Lacordaire on The Blessed Trinity and Eve
In his lecture entitled "The Inner Life of God", which he gave in the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris in the 19th century, the great Dominican preacher, Father Henri-Dominique Lacordaire, set out to prove that God is not a solitary being eternally employed in a sterile contemplation of Himself; and that the universe, although it is His work, is not His proper and personal life. He says that Catholic doctrine teaches us that the divine life consists in the co-eternal union of three equal persons, in whom plurality destroys solitude, and unity division; whose thought corresponds, whose love is mutual, and who, in that marvellous communion, identical in substance, distinct in personality, form together an ineffable association of light and love. He quotes St. John the Apostle:
"There are three who give testimony in heaven: the Father, the Word, the Holy Ghost. And these three are one." (1 John v.7).
God is infinite fecundity
Before we can understand something of the divine life, says Lacordaire, we have to ask: What is life? But first, we must learn what being is; for life is a certain state of being. So, what is being?
Every being, even the most inert in appearance, is active. It condenses, it resists foreign efforts, it attracts and incorporates to itself elements which obey it. A grain of sand is in contest and in harmony with the whole universe, and maintains itself by that force which is the very seat of its being, and without which it would become lost in the absolute incapacity of nothingness.
Activity is the permanent and common characteristic of all that is. It follows that being and activity are one and the same thing. So, being is activity. When St. Thomas Aquinas defines God, who is being in its total reality, he says: "God is pure act."
But, says Lacordaire, activity supposes action, and action is life. To live is to act. The action of a being is equal to its activity. It follows that in God there is infinite action: infinite action constitutes in God the very life of God. An action is a movement. But movement supposes an object. So, action is a productive movement. Fecundity — fruitfulness — is the extreme and complete term of production. So, the activity of a being is resumed in its fecundity. In vain, says Lacordaire, from one pole to the other, from man to the worm of the earth, do I seek sterility. It is rigorously exact to say that life is fecundity, and that the fecundity is equal to the life. Therefore, God is infinite fecundity:
We must, then, conclude that the life of God is exercised within Himself by an infinite and sovereign fecundity.
"Life", he continues, "is an indivisible tissue of numberless relations." A relation, he explains "consists in the bringing together of two distinct terms. The perfect conjunction of the terms is unity; their perfect distinction is plurality, and consequently, their perfect relation is unity in plurality." Fecundity is "the natural principle of unity in plurality". So, the purpose of fecundity is "to produce relations between beings, that is to say, to give an object to and a reason for their activity."
A unique substance containing distinct "terms of relation"
Lacordaire then confronts the fundamental question: How can a being who is one and indivisible at the same time be many?
He answers by changing the question to: Why should God need to be many? The answer to this is straightforward: to possess relations in Himself, those relations without which we can neither conceive activity, nor life, nor being.
But God is not many by the division of His substance, which, being infinite, is indivisible. Therefore, the substance of God is the seat of His unity. It also produces "in itself, without being divided, terms of relation, that is to say, terms which are the seat of plurality in relation to unity."
To show that there is neither obscurity nor contradiction in the proposition that God is a unique substance, containing in His indivisible essence terms of relation really distinct in themselves, Lacordaire draws the analogy with space. Space is a capacity, "constituted by three terms of relation, length, breadth and height", which in their evident distinction, form together but one single and indivisible extent, which is space.
More positively even than space is body. Every body has length, breadth and height. Since God is both the principle and the pattern of all things, it should not surprise us that "there is nothing in nature, space and body, that which contains and that which is contained, which does not fall under this definition as simple as it is marvellous — a unique substance in three terms of relation really distinct from each other."
An individual being which possesses consciousness and knowledge of its individuality, and which sees itself living and distinct from all that is not itself, is a person. Personality is nothing else than "individuality having consciousness and knowledge of itself. Individuality is the characteristic of bodies: personality is the characteristic of spirits". Lacordaire continues:
God is an infinite spirit; all that which constitutes Him, substance and terms of relation, is spirit. Consequently, each term of the divine relations possesses consciousness and knowledge of itself, sees itself distinct from the others as term of relation, one with them as substance: its distinction marks its relative individuality; consciousness and knowledge of its individuality make it a person.
