubtedly, it is not to be understood as a form of privatization, as
though contemplation remained within the consciousness of the contemplator without any reference to other realities. Even a scholar like Jurgen
Habermas naively understands this teaching as a withdrawal from reality and, without further justification, refers to it as this wordless act of
eye-closing contemplation.36 He explicitly quotes Meister Eckhart, who
speaks of seeing God directly in his being. In truth, contemplation is
the very opposite. Of course, mental activities do exist that ignore reality,
at least directly, outside of consciousness. For example, imagination constructs images. Day-dreaming or reading a novel can transpose one into
an inner world, quite oblivious to what is going on around oneself. But
there are other kinds of acts of consciousness that exist by force of their
intentionality that is, their relatedness to their objects taken as realities
34
35
36

Thomas Aquinas, Quaestiones quodlibetales, VII, q. 1, a. 1, ad 4.


Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 51; In IV. Sententiarum, dist. 49, q. 2, a. 1c:
Conjungitur intellectui nostro ut forma, ut ipsa sit quod intelligitur, et qua intelligitur.
Habermas, Das Entzucken, 44.

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Eternal Life as the vision of God

not existing totally in consciousness. An act of attention is just the opposite of a withdrawal from reality, implying, on the one hand, a heightened
mental activity but, on the other hand, making its object more present.
Doing something attentively intensifies the act without distracting from
it. Attention not only enhances what one is doing, it also embraces the act
in the horizon of its light. Attention is heightened subjective activity that
means heightened awareness of the object, not forgetfulness. It illuminates
the object, thus making it real. To state it more exactly: Attention is a
concomitant apprehension of the existence of the object.
A botanist sees the same flower as I do. The conductor of a symphony
hears the same concert as I do. But, in both cases, the degrees of appreciation
are quite different; they see the respective object better than I do. When
you ask a small child how many pieces of fruit you have all together if you
have three apples and two pears, he or she may simply count them all one
by one. That presupposes a certain degree of abstraction, for apples are not
pears and vice versa. To see them as mathematical units is an achievement
of abstraction. But it represents a considerably higher degree of abstraction
to know quite generally and without counting that three and two make
five, no matter what you are dealing with, without nevertheless forgetting
the pieces of fruit. The mathematician sees the fruits but he sees them, so
to speak, in a deeper manner. The relationship between God and creatures
is analogous to this, as is the relationship of activities and desires in us.
It is quite possible for us to desire simultaneously one thing and another
by seeing the one and the many. We can desire, for example, to eat one
of the apples because we desire to retain our strength and health in order
to help the needy so that we can glorify God. A series of motivations like
this intensifies the elements. One desire in this case does not detract from
the others. Love of neighbor and love of God are not separate from one
another. In fact, if you separate them, they both suffer. In any case, God
cannot be loved without loving humans (Anyone who says I love God
and hates his brother is a liar 1 Jn 4:20). Attention is an act that includes
another act and never occurs alone.

4.3 The Biblical teaching that Eternal Life consists


in contemplative knowledge
Regarding this idea, classical Catholic theology is confirmed by Scripture.
We might be surprised at what we find there. To us with our given mentality,
Revelation seems at first glance to be a great disappointment. Actually, it
proves to be a helpful provocation provided that we let it gradually

4.3 The Biblical teaching

121

sink in and supersede our prejudices. The Biblical teaching we must


admit is consistently clear: Eternal Life consists in contemplation or,
in other words, theoria, the theoretical or contemplative life. It is a kind
of knowledge (although not further specified): And Eternal Life is this:
to know you, the only true God (Jn 17:3; cf. 12:46). In his commentary
on Johns Gospel, Rudolf Schnackenburg declares that this sentence is of
fundamental significance.37 Knowledge can be used both abstractly
and concretely in Johns Gospel; on the one hand, we have the Truth shall
make you free and, on the other hand, Jesus calling himself the Truth
(Jn 14:6). The teaching is very abstract and obscure: My dear people, we
are already the children of God but what we are to be in the future has
not yet been revealed; all we know is that when it is revealed we shall be
like him because we shall see him as he really is (1 Jn 3:2). In Matthews
Gospel, we read: Happy the pure in heart: they shall see God (Mt 5:8).
Paul reiterates the same often-quoted conception of Eternal Life: Now
we are seeing a dim reflection in a mirror; but then we shall be seeing face
to face. The knowledge that I have now is imperfect; but then I shall know
as fully as I am known (1 Cor 13:12). And we find in 1 Tm 2:4: He wants
everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth admittedly,
this is a highly abstract and enigmatic conception.
The first thing to be said on Biblical Revelation on this point is that it is at
the least very foreign to us or, to put it more exactly, has become foreign to
us. Neverending fulfillment is supposed to consist not in doing something
but rather in looking, not in any kind of praxis but rather in theory. In
other words, the teaching of Christian dogma defines the meaning of life
as knowing. Hans Urs von Balthasar draws attention to the paradox of
Faiths teaching on the vision of God. He sees it as the daunting problem
of how we should understand seeing God. He comments: Scripture
itself poses a strange paradox38 ; namely, that on the one hand, no one
can see God and live (e.g., Ex 33:20; 1 Tim 6:16) and, on the other hand,
that certain individuals, like Jacob, have in fact seen God (Gen 32:31). It
is worthwhile to give this teaching a chance by making a serious attempt
to understand it before spontaneously rejecting it. There is nothing to be
gained by ignoring it and carrying on as though Christianity conformed
easily with our contemporary philosophy of life.
In my eyes, it is highly informative that influential books on eschatology
fail without explanation to mention the Biblical texts cited herein. For
example, in the extensive dogmatic Mysterium Salutis, the treatment of
37

Schnackenburg, Johannesevangelium, 196.

38

Balthasar, Theo-Drama, 104.

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Eternal Life as the vision of God

eschatology, which comprises about 330 long pages and devotes no less
than 50 pages to New Testament eschatology 3 pages to Johns Gospel
ignores the texts. Furthermore, the texts are missing in Dieter Hattrup,
Eschatologie, and Johanna Rahner, Einfuhrung in die christliche Eschatologie
(more than 300 pages); even in Ratzingers Eschatology, Death and Eternal
Life they are not taken into account. I can think of no other explanation for
this disconcerting fact than the influence of the contemporary prejudice
of the primacy of praxis as opposed to theory and of the preference for the
concrete as opposed to the abstract. They seem to make no sense in the
Scriptural teaching and are consequently ignored.
The well-known objection to Christianity that it is an opium owing to
its preaching of the afterlife collapses in view of this. Paradoxes like these
are hardly the result of wishful thinking. Instead, they stand in distinct
contradiction to what most people today wish.

4.4 The widespread acknowledgment of the primacy


of knowledge in the European tradition
until the modern age
A similar position is found in Plato. In the Laws, he writes: Truth is the
beginning of every good thing, both to gods and men; and he who would
be blessed and happy, should be from the first a partaker of the truth,
that he may live a true man as long as possible.39 For Aristotle, theoria is
the highest form of praxis his notion of praxis, it can be noted, being
broader than what we today have made of it. What today is called praxis
is what the Greeks called making [; poiesis]. Originally, praxis
embraced every activity as such, not just the productive activity. Be that as
it may, it is clear that for Aristotle the act of theoria is fulfilling happiness.
This has become so inconceivable for us that we have a good opportunity,
by studying it, to learn something genuinely new.
In Platos cave allegory, we have a depiction of the same teaching. The
pinnacle of the philosophers education in reality is pictured as looking,
gazing into the sun, the greatest light, in which realities are clearly seen in
their most real reality. Once he has experienced this, the philosopher will
want to remain in this state. This makes him, according to Plato, fit for
governing a state, for he has become a person who thinks little of power
and richness. This is the kind of person who, in Platos eyes, is suited to be
39

Plato, Laws, V.

4.4 The primacy of knowledge in the European tradition

123

a politician. A competent politician for him is one who prefers, above all,
the life of pure theory:
And if they [the cave dwellers] were in the habit of conferring honors among
themselves on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and
to remark which of them went before, and which followed after, and which
were together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to
the future, do you think that he would care for such honors and glories,
or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer, Better to
be the poor servant of a poor master, and to endure anything, rather than
think as they do and live after their manner?40

One should not forget that in the cave allegory, the levels of abstraction
seem to imply an increased distance from the realities as abstraction is
often understood but, in fact, they mean a deeper penetration of them.
He who has realized that the horses, turtles, and so forth on the wall,
which represents the concrete reality of the prisoners, are in truth shadows
of horses, turtles, and so forth knows the shadow-realities better. He who
realizes that the things projecting shadows are only horses, turtles, and so
forth made, let us say, of clay in any case, products of human work
understands better what these horses, turtles, and so forth really are. At
the final level of ascent that is, in the heaven of ideas the philosopher
continues to see the same horses, turtles, and so forth but now finally in
their most real reality.
Aristotle expressed the same view unequivocally: The activity of God,
which surpasses all others in blessedness, must be contemplative; and of
human activities, therefore, that which is most akin to this must be most
of the nature of happiness . . . Happiness, therefore, must be some form of
contemplation [; theoria].41
Taking this into account, it is not surprising that Thomas Aquinas
claims that Aristotle and the Bible share the same teaching with respect to
contemplation as being mans happiness.42
In the third century ad, the Neoplatonist Plotinus (205269/70 ad)
movingly described the apex of mans ascent to the Good, where the
contemplator marvels at Beauty itself:
One that shall know this vision with what passion of love shall he not
be seized, with what pang of desire, what longing to be molten into one
with This, what wondering delight! If he that has never seen this Being must
hunger for It as for all his welfare, he that has known must love and reverence.
40
42

41 Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, X, 8.


Plato, Republic, VII.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 25.

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Eternal Life as the vision of God


It is the very Beauty; he will be flooded with awe and gladness, stricken by
a salutary terror; he loves with a veritable love, with sharp desire.43

The transcendent desire for beauty that, in turn, makes those loving it
themselves beautiful, as Plotinus teaches, represents an idea that has been
neglected in Christian theology.
Nicholas Cusanus is an unequivocal witness at the end of the Middle
Ages. He identifies speculation, a Latin translation of theoria, with God
himself.44 God, who is called theos ([a word] which comes from theoro,
i.e., video), is . . . the vision of visions.45 Here, one is in the true, where it
is the Truthfulness of the true truth.46 At this point, the contemplator has
reached happiness: By means of the foregoing speculation a contemplator
arrives most delightfully at the Cause, the Beginning, and the End of both
himself and all other things, so that he reaches a happy conclusion.47
I know of no theologian who has formulated this aspect of eschatology
more emphatically than Nicholas of Cusa. As foreign as it may appear to
us today, it is a fact that five hundred years ago, Cusanus taught that the
most extreme happiness of a human being consists in an apprehension of
the intellect. To appreciate this position, a strenuous effort of intellectual
concentration may be required.
When Cusanus says that happiness consists in an apprehension, he means
a particular kind of apprehension; he refers to it as the apprehension of
truth, by which he means something quite specific. He expressed this
frequently, including in sermons for laymen, so that it cannot be claimed
that the idea is esoteric. The highest happiness, he stated in a sermon in
1445, is the apprehension of truth [in apprehensione veritatis].48 This is not
philosophy. For we believe from Christs teaching that happiness consists
in the contemplation [contemplatio], or in the vision of wisdom, which is
God.49 In another sermon, using several terms, he claims that Aristotle
taught the same thing: For speculatio, or contemplatio, or visio, is the most
perfect act, rendering our most high nature, namely, the intellectual, happy,
as Aristotle has also shown.50
At the end of his life, following a highly active participation in Church
and world politics, Nicholas of Cusa wrote a book with the novel title On
the Apex of Theory [De apice theoriae]. This expression is used by him here,
four months before his death, for the first time; apparently, it is his own
creation.
43
45
47
49

44 Cf. Nicholas of Cusa, De quaerendo Deum, I, n. 31.


Plotinus, Enneads, I, 6, 7.
46 Ibid., Proposition 13, n. 119.
Nicholas of Cusa, Directio speculantis, XXIII, n. 104.
48 Nicholas of Cusa, Sermo LIV, n. 25.
Nicholas of Cusa, Compendium, XVIII, n. 24.
50 Nicholas of Cusa, Sermo CCLI, n. 2.
Nicholas of Cusa, Sermo CXCIX, n. 8.

4.4 The primacy of knowledge in the European tradition

125

The apprehension with which Cusanus is concerned in this context is


neither just one element of human fulfillment among others, nor is it
merely the culmination as, for example, Aristotle sees it; it is the whole of
happiness: The whole happiness consists in the vision.51 Even the highest
happiness namely, Gods consists in the union with the naked Truth
itself.52 Today, we would be inclined to call an idea like this ironically
pure speculation. In fact, Cusanus does not hesitate to use the same word
but with just the opposite meaning.
In this tradition, speculation is the goal of life. Insight is for Cusanus the
life of rational thinking: Understanding is the life of the intellect.53 He
even calls knowledge the food of the intellect. Man is existentially hungry
for knowledge, assimilating it.
Truth occurs in human consciousness in a two-fold manner: in the form
of individual truths and as Truth itself, which is the ground of individual
truths.54 The intellectual life reaches its goal and fulfillment in Truth, which
is God.55 Only when our intellect apprehends God does it find its rest.56
Understanding the primordial ground of all things is the supreme life of
the intellect and its immortal delight.57
The different overlapping apprehensions treated by Cusanus can be
clarified with an example. I put a piece of chocolate in my mouth, bite into
it, taste it. It tastes good. I enjoy the taste or is it rather the chocolate
itself that I am enjoying? Or is it my consciousness of the chocolate taste?
Perhaps I am also enjoying my own experiencing of the enjoyment. I like to
enjoy. Finally, I am aware that it is true that I am enjoying the chocolate. Be
that as it may, I am performing various acts of apprehension, some of them
simultaneously. Now I can ask which of these apprehensions is the most
important one to me. Which one would I least want to do without, if I
were forced to make a choice? Eating, tasting, the consciousness of tasting,
the awareness of the truth of the experience? For Cusanus, in any case,
what is most important is not the direct perception of the object in this
example, the chocolate but rather a reflecting apprehension of the object
and of the apprehending of the object. But this reflecting apprehension
also involves more than one level. We might speak of co-apprehensions.
It is probably no coincidence that we intuitively say of a person without
self-reflection that he is just vegetating; we even say this although the
51
53
54
55
56

52 Cf. Nicholas of Cusa, Sermo LIV, n. 24.


Nicholas of Cusa, Sermo CCXVI, n. 31.
Nicholas of Cusa, De dato patris luminum, I, n. 92.
Cf. Nicholas of Cusa, De filiatione Dei, III, n. 69.
Cf. Nicholas of Cusa, De dato patris luminum, V, n. 113.
57 Nicholas of Cusa, De beryllo, VI, n. 64.
Cf. ibid., n. 115.

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person is still exercising various acts of sensual perception, characteristic


of animals. Although he is certainly performing acts that are more than
vegetable life, we nonetheless compare his state to it. What is missing
is self-consciousness. The fact that we overexaggerate indicates, I believe,
how important self-consciousness is in our eyes. It is the place where truth
occurs. What we want most of all is to be in the Truth that is, to be
attentively aware of the reality of reality.
But what would happen if the same taste of chocolate were caused by a
pill or some chemical mixture that was put into my mouth? What would
happen if I knew this? Why does a placebo work only if we do not know
that it is just a placebo? And why do we consider it to be an impermissible
violation of human dignity if I view a person solely as a means to my
pleasure?
It is a matter of deepening ones knowledge of the empirically perceived
reality. It is not necessary to see purely spiritual things. Rather, it is a
question of different kinds of apprehension of the same object. The climb
out of the Platonic cave of the empirical world is only metaphorically a
withdrawal from the primary realities. In reality, it is composed of new
(higher) apprehensions, which see the primary objects in a different way
that is, in a deeper and truer way. Therefore, [in that state] the intellect
perceives all things intellectually and beyond every sensible, distracting,
and obscuring mode. Indeed, it beholds the entire sensible world not in a
sensory manner but in a truer, viz., intellectual, manner.58
In everyday life, we are familiar with the overlapping of apprehension
levels. For example, while listening to music, it is possible to hear nothing
more than the notes, following one another. But it is also possible to hear
a melody in the same notes. In the sense in which Cusanus means it, we
can say the truth of the notes has been heard. It is a further, higher
form of apprehension when I hear the beauty, the true beauty of the
melody.
When we listen to someone talking, the same thing can happen. If I listen
to a language that is completely unknown to me, I hear just sounds. If I am
able to hear meaning in the sounds, then I have a deeper appreciation of
the talking. It is even possible to hear truths of which the speaker himself is
not aware. For both the learned man and the unlearned man, as Cusanus
writes, see the letters of the alphabet59 but what they apprehend is quite
different.
58

Nicholas of Cusa, De filiatione Dei, VI, n. 89.

59

Nicholas of Cusa, Compendium, VI, n. 18.

4.4 The primacy of knowledge in the European tradition

127

An analogy for which Cusanus has a predilection is that between light


and colors, with colors being understood as forms of physical light. They
concretize light:
Color is the limitation of light in a transparent medium in accordance
with one mode [of limitation] red, in accordance with another blue. And
the entire being of color is given through descending light, so that in all
colors light is all that which is. Color is not light; rather, it is light received
contractedly in the foregoing manner. By means of such a likeness [we see
that] as the form of light is related to the form of colors, so God (who is
Infinite Light) is related as the Universal Form of being to the forms of
created things.60

The empirical perception of colors results from the concurrence of physical


light with the eyesight. As perceptual sight stands in relation to perceptible
light, so the minds sight stands in relation to this intelligible light.61
The light of reason comes from the light of the intelligence and this
resembles the divine light,62 which is the transcendental light of all
lights.63
Cusanus explains this interrelationship of light forms in the following
way:
Light manifests itself in visible things not in order to show itself as visible
but, rather, in order to manifest itself as invisible, since its clarity cannot be
grasped in visible things. For he who in visible things sees lights clarity as
invisible sees lights clarity more truly . . . Transfer, then, to intelligible things
these [considerations about] perceptual things. For example, . . . [transfer]
to [absolutely] Simple Being [considerations about] the being of color.64

Light, therefore, is never seen in itself but rather always concomitantly.


In our own time, a few further witnesses can be found. No less a thinker
than Ludwig Wittgenstein, who is well known for the sentence, What
cannot be said clearly, should not be said at all, once wrote enigmatically:
The life of knowledge is the life that is happy in spite of the misery of the
world.65 The physicist and philosopher Carl Friedrich von Weizsacker is
concise: To see God is the highest promise that can be granted to a human
being. It is beatitude.66
Can this revered teaching be made understandable for our modern
mentality, not to speak of becoming convincing? My presumption is that
60
61
63
65

Nicholas of Cusa, De dato patris luminum, II, n. 100. Cf. De quaerendo deum, II, n. 34; Compendium,
I, c. 1, n. 2.
62 Nicholas of Cusa, Sermo LIV, n. 23.
Ibid., c. 10, n. 34.
64 Ibid., n. 89.
Cf. Nicholas of Cusa, De apice theoriae, n. 8.
66 Weizs
Wittgenstein, Notebooks, 81.
acker, Der Garten, 500. See pages 69 and 114.

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Eternal Life as the vision of God

everyone is actually, almost intuitively, already aware that this conception of


life is accurate, provided that we let our experience speak without prejudice.
The ultimate state of fulfillment for us is the (conscious) apprehension of
Truth but not taken in the sense of a kind of pure reflection. A pure
apprehension is impossible for us, although we are able to abstract from
sensuality and materiality. (Human reflection is only a partial reflection,
always taking place in union with another act and not in itself. Our
reflection does not reflect on itself directly.) Our spontaneous rejection of
the classical teaching is not so much a result of insight as of education. By
bypassing our education and returning to the old tradition, we can free
ourselves from prejudices that restrict our view.
Nicholas of Cusa took it for granted that the consciousness of truth
is the most valuable thing we have. According to him, reflection is the
apprehension of truth and this, in turn, involves the apprehension of an
apprehension, without this, however, being without an object. It is not
the case as, for example, Rudolf Carnap thinks, that philosophers generally
accept that the senses provide the material of cognition, reason synthesizes
the material so as to produce an organized system of knowledge.67 Rather,
it is a kind of co-apprehension.
Actually, we should marvel at the fact that we have a notion truth at
all. What is at play here is, on the one hand, quite well known and, on the
other hand, quite difficult to focus on rationally and to analyze what is so
familiar to us. Presumably, neither any other animal nor a computer can
do this. Once we have made the step, then we can continue further on to
distinguish different levels of apprehension from one another.
The mind, according to Aristotles often quoted teaching, is in some
sense everything. In potency, at least, it is a microcosm.68 Therein lies our
truth capability, and if and when consciousness and reality meet, we have
truth.
Self-consciousness, to repeat, can never occur alone that is, without
some content other than itself. We do not enjoy an act of pure selfconsciousness, independent of reality. The self is present only concomitantly. This implies, conversely, that consciousness envelops the other. My
apprehension of the apple and my consciousness of apprehending the apple
have the same formal content. The addition of attention does not add an
object. Self-consciousness is similar to a light in that it heightens the object
but lacks a separate object of its own. That is why I can know that I am,
67

Carnap, Logical Structure, vi.

68

Cf. Aristotle, Physics, VIII, 2; 25 b 26.

4.5 The apprehension of truth

129

that I am a self, but without comprehending my self in its essence. As


Aquinas notes:
Our mind of itself knows itself, inasmuch as it knows concerning itself that
it exists: for by the very perceiving of itself to act it perceives itself to be. But
it acts of itself. Therefore of itself it knows concerning itself that it exists.
But it cannot be said that the soul of itself knows concerning itself what it
essentially is.69

Eternal Life is life in the Truth, without the distance normally separating
subject and object. We will know our loved ones in their concrete reality
and not with the distance that now always separates and frustrates us. As
Aristotle has taught, theoria is the highest form of living; it is the life of the
gods. It is a form, the deepest form, of grasping reality.

4.5 Mans eschatological union with God


as the apprehension of truth
The meticulousness with which Thomas Aquinas treats the topic of the
eschatological union of man with God reflects the importance as well as the
difficulty of the question. This is especially noteworthy seeing that, shortly
beforehand, the Church had arrived at a definitive definition of this union
namely, the seeing of Gods essence. In 1241, the Bishop of Paris, William of
Auvergne, with the support of noted theology professors, had rejected the
thesis that in the final state of Eternal Life, the divine essence in itself [divina
essentia in se] will not be seen.70 This episcopal decision resulted in the
fact that all orthodox theologians henceforth presupposed that the divine
essence itself is the content of Eternal Life and not just intermediaries of
some kind (called divine appearances, theophanies, apparitiones, ostensiones,
condescentiones, lucubrationes, fulgor divinae essentiae, and so on), as had
been previously held by some noted theologians.
However, the term essentia gave rise to problems, for essentia is a forma
and it can be misleading to conceive of the vision of God in a formalistic
manner. Thomas Aquinas seems to have preferred the term substance.
Since for him the divine essence is identical with the divine being, the
terms essence and substance are interchangeable. In my opinion, a
term like reality would be more adequate. What it comes down to is that
the divine reality itself is directly united to the human being without any
69
70

Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 46. Cf. In III. Sententiarum, dist. 23, q. 1, a. 2, ad 3;
De veritate, q. 10, a. 8; Summa theologiae, I, q. 87, a. 1; a. 3.
Cf. Hoye, Gotteserkenntnis, 270; Trottmann, La vision, in particular 115208.

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Eternal Life as the vision of God

intermediary realities. The immediacy of the final relationship to God is


dogmatically set down once and forever.
Of course, a thinker like Thomas Aquinas is not content to stop thinking
once the teaching of Faith has been defined. He sees the possibility of
interpreting the dogma in the sense that the contrary position represents
not the truth question but only an inappropriate manner of speaking
[inconvenienter dicitur].71 To pose the truth question, one must refer to
reason. Faith must be justified by reason. Thomas wants to show that the
opposite position is false, in addition to being heretical72 : It is foreign to
Faith and outside of reason.73
Despite the fact that we are dealing here with a supernatural matter,
Thomas still wants to demonstrate that strict philosophical thinking arrives
at the same truth as Revelation. His theological efforts are directed toward
a deeper understanding of Faith teaching.74 According to Faith, all rational creatures who attain beatitude should see God through his essence,
Thomas remarks. Now, however, we must consider or understand how we
can see God through his essence.75
What does Thomas take as his starting point in order to bring Faith and
reason together? He proceeds in the same way as Aristotle does namely,
by approaching the question from the point of view of the final end; that
is, the goal of all goals: happiness.76 Actually, this is not what one would
expect. This presents the opportunity of taking philosophy as the starting
point so that philosophy is not viewed only as the handmaid of theology.
Aristotles analysis of happiness brings him to the teaching that happiness
consists in a kind of knowledge. As Aquinas emphasizes, knowledge of the
highest object. For Thomas, this is God and it can take place only after
death [post mortem].77
Before presenting this thesis, Thomas takes up the question of whether
man can know himself without intermediaries. His position is that man
71
72
73
74

75
76
77

Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 12, a. 1c.


Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III c. 54; De veritate, q. 8, a. 1c.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 12, a. 1c.
Une decision des autorites ecclesiastiques ayant precise le donne de foi, les theologiens, doivent
en penser laccord avec la raison. Trottmann, La vision, 196. Cf., for example, Thomas Aquinas,
Quaestiones quodlibetales, VII, q. 1, a. 1c: It must be said that it is to be held beyond doubt that the
divine essence will be seen immediately by the glorified intellect in the fatherland. To demonstrate
this one must know that . . .
Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 8, a. 1c.
Cf. Trottmann, La vision, 309312 (subtitle: Originalite de la problematique de saint Thomas: Le
desir naturel de voir Dieu).
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 49. Post hanc vitam. Ibid., c. 48. Impossibile
est animae hominis secundum hanc vitam viventis, essentiam Dei videre. Summa theologiae, I,
q. 12, a. 11c.

4.5 The apprehension of truth

131

is unable to know himself directly that is, through himself. This is


important because then God is the only object of human consciousness
that can be known through itself. Although man is closest to himself and
identical with himself, he is nevertheless unable to know himself through
himself.78
It is clearly important to Thomas to show that Faith and philosophy
coincide at this point. Similarly, Thomas teaches that the ultimate knowledge that can be gained about God in this life is the same in philosophy
and Faith. Revelation does not invalidate or relativize the insight that what
God is remains absolutely unknowable in the present life.79 On this point,
theology and philosophy have to cope with the same problems.80
To substantiate that the goal of human life consists in knowledge of
God, Thomas proceeds in two ways: he argues directly and indirectly. In
both cases, he arrives at a result that he considers to be both Christian
and Aristotelian: Thus, we have reached by way of induction the same
conclusion that was formerly established by deductive reasoning, that mans
final happiness does not consist in anything short of the contemplation
of God.81 By calling God the object of fulfilling knowledge, Thomas
goes beyond Aristotle by using Aristotles principle, thus exemplifying how
Faith has inspired reason. Assuming Aristotles principle that a natural
desire cannot be in vain, Thomas concludes that the vision of God must
be possible.82 Then he notes that such a vision has been promised to us in
the Bible.83 Consequently, both reason and Biblical Revelation teach the
same thing. Therefore, it can be said that it is natural that there be a vision
of God in the afterlife.84
78
79
80
81
84

Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 46. With this teaching, Thomas stands in
contradiction to Augustine, who speaks of seipsam per seipsam novit (quoted ibid.).
Cf. Hoye, Gotteserkenntnis, 269284; Die Unerkennbarkeit, 117139.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, In IV. Sententiarum, dist. 49, q. 2, a. 1c.
82 Cf. ibid., c. 51.
83 Cf. ibid.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 37.
One can know God in many ways: through his essence, through sensible things, or through
intelligible effects. We have to make a similar distinction about that which is natural to man. For
something is contrary to nature and according to nature for one and the same thing according to its
different states, because the nature of the thing is not the same when it is in the state of becoming
and when it has complete existence, as Rabbi Moses says. Thus, full stature and other things of the
kind are natural to man when he has reached maturity, but it would be contrary to nature for a boy
to have full stature at birth.
Thus, it must be said that to know God in some fashion is natural for the human intelligence
according to any state. But in the beginning, that is, in this life, it is natural for it to know God
through sensible creatures. It is also natural for it to reach the knowledge of God through himself
when it reaches its full perfection, that is, in heaven. Thus, if in this life it is raised to the knowledge
of God which it will have in heaven, this will be contrary to nature, just as it would be contrary to
nature for a baby boy to have a beard. Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 13, a. 1, ad 1. Nevertheless,

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Eternal Life as the vision of God

After having gotten this far, Thomas continues on with a deeper analysis.
At the end of twelve chapters, in which he treats various aspects, he comes
to the following recapitulation:
If then the final happiness of man does not consist in those exterior advantages which are called goods of fortune, nor in goods of the body, nor in
goods of the soul in its sentient part, nor in the intellectual part in respect of
the moral virtues, nor in the virtues of the practical intellect, called art and
prudence, it remains that mans final happiness consists in the contemplation
of truth.85

The idea of a vision of Truth itself The final end is the manifest vision
of the first Truth in itself 86 and not of a truth or truths is extremely
abstract. The fundamental situation is that we see a reality and the seeing
of the reality is a truth. But Thomas is not content with this, for the notion
of a vision of Truth is not unequivocal. What does it mean to see Truth
itself? When we say that God is Truth itself, clearly we do not mean that
he is an abstract notion, no less than calling God absolute Being means
that he is the abstract notion of beingness. That would certainly not be the
source of fulfilled happiness. Now I must imagine what it would mean not
only to see a tree but also to see the truth of the seeing. Then this must
be universalized and made transcendent, and then we have the vision of
Truth itself. What is the content of such a vision?
After excluding other kinds of knowledge, including metaphysical contemplation and the knowledge attained through Faith, Thomas summarizes
his examination:
Now it is impossible for human happiness to consist in that contemplation
which is by intuition of first principles a very imperfect study of things,
as being the most general, and not amounting to more than a potential
knowledge: it is in fact not the end but the beginning of human study: it is
supplied to us by nature, and not by any close investigation of truth. Nor can
happiness consist in the sciences, the object-matter of which is the meanest
things, whereas happiness should be an activity of the intellect dealing
with the noblest objects of intelligence. Therefore, the conclusion remains
that the final happiness of man consists in contemplation guided by wisdom
to the study of the things of God.87

What is important is that the knowledge required cannot be attained in


the present life:

85
86

it is supernatural in the sense that its realization goes beyond the capabilities of a human being. Cf.
ibid., q. 14, a. 2c.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 37.
87 Ibid., c. 37.
Ibid., c. 152: Ultimus autem finis est manifesta visio primae veritatis in seipsa.

4.5 The apprehension of truth

133

If then human happiness does not consist in the knowledge of God whereby
he is commonly known by all or most men according to some vague estimate,
nor again in the knowledge of God whereby he is known demonstratively in
speculative science, nor in the knowledge of God whereby he is known by
Faith . . . ; if again it is impossible in this life to arrive at a higher knowledge
of God so as to know him in his essence, or to understand other pure spirits,
and thereby attain to a nearer knowledge of God; and still final happiness
must be placed in some knowledge of God; it follows that it is impossible
for the final happiness of man to be in this life.88

The only kind of knowledge of God that would fulfill a human is a


knowledge that comes about by Gods immediate union with human consciousness, so that God and man somehow become one in the act of
consciousness.89 This is what is called knowledge of God through his
essence. Faith teaching implies that nothing else but God himself could
mediate a divine experience. Faith animates reason to investigate more
deeply.
His mature position on how the divine substance is united to consciousness is elucidated in the Summa contra gentiles:
Since the perfection/maturity of the intellect is that which is true [verum],
that intelligible alone will be like the forma in the genus of intelligible things
which is Truth itself. This belongs to God alone, for, since the true [verum]
follows being, that alone is its own Truth [veritas] which is its own being
[esse], which is proper of God alone.90

The divine being is the pivotal point: As God is his being, so too is he his
truth [veritas], which is the forma of the intellect.91 Hence, we have the
divine essence as both that which [quod ] is seen and that whereby [quo] it
is seen.92
However, it cannot be that God is subsumed into human consciousness,
with the consequence that man becomes more than God:
It is manifest that the divine essence may be related to the created intellect
as an intelligible species by which it understands . . . Yet, it cannot be the
form of another thing in its natural being, for the result of this would be
that, once joined to another thing, it would make up one nature. This could
not be, since the divine essence is in itself perfect in its own nature. But
an intelligible species, united with an intellect, does not make up a nature;
rather, it perfects the intellect for the act of understanding, and this is not
incompatible with the perfection of the divine essence.93
88
90
91
92

89 Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 8, a. 1.


Ibid., c. 48.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 51.
Thomas Aquinas, Compendium theologiae, I, c. 105.
93 Ibid.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 51.

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In view of a widespread interpretation, it is important to realize that for


Thomas Aquinas, the truth of the things is not the basis for our knowledge
of them. According to him, it is the being of things that makes them
knowable. Things do have truth, seeing that they are created by a knowing
God, but such thoughts of God are not the basis for our thoughts.94 As
he states:
Although the truth of our intellect is caused by the thing, yet it is not
necessary that truth should be there primarily, any more than that health
should be primarily in medicine, rather than in the animal: for the virtue
of medicine, and not its health, is the cause of health, for here the agent is
not univocal. In the same way, the being of the thing, not its truth, is the
cause of truth in the intellect. Hence, the Philosopher says that a thought
or a word is true from the fact that a thing is, not because a thing is true.95

To say that God is Truth is paradoxical, for the presuppositions for the
definition of knowledge as the correspondence between thought and its
object seem to be lacking. To repeat, This is the uniqueness of the divine
essence that an intellect can be united to it without any similitude, because
the divine essence itself is its own being and this never occurs with any
other forms.96 As pure act, God can be united to a consciousness in such
a way that he determines consciousness in its contents.97
More precisely, the divine being is able to determine consciousness
insofar as he is the cause of all beings. In a text that has drawn little
attention, Thomas states:
The divine essence is not something universal in being [in essendo], since it is
distinct from all other things, but only in causing, since that which is through
itself [per se] is the cause of all that is not through itself. Consequently, being
subsisting through itself is the cause of all being received in another. And
in this way [!] the divine essence is a knowable that can determine the
intellect.98

In other words, the condition for the possibility of the vision of God lies
not in the divine truth but rather in the divine being. Expressed in another
way: God in himself, distinct from other realities, is not a content of the
visio.
In this sense, Gods infinite transcendence is not impinged on by this
idea. His being united with human consciousness in this way does not
94
95
96
97
98

Cf. Hoye, Hermeneutische Uberlegungen.


Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 16, a. 1, ad 3. Cf. In I. Sententiarum, dist. 19, q. 5, a. 1, sol.
Thomas Aquinas, Compendium theologiae, I, c. 9.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 8, a. 1c.
Thomas Aquinas, Quaestiones quodlibetales, VII, q. 1, a. 1, ad 1 (emphasis added).

4.6 Truth and the predicative structure of experience

135

imply that man has reached divine infinity and brought it down to his own
finite level.

4.6 Truth and the predicative structure of experience


At this point of the argumentation, a deeper analysis of experience is
imperative. The manner in which we experience reality conforms to the
sentence structure of our language and vice versa. We speak in sentences,
with subject and predicate, because this is the way we think. Furthermore,
there is a unity in the elementary perception, so that one can speak of a coperception rather than a simple addition of two perceptions. A sentence is
not simply the adjoinment of two or more notions. Neither does a sentence
consist in the fusion of the abstract concept with the concrete case. This is
Platonic but not Thomistic. For Thomas Aquinas, the structure is not one
of Platonic participation but rather of the union between concept and act
or, in another terminology, between essence and existence.
In the authoritative grammar of the German language, the Duden Grammatik, an unexpectedly fitting analysis of the sentence is found. Like
Thomas, the grammar surprisingly uses the Aristotelian terms possibility
and reality. It refers to a tension between possibility and reality that is
peculiar to all sentences.99 In this tension, truth occurs. Human existence
takes place in contact with reality while nevertheless remaining at a certain
distance from reality as well. The subject-predicate dualism is described as
a cleavage of reality:
This cleavage of what is at first only a complexly perceived particular reality
into a something and a relatively developed [gepragt] statement about this
something is proper to all of our sentences. Not before the forming of the
statement does language make the possibility of mastering the entire being
and happening in a particular manner of viewing . . . [In the statements] we
recognize most clearly the mental access [Zugriff ] of our mother tongue to
the entire being and that which happens in our world.100

The subject represents the possibility and the predicate the actualization
of a possibility.101 Sentences are like tools with which we both fasten and
form the reality around us. The mental process of abstracting is actually an
activity on reality.
Weizsacker attributes this potentiality to our ability to reflect. Although
I disagree with his explanation, it will help us to advance in understanding how predication works by taking a closer look at it. The cardinal
99

Duden. Grammatik, 471.

100

Ibid., 468.

101

Cf. ibid., 471.

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Eternal Life as the vision of God

point in Weizsackers position is that he understands reflection solely as an


apprehension of an apprehension.
Weizsackers approach begins by attempting to understand better what
possibility and reality mean. This approach is interesting because Aristotle, from whom we have inherited this distinction, considered the concepts to be absolutely fundamental; that is, he made no attempt to explain
them or reduce them to any deeper principle. Weizsackers intention is to
delve more deeply into both notions. This he does by taking the notion of
time into consideration. Truth, he explains, is appearance of the unity of
time.102 Consequently, he interprets possibility and reality as temporal
concepts. However, his translation of Aristotle appears forced:
Aristotle defines movement with the help of the terms reality and possibility . . . Movement is defined as the reality of a possible reality as such.
In our way of speaking possibility signifies the characteristic of the future,
reality the characteristic of the present. Facticity is the past reality that has
been preserved in documents. In a stylizing manner one can accordingly
say: Movement is the presence of the future.103

This analysis is appropriate for something like walking or a melody. While


hearing individual notes, one simultaneously hears the sequence of the
notes. In other words, one hears past notes as possibilities that can be
realized and one hears the present note not only as a reality but also
simultaneously as a possibility (which can become past or which could have
become present). But an analysis like this cannot explain why sentences
consist of no more, and no less, than two parts (subject and predicate);
neither can it deal with sentences that are independent of time (e.g., two
plus two is four). As a result, in my opinion, Weizsacker is unable to
explain why sentences can have no more than two parts; in other words, he
is unable to distinguish in this respect motion from a sentence. It seems to
me that Thomas Aquinas is right in basing the phenomenon of the truth
of sentences on the co-apprehension of the act of existence rather than on
the co-apprehension of time, as Weizsacker attempts to do.
The unification of a sentence is accomplished by the verb to be or other
verbs signifying modes of being. It is understandable, then, why normal
language normally uses the verb to be as the copula in nominal sentences.
It is the elementary verb, so to speak, the least common denominator of
verbs. Verbs consist in modes of being. Being is, as it were, the verb purely
and simply.
102

Weizsacker, Ambivalence, 194.

103

Weizsacker, Aufbau, 631.

4.6 Truth and the predicative structure of experience

137

If the verb being has a meaning in a sentence that goes beyond the
simple copula, then is or are signifies in any case more than being now,
as Weizsacker believes; they signify being now.
For Weizsackers theology, it is necessary to interpret being temporally. To substantiate his own position, he quotes on several occasions an
enigmatic sentence of Georg Pichts: Time itself is being.104 This is to be
understood in the sense that being means being in time. The verb is in
the sentence is to be taken as a transitive verb. Time is being in the sense
that it produces being.105
Having a more natural viewpoint, Thomas Aquinas teaches that truth
is based on reality instead of being the appearance of the unity of time, as
Weizsacker asserts. Thomas maintains that it is even impossible to think
the notion of truth without referring to the notion of reality, just as son
cannot be thought without reference to father. Truth presupposes reality
and is a function of reality. Truth occurs at different levels. On the surface,
we have the truth of indicative sentences; beneath it is the truth of thought;
and beneath this level is ontological truth, with consciousness becoming
the object before emerging in the form of a thought.
Truth and truth-asserting sentences come about because we reflect on
our knowledge. In this rudimentary case, reflection is not simply the apprehension of an apprehension.106 It is not one conscious act having another
one as its object; it is rather one act being aware of itself simultaneously.
Weizsacker analyzes reflection as consisting of two acts, one occurring after
the other, making it a temporal phenomenon. Consequently, time would
be the dimension encompassing both. Weizsacker approaches reality in a
Platonic way; that is, he sees a pyramid of levels of abstraction, such that
the subject of a sentence is the universal and the predicate is a particular
case included in the universal.
But, for Aquinas, reflection is not a higher level of abstraction. Neither
is it something like a subsequent thematization, as Rahner interprets him.
For Thomas, it is the apprehension of an act of existence that is, of
the actualization of a possibility. At the same time, therefore, it is also the
apprehension of that which has the act of existence. The relation between
a possibility and its actualization is quite different from the relation of a
particular case and the universal.
The twofold structure of the sentence corresponds to this double structure of reflective consciousness: consciousness and self-consciousness.
104
106

105 Cf. Weizs


Picht, Wahrheit, 310.
acker, Aufbau, 577.
As Weizsacker maintains; cf. Garten, 402.

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Eternal Life as the vision of God

It lies in the logic of Weizsackers position that he has to deny the


existence of self-consciousness. He calls it a non-evident postulate.107
The two fundamental questions that can be posed about something are
What is it? and Does it exist? In other words, what can be questioned
are the what and the that. These are the rudimentary aspects of the
concrete real. The what represents a possibility and the that its reality.
Our apprehension of both simultaneously by reflection is the basis for
truth sentences. The apprehension of existence distinguishes subject and
predicate but in such a way that they comprise a unity that is, a sentence.
But a sentence is also a duality that breaks up the experience. From this, we
can conceive of an experience of pure unity, where possibility and reality are
indistinguishable and desire it. Weizsacker reveals a profound awareness
of this.
God is light, says Holy Scripture. Light is invisible, but where we see
visible things, we know that light is present. Our original knowledge of
God is similar: we cannot know what God is, but we can discover that he
is. This is expressed in sentences but not in notions. What happens in a
sentence is an opening toward God, for indicative sentences embody an
awareness that reality exists. This interrelation requires an elaboration.
How do assertions include a reference to God, seeing that God is simple,
having no parts, and sentences are complex, consisting of a subject and a
predicate? It would seem that sentences are too complex for a theology.
Nonetheless, Thomas Aquinas defends the assertion: Although God is
absolutely simple, it is not futile for our intellect to form enunciations
concerning God in his simplicity by means of composition and division.108
What, then, are assertions? Actually, we should be astonished by the fact
that sentences occur in our world. They represent a unity, composed of
two parts. The unity is the meaning of the sentence. Moreover, this is the
only kind of unity in the world that is capable of being true or false
an astonishing phenomenon. Where in our world can one find such a
capability? Only in language and even in language, it does not occur in
other combinations of words. An adjective can be as complex as one wants
it to be, but it can never be true or false. The phrase the white house
cannot be true, but if I change it to the house is white, then it is suddenly
capable of being true. Adjectival attributes or other kinds of attributes
lack this capability of predications.
Sentences are the articulation of human existence in reality. According to
the German grammar Duden, a statement is like a tool with which we take
107

Ibid., 610.

108

Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, I, c. 36.

4.6 Truth and the predicative structure of experience

139

hold of the reality around us. Weizsacker describes the process of forming
a sentence as a kind of grasping of reality [Zugreifen auf die Wirklichkeit]:
The bivalence, the division of reality into alternatives, is not a property the
world shows us without our assistance; it is the way we successfully grasp
reality. Intellect is power-forming. But the bivalence of logic is valid only
for reflective statements. Through the grasp of doubt the isolated simple
statement becomes a reflective statement.109

We split up reality in the predicative mode but without sacrificing


the unity that is contained in the meaning. That is, we grasp a reality
simultaneously as a possibility. Precisely this phenomenon is what we call
truth. If truth is associated with a sentence, then it is the being of a
true assertion, and this being presupposes the objective being of what it
is about. Notions no matter how complex never do this. Language
constructions like the shy unicorn that is running away cannot do it.
This is also the case with the ontological proof of Gods existence since it
proceeds from a notion and argues to existence. Thomas maintains that a
valid proof ends in a sentence, there being no other way for us to assert
existence of something.
The specifically human way of encountering reality is brought to expression in indicative sentences. Truth is our way of taking possession of reality.
Sentences are so closely related to truth that they can be defined in truth
categories.
Where does truth exist, it can be asked. It is a relationship between
thought and its object. Is the relationship itself truth? This would be a kind
of Platonic abstraction. In fact, the relationship exists only in consciousness.
It comes about by a kind of becoming. Consciousness somehow becomes
the object, and both judgment and utterance emerge out of it. Truth is thus
a quality of consciousness. The relationship (in the form of intentionality)
is part of the true thought.
What then is Truth itself and what is the apprehension of Truth itself?
What do Christians mean by calling God Truth itself? Once again, Faith
proves to present a challenge to reason.
Since it is produced by thought and exists solely in thought, truth is
influenced not only by the object but also by thought itself. Consequently,
truth is not simply objectivity that is, the mirroring of the object. Thomas
Aquinas even asserts that if we did have perfect objectivity, then we would
have no truth at all.110 The subject adds something of its own [aliquid
109

Weizsacker, Ambivalence, 187.

