Arts and Culture

The Human Person: A Drive Toward God

Second in a series

Many years ago, my bishop asked me to go to graduate school so that I could teach in a college seminary which he was then planning. If he had given me a choice which subject I should obtain a doctorate in, I would have chosen theology rather than philosophy. In fact, I recall a classmate expressing his sadness to me that the bishop had chosen philosophy.

Now looking back over the many  years that I have taught philosophy, I am glad the bishop made the choice he did. In fact, his choice now seems providential. If my degree had been in theology rather than in philosophy I might not have had the wonderful experience of teaching religion in three secular colleges.

New Insights, Enrichment

One of the nicest experiences in teaching philosophy is gaining new insights into material with which you are already familiar, and may have taught several times previously. Another is discovering that philosophical insights can enormously enrich personal experience.

From the time I began to teach, I have loved teaching philosophy. In reading some philosophical texts with students this past semester, I re-gained insights that make the communication of knowledge to others almost a holy experience. For these insights, I am grateful to St. Thomas Aquinas and Father W. Norris Clarke, S.J.

I don’t think I will ever again wonder whether teaching philosophy is related to what is most important in life. Accepting some philosophical truths can change a person’s life.

Reflecting on knowing and loving, Father Clarke 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 as 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 beyond it to search for more … to recognize anything as finite is already implicitly to have reached beyond it, at least in desire. To recognize a prison as a prison is already to have reached beyond it in desire and imagination. 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, 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 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 in “The One and the Many,” University of Notre Dame Press, 2001).

Part of the Journey

I am aware that this lengthy quote is not easy reading, but I hope readers take time to reflect on it and embrace its importance, beauty and truth. What it means to me is this: that the experiences of teaching and learning can be religious activities because they can be part of our journey toward God, Who is Unlimited Truth and Unlimited Good. On that journey, what we come to know and what we come to love can make a significant difference in our lives.

The more profound the truths we embrace, the more we are aided on our journey toward God. Masterpieces will certainly profit us more than pornography. If what we love is profoundly good and beautiful, that will move us more toward Unlimited Good and Unlimited Beauty.

Father Clarke’s insights have helped me to see how important a great education can be, and appreciate what a blessing it would be to belong to a community in which people really love one another.

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and author of “Pope Francis’ Profound Personalism and Poverty” (Resurrection Press).

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