By: Rev. Paul Scalia
What is holiness? Last week we considered it as “otherness.” In addition to this dimension, Saint Thomas identifies another. It is what he calls firmness — the “firmness…required for the mind to be applied to God.” What he calls firmness we may fairly regard as wholeness. To be holy means to be whole and entire, undivided and integrated. Such is the firmness that enables us to apply our minds to God.
We find this wholeness in God Himself, first and foremost. God is one. There is no division in Him, no parts or pieces. When Scripture recounts God’s interior conversations (e.g. “Let us make man in our image” (Gen 1:26)…”My heart recoils within me” (Hos 11:8b)), it is to put things in terms we can understand — not because God needs to come to agreement with Himself or because the Persons of the Trinity need to hash things out before making a decision.
The doctrine of the Trinity — seemingly so contrary to oneness — in fact enhances this dimension of God’s holiness. God as a community of Persons does not violate but in fact deepens the meaning of His oneness, His wholeness. The oneness of the Triune God is not the solitary oneness of a bachelor (although that would be a fair description of Islam’s Allah). It is the sacred oneness, wholeness of a community of Persons — of love.
At the Incarnation, God extends this dimension of holiness to our human nature. In the Person of Jesus Christ there is no division between the divine and the human. And, perhaps more amazing to us, there is no division within His human nature. His body and soul, intellect and will, His passions all form one undivided whole — as God intended our human nature to be. Contrary to modern depictions, our Lord was never conflicted or at odds with Himself. He never had an identity crisis or had to find Himself. Indeed, what drew people to our Lord was precisely this wholeness and integrity. He was not one thing today and another tomorrow, nor did He speak or act this way to that crowd and that way to this crowd. Even the Pharisees sought Him out because of this integrity — because, as an older translation has them say, “neither carest thou for any man” (Mt 22:16b). They could not tempt Him from His mission because there was no division within Him to exploit.
Even our Lord’s agony in the garden — which some have tried to make an instance of division — even that witnesses to His unity and oneness. That agony is precisely the expression of His human will’s union with the divine. Jesus’ initial drawing back from the Cross manifests His human nature and that we are not created for death: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” The conclusion to His prayer manifests the unity of His human and divine wills: “nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” There we find distinction…but no division.
Multiplicity and division is the stuff of sin and godlessness. God brings unity. He distinguishes without dividing. The evil one sets himself against this. In place of unity he brings division. In place of distinction he brings confusion — blending and blurring what should be distinct. Our word “diabolical” comes from the Greek “diaballein” which means, in effect, to throw apart. When we depart from the Holy One and toward sin, we are thrown apart, divided. Sin brings us into a life of dissolution — of being dissolved, dis-integrated. Evanesco in multis, Saint Augustine said during his sinful life in Carthage: I disappear into many things.
Again, we know this intuitively. The person who strikes us as holy “has it all together,” we might say. Not in the worldly sense, but in that such a person has unity of life, is whole and entire, integrated. Not only do we find no duplicity in such a person but we in fact encounter a disarming simplicity and candor. The saint is not tossed about according to circumstances or company. Rooted in the One Who is unchanging and unchangeable, the saint’s wholeness and constancy gives us a taste of God’s own firmness, His everlasting love.
Next week: Holiness Received, not Achieved (Having been sanctified…)