110

Cf. Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 1, a. 3.

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Eternal Life as the vision of God

proprium] to truth. Hence, truth is in essence ambivalent: it has a real


relationship to its object but also stands under the influence of its own
subjectivity. Otherwise, Thomas notes, it would make no sense to speak of
correspondence, or conformity [conformitas], or the equation [adaequatio]
of thing and intellect, or assimilation [assimilatio]. Weizsacker notes that the
adaequatio is not like that of a photograph to its object but instead like the
fitting of a key into the corresponding lock.111 Rahner calls knowledge
the subjectivity of being itself, the Being-Present-to-Self [Beisichsein].112
To be sure, sentences can be true or false, but they obviously derive
this trait from the thought that they express. The conformity of a thought
to its object lies deeper. In these cases, the classical definition of truth as
the conformity of a statement to that about which it makes an assertion
(Veritas est adaequatio rei et intellectus; truth is the equation of thing and
intellect) that is, the correspondence, or image, theory of truth fits
well. This definition can be found in general dictionaries as well as in
philosophical dictionaries such as the Marxist Philosophical Dictionary,
which defines truth as the quality of statements of conforming to the
actual mirrored situation.113 The Oxford English Dictionary calls truth
conformity with fact; agreement with reality. According to MerriamWebster, it is the property (as of a statement) of being in accord with fact or
reality. The following definition of truth, which is often falsely attributed
to Thomas Aquinas, is probably the most common traditional definition:
the assimilation [adaequatio] of a statement with the thing about which it
is made. In the traditional form, it is actually not called statement but
rather judgment or intellect. The sentence or, more deeply, the thought
represents an image of its object. As Aristotle formulates it: To say of
what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of
what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true.114 The known
reality is the criterion, as Aristotle remarks: It is not because we are right
in thinking that you are white that you are white; it is because you are
white that we are right in saying so.115
Instead of adaequatio, Thomas Aquinas prefers the notion conformity [conformitas]116 ; the form of the object is present in thought. The
form is similar whereas the being of the two states is different. For example,
when I see a tree, it is really the tree that is in my thought, but its objective
111
113
114
115

112 Rahner, Spirit, 68.


Cf. Weizsacker, Aufbau, 211212.
Philosophical Dictionary, Vol. II, 1274. Cf. also the German dictionary Duden. Das groe Worterbuch:
The conformity of a proposition to what it is made about.
Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1011 b 26; 1024 b 25. Cf. Plato, Cratylus 385 b 2; Sophist 263 b.
116 Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 16, a. 8c.
Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1051 b 7.

4.6 Truth and the predicative structure of experience

141

being is different (there is no wood in my thought). However, the tree in


my thought is not what I am directly seeing. In Scholastic terminology, the
tree in my thought is a quo (that by which the tree is known), whereas the
tree in nature is the quod (that which is known).
Truth is comparable to a mirror image. Bertrand Russell agrees: Thus a
belief is true when there is a corresponding fact, and is false when there is
no corresponding fact.117 Descartes can also be cited: The word truth, in
the strict sense, denotes the conformity of thought with its object.118 Even
philosophers whose overall views may well lead one to expect otherwise
tend to agree, such as Kant: The nominal definition of truth, that it is the
agreement of [a cognition] with its object, is assumed as granted.119
It would be false, however, if truth were now strictly defined as a quality
of statements. The truth of statements is the expression of a deeper level of
truth. Of course, before it takes on the form of a sentence, truth exists in
thought, where it also has a predicative structure. Thomas Aquinas made
the profound observation that truth exists even previous to knowledge.
According to him, knowledge arises out of truth and then statements arise
out of knowledge. Thomas realized that knowledge is a kind of becoming,
and the becoming itself has a predicative structure. One can go so far as to
say that human nature itself is in its own being predicative.
Consequently, human nature could be called the truth nature. Truth
is the way man consciously exists in reality. With his hands he can grasp
reality, with his feet he stands in reality, with his eyes he receives real light
waves. Truth is the relationship of his consciousness to reality, the sentence
structure of his being, derived from the fact that the grasping in this case
is a result of reflection. We have no truths that are unconscious.
Truth is so essential to human existence that it defines what a human
being is. Truth is a kind of becoming. Consciousness is the human way of
becoming other things through truth. The immateriality of consciousness
means that it can become its object without sacrificing itself. Knowing and,
even more, loving is personal growth. Through truth, the other becomes
part of my being. This stone is nothing other than this stone, Thomas
remarks. But in immaterial being the reality is not only that which it is, but
is in a certain sense other things.120 Objects are assimilated: Knowledge
is according as the thing known is in the knower.121
Truth is not a medium between subject and object. Knowledge, which
follows on truth, exists wholly in the knower:
117
119
121

118 Descartes, uvres, Vol. II, 597.


E.g., Russell, Problems, 129.
120 Thomas Aquinas, In II. De anima, lect. 5, n. 283.
Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, B82.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 16, a. 1c.

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The action which is transient, passing to some extrinsic object, is really a
medium between the agent and the subject receiving the action. The action
which remains within the agent, is not really a medium between the agent
and the object, but only according to the manner of expression; for it really
follows the union of the object with the agent. For the act of understanding
is brought about by the union of the object understood with the one who
understands it, as an effect which differs from both.122

In contrast to love, knowing implies an ontological elevation for objects


that are ontologically beneath me and a reduction for objects above me.
Truth is so closely affiliated with reality that it is not possible to think the
idea of truth without thinking of reality. The true cannot be apprehended
unless the idea of being be apprehended also; since being is included in
the idea of the true.123 Knowledge is caused by truth: The being of the
reality precedes its truth, but knowledge is an effect of truth.124
The dual structure of truth corresponds to the duality of consciousness:
consciousness and self-consciousness that is, reflection. In other words,
every statement is the expression of reflecting consciousness. (Accordingly,
Plato went so far as to make Socrates teach that in the etymology of the
Greek word man, self-reflection is articulated.125 ) Without reflection,
there can only be notions but not truth. What is more, the unity of the
statement corresponds to the unity that comes about through reflection
that is, the unity of consciousness and self-consciousness. In other words,
truth is not simply the apprehension of an object, it also requires reflection. For this reason, linguistic expressions of truth have the double form
of sentences. A sentence presupposes that the knower reflects on his knowledge. He does not simply see a red rose, he knows that he is seeing a red
rose. He can utter a statement, for example, The rose is red. By reflection,
he has separated the parts of his original apprehension into a subject and
predicate, into an object and its existence. Reflection is essential. What is
important is that reflection does not apprehend a distinct content of its
own, it simply realizes what is happening.
Seeing the tree and being aware that I am now seeing the tree is one act;
I apprehend both the tree and the existence of the tree. The union of a
possibility and its reality is seen. It can be said that truth characterizes the
essence of human nature. Reflection in this sense is neither a higher degree
of abstraction nor the thematization of abstraction (as Rahner believes). It
122
124

123 Ibid., q. 16, a. 3, ad 3.


Ibid., q. 54, a. 1, ad 3.
125 Cf. Plato, Cratylus, 399 c.
Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 1, a. 1c.

4.6 Truth and the predicative structure of experience

143

is not simply the apprehension of an apprehension (occurring somewhat


later, as Weizsacker believes). The predicative apprehension grasps its object
as a possibility and simultaneously as a reality: a reality that has reality
or, to state it correctly, a possibility that has reality.
With this analysis, we have acquired an explanation of why only humans
make sentences and why sentences have two, and only two, parts a third
possibility beyond consciousness and self-consciousness is not conceivable.
This double structure, of course, can be repeated endlessly. Hence, subject
and predicate do not represent the building blocks of the sentence; the
sentence comes first. Subject and predicate are subsequent abstractions.
The emergence of notions occurs later.
The Aristotelian notional pair possibility and reality is more familiar
in the well-known argument for Gods existence from motion. Thanks to
the temporal dimension, motion is easier for us to apprehend than the
inner structure of a sentence, but the relationship is the same. In other
words, truth and motion, or change, have the same structure. Motion, or
change, is defined as the actuality of a possibility as such. The predicative
apprehension sees the same thing. It is no wonder, then, that God is
identified with truth.
It also becomes more understandable why Thomas Aquinas teaches that
a proof of Gods existence attains the being of a sentence namely, God
is and not the divine being itself.126 Predicative being that is, truth
is the human way of reaching divine being.
We succeed in knowing realities but always with the differentiation
between possibility and reality. Truths are, so to speak, broken by us into
sentences. As we know them in our present world, realities are possibilities that have received being. In other words, they are creatures, they are
concrete (etymologically, grown together). This differentiation opens an
awareness of reality itself, free from possibility that is, pure reality. The
predicative grasping of reality is an awakening to reality itself. We can
distinguish between a reality and reality itself. In the former case, we have
no difficulty in using the plural form (the world is full of realities). But
normal language forbids to turn the latter form into a plural. Reality itself
is necessarily singular. In Latin, it is easier to express this distinction: ens is
quite different from esse ipsum to say nothing of entitas. The insight of
everyday language, its intuitive theology, is astounding.
126

Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, I, c. 12. Cf. Summa theologiae, I, q. 3, a. 4, ad 2 (quoted
on page 35).

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Eternal Life as the vision of God

4.7 The necessary structure of the vision of God


Undoubtedly, we can have no satisfying conception of what Eternal Life
is like. But we can, of course, know things that we are unable to imagine
or understand. Many physicists know the quantum theory, all know that
it cannot be really imagined, but very few people understand it. We can
also know future things if they follow necessarily from something known
in the present. I know with certainty that I will not turn two years old next
year. From natural laws, future events can be reliably predicted.
As a minimum, we can assert that the salvation of a human being must
somehow be human, for it would otherwise not be his or her salvation. My
happiness must be a state that somehow fulfills my longing. This consists
in a kind of return to the origins. But the origin in this case is not my state
at birth, it is my creator. Returning to the creator entails the fulfillment of
my nature.
To the extent to which a future state necessarily depends on a known
present state, we can know something about it. For it to be fulfilling
happiness, it must actualize certain minimal conditions. We can see that
Eternal Life must be structured in a way that is the salvation and fulfillment
of temporal life. The glory had in heaven does not destroy nature; instead,
it perfects it.127 Thomas explains this as follows: Even though the glory
had in heaven does not destroy nature, it elevates it to a level which it could
not reach by itself, namely, that level where it can see things through Gods
very essence without any likeness acting as a medium in this vision.128
Our truths arise ultimately out of divine Truth. If we apprehend Truth
itself, then we do not have a new content; rather, we have a new light.
What is seen in the vision of God is the reality that I have come to love in
the present life, but in a new light. What does this light do? In the present
life, we grasp realities only in an abstract manner. The mountain that I see
is not materially in my consciousness. God, as Truth itself, knows things
not just in an abstract manner, but their individuality is also present to
him. His knowledge is, at least in this sense, much deeper than ours. In
Eternal Life, we share in this kind of knowledge. That is one reason why
in the vision of God we experience realities in a much fuller sense of real:
both abstract and concrete, spiritual and material.
Eternal Life can be neither the same as temporal life nor totally different
from it. It seems to me that the essential difference lies in what could be
called the direction of experience. Inductive and deductive knowledge
127

Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 8, a. 5, arg. 3.

128

Ibid., ad 3.

4.7 The necessary structure of the vision of God

145

have two different directions, so to speak, from above and from below,
although they can arrive at the same knowledge. The sum of the angles of
a triangle can be found out by measuring each one and adding them or by
mathematically analyzing triangles of any and all sorts. The mathematician
in this case will arrive at a more exact result. He would never say, more or
less 180 degrees, and his knowledge applies to all triangles whatsoever, even
when no concrete triangle at all is present. Actually, the empirical presence
is more of a hindrance than a help. Conversely, concrete knowledge of the
singular has advantages. I know my dog, in a certain sense, better than the
biologist.
These analogies can be applied to God and reality. After having presented
an argument from Faith teaching for a life after death, Aquinas argues from
reason:
For the ultimate fulfillment of the rational creature is to be found in that
which is the principle of its being . . . There resides in every man a natural
desire to know the cause of any effect which he sees; and thence arises
wonder in men. But if the intellect of the rational creature could not reach
so far as to the first cause of things, the natural desire [desiderium naturae]
would remain void. Hence, it must be absolutely granted that the blessed
see the essence of God.129

This Thomas equates with the promise of Christian Revelation: This is


the immediate vision of God that is promised to us in Scripture: We see
now in a glass darkly, but then face to face (1 Cor 13:2).130 Now we know
God through creatures, then we are to know God directly and creatures in
and through him. In our present condition, we encounter, in various ways,
realities, and in these or through these we encounter reality itself. Gods
perspective is just the opposite: He knows himself, that is, reality itself, and
therein everything that participates in his being. In an analogous manner,
we have to think of Eternal Life if we think of it at all for we know of
no other alternatives. Our knowledge then will be analogous to the way in
which we ourselves are known. By this vision we are singularly assimilated
to God, and are partakers in his happiness. Then Thomas continues by
stating the reason for this: For his happiness consists in his apprehending
his own substance by his own essence. Hence, it is said: When he shall
appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 Jo 3:2). 131
129
130
131

Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 12, a. 1c.


Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 51.
Ibid. The proper operation of a thing is an end for it, for this is its secondary perfection. That is
why whatever is fittingly related to its proper operation is said to be virtuous and good. But the

146

Eternal Life as the vision of God

All conscious knowledge is directed to realities, and these known realities


always occur in the form of actualized possibilities. The double structure of
the concrete namely, suchness (or whatness) and being characterizes all
of our experiences and instances of knowledge. In other words, realities are
also apprehended by us as possibilities that have received being. (For this
reason, language takes on the form of sentences, that is, the union of subject
[possibility] and verb [actualization].) Where possibility and actualization
are apprehended in one being, this is accompanied by an awareness that
there must be a reality that is its own being; that is, in which the tension
between possibility and being is overcome. When we grasp something as a
reality, we therefore have an awareness of reality pure and simple, in which
the individual reality participates. To quote Aquinas:
Although the first cause, that is, God, does not enter into the essence of
creatures, yet being which is in creatures cannot be understood except as
derived [deductum] from the divine being: even as a proper effect it cannot
be understood save as produced by its proper cause.132

Reflected consciousness represents the highest and most comprehensive


form of human knowledge, and this form can occur in two contrasting
modes. The eschatological form is similar to the divine mode, by which
God knows himself and therein quasi-deductively everything else.
Intermediated by consciousness, which embraces the ends of all other
activities and orients them to their natural final end the work of the
cardinal virtue of prudence the human being reaches all of the aspects of
its final goal. Aquinas gives a succinct analysis:
The end of the mind is therefore the end of all human actions. But the
end and the good of the mind is the true, and consequently its final end
is first truth. Therefore, the ultimate end of the whole man, and of all his
operations and desires, is to know the first truth, which is God.133

In this way, the principle is brought to bear that Thomas sets down as
the very first sentence of his treatment of our knowledge of God in the
Summa theologiae: Since anything whatsoever is knowable according as

132
133

act of understanding is the proper operation of an intellectual substance. Therefore, this act is its
end. And that which is most perfect in this operation is the ultimate end, particularly in the case
of operations that are not ordered to any products, such as the acts of understanding and sensing.
Now, since operations of this type are specified by their objects, through which they are known
also, any one of these operations must be more perfect when its object is more perfect. And so,
to understand the most perfect intelligible object, which is God, is the most perfect thing in the
genus of this operation of understanding. Therefore, to know God by an act of understanding is
the ultimate end of every intellectual substance. Ibid., c. 25. Cf. De veritate, q. 8, a. 1c.
Thomas Aquinas, De potentia, q. 3, a. 5, ad 1.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 25.

4.7 The necessary structure of the vision of God

147

it is actual [in actu], God, who is pure act without any admixture of
potentiality, is in himself supremely knowable.134 Once the goal has been
reached, the genetical structure of knowledge, of consciousness, is turned
around: No longer is reality experienced in the mode of particular realities;
instead, reality itself is immediately encountered. This is the only way
in which Eternal Life is conceivable. For the present, we encounter only
realities immediately; then we shall encounter reality itself immediately
and, through its mediation, everything else. As Aquinas expressed it:
Those who see the divine essence see what they see in God not by any
likeness, but by the divine essence itself united to their intellect . . . According
to the knowledge whereby things are known by those who see the essence
of God, they are seen in God himself not by any other similitudes but by
the divine essence alone present to the intellect; by which also God himself
is seen.135

This means that the attention directed to God does not in any way distract
from the attention paid to creatures.136 To the contrary, it intensifies the
consciousness of creatures, makes them, literally speaking, more real. As
Cusanus expresses it, they will be seen in their truth. The experience
implied here is given expression in his enigmatic phrase, the apprehension
of truth.
That psychosomatic influences work in both directions is well known.
True as it may be that all knowledge begins with the senses, still we are
acquainted with enough phenomena in which the process starts with the
mind. As Einstein wisely noted: The theory determines beforehand what
can be observed.137 Normal physical actions can begin with a conscious
decision. A powerful delight can bring tears to ones eyes. Out of fear,
bodily organs can react by quivering. Guilt can make a face turn red. Being
in love can cause laughter, and so on.
This attempt to come to terms with the inner structure of Eternal Life
may not be extremely informative, but it at least gives us a standpoint
to believe in it responsibly. Furthermore, it does provide us with enough
knowledge to orient our present life, at least showing that the decisive
factor in life is desire.
134
136

137

135 Ibid., a. 9c.


Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 12, a. 1c.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 28, a. 9, ad 1: When the two motions are altogether different,
they cannot coexist in the same power. But if one is the reason for the other, then they can coexist,
because they are in some sense a single motion. When, for example, a person desires something
for the sake of an end, he, at the same time, desires the end and the means. Cf. also In IV.
Sententiarum, dist. 44, q. 2, a. 1, C, ad 4: Since God is apprehended by the blessed as the ratio of
everything that is done or known by them, their occupation with whatever they know or do will
not impede in any way their divine contemplation, and conversely.
Quoted according to Weizsacker, Aufbau, 331.

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Eternal Life as the vision of God

The divine reality is like an energy field. Whatever lies within it is


rendered real. It is analogous to light. What lies in the cone of light takes
on the appearance of color. In himself, God as light is directly knowable.
The divine essence is purely light [pure lux], Thomas states, and for that
reason no other species than this light itself is required in order to see it.138
Whereas normally light and some object is necessary to see something,
in Gods case, light alone suffices. This is a possible way of interpreting
the Biblical sentence, By your light we see the light (Ps 36:9). The
same interpretation could be expressed by saying that light is an abstract
concrete. If Gods essence is to be seen, the mind must see it in the divine
essence itself, so that in such vision the divine essence shall be at once the
object which [quod ] is seen and that whereby [quo] it is seen,139 Thomas
concludes.

4.8 The mode of Gods presence: The forma intelligibilis


Gods presence in Eternal Life is a presence in consciousness. How is
this possible? Or, what does it mean? A helpful beacon for the following
thoughts is the enigmatic but precise Scriptural verse that we shall see the
light itself by Gods light. Here, we have one and the same light as that
which makes the seeing possible and that which is thereby seen. What
appears to be an impossibility provokes some thought. God is present in
consciousness analogously to the way light is visible. The light that is,
that which makes seeing possible is simultaneously that which is seen.
What is called medium sub quo in Scholastic terminology is also the medium
quod.
That this idea is not simply irrational is supported by a teaching of the
pagan Neoplatonic philosopher Plotinus, which is surprisingly similar to
the Biblical paradox.140
The Scholastic term for the contact point of anything known in human
consciousness is forma intelligibilis. Two kinds of formae must be distinguished: forma taken in both an ontological and an epistemological sense.
In the ontological sense, it is that which makes something be what it is, so
to speak, the whatness of something. Essence (or quiddity), distinguished
from existence, is a form. Examples would be whiteness, dogness, and
circularity. Conversely, the mode in which what is known is present in consciousness is the epistemological mode for example, thoughts, notions,
138
139
140

Thomas Aquinas, Quaestiones quodlibetales, VII, q. 1, a. 1, ad 4.


Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 51.
Cf. Plotinus, Enneads, V, 3, 8 and 17, 2938.

4.8 The mode of Gods presence

149

experiences, and apprehensions. In some way, this does not have to be


more closely described, the whatness of the object occurs in the whatness
in consciousness; this can be called objectivity. Thomass approach to our
question consists in saying that the divine essence influences human consciousness in the way in which an ontological form influences a reality.
Thomas speaks of the forma intelligibilis, but he means it in the ontological sense. When he says that God is somehow like a forma intelligibilis
in the vision, he means not that God is a content of consciousness but
rather that he is related to consciousness like an ontological form. The
manner in which we are usually acquainted with the ontological form is in
a relationship to matter. Now it is not matter that takes on the form but
consciousness.
Another Scholastic term for the contact point between human consciousness and an object is species impressa. It represents a content of
thought. To express it precisely, the species is the whatness, that is, the
forma, of an object just as it emerges into consciousness and before it is
known. Once it is explicitly known, it is called a species expressa; we would
call it today a thought or a notion. It can also be described as the object
of knowledge precisely as known. When I see a tree, then what is in my
mind is the species of the tree. I really do see the tree, but immaterially
that is, not with the kind of being that the tree itself has but rather its real
whatness. We experience or know concrete realities by bringing them to
consciousness as far as possible. This means that we attain their forma but
not their being itself. A better way of expressing it would be to say that
we attain the reality as forma. The forma is the knowability of the object.
What is referred to as the species is also called the forma intelligibilis.141 This
is any content of consciousness; not the act of knowing but rather what is
known, the object, the content, the forma.
Accordingly, when it comes to the question of a human mind and God,
then the point of contact is called the forma intelligibilis. In the context
of Eternal Life, it is anything but easy to understand what is meant by
this, albeit not because of its complexity. Immediately after his death, a
controversy began on the interpretation of what Thomas Aquinas meant
by his teaching,142 and it still continues today.143 The question is whether
Thomas meant that God is united to the human being as a species impressa
or rather as a species expressa, the presumption being that these are the only
alternatives.
141
142
143

Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 53.


Cf. Hoye, Gotteserkenntnis, 282284.
Cf., for example, recently Berger, Thomismus, 367.

150

Eternal Life as the vision of God

An influential participant in the controversy is Rahner. For him, it is not


simply hairsplitting. His interpretation of this teaching is for him the
crucial point in his whole theology, although this remains merely implicitly
presumed in his later writings. What seems to be a minor question respecting a highly hypothetical aspect of the afterlife is nevertheless a decisive
foundation of his whole theology. Rahner is convinced that
in its ontology of the beatific vision, medieval theology developed very clearly
the doctrine that the vision can only come about by a self-communication
of the divine essence, strictly as such, to the creature, and that this selfcommunication of God by means of a type of formal causality is the ontological presupposition for the proximity and immediacy which the visio
beatifica implies, as a conscious process.144

Rahner understands Aquinas teaching to mean that God is to take the


part of the species intelligibilis that is, that God becomes a content of
human consciousness. Rahner speaks quite clearly of a supernatural formal object, taken as the object of knowledge. He views the essential difference between the natural and the supernatural as the difference between
efficient and formal causality. Based on the teaching on the species in the
beatific vision, he declares that the supernatural is grounded on formal
causality, whereas the natural is a case of efficient causality. In other words,
Gods causality with regard to creation is efficient in Rahners eyes; he
makes the world. In the supernatural sphere, Gods causality effects human
consciousness and this in the manner of an object of this consciousness. As
Rahner expresses it:
All strictly supernatural realities that we know of (the hypostatic union, visio
beatifica and supernatural grace) have in common that in each of them a
relationship of Gods to a creature is expressed that is not one of an efficient
causality (of a positing-outside-of-the-cause), which, therefore, must fall
under the relationship of a formal causality (a subsuming-into-the-ground
[forma]).145

The far-reaching consequences of this thesis on the whole of Rahners


theology is impressive, although it has been generally unappreciated. The
influence can be seen in the following quotation, which leaves nothing
open to doubt:
This distinction between efficient and quasi-formal causality in God is the
clear basis of the essential and radical distinction between the natural and the
supernatural. And this is not difficult to understand . . . Supernatural reality
144

Rahner, Concept, 66 (emphasis in original).

145

Rahner, Theological Investigations, 329.

4.8 The mode of Gods presence

151

and reality brought about by a divine self-communication of quasi-formal,


not efficient type, are identical concepts.146

On the basis of this idea, Rahner comes to his pioneering teaching on


the Trinity, especially in respect of the distinction between the economic
and immanent Trinity.147 The consequences are far reaching when one
realizes that Rahners interpretation of Thomas suffers essentially from a
misunderstanding. It is, in fact, not true that in the immediate vision
of God, Gods essence itself takes the place of the species (impressa) in the
created mind.148 The importance of this observation for our understanding
of eschatology can hardly be overemphasized. It demands no less than a
revision of a predominant conviction of modern eschatology. In his doctoral
thesis, Spirit in the World, Rahner works out his interpretation more exactly.
Here, he presumes that according to Thomas the ontological presence of
God as the Absolute Being suffices in knowledge for the vision of God
(presupposing the light of glory), so that the absolute being of God himself
is the impressed intelligible species for its immediate apprehension.149
The error lies in the dependent clause, for Thomas never wrote species
intelligibilis impressa and certainly could never have meant it.
Although he never mentions species intelligibilis impressa, to say nothing
of expressa, Aquinas does say that God is like a forma intelligibilis but not,
however, in the sense that he really assumes the role of a species intelligibilis
or actually replaces it. Rather, according to his own explanation, God
is comparable to a forma intelligibilis because the divine causality in the
beatific vision is analogous [secundum proportionalitatem] to the influence
of the forma; God is like a form [ut forma], or a quasi-form [quasi forma
intellectus] of the mind.150 But quasi forma is not, as Rahner sees it, an
indication of the extraordinary kind of object of knowledge what Rahner
calls transcendental. In this context, the word forma does not refer to the
epistemological term but rather to the principle of being (in the correlation
forma/materia). Thomas states this in several places.
In his Commentary on the Sentences, he explains unequivocally that calling
it a forma means comparing it to a forma intelligibilis: It should not be
understood, he states clearly, as though the divine essence were a real
146
147
148
150

Rahner, Concept, 66. Without Revelation this formal causality would be unknown to us; cf.
Theological Investigations, 330.
Cf. Rahner, Der dreifaltige Gott, 336337, n. 31; 338, n. 34; Der Begriff des Geheimnisses,
9497.
149 Rahner, Spirit, 87.
Rahner, Theological Investigations, 327.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, In IV. Sententiarum, dist. 49, q. 2, a. 1, ad 8.

152

Eternal Life as the vision of God

forma of our mind.151 Neither is God compared to a form because a true


one arises out of the divine essence and our mind. The reason for the
analogy lies rather in the fact that the relationship of the divine essence
to our mind is like the relationship of the form to matter.152 Forma is
therefore to be taken in the ontological sense but applied to consciousness,
which, of course, is also a reality; it does not determine what consciousness
knows but rather that consciousness takes place.
In the Disputed Question on Truth, we find a more mature presentation
of Thomass position:
It is not necessary that the divine essence become the forma of the mind
itself, but that it relate to it as a forma; as one being in act arises out of
a forma, which is a part of the reality, and matter, so one in knowing
although in a different way is made out of the divine essence and the
mind, while the mind is knowing and the divine essence is known through
itself.153

The different way is crucial. If God really were a forma of consciousness,


then he would be included within human consciousness an absurd
idea. Thomas upholds the Faith teaching that the divine essence is seen.
However, he differentiates in the following manner:
The form by which an intellect sees God when it sees him through his
essence is the divine essence itself. From this, however, it follows, not that
the essence is that form which is a part of a thing in its existence, but only
that in the act of knowing it has a relation similar to that of a form which
is a part of a thing in its existence.154

The similarity with God, which is the goal of every creature, does not derive
from the content but rather from the mode of knowing. Understood in
this way, the divine essence is at once the object of the vision and that
whereby it is seen.155
God nevertheless unites himself immediately with human consciousness.
It is not a matter of some representation of God, a theophany. The forma
by which the mind of the individual seeing God through his own essence
sees God is the divine essence itself, Thomas emphasizes. He then goes
on to explain, Nevertheless it does not follow that it be that forma that
is part of a thing in being, but that it function in the act of knowing like
151

152
153
155

Quod quidem non debet intelligi quasi divina essentia sit vera forma intellectus nostri; vel quia
ex ea et intellectu nostro efficiatur unum simpliciter, sicut in naturalibus ex forma et materia
naturali: sed quia proportio essentiae divinae ad intellectum nostrum est sicut proportio formae
ad materiam. Ibid., sol.
Ibid. Cf. Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 51; De veritate, q. 8, a. 1, ad 6.
154 Ibid., ad 5.
Ibid., a. 1c (emphasis added).
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 51; In IV. Sententiarum, dist. 49, q. 2, a. 1c.

4.9 The vision of God as the whole of Eternal Life enfolded

153

the forma that is a part of the existing thing.156 This means that God
is not a species (i.e., a content) of consciousness taken in a strict sense.
Consciousness is rather being compared to matter, which is rendered a
reality by the ontological form. But, again, God is also not literally an
ontological form; his causality is only analogous to one.
Aquinas explanation of this unique situation is undoubtedly somewhat
complicated. He admits that the infinite and the finite cannot be related to
one another. But he does not admit that this implies that we can have no
knowledge of God. It is enough to assert, as he says, a relationship similar
to a relationship [proportionalitas quae est similitudo proportionum].157 In
this sense, he claims that there is not a relation but rather a relationship
[proportionalitatem tantum] between God and man in consciousness.158
Thomas justifies his calling God a forma of the vision in the following
manner:
Whenever in a receiver two things are received of which one is more perfect
than the other, the relationship of the more perfect to the less perfect is like
the relationship of the form to that which can be perfected by it . . . And,
therefore, since the created intellect, which exists in a created substance, is
more imperfect than the divine essence existing in it, the divine essence is
compared to that intellect in a certain way as a form.159

Texts like these, it must be said, have been overlooked in studies of Thomas.
Thomas argues that consciousness, the visio, is the act by which man
most resembles God, and resembling God is the goal of every being.
Furthermore, the ultimate goal of consciousness is seeing God, this being
also the way God knows everything.160 The resemblance to God consists
in the mode of existence (i.e., consciousness) and the object [quod videtur]
of this mode as well as the causality [quo videtur] of it.161

4.9 The vision of God as the whole


of Eternal Life enfolded
What is called the vision of God is the heart and, necessarily, the whole
of Eternal Life as well. Throughout the history of Christianity, the center
of Eternal Life has been found in a kind of vision that is, a kind of
experience. As Ratzinger reiterates, the vision does not exclude what is
other than God:
156
157
159
160
161

Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 8, a. 1, ad 5.


158 Cf. ibid.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, In IV. Sententiarum, dist. 49, q. 2, a. 1, ad 6.
Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 8, a. 1c. Cf. In IV. Sententiarum, dist. 49, q. 2, a. 1, sol.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 25; De veritate, q. 8, a. 1c.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 51; In IV. Sententiarum, dist. 49, q. 2, a. 1c.

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Eternal Life as the vision of God


The cult in its heavenly fulfilled form includes the inseparable directness
of God and man, which is referred to by the theological tradition as the
vision of God . . . Ultimately it is always a matter of the following the
pure penetration throughout the whole person of the fulness of God and
his pure openness, which lets God be all in all and thus the person himself
be fulfilled without limit.162

If this is understood as just one element among others, then the entire
eschatology disintegrates. If it is legitimate to speak of an experience of
God at all, then it would certainly hold true for the beatific vision. But
then one must be aware of the fact that the notion is analogous and
estranged. Experience takes on a meaning that is related to what we
know so well and call experience and yet is fundamentally different. To
use the term experience in a way that is relevant for eschatology, one
must free oneself, in any case, from the idea of experience being necessarily
concrete.
The traditional teaching of Christian Faith has always defined salvation
as an unmediated vision of the divine essence. As the Catechism of the
Catholic Church, n. 1023, teaches: Those who die in Gods grace and
friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ. They are
like God for ever, for they see him as he is, face to face (1 Jn 3:2; cf. 1
Cor 13:12; Rev 22:4). The Catechism then quotes the authoritative dogma
that goes back to the fourteenth century, declaring that the blessed see the
divine essence with an intuitive vision, and even face to face, without the
mediation of any creature.163
The beatific vision not only comprises the whole, it is also the essence of
Eternal Life. Rahner confirms this traditional teaching: What is normally
meant by the vision of God in the usage of theological language is the
whole of fulfilled salvation.164 There can be nothing in addition to this
vision because there can be no further actualization of the human being.
The same position can be found in Thomas Aquinas: The vision of the
divinity is the whole reality of our happiness.165 Expressed in other words
and accentuating the uniqueness, it can be said that Eternal Life, and thus
ultimate and fulfilled happiness, is in its entirety contemplation.166 In this
contemplation, the whole person is turned toward God: the love of God
is complete and perfect, he is loved with the whole heart, and soul, and
162
164
165
166

163 Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus.


Ratzinger, Eschatologie, 191.
Rahner, Anschauung Gottes. Cf. recently Johanna Rahner, Einfuhrung, 292: The beatific vision
becomes the synonym for heaven par excellence.
Thomas Aquinas, In I. Sententiarum, dist. 1, q. 1, a. 1c.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, III, q. 3, a. 5c.

4.9 The vision of God as the whole of Eternal Life enfolded

155

strength; so that there is nothing within us which is not actually turned to


God [totum actualiter convertatur in Deum].167 A totality of this kind is
possible only in Eternal Life: This perfect mode of love is not possible to
those who are on the way to heaven, but only to those who have reached
their goal.168 Although ones entire attention is concentrated on God,
creatures are included therein.
This teaching is difficult for modern man to appreciate, but it is important for grasping the structure of human life. The Catechism explains briefly
that happiness being the fulfillment of human desire, it is logical that nothing can be added to it. Heaven is treated in correlation with the present
life and in particular with human strivings. For heaven is the ultimate
end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme,
definitive happiness.169 The longings of the human being are thus seen to
be a determining factor in Eternal Life.
In a radical situation, Viktor Frankl discovered the importance of contemplation, and his observations can be helpful in understanding what the
vision of God entails:
And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each
other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was
said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife . . . My mind
clung to my wifes image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard
her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or
not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning
to rise.
A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as
it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so
many thinkers. The truth that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to
which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that
human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation
of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing
left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the
167
168

169

Thomas Aquinas, De perfectione vitae spiritualis, c. 4.


Ibid. Since the rational creature will in Heaven cleave to God, the Supreme Truth, as to its last
End, all its activities will, by intention, likewise be directed to that Last End, and will all be
disposed toward the attainment of that End. Consequently, in that perfection of happiness, the
rational creature will love God with its whole heart; since its whole intention in all its thoughts,
deeds, and affections, will be wholly directed to him. It will love God with its whole mind, for its
mind will be ever actually fixed on him, beholding him, and seeing all things in him, and judging
of all things according to his truth. It will love God with its whole soul, for all its affection will be
uninterruptedly fixed on him, and for his sake it will love all things. It will love God with all its
strength, since his love will be the motive governing all its exterior acts. This, then, is the second
mode of perfect love, and this love is the portion only of the blessed. Ibid.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1024.

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Eternal Life as the vision of God


contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man
cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may
consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way an honorable way
in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image
he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I
was able to understand the meaning of the words, The angels are lost in
perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.170

Frankl then becomes aware of the immortality of human love:


A thought crossed my mind: I didnt even know if she were still alive. I
knew only one thing which I have learned well by now: Love goes very
far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning
in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present,
whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance.
I did not know whether my wife was alive, and I had no means of finding
out (during all of my prison life there was no outgoing or incoming mail);
but at that moment it ceased to matter. There was no need for me to know;
nothing could touch the strength of my love, my thoughts, and the image
of my beloved.171

This helps to understand Thomas Aquinas claim that the end of consciousness is the end of all human actions and desires and that this end
consists in knowing the First Truth.172 End has here the meaning of a
final cause, as maturity is the end of childhood. Consequently, Aquinas can
assert that whatever is desirable in whatsoever kind of happiness is included
in a higher degree in the divine beatitude.173 Love that says You shall not
die! reaches not just the inner self of the beloved but also his createdness.
Thomas expands on this principle: The entire capability of the creature
will be applied to seeing and loving God. Love generates from seeing
God. Seeing is the foundation, for you cannot love what you do not know.
God is the whole, but he is not seen and loved totally by man. Thomas
distinguishes between the whole [totum] and wholly [totaliter]. Our mind
can know the whole God but not wholly, he states.174 If our mind could
not know the whole of God, it would know nothing, seeing that God has
no parts. Hence, nothing of him is left out. Yet, although all of him is
known, it is nevertheless not totally known that is, not in such a way that
we would see relationships to all of his effects.175 From this, it follows that
170
172
173
174
175

171 Ibid., 37.


Frankl, Mans Search, 3637 (emphasis in original).
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 25 (quoted on page 146).
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 26, a. 4c (quoted on page 254).
Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 2, a. 1, ad 3.
Cf. ibid., q. 8, a. 4, ad 11.

4.10 Never-ending wonder in the vision of God

157

it is one and the same to love God and to love any good thing whatsoever,
since all good things [omnia bona] are in God.176 This means that the
more a mind knows different things in God, the more perfectly it sees
God.177

4.10 Never-ending wonder in the vision of God


The phenomenon of wonder is an extremely neglected aspect of life, at least
in theories about life, if not in life itself. That the ancient Greeks considered
wonder the beginning of philosophy is not an unknown fact, but that
religion also begins with wonder has been little appreciated, especially
today. Thomas Aquinas explains the situation succinctly:
There is a natural desire in all men of knowing the causes of the things that
they see. It was through wonder at seeing things, the causes of which were
unseen, that men first began to philosophize. Nor does enquiry cease until
we arrive at the first cause: then we consider our knowledge perfect, when
we know the first cause. Man then naturally desires so to know the first
cause as his last end. But the first cause is God; and the last end of man and
of every subsistent intelligence is called blessedness or happiness. To know
God then is the blessedness and happiness of every subsistent intelligence.178

It is often presumed that religion begins with Faith (or even that religion
is Faith). For Thomas Aquinas, Faith is not the first step, for Faith is
preceded by wonder. It is not insignificant that only after treating more
than 1,200 other questions in his Summa theologiae does Thomas take up
the question of the necessity of Faith.179 The section on Faith occurs at
the beginning of the Second Part of the Second Part that is, within the
special moral theology, which deals with individual virtues and follows the
extensive exposition of the First Part of the Second Part on the fundamentals
of general moral theology. Compared with modern theology, this is in
itself extraordinary. It is surprising, first of all, that among the thirty-eight
questions posed in the section on Faith, there is no question to be found
on the necessity of Faith itself [fides] that is, Faith taken as a virtue.
What one does find in its stead is a question on the necessity of believing
[credere]; in other words, whether acts of Faith are necessary. This is a novel
turn in Thomass thought, for in his other treatments of Faith in previous
176
177
178
179

Thomas Aquinas, De caritate, a. 7, ad 3.


Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 12, a. 8c.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 25.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 2, a. 3.

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Eternal Life as the vision of God

works,180 there does occur a question on the necessity of the virtue of Faith.
Whereas in these earlier works Thomas argues that Faith defined as the
commencement of eternal beatitude is required because one cannot strive
toward a goal that is unknown,181 this argument, as well as the point of view,
is conspicuously dropped in the presentation in the Summa theologiae.
Here, digressing from his procedure in the other studies, Thomas sets
out by drawing a clear distinction between Faith taken as a habit [fides]
and Faith taken as an act [credere]; separate questiones are devoted to them.
This separation is conducive to diverting the focus of the question regarding the necessity of Faith away from the virtue so that attention can be
concentrated instead on the acts of believing. This provides Thomas with a
suitable framework for introducing a new approach to the necessity question. The key factor in this approach for theologians today, presumably
unexpected is the notion of being [ratio entis]. Expressed briefly, he
argues: Believing is necessary because we think being.
This necessity, of course, is not absolute; the context in which the answer
is relevant is a practical one namely, salvation.182 Salvation serves as the
condition for the necessity of believing. Because we think being, we require
Faith in order to attain our salvation; without salvation, there would be
no need for Faith. In other words looked at negatively Faith is not
regarded by Thomas as a prerequisite for doing theology. The necessity
that Thomas affirms is not located in the realm of scientific theory. In fact,
he deliberately refrains from defining Christian theology as the study of
Faith its object is not what has been revealed that is, the revelata
but rather revelabilia, what can be revealed.183 Interestingly, Aquinas never
once uses the Anselmian expression Faith seeking understanding [fides
quaerens intellectum]; neither does stating that the context is practical mean
that believing is a requirement for Christian morality. The treatment of
Faith in the Summa does not begin until after morality has been thoroughly
grounded. The context in which he does, in fact, locate the necessity of
Faith is eschatological that is, future-oriented;184 for ultimate happiness
exists only in the afterlife.
180
181
182
183
184

In particular, in the Commentary on the Sentences, the De veritate, the In De trinitate, and the
Summa contra gentiles.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, In III. Sententiarum, dist. 23, q. 1, a. 5; dist. 24, q. 1, a. 3; De veritate, q. 14,
a. 10; In De trinitate, q. 3, a. 1; Summa contra gentiles, I, c. 5; III, c. 152.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 1, a. 5c; IIII, q. 2, a. 5.
Cf. ibid., a. 2; a. 7, where the subject of theology is declared to be God, not Faith.
It is the future-orientedness and not, for example, God, or Christ, or the Church that distinguishes
the supernatural virtue of Faith from faith in general. Cf. ibid., IIII, q. 4, a. 1c; a. 7c.

4.10 Never-ending wonder in the vision of God

159

But how does it come about that the abstract notion of being makes
Faith necessary for the attainment of salvation? This is the problem with
which I would now like to try to cope.
Let me begin by recounting the steps of the succinct argumentation
in the Summa article. Thomas commences by establishing in general that
there does not have to be an incompatibility implied between simultaneous
natural and supernatural causality. As an example, he cites the fact that
water naturally tends to move downward, but it is nonetheless susceptible
to being moved sideways by the gravity of the moon, causing the ocean
tides a phenomenon of which Galileo Galilei seems to have been unaware.
With this as the general background, he then moves on to the particular
case of Gods supernatural causality and argues that only human beings are
susceptible to the immediate influence of God himself because only they
enjoy a direct relationship to him. This relationship, far from being a threat
to human self-determination, is grounded in our natural ability to think
universals.185 This capability should not be interpreted as separate from
concrete life; it consists in a manner of apprehending concrete particulars
as universals that is, in a manner not restricted to the concrete particular:
Our intellect is able to consider in an abstraction what it knows in the
concrete.186 The relationship to God, who is the universal principle of
being, is especially established by the ultimate, universal abstraction of
being and the good. The rational nature has an immediate relationship to
the universal principle of being, Thomas argues, insofar as it apprehends
the notion of the good and being [boni et entis rationem]187 (see page 85).
A nature of this kind, as he continues to reason, cannot possibly achieve
full happiness on its own;188 by its very nature, it requires supernatural
knowledge namely, the vision of God himself. Mans ultimate happiness
consists in a supernatural vision of God.189 Yet, the question remains:
What role does believing play in this context?
At this point in the argumentation, Thomass thought assumes an interesting development. After asserting that the necessary reason for believing
depends on the fact that we affirmatively know being, he explains that the
beatific vision can only be reached in the manner of a learning process; in
this metaphor, God is (surprisingly) put in the role of a teacher: in the
185

186
188

Now the created rational nature alone is immediately subordinate to God, since other creatures
do not attain to the universal, but only to something particular, while they partake of the divine
goodness either in being only, as inanimate things, or also in living, and in knowing singulars,
as plants and animals. Ibid., q. 2, a. 3c.
187 Ibid., IIII, q. 2, a. 3c.
Ibid., I, q. 12, a. 4, ad 3.
189 Ibid., IIII, q. 2, a. 3c.
Cf. ibid., III, q. 5, a. 5, ad 1.

