Man, the Infinite, and Everything In-Between

“To say that ‘the nature of man is a relation with the infinite’ indicates that every person is created so that he can enter into a dialogue with God, with the Infinite.”

Pope Benedict XVI, Letter to the Bishop of Rimini, August 12, 2012.

Earlier in August, a conference entitled “The nature of man in relation to the Infinite” was held the Italian city of Rimini. On this occasion the Holy Father wrote a letter to the members of the conference. The pope thought the title was particularly pertinent because of the Year of Faith and the Fiftieth Anniversary of the beginning of Vatican II.

“To speak of man and of his ardent desire for the infinite indicates above all recognition of man’s constitutive relation with the Creator.” The pope adds that “Man is a creature of God.” He then reflects soberly that today this word “Creator” seems out-of-date. People prefer to talk of man as “a being who is the maker of himself and the absolute fabricator of his own proper destiny.”

When we consider man as a “creature,” however, the idea proves inconvenient for modern man. It suggests that man’s being has an essential reference to something “higher and better,” to “Someone” higher who is not simply “manipulated by man.” Here man’s being in relation to God would rightly include his identity, an identity which is not capable of being refashioned by man. Man’s being, of its very nature, is “relational.” It is not complete by itself.

The first datum about our being is that it has an original and ontological dependence on “Him who has willed and created us.” This dependency, from which contemporary man strives to free himself, does not, however, hide or diminish him. Rather it reveals in a luminous way his grandeur and his supreme human dignity. He is called to enter a life in relation with “Life itself, with God.”

To maintain that “the nature of man is a relation with the Infinite” is to say that “every person is created so that he can enter into a dialogue with God, with the Infinite.” Adam and Eve themselves are the result of an act of love of God. They are made in the “image and likeness of God.”

Original sin has its ultimate root in the efforts of our first parents to withdraw themselves from this relation to God. They wished to place themselves in the stead of God. As Psalm 63 teaches us, both our body and soul are made to find peace, its realization, in God. This seeking cannot be cancelled in our hearts. We can find “false infinites” that only satisfy us for a time. The alternatives of drugs, disordered sexuality, all-encompassing technology, success at any cause, especially disguised in a religious mode, will not satisfy us.

The good things that God has created can become idols that substitute for God. They can be absolutized. When we recognize that we are created for the Infinite, we run along a path that seeks conversion of heart and mind. We have to uproot all the false premises about the Infinite that seduce man and make him a slave. Truly to rediscover ourselves, to live at the height of our proper being, we need to recognize ourselves as creatures that depend on God.

To recognize this dependence—it is really a joyful to be children of God—is truly a free way. St Paul says in Romans that the contrary of slavery is not so much freedom as it is filiation, in our receiving the Holy Spirit, in which we can call God “Father.” Paul contrasts our situation not with freedom or autonomy but with slavery to Christ. The main point then is not to eliminate dependence, which is constitutive of our nature, but to direct it towards Him who alone can make us free.

This question brings us directly to the heart of Christianity. The Infinite itself has taken on a finite form. From the Incarnation, from the moment when the Word became flesh, He has cancelled the “infinite distance between the Infinite and the finite.” The eternal and infinite God has left his everlasting heaven to enter into time. He immersed Himself :in human finiteness.” Nothing then is banal in the ways of the world. “Man is made by an infinite God who has become flesh, who has assumed our humanity to attract it to the level of the divine being.” Nothing in our reflections can imagine this real finality of our being that we are freely invited to accept.

The “truest dimension of human existence” is that of “life as a vocation.” Every thing, every relationship, every joy, as well as every difficulty, finds its ultimate reason in the relation to the Infinite, the voice of God that continually calls us and invites us to raise our gaze, to discover in the adhesion to  Him “the full realization of our humanity.”

We should have “no fear” of that which God asks us across the circumstances of our lives. He even may ask also the total dedication of our lives as a religious or priest. He calls all to live a human life related to the Infinite. God has at heart “our happiness and our full human realization.” Let us ask then, with “the gaze of faith” that characterizes the saints, to be able to discover the seeds of the good that the Lord casts along the pathways of our lives and adherer with joy to our vocation. We are beings whose relation to the Infinite is what constitutes the drives and searchings of our whole lives.

About James V. Schall, S.J. 160 Articles

James V. Schall, S.J. taught political philosophy at Georgetown University for many years until recently retiring. He is the author of numerous books and countless essays on philosophy, theology, education, morality, and other topics. His most recent book is Reasonable Pleasures: The Strange Coherences of Catholicism (Ignatius Press). Visit his site, “Another Sort of Learning”, for more about his writings and work.