Merton on “the world” & God

Ordinary Time 23 – Monday
Feast day of the Nativity of the BVM/Nativity of theTheotokos

Funny how this particular feast day is in the liturgical calendar. Not that “Our Lady” was actually born on September 8. Or for that matter, Christ was born on December 25. And that the Annunciation to “Our Lady” by St. Gabriel, the archangelis on March 25. And given that I have theological doubts as to whether the Immaculate Conception of the BVM is an actual dogma to be believed de fide by the faithful (personally, I do think it’s just a pious opinion that helps to skimp around the Augustinian view of the transmission of “original sin”), today is a day of thanksgiving to God for the birth of his “handmaiden” (Lk 1:38) who truly became the Theotokos, the God-bearer (or in her traditional title, the Mother of God).

V. Ecce Ancilla Domini.
R. Fiat mihi secundum Verbum tuum.

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostræ. Amen.


Some passages from Fr. Louis’ (Thomas Merton OCSO) The Seven Storey Mountain (TSSM) that have been on my mind today.

Merton on the world in TSSM:

“If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world is the concupiscence of the flesh and the concupiscence of the eyes and the pride of life.” That is to say, all men who live only to their five senses, and seek nothing beyond the gratification of their natural appetites for pleasure and reputation and power, cut themselves off from that charity which is the principle of all spiritual vitality and happiness because it alone saves us from the barren wilderness of our own abominable selfishness.

It is true that the materialistic society, the so-called culture that has evolved under the tender mercies of capitalism, has produced what seems to be the ultimate limit of this worldliness. And nowhere, except perhaps in the analogous society of pagan Rome, has there ever been such a flowering of cheap and petty and disgusting lusts and vanities as in the world of capitalism, where there is no evil that is not fostered and encouraged for the sake of making money. We live in a society whose whole policy is to excite every nerve in the human body and keep it at the highest pitch of artificial tension, to strain every human desire to the limit and to create as many new desires and synthetic passions as possible, in order to cater to them with the products of our factories and printing presses and movie studios and all the rest.

Etienne Gilson in The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy as quoted in TSSM:

When God says that He is being and if what He says is to have any intelligible meaning to our minds, it can only mean this: that He is the pure act of existing.

Beyond all sensible images, and all conceptual determinations, God affirms Himself as the absolute act of being in its pure actuality. Our concept of God, a mere feeble analogue of a reality which overflows it in every direction, can be made explicit only in the judgement: Being is Being, an absolute positing of that which, lying beyond every object, contains in itself the sufficient reason of objects. And that is why we can rightly say that the very excess of positivity which hides the divine being from our eyes is nevertheless the light which lights up all the rest: ipsa caligo summa est mentis illuminatio.

When St. Jerome says that God is His own origin and the cause of His own substance, he does not mean, as Descartes does, that God in a certain way posits Himself in being by His almighty power as by a cause, but simply that we must not look outside of God for a cause of the existence of God.

Merton on God in TSSM:

… the one big concept which I got out of its pages was something that was to revolutionize my whole life. It is all contained in one of those dry, outlandish technical compounds that the scholastic philosophers were so prone to use: the word aseitas. In this one word, which can be applied to God alone, and which expresses His most characteristic attribute, I discovered an entirely new concept of God—a concept which showed me at once the belief of Catholics was by no means the vague and rather superstitious hangover from an unscientific age that I had believed it to be. On the contrary, here was a notion of God that was at the same time deep, precise, simple, and accurate and, what is more, charged with implications which I could not even begin to appreciate, but which I could at least dimly estimate, even with my own lack of philosophical training.

Aseitas—the English equivalent is a transliteration: aseity—simply means the power of a being to exist absolutely in virtue of itself, not as caused by itself, but as requiring no cause, no other justification for its existence except that its very nature is to exist. There can be only one such Being: that is God. And to say that God exists a se, of and by and by reason of Himself, is merely to say that God is Being Itself. Ego sum qui sum. And this means that God must enjoy “complete independence not only as regards everything outside but also as regards everything within Himself.”

What a relief it was for me, now, to discover not only that no idea of ours, let alone any image, could adequately represent God, but also that we should not allow ourselves to be satisfied with any such knowledge of Him.

+ Pax et bonum,
bf 2356hrs


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