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Eternal Life as the vision of God

manner of someone being taught by God as ones teacher.190 The point


of this analogy is that faith in a teacher is not necessary for every kind of
learning but only for knowledge, as it were, which is developing that
is, for the knowledge of a student, gradually learning an existing science.
(In the application of the same analogy in De veritate, by comparison,
Thomas speaks expressly of the succession of time [successio temporis]
and the path of believing [via credendi]191 but in De veritate, there is
no mention of the notion of being and the emphasis is not on the teacher
but instead on the principles of the science.192 ) In the relationship to God,
it is decisive that human nature, being intrinsically historical, demands a
process, a development: Man is made a participant of this kind of learning
not immediately, but successively, in accordance with his nature.193 This
is the kind of learning that requires faith in a teacher who already enjoys
the possession of the culminating principles to which the pupil is only
gradually approaching. With this, Thomas finds that he has proven his
thesis: Hence, in order for a human being to attain the fulfilled vision
of happiness, it is pre-required that he believe God as the pupil does his
teacher.194
The implication here that much can be said at this point is that our
universal notion of being is anything but a static culmination, denoting a
kind of culminating apex of intellectual life; to the contrary, it is understood
as the very grounding of personal history. So now it can, at least, be
appreciated why Thomas prefers to emphasize acts of believing rather than
belief itself. Whereas supernatural Faith is infused by God and futureoriented, believing is our own activity in the present. Thomas defines the
habit of Faith as the inchoation of Eternal Life195 ; he defines believing as
thinking with assent.196 Thinking [cogitatio] implies a growing process;
it is prone to expansion [ad evagationem pronus].197 Life is thus viewed
as an ongoing inquisition, propelled by the fact that we think being, that
we have, in other words, a conscious affirmative relationship to reality.
Through the learning analogy, Faith is not looked on as the answer to the
190
192

193
194
195

191 Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 14, a. 10c. Cf. ibid., ad 3.


Ibid.
In his In De trinitate, q. 3, a. 1, Thomas uses the learning analogy in the same way. There, too, he
is thinking not of faith in a teacher but rather in the first principles of a science, necessary for the
beginning student, who must start with concrete, particular knowledge. Temporarily, the student
simply accepts the principles on faith alone and learns a posteriori. The analogy is applicable
to supernatural Faith insofar as the goal of human life, which is ultimate happiness, consists in
knowledge of God and such knowledge is comparable to the first principles of a science.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 2, a. 3c. Cf. In I. Ethicorum, lect. 11, n. 2.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 2, a. 3c.
196 Ibid., q. 2, a. 1c.
197 Ibid., q. 180, a. 3, ad 1.
Cf. ibid., q. 4, a. 1c.

4.10 Never-ending wonder in the vision of God

161

question of being; it is not the climax, it is the launching of a temporal


process that continues on in time.
Hence, faith is regarded not so much as a commitment or an option for
something specific but rather as an opening up, as an impetus. To enjoy
eternal happiness, it is not simply a matter of dying in the state of grace;
we must first live through a life history in which we develop our individual
character. Faith sustains us on this journey.
By depicting God as a teacher an idea that is especially striking if we
consider the fact that the truth being taught is God himself (veritas prima)
Thomas diverts the focus of attention from God to the concrete reality of
this world, for a teacher is normally concerned with communicating a
truth other than himself. Faith in a teacher, as used in the Summa article, is
quite different from the faith, say, between husband and wife.198 Although a
teacher is usually not himself the truth taught, he is someone who enjoys the
possession of this truth. Hence, confidence in him provides the strength
to temporarily presume the truth of the fundamental principles and to
proceed with learning.199
Nevertheless, it still remains unexplained how the reason for this
dynamic, process conception of life can lie in the thinking of being,
which represents for Thomas, paradoxically, the ultimate termination200
of understanding in this life, the culmination of the via resolutionis, and
would, thus, appear to be terminative and static. To understand this, other
texts of Thomas must be consulted.
As a beginning, some helpful hints can be found by comparing other
analogies employed by him to explain in what sense Faith functions as a
medium.201 For example, he also calls Faith a light: The light of Faith
makes one see what one believes.202 Light is related to concrete colors like
a formal cause to material causes. According to Aquinas, the same kind
of relationship is characteristic of Faith in respect of what is believed.203
198

199
200
201
202
203

In the Summa contra gentiles, I, c. 5, n. 1, the text concentrates on God and not on the reality of the
world. Emphasis is put on the aspect of desiring. But what one should learn here is desire, desire
for God himself. The argumentation presupposes the principle that one cannot strive after the
unknown: Nullus enim desiderio et studio in aliquid tendit nisi sit ei praecognitum. Ibid., n. 2.
For this reason, it is necessary that desire for God be learned. Cf. ibid. This explicit application of
the learning analogy to desire paves the way to the approach in the Summa theologiae.
On the temporariness of Faith, cf. ibid., IIII, q. 9, a. 2, ad 1.
Thomas Aquinas, In De trinitate, q. 6, a. 1c (22).
Precisely speaking, it is a medium propter quod. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 2,
a. 2c; cf. ibid., q. 5, a. 3, ad 2.
Ibid., q. 1, a. 4, ad 3.
Cum enim fides non assentiat alicui, nisi propter veritatem primam credibilem, non habet quod
sit actu credibile nisi ex veritate prima, sicut color est visibilis ex luce; et ideo veritas prima est

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Eternal Life as the vision of God

Truth itself [veritas prima] is like a formal object and all of the other
objects (except for God) are like material objects.204 However, the light
analogy can be deceptive for, strictly speaking, the light of Faith . . . does
not move by way of the intellect, but rather by way of the will. Hence, it
does not make one see what one believes . . . , it makes one freely assent.205
Not knowledge but rather the voluntary assent is the essence.206 Indeed,
Thomas goes so far as to maintain that what is externally proposed [i.e.,
the truths of Faith], derived initially from divine Revelation, functions
like the empirical helps that present the occasion for insight into the first
principles of thought.207
The influence of Faith on what is believed is also comparable to the
kind of medium that consists in the demonstrative force of a proof in
geometry. The conclusions are like material objects; the proof is like the
formal object.208 The principles presumed by the proof virtually contain
the whole science.209
These metaphors clarify the significance of the universal notion of being.
It represents the cardinal point of our relationship to both God and the
world, in which we live out our life history. By choosing it as the key factor
for his argumentation, Thomas succeeds in uniting the fundamental components of life: God, the world, and human beings. By explicitly adjoining
to it the notion of the good, he underscores the duality characteristic of acts
of Faith, which involve both the intellect and the will simultaneously.210
The believing will causes the firm adhesion of the intellect.211 Beings are
grasped as good, and this is truth; Faith adds the supporting affirmation.212
Experienced realities spontaneously give rise to desire. The convertibility
of being, truth, and the good is brought to life.
What still must be explained now is how this structure works out in
the succession of history. Knowing any reality, as Thomas asserts, gives rise

204
205
206

207
208
209
211

formale in objecto fidei, et a qua est tota ratio objecti. Quidquid autem est illud quod de Deo
creditur . . . , hoc est materiale in objecto fidei; ea autem quae ex istis credibilibus consequuntur,
sunt quasi accidentaliter. Thomas Aquinas, In III. Sententiarum, dist. 24, q. 1, a. 1, sol. 1. Passio,
et alia hujusmodi quae continentur in symbolo, se habent materialiter ad objectum fidei. Ibid.,
ad 1.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 1, a. 1c; ibid., q. 5, a. 1c; ibid., q. 7, a. 1, ad 3; In
III. Sententiarum, dist. 24, q. 1, a. 1, sol. 1, ad 1.
Thomas Aquinas, In De trinitate, q. 3, a. 1, ad 4.
Assensum, qui est principalis actus fidei. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 6, a. 1c.
Cf. ibid., q. 4, a. 1c; q. 8, a. 5, ad 3; q. 4, a. 1c; q. 14, a. 1; a. 12; I, q. 16, a. 2; In III. Sententiarum,
dist. 24, q. 1, a. 1, sol. 2; dist. 23, q. 2, a. 2, sol. 1.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, In De trinitate, q. 3, a. 1, ad 4.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 1, a. 1c.
210 Cf. ibid., q. 4, a. 2c.
Cf. ibid., I, q. 1, a. 7c.
212 Cf. ibid., q. 2, a. 1, ad 3; q. 4, a. 1c.
Ibid., a. 1c.

4.10 Never-ending wonder in the vision of God

163

to the desire to know its cause.213 This is experienced as wonder [admiratio].214 But every object of knowledge is a being. Being [ens], as the
ultimate resolution possible to human thought, encompasses abstractly
everything in the world. Hence, the desire to know the cause of beings as
such transcends the causality within the world. In this way, being discloses
the divine transcendent causality.215 Since ens is for us the culmination
of knowledge in the world, Faith is eschatological. It is the affirmation
of the real possibility of the desired knowledge, revealed through each
and every being. It follows, then, that supernatural Revelation, in comparison to Faith, can only claim a secondary role. Everything contained
in Scripture divinely handed-down is related to the object of Faith, as
Thomas puts it, accidentally or secondarily.216 Revelation contributes
support to the natural situation in which human beings find themselves; and this, as Thomas describes it, is a gradual ascent [gradatim
ascendens] toward God. Creatures are paths [viae].217 The paths leading to
God are as diverse as the world itself.218 With regard to our practical decisions, the cardinal virtue of prudence is necessary. Revelation is required
because these paths are so difficult to climb on our own.219 Faith, although
coming from above, conforms to the same paths.220 Above all, supernatural
Revelation for example, the teaching that God is one and three supports
the experience of wonder, and this it does by reaffirming the unknowability
of the transcendent cause of being. Therein lies the relevance of the fact that
Revelation proposes things to human thought that lie beyond the reach
of reason.221 Faith does not reveal to us what God is, what truth is, but
only that God is, that truth is but that suffices to ignite desire.222 More
213
214

215
216
217
218
219
220
222

Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 25; De malo, q. 9, a. 1c.
Inest enim homini naturale desiderium cognoscendi causam, cum intuetur effectum; et ex hoc
admiratio in hominibus consurgit. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 12, a. 1c. Cf. ibid.,
q. 105, a. 7c; IIII, q. 180, a. 3, ad 3.
Intellectus autem humanus cognoscit ens universale. Desiderat igitur naturaliter cognoscere
causam eius, quae solum Deus est. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 25.
Per accidens autem vel secundario se habent ad obiectum fidei omnia quae in Scriptura divinitus
tradita continentur. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 2, a. 5c.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, IV, c. 1. Cf. the beginning of Thomas Aquinas, In De
trinitate.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, IV, c. 1.
Cf. ibid. Revelation does not alter the manner of knowing; cf. Thomas Aquinas, In De trinitate,
q. 6, a. 3c.
221 Cf. ibid., c. 7.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, IV, c. 1.
It is also necessary that such truth be proposed to men for belief so that they may have a truer
knowledge of God. For then only do we know God truly when we believe him to be above
everything that it is possible for man to think about him; for, as we have shown, the divine
substance surpasses the natural knowledge of which man is capable. Hence, by the fact that some
things about God are proposed to man that surpass his reason, there is strengthened in man the

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Eternal Life as the vision of God

is not necessary. Through Faith, the initial contact of conscious life to


God is established; the first article of explicit belief is Gods existence.223
This contact sets conscious life in motion.224 Everything else contained in
the teaching of Faith can be regarded as belonging to what Thomas calls
implicit Faith.225 Thus, the meaning of Faith does not lie so much in
offering an answer; to the contrary, it keeps the enquiry going. Finally, it
is by the desires acquired in life through the knowledge of realities that the
fulfillment in the eschatological vision of God is determined.226
This viewpoint brings the comprehensive universality, the true catholicity, of Christian Faith to light.227 To explicate this, it suffices to cite a few
brief points. Truth, Thomas states lapidarily, must be the end of the
whole universe.228 The contemplation of truth represents the ultimate,
fulfilled act, unifying the plurality of life.229 All of our desires and all of
our operations are grounded in truth; in truth they find their end.230 The
object of Faith is nothing other than truth itself, but Faith is not happiness. Salvation, which is nothing other than conscious union with Truth
itself,231 implies full happiness; and happiness is the meaning and goal of
the practical life. What makes ultimate happiness comprehensive is the
fact that it consists in the knowledge of Truth.232 God as the principle of
being is the Truth that is the origin of all truth.233 A human being finds

223
224

225

226
227
228
229

230
231
233

view that God is something above what he can think. Ibid., I, c. 5. Summa theologiae, I, q. 1, a. 1
argues in the same way. With regard to truth, cf. In III. Sententiarum, dist. 24, q. 1, a. 1, sol. 2.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 16, a. 1c.
The act of faith is the first motion of the mind toward God. Thomas Aquinas, In De trinitate,
q. 3, a. 2c (5). Fides est necessaria tanquam principium spiritualis vitae. Summa theologiae, IIII,
q. 16, a. 1, ad 1; cf. ibid., q. 3, a. 1, ad 3; q. 4, a. 7; q. 7, a. 2c.
Ibid., q. 1, a. 9, ad 2; a. 10, arg. 1; q. 5, a. 4c; q. 6, a. 1. He also makes a distinction between primary
and secondary Faith: creatures and human actions belong to Faith in a secondary sense. Faith,
first and principally, is about the first truth, secondarily, about certain considerations concerning
creatures, and furthermore extends to the direction of human actions. Ibid., q. 8, a. 6c. Cf. ibid.,
I, q. 1, a. 7c; In De trinitate, q. 5, a. 4, ad 8.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 12, a. 6c (quoted on page 169).
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, In De trinitate, q. 3, a. 3c; ad 1.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, I, c. 1.
According to Dionysius, between man and angel there is this difference that an angel perceives the
truth by simple apprehension, whereas man arrives at the perception of a simple truth by a process
from several premises. Accordingly, then, the contemplative life has one act wherein it is finally
completed, namely, the contemplation of truth, and from this act it derives its unity. Yet it has
many acts whereby it arrives at this final act. Some of these pertain to the reception of principles
from which it proceeds to the contemplation of truth; others are concerned with deducing from
the principles, the truth, the knowledge of which is sought; and the last and crowning act is the
contemplation itself of the truth. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 180, a. 3c.
The first truth, which is the object of Faith, is the end of all our desires and actions. Ibid., q. 4,
a. 2, ad 3; cf. Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 25; In De trinitate, q. 3, a. 2c (3 and 4).
232 Cf. ibid., q. 2, a. 5c.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 1, a. 2, ad 3.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, I, c. 1, n. 5.

4.10 Never-ending wonder in the vision of God

165

fulfillment in knowledge,234 in consciousness. Happiness arises to word


it provocatively from (theoretical) speculation.235 Consequently, even the
practical life is integrated into Faith, despite the speculative character of
Faith.
From this point of view, the religious relevance of reality comes to light.
The life of Faith is a journey, step-by-step, through the world of beings to
their grounding source, a return journey back home, so to speak.236 The
human ability to regard things as beings opens the path to transcendence;
Faith moves us onward. Life is a learning process, upheld continuously
by the optimistic affirmation of reality, of whatsoever nature. We learn
to apprehend being as good. The subject matter of divine teaching is
reality itself. Life in the world arouses desires that prepare us for future
beatitude. Beatitude is grounded in self-affirmation.237 Thinking being,
the specific human way of living in reality, is the pivotal point, joining
reality with its source by way of the successive experience of wonder.
Acts of believing are the actualization of the opened possibilities in the
medium of desire. Therefore, Faith in the supernatural is not an alternative
to moral engagement in the present world. It does not mean as a common
modern reproach against religion likes to imagine seeking consolation
in another world beyond the present one; it means, in fact, a growing
commitment to reality. Faith provides moral engagement in reality with
infinite motivation. Why then is Faith necessary? Faith in supernatural life
after death is necessary, it can be said in conclusion, in order to live out to
the full the successive possibilities of the present life.
Faith ceases with death. In heaven, Faith is superfluous, having attained
its purpose. Wonder, however, cannot cease. This is the reason why total
beatitude cannot be boring to respond to an old problem that still finds
234

235

236
237

Each thing intends, as its ultimate end, to be united with God as closely as is possible for
it . . . An intellectual substance tends to divine knowledge as an ultimate end. Ibid., III, c. 25.
That operation of man is substantially his happiness, or his felicity, whereby he primarily attains
to God. This is the act of understanding, for we cannot will what we do not understand. Therefore,
the ultimate felicity of man lies substantially in knowing God through his intellect. Ibid., c. 26.
Its felicity will consist in understanding God. Ibid., c. 25.
Faith consists primarily and principally in speculation, in as much as it is founded on the first
truth. But since the first truth is also the last end for the sake of which our works are done,
hence it is that faith extends to works. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 9, a. 3c.
The practical arts are ordered to the speculative ones, and likewise every human operation to
intellectual speculation, as an end. Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 25. The end of the intellect is
the end of all human actions . . . Consequently, the first truth is the ultimate end. So, the ultimate
end of the whole man, and of all his operations and desires, is to know the first truth, which is
God. Ibid.
Via fidei. Thomas Aquinas, In De trinitate, q. 3, a. 1c (3).
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, III, q. 1, a. 7c.

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Eternal Life as the vision of God

its proponents today. The question is posed: Since heaven consists in seeing
God face to face for eternity, must this not become boring? Furthermore,
if the vision of God is the fulfillment of our natural desire for happiness,
how can there be any wonder? For wonder is a kind of expectation of a
cause but, in Eternal Life, the universal and first cause itself will be known.
The causality that grounds wonder about beings is not efficient causality.
In this connection, the idea of an efficient cause is not relevant since an
efficient cause is a being and not universal being itself. Wonder will not
cease although it will forever be the same face that is viewed. Seeing God
himself is not the same as comprehending him. He will be seen in his totality
but not totally [totus, non totaliter]. Since he cannot be comprehended by
us, there will be even more intensive wonder. It is not the wonder arising
from an effect and directed to the cause. The cause itself arouses wonder
because of its incomprehensibility. Consequently, boredom is unthinkable
in Eternal Life.
According to Rahner, the very essence of human existence lies in its orientation to the divine incomprehensibility. He describes man as the being
who is oriented to the mystery as such, this orientation being a constitutive element of his being both in his natural state and in his supernatural
elevation.238 Human nature remains unchanged in the afterlife; otherwise, it would not be the respective person itself. Neither grace nor glory
impairs human nature. From the principle, Glory fulfills nature; it does
not destroy it, Thomas concludes, Therefore, even the imperfection that
belongs to nature is not removed by the light of glory, like, for example,
that it exists out of nothing. For this reason the created intellect falls short
of the possibility of comprehension, and cannot be brought to comprehension by the light of glory.239 Hence, not even the eschatological fulfillment
of the beatific vision effects the rescindment of the incomprehensibility of
God. He remains essentially and perpetually the holy mystery.240
In other words, the vision of God can never become boring because wonder cannot cease. Nothing that is looked upon with wonder can become
tiresome, since as long as there is wonder desire is moved, as Aquinas
states. The divine substance is ceaselessly seen with wonder by whatsoever
created intellect, for no created intellect comprehends it. Consequently, it
is impossible that an intellectual substance become weary of that vision.241
238
240

241

239 Thomas Aquinas, In IV. Sententiarum, dist. 49, q. 2, a. 3, ad 8.


Rahner, Concept, 49.
Rahner, Concept, 61. For Rahner, it is fundamental that God remains a mystery now and in eternity. Grace does not illuminate the divine mystery; rather, it makes it definitive and unforgettable.
Cf. Geheimnis, 449.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 62.

4.11 Interim conclusion

167

Wonder in the face of reality as well as the desire to grasp reality cannot
come to a standstill in the vision of God, regardless of the fact that the
very ground of reality is seen. The inadequacy testified to in wonder, being
thoroughly human, cannot be removed without removing human nature
itself.

4.11 Interim conclusion


To really believe in Eternal Life, our reason must be able to get a grasp of
it in some way or another. We cannot believe in nothing, in particular, in
the bare words of a spoken creed devoid of content. With our reason, we
must be able to find Eternal Life somehow meaningful and relevant. The
purpose of this chapter is to offer reason food for rigorous thought.
To the extent in which a future state depends necessarily on a known
present state, it is possible to know something about it. For it to be fulfilling
happiness, it must actualize certain minimal conditions. In the nature of
human striving for fulfillment, there must exist a correlation to Eternal
Life. We can appreciate that Eternal Life must be structured in a way that
is the salvation and fulfillment of temporal life.
As a minimum, it can be asserted that the salvation of a human being
must somehow be human, for it would otherwise not be his or her salvation
and fulfillment. Happiness must be a state that somehow fulfills a longing.
This consists in a kind of return to the origins. But the origin in this case
is not our state at birth, it is the creator. Returning to the creator entails
the fulfillment of human nature.
Although the idea of the vision of God is unimaginable and incomprehensible, this teaching nevertheless does give us an indication of what is
important in our present life. For one thing, we can realize that experiencing lies more deeply in human existence than doing. Attention, which is a
directedness toward reality that is, letting the other become real for me
is crucial. In the history of Christian thought, support can be easily found
for the priority of theory over praxis critical discussions with prominent
thinkers offer us material for a better understanding. Awakening to reality
step by step is even the ultimate meaning of morality. A tragic life what is
called sin is the shying away from reality; a life void of demandingness.
What is called the vision of God is the heart and, necessarily, the whole
of Eternal Life. Everything else is an unfolding of it.
The term emergence can be applied to the vision of God to characterize
the change on the part of the human being. The manner in which God is
united to human consciousness is analogous to the union of physical light

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Eternal Life as the vision of God

with the eye. The singularity of the vision can be treated by comparing it
to normal experience on the basis of the fact that experience in our present
state occurs, so to speak, predicatively; that is, it has the structure of a
sentence, consisting of a subject and a predicate. This is the manner in
which human beings attain truth.
To avoid certain misunderstandings, recourse has been taken to distinctions that commence with familiar aspects of temporal life and then
in a certain sense transcend them: from the concrete, we advance to the
abstract; from beings, we gain an awareness of Being itself; from truths, we
acquire the idea of Truth itself.
My presumption is that everyone is actually, almost intuitively, already
aware of the fact that this conception of life is accurate, provided that we let
our experience speak without prejudice. The ultimate state of fulfillment
for us is the (conscious) apprehension of Truth but not taken in the sense
of a kind of pure reflection. A pure apprehension is impossible for us.
The vision of God must necessarily have a certain structure, which cannot be attained within time. The only way in which Eternal Life is rationally
conceivable for us is as an inversion of the structure of consciousness. In
the present, we encounter only realities directly and, through their mediation, we gain knowledge of reality itself; in Eternal Life, we will encounter
reality itself directly and, through its mediation, everything else. No longer
is reality experienced in the mode of particular realities; instead, reality
itself is directly encountered.
Gustav Mahlers Resurrection Symphony contains a compelling summary of this eschatology:
Primal Light
O little red rose!
Humankind lies in greatest need!
Humankind lies in greatest pain!
Much rather would I be in Heaven!
Then I came into a broad path;
And an angel came and wanted to turn me away.
But no, I would not be turned away!
I am from God and would return to God!
The dear God will give me a little light,
Will light me to eternal, blissful life.242
242

Mahler, Symphony No. 2 in C Minor, Resurrection.

c h a p t e r fi v e

The human factor

5.1 Happiness and human nature


The deepest distinction between individual human beings lies in their
particular desires. What one loves defines what one is. On the principle
that grace presupposes nature, this holds true for the supernatural love
of Charity. As a consequence, it can be said that individuality must exist
in Eternal Life, for eschatological beatitude is determined by desire and
happiness consists in the fulfillment of desire. This is traditional Christian
Faith as defined, for example, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church
(n. 1024): Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human
longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness. Heaven is a correlative
notion and would have no meaning separated from human nature and, in
particular, from human striving.
For this reason, one individual will see God differently from another.
Thomas Aquinas writes accordingly:
Of those who see the essence of God, one sees him more perfectly than
another . . . The intellect which has more of the light of glory will see God
more perfectly; and he will have a fuller participation of the light of glory
who has more Charity; because where there is greater Charity, there is more
desire; and desire in a certain degree makes the one desiring apt and prepared
to receive the object desired. Hence, he who possesses more Charity, will see
God more perfectly, and will be more beatified.1

But then the question arises of whether there remains a place for others,
especially for loved ones. Is God enough? The answer requires a fine
distinction. On the one hand, God is all of Eternal Life and fulfills all
desires: If God alone were seen, who is the fount and principle of all
being and of all truth, he would so fill the natural desire of knowledge
that nothing else would be desired, and the seer would be completely
1

Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 12, a. 6c. Cf. In IV. Sententiarum, dist. 49, q. 2, a. 1, ad 2.

169

170

The human factor

beatified.2 In this sense, God alone, in fact, suffices but, on the other
hand, as Thomas further clarifies the matter, it is still better to see both
God and, in God, creatures:
Although it is more to see God than to see all things else, still it is a greater
thing to see him, so that all things are known in him, than to see him in
such a way that not all things, but the fewer or the more, are known in him.
For it has been shown in this article that the more things are known in God
according as he is seen more or less perfectly.3

The intensity of the vision of God is proportionate to the degree in which


creatures are seen in him and vice versa. In any case, it is crucial to realize
that both visions comprise but one. The vision of God is thus individually
defined.
In sum, Eternal Life must be my, or our, Eternal Life. This implies that
it can be neither less nor more than my, or our, fulfillment or salvation.
Eschatology is comparable to a signpost, which points the way but is not
itself the goal. What is referred to here as the human factor is a heuristic
rule. It helps us to think in the right direction but it does not show us the
particular content. We can know that Eternal Life consists in the vision
of God, but what it is really like remains unimaginable. Signposts are,
however, essential while we are travelling to our goal. A theology of the
afterlife serves its purpose if it guides us in the present life. Wanting to
know more about it comes down to superfluous curiosity.
Needless to say, what we can learn is not just minimal, it is unavoidably
ambivalent. We are looking through a dark glass, which distorts what we
see. We may succeed in reaching one aspect of reality but never the whole.
If I know that a number is a multiple of the factor five, then I know that
whatever the number is, its last cipher will be either five or zero; otherwise,
I have no idea what the number might be.
Another analogy that may be helpful is the relationship between the
celluloid filmstrip of a movie and the movie itself as viewed in the theater.
The filmstrip is brought to life by the projector light. When I look at the
filmstrip, I see nothing moving, nothing alive, just one state after another.
In the theater, I forget where I am and submerge into a new reality. I laugh,
fear, sympathize, wonder, and so on. What happens when the projector
light illuminates the film and moves it at the proper speed is like a new
creation. Yet, it remains true that everything is contained in the filmstrip,
except for the light and movement. I would like to think of Eternal Life as
the illumination of my life history through divine light.
2

Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 12, a. 8, ad 4.

Ibid., ad 3.

5.2 A minimal and maximal heuristic principle

171

Classical eschatology uses terms that are based on a relationship to


things that we know. Eternal Life implies some kind of heightened
life. Salvation depends on our natural need. Redemption refers to
something that needs to be redeemed. Fulfillment derives its meaning
from some kind of emptiness. Happiness, or beatitude, presupposes
an unfulfilled striving. Resurrection means that something rises again.
Hope is directed to something desirable that we do not possess at the
moment. The New Jerusalem expresses an obvious correlation. Heaven
is meaningful only if there is an Earth.
The traditional theological axiom whereby grace presupposes nature and
fulfills it indicates that grace stands in correlation to nature. Grace perfects
nature according to the manner of the nature, as Thomas maintains. As
every perfection is received in the subject capable of perfection, according
to its mode.4
In any case, salvation is the salvation of a human being. It necessarily has
human coordinates for otherwise it would not be human. It is important to
conceive of Eternal Life as a union of a human being with the divine being.
Both God and man are factors. What it is like when this union occurs is
unimaginable, but we can be sure that it remains somehow human that
is, within the ultimate, albeit infinite, horizon of human possibilities. As
Aquinas states:
Now it is manifest that nature is to beatitude as first to second; because
beatitude is superadded to nature. But the first must ever be preserved in
the second. Consequently, nature must be preserved in beatitude: and in
like manner the act of nature must be preserved in the act of beatitude.5

Eternal Life is anthropologically predetermined.


On this basis, I propose two heuristic principles that I call the human
factor. They will not, of course, unveil Eternal Life, but they will give,
at least, indications. We are not left with utterly no knowledge of the
ultimate end of life. Our knowledge remains disappointingly analogical
but not completely illusionary.

5.2 A minimal and maximal heuristic principle

(1) Whatever would transcend human nature in general or the


individuals nature in particular cannot be a part of Eternal Life.
4

Ibid., q. 62, a. 5c.

Ibid., a. 7c.

172

The human factor

(2) Whatever would detract from human nature in general or the


individuals nature in particular by being absent must be a part of
Eternal Life.
These principles set down a limit in two directions, defining the maximum and minimum of what is essential to Eternal Life. In other words,
an approach is offered to determine what happiness must include both at
the least and at the most. It cannot be more and cannot be less than what
corresponds to human nature and to an individuals nature, that is, generically and personally. Otherwise, Eternal Life would not be the Eternal Life
of a particular person. The individual cannot be fulfilled if his nature is
altered, so that his desires are amputated or expanded with fulfilled desires
that are not his. The two heuristic principles provide us with a means for
determining a rule that interprets the eschatological teaching of Faith.
How can this approach be justified? Why, first of all, can Eternal Life
not go beyond our desires? Of course, the fulfillment of our desires is sure
to have a quite unexpected quality, but it will not go as far as to include
aspects of life and reality to which we have utterly no access.6 It would
be something wonderful to possess all kinds of talents that lie beyond
my limitations; however, this would not be my fulfillment but rather the
fulfillment of some ideal human being, with whom I could never identify.
My weaknesses along with my particular set of strengths contribute to the
definition of who I am. I can have no desire to be simply replaced by a
person who enjoys a happiness greater than that of which I am capable.
A supernatural end in the sense of a perfection beyond the reaches of a
nature, writes Jorge Laporta, is a contradiction in terms. What constitutes
the crowning of a being (its end) would be that to which this being does
not tend, it would have no relationship with the nature in question.7
No human really wants to be an angel, even though he may think angels
are loftier beings than he is. The fulfillment of an angel is something
beyond our imagination, beyond the horizon of the human, and beyond
both human desire and fulfillment.
Nicholas of Cusa presents a noteworthy argument for this position. In a
sermon, he argues that humans must remain humans even when they have
6

What is foreign to human nature cannot, as Gradl, Deus beatitudo, 209, writes, participate in human
happiness, but it is wrong to assert that nothing that is accidental can belong to it. Accidental aspects
are not absolutely necessary and cannot be a ground for expecting Eternal Life since they do not
comprise the desire of nature, but they nonetheless can belong to complete happiness. See pages
252258.
Laporta, La destinee, 100.

5.2 A minimal and maximal heuristic principle

173

been raised to a state of perfection. In other words, a human being cannot


desire to be either an angel or an animal; hence, his fulfillment can consist
in neither of these. Cusanus calls fulfillment repose [quies]: As long as man
does not come to repose in his species, he will not attain the fulfillment
of his immortal species. Man therefore desires to attain all fulfillment in
his humanity, which he does not wish to leave.8 Cusanus claims that such
fulfillment is possible because a desire instigated by nature cannot be in vain:
And since this movement in man arises from the nature of his humanity,
therefore it follows that man, who is moved neither in vain nor outside the
bounds of his species, is able to attain the repose of this movement within
the species of humanity.9

Consequently, man cannot strive to be an angel. As Cusanus states: Man


is unable to desire what belongs to another species, even to be an angel.10
Similarly, what the eye desires is only to see. It would not be the eyes
salvation if it were given the ability to hear; no less can a dog want to be
a cat or a pig or a bird or a fish.11 He goes on by arguing that man strives
for fulfillment more in his rational life than in his sensual life, seeing that
this is specific to him as distinguished from animals. Man would rather
desire not to exist at all than not to be a rational animal . . . Therefore
every human desires in his humanity to possess a perfect, rational and
unceasing life,12 Cusanus concludes. Mans fulfillment remains within
the boundaries of his own possibilities:
I do not think that we become sons of God in such a way that we will be
then something other than we are now; instead, then we will be in another
manner that which now we are in our present manner.13

Jasper Hopkins offers the following comment: This transformation is not


a transformation of the human essence is not a transubstantiation.14
What is possible is that we desire the best possible mode of existence
within the potential circumference of our own species. Plato, for example,
desires to be Plato although he may wish to be more learned or healthier.15
8
9
10

11
13
15

Nicholas of Cusa, Sermo XLI, n. 8, 16. Cf. ibid., n. 9, 1011.


Ibid., n. 8, 3236. Deus enim nihil frustra agit, et dare desiderium sine spe assequendi est dare
torturam, quod optimo Deo non est ascribendum, qui solum novit dare bona. Sermo CCXI, n. 10.
Nicholas of Cusa, Sermo XLI, n. 7, 3031. A quite different theology is the following: Nature
contains goals in itself that cannot be attained by natural means. Nature is looked at theologically
such that man must desire that God is not God and that he himself takes over Gods position.
Hattrup, Eschatologie, 241.
12 Ibid., n. 8, 1017.
Cf. Nicholas of Cusa, Sermo XLI, n. 7, 2729.
14 Hopkins, A Miscellany, 362, n. 15.
Nicholas of Cusa, De filiatione Dei, II, n. 56.
Cf. Nicholas of Cusa, Sermo CCIV, n. 4, 721.

174

The human factor

Cusanus describes the species as a heaven embracing all of the individual


movements of ones nature:
Therefore, nothing is moved outside of its own heaven, but its movement
consists in attaining the fulfillment of its own species, outside of which it
does not think that it can be fulfilled. It judges that every fulfillment is
included in its heaven.16

In a next step, Cusanus applies this principle to the Savior, expressing


himself in his typical paradoxical manner, which is anything but a
reduction of the supernatural to the natural: If we do not find Jesus in
ourselves, we shall not find him at all.17
It would be a crass misunderstanding of the Cusan theology to conceive
of this teaching as a naturalistic reduction. The human horizon is infinite
for Cusanus. What we strive for is the Truth of everything true, the Good
itself, which is the goodness of everything good and desirable. In short, our
horizon reaches God himself but still remains human. Hence, he concludes:
I find in myself the man of my humanity who is in such a way human
that he is also God.18 This includes the resurrection: Even though he will
die in time, man will resurrect.19
A similar position is defended by Thomas Aquinas. While treating
Satans sin, he poses the question of whether his sin could have consisted in
desiring to be equal to God. His response is that this is impossible because
it would imply that Satan would no longer be himself. Everyone desires the
good for himself and if he were to become another, he would not be caring
what happens to himself. And therefore the devil did not desire something
the existence of which would mean that he would not be himself.20 The
rule is generalized in the Summa theologiae, where Thomas explains:
By natural knowledge he knew that this was impossible: and there was no
habit preceding his first sinful act, nor any passion fettering his mind, so
as to lead him to choose what was impossible by failing in some particular;
as sometimes happens in ourselves. And even supposing it were possible, it
would be against the natural desire; because there exists in everything the
natural desire of preserving its own nature; which would not be preserved
were it to be changed into another nature. Consequently, no creature of a
lower order can ever covet the grade of a higher nature; just as an ass does not
desire to be a horse: for were it to be so upraised, it would cease to be itself.21

When we want to be better than we are, it might appear that we want to


be another person or another species, but this is a misunderstanding:
16
19
21

17 Ibid., 24.
18 Ibid., n. 10.
Nicholas of Cusa, Sermo XLI, n. 7, 513.
20 Thomas Aquinas, De malo, q. 16, a. 3c.
Nicholas of Cusa, Sermo XXVIII, n. 3, 68.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 63, a. 3c.

5.2 A minimal and maximal heuristic principle

175

Herein the imagination plays us false; for one is liable to think that, because
a man seeks to occupy a higher grade as to accidentals, which can increase
without the destruction of the subject, he can also seek a higher grade of
nature, to which he could not attain without ceasing to exist. Now it is quite
evident that God surpasses the angels, not merely in accidentals, but also in
degree of nature; and one angel, another. Consequently, it is impossible for
one angel of lower degree to desire equality with a higher; and still more to
covet equality with God.22

Another misunderstanding would be the ideal of total autonomy. But complete self-determination comes down to desiring ones own nonexistence:
Not that he [the devil] desired to resemble God by being subject to no
one else absolutely; for so he would be desiring his own non-being; since
no creature can exist except by holding its existence under God.23
If it were at all possible for man to exist as though there were no God,
then in fact God would be superfluous for him. If God were not in some
sense a good for man, Thomas asserts that there would be no reason to
love him.24 This implies that it is good for man to love himself for from
self-love, love for God arises.
No one is helped by being made into someone or something else.25
That cannot be the meaning of a new creation. Aristotle puts it briefly:
A true friend, who desires the good of his friend, cannot wish that his
friend become a god. In Eternal Life, we must retain our humanity and
our individuality. Gods almightiness cannot go so far as to annihilate what
he has already created.
It is obvious that God has not created simply the best possible creature
and left it at that. He has preferred to create a plethora of different beings.
There can be no melody with just one note; there can be no symphony
with just one instrument; there can be no harmony without variety.
We could ask whether this is not unjust to us lesser beings. My individual
fulfillment may be inferior to that of others, but it is what my individual
happiness consists in. I might envy some aspects of the happiness of a
superior or inferior being and want them for myself. I might, for example,
envy the total identity of a dog with what he is doing at the moment for
instance, being one with his eating. Yet, I do not really want to be a dog in
this state myself.
Ones individual life history defines what a human being is. What is
relevant in this history are the desires that have developed. In them lies
a supernatural thrust. Since happiness is by definition the attainment of
what one loves and desires, there can be no happiness without love. Out
22
25

23 Ibid.
24 Cf. ibid., IIII, q. 26, a. 13, ad 3.
Ibid.
Cf. Spaemann, Happiness, 171172.

176

The human factor

of this love, there emerges the eternal union of a human being with divine
being, and this is happiness.

5.3 The desire for truth


For this reason, Nicholas of Cusa concludes that human happiness consists
essentially in the apprehension of truth, for only the apprehension of
truth can fulfill the desire of human nature. Hence, he can claim that this
apprehension is happiness which alone can quench the supreme desire of
the mind.26 The attraction of truth draws us into Eternal Life.
The life of consciousness, consisting in individual truths, finds its fulfillment accordingly in the apprehension of truth. What consciousness desires
is reality, and its attainment of reality is what truth is. The ambivalence
of truths is characteristic of the human situation. As the quasi-organ of
truth, consciousness seeks its own fulfillment in that it seeks truth and
that means that it is eo ipso also seeking its own archetype namely, Truth
itself. For the consciousness [intelligentia], which is in us, is inclined with
the highest desire to truth as its own life and paradigm.27 In this life, we
cannot attain absolute truth. But actually truths are by definition always
incommensurate with their object; the object is never totally grasped.
Union with Truth is the happiness of a truth-seeking life. More than
this cannot be desired by a human. Addressing himself to Christ, Cusanus
expresses it thus:
You cause a fountain of life to well up in me . . . You bestow upon me eternal
happiness . . . Not only can nothing better than this be imagined by any man
or angel but also nothing better can exist by any mode of being. For this
source is the absolute maximality (which cannot be greater) of all rational
desire.28

Cusanus argues that God, who is Goodness itself, would be torturing us if he


instilled a desire in us that could never reach fulfillment.29 For an intelligent
being, the repose that is the culmination of movement consists in the
apprehension of truth [consistit in apprehensione veritatis].30 In this repose
lies the apprehension of that Truth which is desired in every desire.31
Only infinite being, that is, divine being, can fulfill this desire. Since this
repose is infinite and eternal, it is movement, infinite movement. Cusanus
makes use of analogies:
26
28
30

Nicholas of Cusa, De apice theoriae, n. 28.


Nicholas of Cusa, De visione Dei, IV, n. 13.
Cf. Nicholas of Cusa, Sermo LIV, n. 26.

27

Nicholas of Cusa, Sermo LIV, n. 21.


Cf. Nicholas of Cusa, Sermo CCXI, n. 10.
Nicholas of Cusa, De visione Dei, XVI, n. 71.

29
31

5.3 The desire for truth

177

Teach me, O Lord, how it is that by a single viewing you discern all things
individually and at once. When I open a book, for reading, I see the whole
page confusedly. And if I want to discern the individual letters, syllables,
and words, I have to turn to each individually and successively. And only
successively can I read one letter after another, one word after another, [one]
passage after another. But you, O Lord, behold at once the entire page, and
you read it without taking any time.32

However, God, being one as well as all, also adapts to each individual,
so that he embraces individual histories as eternity, in which, as Cusanus
often emphasizes, motion is rest. By this, he embraces time:
Now, if two of us men read the same thing, one more quickly and the other
more slowly, you read with both of us; and you seem to read in time, because
you read with us who are reading. But above time you see and read all things
at once; for your seeing is your reading. Simultaneously from eternity
and beyond all passing of time you have viewed all books that have been
written and that can be written, and you have read them at once; but you
also now read them successively, in accompaniment of all who are reading
them. You do not read one thing in eternity and another thing in time, in
accompaniment of those who are reading. Rather, you read [one and] the
same thing doing so in [one and] the same manner, because you are not
mutable, since you are fixed eternity. But since eternity does not desert time,
it seems to be moved with time, even though in eternity motion is rest.33

Without a concrete life history, there could be no fulfillment in the light


of the truth of the same life history. Truth is both the result of and the
motivation for life history. It is impossible for a human to be utterly happy
without God since only through God can he reach the truth of the realities
of his own life. Since this mode of the manifestation of Absolute Truth
is the ultimate, vital happiness of an intellect that is thus enjoying Truth,
it is God, Cusanus concludes, without whom the intellect cannot be
happy.34 Eternal Life represents the epitome of an ascent. It is not a
rupture with temporal life; it is not a leap into an unrelated reality but
rather an emergence.
Nicholas of Cusa thus views the relationship between the present life and
the afterlife as one between truth and the Truth. What we experience in
the world is like the image of its exemplar. Truth in the world represents an
ascent to the truth of the heavenly world. Truth is the passage to eternity.
Therefore, it must be the case that the truth [veritas] of every thing that
is made, he writes, is only its exemplar. This true nature [or exemplar]
32

Ibid., XIII, n. 31.

33

Ibid.

34

Nicholas of Cusa, De filiatione Dei, 3, n. 62.

178

The human factor

is the mind of God. And so, that which is made will be an image of the
exemplar-form.35 Accordingly, the truth of something is the thing itself
in its more real reality. It is like the levels in the Platonic cave allegory.
Truth exists in analogous stages. At each level, one is dealing with the same
thing but in its truer reality. First it has the reality of a shadow, then of a
wooden figure, then of physical beings, and so on. The Platonic question
is repeatedly, What is that really? Each time, the answer is an image
of something more real. Truth itself, God, is the exemplar of everything
that exists or can exist.36 Only in appearance does the passage of truth
depart from the world; rather, the ascension is an entering into it more
deeply. Cusanus calls temporal truths conjectures or surmises. They are
always only partial truths, but they draw us toward themselves. Truth is
an emergent phenomenon. The ambivalence of our truths represents a
reference to Eternal Life.
Truth occurs in levels. The realization that what has thus far appeared to
be reality is actually only an image. It is in itself the next step in the ascent
or, if one wills, descent, in which the exemplar is seen. Realities become
simpler. But there is an end, a summit, and this is known in and through
the most simple oneness-of-truth.37 In other words, in God, in the purity
of Truth,38 everything coincides in multiplicity and simplicity.
Living in Truth takes place in the manner of levels of attention. Nicholas
speaks of a path to the apprehension of Truth.39 It is not a question of
apprehending spiritual things but rather of apprehending one and the
same thing in increasing degrees of truth. The ascent out of the cave of the
temporal world has the appearance of being a departure from the original
realities but, in fact, it is a deeper mode of seeing them, in comparison
to which the previous apprehension saw mere shadows. In this state, the
intellect perceives all things intellectually and beyond every sensible, distracting, and obscuring mode. Indeed, it beholds the entire sensible world
not in a sensory manner but in a truer, namely, intellectual, manner.40
That there exist levels of apprehension is familiar to us. When we hear
someone talking, different people hear differently. Someone who does
not know the language hears only sounds, one following the next. A more
capable hearer might hear words but not understand the sentences. Another
35
36
37
38
39
40

Nicholas of Cusa, De ludo globi, I, n. 48.


Cf. Nicholas of Cusa, De visione Dei, XV, n. 63.
Nicholas of Cusa, De coniecturis, I, prol., n. 2.
Ibid. Pure truth. Nicholas of Cusa, De filiatione Dei, II, n. 61.
Nicholas of Cusa, Directio speculantis, 19, n. 89: ad veritatem intuendam viam.
Nicholas of Cusa, De filiatione Dei, VI, n. 89.

5.3 The desire for truth

179

hears meaning, perhaps even true meaning. Cusanus uses a comparison to


the reading of a book:
Both the learned man and the unlearned man see the letters of the alphabet.
But from the various combinations of these letters the learned man forms
syllables, and from the syllables he forms words, and from the words he
forms sentences. The unlearned man cannot do these things, because he
lacks the art which is present in the learned man.41

The text remains nonetheless the same for every reader.