Triune God unknown to Muslims and Jews
It must be obvious by now that the triune God of Catholic belief cannot in any way be identified with the god of Islam, or Judaism for that matter.
"God is a spirit; His first act, then," says Lacordaire, "is to think." He explains:
In God, whose activity is infinite, the mind at once engenders a thought equal to itself, which fully represents it, and which needs no second expression, because the first has exhausted the abyss of things to know, that is to say, the abyss of the infinite. That unique and absolute thought, the first-born of the mind of God, remains eternally in His presence as an exact representation of Himself, or, to use the language of the sacred books, as "His image, the brightness of his glory, and the figure of his substance" (Cor. iv.4, Heb. i.3). It is His word, His utterance, His inner word. This is the perfect word which "St. John heard in heaven when he opened his sublime Gospel: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John i.1)."
And, continues Lacordaire, "even as in man the thought is distinct from the mind without being separated from it, so, in God, the thought is distinct without being separated from the divine mind which produces it." But, unlike in man, in God, the thought attains to becoming a person.
Lacordaire expands his beautifully logical, closely reasoned exposition:
From the coeternal regard interchanged between the Father and the Son, springs a third term of relation, proceeding from the one and the other, really distinct from them, raised by the force of the infinite to personality, and which is the Holy Ghost, that is to say, the holy, the unfathomable and stainless movement of divine love. As the Son exhausts knowledge, the Holy Ghost exhausts love in God, and by Him the cycle of divine fecundity and life closes.
Plurality in unity: man reflects the Trinity
In a later lecture in Notre Dame Cathedral, entitled "Man as a Social Being", Lacordaire says that, after creating Adam, God declared His further design by saying, "It is not good for man to be alone" (Gen. ii.18). No being is alone. Isolation is the negation of life. Man, "deprived of relations with beings of the same form and degree, would not have sufficed for the greatness of the position which he was charged to occupy." Man, he points out, "was to extend without being divided, to increase in number in order to increase in union, and to become, in the majesty of number and the harmony of union, a theatre of virtues such as the perfection of the universe and his own perfection required."
When God had uttered that beautiful expression, "It is not good for man to be alone", the Scriptures tell us that He caused a deep and mysterious sleep to fall upon Adam, our first father.
This, says Lacordaire, was because
He willed that no other thought than His own should intervene in the act which was about to give plurality to man without destroying his unity.
Taking the eternal order of the divine society as the pattern of human society, He designed that there should not only be moral unity in the relations between man and man; but that these relations should take their source in one substantial unity, imitating as much as possible the tie that unites the three uncreated persons in an effable perfection.
Eve necessarily formed from Adam
Was it necessary, asks Lacordaire, to create by Adam's side "an image of himself, without other community than likeness, and cause the human race to spring from one primitive being associated with a second?" No, he concludes, since
It would have destroyed unity in the very root from whence is should blossom. There would have been two bloods, and only one was required. It was needful that all mankind should come from one single man, in order that living plurality should spring from living unity, and that man, multiplied without division, should recognise in his fellow creature, emanated from himself, "the bone of his bones and the flesh of his flesh" (Gen. ii.23).
God did not touch Adam's brow. "However beautiful the faculty of intelligence may be, it is not the term of our perfection." He placed His hand
upon the bosom of man; there, where the heart by its movement marks the course of life; there, where all the holy affections have their echo and rebound. God listened for a moment to that heart so pure which He had just created, and by a thought of His omnipotence removing a part of the natural shield that covered it, He formed woman of the flesh of man, and her soul of the same breath which had made the soul of Adam.
After God had led to man his companion, "He pronounced over them in these terms the blessing of inexhaustible fecundity: "Increase and multiply, and fill the earth" (Gen. i.28). And with these words, efficacious like all the words of God, man received the gift of producing and perpetrating the miracle of the diffusion of his being, in offshoots personally distinct from himself, but one with him in form and blood."
"This," said Adam, "is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man [the Hebrew makes this much clearer]; wherefore shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall be two in one flesh" (Gen. ii. 23, 24). Such, says Lacordaire,
is the law of family, society, civilisation; such is the oracle which will forever regulate the condition of mankind. Every legislator who may despise its commandment will but found barbarism; no nation that withdraws from it will ever attain to the era of justice and holy morality."
Clearly, the above reasonings of Lacordaire have urgent contemporary relevance: