Thursday, February 2, 2012

"That Than Which Nothing Greater Can be Thought"

The third lesson/chapter of the Catholicism DVD /book is about "the ineffable mystery of God."  Ineffable is defined as "Too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words."  God is way too large for us to describe Him in words, though of course we expend lots of words trying.  Fr. Barron quotes St Anselm in this chapter:
[He] described God as "that than which nothing greater can be thought."  At first blush this seems straightfoward enough: God is the highest conceivable thing.  But the longer one meditates on Anselm's description, the stranger it becomes.  If God were simply the supreme being - the biggest reality among many - then god plus the world would be greater than God alone.  But in that case he would not be that than which nothing greater can be thought.  Zeus, for example, was, in ancient mythology, the supreme deity, but clearly Zeus plus the other gods, or Zeus plus the world of nature, would be greater than Zeus alone.  Thus the God whom Anselm is describing is not like this at all.  Though it is a very high paradox, the God whom Anselm describes added to the world as we know it is not greater than God alone.
God is larger than our vocabulary or anything we know of. God added to anything is not greater than God.  God doesn't become better or bigger or greater with us or our help.  God did not need to create the world or the universe or any of us in it to make Himself bigger.  It adds nothing to God whatsoever.  This is important to realize for many reasons, such as we're nothing without God.  He doesn't need us.  Pride is useless in that case.  It also helps us to realize that He must love us to create us and care for us.  If He doesn't get anything out of the deal, what other reason is there to create us and then keep us around?  We are made for this love and this relationship.  No matter how proud we get of our achievements, our function on this planet is to love God.  St Augustine said, "Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee."

I think this makes thinking on the Revelation of God to His people and then the Incarnation even more awe-inspiring.  The God that is beyond our imagination, who does not need us or the Universe, who creates with a word out of nothingness, sees it fit to communicate with us.  This same God loves us so much He Himself came from Heaven to provide a path, the path, to join Him in eternity.  For no reason aside from this perfect, merciful, wonderful love, God has created us and provided us with everything we need and more, including a ticket to Heaven.

That's just mind-blowing.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. (Joh 3:14-21)

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