Cusanus compares the world to books that can be read with different
degrees of truth:
In this present world we learn by means of the senses, which attain only
unto particular things. We pass from the sensible world of particulars unto
a universal knowledge, which is present in the intellectual world. For what
is universal is in the intellect and belongs to the intellectual domain. In this
[sensible] world our learning deals with various particular objects as with
various books. [However,] in the intellectual world there is only one object
of the intellect, namely, Truth itself . . . And the mastery that [the intellect]
seeks in its study of this world is the following: namely, to understand
truth.42

At the summit of this passage, the human being attains fulfillment. In


this state, then there is a cessation of the intellects striving after life and
perfection, and a cessation of its every movement.43
The presence of absolute Truth in each creature is so intense that Aquinas
teaches that if one grasped the essence of any creature, one would be
grasping Gods own essence.
The greatest human tragedy is to remain at the immediate worldly level
that is, to cling to sensible objects, which are symbolic signs of the true.44
Rather, we should learn to read the truth in them as if through them the
Teacher-of-truth were speaking to us and as if they were books containing
the expression of his mind.45 This would involve a degree of attention
that sees in and through sensible things so that eternal things come into
view.
41
43

Nicholas of Cusa, Compendium, 6, n. 18.


44 Ibid., n. 61.
45 Ibid.
Ibid., n. 58.

42

Nicholas of Cusa, De filiatione Dei, II, n. 5758.

chapter s ix

Life history as the predetermination of Eternal Life

The anthropological factor can be further expanded. Briefly, time as human


beings experience it is determinative for the content of eternity, for eternity by definition encompasses all temporal moments at one time and is,
thus, qualified by time. The only appropriate notion of eternity requires
to understand it as the fullness of time, the eternalization of time or
metaphorically the resurrection of time. There is no grounding for
restricting the concept of eternity, for example, to timelessness or endlessly ongoing time.
If we are destined for Eternal Life, then the question can be legitimately posed of why it is necessary at least temporarily to live in
time. This question is a deeper articulation of the question about why
there is suffering. Why do we have to go through time (with its accompanying suffering) if our natural state is eternity? Why does God not
create us in an absolutely happy state right from the start? For the theodicy problem, this is a serious question. We are used to viewing our life
from a temporal perspective and from this point of view considering eternity. However, if there really is an afterlife, then the normal perspective
should be the other way around, temporality being simply a more or less
brief phase of life. The more natural question under this condition is not
whether there must be a life after death but whether there must be a life
before death. Does our temporal life exist so that Eternal Life may come
about?
If we presume that God is pure goodness and almightiness, then we must
conclude that a temporal life is necessary. Therefore, for human beings to
enjoy eternal beatitude, they must first live in time. This condition must
be essential and ineluctable. If the approach of the theodicy problem is
presumed, then it must be said that the creator had no other choice but to
make suffering possible. At the least, suffering must be meaningful if there
really is a creator.
180

6.1 The eternity of salvation as the fulfillment of time

181

6.1 The eternity of salvation as the fulfillment of time


The only kind of eternity that we actually know of or, indeed, are interested
in is the eternity that consists in the fullness of time. Human eternity is
defined in relationship to time. In other words, our Eternal Life is intrinsically predetermined by our life history. This is an intensification of the
principle that salvation is the salvation of human beings. Grace presupposes
nature and brings it to completion. We arrive at knowledge of spiritual
things through corporeal things,1 asserts Thomas Aquinas. Accordingly,
it is necessary that we arrive at knowledge of simple things through complex things, so that it is necessary for us to arrive at knowledge of eternity
through time.2 Since our notion of eternity is derived analogically from
our understanding of time, human eternity can be called the resurrection
of life history. This eternity brings the temporality of the single and total
person into its final and definitive validity, remarks Rahner, so that it
can also be called the resurrection of the flesh.3 Life history embraces the
personal history of individuals in their individuality as well as the social
history of others involved with them.
Rahner adamantly rejected the idea that life after death is simply a
continuation of the present life, albeit in a different ontological state. An
ongoing openness and incompleteness, he argues, could never be experienced as fulfilling happiness. Heaven is understood by Christians as the
final and definitive state of happiness and fulfillment.4 The Enlightenments concept of the immortality of the soul is therefore quite inadequate.
The afterlife cannot be composed of new time for example, the time of
the existence of the soul without the body. The same error occurs in the
idea that there can be no afterlife at all because never-ending time would
be a torment. As Rahner expressed it:
In reality, eternity comes to be in time as times own mature fruit, an
eternity which does not really continue on beyond experienced time. Rather,
eternity subsumes time by being liberated from the time which came to be
temporarily so that freedom and something of final and definitive validity
can be achieved. Eternity is not an infinitely long mode of pure time, but
rather a mode of the spiritual freedom which has been excercised in time,
and therefore it can be understood only from a correct understanding of
spiritual freedom. A time which does not exist as the seedbed of spirit and
of freedom does not offer us any eternity.5
1
3

2 Ibid., a. 1c.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 10, a. 6c.
4 Ibid., 435.
5 Ibid., 437.
Rahner, Foundations, 441.

182

Life history as the predetermination of Eternal Life

To overcome the natural tendency to think of eternity as endlessly ongoing time, Rahner suggests that instead of speaking of life after death,
we demythologize this expression and speak rather of life through death.
At death, temporal life becomes Eternal Life. Strictly speaking, eternity
does not occur after death anyway, after being itself a temporal term. As
Rahner phrased it: The achieved final validity of human existence which
has grown to maturity in freedom comes to be through death, not after
it.6 If there were ongoing time after death, then life would be ultimately
meaningless. Instead, time must be subsumed into eternity:
If we simply have time continue beyond a persons death, and have the soul
survive in this time, so that new time comes to be instead of time being
subsumed into its final and definitive validity, then we get into insuperable
difficulties today both in understanding what the Christian doctrine really
means and also in living it existentially.7

Understood in this way, the danger of thinking in categories of a spiritualism that flees from the world and asserts a salvation void of history is
averted.8
Moreover, the relevance of time implies the relevance of individuality.
Analogous to the question of why time is necessary is the question of why
individuals are necessary. C. S. Lewis offers an answer to the question of
why God creates more than one human. Why does he make each soul
unique?
If he had no use for all these differences, I do not see why he should
have created more souls than one. Be sure that the ins and outs of your
individuality are no mystery to him; and one day they will no longer be a
mystery to you. The mould in which a key is made would be a strange thing,
if you had never seen a key: and the key itself a strange thing if you had never
seen a lock. Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a
particular swelling in the infinite contours of the divine substance, or a key
to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions. For it is not
humanity in the abstract that is to be saved, but you you, the individual
reader, John Stubbs or Janet Smith. Blessed and fortunate creature, your eyes
shall behold him and not anothers. All that you are, sins apart, is destined,
if you will let God have his good way, to utter satisfaction. The Brocken
spectre looked to every man like his first love, because she was a cheat.
But God will look to every soul like its first love because he is its first love.
Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because
you were made for it made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a
hand.9
6

Ibid.

Ibid.

Cf. Hattrup, Eschatologie, 318.

Lewis, Problem, 151152.

6.2 Time and eternity

183

It is quite appropriate, then, that in traditional theology, the divine causality


of Eternal Life is called the light of glory [lumen gloriae]. God illuminates
what the human being has become in his life; he glorifies what has become
in time. Light does not add content. Without a life history, the light would
be invisible. Each individual with his or her own history represents the
matter that is to be glorified by divine light. Our life history is like a
filmstrip that is illuminated by the light of a projector and appears to come
to life, so that the viewers experience the film as though it were reality. The
projector light remains the same for all films; what is seen on the screen
depends on the content of each film. Furthermore, one would hesitate to
claim that the projection on the screen occurs after the filmstrip. As the
filmstrip is only two-dimensional and becomes quasi-three-dimensional
and convincingly realistic when projected, so too is our present life twodimensional in comparison to Eternal Life and not as real as in Eternal
Life. Getting to heaven means becoming more real.

6.2 Time and eternity


To define eternity, we have no choice but to have recourse to time, such
as we know it. The most influential definition of eternity has been that
of Boethius, who defined eternity as the entire and perfect possession of
endless life in a single instant.10 Accordingly, eternity is the simultaneous
concentration of all temporal moments.
The classical definition of time according to both Aristotle and Thomas
Aquinas is the number, or the enumeration, of change in respect of before
and after.11 Although everyone is aware of change and time, a notional
analysis of it is anything but easy. Both Aristotle and Thomas define change
as the actuality [actus] of a being in potentiality as such.12 Accordingly,
change is not simply the sum of different givens that occur at different
moments of time. To apprehend change, one also must concomitantly
have an awareness of time. A filmstrip that depicts a movement from
one state to another for example, a running horse does not convey
movement when laid out in front of the observer. What we see would be
just a series of states but not change, for the awareness of time is missing.
The different frames are all, so to speak, nows. To apprehend change,
10
11
12

Boethius, Consolation, Book V, Prose 6.


Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 10, a. 1c. Thomas also uses the word enumeratio instead
of numerus; cf. ibid.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, In III. Physicorum, lect. 4, n. 1; De veritate, q. 24, a. 1, ad 14; Summa theologiae,
III, q. 67, a. 4c.

184

Life history as the predetermination of Eternal Life

one must apprehend at one and the same time that is, in a unity the
future as future, that is, as a possibility, and the present as present, that is,
as reality, and the past as past. As we experience it, time has a rich structure;
it is not like a line, having only one dimension. We can in a way even free
ourselves from it (e.g., we can think of the notion of time). In the future
perfect (e.g., someday I shall have completed this book), we look back on
future time as though it were past. Basically, however, all of the modes of
time that we know can be reduced to possibility and actuality. For human
beings, only the present is actual, whereas the past and the future remain
possible realities. Hence, it can be said that nature knows no change since
consciousness of time is a prerequisite.
Augustines reflections on the relationship between change and consciousness of change are fundamental. We know three fundamental modes
of time: the past, the present, and the future. Thanks to our ability to reflect,
they can become further differentiated and complex. With the future perfect, we think of the future as past. It is ironical that only the present, which
is a quasi-point in time, lacking duration, is in the primary sense of the
term real. Although both the past and the future extend for longer or
shorter intervals of time, they have no reality. Whereas they are composed
of an innumerable number of parts last year consisted of 365 days, each
day of 24 hours, and so on the present has no parts. Only the present can
be an object of experience. The present experience of the past is memory
and the present experience of the future is expectation. My thoughts, even
the inmost and deepest places of my soul, writes Augustine, are mangled
by various commotions until I shall flow together into thee, purged and
molten in the fire of thy love.13
That we experience change is an important aspect of the extension of
consciousness. Neither the past nor the future is real, but change, which
takes place in the flow of time, is real. Time is a presupposition for change.
To experience change, it is necessary that at least two points of time be seen
simultaneously. For humans, this can be done only by seeing at least one
temporal point as possible reality. Aristotle analyzes change as the reality of a
being that is simultaneously seen as possible. This double perception cannot
occur in nature, where change takes place, but rather only in consciousness,
perceiving nature. The temporal transition is intrinsic to our awareness of
time:
But, then, how is it that there are the two times, past and future, when even
the past is now no longer and the future is now not yet? But if the present
were always present, and did not pass into past time, it obviously would
13

Augustine, Confessions, XI, c. 29.

6.2 Time and eternity

185

not be time but eternity. If, then, time present if it be time comes into
existence only because it passes into time past, how can we say that even this
is, since the cause of its being is that it will cease to be? Thus, can we not
truly say that time is only as it tends toward non-being?14

Another result of our ability to reflect, which makes it possible to experience


time, is that we can jump in our thought back and forth from one point
of time to another without having to go through the interval lying in
between.15 In this, we realize that we are not completely material beings,
subject to physical laws. The planners of a flight to Mars already have
Mars present in their thoughts, but getting there physically requires going
through every single meter of the space between Earth and Mars, one after
the other. But, of course, the thought of the future in time or of a distant
place in space is bound to take place in the present. The present is the
pivotal point. I am thinking now what will occur in the future someplace
else.
This is a kind of extension. The future does not exist in reality, but
my expectation of it does. In my consciousness, I am in a certain sense
extended to the future. My life is but a stretching out,16 as Augustine
astutely points out. In a certain valid sense, I embrace the different points
of time. In my consciousness, change can be perceived and time thus
experienced. I am aware of a time-space [spatium temporis], which can
seem to be shorter or longer. Nature itself (lacking consciousness) knows
no change for time exists only in the form of an extensionless point in
the present. Past and future have no real existence. To perceive the passing
of time, consciousness is required. In consciousness, there is a distension
[distentio animi] that grasps the time-space [intervalla temporum]. Here is
where time really and essentially exists. In Augustines own words:
So, then, as I was saying, we measure periods of time as they pass. And if
anyone asks me, How do you know this?, I can answer: I know because
we measure. We could not measure things that do not exist, and things past
and future do not exist. But how do we measure present time since it has
no extension? It is measured while it passes, but when it has passed it is not
measured; for then there is nothing that could be measured.17

As Jorge Luis Borges incomparably expressed it:


Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along,
but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is
a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire. The world, unfortunately, is
real; I, unfortunately, am Borges.18
14
16

15 Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 53, a. 2, obj. 2.


Ibid., c. 14.
17 Ibid., c. 21.
18 Borges, A New Refutation of Time.
Augustine, Confessions, XI, c. 29.

186

Life history as the predetermination of Eternal Life

Distended over points of time, man is, so to speak, broken up by the points
of time. He can extend his attention to the past and to the future; he can
even think of the future as past (i.e., the future-perfect tense). But he is
unable to repose in any particular moment. His existential infirmity is that
he sometimes wants time to stand still. But the bliss of a perfect moment
inevitably becomes past. Mans earthly destiny is to know what he wants
but nonetheless be unable to reach it. He stretches out over points of time
but only in his consciousness. He is made to strive for Eternal Life, in which
all of these points of time have simultaneous existence. This would be the
fulfilling consummation that the distentio animi, torn between times, is
longing for:
My life is but a stretching out . . . Thy right hand has upheld me in my Lord,
the Son of Man, the Mediator between thee, the One, and us, the many
in so many ways and by so many means. Thus through him I may lay hold
upon him in whom I am also laid hold upon; and I may be gathered up from
my old way of life to follow that One and to forget that which is behind, no
longer stretched out but now pulled together again stretching forth not
to what shall be and shall pass away but to those things that are before me.
Not distractedly now, but intently, I follow on for the prize of my heavenly
calling . . . But now my years are spent in mourning. And thou, O Lord, art
my comfort, my eternal Father. But I have been torn between the times,
the order of which I do not know, and my thoughts, even the inmost and
deepest places of my soul, are mangled by various commotions until I shall
flow together into thee, purged and molten in the fire of thy love.19

This ineluctable predicament, which Augustine brings to poignant expression for all time, is the essential state of human existence. We long for the
present and are unable to take hold of it. Without the phenomenon of
transition from one point of time to the next, there would be no present
and no past for us. It is the price we pay. It is unnecessary that the present
have any kind of extension. Transition can take place with mere points of
time. Actually, we do not really experience the present since it has no duration. It would seem that we abstract the present out of the transition. Time
is present only when it passes into the past. In other words, the present
moment is a passage into nothingness. Ironically, the present becomes real
by ceasing to exist. If present time did not pass over into the past, it would
not be time at all but rather eternity. It is no wonder that elusive time is
difficult to define:
If times should abide, they would not be times . . . What, then, is time? If
no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks
19

Augustine, Confessions, XI, c. 29.

187

6.2 Time and eternity

me, I do not know. Yet I say with confidence that I know that if nothing
passed away, there would be no past time; and if nothing were still coming,
there would be no future time; and if there were nothing at all, there would
be no present time.20

The three temporal modes of past, present, and future are associated with
three different acts of consciousness namely, remembering, actual attending, and expecting. The transition from one to the other exists only in
consciousness:
Our attention has a continuity and it is through this that what is present may
proceed to become absent. Therefore, future time, which is nonexistent, is
not long; but a long future is a long expectation of the future. Nor is
time past, which is now no longer, long; a long past is a long memory of
the past.21

Apart from quantum mechanics, physics ignores the difference among


the modes of time. The laws of nature are expressed in terms of time,
but they are independent of the given point of time. From any point of
time whatsoever, we can calculate in any direction of time. It makes no
difference whether the point of time is in the future or the past; past and
future time as such are irrelevant.
Einstein went so far as to express doubt about whether the different
modes of time have any reality at all. He finally claimed that they have no
specific reality but rather are mere illusions. In a letter to the family of a
deceased friend, he wrote four weeks before his own death: Now he has
departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing.
People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between
past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.22 This
seems to presuppose that the modes of past, present, and future are not
essentially different from one another. Accordingly, the fact that someone
in our life will no longer be with us in the future presents no real problem.
This position would seem to offer a cure for the normal fear of death. It also
tries to offer comfort for suffering that arises from the temporal structure
of human existence. The future is the unknown, the hoped for and the
threatening, comments the physicist Carl Friedrich von Weizsacker. The
past is that which is remembered, the irretrievable; we possess it only as
what we, at the same time, have lost.23
Einsteins viewpoint leads to the assumption that reality lies beyond the
temporal. Weizsacker contradicts Einstein and maintains that reality itself
20
22

21 Ibid., c. 28.
Ibid., c. 14.
Quoted from Weizsacker, Zeit und Wissen, 26. Cf. Aufbau, 556.

23

Ibid., 594.

188

Life history as the predetermination of Eternal Life

is characterized by temporality. I believe that the hierarchy is different,


he states.24 In his view, the three temporal modes indicate that time has
an inner structure. The two different positions could be expressed in
the following way: For Einstein, there is the eternal present, whereas
Weizsacker holds for an all-embracing present. It should be noted that
although Weizsacker appreciates the different temporal modes and does
have an idea of God and even of an experience of God, he surprisingly
lacks a notion of eternity. Hence, unlike Augustine, he does not have a
standpoint from which to study time from outside, so to speak.
In contrast to classical physics, for quantum mechanics, the future has a
distinctness of its own, seeing that the phenomenon of probability clearly
distinguishes the future from the present and the past.
According to Weizsacker, the present moment is not like a point, having
no dimensions, but rather it is comprehensive. It is not like a slit between the
past and the future. He speaks of the fiction of the punctiform present.25
The eternal, reposing present is just the opposite.
Unlike Aristotle and Einstein, whose theory of time knows nothing
about a present time that embraces past, present, and future, Augustine
knows how to distinguish meaningfully among the three modes of time:
But even now it is manifest and clear that there are neither times future
nor times past. Thus, it is not properly said that there are three times, past,
present, and future. Perhaps it might be said rightly that there are three
times: a time present of things past; a time present of things present; and
a time present of things future. For these three do coexist somehow in the
soul, for otherwise I could not see them. The time present of things past
is memory; the time present of things present is direct experience; the time
present of things future is expectation. If we are allowed to speak of these
things so, I see three times, and I grant that there are three.26

What occurs in the consciousness of change also explains what it means to


form a sentence or to hear a melody. In reality, we hear only one note at
a time, but owing to the extension of consciousness to include all of the
notes as possibilities, the melody as a whole is heard. This is due to our
ability to think of a possibility and the actualization of the same possibility.
Aristotles analysis of change as the actualization of what exists potentially,
24
26

25 Weizs
Weizsacker, Zeit und Wissen, 26.
acker, Aufbau, 615.
Augustine, Confessions, XI, c. 20. But Augustine allows for a less strict way of speaking: Let it still
be said, then, as our misapplied custom has it: There are three times, past, present, and future. I
shall not be troubled by it, nor argue, nor object always provided that what is said is understood,
so that neither the future nor the past is said to exist now. There are but few things about which we
speak properly and many more about which we speak improperly though we understand one
anothers meaning. Ibid.

6.2 Time and eternity

189

insofar as it exists potentially,27 shows that our consciousness is complex,


simultaneously apprehending quasi superimposing a reality and its
possibility. In the case of sentences, we simultaneously think subject and
predicate; in the case of a melody, we are conscious of all of the notes; and
in the case of change, we think of actuality and possibility simultaneously.
All of these represent references to God as pure being, pure actuality.
The idea of eternity depends on our knowledge of the present, with all
of its ramifications. We experience different modes of duration. Sometimes
time seems to fly, sometimes it seems to almost stand still. Eternity is a
special kind of duration. To make it an object of thought, we have no alternative but to proceed from our own experiences, arriving at the knowledge
of eternity (as already mentioned) solely through knowledge of time.
From the fact that we know time as a continuity of temporal points, we
are able to form a conception of eternity that is accordingly the presence
of all points of time at once [tota simul]. Aquinas speaks of the kind of
duration that is everything at once [duratio quae est tota simul].28 In
other words, eternity includes all of the moments of time in itself.29
They do not exist successively, but all succession and change are included
in eternity as shall be shown an extremely important principle for
an understanding of Eternal Life. Neither is the reality of these moments
limited to the present [nunc temporis], as is the case with humans. Thomas
explains Boethiuss definition as follows:
With regard to time two aspects have to be considered, namely, time itself,
which is successive [successivum], and the now of time [nunc temporis], which
is imperfect. That is why he says at once [tota simul], in order to exclude
time and perfect, in order to exclude the now of time.30

Conceiving of eternity as the totality of all points of time should not be


understood as though eternity itself were a point of time, embracing all
points of time in a single moment.31 This is merely a way of speaking.
Eternity is not a totality in the sense that it consists of parts but rather in
the sense that it lacks nothing.32 We who live in time apprehend time
as a flowing of nows [fluxum ipsius nunc] and, on this basis, develop a
notion of eternity as a resting now [nunc stans].33
Whereas humans can experience only one now at a time, in eternal
consciousness, all nows are experienced as nows simultaneously. The fact
27
29
30

28 Thomas Aquinas, Quaestiones quodlibetales, X, q. 2c.


Cf. Aristotle, Physics, III, 1.
Aeternitas est interminabilis vitae tota simul et perfecta possessio. Thomas Aquinas, Summa
theologiae, I, q. 10, a. 1, obj. 1.
31 Cf. ibid., a. 4, obj. 2 and ad 2.
32 Ibid., a. 1, ad 3.
33 Ibid., a. 2, ad 1.
Ibid., ad 5.

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Life history as the predetermination of Eternal Life

that we are unable to experience time in this way does not mean that it is
unthinkable. Reflection can transcend experienced time to a certain extent.
Hence, we are able to predicate eternity of God, although our experience
only provides us with a point of departure for this idea.
When God embraces all nows in his eternity, then he sees past and
future points of time as occurring realities that is, as nows. The classical
problem about how there can be free choice if God already knows the
future is consequently not a real problem at all, for knowledge occurring
simultaneously with free choice does not impinge on its freedom. If I know
what you are going to do in an hour, then you will not be free in an hour to
do it, but if I see you actually doing it, that is, in the present, your freedom
is not impinged upon. When human beings know the future, they know it
beforehand and it is this disjunction that undermines freedom. However,
divine providence does not imply predetermination; or, a better expression
would be that divine predetermination must be conceived as an aspect of
divine providence, as Aquinas teaches.34 Knowing the future determines it
only in a certain manner of speaking. God is unchangeable, both in his
being and in his actions.35 Creation, as Aquinas discerningly emphasizes,
occurs without change.36 Unchangeableness, as predicated of God, does
not represent a deficiency, as it would in our own life. Whereas change
involves the realization of a possibility, God is already the actualization of
all realities.
A common misunderstanding of the difference between time and eternity consists in thinking that the essential difference lies in the fact that
eternity has no beginning and no end; in other words, that it endures endlessly. In fact, this characteristic, called sempiternitas, is a note of eternity,
but it is only secondary.37 Even if time were infinite, there would still be
beginnings and ends in it for example, the beginning and the end of a
day.38 A final characteristic of eternity worth mentioning is that God is not,
strictly speaking, eternal, he is eternity itself since he is his own being39
in contrast to human beings, who are not their being.
An appropriate way of articulating eternity is to say that it is at once
both motion and rest. For of God it is most true to say that he is motion
at rest and rest in motion, as Hans Urs von Balthasar explains with regard
to the eschatological vision.40
34
36
37
40

35 Cf. ibid., q. 10, a. 3c.


Cf. ibid., q. 23, a. 1c.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 17.
38 Cf. ibid.
39 Cf. ibid., a. 2c.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 10, a. 4c.
Balthasar, Theo-Drama, 397. As an elucidation, Balthasar extensively quotes Gregory of Nyssa.

6.3 Longing predetermines the vision of God

191

6.3 Longing in time as the predetermination


of the vision of God
What is it in time that determines Eternal Life? The awareness of the
distinction between reality and its possibility is decisive. Consciousness,
which is where time essentially exists, opens us to transcendence. Without
temporal life, there can be no Eternal Life it would be without content.
The aspect of life history that is finally subsumed into Eternal Life is
composed of the desires that have arisen during life, grounded in the
fundamental desire of human nature for fulfillment and definitive validity.
Love thus summarizes the final relevance of life. As Augustine writes: This,
even this, is the consummation of all our works; Love. In it is the end: for
this we run: to it we run; when we are come to it, we shall rest.41 Ezra
Pound gives it a moving expression:
What thou lovest well remains,
the rest is dross
What thou lovst well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lovst well is thy true heritage42

An explanation of the same insight namely, that what one loves determines
ones eternal treasure can be found in Thomas Aquinas.43
Thomas speaks in this context of Charity, which is that form of love that
is directed to the vision of God in Eternal Life; Charity is characterized,
so to speak, by the transcendent dimension of love. As opposed to the
other theological virtues of Faith and Hope, Charity lasts for eternity and
embraces all forms of love, directing them to their final end. Since all
human good is directed toward eternal happiness as its final end, the love
of Charity includes in itself all human kinds of love.44 Thus, creatures
become paths to happiness.45
As the universal good, God is within all love as the quasi-essence and
goal. This does not apply only to other human beings but also to anything
at all in creation. In the love to any good whatsoever the highest goodness
is loved,46 Thomas remarks. If we love anything at all, then we are loving
God. But love of God is not just an effect of worldly love; it precedes it
and is its source. We must assert that love which is an act of the appetitive
power, even in this state of life, tends to God first, and flows on from him
41
42
43
44

Augustine, Homily 10 on the First Epistle of John, n. 4; Soliloquies.


Pound, Pisan Cantos, LXXXI.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 12, a. 6c (quoted on page 169).
45 Ibid.
46 Ibid., ad 16.
Thomas Aquinas, De virtutibus, q. 2, a. 7c.

192

Life history as the predetermination of Eternal Life

to other things, and in this sense Charity loves God immediately, and other
things through God.47 The ultimate meaning of the active life of praxis
is love of God.48 God is the goal that is, the final cause of worldly love:
The end of all human actions and affections is the love of God, whereby
principally we attain to our last end.49 In every end that we explicitly
desire, we implicitly strive for God. Because he is the final end, God is
desired in every desire, Thomas maintains. But this is to desire God
himself implicitly.50 In other words, the movement toward any particular
good is the same movement as that toward God.51
This means, for example, that the love for a human is also, at the same
time, love for God.52 In his well-known essay on the unity of love of God
and love of neighbor, Rahner accentuates this relationship:
The categorized explicit love of neighbor is the primary act of the love of
God. The love of God unreflectedly but really and always intends God in
supernatural transcendentality in the love of neighbor as such, and even the
explicit love of God is still borne by that opening in trusting love to the
whole of reality which takes place in the love of neighbor. It is radically true,
that is, by an ontological and not merely moral or psychological necessity,
that whoever does not love the brother whom he sees, also cannot love
God whom he does not see, and that one can love God whom one does not
see only by loving ones visible brother lovingly.53

For Thomas, the union with love of God holds true even for self-love.54
Self-realization is love for God, for every striving after being is a striving
for God, Being Itself. Everything in creation has being and, consequently,
points to God. A friend being another self, the love of a friend is also
derived from self-love.55
One of the rare theologians who defended self-love was the Puritan
Jonathan Edwards (17031758). He argued as follows:
A Christian spirit is not contrary to all self-love. It is not a thing contrary to
Christianity that a man should love himself; or what is the same thing that
47
48
49
50
51
52

53
54
55

Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 27, a. 4c.


Cf. Thomas Aquinas, De virtutibus, q. 2, a. 4, ad 8: Love for God in himself is the ground for the
active life.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 27, a. 6c.
Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 22, a. 2c.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, De virtutibus, q. 2, a. 7, ad 3.
The love of God is the end to which the love of our neighbor is directed. Thomas Aquinas,
Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 44, a. 2c. God is loved in our neighbor, as the end is loved in that
which is directed to the end. Ibid., ad 2. Love of our neighbor includes love of God, as the end
is included in the means, and vice versa. Ibid., ad 4.
Rahner, Reflections, 247 (emphasis in original).
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, De virtutibus, q. 2, a. 7, ad 10. Cf. De spe, a. 3, ad 4: Amorem sui ipsius, quo
quis optat bonum divinum.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 153.

6.3 Longing predetermines the vision of God

193

he should love his own happiness. Christianity does not tend to destroy
a mans love to his own happiness; it would therein tend to destroy the
humanity. Christianity is not destructive of humanity. That a man should
love his own happiness is necessary to his nature, as a faculty of will is; and it
is impossible that it should be destroyed in any other way than by destroying
his being. The saints love their own happiness; yea, those that are perfect in
holiness. The saints and angels in heaven love their own happiness. Otherwise their happiness, which God has given them, would be no happiness to
them; for that which anyone does not love he can enjoy no happiness in.56

Self-love is not the opposite of love for others but rather is enhanced by
love for others: A mans self is as it were extended and enlarged by love.
Others so far as beloved do, as it were, become parts of himself; so that
wherein their interest is promoted he looks on his own as promoted, and
wherein their interest is touched his is touched.57
Edwards further explained:
In some sense, the most benevolent generous person in the world seeks his
own happiness in doing good to others, because he places his happiness in
their good. His mind is so enlarged as to take them, as it were, into himself.
Thus when they are happy he feels it, he partakes with them, and is happy
in their happiness.58

Similarly, Thomas Aquinas argues that self-love is the basis for the love of
others. He even teaches that the love that is directed to others arises in
man out of his love for himself, insofar as someone relates to the other as
to himself.59 Thomas adds that man is necessarily led to desiring the good
of the other by his desire for his own good.60
C. S. Lewis was also convinced that the desire for happiness is by nature
not egoistical:
We are afraid that heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our goal we
shall no longer be disinterested. It is not so. Heaven offers nothing that a
mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall
see God, for only the pure in heart want to. There are rewards that do not
sully motives. A mans love for a woman is not mercenary because he wants
to marry her, nor is his love for poetry mercenary because he wants to read
it, nor his love of exercise less disinterested because he wants to run and leap
and walk. Love, by definition, seeks to enjoy its object.61
56
57

58
60

Edwards, Charity, 254.


Ibid., 263. It is because men love themselves that they love those persons and things which are
their own, or to which they are nearly related, upon which the world looks as belonging to them,
and which by the constitution of the world have their interest and their honor linked with their
own. Ibid.
59 Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 153.
Edwards, Two Dissertations, 461.
61 Lewis, Problem, 145.
Cf. ibid.

194

Life history as the predetermination of Eternal Life

By the end of temporal life, we have become who we are, our individuality has been created. But the end itself is only the completion of the
self-definition and not, as some theologians maintain, the comprehensive
decision, determining the eternal fate. This position, which is referred to
as the final-decision hypothesis,62 sees life history as a preparation for a
conclusive decision immediately preceding death. It reflects on ones life
history, but the decision that is directly relevant for Eternal Life occurs
in the final moments. A variation of this hypothesis views the phase of
maturity as relevant. Similar to this is the thesis that high points in life
are determinative. In this case, it would be key moral decisions that are
determinative.
All of these hypotheses reduce the rest of life, normal life, to irrelevancy
or to practice for the decisive decisions. Instead, all of life history is a kind
of death. Each moment dies away into the past but nonetheless retains
eternal relevance. Final death is, so to speak, the completion of dying.
It is not really an event in its own right. It reveals the temporariness
of life history. Life must come to an end in order to become eternally
meaningful.
It is one thing to say that love of a human being is love for God but
another to assert that love of a human being emerges into Eternal Life.
The question arises about how love of another human involves not only
God but also Eternal Life, if it is true that love means a fulfilling union
with the beloved. It is common experience as well as a long-standing
truism that friends desire to keep company with one another. Thomas
Aquinas even claims that this appears to be the most characteristic mark
of friendship.63 He accentuates this, interestingly, by remarking that we
even take more delight in the company of a friend than in the company of
ourselves.64 He explains this by the fact that we are able to know others
better than ourselves. But keeping company is, of course, only one kind
of union. A closer analysis of love reveals that it consists in a reciprocal
encounter revolving around different kinds of union. The thesis that I wish
to support maintains that the union of love that is the essence of love is not
the fulfillment of the longing for union with the beloved but rather the
union of longing itself with the beloved. This affective union is a form of
becoming, prior to the desire for physical union.
62
63
64

Cf. Boros, Mystery; Troisfontaines, I Do Not Die; Glorieux, Endurcissement.


Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, IV, c. 22. Cf. also In III. Sententiarum, dist. 29, q. 1; In IX.
Ethicorum, lect. 13, n. 12.
Thomas Aquinas, In III. Sententiarum, dist. 29, q. 1, a. 5, ad 6.

6.3 Longing predetermines the vision of God

195

Now, human love is commonly understood as the fulfillment of the


desire for union with another person. The classic defender of this position
is not, as is often presumed, Plato himself but rather Aristophanes in Platos
Symposium. A human being is, accordingly, one half looking for its other
half and attaining wholeness through the union of love. Perhaps the bestknown contemporary defender of this idea is Erich Fromm in his justly
famous book, The Art of Loving. In opposition to this, Thomas Aquinas
takes the standpoint that love, rather than consisting in fulfillment, is
itself the cause of a deeper desire for union. In his opinion, love is the
union of longing itself that is, the union of the affect [unio affectus].
A good translation for affectus is, to my mind, heart. The translation
affections in the plural form seems to me misleading because it is
more superficial.
Presenting his own view, Fromm often speaks of the experience of
union and describes love itself as an active penetration of the other
person, in which my desire to know is stilled by union.65 He defines the
essence of love as the overcoming of human separateness, as the fulfillment
of the longing for union.66 Knowledge is for him an integral component
of love: I know . . . by experience of union not by any knowledge our
thought can give . . . The only way of full knowledge lies in the act of love:
this act transcends thought, it transcends words. It is the daring plunge
into the experience of union.67 Such fulfilled union with the beloved is
commonly considered the ideal of happiness.
Conversely, as Aquinas sees it, what love can achieve is not the realization
of this goal but rather the discovery of the ideal of such a union. Human
love is, in other words, more a revelation of fulfillment than the fulfillment
itself. Its ultimate significance lies precisely in being an unfulfilling union
unfulfilling because of the vision that it awakens. In his play La Ville, Paul
Claudel has a woman say, I am the promise that cannot be kept. He adds
wisely: And in this consists my grace.68
Love is located in the affect, where it has the character of a force, initiating
a striving. It is a common misunderstanding to imagine that the essence
of love lies in praxis that is, in doing. However, the helping is not love
itself but rather, precisely speaking, no more than an expression of it. (The
Good Samaritan became the neighbor of the man who fell into the hands
of bandits not by helping him just the opposite: he helped him because
he had become his neighbor, having been moved with compassion when
he saw him.) Strictly speaking, helping can even be the expression of a vice.
65

Fromm, Art of Loving, 25.

66

Ibid., 27.

67

Ibid., 26.

68

Claudel, La ville, Act 3, 385.

196

Life history as the predetermination of Eternal Life

For example, it can arise from opportunism or ambition or from the desire
of a reward or remuneration. Aquinas offers a fitting analysis:
Since pity is grief for anothers distress, . . . from the very fact that a person
takes pity on anyone, it follows that anothers distress grieves him. And since
sorrow or grief is about ones own ills, one grieves or sorrows for anothers
distress, insofar as one looks upon anothers distress as ones own.69

There are two ways in which this can occur:


First, through union of the affect, which is the effect of love. For, since
he who loves another looks upon his friend as another self, he counts his
friends hurt as his own, so that he grieves for his friends hurt as though he
were hurt himself.
Secondly, it happens through real union, for instance, when anothers evil
comes near to us, so as to pass to us from him. Hence, the Philosopher
says that men pity such as are akin to them, and the like, because it makes
them realize that the same may happen to themselves. This also explains
why the old and the wise who consider that they may fall upon evil times,
as also feeble and timorous persons, are more inclined to pity: whereas those
who deem themselves happy, and so far powerful as to think themselves in
no danger of suffering any hurt, are not so inclined to pity. Accordingly, a
defect is always the reason for taking pity, either because one looks upon
anothers defect as ones own, through being united to him by love, or on
account of the possibility of suffering in the same way.70

Neither is benevolence that is, the willing of good the essence of love.
Thomas criticizes Aristotle for not going deeply enough when he defines
love as benevolence. According to Aquinas, benevolence follows upon love.
Like helping, benevolence is a manifestation of love. The Philosopher, by
thus defining to love, Thomas explains, does not describe it fully, but
mentions only that part of its definition in which the act of love is chiefly
manifested.71 The essential union is not the union with the desired good,
or with the friend for whom it is desired, but rather, as Aquinas perceptively
puts it: Love precedes desire.72 In other words, there is a union preceding
desire and a union following desire. The affective union precedes the movement of desire.73 Thus, love is a kind of becoming, taking place in the affect:
69
71
72
73

70 Ibid.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 30, a. 2c.
Ibid., q. 27, a. 2, ad 1. To love is indeed an act of the will tending to the good, but it adds a certain
union with the beloved, which union is not denoted by goodwill. Ibid., ad 2.
Amor praecedit desiderium. Ibid., III, q. 25, a. 2c.
The union of lover and beloved is twofold. There is real union, consisting in the conjunction of
one with the other. This union belongs to joy or pleasure, which follows desire. There is also an
affective union, consisting in an aptitude or proportion, insofar as one thing, from the very fact of
its having an aptitude for and an inclination to another, partakes of it: and love betokens such a

6.3 Longing predetermines the vision of God

197

Goodwill properly speaking is that act of the will whereby we wish well to
another. Now this act of the will differs from actual love, considered not
only as being in the sensitive appetite but also as being in the intellective
appetite or will. For the love which is in the sensitive appetite is a passion.
Now every passion seeks its object with a certain eagerness. And the passion
of love is not aroused suddenly, but is born of an earnest consideration of the
beloved object; wherefore the Philosopher, showing the difference between
goodwill and the love which is a passion, says that goodwill does not imply
impetuosity or desire, that is to say, has not an eager inclination, because
it is by the sole judgment of his reason that one man wishes another well.
Again love of this kind arises from previous acquaintance, whereas goodwill
sometimes arises suddenly, as happens to us if we look on at a boxing-match,
and we wish one of the boxers to win. But that kind of love which is in the
intellective appetite also differs from goodwill, because it denotes a certain
union of the lovers heart with the beloved, in as much as the lover deems
the beloved as somehow one with him, or belonging to him, and so tends
toward him [movetur in ipsum]. On the other hand, goodwill is a simple act
of the will, whereby we wish a person well, even without presupposing the
aforesaid union of the heart with him.74

Thomas distinguishes three kinds, or stages, of union involved with love:


(1) the union that gives rise to love, (2) the union that love desires, and (3)
the union of desiring love itself.75 He explains that the first kind of union
consists in knowledge of the beloved, who thus becomes attractive for the
will, giving rise to love itself. The second kind is caused by love effectively,
since it moves the lover to desire and to see the presence of the beloved as
fitting and pertaining to himself. The third kind, finally, is caused by love
formally, since love itself is such a union or connection. Thomas then
quotes Augustines remark that love is a kind of life, joining two, or desiring
to join them, that is to say, the lover and the beloved.76 Aquinas interprets
Augustines statement in the sense that the joining itself is precisely a union
of the affect [unionem affectus], without which there would be no love
whatsoever; whereas the union that is desired pertains to the so-called real
union [unionem realem] that is, some kind of physical union, for example,
sitting at a dinner table together or embracing one another.77

74
77

union. This union precedes the movement of desire [Unio affectiva . . . praecedit motum desiderii].
Ibid., ad 2.
75 Cf. ibid., III, q. 28, a. 1, ad 2.
76 Augustine, De trinitate, VIII.
Ibid., IIII, q. 27, a. 2c.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, III, q. 25, a. 1c. The union of lover and beloved is twofold.
The first is real union; for instance, when the beloved is present with the lover. The second is union
of affection: and this union must be considered in relation to the preceding apprehension; since
movement of the appetite follows apprehension. Now love being twofold, viz. love of concupiscence
and love of friendship, each of these arises from a kind of apprehension of the oneness of the thing
loved with the lover. For when we love a thing, by desiring it, we apprehend it as belonging to our
well-being. In like manner when a man loves another with the love of friendship, he wills good

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Life history as the predetermination of Eternal Life

The union, therefore, that love is in its essence takes place in the affect.
There occurs a mutual presence: The beloved is contained in the lover
insofar as he or she is impressed on the lovers heart [impressum in affectu] by
a kind of accompanying delight [per quandam complacentiam].78 (And,
conversely, the lover is also truly contained in the beloved insofar as the
lover pursues in a certain manner what is intimate in the beloved.79 )
Now, a further characteristic of the essence of love between friends,
desiring the company of one another, is that this desire remains essentially unfulfilled. This is primarily owing to reflective consciousness. It is
reflection that renders love unavoidably unfulfillable in the present human
condition. Since reflection differentiates between the being and the forma
of the object, the more self-conscious love becomes, the greater the cleft
between desire and its fulfillment. Observing oneself, even when it means
observing oneself being happy, implies a detachment: I as both the observer
and the observed.
Self-reflection lies at the core of the problem of human love for it is, on
the one hand, an indispensable prerequisite for fulfilling happiness and,
on the other hand, an ineluctable deterrent. It is fundamental that for
human beings happiness must be conscious, if it is to be happiness at all.
There is nothing, it may be presumed, which we value more highly than
consciousness. Human love is specifically conscious love. It is precisely I,
or we, who love. Through self-reflection, we are able to view whatever is
good qua good.80
Aquinas teaches, furthermore, that, as opposed to animals, we are able
to view sensual beauty as beautiful.81 Whereas, according to Aristotle and
Thomas, animals do experience pleasure, humans additionally take pleasure
in the beauty of sensible things.82 As a rule, the spirit enhances the sensual.
This can be explained by the fact that self-reflection always has some reality
as its content and it apprehends this content both as real and as possible,
thus enhancing its presence and rendering it, so to speak, more real. It
sees the contingency of reality. In fact, this is precisely the mode in which
human reflection grasps reality.

78
81
82

to him, just as he wills good to himself: wherefore he apprehends him as his other self, insofar,
to wit, as he wills good to him as to himself. Hence, a friend is called a mans other self (Ethic.,
IX, 4), and Augustine says (Confess., IV, 6), Well did one say to his friend: Thou half of my soul.
The first of these unions is caused effectively by love; because love moves man to desire and seek
the presence of the beloved, as of something suitable and belonging to him. The second union is
caused formally by love; because love itself is this union or bond. Ibid., q. 28, a. 1c.
79 Ibid.
80 Cf. ibid., I, q. 59, a. 1c. Cf. De veritate, q. 23, a. 1c.
Ibid., a. 2, ad 1.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 91, a. 3, ad 3.
Cf. ibid., IIII, q. 141, a. 4, ad 3.

6.3 Longing predetermines the vision of God

199

The first thing to which the desire for good arising from love is directed
is the existence of the beloved. (Actually, self-reflection is nothing else but
the apprehension of the act of existence.) As Aristotle expressed it: what we
desire most with regard to ourselves is the apprehension of our existence.
Hence, the friend being a second self, what we desire most of him is
his existence.83 Here, the typical irony of the basic human situation comes
into play: self-reflection means both self-possession and self-alienation. For
conscious living, being present implies observing oneself, which in turn
involves a gap between oneself as subject and as object. Even in the word
I, which has the appearance of being able to attain complete identity, there
still lies a dualism of the observer and the observed. As subject, I see myself
as object. I thus involves a certain self-alienation, an inner cleft. Living in
reality implies an asymptotic hiatus. (This ontological suffering, moreover,
cannot be assuaged by justice.) Human experience remains per se conscious
experience. With its three distinct words, a statement like I love you is
disappointingly complex in comparison to the union it is trying to express.
The complete union with the other can be achieved only in a situation in which no cleft exists between what exists and its act of existence.
We conceive complete happiness as comprising the perfect identity of the
apprehension of the presence of the beloved together with ones consciousness of this. Ecstasy is therefore imagined to imply the extinguishment
of self-consciousness, self-forgetfulness, and conversely the total and
immediate presence in the other. But the realization of this vision shatters the vision, splits it in two. Complete union with the other with full
awareness would indeed overcome the dualism of the experience and the
experienced, eliminating the gap between being both one with oneself and
one with the other. Truth is nothing else but the conscious presence of an
object accompanied by the active awareness of this presence. If a knowing
subject were to obtain complete objectivity that is, a thoroughgoing identity of thought and object then, according to the standpoint of Thomas
Aquinas, there would be no truth at all. Truth always involves two factors namely, the object and the subject and, for there to be truth, the
subject must contribute something of its own [aliquid proprium].84 Without this duality, there could not be the phenomenon that we call truth
a name for the specific human way of being in reality. Not having the
problem of intentionality, an animal can be subsumed into its object uninhibitedly. A dog while eating is, enviably, one with its eating. Not having
83
84

Cf. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, IX, 12; 1171 b 291172 a 3; 9; 1170 b 1019.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 1, a. 3c. Otherwise, Aquinas explains, one could not speak of
an adaequatio, as in the traditional definition of truth.

