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The Divine Attributes Retreat
The Attributes of God
The Infinity of God
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
The achievement of the mind is to realize that God is beyond anything we can conceive. We might paraphrase that by saying that the greatest achievement of the human mind, the deepest and the highest thing we can know is to realize that God is beyond anything that we can conceive. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of realizing the greatness of God compared with the littleness, the smallness, the insignificance of everything which God has made. We tend to appreciate only what we can comprehend. The more we know someone or something, the deeper we understand, the more we appreciate, love, and are willing to do anything to acquire that which we know. We are so immersed in the world around us, so preoccupied with creatures that our most fundamental temptation is to underestimate the greatness of God.
Our purpose in this meditation will be to see what the Church teaches us about what she calls the absolute perfection of God or in other words the infinity of God; then briefly look at and try to grasp the meaning of infinity; and finally apply whatever we can grasp to our own spiritual life especially to our life of prayer.
From the very beginning, already in the Apostles Creed, every Christian believed in one God, the Father almighty. But not until modern times did the question arise of who is God. The most disastrous heresy prevalent in the modern age is the heresy which reduces God to human terms and makes him less than God. Any being who is less than infinite is not God.
By the time of the First Vatican Council - April 24, 1870, some major heresies affecting the nature of God began to infect the Christian world. Here is the teaching of the Church on "Who is God?" "The holy, catholic, apostolic, Roman Church believes and professes that there is one, true and living God. He is infinite in intellect and will and in every perfection."
Notice what the Church is telling us. She is not merely saying that there is only one God; not only that this one God created the visible and invisible world, the visible world of space and time, the invisible world of angels and human souls. One of the main reasons for this definition was to warn the Christian world: In God's name do not be seduced by the demonic errors of those like Marx or Hegel and Froerbach from whom Marx got his ideas about God. The most basic error that is shaking the modern world to its foundations - everything else is minor compared to this - the most fundamental error that is plaguing the world today is the one contrary to what the First Vatican Council defined. Once you postulate a God, once you imagine a God who is not perfect, who is not infinite, then man replaces God in the universe.
What does the Church mean by infinity (noun) or infinite (adjective) describing God? The God in whom we believe is infinite. How we need to know all that we can about who this God is in whom we so casually say we believe. Who is he? The word infinite and infinity, depending on how much mathematics we may have taken, is commonly used but it does not mean what we mean. Something may be infinite because it is capable of indefinite growth or progress or development. It has, if you wish, infinite possibility. The correct word in the Catholic vocabulary for infinity as scientists use it is indefinite, capable of indefinite progress, indefinite growth. Let them have the word, but be sure we know what we mean when we say God is infinite.
When we say that God is infinite we mean that he is actually limitless. God is not infinite in having infinite possibility; there is no possibility in God; God cannot become any more than he is; he has the absolute limit of all that being can be. When we say that God is infinite we affirm that God already has all perfection: he already is and was and will be absolutely perfect.
God must be infinite because God must exist. Unless God existed nothing else would exist. If - by a stretch of the imagination - if before anything existed there was nothing, what would there be now? Nothing. There had to be Being in order for any other beings to come into existence. And God who is the Being that had to exist, had to exist with the fullness of being, otherwise someone else would be God, not he, because then he would have had to receive from someone else what he lacks. In other words a finite god is a contradiction in terms.
Over the centuries of the world's history and surely since the time of Christ, both on the side of truth and on the side of error there have been a small handful of people who were the thinkers, the leaders. Most human beings are sheep, most people follow. Whatever else we call the modern world of about two hundred years, some of the most astute minds, shrewdest thinkers who have published volumes, have been unbelievers. So what happens? Millions follow them. Most people including, tragically, so many who call themselves Catholics and those who should be leaders - priests, religious, professors at nominally Catholic universities have all kinds of confused ideas. Once error enters the human mind it produces devastating results. And the most venomous error that has infected especially large parts of the intellectual world particularly in the west is the error regarding the infinity of God.
About fifteen years ago there was a national meeting of the National Conference of Major Superiors of Religious Women. Some six hundred Mothers General and Provincial Superiors attended this annual convention. The keynote speaker for that convention, Gregory Baum, an ordained priest, told the assembled leaders of the women's religious communities in the United States: "Will you please catch up with modern thoughts and stop praying to a God who you think is almighty and can answer your prayers." Is it any wonder that we have lost seventy thousand religious women in United States since the Council? Is it any wonder that vocations to religious communities of women have dropped by ninety-one percent in our country?
