"Obedience is a short cut to perfection."

St Philip Neri

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"A single act of uniformity with the divine will suffices to make a saint."

St Alphonsus de Liguori

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"Spiritual persons ought to be equally ready to experience sweetness and consolation in the things of God, or to suffer and keep their ground in drynesses of spirit and devotion, and for as long as God pleases, without their making any complaint about it."

St Philip Neri

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Fr Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.  (1877 - 1964)  taught at the Angelicum in Rome from 1909 to 1960, and served for many years as a consulter to the Holy Office and other Roman Congregations.

 
  LIFE EVERLASTING
   

By Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange,OP

 

 PART 5 : HEAVEN (cont)

 

29. THE SUBLIMITY OF THE BEATIFIC VISION

 
To have a just idea of this vision, we must see its immediacy, its source, and its object, primary and secondary. [564]

This Vision Is Intuitive and Immediate

According to the definition of Benedict XII, [565] this act of the blessed intellect is a vision, clear, intuitive, immediate, of the divine essence. Without being comprehensive, it still enables us to know God as He is.

By its clarity this vision is distinguished from the obscure knowledge which we have of God, either by reason or by faith. By its intuitive and immediate character it is immeasurably superior to all knowledge that is discursive and analogical, which does not reach God except by using His effects as principle. This intuitive vision is higher than all abstraction, all reasoning, and all analogy. It is immediate intuition of the supreme reality of the living God. Hence it surpasses by far all vision, even the intellectual visions which the great mystics receive here on earth, because these visions remain within the order of faith and do not give intrinsic evidence of the Trinity. The beatific vision, on the contrary, does give this evidence, showing that God, if He were not triune, would not be God.

Hence we are called to see God, not only in the mirror of creatures, however perfect, not only by His highest radiations in the world of angels. We are called to see Him without the medium of any creature, to see Him better than we see those to whom we speak on earth, because God, being spiritual, will be most intimately present in our intelligence, which He fortifies with power to see Him.

Between God and ourselves there will be not even an intermediary idea, [566] because all created ideas, even infused ideas, however elevated, can be only limited participations in the truth, and cannot therefore represent God as He is in Himself: supreme Being, infinite Truth, Wisdom without measure, infinite and luminous source of all knowledge. No created idea could ever represent as He is in Himself Him who is thought itself. Thus the child's cup cannot contain the ocean. [567]

Further, we cannot express our contemplation in one word, even in an interior word, in a mental word, because this word, being created and finite, cannot express the Infinite as He is in Himself. This contemplation without medium absorbs us in some sense in God, leaving us without a word to express it, because only one word can express perfectly the divine essence, namely, the Word begotten from all eternity from the Father. The divine essence itself, sovereignly intelligible, more intimate to us than we ourselves are, will take the place of all created ideas, impressed and expressed. [568] In the order of knowledge we cannot conceive one more intimate than this, even though it be distinguished by different degrees.

Here on earth, when at some sublime spectacle, we cannot find words to describe it, we say that it is ineffable. With far higher reason is this true when we see God face to face.

This vision, though it is intuitive and without medium, is still not comprehensive. God alone can know Himself to the full extent of His knowableness. This limitation involves no contradiction. Here on earth many persons may see the same scene in different degrees, according as their vision is more or less good. Many intellects see one and the same truth more or less profoundly. Each grasps the proposition, subject, verb, and attribute, but more or less perfectly. Thus in heaven all the blessed see God without medium, but with a penetration that varies in proportion to their merits, but none as profoundly as God knows Himself, all that He is, all that He can do, all that He will do. [569]

The Light of Glory

This vision, intuitive and immediate, reaches the object of that uncreated vision whereby God knows Himself. It reaches Him less perfectly than He does Himself, but it reaches Him.

How is this possible? It would be absolutely impossible for any created or creatable intelligence left to its own natural forces, because these forces are proportioned to their own natural object, which is infinitely inferior to the object proper to the divine intellect. Any created intelligence therefore needs a supernatural light to elevate it, to fortify it, that it may be able to see God as He is in Himself. Otherwise it would be before Him as the owl before the sun; it would not see Him. [570]

This light, received in a permanent fashion in the intellects of the blessed, is called the light of glory. The Council of Vienne [571] condemns those who "maintain that the human soul does not have to be elevated by the light of glory in order to see God and to have holy joy in Him."

Thus the beatific vision arises from the intellectual faculty as its radical principle, and secondly from the light of glory as its proximate principle. This light supernaturalizes the vitality of our intelligence, as the infused virtue of charity supernaturalizes the vitality of our will.

The light of glory and infused charity, thus received into our two higher faculties, themselves arise from the consummation of sanctifying grace, which is received, like a divine graft, into the essence of the soul. How well sanctifying grace merits the appellation, participation in the divine nature! Grace is a nature, a radical principle of operations, a principle which, fully developed, makes us able to see God as He sees Himself. In God the divine nature is the principle of operations strictly divine, the principle of His own uncreated vision of Himself. In the just soul in heaven, sanctifying grace is the radical principle of the intuitive vision of the divine essence, a vision which has the same object as the uncreated vision.

The Object of the Beatific Vision

The first and essential object is God Himself. The secondary object is creatures known in God.