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Life history as the predetermination of Eternal Life

intentionality that is, being completely one with itself it is presumably


devoid of an awareness of distance from its object. Separateness from oneself and separateness from ones object have the same source.
Happiness for us must be true that is, conscious happiness. I have to
be aware of the fact that I am happy in order to be really happy. I have
to observe myself being happy. But, as I have said, this self-observation
perforce undermines happiness. Inevitably, we distinguish between what is
happening and that it is happening in other words, between essence and
existence. This dualism is typical of human conscious life. Consequently,
ecstasy is pure happiness only in our memory or in our hope. As it occurs
in actual reality, happiness is accompanied by a strain of disappointment.
Hence, the longing effected by love is insatiable at least, in the kind of
split existence that characterizes our temporal existence.
Human love opens the religious dimension, for God, and God alone,
can bring the difference between being and its knowability to a union
of identity. Now the aspect under which our neighbor is to be loved,
Thomas observes, is God, since what we ought to love in our neighbor
is that he may be in God.85 In God, essence and existence are identical.
This sublime truth, as Thomas calls it,86 lies at the primal ground of all
reality, love presenting no exception.
There is a logic, then, in Erich Fromms definition of love as the fulfillment of the desire for union and his understanding of God that is, what
he calls his non-theism.87 Atheism leaves no room for a transcendence that
can go beyond interpersonal relations. The problem of knowing man,
he states, is parallel to the religious problem of knowing God.88 Hence,
love of God is analogous to our love of human beings:
The basis for our need to love lies in the experience of separateness and the
resulting need to overcome the anxiety of separateness by the experience of
union. The religious form of love, that which is called the love of God, is,
psychologically speaking, not different. It springs from the need to overcome
separateness and to achieve union.89

85
86
87

88

Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 25, a. 1c (emphasis added).


Hanc autem sublimem veritatem. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, I, c. 22. Aquinas
considers this to be the divine Revelation to Moses.
Fromm believes that we can know nothing about God himself, but we are able to uphold divine
ideals that God represents for example, truth, love, justice, and fulfillment. I myself do not think
in terms of a theistic concept, and . . . to me the concept of God is only a historically conditioned
one, in which man has expressed his experience of his higher powers, his longing for truth and for
unity at a given historical period. Fromm, Art of Loving, 61.
89 Ibid., 53.
Ibid., 2627.

6.4 The theological notion of memory

201

He concludes: To love God . . . would mean, then, to long for the attainment of the full capacity to love, for the realization of that which God
stands for in oneself.90 Thomas Aquinas, to the contrary, needs to make
no excessive demands on human nature since he does not hold God to be
merely a word that stands for a projected ideal, having no reality beyond
ourselves.
In sum, the union sought by love ultimately requires divine being, which
alone has the necessary ontological structure to bring about a union in
which union and its reflection attain the longed-for fulfillment. Therefore,
in the present human condition, love is opened to a kind of union that
can be attained only in the mode of eschatological hope. Love awakens
a vision that animates hope. This dimension is necessarily eschatological.
Nonetheless, the fact that the experience of love awakens a vision in us
that can find no satisfying fulfillment in this life is purposeful. We dream
of finding someone who is completely one with us. The dream is neither
fulfilled in time nor is it in vain.

6.4 The theological notion of memory


Probably the earliest writing on the topic of human dignity cites three
aspects of human nature as the grounds for dignity: the intellect, the will,
and the memory.91 For Augustine, who is echoed here, memory is identical
with the human spirit and represents the place where man meets God. In
memory, all of our experiences are preserved in a transtemporal mode. Sren
Kierkegaard can regard man as the representative of a synthesis of the temporal and eternal, able to find rest only in God. As memory grows, an individual human evolves. The creation of a human person requires time; it is a
process. Within time, I, in a true sense, am not; I am still becoming myself.
Thomas Aquinas teaches that whatever is consciously experienced
remains in the intellect. Thus, he can argue: The intellectual memory
of things known in life must remain in the departed soul, since the intellectual impressions are indelibly received in the potential intellect.92
In his book Spirit in the World, Rahner presents an explanation of this
relationship existing between human consciousness and sensibility that is
relevant to our question. What occurs when, say, I accidently cut a finger is
quite different in the nerves and in my consciousness. In consciousness, it is
pain; in the skin and nerves, strictly speaking, there does not occur what we
90
91
92

Ibid., 60.
Cf. De dignitate conditionis humanae. Possibly written by Alcuin (d. 804), also ascribed to Athanasius.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, II, c. 80.

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Life history as the predetermination of Eternal Life

would call pain. The brain does not suffer pain. The two phases can be distinguished by the terms phantasm and species. The phantasm includes
the content of a sensible apprehension. Out of the phantasm, the light of
consciousness produces a species, which Rahner understands as a creation
of the spontaneous activity of the spirit which is of such a nature that as
such it can manifest the external object as passively received.93 The initial,
passive reception of an apprehension is also an act of the spirit because the
spirit is the soul of the body. Hence, the conclusion can be drawn:
When it [the free spirit] produces the phantasm, it determines itself not
merely insofar as, as the act of matter, it receives this determination as its
matter into itself, but as free it has already actively determined itself, and so
as separated soul it can retain in itself this determination which we called
earlier the intelligible species in the narrower sense.94

Affected by the light of consciousness, the phantasm becomes an intelligible


species; that is, it is now the thought form, implying that the original form
now participates in a kind of immortality. Rahner calls this the intelligible
species in the narrower sense. But when the thought is no longer actually
present, the intelligible species still exists in the broader sense. The spirit
produces the phantasm and, as free, already and always keeps it abstracted
in itself (the intelligible species in the broader sense). In this sense,
Rahner can say that the spirit produces the phantasm. As he explains it:
But by the fact that the spirit produces the phantasm, it is, as the origin
which lets the phantasm emanate, already determined in itself from the side
of its freedom, logically before it receives the phantasm, and can keep this
determination (the intelligible species in the narrower sense) in itself (in the
treasury of the species or as separated soul) even when the phantasm is
no longer given as a sensible determination.95

Thus, it is evident also that in the free spirit as such an intelligible species is
given which goes beyond the light of the intellect, beyond the a priori structure of the spirit, without the agent intellect as such becoming a patient.96
The phantasm that is, the empirical presence of the object in the
knower is subsumed into the reality of the intelligible species, which
means that it remains in the spirit possessing a kind of timelessness. In other
words, the individual person is indelibly and permanently determined by
his experiences during life. Life history is retained in memory, even after
bodily death. Rahner arrives at the following conclusion:
Thus, according to Thomas, the separated souls still have a relation to the
singular objects known earlier through a determination (determinantur) or
93

Rahner, Spirit, 330.

94

Ibid., 381.

95

Ibid.

96

Ibid.

6.4 The theological notion of memory

203

through preceding knowledge, or through some affection, through a


disposition which remains in the soul, through a vestige of a preceding
knowledge or affection.97

A further aspect of memory is worth mentioning. C. S. Lewis draws


attention to the fact that memory has the tendency to glorify the past. In
this way, even past pain can exhibit positive aspects. One might be allowed
to say that this glorification is like an anticipation of the glorification by
the Light of Glory in Eternal Life. As Lewis describes it:
But this glorification is not only promised, it is already foreshadowed.
The dullest of us knows how memory can transfigure; how often some
momentary glimpse of beauty in boyhood is a whisper / Which memory
will warehouse as a shout. Dont talk to me of the illusions of memory.
Why should what we see at the moment be more real than what we see
from ten years distance? It is indeed an illusion to believe that the blue hills
on the horizon would still look blue if you went to them. But the fact that
they are blue five miles away, and the fact that they are green when you are
on them, are equally good facts . . . That is the beginning of the glorification.
One day they will be more radiant still.98

In his novel Joseph and His Brothers, Thomas Mann depicts what he calls
The Sunken Treasure, lying more deeply in memory than the concomitant suffering:
She did not curse the man she loved because of the suffering he had caused
her, or that she had caused herself on his account, for the pains of love are
special pains that no one has ever repented having endured. You have made
my life rich it blossoms! Those were the words of Enis prayer in the
midst of her anguish, and one can see in them the special nature of loves
torments, which can even emerge as a prayer of thanksgiving. In any case,
she had lived and loved loved unhappily, to be sure, but is there really
such a thing and should not every sense of pity here be dismissed as silly and
officious? . . . And yet at the bottom of her soul lay a treasure in which she
secretly took greater pride than in all her spiritual and worldly honors, and
which, whether she admitted it or not, she would not have surrendered for
anything in the world. A sunken treasure in the depths but it still silently
sent its light up into the murky days of her renunciation. And however
much it represented her defeat it also lent to her spiritual and worldly pride
an indispensable element of essential humanity a pride in life. It was a
memory not so much of him, whom she heard had now become lord over
Egypt; he was merely an instrument, just as she, Mut-em-enet, had been an
instrument. But rather almost independently of him it was a recognition
97

Ibid., 381382.

98

Lewis, Letters to Malcolm, 122123.

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Life history as the predetermination of Eternal Life


of the justification, the awareness that she had blossomed and burned, had
loved and suffered.99

Another author, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, offers further confirmation: Pain


and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart.
The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth.100 Tatjana
Goriceva offers confirmation and clarification: One should not seek suffering. But one should accept it as a grace that God has given as a gift.101

6.5 The eternal significance of temporal suffering


I see no way to remain a Christian and, at the same time, confess to being at
a complete loss in the face of the theodicy problem. The problem is posed
in such a way that it presumes a clear contradiction between an all-good and
all-powerful God and the evil of suffering. The logic is stringent. One or
the other can be real, but both cannot exist simultaneously. Since suffering
is an undeniable fact, the conclusion that an all-good and all-powerful God
does not exist is then ineluctable. If one utterly fails to find any meaning
whatsoever connected with suffering, then it would seem that atheism must
be the logical consequence or a god of a quite different nature.
Conversely, if there is no God as Christians understand him, then
there can be no problem at all for justifying suffering, for why should one
expect meaning in suffering if there is no all-good and all-powerful God,
who created everything? Why does one expect any good at all if there is
no God? From where does the existence of whatever good there is come?
In any case, Christians must come to grips with the ultimate legitimation
of suffering. We cannot leave the question entirely open, even though we
may not be in possession of an exhaustive explanation, especially regarding
specific suffering. At the least, to continue believing in God, we must
be able to show that the presumed contradiction is not unavoidable. In
other words, an adequate defense may not offer an explanation of the
meaning of suffering, but it does at least dissolve the theodicy problem
if it can be shown that a loving Creator and suffering are not necessarily
contradictory, for the contradiction is precisely the heart of the problem.
Inexplicableness alone is not enough to ground it.
Of course, the sense of some kinds of suffering for example, as signals
for sickness is obvious enough. But, to be sure, it is difficult to say
something positive about suffering in general. Whoever tries to do this is
often confronted with the objection of being a sadist or masochist, taking
99
101

100 Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment, 268.


Mann, Joseph, 12211222.
Goriceva, Die Kraft, 24. It is almost a law that when one loves one suffers and that suffering is
endurable only in love. Ibid., 40.

6.5 The eternal significance of temporal suffering

205

pleasure in suffering. But if suffering in general has some kind of meaning,


then the whole point is that it is not enjoyable. Precisely as such, it has
its place in the all-embracing meaning of life, which, of course, includes
pleasure. The fact is that life in its deepest temporal essence is suffering.
Whatever is enjoyable seems not to require any justification, but actually
we can ask what the meaning of enjoyment is and, ultimately, it is not so
different from suffering. If life is meaningful, then suffering, which belongs
to human life, must be meaningful. In his commentary on 1 Cor 15, Wright
declares: Paul then uses the image of birth pangs a well-known Jewish
metaphor for the emergence of Gods new age not only of the church in
verse 23 and of the Spirit a couple of verses later but also here in verse 22
of creation itself.102
Perhaps my readers will give more attention to the utterances of more
competent voices than my own. First, one can hardly find a more radical
witness than Oscar Wilde, who wrote:
There is about sorrow an intense, an extraordinary reality. I have said of
myself that I was one who stood in symbolic relations to the art and culture
of my age. There is not a single wretched man in this wretched place along
with me who does not stand in symbolic relation to the very secret of life.
For the secret of life is suffering. It is what is hidden behind everything.103

An unusually profound reflection on the positive meaning of suffering


was made by Wilde, while spending two years in prison. He describes his
agonizing situation as follows:
I have lain in prison for nearly two years. Out of my nature has come wild
despair; an abandonment to grief that was piteous even to look at; terrible
and impotent rage; bitterness and scorn; anguish that wept aloud; misery
that could find no voice; sorrow that was dumb. I have passed through every
possible mood of suffering. Better than Wordsworth himself I know what
Wordsworth meant when he said Suffering is permanent, obscure, and
dark / And has the nature of infinity.104,105

Wilde also finds the metaphor of a treasure appropriate:


But while there were times when I rejoiced in the idea that my sufferings
were to be endless, I could not bear them to be without meaning. Now
I find hidden somewhere away in my nature something that tells me that
nothing in the whole world is meaningless, and suffering least of all. That
something hidden away in my nature, like a treasure in a field, is Humility.
It is the last thing left in me, and the best: the ultimate discovery at which I
have arrived.106
102
104

103 Wilde, De profundis (emphasis added).


Wright, Surprised by Hope, 103.
105 Wilde, De profundis.
106 Ibid.
Wordsworth, The White Doe, line 56.

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Life history as the predetermination of Eternal Life

This is certainly not utterly foreign to a Christian viewpoint. George


MacDonald even related it to Christs own suffering: The son of God
suffered unto the death, not that men might not suffer, but that their
sufferings might be like his.107
Weizsacker did not hesitate to defend the position: In a Christian
society, but just as well in the societies of other religions, every mother knew,
every mature man knew that living at the same time means suffering.108
Suffering is not in principle unjust. Judging it to be so is presumably a
secularized form of a Christian conviction that eternal happiness lies before
us. But this expectation does not apply to the present life. As Weizsacker
writes:
Christian Europeans knew what all religions know, namely, that human
life is finiteness, suffering and guilt. However, Europe of the Modern Age
is characterized by radical projects and an orientation toward happiness.
Radical projects are the abstract constitutional state of absolute monarchs
and liberals, the secular eschatology of the technocrats and socialists. What
these projects are striving for and what the contemporary citizen considers
his undisputed right is happiness in this life.109

The positive side of the ambivalent state in which we find ourselves lies,
for Weizsacker, in the resulting suffering that arouses insight. Its danger
lies in the incorrigible acceptance of partial happiness.110 Of course, this
does not imply the passive acceptance of concrete suffering; resistance is
the essential component. Suffering has this advantage over pleasure and joy
that it does not tempt us to stand still. For this reason, John of the Cross
could make the claim that the road of suffering is more secure and even
more profitable than that of fruition and action.111
This insight is old; many centuries earlier Boethius had written:
Strange is the thing I am trying to express. And for this cause I can scarce
find words to make clear my thought. For truly I believe that Ill Fortune
is of more use to men than Good Fortune. For Good Fortune, when she
wears the guise of happiness, and most seems to caress, is always lying; Ill
Fortune is always truthful, since, in changing, she shows her inconstancy.
The one deceives, the other teaches; the one enchains the minds of those
who enjoy her favor by the semblance of delusive good, the other delivers
them by the knowledge of the frail nature of happiness. Accordingly, thou
mayst see the one fickle, shifting as the breeze, and ever self-deceived; the
107
108
110
111

MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons, quoted by Lewis, Problem, vii.


109 Weizs
Weizsacker, Garten, 112.
acker, Bewutseinswandel, 9293.
Weizsacker, Garten, 245 (not included in the English translation).
John of the Cross, Dark Night, c. XVI, n. 9.

6.5 The eternal significance of temporal suffering

207

other sober-minded, alert, and wary, by reason of the very discipline of


adversity. Finally, Good Fortune, by her allurements, draws men far from
the true good; Ill Fortune oftentimes draws men back to true good with
grappling-irons.112

Do we then have to agree with Leibniz that this is the best possible world,
that is, that no better world say, in particular a world devoid of unjust
suffering is really possible? I would prefer to pose the question in the
following way: Is it good to create beings like us in a situation like ours?
Then the question can be posed whether God could create a better world
than ours. Stated in this way, we are dealing with a comparative instead of
a superlative.
Thomas Aquinas argues in favor of the thesis that the universe cannot
be better than it is. He compares it to a zither, saying that the melody of a
zither would be spoiled if an additional string were added to it. In his own
words: God cannot make something better than it is. Just as he cannot
make the number four larger, for, if it were, then it would no longer be the
number four. But he can make something better than it.113 A world totally
without suffering would not be this world of human beings. However, this
does not exclude the possibility that creatures could be improved in their
manner of existing or that a certain amount of suffering could be alleviated.
Humans can certainly become better humans for example, with regard
to their morality but they remain human. Nevertheless, a world without
suffering would no longer be human.
This approach can lead to the insight that suffering may possibly be more
advantageous for a successful life than pleasure or joy. It goes without saying
that we can mature personally through pleasure and joy, but suffering is
more advantageous for leading us to maturity, although it does involve
an acute risk of discouragement and despair. No normal person desires to
repose in pain. Pain makes us want to move away from it. Suffering is,
therefore, a more reliable incentive to keep on moving than pleasure and
joy. The meaning of life lies in the development of longing, and suffering
naturally arouses longing, whereas pleasure and joy are more characterized
by fulfillment.
Joy and suffering have in common that both give rise to longing, one in
a positive way, the other in a negative way. So it can even be maintained
that ultimately both serve the same purpose. In the case of joy, it is not so
112
113

Boethius, Consolation, II, 8.


Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 25, a. 6c. However: God could make other things, or
add something to the present creation; and then there would be another and a better universe.
Ibid., ad 3.

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Life history as the predetermination of Eternal Life

easy to ascertain this significance since it seems to have its own meaning
in itself. It does not seem to be sensible to ask why we find joy good and
worth striving for. In any case, both open us to reality, albeit in opposite
ways. Reality itself teaches us, as it were, to open ourselves to it. We could
speak of a divine pedagogy of life. It cannot fully fail.
This has been incomparably expressed by Rainer Maria Rilke in his
poem Motto114 :
That is longing: living in turmoil
and having no home in time
and those are wishes: gentle dialogs
of days hours with eternity
And that is life. Until out of a yesterday
the most lonely hour rises
which, smiling differently than the other sisters (hours)
silently encounters eternity

Religion explicates the fundamental relativization of the self. The self can
become aware of the fact that it is not the hub of the universe surrounding
it. There exist other selves who see me as an object, integrating me in their
own worlds. I can objectivize myself and regard myself as one factor in a
comparison, so that I can conclude that another person has more right in a
given situation than I do. I can be humble without disparaging my talents
and achievements.
Wildes profound claim that Nothing in the whole world is meaningless,
suffering least of all holds true not only for prison but also for the depths of
a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. Even in a concentration
camp, the will to live can be established only by making larger sense out of
ones seemingly senseless suffering. Suffering is a contradiction to happiness
but not to living. To live is to suffer; surviving depends on finding meaning
in suffering. If life has any purpose at all, then there must be a purpose in
suffering and in dying.
Writing from his own experience in a concentration camp during World
War II, Viktor E. Frankl confirms this point of view:
The experience of camp life shows that man does have a choice of action.
There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that
apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible
conditions of psychic and physical stress.115
114

In Rilke, Mir zur Feier.

115

Frankl, Mans Search, 65 (emphasis in original).

6.5 The eternal significance of temporal suffering

209

The fact that a few prisoners were able to make sacrifices is for Frankl a
proof that a fundamental freedom of choice still exists:
We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked
through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread.
They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that
everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human
freedoms to choose ones attitude in any given set of circumstances, to
choose ones own way. And there were always choices to make. Every day,
every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which
determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which
threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance,
renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the
typical inmate.116

According to Frankl, external circumstances can never inescapably reduce


a human being to a mere function of these circumstances. Even in the most
abasing circumstances, he maintains, we are able to react internally to our
situation and thus mature morally as a person:
The mental reactions of the inmates of a concentration camp must seem
more to us than the mere expression of certain physical and sociological
conditions. Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food
and various mental stresses may suggest that the inmates were bound to
react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of
person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not
the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can,
even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him mentally
and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration
camp.117

Frankl refers to Dostoyevsky, who asserts that one can become worthy of
ones suffering, if the inner freedom is upheld:
Dostoyevsky said once, There is only one thing that I dread: not to be
worthy of my sufferings. These words frequently came to my mind after
I became acquainted with those martyrs whose behavior in camp, whose
suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom
cannot be lost. It can be said that they were worthy of their sufferings;
the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this
spiritual freedom which cannot be taken away that makes life meaningful
and purposeful.118
116

Ibid., 6566.

117

Ibid., 66.

118

Ibid.

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Life history as the predetermination of Eternal Life

According to Frankl, mans attitude to his existence, especially evident in


critical situations, determines the ultimate meaning of his life:
There is also purpose in that life which is almost barren of both creation and
enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behavior:
namely, in mans attitude to his existence, an existence restricted by external
forces. A creative life and a life of enjoyment are banned to him. But not
only creativeness and enjoyment are meaningful.119

Frankls conclusion is that suffering can become more deeply meaningful if


one freely affirms its presence when it is inevitable. The difference between
I cannot and I will not is crucial:
If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering.
Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without
suffering and death human life cannot be complete. The way in which a
man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes
up his cross, gives him ample opportunity even under the most difficult
circumstances to add a deeper meaning to his life.120

Frankl concludes:
Whenever one is confronted with an inescapable, unavoidable situation
whenever one has to face a fate which cannot be changed, e.g., an incurable
disease, such as an inoperable cancer; just then one is given a last chance to
actualize the highest value, to fulfill the deepest meaning, the meaning of
suffering. For what matters above all is the attitude we take toward suffering,
the attitude in which we take our suffering upon ourselves . . . A bit later,
I remember, it seemed to me that I would die in the near future. In this
critical situation, however, my concern was different from that of most of
my comrades. Their question was, Will we survive the camp? For, if not, all
this suffering has no meaning. The question which beset me was, Has all
this suffering, this dying around us, a meaning? For, if not, then ultimately
there is no meaning to survival; for a life whose meaning depends upon such
a happenstance as whether one escapes or not would ultimately not be
worth living at all.121

Survival, then, cannot be the ultimate purpose of living. In this sense, even
the ideal of political peace is criticized by Vaclav Havel. In the context of
the peace movement, he maintains that the absence of heroes who know
for what they are dying is the first step to the piles of corpses of those who
are slaughtered like cattle. He calls the peace ideal a bait and argues that a
life that is not willing to sacrifice itself for its own meaning is not worth
119

Ibid., 67.

120

Ibid.

121

Ibid.

6.5 The eternal significance of temporal suffering

211

living at all. Making peace the highest value is equivalent to renouncing


the meaning of life. But without the horizon of the highest sacrifice, every
sacrifice loses its meaning, implying that nothing has any meaning. What
this comes down to is, as Havel does not hesitate to assert, nothing less
than a philosophy of the pure negation of human existence.122
Thus, even a high moral ideal like peace can become seductive if
abstracted out of the ambivalent sphere of reality and rendered pure and
unequivocal. Moral evil does not arise by choosing something evil; rather, it
is the reversing of the hierarchy of values that causes moral evil: something
good is held to be better than it really is in its context in reality. Sin consists
in valuing a good more than is appropriate.
People like those I have quoted, who discern a positive aspect of suffering,
are not neurotic, as is sometimes claimed. Survival cannot be the sense
of life. If these witnesses have perceived anything at all, then they may
hopefully convince the reader that suffering fails to present an unavoidable
contradiction to an all-good divinity.
The positive importance of suffering was appreciated long before Christianity. Aeschylus (525 bc456 bc), who is considered the founder of Greek
tragedy, wrote in his drama Agamemnon that wisdom comes through suffering: He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot
forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against
our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of god.123
Surely, it is hardly possible to appreciate the role of suffering in human
life more acutely than Oscar Wilde did. Where there is sorrow there is holy
ground, he states. Some day people will realise what that means. They
will know nothing of life till they do.124 With keen insight, he criticizes
the approach of treating suffering as a mystery, whereas it is in truth a
revelation:
Clergymen and people who use phrases without wisdom sometimes talk
of suffering as a mystery. It is really a revelation. One discerns things one
never discerned before. One approaches the whole of history from a different standpoint. What one had felt dimly, through instinct, about art, is
intellectually and emotionally realised with perfect clearness of vision and
absolute intensity of apprehension.125

He even goes so far as to call it the supreme emotion of which man is


capable as well as at once the type and test of all great art.126
122
124

Cf. Havel, Am Anfang, 104106.


125 Ibid.
Wilde, De profundis.

123

Aeschylus, Agamemnon, ll. 179182.


Ibid.

126

212

Life history as the predetermination of Eternal Life

In Wildes view, love of man is the explanation for suffering:


Now it seems to me that love of some kind is the only possible explanation
of the extraordinary amount of suffering that there is in the world. I cannot
conceive of any other explanation. I am convinced that there is no other,
and that if the world has indeed, as I have said, been built of sorrow, it has
been built by the hands of love, because in no other way could the soul of
man, for whom the world was made, reach the full stature of its perfection.
Pleasure for the beautiful body, but pain for the beautiful soul.127

So Christianity is not in the first place a fundamental struggle against


suffering that is, a reaction occurring subsequently. Simone Weil made
the following observation: The infinite greatness of Christianity stems
from the fact that it does not seek supernatural relief for suffering but
rather a supernatural usage of suffering.128
The meaningfulness of suffering can be viewed eschatologically, as Paul
does in a frequently neglected passage of his Letter to the Romans (8:1824),
where he compares it to labor pains, preceding new life:
In my estimation, all that we suffer in the present time is nothing in
comparison with the glory which is destined to be disclosed for us, for
the whole creation is waiting with eagerness for the children of God to
be revealed. It was not for its own purposes that creation had frustration
imposed on it, but for the purposes of him who imposed it with the
intention that the whole creation itself might be freed from its slavery to
corruption and brought into the same glorious freedom as the children of
God. We are well aware that the whole creation, until this time, has been
groaning in labor pains. And not only that: we too, who have the first-fruits
of the Spirit, even we are groaning inside ourselves, waiting with eagerness
for our bodies to be set free. In hope, we already have salvation; in hope,
not visibly present, or we should not be hoping nobody goes on hoping
for something which is already visible. But having this hope for what we
cannot yet see, we are able to wait for it with persevering confidence.

To the fetus, birth appears to be death. What the caterpillar calls the end
of the world, to quote Laotse, the rest of the world calls a butterfly.
It certainly goes without saying that this does not mean that suffering
is eliminated or alleviated in itself. But it does reveal a dimension that
is meaningful and hence a way to legitimatize suffering. If absolutely no
meaning could be found in connection with suffering, then the logically
compulsory conclusion would be a rejection of God, at least, as he is understood in the Christian tradition. A believer cannot simply be consternated
and then go on living as before.
127

Ibid.

128

Weil, Cahiers, Vol. III, 32.

6.5 The eternal significance of temporal suffering

213

The classical theodicy problem can be turned around. As Boethius


remarks: If evil exists, God exists [Si malum est, Deus est].129 Thomas
Aquinas argues in the same way on the grounds that the awareness of evil
and the protest against it are the result of a presumption that evil should
not be that is, that it stands in contradiction to a fundamental good.130
As Thomas reasons: For there would be no evil, if the order of goodness
were taken away, the privation of which is evil; and this order would not
be, if God were not.131 The theodicy problem exists, then, from the start
only if God exists. Against this background, the question arises about the
meaning of the groaning inside ourselves. The existence of God not only
gives rise to the theodicy problem, it also provokes a deeper reflection about
suffering. A Christian does not simply direct his attention to a promise of
relief in heaven. To the contrary, he confronts suffering more deeply than
an atheist.
The Letter to the Hebrews (2:10) speaks of being made perfect through
suffering an assertion that demands attentive reflection. Johns Gospel
(16:20) teaches that joy will arise out of sorrow. Franz Kafka makes an
enigmatic remark that seems similar: Only here is suffering suffering. But
not as though those who suffer here will be elevated someplace else because
of this suffering, but in such a way that what in this world is called suffering
in another world, unchanged and only freed from its contradiction, is
happiness.132
Aquinas and Augustine argue that God allows suffering because he is
able to draw good out of it. At the beginning of his Summa theologiae,
Thomas defends Gods existence in the face of suffering, responding to
the argument that God does not exist, because if one of two contraries
be infinite, the other would be altogether destroyed. As he expresses the
argument: But the word God means that he is infinite goodness. If,
therefore, God existed, there would be no evil discoverable; but there is
evil in the world. Therefore, God does not exist. In response, he cites
Augustine and writes: As Augustine says: Since God is the highest good,
he would not allow any evil to exist in his works, unless his omnipotence
and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil. This is part of
the infinite goodness of God, that he should allow evil to exist, and out of
it produce good.133 This is quite different from the erroneous translation
129
130
131
133

Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, I, prosa 4.


Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 71.
132 Kafka, Aphorismen, n. 97.
Ibid.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 2, a. 3, ad 1. According to Augustine, Enchiridion, c. XI:
in the universe, even that which is called evil, when it is regulated and put in its own place, only

214

Life history as the predetermination of Eternal Life

of Thomass text, which states that God permits evil in order to produce
good; even for God, the end does not justify the means. In other words,
there is no contradiction, for infinite goodness even encompasses suffering
as well as other forms of evil. Thomas does not attempt to relativize divine
goodness, as though evil somehow were to lie beyond God.
Hence, it is not as though suffering and joy were being compared on the
same scale. If there were no intrinsic meaning involved with suffering, then
it would be impossible to justify a single tear of a weeping child. In Gods
eyes, not even the slightest suffering lies beyond his attention. Instead,
salvation must be a development of suffering and not just a compensation
for it. Grace perfects nature. Swimming well may result in winning a
trophy, but it also results in healthier muscles. Without suffering, there
would be no potentiality for the fulfillment of the longing that suffering
has produced. Only he who has once suffered from a toothache knows the
pleasure of being freed from the pain. As expressed by Thomas: Good is
better known in contrast with evil, and while evil results come about, we
more ardently desire good results: as sick men best know what a blessing
health is.134 Can a man know the joy that a new mother experiences after
a successful childbirth without ceasing to be a man? The joy of arrival
cannot be without the journey. Can the delight of seeing a lost friend again
be had in any other way? There can be no fulfillment of longing without
the longing, and Eternal Life could not attain more.
The significance of suffering is, in short, paradoxical. It is neither good
nor meaningful in itself; to the contrary, it is naturally and rightly rejected.
The rejection of suffering or, for that matter, the experience of any other
kind of evil is the result of a belief in the fundamental goodness of
reality. However, a protest against religion on the grounds of suffering is a
misunderstanding of ones own nature, which owing to reflection reveals
negative aspects even of positive experiences (e.g., their temporariness). But
precisely therein lies its specific function in the attainment of meaning.
Feeling need is necessary for life. A person who never knows hunger is
sick, for we need food. Who would want an infected appendix not to be
painful? Like some other forms of pain, it is a meaningful signal. One
could go so far as to say that if we could not attain fulfillment without

134

enhances our admiration of the good; for we enjoy and value the good more when we compare it
with the evil. For the Almighty God, who, as even the heathen acknowledges, has supreme power
over all things, being himself supremely good, would never permit the existence of anything evil
among his works, if he were not so omnipotent and good that he could bring good even out of
evil. For what is that which we call evil but the absence of good?
Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 71.

6.5 The eternal significance of temporal suffering

215

God, then it would be a sign of sickness not to strive for absolute meaning
(i.e., God). It would be a subjective defect not to need God. Whatever
arouses a subjective awareness of a need for God would be a means of
becoming healthy. Then, the definitive completion of life can take place;
otherwise, there would be nothing that could come to completion. In the
inner response to failure, the true attitude toward life is revealed.
Regardless of whatever else can be said about suffering, at least viewed
eschatologically, it possesses a positive aspect, which depends on the natural
resistance to it that suffering ignites. This in no way implies a weakening
of the fight against suffering. To the contrary, the attitude of fighting
suffering can quite readily distract from a genuine appreciation of it; often,
compassion is a more appropriate reaction. Granting forgiveness for a
suffered injustice also represents a highly noble response impossible
without the existence of guilt, which is a deep form of suffering. Easily
convinced that suffering should not really exist, we tend to overlook its
essence. But we overlook the essence of life itself if we believe that suffering
does not belong to it but that it is rather the result of external conditions
that can be eliminated. Weizsacker argues:
The idea that suffering is simply a result of reproachable social developments
is naive (or a projection); why do we have the ability to feel physical and
psychological pain if we did not have need of these indicators?135

It is crucial to understand suffering as more than just an impulse to action,


to learn to understand what blessing lies in not repressing the presence
of suffering.136 Action should not be the only reaction. Doing something
to eliminate suffering as far as possible is undoubtedly good, but it is
ambivalent, and overlooking this ambivalence is not good.
Furthermore, if all evil were missing from our world, then some good
things would be impossible. For example, repentance, forgiveness, perseverance, patience, eating. The suffering of another can arouse compassion. If no one suffered, there would not be anything like compassion,
just as without the existence of guilt, there would be no forgiveness.
Thomas notes that good is more vigorous in goodness than evil in badness.137 At least from Gods viewpoint, the coexistence of good and evil
reveals the beauty of a composition, as an interval of silence makes music
sweet.138
135
136
137

Weizsacker, Garten, 245 (not included in the English translation).


Ibid., 114 (not included in the English translation).
138 Ibid.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 71.

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Life history as the predetermination of Eternal Life

The deepest cause of suffering, finally, is self-consciousness. Self-consciousness turns everything, whether in itself positive or negative, into a
kind of suffering because of the observers separation from his or her own
consciousness. Furthermore, the conscious awareness of suffering opens
the door to its deeper positive meaning. The suffering caused by selfconsciousness cannot be assuaged, for it belongs to the very essence of
human life.
Within modern Christianity, Weil notes that the only means to avoid
suffering is not to think. The awakening of thought, she writes, is
painful.139 As Kafka expressed it: The bone of his own forehead obstructs
his way; he knocks himself bloody against his own forehead.140

6.6 The eternal relevance of morality


The meaning of morality is not exhausted, as is often thought, in its positive
effects on social living conditions. (In fact, morality is occasionally a cause
of social disorder. The human right of freedom of conscience is conceived
as a defensive right against the state. Socrates was condemned as a seducer
of youth.) It is also not exhausted by the inner harmony in a person that
it can bring about (i.e., having a good conscience). Its ultimate meaning is
eschatological especially in Christian ethics.
Thomas Aquinas teaches both that man is unable to be completely
happy in this life and that he cannot become happy without his bodily
existence. Hence, in the afterlife, separated from his body, mans potential
for happiness remains defined by what happened before death. The state
reached in the present life remains for eternity since the body that is,
the basis of development no longer exists.141 What one has become in
temporal life codetermines, therefore, the nature of Eternal Life.
Morality is not the final goal of life, much less the goal of religion. Rather,
it is a preparation for the final goal but not in the sense of earning a reward,
as Kant thought. Leading a good life, living according to conscience, is
not the end. Thomas Aquinas makes a point of showing that virtue is not
identical to happiness. In the Summa contra gentiles, he devotes a whole
chapter to proving that the virtuous human is not eo ipso the happy human.
The joy of a good conscience is undoubtedly a fact, but even this joy is not
enough to fulfill human striving.142
139
141
142

140 Kafka, Er.


Weil, Fabriktagebuch, 61.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 144.
Cf. Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals, 13, 191, who considers it to be just negative joy: The
blessedness found in the comforting encouragement of ones conscience is not positive (joy) but

6.6 The eternal relevance of morality

217

Morality puts us instead on the right path toward the end. All of morality
can be summarized in love. Every virtue is a form of love, every moral action
an expression of love. It is, precisely speaking, love that will be brought to
ultimate validity in Eternal Life. As Aquinas argues:
The final end of something is that to which it strives to attain by its own
operations. But by all its own ordered and right operations man strives to
attain to the contemplation of truth, for the operations of the active virtues
are a kind of preparation and disposition for the contemplative virtues.
Mans end therefore is to attain to the contemplation of truth. For this
reason the soul is united to the body, which is mans being. Hence, being
united to a body does not mean that the knowledge one had is lost, but
rather the soul is united to the body so that it may acquire knowledge.143

The essence of morality lies in the cardinal virtue of prudence. The morally
good human is the prudent human. According to the Catechism of the
Catholic Church (n. 1806), prudence is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure.
It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. Prudence is the virtue that makes the other virtues be virtues.144 It is the orientation of human life in accordance with reason, which, in turn, receives
its orientation from reality. Every moral virtue, as Thomas also expresses
it, is necessarily prudent,145 and No moral virtue is possible without
prudence.146 Temperance is not per se a virtue. If temperance be in the
concupiscible, without prudence being in the rational part, temperance is
not a virtue,147 Thomas emphasizes.
What prudence accomplishes is to put the concrete act into the perspective of the final end, thus uniting the universal and the particular. It
concretizes the general goal of life in individual decisions.
Because it views the concrete in a universal perspective, it is called the
wisdom that is accessible to humans.148 The specific human form of the
contemplative life, which actually transcends the human [superhumana], is
the moral life that is, the living out of the moral virtues.149 As Thomas
explains:

143
144
146
147
148
149

merely negative (relief from preceding anxiety); and this alone is what can be ascribed to virtue, as
a struggle against the influence of the evil principle in a human being (emphasis in original).
Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, II, c. 83.
145 Thomas Aquinas, De virtutibus, q. 1, a. 12, ad 23.
Cf. Pieper, Werke, Vol. IV, 5.
Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 14, a. 6.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 4, a. 5c.
Cf. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, VI, 8; Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 47, a. 1, ad 2.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, De virtutibus, q. 5, a. 1c.

218

Life history as the predetermination of Eternal Life


Wisdom considers the absolutely highest cause: so that the consideration of
the highest cause in any particular genus belongs to wisdom in that genus.
Now in the genus of human acts the highest cause is the common end of
all human life, and it is this end that prudence intends. For the Philosopher
says (Ethic. VI, 5) that just as he who reasons well for the realization of a
particular end, such as victory, is said to be prudent, not absolutely, but in a
particular genus, namely, warfare, so he who reasons well with regard to right
conduct as a whole, is said to be prudent absolutely. Wherefore it is clear
that prudence is wisdom about human affairs: but not wisdom absolutely,
because it is not about the absolutely highest cause, for it is about human
good, and this is not the best thing of all. And so it is stated significantly
that prudence is wisdom for man, but not wisdom taken absolutely.150

In other words, prudence is practical wisdom.


A further aspect is the fact that the prudent person, owing to the complexity of the world of praxis, cannot avoid being uncertain. Since the
matter of prudence is the contingent singulars about which human actions
are, the certainty of prudence cannot be so great as to be devoid of all
solicitude.151 But it goes without saying that not every kind of solicitude
is fitting. According to Thomas, one can be overly eager with regard to
temporal things. One way that this can occur is to seek temporal things
as ends in themselves. Also, there can be too much earnestness in endeavoring to obtain temporal things, resulting in a weakening of the striving
for spiritual things. Conversely, fear of lacking necessary things if one does
what one ought to do can cause too much solicitude. In sum, solicitude is
not unfitting as long as the hierarchy of values is not neglected.
It would be a misunderstanding to think that a good human being
is a naive individual with a clean conscience. Even with a good will,
he is still confronted with incomprehensible situations that he can never
totally fathom. The future implications of an act, or their omission, remain
mostly unknown. The moral person does not go through life with clean
hands. A sign of his moral integrity is incertitude; he is not quite at peace
with himself. He is neither stoical nor apathetic. Instead, his situation is
characterized by Faith and Hope.
Morality is thus a preparation for the vision of Eternal Life. Happiness
consists in the fulfillment of the love that one has attained and the essence
of morality is love. The German philosopher Robert Spaemann articulates
it precisely:

150

Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 47, a. 2, ad 1.

151

Ibid., a. 9, ad 2.

6.6 The eternal relevance of morality

219

Unity with the will of God is the Christian formula for morality, being one
with God is the Christian formula for eudaimonia. That which motivates
moral action namely, love is, at the same time, that of which fulfillment
is thought of as blessedness. Morality is not disinterested any more than
blessedness is egoistical. The Christian thinking in terms of reward, which is
so massively present in the New Testament, can be understood only in terms
of God himself saying: I myself will be your reward (Gn 15:1). Concerning
the love which inspires all moral action, Paul said, it does not end, which
means that it outlasts the stage of morality, which is only one of its forms of
appearance.152

6.6.1 The idea of responsibility


The notion of responsibility has become a fundamental concept of our
culture. The word responsibility enjoys, moreover, an unconditionally
positive image. In the idea of responsibility, we have a succinct recapitulation of morality. It seems unthinkable that someone would reject the
idea of responsibility in general. Albert R. Jonsen justly calls it the basic,
irreducible conception which serves as a starting-point for the development of a coherent and comprehensive ethical doctrine.153 In contrast to
ancient and medieval periods, responsibility has today become the very
quintessence of morality. The responsible man is not merely one who is
able to perform good actions; he is, in fact, the good man. His goodness
consists precisely in his responsibility, notes Jonsen.154 Irresponsible is
an unequivocal criticism. Whoever has behaved irresponsibly is ipso facto
morally reprehensible. As the Second Vatican Council observes: Thus, we
are witnesses of the birth of a new humanism, one in which man is defined
first of all by this responsibility to his brothers and to history.155
The idea of responsibility can, of course, be conceived without the
Christian background. In a viewpoint that prescinds from Jewish and
Christian theology without, however, ceasing to consider the aspect of
responding as decisive, Viktor Frankl maintains:
Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather
must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned
by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to
life he can only respond by being responsible. Thus, logotherapy sees in
responsibleness the very essence of human existence.156
152
154
155
156

153 Jonsen, Responsibility, 175.


Spaemann, Happiness, 7879.
Ibid., 5 (emphasis in original).
Vatican Council II, Church in the Modern World, n. 55.
Frankl, Mans Search, 111 (emphasis in original).

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Life history as the predetermination of Eternal Life

Speaking of his fellow prisoners:


What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life.
We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing
men that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather
what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of
life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by
life daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation,
but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the
responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks
which it constantly sets for each individual.157

What is most important in the idea of responsibility is the ultimate dependence of human existence. Our decisions always have the form of responses.
It is difficult to appreciate this from an atheistic point of view. If God
does not exist, then, as Dostoyevsky says, everything is permitted. But
the response extends further than Hans Jonass reduction of responsibility
to a relationship between humans: Responsibility is primarily between
human beings . . . The archetype of all responsibility is that of a human for
a human.158
In our notion of responsibility, there is additionally an aspect of transcendence implied. The constitution of Germany begins with the expression,
Conscious of their responsibility before God and men. The constitution
even maintains that we have responsibility for future generations, to whom
we will hardly be known. In the constitution of Japan (1946), in which
the word occurs for the first time in a constitution, there is obviously a
transcendent dimension reaching beyond the sovereignty of the people:
We believe that no nation is responsible to itself alone, but that laws of
political morality are universal; and that obedience to such laws is incumbent
upon all nations who would sustain their own sovereignty and justify their
sovereign relationship with other nations.

Since this time, the term has become commonplace. Indicative of the
inflationary development is the constitution of South Africa (1997), in
which the word responsibility occurs more than fifty times.
A different kind of exaggeration of the importance of responsibility
is the idea that individuals can be responsible for the world. This idea
is understandable if one presumes that there is no creator. Probably the
idea is a form of secularization: Gods responsibility is turned into human
responsibility. But, of course, no human being has an overview of the
157

Ibid., 77.

158

Jonas, Prinzip Verantwortung, 184.

