I decided to record another reading of my blogpost, for what it’s worth. I recorded it outside, as you can hear. I will leave the text below if you’d prefer not listening. Here’s the audio:
Shut down mode
One of my sons summed up well the effects of this paradox on the narrow frames of our common human experience. When he was 13 or so years old, we had a three hour conversation one evening — till after midnight! — about God’s eternity. We were exploring the idea that God has no source, no origin, no beginning; that God’s power and knowledge came from no-where. We talked in particular about the “unique” mystery of God the Father, who alone, in the eternal Trinity, is in an absolute sense without origin, i.e. that He is unbegotten, eternally begetting the Son and, with the Son, breathing forth the Spirit. I shared with him St. Irenaeus of Lyon’s argument that only the Son became flesh to “safeguard the invisibility of the Father, to prevent man from treating God with contempt and to set before him a constant goal toward which he makes progress.” Then I shared with him that God is, in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, ipsum esse subsistens, “self-subsistent Being,” which means God is the un-caused cause of His own beginningless existence. After that remark, my son said,
Okay I have to stop now, Dad; my brain just shut down.
I wrote later a brief reflection on my son’s comment:
Precisely in that moment of “shut down” is when theology turns into liturgy. That moment when you really know you don’t know, when you slam against the limits and taste a knowledge of God that is living and beyond all of your hedged-in categories. Only in the mental “space” of that moment can you really become vulnerable to God as God, to receiving God out-of-the-box, un-caged from comprehensibility. That said, it’s not that you’re now free to simply deny the possibility of knowing God and declare yourself an agnostic who realizes there are better things to do than waste your time thinking about the unthinkable. No! Rather, it’s only at that moment of “shutdown” that you become rightly receptive, properly disposed to meet the infinite God who leaps out of His mystery, out of His infinity, out of His incomprehensibility in order to reveal Himself to me. More, to give Himself to me. Why does God reveal Himself to such seemingly unfit recipients? To open us not to concepts, He does this, but to the knowledge that is a form of loving; a love that leads to the union of knower and known. The union of the itty and infinity — unthinkable! — raises the finite creature to the level of the infinite God. Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Divine love bridges the abyss that separates finite and infinite. The Word born of the Father before all ages is born in our flesh, so that we might in turn be born of God (John 1:13-14). Divine images made capax infiniti Dei, “capable of the infinite God.”
As the 4th century Liturgy of St James says, “Let all mortal flesh keep silent, and with fear and trembling stand. Ponder nothing earthly-minded, for the King of kings and Lord of lords advances to be slain and given as food to the faithful. Before him go the choirs of Angels, with every rule and authority, the many-eyed Cherubim and the six-winged Seraphim, veiling their sight and crying out the hymn: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”
As He descends into our depths, God’s mystery is disclosed by His love that cannot remain hidden from man, whom He loves for reasons that — like the folly of the cross itself — transcend all reason.
Pope Benedict XVI also expressed this great mystery memorably,
If the painful history of the human and Christian striving for God proves anything, it surely proves this: that any attempt to reduce God to the scope of our own comprehension leads to the absurd. We can only speak rightly about him if we renounce the attempt to comprehend and let him be the uncomprehended. Any doctrine of the Trinity, therefore, cannot aim at being a perfect comprehension of God. It is a frontier notice, a discouraging gesture pointing over to unchartable territory. It is not a definition that confines a thing to the pigeonholes of human knowledge, nor is it a concept that would put the thing within the grasp of the human mind.
Theology in its essence is an act of adoration, not of comprehension. Amen.