The blessed see clearly and intuitively God Himself as He is in Himself, that is, they see His essence, His attributes, and the three divine persons. The Council of Florence says: "They see clearly God Himself, one and three, as He is." [572] Hence the beatific vision surpasses immeasurably, not only the most sublime human philosophy, but even the natural knowledge of the most elevated angels, even of any creatable angel. The blessed see the divine perfections, concentrated and harmonized in their common source, in the divine essence which contains them all, eminently and formally, in a far higher way than white light contains the colors of the rainbow. Thus the blessed see how mercy the most tender, and justice the most inflexible, proceed from one and the same love, infinitely generous and infinitely holy. They see how this same love identifies in itself attributes apparently the most opposed. They see how mercy and justice are united in each and every work of God. They see how uncreated love, even in decisions the most free, is identified with wisdom. They see how this love is identified with sovereign good, loved from all eternity. They see how wisdom is identified with the first truth, always known. They see how all these perfections are one in the essence of Him who is. They contemplate this pre-eminent simplicity, this purity and absolute sanctity, this quintessence of all perfection.

In this intellectual vision, never interrupted, they see also how the infinite fecundity of the divine nature blossoms into three persons. They see the eternal generation of the Word, who is the splendor of the Father, figure of His substance. They see the ineffable spiration of the Holy Spirit, who is the terminus of the mutual love of the Father and the Son, who unites the Father and Son in the most intimate and mutual self-communication. Such is the primary object of the beatific vision.

Here below we can but enumerate the divine perfections, one after the other. We do not see in what intimate manner they are in harmony. We do not see how infinite goodness harmonizes with the permission of evil, even of unspeakable malice. We know indeed that God does not permit evil except for a greater good, but we do not clearly see this greater good. But in heaven everything becomes clear, particularly the value of the trials we ourselves have suffered. We shall see how divine goodness, essentially self-diffusive, becomes the principle of mercy. On the other hand, we shall see how this same infinite goodness, having the right to be loved above all things, becomes the principle of justice. Here on earth we are like a man who has seen each color of the rainbow, but who has not yet seen white light. In heaven, seeing the uncreated Light, we shall see how the divine perfections, even the most widely different, are harmonized in Him and become one.

The blessed see in God, in the Word, also the holy humanity which the Son assumed for our salvation. They contemplate the hypostatic union, the plenitude of grace, of glory, and of charity in the holy soul of Jesus. They see the infinite value of His theandric acts, of the mystery of the Redemption. They see the radiations of that Redemption: the infinite value of each Mass, the supernatural vitality of the mystical body, of the Church, triumphant, suffering, and militant. They see with admiration what belongs to Christ, as priest for all eternity, as judge of the living and the dead, as universal king of all
creatures, as father of the poor.

In this same vision, the saints contemplate the eminent dignity of the Mother of God, her plenitude of grace, her virtues, her gifts, her universal mediation as co-redemptrix.

Further, since beatitude is a perfect state which satisfies all legitimate desires, each saint knows all others who are blessed, particularly those whom he has known and loved on earth. He knows their state, be they on earth or in purgatory. [573] Thus the founder of an order knows all that concerns his religious family, knows the prayers which his sons address to him. Parents know the spiritual needs of their children who are still in this world. A friend, reaching the end of his course, knows how to facilitate the voyage of friends who address themselves to him. St. Cyprian speaks thus: "All our friends who have arrived wait for us. They desire vividly that we participate in their own beatitude, and are full of solicitude in our regard." [574]

The beatific vision is one unique, unbroken act, measured by the one unique instant of an unchangeable eternity. It is an act that cannot be lost. It is the source of the happiness of the elect and, as we shall see later, of their absolute impeccability.

In this supernatural knowledge everything is harmonized. There is no longer danger of being too intent on secondary goods or of losing the chief good. The soul in heaven sees the corporeal world from on high, in perfect subordination to the spiritual world. The events of time are seen in their relation to the plenitude of eternity. God's deeds, natural or supernatural, are seen as radiations of God's action. The line of view is no longer horizontal, stretched out between past and future. It is the vertical view, which judges of everything from on high, in the light of supreme Truth.

This entire beatific world of knowledge leads the blessed soul to love God above all things, immovably, and to love creatures in Him only as manifestations of His infinite goodness.
 
 
 

   
 
564. St. Thomas, Ia, q 12. See also the Commentaries of Cajetan, John of St. Thomas, etc. See also Dict. theol. cath., "Intuitive."
565. Denz., no 530.
566. Ia, q. 12, a. 2.
567. Sometimes, during a storm at night, we may see a flash from one extremity of the heavens to the other. Now let us imagine a flash of lightning, not sensible but intellectual, similar to a lightning flash of genius, but one which subsists eternally, which would be Truth itself and Wisdom itself, and which at the same time would be a vivid flame of Love itself. This imagination will give us some idea of God
568. Ia, q. 12, a. 2, and the commentaries of Cajetan, John of St. Thomas, Gonet, the Salmanticenses, Billuart. The divine essence itself takes the place, both of the impressed species and of the expressed species, that is, of the mental word. Theologians often compare this intimate union in the order of knowledge to the union in the order of being brought about by the hypostatic union, the humanity of Jesus and the person of the Word, where the Word terminates and possesses the humanity. If this second union is not impossible, then the first, with still greater reason, must also be possible.
569. Ia, q. 12, a. 6, 7. God, so say the theologians, is seen in His entirety, but He is not totally seen in that entirety.
570. Ia, q. 12, a. 4, 5.
571. Denz., no. 475.
572. Ibid., no. 693.
573. Ia, q. 12 a. 10. That which the blessed see in God they do not see successively but simultaneously. The beatific vision, measured by participated eternity, does not tolerate succession. Things which the blessed see successively they see extra Verbum, by a knowledge inferior to the beatific vision and hence called the vision of evening whereas the beatific vision itself is
like an eternal morning. Cf. Dict. theol. cath., "Intuitive," cols. 2387 ff.
574. De immortalitate, chap. 25.