6.6 The eternal relevance of morality

221

world and of the coming history and thus cannot carry responsibility for
it all. To argue from the point of view of a responsibility for the world and
history is a deception, which often serves as a subterfuge to avoid the real
responsibility that one has.
Responsibility is by essence always limited. Havel criticized the peace
movement for absolutizing responsibility. The claim to possess a viewpoint
from which an entire situation can be evaluated is a misunderstanding. The
conclusion that peace, for example, is an absolute, to which everything else
must be subordinated, does have the appearance of being moral, but it is
not so in reality. Survival cannot be the highest value for a human.
The nature of responsibility is such that it can be meaningfully realized
even in the case of a failure to achieve for what one was striving. In failure,
success can occur. Frankl articulates this in a uniquely moving way:
An active life serves the purpose of giving man the opportunity to realize
values in creative work, while a passive life of enjoyment affords him the
opportunity to obtain fulfillment in experiencing beauty, art, or nature. But
there is also purpose in that life which is almost barren of both creation and
enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behavior:
namely, in mans attitude to his existence, an existence restricted by external
forces. A creative life and a life of enjoyment are banned to him. But not
only creativeness and enjoyment are meaningful.159

Meaning exists in the world before I become active. Martin Luther made
the observation: It is the surest sign of a bad will, namely, that it cannot
accept being hindered.160 How I react to success and failure should not
differ essentially. Resignation because of failure is a bad sign. Spaemann
approaches this from the presumption that two individuals stand in conflict
with one another, both with a good conscience:
Then the conflict of Kreon and Antigone would not take place. Still, the
ultimate purity of motivation will show itself primarily in the fact that each
of the two is prepared to calmly accept the outcome, even when it thwarts
his or her own plans because what mattered to them was the beauty of the
action which is pleasing to God and not the forcing of a certain outcome.
Tranquility is the criterium of love of God.161

One is perhaps surprised to discover that responsibility is not such an


indispensable term in ethics as one might think. The word exists neither
in classical Greek and Latin nor in medieval Latin. In the moral sense it is,
in fact, a modern word, which arose during the eighteenth century. If one
159
161

Frankl, Mans Search, 6667.


Spaemann, Happiness, 81.

160

Luther, Ausgewahlte Werke, Vol. I, 319.

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goes back to its origin, it becomes evident, moreover, that responsibility


stems not simply from Christian ethics but also from Christian eschatology.
Its source is strictly theological.162 It is a secularized product of belief in
Eternal Life, derived in particular from the Last Judgment scene.163 Against
the Christian background, it can be seen why the whole of morality can be
recapitulated in the notion of responsibility. Christian ethics places ones
whole life under the eschatological verdict: For at the judgment seat of
Christ we are all to be seen for what we are so that each of us may receive
what he has deserved in the body, matched to whatever he has done, good
or bad (2 Cor 5:10). Included in the notion is the idea of a lawgiver, an
all-knowing judge as well as reward and punishment. In fact, the word
in the verb form was originally taken over from the language of the trial
court, where the accused is required to defend himself by responding
[respondere] to an accusation. By way of the court of the Last Judgment,
it is carried over to morality, embracing universally everything morally
relevant, including hidden actions and thoughts. In this way, morality is
given eschatological significance. Ones ultimate state in Eternal Life is
codetermined by ones moral state.
To be sure, we are able to reject certain interpretations of morality
for example, utilitarianism, socialism, or liberalism. Today, we feel justified
in protesting against legitimate state laws out of responsibility. This is an
indication of an awareness that state courts and parliaments are not the
highest instances possibly a remnant of the Last Judgment scene.
The earliest instance that the Oxford English Dictionary mentions is
from 1788 and occurs in one of the Federalist Papers.164 It is interesting,
furthermore, that previous to this, democracy got along without the term
responsibility. The word does not occur in earlier dictionaries, and the
twenty-sixth edition of Baileys An Universal Etymological English Dictionary (Edinburgh 1789) still does not include it. It is not far-fetched to
conclude that the word arose in the intellectual world of the Enlightenment, which needed a secularized principle independent of specific
Christianity.
Immanuel Kant, whose The Metaphysics of Morals was published in
1797, gave us the earliest analysis of the notion of responsibility that I have
found. The workings of the secularization process could not be clearer.
With the term responsibility, Kant reduces the Christian scene of the
Last Judgment to human conscience. Kants intention is to demythologize
162
164

163 Cf. ibid.


Cf. Picht, Begriff der Verantwortung, 319.
The dictionary cites n. 63 and Alexander Hamilton as the author but, in fact, it is n. 48, James
Madison is the author, and the date is February 1, 1788.

6.6 The eternal relevance of morality

223

Christian eschatology. The title of the pertinent section is appropriately


On a Human Beings Duty to Himself as his Own Innate Judge. The
secularization includes all of the essential elements, so that it is easy to see
the different aspects of our notion of responsibility:
Every concept of duty involves objective constraint through a law (a moral
imperative limiting our freedom) and belongs to practical understanding,
which provides a rule. But the internal imputation of a deed, as a case
falling under a law (in meritum aut demeritum), belongs to the faculty
of judgment (iudicium), which, as the subjective principle of imputing an
action, judges with rightful force whether the action as a deed (an action
coming under a law) has occurred or not. Upon it follows the conclusion
of reason (the verdict), that is, the connecting of the rightful result with the
action (condemnation or acquittal). All of this takes place before a tribunal
(coram iudicio), which, as a moral person giving effect to the law, is called a
court (forum). Consciousness of an internal court in man (before which
his thoughts accuse or excuse one another) is conscience.165

The omnipresence of Gods omniscient eye is reduced to conscience. Conscience is experienced as the court before which the individual is at one
and the same time the accused, the accuser, and the judge. To avoid a
contradiction, Kant claims that we imagine our judge as being a person
who differs from ourselves, existing at the end of history:
Now, this original intellectual and (since it is the thought of duty) moral
predisposition called conscience is peculiar in that, although its business is
a business of a human being with himself, one constrained by his reason
sees himself constrained to carry it on as at the bidding of another person.
For the affair here is that of trying a case (causa) before a court. But to
think of a human being who is accused by his conscience as one and the same
person as the judge is an absurd way of representing a court, since then the
prosecutor would always lose. For all duties a human beings conscience
will, accordingly, have to think of someone other than himself (i.e., other
than the human being as such) as the judge of his actions, if conscience is
not to be in contradiction with itself. This other may be an actual person or
a merely ideal person that reason creates for itself.166

Kant is obviously embarrassed by his own analysis. In a footnote, he


confronts himself once more with the problem arising from the facts of
inner experience and skepticism regarding a real God:
A human being who accuses and judges himself in conscience must think
of a dual personality in himself, a doubled self which, on the one hand, has
165
166

Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals, 13, 188189 (emphasis in original).


Ibid. (emphasis in original).

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to stand trembling at the bar of a court that is yet entrusted to him, but
which, on the other hand, itself administers the office of judge that it holds
by innate authority. This requires clarification, if reason is not to fall into
self-contradiction.167

His clarification is complicated, if not to say labored:


I, the prosecutor and yet the accused as well, am the same human being
(numero idem). But the human being as the subject of the moral lawgiving
which proceeds from the concept of freedom and in which he is subject to a
law that he gives himself (homo noumenon) is to be regarded as another (specie
diversus) from the human being as a sensible being endowed with reason,
though only in a practical respect for there is no theory about the causal
relation of the intelligible to the sensible and this specific difference is
that of the faculties (higher and lower) of the human being that characterize
him. The first is the prosecutor, against whom the accused is granted a legal
adviser (defense counsel). When the proceedings are concluded the internal
judge, as a person having power, pronounces the sentence of happiness or
misery, as the moral results of the deed. Our reason cannot pursue further
his power (as ruler of the world) in this function; we can only revere his
unconditional iubeo or veto [I command or I forbid].168

Since conscience is a part of human nature, it is inescapable:


Every human being has a conscience and finds himself observed, threatened,
and, in general, kept in awe (respect coupled with fear) by an internal judge;
and this authority watching over the law in him is not something that he
himself (voluntarily) makes, but something incorporated in his being. It
follows him like his shadow when he plans to escape. He can indeed stun
himself or put himself to sleep by pleasures and distractions, but he cannot
help coming to himself or waking up from time to time; and when he does,
he hears at once its fearful voice. He can at most, in extreme depravity, bring
himself to heed it no longer, but he still cannot help hearing it.169

It is obvious that conscience as judge possesses, according to Kant, characteristics that belong to the God of the Final Judgment:
Such an ideal person (the authorized judge of conscience) must be a scrutinizer of hearts, since the court is set up within the human being. But
he must also impose all obligation, that is, he must be, or be thought as, a
person in relation to whom all duties whatsoever are to be regarded as also
his commands; for conscience is the inner judge of all free actions.170
167
169

168 Ibid. (emphasis in original).


Ibid.
170 Ibid., 190 (emphasis in original).
Ibid., 189 (emphasis in original).

6.6 The eternal relevance of morality

225

In this way, Kant offers an explanation for the idea of responsibility:


Now since such a moral being must also have all power (in heaven and on
earth) in order to give effect to his laws (as is necessarily required for the
office of judge), and since such an omnipotent moral being is called God,
conscience must be thought of as the subjective principle of responsibility
to God for all ones deeds [so wird das Gewissen als subjektives Prinzip einer
vor Gott seiner Taten wegen zu leistenden Verantwortung gedacht werden
mussen].171

Be that as it may, for Kant it remains impossible to view the judge as a really
existent person, seeing that the whole question revolves around practical
reason:
This is not to say that a human being is entitled, through the idea to which
his conscience unavoidably guides him, to assume that such a supreme being
actually exists outside himself still less that he is bound by his conscience
to do so. For the idea is not given to him objectively, by theoretical reason,
but only subjectively, by practical reason, putting itself under obligation
to act in keeping with this idea; and through using practical reason, but
only in following out the analogy with a lawgiver for all rational beings in
the world, human beings are merely pointed in the direction of thinking
of conscientiousness [Verantwortlichkeit] (which is also called religio) as
accountability to a holy being (morally lawgiving reason) distinct from us
yet present in our inmost being, and of submitting to the will of this being,
as the rule of justice. The concept of religion is here for us only a principle
of estimating all our duties as divine commands.172

The Last Judgment thus becomes a symbol, and its reality, in various
aspects, is now to be found in individual conscience.
Against this background, we can better understand why defining an
extremely important notion in our understanding of life is a cause for
embarrassment. The idea of responsibility proves to be not merely an
object, or product, of pure rationality.
Furthermore, it becomes understandable why no equivalent of responsibility existed in ancient Greek. Greek morality is essentially different
from a morality of responsibility. It is not surprising, then, that an extensive study of the idea of responsibility among the ancient Greeks comes to
the conclusion that there not only was no such idea but that the idea was
even unthinkable.173
With the Last Judgment scene, Christianity puts morality into a new
and completely different context from the conception of Greek thought.
171
173

172 Ibid. (emphasis in original).


Ibid. (emphasis in original).
Cf. Adkins, Merit and Responsibility.

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Although it could be expected that the English word responsibility is


the translation of a Latin word responsabilitas, the historical fact is that
previously Latin did not have the word. A closer analysis of the implications
in our notion would reveal important aspects and their Christian sources.
Viewing the notion of responsibility in its genesis makes it understandable.
Why this word is used to signify morality and not words like duty or
oughtness becomes clear. While the scene of the Last Judgment is no
longer prominent in the thinking of our time, responsibility has taken
on such relevance and power. Kants thesis that religion is, in its essence,
morality finds confirmation in this reduction of Christian eschatology to
morality subsuming even the future dimension into morality:
We know nothing about the future, nor ought we to search for more than
what is rationally linked with the incentives of morality and their purpose.
To this belongs also the belief that there is no good action which will not
also have, for him who carries it out, its good consequence in the world to
come.174

Eschatology becomes mythology, and its place is taken over by an abstraction; this abstraction combines in one notion both God and man. It is no
wonder that the notion is at once potent and quite diffuse.
The interpretation of the Last Judgment as being responsibility that is,
as a matter of conscience is not new. In the ninth century, John Scotus Eriugena taught that the Last Judgment actually takes place in conscience.175
For traditional theology, it has been clear that conscience plays a decisive
role in eschatology. In other words, Kants teaching is not an accentuation
of conscience; rather, it is an elimination of eschatology. Ethics has always
been a part of Christian thought. This presents a wonderful example of
the attempt of an autonomous morality to establish its independence from
Christianity.
If the Christian world has become a world of symbols, then the notion
of responsibility acquires a new importance. In it, the weight is instilled
that was previously predicated of God. The highest respect is due to it.
Responsibility is all-knowing and all-just. Its relevance is stronger than
the Biblical scene of the Last Judgment, which is an obvious metaphor,
whereas responsibility is certainly not regarded as one. The divine reality
is contained in the idea of responsibility. But is it possible to reduce the
Christian idea to mere responsibility and still retain its extraordinary
force and qualities?
174
175

Kant, Religion, B 245, footnote.


Cf. Eriugena, Periphyseon, V, 38. Eriugena invokes Augustine, De civitate Dei, XX, c. 13.

6.6 The eternal relevance of morality

227

Havel is one of the few who reflected on the meaning of responsibility as


an idea. In a letter written during his imprisonment, he poses the question
in the following way:
Why is it that when we are travelling alone (a single stop) in the second
car of a conductorless streetcar, so that obviously no one could catch us not
paying, we still usually though perhaps after an inner tussle drop our fare
in the box? Why do we do good at all even when there is clearly no personal
advantage in doing so (for instance, when no one knows about it and never
will)? And if we fail to do good, why do we apologize to ourselves? Why
do we sometimes tend to behave the way we all should, even though we
know that no one ever behaves that way all the time? I am not interested in
why man commits evil; I want to know why he does good (here and there)
or at least feels that he ought to. The usual answer is conscience. What is
conscience? Psychologically, it is a feeling that he ought to do something
and that if he doesnt he will reproach and torment himself for it. But why
should he?176

Havel feels that conscience implies more than just an autonomous oughtness and that responsibility involves the idea that someone is watching
us:
It seems to me that even when no one is watching, and even when he is
certain no one will ever find out about his behavior, there is something in
man that compels him to behave (to a degree, at least) as though someone
were constantly observing him. And if he does something he shouldnt in
such a situation, he may even engage in a kind of dialogue with this
observer, pleading his own case and attempting, in all manner of ways, to
explain and apologize for his own behavior.

Havel believes that the ground of Being is somehow present. In opposition to Kants analysis, he calls it a meta-experience:
Kant talks about the moral law within me and the categorical imperative,
but he understands it, I think, too exclusively as an a priori and not enough
as a concrete experience of existence, or rather as a meta-experience.

Responsibility rests accordingly on the ground of Being:


I dont know, of course, how it all is. One thing, however, can hardly be
denied: human behavior always carries within it more or less clearly
traces of an emotional assumption or inner experience of the total integrity
of Being. It is as though we were internally persuaded (and as though
Being itself were confirming us in this) that everything somehow is, that
176

Havel, Letters, 232234 (including the succeeding quotations).

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everything has its roots, its reasons, its explanation, its coherence, and its
meaning; that somewhere, everything is known completely; that everything, beneath the approximate and transitory aspect of it with which we
communicate, is anchored in solid ground the ground of Being; that
everything is indestructibly present in the absolute horizon of Being.

This is, of course, not explicitly Christian language, but associating God
with Being, or the total integrity of Being is common enough in Christian
theology. In any case, in responsibility, there exists a transcendence beyond
the concrete world and in this transcendence human identity has its essence.
Responsibility is always responsibility to someone:
But to whom are we responsible? I dont know to whom, but it is certainly
not, in the final instance, to any of the transitory things of this world. It
follows that I am convinced that the primary source of all responsibility,
or better still, the final reason for it, is the assumption of an absolute
horizon. It is precisely responsibility as the bearer of continuity and thus
of identity, that is the clearest existential reflection or pledge in man of
the permanence and absoluteness of the absolute horizon of Being. It might
be said, therefore, that this absolute horizon is present in us not only as an
assumption, but also as a source of humanity and as a challenge.

In the conviction of an absolute justice, which takes the whole of a life


history into account, Havel formulates a view that resembles the Biblical
Final Judgment:
There is something more essential here than just the assumption of a memory of Being (what is done cannot be undone), a kind of total registration
of everything. It is as though man assumed not only that everything is
known somewhere, but that in this somewhere everything is evaluated,
consummated, draws its final validity and therefore is given meaning; that
it is not, therefore, just a passive, optical backdrop but chiefly a moral
one, including standards of judgment and expectation, an assumption of
absolute justice, the conferring of absolute meaning.

Aware that God is often anthropomorphically understood, Havel hesitates to speak explicitly of God, but one can imagine no other possible
explanation:
Clearly this is a supremely spiritual experience, or rather an experience of
something supremely spiritual. Nevertheless, I confess I still cant talk of God
in this connection . . . If God does not occupy the place I am trying to define
here, it will all appear to be no more than some abstract shilly-shallying. But
what am I to do?

6.6 The eternal relevance of morality

229

He is convinced of the meaningfulness of life and this is, of course, the


sense of Christian eschatology. He speaks of the most profound and solid
experience of meaningfulness. This he qualifies as the vital experience
of being in touch with the absolute horizon of Being. It is not a comprehension of being but still the most essential way of coexisting with
Being.
In academic theology, God is, of course, often identified with Being. In
any case, the divine aspects of responsibility are acknowledged by Havel
when he brings up the relationship between identity and responsibility:
The essence of this responsibility is a constant tension between our I, as the
subject of our actions, and our experience of something outside ourselves a
law or seat of judgment ruling on our behavior, an investigating eye that
will not be deceived because it sees all and remembers it well, an infinitely
wise and just instance of authority that alone can follow and understand the
most subtle intricacies of our decisions and the motives behind them, and
can pass final judgment on them, an authority whose stand (irrevocable)
means more to us, for some reason, than anything else in the world.

Havel continues by examining this experience of transcendence, which


goes beyond the person, beyond his conscience.
Responsibility reveals itself most clearly when it seems to oppose our
nature and assert its own independence, especially when it stands in opposition to the opinion of those around us as well as to the tendency of human
nature. Then one realizes that responsibility represents a comprehensive
transcendent authority, which is the source of all other authorities. Havel
describes the ultimate authority as the absolute horizon of Being:
But again: what in fact is this final instance of authority? What else but the
absolute horizon of Being, against whose background and out of which
anything first becomes itself; the absolute horizon of Being as a system
of coordinates providing everything that exists with a place, a context, a
meaning, a discrete existence, and thus, ultimately, genuine Being.

The acceptance of my responsibility establishes continuity in my own


being and thus grounds my identity, embracing the past, the present, and
the future. The being of responsibility exists everywhere in our lives, but
it never exists in its own right, separate from other things.
6.6.2 Responsibility to
The idea of responsibility includes more or less distinctly an awareness of
an all-knowing judge, who even sees our thoughts. One can be responsible

230

Life history as the predetermination of Eternal Life

for having a bad character without its resulting in actions. Havel describes
a feeling that we are being observed by a transcendent judge, a supernatural
conscience, so to speak. Responsibility is not limited to taking on responsibility for something; we can also be held responsible for something.
Responsibility implies a personal relationship to a higher being. As Picht in
his important essay on responsibility writes, when we call the accountability of a subordinate to his superior responsibility, an ethical dimension
in the relationship is revealed. The superior appears as the representative
of a higher order that possesses an unbounded absoluteness.177 For Havel,
our personal identity arises out of this relationship.178

At the beginning of the history of modern democracy, the essential Christian elements of our notion of responsibility were articulated in the American Declaration of Independence, albeit in a deistic form. In the final
paragraph, two phrases were inserted into Jeffersons original version.
One is an explicit appeal to the judge of the world (appealing to the
Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions) and
the other states: with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence. In this context, the notion of responsibility would be superfluous. In fact, the word did not exist in English at this time. The concept
of divine predestination, however, was common. The idea of democracy
originally included a historic consciousness. History was believed to be
moving toward a goal. Even if the goal remained unknown to us concretely, the belief in it was supported by the belief in the divine will.179 In
the United States of America, there prevailed a sense of mission for the
world.
It can be observed that the idea of responsibility to is gradually disappearing. In the Constitution of South Africa, in which the notion of
responsibility occurs, as mentioned previously, in an inflationary manner,
the expression responsibility to is completely missing. Responsibility is
being secularized. The element of transcendence is being eclipsed.
6.6.3 The individuality of responsibility
Responsibility involves individuality. There is not a general responsibility
that is valid for everyone. The responsibility of parents for their children
177
178
179

Cf. Picht, Begriff der Verantwortung, 319320.


Cf. Havel, Letters, 205; 230231.
Cf. Hoye, Demokratie und Christentum, 164168 in particular.

231

6.6 The eternal relevance of morality

does not coincide with the responsibility of a school principal. As Thomas


Aquinas argues, the responsibility of the wife of a thief can even stand in
contradiction to the responsibility of a courtroom judge. Whereas the wife
is concerned with the good of her family, the judge is responsible for the
good of society at large. Thomas explains:
The will tends to its object, according as it is proposed by reason. Now a
thing may be considered in various ways by reason, so as to appear good
from one point of view, and not good from another point of view. And
therefore, if a mans will wills a thing to be, according as it appears to be
good, his will is good: and the will of another man, who wills that thing
not to be, according as it appears evil, is also good. Thus a judge has a good
will, in willing a thief to be put to death, because this is just: while the will
of another e.g., the thief s wife or son who wishes him not to be put to
death, inasmuch as killing is a natural evil, is also good.180

Thomas goes so far as to argue that the responsibility of an individual can


legitimately stand even in contradiction to Gods will, thus establishing the
possibility of contradictory responsibilities between two human beings.
Their responsibility may be contradictory without one of them being
immoral:
The apprehension of a creature, according to its nature, is of some particular
good, proportionate to that nature. Now a thing may happen to be good
under a particular aspect, and yet not good under a universal aspect, or vice
versa, as stated above. And therefore it comes to pass that a certain will is good
from willing something considered under a particular aspect, which thing
God does not will, under a universal aspect, and vice versa. And hence too
it is, that various wills of various men can be good in respect of opposite
things, for as much as, under various aspects, they wish a particular thing
to be or not to be.181

They can find different answers although both are seeking the true good.
For a similar reason, no human carries responsibility for the world.
This is a common misconception. Responsibility implies that there is an
ultimate judge to whom one must answer. Only God could have such a
responsibility, but responsibility does not apply to him at all. Aquinas poses
the surprising question of whether it is necessary for the human will, in
order to be good, to be conformed to the divine will, as regards the thing
willed.182
Although this sounds like the very essence of Christian morality, Thomas
responds negatively. According to him, first of all, we actually cannot know
180

Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, III, q. 19, a. 10c (emphasis added).

181

Ibid.

182

Ibid.

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Life history as the predetermination of Eternal Life

what God wills concretely. But this is not what is required of us. In a
general sense, our intention can always conform to the divine will but not
necessarily in respect to the concrete particular question. We can know
in a general way what God wills, Thomas admits. For we know that
whatever God wills, he wills it under the aspect of good. Consequently,
whoever wills a thing under any aspect of good, has a will conformed to
the divine will, as to the reason of the thing willed. But we know not what
God wills in particular: and in this respect we are not bound to conform
our will to the divine will.183
Thomas differentiates in the following manner: What human beings
should will is not necessarily that which God wills that it occurs but rather
that which God wants them to will184 in other words, what their
conscience dictates. This can be quite different for different people, not to
mention the fact that conscience can err.
The relationship to God lies in the intentional perspective. In the ideal
case, one chooses a concrete good because of the fact that it is good; that is,
it represents goodness. In the words of Aquinas: A mans will is not right
in willing a particular good, unless he refers it to the common good as an
end: since even the natural appetite of each part is ordained to the common
good of the whole. We naturally raise our arm to protect our head from
a blow. The intention defines the quality of the action: Now it is the end
that supplies the formal reason, as it were, of willing whatever is directed to
the end. Consequently, in order that a man wills some particular good with
a right will, he must will that particular good materially, and the divine
and universal good formally. For this reason, it is possible to contradict
the divine will and, at the same time, conform to it: Therefore the human
will is bound to be conformed to the divine will, as to that which is willed
formally, for it is bound to will the divine and universal good; but not as
to that which is willed materially.185
Doing the right thing is not yet morality. In other words, the virtue of
prudence is indispensable. Because humans exist in a tension between the
concrete and the abstract, moral choices are a matter of comparatives. The
superlative pertains to the horizon or final end, whereas choices always
take place in the concrete. An ethics respecting the individual conscience
excludes, therefore, responsibility for the world, taken as a whole. Humans
never know what the best in a given situation really is.
183

Ibid., ad 1.

184

Ibid., a. 10c.

185

Ibid.

6.6 The eternal relevance of morality

233

For this reason, pure idealism is in itself immoral. Rather than coming
to moral decisions by comparing alternatives, the idealist proceeds by way
of a deduction from what he considers to be the highest good. Since he
avoids the complications of the concrete, which always exhibits different
aspects, he tends to become self-righteous. He readily imagines that he has
a clean conscience.
6.6.4 The subordination of civil law to moral law
The subjective individuality of morality is the basis for the human right
of freedom of conscience that is, the acknowledged right to do what is,
presumably, objectively wrong. The relevance of this insight can be further
seen in the idea that the state cannot forbid by law everything that is
immoral. The individuality of the citizens can take preference over general
moral values and rules, with eschatology providing an ultimate goal that
transcends all worldly matters. Morality is not something absolute in this
life. Hence, the state does not have to forbid whatever is immoral. For a
well-functioning society, enjoying peace and justice is not the ultimate goal
of human life.
This unusual position of Thomas Aquinas is certainly relevant. According to him, there can be good reasons for civil law to diverge from moral
law. Something may not be forbidden by civil law simply because it is
immoral; other factors must be given consideration. Thomass position is
based on more than the pluralistic state of society. It is valid in a society
that is dominated by the Christian Church, as in the Middle Ages, during
which Thomas is writing. The principle is also valid in a theocratic society
that sees civil law as a direct transposition of divine law. The individually
limited sphere of responsibility perhaps ironically transcends civil law.
Admittedly, Thomas is easy to misunderstand. As an example, Martin
Luther King, Jr., who attributed precisely the contrary position to him,
can be cited:
Just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of
God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To
put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law
that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human
personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All
segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and
damages the personality.186
186

King, Letter from Birmingham, 293.

234

Life history as the predetermination of Eternal Life

Thomas himself was not unaware of an argument like this but against it, he
appeals to a subjective aspect. The pivotal point is based on the difference
between an action and a habit. Whereas actions occur in objective reality,
habits exist in the inner personal character of individuals. I divide Thomass
argument into the following steps:
(1) Law is framed as a rule or measure of human acts. Now a measure
should be homogeneous with that which it measures. Wherefore laws
imposed on men should also be in keeping with their condition.
(2) Now possibility or faculty of action is due to an interior habit or
disposition: since the same thing is not possible to one who has not
a virtuous habit, as is possible to one who has.
(3) Thus the same is not possible to a child as to a full-grown man:
for which reason the law for children is not the same as for adults,
since many things are permitted to children, which in an adult are
punished by law or at any rate are open to blame.
(4) In like manner many things which are permissible to men not
perfect in virtue should not be tolerable [tolleranda] in a virtuous
man.
(5) Now human law is framed for a number of human beings, the
majority of whom are not perfect in virtue. Wherefore human laws
do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only
the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to
abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the
prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus
human law prohibits murder, theft, and such like.187
Then, Thomas adds a further explanation. By overtaxing people, their
behavior can become worse:
The purpose of human law is to lead men to virtue, not suddenly, but
gradually. Wherefore it does not lay upon the multitude of imperfect men
the burdens of those who are already virtuous, that is, that they should
abstain from all evil. Otherwise these imperfect ones, being unable to bear
such precepts, would break out into yet greater evils. Thus, it is written
(Ps 30:33): He that violently bloweth his nose, bringeth out blood; and
(Mt 9:17) that if new wine, that is, precepts of a perfect life, is put
into old bottles, that is, into imperfect men, the bottles break, and the
wine runneth out, that is, the precepts are despised, and those men, from
contempt, break into evils worse still.188
187

Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, III, q. 96, a. 2c.

188

Ibid., ad 2.

6.6 The eternal relevance of morality

235

In this way, Thomas arrives at the conclusion that civil law must not always
be in conformity with the divine eternal law:
The natural law is a participation in us of the eternal law: while human law
falls short of the eternal law. Now Augustine says: The law which is framed
for the government of states, allows and leaves unpunished many things
that are punished by divine providence. Nor, if this law does not attempt to
do everything, is this a reason why it should be blamed for what it does.
Wherefore, too, human law does not prohibit everything that is forbidden
by the natural law.189

Of course, it can also be morally appropriate for an individual to contradict


a legitimate law. The classical virtue of equity represents a higher form of
justice, going beyond justice in the normal sense. It implies, for example,
that one is, in given cases, morally justified when ignoring or breaking
a legitimate law. Aristotle, who was the first to treat this virtue, calls it
epikeia. He emphasizes that the equitable is superior to the just, for it is
a correction of legal justice.190 Aristotles explanation is that universal laws
cannot hold for all individual cases and that the lawgiver acknowledges
this.191 Thomas Aquinas adds further emphasis: To follow the letter of the
law when it ought not to be followed is sinful.192
Finally, one can go further and maintain that even perfect justice is not
enough. As Aquinas rightly declared, peace and harmony among humans
can be attained only if love is present.193 Parents, for instance, who are
no more than just toward their children are bound to be inadequate.
Where love is, justice follows automatically and effortlessly. The merciful
Samaritan did not offer his help because of justice but instead because of
compassion.
Responsibility entails, therefore, more than simply following laws and
rules. Even a democratic constitution that is grounded on the sovereignty
of the people is not so sovereign that it does not submit to responsibility.
The German Constitution begins with the phrase Conscious of their
responsibility before God194 and the Japanese Constitution acknowledges
that the state derives its authority from the people, but, at the same time,
it relativizes this principle by asserting that no state is responsible only to
itself.195 Responsibility refers to a higher authority than the state or the
people. The Japanese Constitution speaks here of obedience.
189
192
193
194

190 Cf. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, V, 10.


191 Cf. ibid.
Ibid., ad 3.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, II-II, q. 121, a. 1, ad 1.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Primae redactiones Summae contra gentiles, III.
195 See page 220.
Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, Preamble.

236

Life history as the predetermination of Eternal Life

The idea of responsibility makes it clear that the ultimate meaning of


morality is eschatological. In the last resort, morality is not self-explanatory.
The radical question, Why should I be moral?, makes sense. Moral
behavior is determinative of Eternal Life.

chapter s ev en

Sensuality
The resurrection of the body

In this chapter, the heuristic principle that I have called the anthropological
factor is applied explicitly to the resurrected body. When it has become
conscious, human sensuality is not a purely biological phenomenon; added
to it is a participation in spirit. There is an essential difference between the
ordinary processes of gathering information through stimuli and reacting
to it in my stomach while it is digesting and the discomfort or pain that
might arise from it and enter into my consciousness. Conscious sensuality
represents a heightening of preconscious sense activities. If life has a meaning, then we must let our thinking and willing be shaped by the structure
of means and ends that is given by reality. Living like this in the truth does
not impinge on human dignity; it is a conformation to it. Conformity of
this nature is not self-alienation but rather leads to an inner harmony, to a
kind of friendship with ones self. As a result of the peculiar intentionality of
human nature, friendship with reality brings about friendship with oneself.
Human existence is per se existence in the world. Similarly, sensuality must
be viewed and affirmed in its true role in reality, thus becoming specifically
human. Then its relevancy for the perfection of human nature will become
visible. If we understand body or flesh as signifying sensuality, then the
question arises in what way the resurrection of the body is a participation
in Eternal Life. What does a body, or bodiliness, have to do with the vision
of God? In what does the relationship of sensuality to God consist?
The Christian teaching speaks paradoxically but happily of a spiritual body (Sown as an animal body, it is raised as a spiritual body. 1
Cor 15:44). In other words, a non-bodily body a real body and yet not a
body. Although it is not an oxymoron, the term spiritual body is admittedly misleading. The Greek word provides some help. Greek adjectives
ending in -ikos describe not the material out of which things are made but
the power or energy that animates them,1 notes Wright with regard to
1

Wright, Surprised by Hope, 155.

237

238

Sensuality

spiritual, which in Greek is pneumatikon. Tradition also calls it a resurrected body, a transfigured, glorified body, illuminated as it were by the
Light of Glory. Glorification is an appropriate term. We cannot know
now what such a body will be like, but we can presume that it will not
be less real than our present body. Strictly speaking, it can be said that
whatever can be experienced as good in our present body will have to be
included in the resurrection.
Conversely, to see God, there must be an abstraction from the bodily
senses. It is a matter of attention, and attention is a kind of abstraction. The
mind must be fully concentrated on God and not diverted by attention to
the senses. It is typical for human beings that they cannot pay attention
to all of the cognitive powers simultaneously. If I am listening attentively
to someone, I may be neglecting my seeing and smelling. Hence, Thomas
states:
But for the understanding to be raised up to the vision of the divine essence,
the whole attention must be concentrated on this vision since this is the
most intensely intelligible object, and the understanding can reach it only by
striving for it with a total effort. Therefore, it is necessary to have complete
abstraction from the bodily senses when the mind is raised to the vision of
God.2

Furthermore, the importance of attention is even accentuated for spiritual consciousness since the mind operates in an immaterial sphere, either
by knowing abstract things or by abstracting from material things. Thus,
knowledge is more or less freed from materiality as such. The more immaterial its object, the higher the intellects knowledge. Thomas notes:
Therefore, if it is ever raised beyond its ordinary level to see the highest
of immaterial things, namely, the divine essence, it must be wholly cut off
from the sight of material things, at least, during that act. Hence, since the
sensitive powers can deal only with material things, one cannot be raised to
a vision of the divine essence unless one is wholly deprived of the use of the
bodily senses.3

The force of an intellectual act can result in a complete abstraction from


the senses.4 We can be so concentrated that we forget everything around
us.
This would appear to make the resurrection of the body unlikely, if it
were not for the fact that it is also psychologically possible for the intellect
to be distracted from the senses and yet include them. This means, on
the one hand, that Eternal Life must be freed from the senses and, on the
2

Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 13, a. 3c.

Ibid.

Cf. ibid., ad 10.

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Sensuality

other hand, that the senses partake in Eternal Life. Put in another way:
death is a prerequisite and the resurrection is a necessity. In other words,
if physical existence ceases, it can in a certain sense be resurrected in the
vision of God. The difference lies in the structure of the relationship. If
a multitude can be seen in a unified whole, then this is possible. If many
things can be viewed under one aspect, as is, for example, the case with
universal notions, then it is possible to grasp many things simultaneously
with one simple act. This is a general rule:
In this way our intellect understands together both the subject and the
predicate as forming parts of one proposition; and also two things compared
together, according as they agree in one point of comparison. From this it is
evident that many things, insofar as they are distinct, cannot be understood
at once; but insofar as they are comprised under one intelligible concept,
they can be understood together.5

Seen in this way, the vision of God can include a multitude of everything
that one has loved in this life but included in this one, single, eternal vision
of God.
The resurrection of the body is also described as an overflowing [redundantia]. As Aquinas expresses it:
After the resurrection, the beatified soul will be joined to the body in
a different way from that in which it is now united to it. For, in the
resurrection, the body will be entirely subject to the spirit to such an extent
that the properties of glory will overflow from the spirit into the body.
Hence, they will be called spiritual bodies . . . Therefore, in the resurrection
there will be no defilement of the understanding and its power will not be
weakened in any way by any union whatsoever with the body. Hence, even
without transport out of the bodily senses, it will contemplate the divine
essence. However, the body is not now subject to the spirit in this way.6

Because we are a unity, the senses can distract from the intellect in the
present life and in Eternal Life, the intellect can overflow to the senses.7 It
belongs to the essence of the human soul that it needs the senses: Since
the soul is united to the body as its natural form, it belongs to the soul to
have a natural disposition to understand by turning to phantasms.8
Sensuality must be distinguished from the senses. The senses are physical,
whereas sensuality occurs within consciousness. C. S. Lewis articulates it
well:
5
6
7

Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 58, a. 2c.


Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 13, a. 3, ad 1.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 175, a. 5, ad 4.

Ibid., a. 5c.

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Sensuality
About the resurrection of the body. I agree with you that the old picture
of the soul re-assuming the corpse perhaps blown to bits or long since
usefully dissipated through nature is absurd. Nor is it what St. Pauls words
imply. And I admit that if you ask me what I substitute for this, I have only
speculations to offer. The principle behind these speculations is this. We
are not, in this doctrine, concerned with matter as such at all; with waves
and atoms and all that. What the soul cries out for is the resurrection of
the senses. Even in this life matter would be nothing to us if it were not the
source of sensations.9

To make this understandable, Lewis appeals to the act of memory:


Now we already have some feeble and intermittent power of raising dead
sensations from their graves. I mean, of course, memory . . . That memory
as we now know it is a dim foretaste, a mirage even, of a power which the
soul, or rather Christ in the soul (He went to prepare a place for us), will
exercise hereafter.10

This would seem to be the only possible conception of bodily resurrection


that makes sense. One might object that what I have been describing
is not really a body. In a certain sense, this might be true but, actually,
there is nothing missing. What we know as our body is restricted to our
consciousness. Lewis responds to the objection that bodies interpreted in
this way are not real bodies:
But this, you protest, is no resurrection of the body. You give the dead
a sort of dream world and dream bodies. They are not real. Surely neither
less nor more real than those you have always known? You know better than
I that the real world of our present experience (coloured, resonant, soft or
hard, cool or warm, all corseted by perspective) has no place in the world
described by physics or even by physiology. Matter enters our experience
only by becoming sensation (when we perceive it) or conception (when we
understand it). That is, by becoming soul. That element in the soul which
it becomes will, in my view, be raised and glorified; the hills and valley of
Heaven will be to those you now experience not as a copy is to an original,
nor as a substitute is to the genuine article, but as the flower to the root, or
the diamond to the coal. It will be eternally true that they originated with
matter; let us therefore bless matter. But in entering our soul as alone it can
enter that is, by being perceived and known matter has turned into soul.11

Two modes in which matter exists can be distinguished: matter as known


by direct experience and matter to which we refer in thought. In the latter
case, Aquinas speaks of designated matter. In other words, we know
that there is more to matter than what we know, but the latter is the
9

Lewis, Letters to Malcolm, 121.

10

Ibid., 121.

11

Ibid., 123 (emphasis in original).

Sensuality

241

only matter we know and would miss. Neuroscience speaks of the qualia
of consciousness. Our experience is not as concrete as we might tend to
think. That is, I know matter but my knowing is not material. I know that
my body is composed of chemicals, but I am usually not really interested
in them. The neuronal processes in my brain are not as interesting to me
as the qualia they make possible.
We are standing in a fascinating countryside, seeing the hills and trees,
smelling the vegetation, feeling the warm air on our skin, hearing the birds
and insects. All of this exists in our consciousness as a unity and in a higher
form than in the world or in the senses (the brain knows no such feelings).
The resurrection of the body must be analogous to this.
We are familiar with an emergence from the physical to the spiritual.
When I see a rose, for example, activities take place in my nerves. The form,
the smell, the color of the rose have arisen in my nerves. But I do not yet
experience them. Then it can happen that they emerge into consciousness.
I am aware of seeing and smelling the rose. By reflecting on my experience, I
can realize that the rose is red. At this point, I have a predicative perception
of the rose; I can form sentences about it, which may be true or false. This
is knowledge that arises through the senses, but it is of a higher nature. It
implies that I do not just see the rose; I also am aware of seeing it. I see
it, in other words, as a reality. This is a perception of which the senses are
incapable. Out of materiality, something immaterial has emerged.
The emergence of the original perception can continue further. I can see
the rose as beautiful and good. I take pleasure in it; or, even further: I may
experience joy or delight. Joy is more spiritual than pleasure. Moreover,
out of pleasure, joy can arise and out of joy, the happiness of Eternal Life
can arise.
There can be no doubt that for the Christianity of the Modern Age,
the whole dimension of sensual pleasure has been quite foreign. However,
the theology of the Middle Ages commonly had a rather open attitude
toward eros. This is exemplified by the many commentaries of the Canticle
of Canticles and also in the Scholastic Dotes-teaching that is, the depiction
of essential aspects of the heavenly happiness in the metaphorical imagery
of bridal gifts [dotes].12 The erotic garden inspired not only Bernard of
Clairvaux and Mechthild of Magdeburg but even the schoolmaster and
stone-collector Albert the Great, who uses the physical touches of love
[tactus amoris] to depict the highest form of contemplative union with
God. He refers, for example, to inherence [inhaerentiam]; that is, when
12

Cf. Wicki, Lehre, 202237. Particularly interesting is the fact that the brides role in the Christian
nuptial metaphor belongs to the human being, who receives illogically the bridal gifts.

242

Sensuality

one enters as it were into the other.13 The rich and multifaceted frieze of
Christian nuptial mysticism reaching as far as phenomena like Teresa of

Avilas
experience of mystical transverberation bears witness to a positive
relationship to erotic sensuality. Berninis statue of St. Teresa in ecstasy
renders eros and mysticism indistinguishable.
Finally, the fact that the belief in a resurrection of the body is a central
dogma makes it hardly possible for Christianity to maintain a thoroughgoing rejection of the body. For dogmatics, there can be no doubt that
corporeality belongs to Eternal Life. The whole person is to be fulfilled.
The body represents the concretion of spirit, the expression and embodiment of the soul. How then, the question arises, is an orthodox Christian
to conceive sensual pleasures in the afterlife?
Thomas formulates the question in more precise and differentiated ways.
One form is: Are such carnal pleasures necessary for fulfilling happiness?
Applied to Christ, he asks whether it was necessary for him to eat after his
Resurrection; to this form of the question, Thomas answers negatively.14
Thomas criticizes the interpretation of the pleasures of Eternal Life as being
identical to the carnal pleasure in the present life [sicut et nunc]. This is
underlined by a comparison to the Christian heresy of chiliasm, or millennianism, which also taught that during the thousand-year reign of Christ in
the future of this world, the resurrected would enjoy such carnal pleasures.15
In these teachings, there is notably no reference to a spiritual body.
Having rejected the idea that there is a necessity involved, Aquinas goes
on to express an affirmative position on sensuality in the afterlife: Then
happiness will not only be in the soul, but also in the body, and even the
happiness of the soul will be increased extensively insofar as the soul will
enjoy not only its own good but also the good of the body.16
In his response, Thomas draws a comparison to the beauty of the human
body, which need not be beautiful by necessity but is surely improved by
beauty: sensuality is related to the spirit, he says, like beauty to the body.
In the case of the glorified body, there must be an increase in happiness.
Thomas emphasizes this by expressly teaching that the senses of smell and
sight will enjoy an unsurpassable perfection in the afterlife.17
13

14
15
16
17

Tertia (conjunctio) est per inhaerentiam, quando unum quasi ingreditur alterum, et contrahit
impressiones et affectiones a natura ejus: et hic est tactus amoris, et assimilatur tactui naturali, in
quo tangentia agunt et patiuntur ad invicem, et imprimunt sibi mutuo suas proprietates. Albertus
Magnus, In I. Sententiarum, dist. 1, a. 12 (Ed. Par. XXV, 25, 2930).
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, IV, c. 83; In IV. Sententiarum, dist. 44, q. 1, a. 3d, ad 1
and ad 4.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, IV, c. 83.
Thomas Aquinas, In IV. Sententiarum, dist. 49, q. 1, a. 4, qc. 1c.
Sed in corporibus gloriosis erit odor in ultima sua perfectione . . . Et sensus odoratus in sanctis . . . cognoscet non solum excellentias odorum . . . sed etiam minimas odorum differentias. Ibid.,

7.1 Sensuality as an end in itself

243

Thomas is clear and consistent in his argumentation. Without a body,


man is for him not a person.18 He even considers concupiscence an
element of original sin to be something good to have, seeing that it
belongs to human nature, although it rebels against reason. Naturally, he
does not deny that the spiritual soul is the essential principle of human
existence, but he nevertheless grants the body and sensuality their rights
on the basis of their belonging to the integrity of human nature.19

7.1 Sensuality as an end in itself


A further differentiation of our question on the role of sensuality in Eternal
Life can help us to see more clearly. It is possible to look on sensuality, in
particular sensual pleasure, as a final end in itself. If the body is regarded
solely as a means to achieve sensual pleasure, then Thomas Aquinas denies
its relevance in eternal beatitude. It is important to note that the question
treated by Thomas presumes exclusiveness. He does not neglect to qualify
the term pleasure repeatedly with the adjective sole [sola delectatio]. His
rejection, moreover, is not absolutely negative, for what he says is that this
is an inconvenient manner of speaking [hoc inconvenienter dici].20
In other words, what Aquinas rejects is hedonism that is, the interpretation of pleasure as the end in itself and not just as an accompanying
aspect. He argues that pleasure is not an end but rather an accompanying
phenomenon to ensure that the corresponding action takes place.21 To see
pleasure as an end implies a reversal of the natural interconnection.
Of course, this does not imply that pleasure itself is being rejected; it
is simply a question of the relationship between pleasure and the act that
it accompanies. The principle here is: Pleasure is something that follows
upon being.22 The subtle hedonistic error lies, as shown previously on
pages 5863, in the inverted perspective: pleasure is considered an end in
itself. The dependence relationship has been turned upside down. Seeking
pleasure for its own sake contradicts the nature itself of pleasure. It is quite

18

19
21
22

dist. 44, q. 2, a. 1d, ad 3. Visus corporis gloriosi erit perfectissimus. Ibid., ad 6. Aquinas holds
sexual pleasure to be the greatest among the sensual pleasures. Cf. De malo, q. 15, a. 4c; Quaestiones
quodlibetales, XII, q. 14, a. 1c.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, De potentia, q. 9, a. 2, ad 14. Cf. also Summa contra gentiles, IV, c. 26: The
minds act of understanding is not its being; and its will act is neither its being, nor its act of
understanding. For this reason, also, the mind understood and the mind beloved are not persons,
since they are not subsisting. Even the mind itself existing in its nature is not a person, for it is not
the whole which subsists, but a part of the subsistent; namely, of the man.
20 Cf. ibid., q. 15, a. 2, ad 18.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, De virtutibus, q. 1, a. 4, ad 8.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, IV, c. 83.
Thomas Aquinas, In III. Metaphysicorum, lect. 11, n. 470.

