Christendom, Sacrality in the Temporal Order – Part II

January 25, 2018

Continued from Part I

“The human soul is so sociable that it will realize its eternal destiny in a social life that will have a purely spiritual object”

A Courteous Greeting, painted by Otto Eerelman

These notions concerning sociability and the social life of the angels are applicable to the human soul inasmuch as the latter is entirely spiritual as such. However, we would be seriously mistaken if, when transposing these notions of the angelic kingdom to earthly society we failed to take into account the fact that the human soul was created to live connected to a material body designed to make one person with it; and that therefore the whole spiritual nature of the human soul is ordained to this consortium with matter, and only in this consortium it finds its entirely normal way of being and acting.

So intimate is this consortium that in the period [after man’s death] when the soul lives [in Heaven] dissociated from the body and waiting for the resurrection, it finds itself so to speak in a state of anomaly, violence, albeit certainly painless because it enjoys heavenly happiness, but at any rate in a state of authentic violence that only the resurrection will cause to cease. When our soul returns to its own body it will not do so as if returning to a prison, but as one that joyfully regains the fullness of itself.

In order to consider the role of the spirit and that of matter in the specifically spiritual operations of man and therefore in the sociability and social life of his soul, let us first of all remember that non habemus hic civitatem [our abode is not on this earth]. We were created for the same purpose as the angels, and raised as they were to the supernatural order. And in that eternity before which the earthly life is a mere instant, we must participate in the spiritual society of the angels, contemplating, loving, praising, and serving God.

The Emperor, Blessed Charles I of Austria, shortly after his death.

Such is the affinity between the nature and the operations of our soul and those of the angelic spirits. Our body will certainly participate in these operations, but in the state of a glorified body, that is to say, as it were so embedded in the spirituality of our soul and in the grace of God that its own way of being and operating will be as it were sublimated beyond the level proper to mere human nature, and fixed in immortality.

Having made these reservations [as to the role of the body], we see that the human soul is so sociable that it will realize its eternal destiny in a social life that will have a purely spiritual object.

Man has essentially the same purpose on earth and in heaven: to know, love, praise and serve God

This can help us to better understand how life, and especially the social life of souls, is accomplished in earthly existence; and how this authentic social life has entirely spiritual values as its object.

If our proper end is to know, love, praise and serve God, our nature, especially as elevated to the supernatural order must tend entirely to that end. In other words, all our mental and physical activities should be directed towards the knowledge of the truth and the practice of good.

This is true of our nature in heaven but also in earthly life, for human nature already is what it will eternally be, and therefore its fundamental tendencies already are what they will be in eternity.

And since earthly life cannot be contrary to our nature, it somehow already is on the natural plane, in its innermost substance and essence the same life of contemplation, love, praise and service of God that we will have in Heaven.

Man prepares for heaven contemplating the reflections of God in created things…

If that is the essence of our earthly life, we must remember that the way in which we carry out such operations here differs profoundly from the way in which we will perform them in heaven.

In eternity we will have the beatific vision without veils or obstacles. Our love will have reached a definitive fullness. Our praise and service will be unalloyed and unfaltering.

In earthly life, on the contrary, we are being tested. We have natural and supernatural gifts to preserve and develop. Even our best actions, and also our praise and service, are fraught with imperfections. Our normal way of being subjects us much more to matter than when our bodies will have been transfigured by glory. All this notwithstanding, it is quite true that man, even when most dissipated, actively contemplates. For us to realize this it suffices to clarify what contemplation concretely is in earthly life and on the natural plane.

What does a man do when he stops on the way to watch a military parade or religious procession, consider a building or panorama, observe a particularly serious or picturesque scene of daily life, or to watch a theater play? He contemplates, that is, he fixes his attention on a certain object, becomes aware of what is true or false, good or bad in it; accepts, consents, as it were assimilates in his soul the truth and the good; experiences a dissonance, rejects and as it were purges from his soul whatever bad thing the episode may have communicated to him.

Men, women and children line the streets in Brisbane, Queensland, to watch the procession of the 41st Battalion through Brisbane on Anzac Day, 1916.

Having before his eyes relative and contingent beings that reflect the absolute Being, through the channels of his senses man considers in those contingent beings something that exists absolutely in God; he appropriates as it were, that good in the very act of considering it and configures himself according to that good. In short, he performs a characteristically contemplative act, though marked by the inseparable conditions of this earthly life. Unfortunately, when carrying out such acts of contemplation many men do not ascend to God in any way but dwell in egoistic fruition, circumscribed to the relative being they have before them.

Often times their knowledge is vicious and welcomes error rather than truth; contemplation leads them to assimilate evil rather than good. Obviously, just as there are good contemplations, there are also bad contemplations. They are triumphs of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Nevertheless, the action performed is essentially contemplative, although it can be merely natural, and it is an affirmation that in man there is an irrepressible vein of contemplation.

