Monday, May 17, 2010

Distance from God and Ourselves

R. Garrigou-Lagrange comments: “God is more distant from creatures than any creatures are to each other.” This is connected to two ideas. First, as Lateran IV states, the difference between God and creatures is greater than any similarity between them. Second, all creatures have this in common: that their natures are distinct from the Divine Nature. There is a difference in kind between Creator and creature; and since the Creator's nature is infinite, that distance is infinite. Yet theologians insist that God is closer to us than we are to ourselves, for He created us, He sustains us in being, and He knows us through and through as we can never know ourselves. Thus, if God is closer to us than we are to ourselves, but God is also infinitely distant to us, then we are infinitely distant to ourselves, which is somewhat disconcerting


Lee Faber said...

Let me guess... Fr. Garrigou's next comment is how scotistic univocity is in violation with Lateran IV and the Nicene Creed? A very judicious selection on your part.

Brother Charles said...

Sometimes our distance from ourselves is mercy, in the case that we are protected from vanity by ignorance of how good we are, or protected from despair by ignorance of the depth of our sin. Just something I sometimes think about in the care of souls.

Matthew said...

I think the 'distance' referred to is different in both cases. In other words not the same thing under the same respect. God is far above us in his essence and this is referred to as being "distant" from us but that doesn't mean he is actually far away when it comes to literal presence or being in things.

Asello Guzman said...


I think what you've said is correct: there is some equivocation here.

God is infinitely distant from us in nature. His distance from us due to knowledge is somewhat different. On the one hand, He is infinitely distant from us as principle of knowledge insofar as He is the complete cause of ourselves, which is fully known by Him. In addition, only He can know the innermost thoughts and volitions of our souls: not even the angels can directly know this (though there are signs of these things). We are only potentially fully knowable to ourselves; it is unclear whether or not we will even fully know ourselves in the beatific vision. We will certainly know God fully, but not comprehensively; perhaps the same could be said of ourselves. On the other hand, precisely because God knows us fully and intimately (as well as sustains us in being, etc.), He is more intimate to ourselves than we are. Since we are not self-caused, our existence is extraneous to our essence, as it were. Unless you follow Scotus' doctrine about such things, which I don't understand.

So God is infinitely distant to ourselves by nature; but He is also closer to us than we are to ourselves due His operations. We cannot be infinitely distant to ourselves by nature (i.e., my humanity is not infinitely distant from "Asello", which is a particular instantiation of that nature). It seems that we are infinitely distant from ourselves due to the human operations of knowing and willing.

Matthew said...

Interesting material Asello. There are a couple of points I would query however:

1) was not sure what you distinction is between "fully" and "comprehensively." My understanding is some theologians teach that we will know everything that pertains to ourselves.

2) Whether we are infinitely distant from ourselves in operations would depend on first settling whether there is for instance, an infinite number of things to know about ourselves. My intuition is there would not be.

Asello Guzman said...


ad 1) "Fully" indicates that our knowledge of God will no longer be mediated through a creature (e.g., by our knowledge of created things, or through some sort of idea), since we will see Him face to face as he is. Since there will no longer be a partial, imperfect knowledge and communion of God as object and goal, it can be called "full".

2) Our knowledge of God will not be comprehensive, meaning that we will not know all things about God, for only a divine intellect can have the infinite extent necessary for such a knowledge. The Church teaches that, after death, we will see our lives in light of God's judgment and then know our virtues and vices. One could argue that this means knowing all aspects of ourselves as human, insofar as all human acts are (ultimately) either morally good or evil. True, there are not an infinite actual number of things to know about ourselves, but it is reasonable to think even in heaven we necessarily know whatever does not pertain to our salvation in some way (if there is anything in that category).

But even if we know ourselves fully and comprehensively, it will be insofar as we participate in the knowledge that God has of such. If our knowledge in such a case is actually distinct from His, then it seems to me that His knowledge of us will still be infinitely greater than ours of ourselves -- not because He will know "more" than we do, but because His way of knowing it will be due to His Infinite Being, whereas our will be due to our finite operation.