244

Sensuality

normal to feel misused if one is merely the means for another persons
pleasure. No one wants to be perceived as nothing but a means to an end.
Decisive is what is enjoyed. The feeling depends on the content or, more
precisely, on what one thinks the content is. It is possible to enjoy the taste
of some foreign dish and then, on learning what it was that one had eaten,
be overcome by nausea. The feelings of pleasure and joy presuppose the
existence of a corresponding reality or, at least, an awareness of it. They
require an object.
The basic principle of Platos teaching on pleasure and joy can be summarized in the phrase Without desire, no joy.23 In normal life, it is difficult
to avoid a mixture. But even when sensual pleasure is only partially a
final end, there is something wrong. The inversion of the natural interrelation can be subtle and occurs sometimes without us being fully aware of
what is happening. Lewis gives a good analysis of an all-too-well-known
experience:
A lover, in obedience to a quite uncalculating impulse, which may be full of
good will as well as of desire and need not be forgetful of God, embraces his
beloved, and then, quite innocently, experiences a thrill of sexual pleasure;
but the second embrace may have that pleasure in view, may be a means
to an end, may be the first downward step toward the state of regarding a
fellow creature as a thing, as a machine to be used for his pleasure. Thus
the bloom of innocence, the element of obedience and the readiness to take
what comes is rubbed off every activity. Thoughts undertaken for Gods
sake like that on which we are engaged at the moment are continued as
if they were an end in themselves, and then as if our pleasure in thinking
were the end, and finally as if our pride or celebrity were the end. Thus all
day long, and all the days of our life, we are sliding, slipping, falling away
as if God were, to our present consciousness, a smooth inclined plane on
which there is no resting.24

We must not do theology because we enjoy it.


Furthermore, according to Aquinas, the result of keeping carnal pleasure
in its natural subordination, as seen by reason, implies not a decrease
of pleasure but rather an increase. The dominance of reason does not
mean a repression of passion. One might expect that the domination of
reason would be detrimental for pleasure the more attention one pays
to one act, the less one pays to others but just the opposite is the case.
Unintended and innocent pleasures are stronger than pleasures sought for.
The question arises for Thomas when treating the state of innocence,
23

Cf. Plato, Philebos, 318.

24

Lewis, Problem, 7071.

7.1 Sensuality as an end in itself

245

as the life of Adam and Eve in paradise is aptly called. Confronted with
the argument that since sexual intercourse between human beings is
what makes them most similar to animals owing to the vehemence of
the pleasure [in coniunctione carnali maxime efficitur homo similis bestiis,
propter vehementiam delectationis], Adam and Eve could not have had any
sexual intercourse, Thomas answers that their
sensual delight would be the greater in proportion to the greater purity
of nature owing to the dominance of reason and the greater sensibility of
the body, as a sober person does not take less pleasure in food taken in
moderation than the glutton.25

The gluttons capacity for pleasure is quickly exhausted, whereas the


gourmets capacity rather seems to be just the opposite of his capacity
to eat. The cardinal virtue of temperance makes a person beautiful,
for beauty consists in a proportion fitting to the thing.26 Beauty is also
attributed to the cardinal virtue of temperance because it brings about a
fitting proportion between spirit and body. This harmony is one of the
essential characteristics of beauty.27
Since in Eternal Life the body is totally under the influence of the
spirit, it must be beautiful. As temperance radiates beauty, so too must the
resurrected body be beautiful. Being under the guide of reason makes both
a person and the body beautiful. As Thomas Aquinas explains:
Honor and beauty are especially ascribed to temperance, not on account
of the excellence of the good proper to temperance, but on account of the
disgrace of the contrary evil from which it withdraws us, by moderating the
pleasures common to us and the lower animals.28

The ironic truth that the controlling influence of reason, seeking objective
truth, can cause an increase in carnal pleasure is worth thinking about to
understand the glorified body better. We are all familiar with an analogy
in which sensual reality becomes heightened through its becoming more
spiritual. Memory has this ability. It can bring back physical experiences,
including carnal pleasure, and render them even more real than they actually were when they took place in the past. In his unsurpassable fashion,
Lewis compares the glorification to the power of memory:
25
26
27

Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 98, a. 2, obj. 3 and ad 3. Cf. Gilson, Le thomisme, 346,
n. 29.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 141, a. 2, ad 3.
28 Ibid., a. 8, ad 1.
Cf. ibid.

246

Sensuality
It need no longer be intermittent. Above all, it need no longer be private
to the soul in which it occurs. I can now communicate to you the fields
of my boyhood they are building-estates today only imperfectly, by
words. Perhaps the day is coming when I can take you for a walk through
them . . . Thus in the sense-bodies of the redeemed the whole New Earth
will arise. The same, yet not the same, as this. It was sown in corruption, it
is raised in incorruption . . . What was sown in momentariness is raised in
still permanence.29

Similarly, fear of a future possibility or the joy of the expectation of a joyous


event can also be more real than the actual event, which may turn out to
be a disappointment.
The resurrected body will necessarily be a more real body than the
one we know at present. Sensual life will awaken out of the quasi-dreamreality in which we are now living. What we apprehend as being, which
is distinguished from becoming, must itself be a sort of becoming in
comparison to the being of Eternal Life. Applying the distinction that we
know as that between subjectivity and objectivity, we could say that what
now appears as objective reality will itself then, when it is glorified, appear
as subjective reality. Trying to gain some kind of understanding of this
relationship, Lewis offers the following explanation:
I dare not omit, though it may be mocked and misunderstood, the extreme
example. The strangest discovery of a widowers life is the possibility, sometimes, of recalling with detailed and uninhibited imagination, with tenderness and gratitude, a passage of carnal love, yet with no re-awakening of
concupiscence. And when it occurs (it must not be sought) awe comes upon
us. It is like seeing nature itself rising from its grave. . . . What was sown as
a becoming, rises as being. Sown in subjectivity, it rises in objectivity. The
transitory secret of two is now a chord in the ultimate music.30

Memory is a spiritual faculty that includes in itself sensual experiences,


raising them up to a spiritual level in a way comparable to light but without
sacrificing their sensuality. It offers us a good analogy that foreshadows
how the light of glory will affect the blessed. In memorys treasure, the
experiences of life are preserved and carried into eternity.31
What this comes down to is that sensual pleasure may not be excluded
from eternal beatitude in every possible sense. Insofar as it is subsumed
under a higher end, it has its due place in human fulfillment. Insofar as it
is sought for its own sake, however, it is extracted from its natural role.32
29
30
32

Lewis, Letters to Malcolm, 121122.


31 See pages 201203.
Lewis, Letters to Malcolm, 122123.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, IV, c. 83.

7.2 Sensual pleasure as a part of eternal happiness

247

Removed from its natural place, sensual pleasure cannot participate in


ultimate happiness.33 Kept in its natural place, it must necessarily attain
fulfillment.34

7.2 Sensual pleasure as a part of eternal happiness


In what sense can sensuality occur in eternal happiness? Thomas Aquinas
distinguishes between what constitutes the essence itself [constituendam
essentiam] and what belongs to well-being [bene esse]. Accordingly, he
maintains that although bodily existence is not necessary for Eternal Life
to exist at all, it is necessary for it to exist well.35 Without a soul, no
individual can exist and, hence, without a soul, there cannot exist human
happiness, but it is impossible for the soul to be happy without a body.
Similarly, a body can exist as a body without being beautiful, but a body
that is beautiful exists in a better way. The resurrected body is related to
ultimate happiness as beauty is related to a body. But this gives rise to
further questions.
Thomass argument on this point is difficult but quite revealing if correctly appreciated. His point of departure is knowledge that is, the
presence of reality in consciousness. The conclusion then is that sensual
pleasure is capable of participating in happiness provided that it be known
that is, conscious pleasure. Thomas develops his analysis in the following
way.
Pleasure as well as joy is made possible by love. Something possesses
the capability of bringing about pleasure or joy to the extent in which it is
loved.36 Now, the senses are loved for two different reasons: because of their
usefulness and because of the knowledge of reality that stems from them.
In both ways, they provide pleasure.37 But in what way is pleasure itself
a kind of knowledge? How does it come about that pleasure becomes an
element of happiness precisely through knowledge? How does knowledge
of sensual pleasure connect the pleasure to happiness? Is pleasure not a final
end in its own right? Can we really ask why we seek pleasure? How can
there be an end to which pleasure is the means?

33
35
36
37

34 Cf. ibid.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Compendium theologiae, c. 156.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, III, q. 4, a. 5c.
Everything gives pleasure according as it is loved. Ibid., q. 31, a. 6c.
The senses are loved for two reasons: for the purpose of knowledge and on account of their
usefulness. Wherefore the senses afford pleasure in both these ways. Ibid.

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Sensuality
7.2.1 The knowledge of sensual pleasure as something good

Aquinas response is surprisingly simple. The relevant knowledge consists


in the concomitant apprehension of pleasure as something good. The good
is by essence the object not of knowledge but of a striving. Nonetheless, the
good is something true; otherwise, it would not be intelligible. Therefore,
the object of the appetite may be something true, as having the aspect of
good for example, when someone desires to know the truth.38
Owing to the reflective consciousness of human beings, they are able to
see beauty and not just the object of desire. The lion, as Thomas remarks, is
pleased to see the stag, or to hear its voice, with respect to its food, whereas
man sees the beauty of the stag.39
Through the accompanying consciousness, pleasure which man has
in common with animals becomes something specifically human.40 This
knowledge then establishes a relationship to God, who is the good and
source of all that appears good. Pleasure is thus integrated in the human
striving after truth. In this way, sensual pleasure becomes spiritual joy.41
Since love and joy are acts of the will, they are independent of corporality
and, hence, able to exist after death.42
In this sense, therefore, sensual pleasure can be a necessary part of Eternal
Life. It is not the essence of happiness, but it is something accompanying
happiness [sicut aliquid concomitans], so that Aquinas can claim: There
can be no happiness without accompanying pleasure43 and Pleasure is
a completion [perfectio] accompanying the vision.44 It is accidental, but
not in the sense as though it were something added. Rather, it is an
aspect of happiness, included in it and bringing this aspect of happiness
to expression. Thomas is misunderstood if he is taken to mean that the
essential happiness is increased (see pages 239 and 253); the metaphor of an
overflowing cannot be interpreted in this way.45
7.2.2 The notional distinction between pleasure and joy
The distinction involved in these reflections seems to be mirrored in everyday language. In Latin, the word pleasure [delectatio] can be distinguished
38
39
41
42
43
44

Cf. ibid., I, q. 79, a. 11, ad 2.


40 Cf. ibid., III, q. 31, a. 6c.
Cf. ibid., IIII, q. 141, a. 4, ad 3; I, q. 5, a. 4, ad 1.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, In IV. Sententiarum, dist. 49, q. 3, a. 5b, ad 2.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, II, c. 80/81.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, III, q. 4, a. 1c.
45 As Gradl, Deus beatitudo hominis, 314, seems to do.
Ibid., a. 2, ad 1.

7.3 The difference between joy and happiness

249

from joy [gaudium]. Accordingly, joy is, so to speak, spiritual pleasure.


We do not speak of joy except when pleasure follows reason, notes
Thomas, and so we do not ascribe joy to irrational animals, but only
pleasure.46 He continues:
Now whatever we desire naturally can also be the object of reasoned desire
and pleasure, but not vice versa. Consequently, whatever can be an object
of pleasure, can also be an object of joy in rational beings. Nevertheless,
not everything is always an object of joy, since sometimes one feels a certain
pleasure in the body, without rejoicing thereat according to reason. And
accordingly, pleasure extends to more things than joy does.47

Seen in this way, physical pleasure becomes spiritual joy,48 and in this sense,
pleasure is a required part of Eternal Life. The English language seems to
know the same distinction, so that we could say: insofar as it has become
joy, sensual pleasure is a component of human beatitude.

7.3 The difference between joy and happiness


Sensual pleasure can become joy, but joy is nonetheless not the same as
happiness, for happiness is not a feeling. Feelings arise from happiness.
They accompany happiness but are not simply identical to it.
Joy, like love, accompanies mans ultimate happiness, without, however,
being this ultimate end itself. A peculiar difficulty in this regard stems from
the fact that the notion of a final end signifies an object of the will. It would
seem, then, that the ultimate activity is one of the will,
especially seeing that the object of the will is good, which bears the character
of an end, whereas truth, which is the object of the intellect, does not bear
the character of an end except insofar as it too is good. Hence, it seems that
man does not attain his last end by an act of the intellect, but rather by an
act of the will.49

Self-consciousness, which is mandatory for human happiness, provides


a further indication of the role of understanding. Reflection on an act
always presupposes that the act has already attained an object. I cannot
46

47
48
49

Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, III, q. 31, a. 3c. Il ny a pas une seule des choses que nous
desirons dont le desir, interprete et regle par la raison, ne puisse recevoir une signification legitime.
Gilson, Le Thomisme, 435.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, III, q. 31, a. 3c.
Cf. Gradl, Deus beatitudo hominis, 212.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 26.

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Sensuality

reflect on empty consciousness; there must always be some content within


consciousness, which occasions the reflection. To be self-conscious, I must
be simultaneously conscious of something else this could be one of my
own thoughts. Just as it is impossible to think thinking itself without some
other reality making up the initial content, so too it would be impossible
for the will to be active in any sense if solely the will itself were to be
the content. But the first object of the will is happiness, for whatever
we will, we will for the sake of happiness. Therefore, happiness cannot
consist essentially in any act of the will, whether this be love, desire, or
delight. Delight cannot be the last end, for the very possession of good,
as Thomas argues, is the cause of delight, while we either feel the good
now possessed, or remember the good possessed before, or hope for the
good to be possessed in the future: delight therefore is not the last end.50
The ultimate end of anything is by nature that which is first attained and
not what may follow on this. For someone who has made getting money
his final end, his final end is the getting of the money and not the desire or
love of money. The final end of man is God and, consequently, the activity
in man that makes up the substance of his happiness is that by which he
first attains God. This act is an activity of knowing since we cannot will
what we do not know. Therefore, the knowing of God is mans final end
and not some act of the will. The fact that the ultimate good is the object
of the will does not necessitate that the essence of the ultimate good be an
act of the will itself. From the fact that it is the first object, it rather follows
that it is not an act of the will.
A further reason for holding delight to be the final end is the fact that
delight follows on the attaining of what is desired and brings it, so to
speak, to completion, as beauty does to youth. Delight ranks among the
perfections which go to make up the species of a thing, Thomas states,
for through the delight that we take in any action we apply ourselves to it
more attentively and becomingly.51
The will is the source of movement, as it were the energy of human life.
Our understanding, as well as everything else, is dependent on our willing
to understand. On this basis, it would seem that the ultimate human
fulfillment lies in the will and not in the intellect. But this is another
subtle misunderstanding. Although in a certain sense the will moves the
intellect, in a deeper sense understanding moves the will, for whatever is
willed is somehow known beforehand. What is known as good appeals to
the will; otherwise, the will would remain inactive. This is a different kind
50

Ibid.

51

Ibid.

7.3 The difference between joy and happiness

251

of causality, lying deeper than efficient causality. When the will moves
the understanding, moreover, this happens thanks to the apprehension
of the act of understanding as being a good itself. In other words, the
will starts moving on the actual apprehension of an object, for the will
would never desire to understand if the act of understanding were not first
apprehended as something good. Understanding moves the will as its final
cause, and final causality is more fundamental than efficient causality and
occurs before it. Nothing moves without a final cause.
If we hold delight for the goal, then we turn the situation upside down.
What we want, first of all, is reality, not an illusion. If an illusion is realized
to be an illusion, it loses its influence. A placebo stops working when the
deception is unmasked. What we want is truth and not a feeling devoid of
truth. Hence, it is the intellect that makes the difference, for it is responsible
for distinguishing the true from the false. The delight is in itself the same,
regardless of whether it is enjoying true reality or a counterfeit.
To the question of why there is such a thing as delight in life, the
following answer can now be given: There is pleasure and delight in life so
that we might become happy. Delight is a help on our pilgrimage. Dante
described this well:
And just as the pilgrim who walks along a road on which he has never
travelled before believes that every house which he sees from afar is an inn,
and finding it not so, fixes his expectations on the next one, and so moves
from house to house until he comes to the inn, so our soul, as soon as it
enters upon this new and never travelled road of life, fixes its eyes on the
goal of its supreme good, and therefore believes that everything it sees which
seems to possess some good in it is that supreme good. Because its knowledge
is at first imperfect through lack of experience and instruction, small goods
appear great, and so from these it conceives its first desires. Thus, we see
little children setting their desire first of all on an apple, and then growing
older desiring to possess a little bird, and then still later desiring to possess
fine clothes, then a horse, and then a woman, and then modest wealth, then
greater riches, and then still more. This comes about because in none of
these things does one find what one is searching after, but hopes to find it
further on. Consequently, it may be seen that one object of desire stands
in front of another before the eyes of our soul very much in the manner
of a pyramid, where the smallest object at first covers them all and is, as it
were, the apex of the ultimate object of desire, namely, God, who is, as it
were, the base of all the rest. And so the further we move from the apex
toward the base, the greater the objects of desire appear; this is the reason
why acquisition causes human desires to become progressively inflated.52
52

Dante Aligieri, Convivio, IV, c. 12.

252

Sensuality

7.4 The corporeal unfolding of the vision


Human fulfillment is a union with God, who is everything in everything.
This union is, at the same time, both one and many. Platos articulation
is fitting: One and the same occurs both in the one and in the many.53
In its essence, the union consists in a vision of God. In its unfolding,
it includes bodily existence, insofar as it is capable of being present in
consciousness. Man is spirit and this spirit is its body. As Rahner expresses
it: Resurrection of the flesh which man is does not mean resurrection of
the body which man has as a part of himself.54 Within consciousness, we
are our bodies. Resurrection of the flesh is what happens when the light
of consciousness illuminates bodily acts. This would seem to be a possible
understanding of the Biblical expression spiritual body. It is the body
insofar as it is present in consciousness in other words, what is called
sensuality, as distinguished from the senses themselves. I understand the
term sensuality to mean corporeal life insofar as it is conscious.
The Platonic participation structure exemplified in the universal and particular is applicable here. To the extent to which corporeal life is subsumed
under consciousness, it becomes capable of being eternal and imperishable.
Looked at this way, it is possible to think of sensuality as a part of eternal
beatitude.55 The same holds true for the physical world that is a part of
my consciousness for example, my home, friends, and house pets. The
notion of the resurrection of the body can be extended to include everything outside of my consciousness that is subsumed under consciousness.
Hence, the resurrected body is a body-in-spirit, whereas in the present life,
the relationship is the other way around. As Lewis writes:
At present we tend to think of the soul as somehow inside the body. But
the glorified body of the resurrection as I conceive it the sensuous life
raised from its death will be inside the soul. As God is not in space but
space is in God.56

The fundamental principle of Eternal Life is that the vision of God makes
up not just the essence but the whole of Eternal Life. Thomas Aquinas
reiterates this clearly: The vision itself of the divinity is the entire substance
of our beatitude.57 In other words, attentive contemplation is everything:
Final and consummate beatitude, which is expected in the future life,
53
55
56

54 Rahner, Foundations, 268 (emphasis in original).


Plato, Philebos, 15 b.
They will use their senses for pleasure in the measure in which this is not incompatible with their
state of incorruption. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, IV, c. 86.
57 Thomas Aquinas, In I. Sententiarum, dist. 1, q. 1, a. 1c.
Lewis, Letters to Malcolm, 122.

7.4 The corporeal unfolding of the vision

253

consists in its totality in contemplation.58 As Dante puts it, God is the


base of the pyramid that includes everything (see page 251).
The next principle is that in this totality, the many is enfolded. The resurrection of the body occurs as the unfolding, the overflowing. Albert the
Great refers to the resurrection of the body as a superabundance [redundantia] of the intellect.59 Nicholas of Cusa uses the terms implication
[implicatio] and explication [explicatio]. An extremely abstract viewpoint
like this confronts our contemporary way of thinking with almost insurmountable difficulties. But even Plato, to whose way of thinking it is
much less foreign, calls it with good reason the most impossible thing of
all.60 Thomas Aquinas also uses the term redundantia and interprets the
resurrection in this way:
After the resurrection, in the blessed who see God in his essence, there will
be an overflow [redundantia] from the intellect to the lower powers and
even to the body. Hence, it is in keeping with the rule itself of the divine
vision that the soul will turn toward phantasms and sensible objects.61

This structure is just the opposite of normal life at the present time. Now,
we experience the world and in and through the world God, whereas in
heaven, the world is experienced in God. What is more, contemplative
life, as Thomas puts it, is loving God and our neighbor.62 Concentration
on God generally means a heightened, deeper realization of our engagement
with beloved creatures. Turning to Gods face does not imply turning away
from what we value in the world. To the contrary, it intensifies its reality.
Lewis grasped the paradox well:
In Heaven there will be no anguish and no duty of turning away from
our earthly Beloveds. First, because we shall have turned already; from
the portraits to the Original, from the rivulets to the Fountain, from the
creatures he made lovable to Love himself. But secondly, because we shall
find them all in him. By loving him more than them we shall love them
more than we now do.63

The unity of the love for God and for neighbor is essential. As Thomas
puts it: Everything good exists in God . . . and therefore it is one to love
58
59
60
62

63

Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, III, q. 3, a. 5c. Cf. Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 37; In III.
Sententiarum, dist. 35, q. 1, a. 2, quaestiuncula 3, corpus.
Cf. Albertus Magnus, Summa, I, tr. 2, a. 7, c. 2.
61 Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 175, a. 4, ad 1.
Platon, Philebos, 15 b.
Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 22, a. 11, ad 11. Cf. Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 180, a. 7, ad 1: Et
haec est ultima perfectio contemplativae vitae, ut scilicet non solum divina veritas videatur, sed
etiam ut ametur.
Lewis, Four Loves, 191.

254

Sensuality

God and any good thing whatsoever.64 The connection becomes clearer
when one says that individual realities were already in God beforehand. As
Thomas categorically states: Whatever is desirable in whatsoever beatitude, whether true or false, pre-exists wholly and in a more eminent degree
in the divine beatitude.65 In this respect, God and neighbor are not two
separate beings; rather, they comprise a unity, God being the final cause.
In love to neighbor, love to God is included, as the end is included in
what leads to the end, and vice versa.66 The principle is universal: In the
love to whatsoever good, the highest goodness is loved.67 There is a direct
proportion between seeing God and seeing creatures in him.68 The more
creatures are seen, the more intensely God is seen.
This relationship can be expressed in different ways. Classical theology
teaches not only that God is immanent in the world but also that the
world is immanent in God.69 It can even be said that creatures in God
are identical with Gods essence. In God the creature is the divine essence
itself,70 Thomas emphasizes. Hence, God has the whole of being in
himself.71
The eschatological knowledge of human beings takes part in the divine
knowledge. God knows creatures by knowing himself and in this way
knows them better than we can know them. We know things by grasping
their whatness, whereas God grasps both the whatness and the concrete act
of existence. Thomas Aquinas developed the unusual idea that God knows
both the form and the matter of things, whereas we cannot really know
matter:
God knows all singulars, not only in their universal causes, but also each
in its proper and singular nature . . . Since divine art produces not only the
form but also the matter, it contains not only the likeness of form but also
that of matter . . . Whether a thing has a vigorous or a feeble share in the act
of being, it has this from God alone; and because each thing participates in
an act of existence given by God, the likeness of each is found in him.72
64
65
67
68
69
70

71
72

Thomas Aquinas, De caritate, a. 7, ad 3.


66 Ibid., IIII, q. 44, a. 2, ad 4.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 26, a. 4c.
Thomas Aquinas, De caritate, a. 12, ad 16.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 12, a. 8c. All things are seen in God as an effect is
seen in its cause. Ibid.
Cf. Kremer, Gott und Welt, 86117.
Thomas Aquinas, De potentia, q. 3, a. 16, ad 24. By reason of its supreme simplicity, whatever is
in God is his essence. Ibid., q. 2, a. 5c. Cf. also In I. Sententiarum, dist. 36, q. 1, a. 3, ad 1. This last
expression comes from Anselm of Canterbury, Monologium, c. 36 (PL 158, 190D).
Totum esse in se habet. Thomas Aquinas, De potentia, q. 1, a. 2c. Cf. Summa theologiae, I, q. 26,
a. 1, ad 1; q. 13, a. 5c; In I. Sententiarum, dist. 36, q. 2, a. 3, ad 2.
Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 2, a. 5c. Cf. Summa theologiae, I, q. 89, a. 4c.

7.4 The corporeal unfolding of the vision

255

For this reason, Eternal Life includes individual people and things in a
more real way than in the present life:
There comes forth from God not only whatever belongs to their universal
nature, but likewise all that goes to make up their principles of individuation;
since he is the cause of the entire substance of the thing, as to both its matter
and its form. And for as much as he causes, he does know; for his knowledge
is the cause of a thing. . . Therefore as by his essence, by which he causes all
things, God is the likeness of all things, and knows all things, not only as to
their universal natures, but also as to their singularity.73

Now, it is often presumed that by saying that the vision of God is the
whole of Eternal Life, an unacceptable individualism is implied, but this
is a misunderstanding. A human individual is by nature a social being.
Friends are necessarily included. Thomas explains that happiness is socially
constituted, writes Gradl. Heavenly happiness is no purely individual
matter but a union with God and other happy humans.74
Taken in this sense, God is a medium. The seeing of him encompasses
all knowledge and even every activity:
The Blessed are united to God in such a way that he is the rationale [ratio]
of all knowledge and activity, for otherwise the act of happiness would be
impeded by the other instances of knowledge and activity. Therefore, the
attention of the Blessed is directed first to God himself and they have him
as the medium of every other instance of knowledge and as the rule of every
operation [regulam cuiuslibet operationis].75

The eternal relevancy of praxis derives from conscious (i.e., theoretical)


praxis. This is perhaps a redundant expression, for we know of no praxis
that does not occur in the light of theoria (taken in the sense of awareness).
Paying attention to what one is doing is naturally not a hindrance to what
one is doing. Attention does not have an object of its own. Concentration
cannot be a distraction unless one concentrates on ones own concentration (e.g., trying to fall asleep by concentrating on being unconcentrated
does not help much). Weizsacker fittingly called theory the healing of
praxis.76
Hence, as paradoxical as it might seem, the active life is a preparation for
the contemplative life which does not exclude the possibility that theory
73
75
76

74 Gradl, Deus beatitudo hominis, 315 (emphasis in original).


Ibid., q. 57, a. 2c.
Thomas Aquinas, Quaestiones quodlibetales, VIII, q. 9, a. 2c. Cf. In IV. Sententiarum, dist. 44, q. 2,
a. 1, sol. 3, ad 4.
Weizsacker, Ambivalence, 251.

256

Sensuality

can also be a preparation for praxis even for those who are more inclined
to the active life. Those who are more adapted to the active life can
prepare themselves for the contemplative by the practice of the active
life, Thomas asserts.77 Conversely: Those who are more adapted to the
contemplative life can take upon themselves the works of the active life, so
as to become yet more apt for contemplation.78 In other words, theory
encompasses praxis, as light encompasses colored things; it makes praxis
conscious, thus rendering it human. Moreover, theory makes praxis more
real; praxis makes theory richer and more comprehensive.
Consequently, Thomas can conclude that the end of the intellect, which
is truth, is the end of all human actions, and the ultimate end of the
whole person is, therefore, to know God, who is Truth itself.79 It is crucial
to understand this. In other words, truth means the presence of reality
in consciousness. The entire capability of the creature will be applied to
seeing and loving God.80 The striving of the will includes in itself all
human strivings:
For it is not only things pertaining to the will that the will desires, but also
that which pertains to each power, and to the entire man. Wherefore man
wills naturally not only the object of the will, but also other things that
are appropriate to the other powers; such as the knowledge of truth, which
befits the intellect; and to be and to live and other like things which regard
the natural well-being; all of which are included in the object of the will, as
so many particular goods.81

Consciousness includes not only knowledge but also embraces love and
joy as well as every practical activity. At a next lower level, sensuality is a
participation in consciousness.
One might think that a spirit without a body would be more godlike since God is pure spirit. But Thomas argues in favor of the opposite
position: The soul united to the body is more like God than separated
from the body because it then has its own nature more perfectly.82 Hence,
77
79
80
81
82

78 Ibid.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIII, q. 182, a. 4, ad 3.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 25 (quoted on page 146).
Thomas Aquinas, De caritate, a. 10, ad 5 (emphasis added).
Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, III, q. 10, a. 1c. Cf. also De veritate, q. 14, a. 2, ad 6; a. 3, ad 3;
a. 5, ad 5.
Thomas Aquinas, De potentia, q. 5, a. 10, ad 5. A soul which is united to its glorified body has more
resemblance to God than when it is separated from it, insofar as it has more perfect being when it is
joined to it. And the more perfect something is, the closer it resembles God. Thomas Aquinas, In
IV. Sententiarum, dist. 49, q. 1, a. 4, qc. 1, ad 1. Thomas argues further that a heart is more similar
to God when it is moving than when it is at rest, even though God never moves.

257

7.4 The corporeal unfolding of the vision

the teaching on the resurrected body confirms that a human being would
not be better if it became a pure spirit.83
To conclude, the glorified spirit envelops the body and renders it spiritual. Sensations arise out of nerves. The redeemed have, so to speak,
sense-bodies, rising from their graves. Thus, not just the spirit is fulfilled
in the afterlife but also the whole person. One could say: Everything that
falls under the light of the spirit will participate in salvation; everything
that falls within the radius of the spirit insofar as it expresses itself as I
will be saved. Thomas emphasizes the corporeal aspect in his commentary
on the passage in Job (19:2627), where it is said, After my awaking, he
will set me close to him, and from my flesh I shall look on God. He whom
I shall see will take my part: these eyes will gaze on him and find him not
aloof. Thomas then adds:
To exclude this, Job places, whom I myself will see, as though he should
say: Not only will my soul see God but I myself who subsist from body
and soul. To indicate that the body will be a participant in that vision in its
own proper way he adds, and my eyes will behold him, not because the
eyes of the body would see the divine essence, but because the eyes of the
body will see God made man. They will also see the glory of God shining
in created things.84

Aquinas rejects two misinterpretations, the first being that the body does
not participate in Eternal Life. He argues from the standpoint that I
shall see God and that I consists in soul and body. The bodies of the
resurrected, moreover, are not just heavenly bodies; in a certain manner,
they possess flesh. Without its body, the soul is not a person. The other
misinterpretation understands the body as having the same mode of existence as it does on Earth. Thomas underlines that the resurrected body
exists as a participation in the vision. Finally, he sees in the text (my eyes
will gaze on him) a rejection of the idea that it is not the individual but
merely the human species that is saved. This would be a kind of everlasting
life of the species but one lacking self-identity [identitas eiusdem]. Thomas
insists that the text teaches a resurrection of the individual in the afterlife.85
As a further clarification, Thomas draws a comparison to the cause of
a work of art. Yet, in this case, the cause in question is not the artist
but rather art itself. Everything that is expressly revealed in the work
of art is completely included implicitly and originally in art itself, he
explains. And in a similar way, whatever appears in the parts of the body
83

Cf. ibid., a. 4A, ad 1.

84

Thomas Aquinas, Super Iob, c. 19.

85

Cf. ibid.

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is completely contained in the soul originally and in a way implicitly.


Thomas continues:
Man could not be complete unless all of that which is contained implicitly
in the soul would be explicitated in the body exteriorly. Nor would the body
fully correspond to the soul, for in the resurrection of the body there must
be a total correspondence to the soul, since it resurrects only in accordance
with its relationship to the rational soul.86

The resurrection of the body has, thus, the mode of an explicitation. It


is not something completely new, added to happiness. As we shall see in
the next subchapter, soul must be understood in a comprehensive sense.
It can be said that the beatific vision is related to everything else that is
enfolded in it in a way analogous to the way light is related to colors
colors being nothing other than certain light waves.

7.5 The soul and the body


7.5.1 The meaning of the notion of the soul
Although the notion of the soul presents more problems than solutions,
one cannot avoid treating it. Put briefly, saying that the whole person
will exist in the afterlife is the same as saying that the soul, if correctly
understood, will exist in the afterlife. This implies that the resurrection of
the body is somehow included in the nature of the soul. The afterlife does
not consist in different compartments.
Since the term soul has several different meanings, it would be fruitless
to attempt to treat all of them here. But what can be said, at least, is
that whoever rejects the Christian teaching on the soul should be aware
of the theological definition before expressing a sweeping criticism. The
traditional definition, which is presupposed in Catholic theology and which
is the one that is relevant in the present context, goes back to Aristotle and
has remained the prevalent definition up to the present. The Aristotelian
concept of the soul is precise, although subtle and difficult to translate
univocally: the first actuality of a physical organized body potentially
possessing life.87
86
87

Thomas Aquinas, In IV. Sententiarum, dist. 44, q. 1, a. 2Ac.


Aristotle, On the Soul, 412 a 2728: the first Entelechia. Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra
gentiles, IV, c. 44: Est enim anima entelechia corporis organici physici potentia vitam habentis.
Cf. ibid., II, c. 61: Aristotle in On the Soul II defines the soul as the first act of an organic physical
body having life potentially; and he adds that this definition applies universally to every kind of
soul.

7.5 The soul and the body

259

The term first distinguishes the soul from all other forms of living,
which are all called second actualities. If I walk, talk, think, feel, and so
on, I am realizing second actualities. Even if there is a chain of connected
acts I want something to eat, stand up, walk to the kitchen, pick up an
apple, and peel it we do not then have third or fourth acts, but only a
chain of secondary acts. The first act, furthermore, does not exist next
to second acts and certainly not as the first in a series; rather, it is, so to
speak, the actness [actualitas or actus omnium actuum] of the second
acts. However, using an abstract notion here like actness is deceptive,
for the soul, of course, is in reality not an abstract notion, but at least,
this manipulation of everyday language makes it clear that there are only
two kinds of acts (i.e., first and second). If I meet a small animal lying on
my path and want to know whether it is dead or alive, I might push it
with my foot. If it then moves, I can conclude from this second act
that it is alive; in other words, that it has a soul. To be precise, this is
not a conclusion, for I see the soul, if not distinctly, immediately in the
movement, this being nothing other than the concretization of life. The
soul is the actuality itself, it does not add any qualities to the living being. It
refers to a kind of happening namely, to living. The soul is not an answer
to questions regarding what something alive is but merely to the question of
whether something is living that is, whether it has life, whether it is living
actuality (in Latin: actus, not ens or res; in Greek: or ,
which has the connotation of fulfillment). The soul is a principle of life,
the act of living in all activities of a living organism. To say that something
has life is equivalent to saying that it has a soul. In Aristotles eyes, it is
manifest that the soul is also the final cause of its body.88 It is not like an
inner spring, or a heart, out of which life flows and is dispersed; neither is
it an efficient cause. But what for classical thought was manifest is today
rather difficult. It would be extremely interesting if neuroscientists showed
some appreciation of this concept instead of simply presuming, as is often
the case, that the soul is supposed to be some kind of entity somewhere
within the living being.
Everything that I do or experience is a second act. To capture the first
act linguistically, we would need a global verb that would say all without
adding a further quality. It would have to be a verb denoting existing but
without the connotation that existing just means the bare fact of existence.
It would have to include every activity as modes of existing. We have, in
fact, no verb that expresses what I do insofar as I exist. Thomas teaches
88

Cf. Aristotle, On the Soul; 415 b 1517.

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Sensuality

that our own essence is unknown to us since we only experience our second
acts directly. Actually, self-consciousness comes down to nothing else but
the awareness of our existing concomitant to second acts of life. Thomas
reasons as follows:
It cannot be said that the soul of itself knows concerning itself what it
essentially is. For a cognitive faculty comes to be actually cognisant by there
being in it the object which is known. If the object is in it potentially, it
knows potentially: if the object is in it actually, it is actually cognisant: if in
an intermediate way, it is habitually cognisant. But the soul is always present
to itself actually, and never merely potentially or habitually. If then the soul
of itself knows itself by its essence, it must have an intellectual perception
of itself, of what it essentially is, which clearly is not the case.89

Man remains ineluctably a mystery to himself.


The soul in this sense is not something within the body; indeed, it is not
something at all but rather a principle that is, a whereby. Our way of
thinking has a tendency to reify whatever it thinks and is tempted to think
of the soul this way as something united to the body. But, in fact, it is a
principle. Separate from its body it does not live with the exception of
the human soul, which is not only the soul of a body but also is a spirit,
lacking the conditions for corruption.
Understanding the soul and existence in this way, we could say that
living beings happen; their existence is not just simply there, as a cold fact
is; it is, as has been said, by definition, an act. In a way, the soul envelops
the body, analogous to light shining on an object and enveloping the colors
that appear. Being light waves, colors actively happen, so to speak; they are
not there in the colored object. The teaching on the soul draws attention
to the fact that the living world is dynamic, it is happening. It helps one to
see the world as creation that is, as something being caused to exist. It is
like learning to understand colors as moving waves of light coming toward
us. Seeing is not simply an ascertainment of what is seen. Actually, the soul
resembles more a verb than a substantive. It is like learning to see the ink on
this page in such a way that one sees thoughts therein. Aquinas emphasizes
this relationship by teaching that the eye of a corpse is no longer really an
eye, for sight no longer exists since sight brings the eye to act.90 Without
the actuality of seeing, there can be no eye, strictly speaking.91 After death,
the human being no longer exists; when we speak of the corpse as though it
were the person, we must speak equivocally a teaching that was especially
89
90
91

Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 46. Cf. In III. Sententiarum, dist. 23, q. 1, a. 2, ad 3;
De veritate, q. 10, a. 8; Summa theologiae, I, q. 87, a. 1; a. 3.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, II, c. 69.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 76, a. 8c.

7.5 The soul and the body

261

scandalous because it meant that the dead Christ lying in the tomb was
not Christ in a univocal sense, as Thomas explicitly concluded.92
Neuroscientists who reject the notion of the soul as nonsense invariably
understand it as a reality, like a tiny homunculus, similar to medieval
depictions of the soul leaving the body at death, ascending toward heaven
sometimes being carried by angels since, according to traditional theology,
the soul is unable to move without its body. A prominent scientist like
the Nobel laureate winner Francis Crick, who ranks among the most
significant pioneers in gene technology, is a consummate example. He
claims that modern neurobiology has no need for the religious idea of a
soul.93 Crick considers it to be the Astonishing Hypothesis that all of our
behavior is nothing other than the interaction of an incredible number of
neurons. He asserts ironically that scientific certitude alone can free
us from the superstitious conceptions of our forefathers.94 The record of
religious beliefs in explaining scientific phenomena has been so poor in the
past that there is little reason to believe that the conventional religions will
do much better in the future.95 Speaking with an astonishing degree of
ignorance of our real history, he argues:
Not only do the beliefs of most popular religions contradict each other
but, by scientific standards, they are based on evidence so flimsy that only
an act of blind Faith can make them acceptable. If the members of a
church really believe in a life after death, why do they not conduct sound
experiments to establish it? They may not succeed but at least they could
try. History has shown that mysteries which the churches thought only
they could explain (e.g., the age of the earth) have yielded to a concerted
scientific attack. Moreover, the true answers are usually far from those of
conventional religions. If revealed religions have revealed anything it is that
they are usually wrong.96

For Crick, the Catholic definition of soul is a living being without


a body, having reason and free will.97 He believes that what he calls the
92

93
94

95
97

Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Quaestiones quodlibetales, III, q. 2, a. 2c: Separata anima a corpore, sicut non
dicitur homo nisi aequivoce, ita nec dicitur oculus nisi aequivoce . . . Sicut ergo Christus in triduo
mortis propter separationem animae a corpore, quae est vera corruptio, non dicitur fuisse homo
univoce, sed homo mortuus, ita nec oculus eius in triduo mortis fuit univoce oculus, sed aequivoce,
sicut oculus mortuus; et eadem ratio est de aliis partibus corporis Christi.
Cf. Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis, 7.
Other hypotheses about mans nature, especially those based on religious beliefs, are based on
evidence that is even more flimsy but this is not in itself a decisive argument against them. Only
scientific certainty (with all its limitations) can in the long run rid us of the superstitions of our
ancestors. Ibid., 257.
96 Ibid.
Ibid., 258.
As his source, he cites only The Catholic Catechism by John A. Hardon, 1975, without a page
reference. As was to be expected, I have been unable to find a source for such a nonsensical
definition.

262

Sensuality

religious idea of the existence of a bodiless soul stands in clear contradiction


to scientific truth.98
Wolf Singer, a director of the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research
in Frankfurt on the Main, teaches a similar position. Without giving
any indication that he is acquainted with the past history of the notion
of the soul, he foresees the end of a domain that is held to be holy
and grounds his position on the fact that it represents a product of
an undirected evolutionary process.99 Singer considers the bodysoul
problem to be a central topic of neuroscience. He works on the presumption
of reductionism, which explains spiritual activity completely in terms of
empirical causality. He maintains that psychic and soul-phenomena can be
attributed to mechanisms which proceed within and between neurons, that
is, which are bound to a material substrate.100 For Singer, this means that
reductionism affects the very foundation of our self-understanding. The
ancient body-soul problem, the question about the relationship of spirit
and matter, he claims, is at once no longer only an object of philosophical
discourse but also a central topic of brain-research.101
Presuming a reduction of the immaterial to the material, Singer rejects
dualistic body-soul models. Everything that we like to attribute to the
spiritual in dualistic body-soul models is purely biologically conditioned,
he claims.102 It is not surprising that he gives no indication of an awareness
of nondualistic bodysoul models.
Showing no acquaintance with hylomorphism (from the Greek words for
matter and form) that is, the idea that the soul is the form [forma] of the
body Singer portrays the soul as an entity in its own right, observing and
controlling the brain in the manner of an efficient cause. He can then, on
this naive presumption, say that there is no place in the brain where the
observor sits and observes pictures from the world on an inner screen.103
This primitive kind of dualistic world models104 is, of course, rightly
rejected by him. He claims, furthermore, that this kind of dualism pervades
the history of Western thought.105 Descartes who, in fact, really did teach
a strict dualism of two realities, somehow mysteriously connected with
one another is his major witness. Aristotle as well as Thomas Aquinas
are unmentioned. Singer knows only the idea of two different ontological
worlds. The I is for him a spiritual entity.106
98
99
102
104

This is in head-on contradiction to the religious beliefs of billions of human beings alive today.
Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis, 261.
100 Singer, Der Beobachter, 39.
101 Ibid.
Singer, Ein neues Menschenbild?, 10.
103 Singer, Ein neues Menschenbild?, 88.
Singer, Gehirn&Geist, 32.
105 Cf. ibid.
106 Ibid.

Singer, Uber
Bewutsein.

7.5 The soul and the body

263

The idea of an immaterial soul is for Singer a mere construct, which is


scientifically unsupportable.107 The classical notion of the soul that lies
in the mainstream of Catholic thought is explicitly rejected by him, despite
the fact that he shows no knowledge of it.
For the sake of clarification, the following could be considered: When
I write down a sentence, I am materializing in ink a thought that I want
to communicate. If the reader were now asked what it is he is reading, he
would not answer that it is ink; and if one wanted to understand it, one
would not carry out chemical analyses. Strictly speaking, that would not be
false or impossible, but it would miss the whole point. Both of us, author
and reader, see an immaterial thought in this ink, and this thought is not a
separate reality existing outside of the ink. If I write, The car in the street
is green, then, of course, I do not mean that this word car here on the
paper is green; neither am I asserting that there is a car on this paper. I
am speaking of another reality and if the reader does not accept this, then
the worth of any book is literally no greater than the paper on which it is
printed. Shakespeares writings are not paper.
Let us leave this level of discussion and get on with our reflections.
Thomas Aquinas expands the Aristotelian definition, which applies only to
living bodies, to include immaterial life, thus raising the question to a higher
perspective. Human beings are not just animals but, as individuals, they
consist of spirit and body (it would be preferable to say spirit and matter).
Their souls must encompass both. This is not easy to think through since
the material and immaterial seem to exclude one another. As the result
of much reflection, Aquinas arrives at the thesis that the human soul is
unique. It is the actualization of the spirit and the body, with the spiritual
soul being the form of the body.
To call this position dualism is misleading, for soul and body form
one person. Hylomorphism thus represents a third possibility between a
reductionist monism and a radical dualism.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church basically stands in the Aristotelian
tradition. It is aware of the fact that there are different definitions of the
term soul (which cannot be said for Crick and Singer). Referring to the
usages in Scripture, it states:
In Sacred Scripture the term soul often refers to human life or the entire
human person. But soul also refers to the innermost aspect of man, that
which is of greatest value in him, that by which he is most especially in
Gods image: soul signifies the spiritual principle in man.108
107

Singer, Angriff, 3233.