This contemplation necessarily brings about praise or its antithesis, blasphemy; for as we have said, on Earth as in Heaven, as well as in hell, man is exclamative, prone to communicate what is in his soul. And this leads to service, for man naturally serves that which he loves, the City of God or the City of the Devil, truth or error, good or evil.

This is how the human soul already realizes on this earth, for its salvation or condemnation, the great operations that it goes on to carry out for all eternity. Of course, insofar as it is made in the light of the Faith, this contemplation is an operation animated by grace.

… receiving the impulse to know, admire, and relate to other men

From what has been said, it is clear that the human soul needs to come into contact with external objects on which it can exercise its activity. The hypothetical lack of such objects would atrophy its powers and reduce its life to the simple fact of existing.

Just as the human body can feed on bread and water but will become ill if it lives solely on those two nourishments for a long time, so also the human soul cannot feed on the mere consideration of one object or a very small number of objects.

Man with Two Loaves of Breads by Jean-François Raffaëlli.

In such case its operations would obviously exceed the boundaries of simple existence but would cause the soul to operate so defectively that an imbalance would ensue. This is what happens with certain workers who are forced by their profession to remain long hours with their attention focused on a single, simple, poor and almost asphyxiating such as, for example, observing a luminous sign for 10 or 12 hours daily and recording every minute on a sheet of paper when the light turns on or off. Perhaps some people with an exceptionally well-endowed mental makeup might recover from this work by changing their focus of attention in leisure time. Others, however, would succumb to something like an anemia. Our soul was made for the consideration of the Universe, of the whole ensemble of beings on which our senses normally tend to apply.

Of these beings, man himself is the one that occupies the central place in the scene, dominates the others, and in a sense is a compendium of them all. The human soul, naturally created to consider the Universe, is therefore prone with the greatest vehemence and by the deepest and most obstinate impulse of all its being to the contemplation of what is the most essential part of the Universe: other men. The whole Paradise with its delights was unfit for man before creation of the woman: “It was not good” for man to remain alone in it. Man’s essential propensity to accomplish on earth what he will do in heaven includes the need to know and to make contact with other men. And from the standpoint of the soul, which is the most important as far as man is concerned, in this is found the true necessity for social life.

In the conditions of earthly life the functions of knowing, loving, praising and serving God in the mirror of creation should naturally have as their more constant, richer, livelier and more direct object those creatures whose souls are the very image and likeness of God.

By contemplating a beautiful crystal, for example, one can understand the excellences of God

How are these operations carried out? By knowing better our neighbor, which is in the likeness of God we get to know better ourselves and God Himself. By assimilating in us the virtues of our neighbor we enrich our soul with something that is altogether connatural and which reflects God with a high content of reality. Thus, it is certain that we can have some idea of ​​love by considering the protection a hen gives to its chicks, and with that we can grow in virtue. But our idea will be much more perfect and our stimulus much more decisive if we consider a mother protecting her child. This is true to form an idea of ​​human love, and especially of divine love.

Contemplation is not just knowledge but love. One of the warmest and most irresistible affirmations of our sociability lies in this need to love and to be loved, which is inseparable from the nature of every man.

Our love turns with some suitability to the things of the mineral kingdom, the vegetable kingdom, the animal kingdom. We can love a beautiful crystal that we find lying on the ground during a walk; more suitably we love a plant, a rose for example; the word love becomes richer in meaning when its object is an animal, for example a dog, man’s faithful companion in good days and bad. But it is only properly love when it has as its object a being of our species. This latter love, incomparably greater than the others we have just enumerated, gives us an idea of ​​the love we owe to Him who is the absolute Being, the Being par excellence, the Being that substantially contains in Himself all perfections.

Contemplation is not mere knowledge or mere love: it is also assimilation. For love naturally produces assimilation between two beings. For this reason, one sees in man as one of the most essential traits of his nature a profound tendency to be influenced by other men, but especially by those whom he admires. To imitate is a tendency peculiar to all and is far from being degrading or ridiculous in itself.

Unworthy people can be the object of imitation. Also worthy persons can be the object of imitation, but someone may seek to assimilate their qualities in an excessively exact way and even in what is unmistakable in one person and unreachable by another. These are errors that exist in imitating as in any other human operation. But as such, to imitate, to assimilate is a legitimate function, a constant in the human mind, and satisfies the most profound demands of our being.

If we assimilate what we should and imitate who we should we perfect ourselves and increase our resemblance to God, reflected in the mirror of His creatures. To imitate and to serve as an example are obligations of every man; they are operations essential to the perfecting of the soul and are deeply inherent in the social life of souls. They are highly effective ways provided and endowed by Providence for man to exercise the powers of his soul, develop his spirit, and conquer that perfection which is the nuptial garment with which we are made fit for the perfect feast of the soul, which is the perpetual contemplation of God.

…continued here.


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