Faith & Thought

Our Grasping of the Truth And Our Love of Goodness

by Father Robert Lauder

I often have the impression that all the news about the contemporary world is bad. Of course this is not true, and I find that in trying to offset the bad news it is helpful for me to remind myself of some basic truths about the human person that I have learned from philosophy. 

One of the most important truths is what the experience of knowing and loving can tell us about our relationship with God. Serious reflection about our experience of knowing and loving can reveal to us that every person is magnetized by God. 

Not just Catholics or other persons who identify themselves as people of faith are magnetized by God, but every person, including atheists and agnostics, is magnetized by God. I find this truth very encouraging. 

What do I mean by claiming that everyone is magnetized by God? I mean that the human intellect or mind is oriented toward ultimate truth and the human will is oriented toward ultimate good. 

People have no choice about whether they are oriented toward ultimate truth and ultimate good. This is how God has made us. We do have a choice about what we are going to do with this orientation, but we have no choice about having the orientation. 

In his “The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics” (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001, 324 pp.) W. Norris Clarke, S.J. writes the following: 

“Reflective analysis of my conscious inner life of knowing and willing reveals that it is rooted in an unrestricted inner dynamism of my intellect toward the limitless horizon of all being as intelligible and of my will toward all being that is good. 

“This is revealed by the fact that every time I lay hold of some finite being as either true or good, my drive is at first temporarily satisfied, as I explore and enjoy it. But as soon as I discover the limits of the being — in either intelligibility or goodness — I spontaneously rebound myself to search for more. … 

“This process of temporary satisfaction and rebounding desire is repeated over and over endlessly throughout my whole life here, surrounded by finite beings, all limited in some way in intelligibility and goodness. … 

“Rather than endlessly repeating this process and never reaching satisfaction, I can step back, reflect on its significance, and then totalize the whole process and grasp intellectually its basic law: My intellect and will are such by nature that they can never be completely satisfied or fulfilled by any finite being or good. 

“I must always implicitly refer each one to a wider and richer horizon beyond, to which I then spontaneously tend. It follows that only an unqualified infinity or unlimited fullness of being and goodness could ever satisfy this innate drive which defines my nature as spiritual intellect and will. 

“Thus my very nature as a human person is to be an ineradicable implicit drive toward the Infinite, which I implicitly affirm and desire in all that I explicitly affirm and desire. As St. Thomas puts it with his usual terseness: ‘In knowing anything, I implicitly affirm God. … In loving anything, I implicitly love God’ ” (pp. 226-227). 

I realize that this quote from Norris’ book is dense and demands serious reflection. We could spend many hours thinking about it. I wanted to offer it to readers of this column because I think it is profoundly true and reveals implicitly the exciting journey that every person is on, whether a person is aware of being on a journey or unaware of being on a journey. 

What in our society would encourage us to realize that orientation toward God is part of our nature? I suspect very little. What in our society would encourage us to deeply reflect on the ultimate meaning of our knowing and loving? Once again, I suspect very little. 

Reflecting on Clarke’s analysis of our orientation toward God in our grasping the truth of being and our orientation toward God in our choosing the goodness of being, I am wondering if, without being explicitly aware of my motive, one of the reasons I write so often in this weekly column about great novels, films, and plays is that I am hoping that reflection on them might help both me and readers of the column to see our grasping of truth and our love of goodness is moving us toward God. 

I have come to believe that great works of art can play a special role in our journey toward ultimate union with God. Masterpieces have a special power to stop us in our tracks and move us to reflect on what is most important in our lives. They can be special, unique gifts. 

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.