108

Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 363.

264

Sensuality

The Catechism then goes on to develop a more mature understanding,


making use of abstract, philosophical notions:
The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul
to be the form of the body: that is, it is because of its spiritual soul that
the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter,
in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single
nature.109

Here, Aquinas is mirrored. We can turn to him for a contraposition to


the cited neuroscientists. The significance of the soul becomes clear in his
teaching that the soul is not the I.110 Without a body, man would not be
a person111 ; the mind [mens] is not a person.112
Moreover, the very notion of the soul necessarily implies a body. In the
definition of the soul, Thomas writes, the body is posited.113 Sunflowers
and dogs have souls but angels, having no bodies, do not. The notion
of the soul is not even thinkable without simultaneously thinking body.
Soul must be conceived in function of a body. Without its body, the soul
would be helpless. To think at all, it requires the body. Without a brain,
there would be no consciousness. Thomas accentuates this by saying: The
soul is united to the body because of thinking [intelligere].114 Without the
body, the soul would be incomplete. It is united to the body so that the
human species may be complete.115 The soul requires the body in order
to attain its end,116 remarks Thomas.
Although the teaching that man has a soul sounds reasonable, in fact, it
is highly problematic, representing a provocative claim. The offensiveness
of the thesis has been lost to us because we have become accustomed to
it. It is actually paradoxical that man, who exercises immaterial acts, has a
soul, seeing that according to the Aristotelian definition, souls are restricted
to bodies. The question arises how it can be that man has only one soul,
embracing contradictory acts. But this is exactly what Thomas Aquinas
claims; and this is what it comes down to when we seriously assert the
unity of man. Of course, it is required by Christian Faith, and as long as
109
110

111
112
113
114
115

Ibid., n. 365. Reference is made to the Council of Vienne (1312) (DS 902).
Man naturally desires his own salvation; but the soul, since it is part of mans body, is not an entire
man, and my soul is not I; hence, although the soul obtains salvation in another life, nevertheless,
not I or any man. Thomas Aquinas, In I Ad Corinthios, XV, lect. 2.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, De potentia, q. 9, a. 2, ad 14.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, IV, c. 26: The mind itself existing in its nature is not
a person, for it is not the whole which subsists, but a part of the subsistent, namely, of the man.
Thomas Aquinas, De spiritualibus creaturis, a. 9, ad 4. Cf. In De anima, II, lect. 1, n. 3.
Thomas Aquinas, De anima, q. unica, a. 8, ad 15. It is united to it so that it might acquire
knowledge. Summa contra gentiles, II, c. 83; cf. Summa theologiae, I, q. 76, a. 5.
116 Ibid., III, c. 144.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, II, c. 68.

7.5 The soul and the body

265

we do not reflect on it, we may live without seeing the problem. But once
we begin to think about it philosophically, the task ahead is strenuous.
7.5.2 The whole soul in each part of the body
Different aspects have been taken into view to express the relationship
between the soul and the body. One of these is the presence of the whole
soul in each part of the body. If the soul were united to the body merely as
its motor, we might say that it is not in each part of the body but instead
only in the one part through which it would move the others. But since
the soul is united to the body as its actuality, it must necessarily be present
in the whole body, as well as in each of its parts. For it is not an accidental
form but rather the substantial form of the body being, so to speak,
living bodiness itself. The actuality is what grounds individuality. Having
certain qualities, or being characterized by different genomes or individual
histories, does not bring about individuality; it comes from the ontological
actuality.117
7.5.3 The body in the soul
It helps to realize that although it is not false to speak of the soul being
in the body, it is more appropriate to say that the body is in the soul.
The soul is not like a core or the motor of the living thing. Rather, it
envelops the entire being. Meister Eckhart, to quote just one witness out of
the tradition, writes: Usually we say that the soul is in the body, while
in truth the body is rather in the soul.118 But this does not exclude the
possibility that the classical teaching sometimes also speaks of the entire soul
being in each part of the body completely. As Thomas Aquinas expresses
it, The soul is in the body as containing it, not as contained by it.119 He
concludes further: The intellective soul contains the sensitive.120
7.5.4 Thomas Aquinas thesis: The human soul
as the form of the body
Both pre-philosophic thinking and the teaching of Christian Faith presume
that a human being is one reality. It is always the same I that does quite
117
118

119
120

Cf. ibid., II, c. 56.


Eckhart, Expositio libri Sapientiae, 364, 913. My body is more in my soul than that my soul in in
my body. My body and my soul are more in God than they are in themselves. Predigten, Vol. I,
161, 57.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 52, a. 1c. Cf. also Quaestiones quodlibetales, I, q. 3, a. 1c.
For further examples, cf. Kremer, Gott und Welt, 3637.
Thomas Aquinas, De spiritualibus creaturis, a. 3c.

266

Sensuality

different things, that writes, eats, sees, tastes, thinks, reflects, loves, and so
on. However, the unity of the person becomes extremely difficult when
one begins to reflect and philosophize on it. How are two forms of being
namely, material and immaterial to be thought of as a unity, seeing that
they are incompatible with one another? The acts of seeing something and
of becoming explicitly aware of the fact that one is seeing something are
essentially different. In thought, we can know not only concrete singulars
but also universals and other immaterial things, like truth and beauty.
Furthermore, thought is reflexive. As Thomas argues: No sense has reflex
knowledge of itself and its own activity: the sight does not see itself,
nor see that it sees. But intellect is cognisant of itself, and knows that it
understands.121
To put it pointedly: Spirit is a part of the soul, and the soul is a part of
the human person.122 The body is also a part of the person but not a part
of the soul. To the contrary, the soul is rather a part of the body.
In the traditional Aristotelian categories, the claim that man is a unity
involves being able to think of man as having just one substantial form
or, in other words, only one soul, including in itself vegetable, animal,
and spiritual life. Thomas Aquinas was the first thinker to fulfill this
requirement.123 His original approach is based on his new understanding of
being. Soul is defined, in accordance with Aristotle, as an act [actus primus]
and being is understood by Thomas as the act of all acts that is, as it were,
the actness or actuality of all acts [actualitas omnium actuum]. The word
actualitas, which was unknown to previous generations of thinkers and
introduced no sooner than in the thirteenth century, raises the observer
to a higher level of apprehension. Animal life and the life of reflecting
consciousness may be quite different from one another, but both are forms
of being, analogous, for example, to left and right being contradictories
and yet both being kinds of directions.
The thesis of how to unite body and soul, materiality and immateriality,
is succinctly stated by Aquinas: Now it is clear that the intellectual soul,
by virtue of its very being, is united to the body as its form; yet, after the
dissolution of the body, the intellectual soul retains its own being.124
In sum, the thesis on the unity of man implies that one and the same
essential form makes man an actual being [ens actu], a body, a living being,
an animal, and a man.125 Body and soul are so closely united that they
can be characterized with the terms implicit and explicit. Accordingly,
what is implicitly present in the soul appears explicitly in the parts of the
121
123
124

122 Cf. ibid., c. 78; c. 94.


Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, II, c. 66.
Cf. Pegis, St. Thomas; At the Origins.
125 Ibid., a. 6, ad 1.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 76, a. 2, ad 2.

7.5 The soul and the body

267

body.126 This viewpoint makes it understandable why it is against the


nature of the soul to be without a body.127
From this viewpoint, Thomas discovered the means of bringing body
and reflecting consciousness together. Many kinds of union are thinkable
(and in the history of thought have been asserted). Most common today
is to interpret the connection as one of efficient causality. As we have seen,
this is invariably the interpretation presumed by neuroscientists who then
accordingly reject the existence of a soul. Since for Thomas, as we have
seen, the causality of the soul is not like the causality of an artist but rather
similar to the causality of his art,128 it is not a matter of efficient causality
but of formal causality. When I write down this sentence, for example, I
am the efficient cause of it, but the thought that I am expressing is the
formal cause of the sentence.
The only kind of union that brings about a single reality out of body and
thought is a connection of formality. In the decades following Thomass
death, this teaching of a formal union was highly controversial and even
suspect of heresy.129
Thomass position is confronted with what has been called the Aristotelian dilemma130 namely, how something immaterial can be the form
of something material. He expands Aristotles notion of the soul to include
immaterial life. There are not two forms in the soul, he explains, but one
only, and this is its essence, for it is a spirit through its essence, and through
its essence it is the form of the body, not through something added.131
This implies that the human soul is dependent on the body, for otherwise
it would by definition not be a soul. In accordance with the strict Aristotelian definition, a soul cannot exist without a body. The human souls
dependence on the body is in Thomass eyes radical. Thomas solved the
Aristotelian dilemma by interpreting Aristotles separate intellect as the
intellective power and operation, which itself belongs to the substance of
the soul, which is the form of the body, Theodor Schneider explains.132
The key to the possibility for independent spiritual activity lies in being.
The spirit is independent precisely in being133 :

126
127
128
129
131
132
133

Cf. Thomas Aquinas, In IV. Sententiarum, dist. 43, q. 1, a. 2Ac.


Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, IV, c. 79.
Cf. Thomas Aquinas, In IV. Sententiarum, dist. 44, q. 1, a. 2, qc. 1c.
130 Ibid., 242.
Cf. Schneider, Die Einheit des Menschen.
Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 16, a. 1, ad 13.
Schneider, Die Einheit des Menschen, 245, n. 162.
The soul can execute activities without the body, that is, it is in its activity independent of the
body, because it is in being [in essendo] not dependent on the body. Thomas Aquinas, Summa
contra gentiles, II, c. 69.

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Sensuality
The soul communicates that existence in which it subsists to the corporeal
matter, out of which together with the intellectual soul there results unity
of existence, so that the existence of the whole composite is also the souls
existence. This is not the case with other non-subsistent forms. For this
reason the human soul retains its own existence after the dissolution of the
body, whereas this is not the case with other forms.134

Consequently, it is clear that matter and form share one and the same
act of being [unum esse].135 A thought and the sentence expressing the
thought cannot share the same being, but the meaning in both cases can.
The meaning that I thought in my head and wrote down is, under normal
conditions, the meaning of the sentence. If I am misunderstood, then I
naturally feel that something has gone wrong.
The immaterial soul shares its being with the bodys being by way of
the form.136 The act of being is the key: The spiritual soul is united to
the body as its form through its being.137 Although spirit and matter are
contraries, both are modes of being. To combine contraries in a unity, a
higher level of abstraction must be attained. Thomas accomplishes this
through his understanding of being. The body is thus more than just the
symbol of the spirit. Its very being is the same as the being of the spirit.
The spirit is not just the first actuality of the body; the first actuality of
spirit and body is one and the same.
What does form [forma; Greek: , ] mean? One way to
explain it is to say that everything that we experience or know except for
the act of existence is a form. What a dictionary contains are forms. But
how then can the soul be a form since it is the act of living existence? In
fact, form itself does not exist, but it is determinative of existence. For
example, the term dog in the dictionary does not exist as a real dog. But
what makes a really existing dog a dog is the form defined in the dictionary.
The meaning of abstract notions (i.e., a universal) does not itself exist in
some nominalistic way. Running per se does not run, but a running dog is
running thanks to the form of running. Running is not the efficient cause,
the dog is; running is the formal cause. Seeing is the form of a living eye.
Living is the form of a living being.

134

135
137

Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 76, a. 1, ad 5. The same act of being that belongs to the
soul is communicated to the body, Thomas emphasizes, so that there is one act of being of the
whole composite. De anima, a. 1, ad 1.
136 Cf. ibid., II, c. 68.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, IV, c. 81.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, q. 76, a. 6, ad 3.

269

7.5 The soul and the body


7.5.5 The emergence of the human soul

Rahner takes a similar approach to explain how a spiritual soul arises in


individual human beings that is, how something immaterial arises out
of matter. His analysis would seem to grasp an aspect of emergence that
cannot be otherwise explained. Viewed metaphysically that is, from the
viewpoint of being whenever there is a becoming, the divine creator,
Being itself, must be ultimately involved. Rahner argues:
Anyone, therefore, who does not suppose that in a metaphysical sense more
can simply come from less, must, precisely if he wishes to perceive in the
production of change through transitive causality a perspective open for
endless becoming, introduce the idea of infinite Being as the ground of
the very possibility of any becoming which involves an increase of being.
Becoming opens our eyes to absolute Being.138

If a possibility is realized, there must be a cause that in some sense is itself


already real.
Far from being an alternative to the Christian teaching on creation, the
biological theory of evolution, seen in this way, reveals the divine creative
causality. As we have seen, this divine causality cannot be understood as
though it occurred alongside of natural causality. It is not the case
that the operation of absolute Being in providing a ground of the new and
increasing reality is inserted side by side with the causal efficacy of the finite
cause as though fundamentally it were itself a partial cause. The relation
of the absolute ground of being to the finite agent when becoming is
effected, which is truly an increase and not just a variation must rather be
envisaged in such a way that the absolute ground of being and becoming
is always regarded as a factor linked to the finite agent and belonging to it,
though transcending it.139

The creation of an immaterial soul does not have to be conceived as a


miracle. God is the transcendent ground, sustaining everything, but not
a demiurge whose activity is carried on inside the world, Rahner writes.
He is the ground of the world, not a cause side by side with others in the
world.140 Rather than being a cause next to other causes, God is in the
other causes, causing their very causality, making their causality real.
Although he does not intrude into the world in the manner of a worldly,
empirical cause, God nevertheless has a unique place in human life. As
Rahner expresses it: God is not a function or factor of the whole or in
138

Rahner, Hominisation, 75.

139

Ibid.

140

Ibid., 95.

270

Sensuality

the whole of reality, but he is the transcendent ground of its manifold


totality.141
The possibility of growing in being depends on a cause that somehow
belongs to what is growing but without being a partial factor within it.142
God does not really change the form of existent matter in the manner of
efficient causality.
The causality of the natural being is itself caused by absolute Being,
all causes consisting in forms of being. Its causality is analogous to an
instrument, employed by divine causality. When I write with a pencil,
both the pencil and I are total causes of the result. Of course, there is
neither a conflict nor is either one a partial cause. Aquinas writes:
When the same effect is attributed to a natural cause and to the divine
power, it is not as though the effect were produced partly by God and partly
by the natural agent: but the whole effect is produced by both, though in
different ways, as the same effect is attributed wholly to the instrument, and
wholly also to the principal agent.143

Rahners approach to explain the emergence of immaterial life in human


beings is especially concerned with the question of in what sense God can
be the creator of an individual immaterial soul and, at the same time,
the parents be the source of the child as a whole. Out of the material
components coming from the parents, a life arises that is immaterial and
self-determining. How can the parents be the whole source of the whole
child, while God directly creates the childs soul? How does immateriality
come out of matter? How do thoughts arise out of the firing of neutrons
in the brain? How is the causality of the emergence of a human soul to be
explained?
In Rahners treatment, in which God is seen as absolute Being, a twofold
causality is possible without one causality coming into conflict with the
other. It is a case of complementarity. Analogously, one can ask how Eternal
Life arises out of temporal life since it is a development of spiritual existence.
From a metaphysical perspective, the emergence of spiritual life and the
emergence of Eternal Life are analogous, both consisting in an increase, or
141
142

143

Ibid., 65.
Cf. ibid., 76: For an agent to be able to do what it cannot do of itself must involve its having
infinite being as its transcendent ground in such a way that, while this ground is not a factor in the
agent itself ; it nevertheless belongs to it. Cf. also ibid., 64, where it is said that we can see God as
the transcendent ground of all reality, of its existence and of its becoming, as the primordial reality
comprising everything, supporting everything, but precisely for that reason cannot regard him as
a partial factor and component in the reality with which we are confronted, nor as a member of
its causal series.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 70.

271

7.5 The soul and the body

intensification, of being. The lower is sublated into the higher. Whereas a


brain presents the immediate possibility of thinking, thinking presents the
immediate possibility of Eternal Life, which is a form of knowledge.
In this context, Rahner makes use of the idea of secondary causality.
Within the world, Gods causality takes place within the causality of secondary causes. If God were to enter the world, he would ineluctably have to
become a secondary cause. The operation of providence does not exclude
secondary causes, but is fulfilled by them, inasmuch as they act in the
power of God, Aquinas explains.144 Both primary and secondary causes
are the complete causes of the result. The causality is not divided between
them, as though they could come into competition with one another. As
Rahner states:
For the spiritual soul, of course, as spirit, and as form of the body, does not
possess two completely different functions but in both its partial functions it
has only one, namely, to fulfill its unitary nature as spirit. Consequently, its
corporeality is necessarily an integrating factor of its constitution as spirit,
not something alien to spirit but a limited factor in the accomplishment of
spirit itself.145

We might
quite well think of God as the transcendent ground of all reality, of its existence and of its becoming, as the primordial reality comprising everything,
supporting everything, but precisely for that reason we cannot regard him as
a partial factor and component in the reality with which we are confronted,
nor as a member of its causal series.146

God is not a function or factor of the whole or in the whole of reality,


Rahner adds, but he is the transcendent ground of its manifold totality.147
It is decisive here to assume the viewpoint of reality that is, the
metaphysical level of abstraction whether it is a matter of the creation
of the soul or the causation of Eternal Life. Becoming presupposes divine
Being:
Anyone, therefore, who does not suppose that in a metaphysical sense more
can simply come from less, must, precisely if he wishes to perceive in the
production of change through transitive causality a perspective open for
endless becoming, introduce the idea of infinite Being as the ground of
the very possibility of any becoming which involves an increase in being.
But, in accordance with our earlier argument, he must not do this in such a
way that the operation of absolute Being in providing a ground of the new
144

Ibid., c. 72.

145

Rahner, Hominisation, 58.

146

Ibid., 64.

147

Ibid., 65.

272

Sensuality
and increasing reality is inserted side by side with the causal efficacy of the
finite cause as though fundamentally it were itself a partial cause. When we
are dealing with a form of becoming which is truly an increase and not just
a variation, the relation of the absolute ground of being to the finite agent
must rather be envisaged in such a way that the absolute ground of being
and becoming is always regarded as a factor linked to the finite agent and
belonging to it, though transcending it.148

An intelligent designer could cause nothing that secondary causes do not


cause. With a hammer, I cannot write a letter. Being must be present: For
an agent to be able to do what it cannot do of itself, writes Rahner, must
involve its having infinite being as its transcendent ground in such a way
that, while this ground is not a factor in the agent itself, it nevertheless
belongs to it.149
The interdependence between matter and spirit is, of course, fundamental. Rahner brings it to the point:
What is material, therefore, is for a Christian, theistic philosophy only
conceivable at all precisely as a factor in relation to spirit and for the sake
of (finite) spirit. Consequently, Thomistic philosophy at least has always
regarded what is material simply as a kind of limited being.150

He even goes so far as to claim that the perfected material reality must be
a factor related to the perfection of spirit itself, not something that there is
as well, in addition to spiritual perfection . . . Spirit must be thought of as
seeking and finding itself through the perfection of what is material.151
The union arising from the emerging of spirit out of matter is only
possible because of the presence of Being since spirit represents a real
increase in being and not just a form of matter. Matter and spirit become
real through the effect of Being. Rahner explains the divine causing of
mans self-movement as follows:
The agents rising beyond and above itself in action and becoming takes place
because the absolute Being is the cause and ground of this self-movement,
in such a way that the latter has this fundamental ground immanent within
it as a factor intrinsically related to the movement.152

Human consciousness is characterized by a transcendence toward its creator


as its final cause (which is a form of formal causality). As Rahner asserts,
the term of this transcendence causes the movement toward itself.153 The
orienting term of transcendence moves the movement of the mind; it is
148
151

Ibid., 75.
Ibid., 59.

149
152

Ibid., 76.
Ibid., 88.

150
153

Ibid., 56.
Cf. ibid., 8387.

7.5 The soul and the body

273

the originating cause, the fundamental ground and reason of the minds
transcendental dynamism.154 The orienting term of transcendence does
not move in the manner of an efficient but rather in that of a final cause.
This dynamism only exists and can exist because it tends precisely toward
that term and so is sustained by it.155 The self-motion represents a mode
of the attracting causality. It is not as though man existed in himself and
then established a relationship to his final goal. Instead, in the dynamic of
his living, the final goal is already present and effective.156 This immanence
of the term of transcendence is possible only because it is not an object but
rather the horizon of consciousness: The orienting term as a constitutive
factor of the dynamic tendency is immanent in it.157
The self-transcendence then explains how parents can be the total cause
of a child, body and spirit, while God can nonetheless be a concomitant
cause:
If the operation of a creature is on principle to be regarded as a selftranscendence in such a way that the effect is not derivable from the essence
of the creature acting and yet must be considered as effected by this agent,
it is possible to say, without anxiety, if such a general concept of becoming
and operation is presupposed, that the parents are the cause of the one
entire human being and so also of its soul, because . . . that not only does
not exclude, but positively includes, the fact that the parents can only be
the cause of the human being in virtue of the power of God which renders
possible their self-transcendence, and which is immanent in their causality
without belonging to the constitutive factors of their essence. And then the
statement that God directly creates the soul of a human being does not
imply any denial of the statement that the parents procreate the human
being in his unity. It makes the statement more precise by indicating that
this procreation belongs to that kind of created efficient causality in which
the agent by virtue of divine causality essentially exceeds the limits set by
his own essence.158

In this way, it is possible to justify Rahners primary thesis: namely, to


regard the creation of the soul by God as a case of becoming through
essential self-transcendence.159
154
156

157

158

155 Ibid., 8384.


Ibid., 86.
This orienting term is what sets in motion. It is not only the goal but the causal reason for the
dynamic tendency. The latter does not merely move itself toward the term. The latter draws it on,
sets the tendency in motion and sustains it. Ibid., 85.
Ibid., 84. It is more like a horizon, the condition of the possibility of the knowledge of objects
and of self-reflection and freedom, and precisely as such it is not one of the possible objects of
cognition. Ibid., 83.
159 Ibid., 100.
Ibid., 9899.

274

Sensuality

My own thesis expands this ontological structure to the problem of


Eternal Life, which accordingly presents a further case of the same causal
dynamic. Thus, Eternal Life emerges out of temporal life, which possesses
a transcendence directed toward such a higher level of being.
Hence, divine causality and temporal causality are not separate from
one another. Divine causality in the world takes place not just in the world
but also in and through the causality in the world. The phenomenon of
becoming reveals divine causality in a special manner. Emergence seems
to be possible only if divine causality is at work. Becoming is a form of
self-exceedingness, of self-transcendence. It is not just passive. The act of
self-transcendence continues to be the act of the self. Indeed, the fulfilling
transcendence brings it to its own essence. Every causality in the world
owes its causality to the causality of being. For this reason, it can be said
that finite beings can cause more than they themselves are.
Together with that which is becoming, absolute Being (i.e., reality itself )
is the cause of becoming. But absolute Being does not itself become. One
may speak of Gods becoming or changing only in a quasi-metaphorical
sense. Solely worldly realities can really become that is the definition of
a creature. But they can become only thanks to divine causality, working
together within the empirical causality. Becoming in the world is a divine
revelation.
We know many examples of this relationship. Every instrument, for
example, that is used is a secondary cause, while the person using it is the
primary cause. As the writer, I am the cause of my manuscript and my pen
is also the cause of the manuscript; both are the causes of the entire text,
each in its own way.
It is a general rule that the strength of the divine causality is proportionate
to the empirical causality. It is at its most intensive in acts of freedom.
The fact that life has evolved out of matter and immaterial life out
of material life represents a confirmation of this structure. Evolution is
not an alternative to creation; rather, it is the revelation or, what is more,
the confirmation of creation. Nature, with its own laws and structures,
is also determinative but only with regard to what occurs. That it occurs
presupposes the causality of being, which is different from formal causality.
The dynamics of being can cause spirit to evolve out of matter. Matter
tends toward the human soul, Thomas states.160 Rahner even calls matter
frozen spirit.161
160

Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 22.

161

Rahner, Hominisation, 78.

275

7.5 The soul and the body

Hence, reality includes more than material reality and more than what
exists in the present, just as light includes more than the colors visible at a
given time. This is not to say that immaterial reality is included in material
reality but, in a real sense, it can emerge out of it without being simply
added or grafted to it. Nonetheless, materiality itself on its own strength
cannot cause immateriality. Divine causality, to repeat, is analogous to the
way light causes colors. In a dark room or in empty space, no colors exist. If
light is shining, then colors can exist provided that the appropriate matter
be present. If, for example, a sunflower is present, then yellow will be
visible.
Rahner comes to the conclusion that human parents are the cause of a
child, although a child is not, so to speak, deducible from its parents; it is
not an extension of them but instead represents an independent entity. The
child is truly the parents child and nevertheless an autonomous being
without involving a contradiction.
In striving for more being, a creature strives for similitude with God,
returning, as it were, to God.162 There exists a striving like this in all of
reality. According to Thomas Aquinas, even matter has such a striving
[appetitus materiae]; ultimately, the physical world strives, as it appears,
toward human existence. In the process of generation [processus generationis], inorganic matter tends toward vegetable life, and this in turn strives
for animal life; animal life tends in turn toward intellectual life.163
162

Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 22.

163

Cf. ibid.

chapter eight

The emergence of Eternal Life a conclusion

I see no reason for not applying the insight explicated in the previous
section to the question of Eternal Life and viewing Eternal Life as a further
case of emergence. This implies that Eternal Life emerges out of temporal
life. It is the fulfilling actualization of human potentiality. By the name
of beatitude the ultimate perfection of rational or of intellectual nature is
understood, Thomas argues, and hence it is that it is naturally desired,
since everything desires by nature its ultimate perfection.1 It is more than
temporal life but it is not simply an effect having its cause completely
within temporal existence. For example, it is not simply an extension of
temporal life. Actually, the difference between matter and spirit is greater
than the difference between spirit and fulfilled spirit.
For new reality to emerge, a potency for it must exist. An animal lacking
wings is not likely to fly. An animal without a highly developed brain will
not think self-consciously. The actualized thinking of human beings is a
potency for Eternal Life. The technical term for this is potentia obedientialis;
that is, a capacity that can be actualized but only by another agent. Rahner
understands human life in the whole of its essence as a potentia obedientialis
for Revelation and Eternal Life. Eternal Life is not a miracle; moreover, it
is just the opposite of the abrogation of a natural law. Being the fulfillment
of a natural desire, the heavenly vision is not to be considered a miracle.

Etienne
Gilson even goes so far as to assert that the Christian has a right to
happiness insofar as he is a human being.2 Accordingly, the beatific vision
is in one sense natural and in another supernatural. With respect to what it
consists in, it is natural; the cause of its taking place is supernatural. What
takes place is codetermined by human nature, while the fact that it takes
place presupposes a causality lying beyond the reach of human powers.
Depending on when it occurs, the same activity can be both in conformity
with ones nature and contrary to it. As Thomas Aquinas argues, it would
1

Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 62, a. 1c.

276

Gilson, Sur la problematique, 86.

277

The emergence of Eternal Life

be unnatural for a newborn child to have a beard; but later, when he


has reached puberty, it is natural. Although it is normal for a person to
have a full-sized body, it would not be natural if a newborn child did.
Similarly, in the present life, it would be against human nature if we were
to know God in the way in which he is to be known in Eternal Life.3
Thomas writes: Although it is natural for the human intellect that it will
at some time arrive at the vision of the divine essence, it is, nevertheless, not
natural for it to arrive at it under the conditions of the state of the present
life.4 Therefore, although it may be contrary to human nature to have
consciousness without the senses, this holds true only for the present life.
Nature is directed to more than this. To achieve the fulfillment of human
nature, there is no need for God to change. Within the light of Being, all
real possibilities are eternally present.
If Eternal Life is the fulfillment of the longing for reality, then the
meaning of life in time consists in the development of this longing, realized
in the multifarious forms included in the comprehensive notion of reality:
joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, spiritual and sensual, individual and
social. The becoming of a human person cannot itself be happiness but is
the necessary preparation and precondition for happiness. About this we do
not know much, and what has been envisioned in this study is admittedly
abstract, but we need to know no more. More could even be too much.
3

Cf. Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 13, a. 1, ad 1.

Ibid., a. 3, ad 6.

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Index

Abelard, Peter, 65, 74


abstract and concrete, 32
abstraction, 111, 112, 120, 123, 135, 139, 142, 143,
159, 226, 238, 268, 271
levels, 123, 137
of the whole, 111
acedia, 108
adaequatio, 140
Adkins, Arthur W. H., 225
Aeschylus, 211
agape, 90
agent intellect, 118, 202
Albertus Magnus, 99, 242
Alcuin, 201
Anderson, Philip W., 7
Anselm of Canterbury, 158, 254
anthropological factor, 237
apprehension of truth, 128135, 147
Apuleius of Madauros, 16
Aristotelian dilemma, 267
Aristotle, 9, 10, 17, 51, 5557, 60, 85, 91, 96,
99103, 122125, 128, 130, 131, 135, 136, 140,
143, 175, 183, 184, 188, 189, 196199, 217, 235,
258, 259, 262264, 266, 267
Athanasius the Great, 201
attention, 119120, 238
Augustine of Hippo, 4, 6, 35, 39, 51, 75, 88, 97,
114, 131, 184186, 188, 191, 197, 198, 201, 213,
226, 235
authority, 73, 74
Ayer, Alfred J., 22
Balthasar, Hans Urs von, 29, 30, 121, 190
beauty, 198, 245
Beck, Ulrich, 43, 44
becoming, 269
and being, 274
self-transcendence, 273, 274
being, 136, 271272
and change, 11
and time, 137

causality, 270
entitas, 101
esse, 101
God, 162
ousia, 101
Bender, Melanie, 105, 110
Benedict XII, 154
Benedict XVI/Joseph Ratzinger, 17, 53, 71, 80,
105, 109, 122, 153, 154
Berger, David, 149
Bernard of Clairvaux, 241
Bernini, Giovanni Lorenzo, 242
Biblicism, 27
bodysoul problem, 262
Boethius, Anicius Manlius Torquatus Severinus,
32, 183, 189, 206, 207, 213
Bonaventure, 6, 29, 35
boredom, 166
Borges, Jorge Luis, 185
Boros, Ladislaus, 194
Bos, Gunther, 16
Brandt, Reinhard, 7
Brunner, Emil, 68
Bultmann, Rudolf, 68
Cano, Melchor, 74
causality
out of nothing, 10
secondary, 271
cave allegory, 122, 178
celebration, 56
change, 10, 143
charity, 191
Chenu, Marie-Dominique, 74
Christology, 2529
and conscience, 26
and truth, 26
Christological bottleneck, 25
transcendental, 80
Chrysostom, John, 114
Cicero, Marcus Tullius, 16

290

Index
Claudel, Paul, 195
concrete, 3133
double structure, 146
conformity, 140
conscience, 223, 224
Last Judgment, 226
consciousness, 191, 202
contemplation, 155, 253
of the beloved, 156
contemplative knowledge, 122129
Biblical teaching, 120122
contemplative life, 57, 217, 253, 255, 256
co-perception, 135
copula, 136
creation, 1012
and succession, 11
evolution, 269, 274
out of nothing, 8
Crick, Francis, 261263
curiosity, 1619
Damascene, John, 114
Dante, Aligieri, 251, 253
delight, see joy
Descartes, Rene, 78, 141, 262
desiderium naturale, 17, 8692, 96, 101, 131, 145,
276
boundaries, 172176
desire, 191201
and joy, 88
Dickens, Charles, 108
Dilthey, Wilhelm, 39
Dionysius the Areopagite, 14, 36, 37, 106, 114,
164
disbelief in a life after death, 1376
experience prejudice, 2041
natural aversion, 1416
philosophical prejudices, 1963
vain curiosity, 1619
Dondaine, Hyacinthe F., 114
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, 26, 74, 204, 209, 220
doubt, 65
Eckhart, Meister, 76, 119, 265
Eco, Umberto, 52
ecstasy, 199
Edwards, Jonathan, 192, 193
Egan, Harvey D., 33
Eicher, Peter, 27
Einstein, Albert, 188
emergence, 59, 112119
Aristotle, 6, 9
from physical to spiritual, 241
in consciousness, 9
seminal reasons, 6

end
of all human actions, 146
of the mind, 146
Engelhard, Markus, 29
Eni, 203
Epicurus, 58, 59
epikeia, 235
Erlebnis, 3941
eros, 90
Eternal Life
boredom, 166
life history, 180236
eternity, 180
definition, 183
fullness of time, 181
motion and rest, 190
time, 181190
experience, 2041
concrete, 241
Erlebnis, 3941
of God, 2939
predicative structure, 135143
experience of God
Bonaventure, 29
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 30
concrete, 3133
Hans Urs von Balthasar, 29
in the Bible, 3439
mysticism, 33
rapture, 3839
theodicy, 3031
faith, 91
act, 158
and Eternal Life, 6476
and philosophy, 131
and reason, 28, 130
as light, 161
faith authorities, 65
habit, 158
implicit, 164
wonder, 157
Feinendegen, Norbert, 87
Fichte, Johann Gottlieb, 79
fideism, 27
final-decision hypothesis, 194
final end, 98
Fischer, Klaus, 27
Fonvizin, Natalja D., 26
form, 268
two kinds, 148
forma intelligibilis, 116, 148153
Frankl, Viktor, 155, 156, 208210, 219, 221
Franklin, Benjamin, 80
Freud, Sigmund, 61

291

292
friend
second self, 199
friendship
with oneself, 237
Fromm, Erich, 37, 195, 200
fulguration, 8
future perfect tense, 82
Gadamer, Hans-Georg, 40, 41
Galilei, Galileo, 76, 94, 159

Gilson, Etienne,
118, 245, 249, 276
Glorieux, Palemon, 194
goal of human nature, 9799
God
being, 229, 270
efficient cause, 270
essence and existence, 200
experience, 2939
final cause, 272
holy mystery, 166
immanence of God in world, 254
immanence of world in God, 254
knowledge of God through his essence, 133
light, 148
Truth, 133, 134
unchangeableness, 112
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 40, 62, 79,
109
Good Samaritan, 4952
Goriceva, Tatjana, 204
grace and nature, 26
grace presupposes and fulfills nature, 171, 181
Gradl, Stefan, 172, 248, 249, 255
Gregory of Nyssa, 73, 190
Habermas, Jurgen, 119
Hamilton, Alexander, 222
happiness, 132133
and human nature, 169171
divine, 145
joy, 249252
right, 276
Hardon, John A., 261
Hattrup, Dieter, 122, 173, 182
Havel, Vaclav, 92, 210, 211, 221, 227230
hedonism, 5863, 243
Heidegger, Martin, 4749
hell, 104110
deficient love, 109
free will, 106
objective loneliness, 108
Henry of Ghent, 100
hermeneutics, 7176
historical reading, 73
theoretical reading, 73

Index
heuristic principles, 171
history, 230
Hodges, Herbert Arthur, 39
Hoffmann, Georg, 68
Hofstadter, Richard, 74
Homer, 123
hominisation, 269275
hope
in ones own resurrection, 8084
transcendental, 80
Hopkins, Jasper, 173
Horkheimer, Max, 3
Hoye, William J., 18, 29, 31, 3436, 89, 94, 107,
114, 129, 131, 134, 149, 230
Huby, Pamela M., 99
Hugh of St. Victor, 73
hylomorphism, 262
idea, 2324
immortality of the soul, 7880, 181
in the Enlightenment, 7880
theodicy, 7980
implicit Faith, 164
individuality, 169, 172, 175
intelligent designer, 97
interpretation of eschatological teachings,
7176
Jacob, 121
Jefferson, Thomas, 80, 230
Job, 257
John of the Cross, 30, 206
John Paul II, 2729
John Scotus Eriugena, 74, 114, 226
Johnson, Monte Ransome, 99
Jonas, Hans, 220
Jonsen, Albert R., 219
joy, 8889
and desire, 88
and eternity, 83
happiness, 249252
pleasure, 248, 249
Kafka, Franz, 213, 216
Kant, Immanuel, 9, 53, 80, 141, 216, 222227
the other world, 9
Kasper, Walter, 66, 67
Kehl, Medard, 109
Kierkegaard, Sren, 201
King, Martin Luther, Jr., 233
knowledge
effect of truth, 142
Kremer, Klaus, 265
Kullmann, Wolfgang, 99
Kung, Hans, 50, 53, 65, 66

Index
Laertius, Diogenes, 59
Laporta, Jorge, 172
Last Judgment, 222, 224226
conscience, 226
leisure, 4748
Leitheiser, Ludwig, 50
Lennox, James G., 99
Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim, 78
lethargy, 92
Lewis, Clive S., 8789, 92, 93, 109, 110, 182, 193,
203, 206, 239, 240, 244246, 252, 253
life before death, 180
life history, 170, 175, 180236
Eternal Life, 180236
life through death, 182
light, 170
God, 148
of Being, 118
of Faith, 161
of glory, 112119, 144, 183, 203
Lorenz, Konrad, 8
love, 82, 89, 191193
a feeling, 53, 63
agape, 90
as union, 52, 195198
atheism, 200
eros, 90
essence, 196
existence of beloved, 199
goodwill, 197
not helping, 195
of God, 191192
of neighbor, 192
the beautiful, 52
unfulfilled, 198
union of the affect, 195, 196, 198
unity of love of God and love of neighbor,
253
vision, 201
Lubac, Henri de, 37
Lucretius, 88, 89
Luther, Martin, 221
MacDonald, George, 206
Madison, James, 222
Mahler, Gustav, 168
Mann, Thomas, 203, 204
Marcel, Gabriel, 82
Marx, Jenny, 54
Marx, Karl, 45, 46, 53, 54
Marxism
self-criticism, 5354
matter, 240, 272
divine knowledge, 254
frozen spirit, 274

293

McGinn, Bernard, 33
meaning of life, 180
Mechthild of Magdeburg, 241
medium quo, 114, 119
medium quod, 148
medium sub quo, 115, 119, 148
memory, 201204
human dignity, 201
Mendelssohn, Moses, 78
morality, 216236
civil law, 233235
divine will, 231232
epikeia, 235
failure, 221
God, 235
love, 217, 218
prudence, 217218
responsibility, 219233
solicitude, 218
wisdom, 217218
motion, 143
mysticism, 33
naiveness of statements on Eternal Life, 1314
nature does nothing in vain, 95, 96, 99100, 104,
131, 145, 173, 201
Nicholas of Cusa, 57, 76, 101, 124128, 147,
172174, 176179, 253
Nicolas, Jean Herve, 19
Nietzsche, Friedrich, 83
obediential potency, 103, 276
Ott, Heinrich, 67, 68
Paul, 212, 219, 240
peace, 221
Pegis, Anton Charles, 266
Pesch, Christian, 50
phantasm, 202, 239
Picht, Georg, 222, 230
Pieper, Josef, 47, 48, 79, 217
pious interpretation, 73
Planck, Max, 262
Plato, 23, 24, 59, 122, 123, 126, 135, 137, 139, 140,
142, 173, 178, 195, 244, 252, 253
pleasure
good, 248
joy, 248249
love, 247
reason, 244
Plotinus, 123, 124, 148
poiesis, 122
positivism and neopositivism, 2225
possibility, 135
and reality, 136, 143

294

Index

Pound, Ezra, 191


praxis prejudice, 4258, 122
immorality of eschatology, 4244
predestination, 230
predication, 135143
present
all-embracing, 188
eternal, 188
present time, 186, 188
proofs of Gods existence, 143
providence, 190
prudence, 217218
human wisdom, 217
solicitude, 218
quasi-formal causality in beatific vision, 150
Rahner, Johanna, 154
Rahner, Karl, 2529, 31, 7173, 8084, 86, 89,
90, 103, 108, 109, 112, 122, 137, 140, 142, 150,
151, 154, 166, 181, 182, 192, 201, 202, 252,
269276
rapture, 3839
rationality of reality, 9297
Ratzinger, Joseph, see Benedict XVI
reality
and Eternal Life, 8485
and possibility, 135
as happening, 1012
realized eschatology, 6870
Biblical basis, 6970
reductionism, 7
reflection, 102, 135, 137, 185, 190
existence, 137
reflective consciousness, 137, 146
Rengstorf, Karl Heinrich, 50
responsibility, 219233
atheism, 220
Christian source, 222
for the world, 220
individuality, 230233
judge, 223, 224, 229231
peace, 221
responsibility to, 229230
secularization, 222
transcendence, 220, 229, 230
resurrection, 81, 237275
abstraction from the senses, 238
Christs, 81
Christs and mine, 8084
glorified body, 238
memory, 240, 246
of the flesh, 181
overflowing, 239, 248, 253
pleasure, 243249

redundantia, 239, 253


senses, 240
spiritual body, 237
Revelation, 1819, 162
and philosophy, 130
and reason, 74, 131, 163
revelata and revelabilia, 158
Rilke, Rainer Maria, 208
Robespierre, Maximilien de, 79
Robinson, John A. T., 68
Rosa, Hartmut, 3
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 79, 80
Schaeffler, Richard, 24, 25
Schillemeit, Jost, 40
Schnackenburg, Rudolf, 121
Schneider, Theodor, 267
secondary causality, 271
self-consciousness, 10, 98, 128, 138, 216
self-knowledge, 130
self-love, 192194
self-reflection, 10, 198
self-transcendence, 273
senses of Scripture, 7576
sensuality, 237275
end in itself, 243247
sentence, 135
truth, 139
unity, 136, 138
Siebel, Wigand, 65
sin
Satans, 174175
Singer, Wolf, 262, 263
solicitude, 218
soul, 98
and body, 217, 258268
body in soul, 252, 265
definition, 258, 263
emergence, 269275
form of body, 265268
hylomorphism, 262
in body, 252
self-knowledge, 260, 266
whole soul in each part of body, 265
Spaemann, Robert, 56, 60, 61, 175, 218, 219, 221
species, 149
species expressa, 149
species impressa, 149
God, 151
species intelligibilis, 202
species intelligibilis impressa, 151
speculation, 5658, 124, 165
Spinoza, Benedictus de, 63
spirit enhances the sensual, 198
spiritual body, 237

295

Index
Splett, Jorg, 42, 43
Stange, Carl, 79
subject-predicate dualism, 135136
suffering, 95, 101, 204216
self-consciousness, 216
theodicy, 204205, 213
technical mindset, 4547
essence of technology, 4849
Marxism, 4547
morality, 4955
teleology, 96
temporality, 180
Tennyson, Alfred, 61

Teresa of Avila,
242
theodicy, 79, 80, 204205, 213
theology and philosophy, 2729, 131
theophanies, 129
theoretical life, 57
theoria, 122, 124
theory, 5458
and praxis, 256
celebration, 56
happiness, 55
Thomas Aquinas, 3, 811, 13, 14, 1719, 2528,
30, 3340, 51, 53, 56, 57, 6063, 65, 7375,
85, 88, 91, 9597, 99103, 105108, 111, 112,
115119, 123, 129149, 151166, 169171, 174,
175, 181, 183, 185, 189202, 207, 213218,
231235, 238, 239, 242250, 252268, 270,
274277
Tillich, Paul, 53
time, 97
and being, 137
and eternity, 8283
definition, 183184
desire, 191201
distentio animi, 186
modes, 187, 188
unity, 97, 137
transcendence, 229
Troisfontaines, Roger, 194
truth, 139142
and knowledge, 134, 142
and Truth itself, 76
and truths, 132, 133, 177
becoming, 139, 141
before knowledge, 141
conformity, 140
desire for, 176179

desired in every desire, 176


end of all actions, 256
God, 134
levels, 141, 178
life history, 177
objectivity, 139
plurality of life, 164
reality, 142
unity of time, 136
unity of man, 266
unity of sentence
meaning, 139
Updike, John, 93, 94
verification principle, 23, 24
vision of God, 111168
contemplation, 154
corporeal unfolding, 252258
creatures seen in God, 170
emergence, 167
face to face, 154
friends, 255
individuality, 255
multitude, 239
natural, 276
structure, 144148
supernatural, 276
supernatural and natural, 117
whole of Eternal Life, 153157
wonder, 157167
Voltaire, 80
Weber, Edouard Henri, 114
Weil, Simone, 212, 216
Weizsacker, Carl Friedrich von, 13, 14, 44, 52, 55,
57, 58, 68, 69, 90, 114, 127, 135140, 143,
147, 187, 188, 206, 215, 255
Wendland, Heinz-Dietrich, 53
whole, 5
Wicki, Nikolaus, 114, 241
Wilde, Oscar, 205, 211, 212
William of Occam, 70
William of St. Thierry, 33
wisdom, 217218
wonder, 9, 8586, 145, 157167
and God, 8586
faith, 157
Wordsworth, William, 87, 205
Wright, Nicholas Thomas, 19, 205, 237