Let's look at some implications for our spiritual life of our faith in this absolutely perfect, infinite, almighty God. Whatever we believe about God can and should have practical consequences in our moral and spiritual life. I believe that our faith in God's infinity should have at least five consequences in our spiritual life.
First it should help us to see our own pathetic insignificance in comparison with the greatness of God. We are ever so close to ourselves; we are looking so constantly into this being who understandably we so deeply admire. We live in the brightness of our own apparent importance; yet I know of nothing we need more than to keep contrasting our own littleness, our own nothingness in comparison with the greatness of God. Multiply the intelligence of the five billion people on earth - madness compared to the wisdom of God. How stupid, how idiotically stupid we can be in thinking ourselves as having strengths. How intoxicated we can be with the bubble of greatness we think we have. By ourselves, left alone in naked mind we wouldn't even realize that God is infinite. If we are to grow and become more and more aware of God's greatness we must keep begging: "Dear God, may I know how great you are and please, dear Lord, show me how little I am."
Our awareness on faith of the infinity of God should help us to realize the littleness of anything this world has to offer us compared to what we hope to obtain in a sharing in the greatness of God. The most pathetic people that I have met have been the unhappy, wealthy people whom I've known. Christ in the gospel called them fools. But how blinded we can be and what we won't do to please the world, to get what the world can offer us, and not be willingly to pay the price that we have to pay to obtain a share in the infinite majesty and richness of God.
The more deeply we become aware, with the help of God's grace, of the greatness of God, indeed his absolute perfection and infinity, the more we will appreciate the shortness of this life compared with the share in God's endless life in eternity to which we all aspire. One of the blessings of living a long life is that as you look back to what chronologically were years, they seem like days. When I came here Thursday, it seemed to me I was just here last week. One of the gifts of grace that God wants to give us is that as we get closer to eternity time becomes infinitesimally small.
Our belief in God's infinity should help us to sacrifice even the greatest pleasures in this life and enable us to endure the greatest pains in order to obtain a share in the company of the infinite God. All the apostles especially Peter and Paul in their letters keep telling us from different angles, nothing in this world is to be compared with the glory to be revealed in us once we have reached the all-great God. we use the word sacrifice so much in our spiritual vocabulary that once in a while we should take a deeper look at the meaning of the word sacrifice because that is the price on earth to acquire a share in the wealth of the infinitude of God.
Sacrifice means that I surrender; I give up what is pleasant, what I like. That's one kind of sacrifice. But there is another form of sacrifice. This kind does not demand that I give up what I like but that I endure what I don't like. And between these two forms of sacrifice that's all there is to life here on earth. God puts, in different measures for different people, opportunities for us to give up, to sacrifice by surrender. And God, because he wants us to merit the heaven that awaits us, will send us more opportunities to endure pain and suffering depending on the treasure that is in store for us in the world to come. The greater the holiness, the greater the sanctity to which God is calling any one of us, the more surely we can expect God to demand of us the sacrifice of surrender by giving up things we like and the sacrifice of suffering by, enduring what we do not want. But I repeat, it is worth it. No matter how much we give up in this world it is as a drop in the ocean of God's infinity.
What is the value of strengthening our faith in the infinity of God? It should help us to pray, pray more fervently, pray in humble adoration and praise of the infinite God. The highest form of prayer we can offer to God is adoration. In other words we can pray by asking God for what we need; we can pray begging God for his mercy; we can pray by thanking God for favors and blessings he has been giving us; but the highest form of prayer that the human spirit can offer God is the prayer of humble adoration. And we will cultivate this most sublime prayer in the exact measure we deepen our realization of the greatness, the majesty, the sovereignty of God. Thank God on bended knees for anything in our lives which humiliates us, because it is a prayer of a humble person who is so overwhelmed by the greatness of God that all he can do call out:"Praise and glory be to you, almighty God; you alone deserve to be honored; you alone deserve to be praised. It was for you alone that the world was made."
"Lord Jesus, may I know myself as well as you, and desire nothing but only you. May I hate myself by loving you; may I do everything for the sake of you. May I humble myself and honor you. May I think of nothing save only you. May I die to myself and live to you. May I receive whatever happens as coming from you. May I banish self and follow you and ever desire to follow you. May I fly from myself and take refuge in you in order to merit being dependent by you. May I fear for myself while fearing you and be among those who are chosen by you. May I distrust myself and trust in you. May I be willing to obey for the sake of you. May I cling to nothing save only you. And may I be poor because of you. Look upon me that I may love you; call me that I may see you and forever enjoy you. Amen." (St. Augustine)
There is only one purpose we have in life: to believe in God's infinity here on earth and to possess the infinite God in the life to come.
Transcription of the retreat given in December, 1988
Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica
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