- of the journey to God of reasoning creatures
Humans are built to crave happiness; it’s encoded in our
And there are millions of things that can make us happy: having
a child, seeing a loved one, having a great time at a party, going
to Italy, reading a great book, watching Star Trek, listening
to Mozart, creating or accomplishing something amazing, seeing
a wrong righted, seeing a loved one thrive.
Why do these things make us happy? Aquinas would say they make
us happy because they are good, and when we possess them, we are
happy. And why are they good? Because we desire them. And why
do we desire them? Because they are good! That's circular logic,
but it's also obvious, so we won't worry about it; we yearn for
the good and are happy when we possess it.
The question then becomes, what is the good that is at the top
of the list? What is the highest good, the good whose possession
truly quenches? This is the good that Aquinas is after. There
is nothing wrong with all the other goods that are out there;
they are right and just and needed for our flourishing. He just
wants to establish the nature of the highest good, the thing whose
possession satisfies the deepest yearning of the soul.
And what might that be? He thinks it is the act of mind and heart
in which we allow ourselves to take in the full presence of what
is around us, not just being in the moment, but knowing and loving
everything about the world that we can possibly fit into our awareness.
Mystics and contemplatives know something of this; they do what
they do because it makes them happy. And it is a fitting response
to individual consciousness, which inevitably sets us apart. The
opening of perception in contemplation can heal this rift and
reconnect us to all that is, momentarily anyway, escaping the
constraints of ego in space-time.
the gist of things
When you know something, you possess its form, its gist, in your
head, like the memory of the presence of a loved one or a loved
thing like the music of Mozart. You can have it all at once, all
the time; it is yours to ponder in your heart. So you can incorporate
into your being the entire universe, in so far as it is known—and
"It is possible that in a single being the comprehensiveness
of the whole universe may dwell." Ver 2.2
But knowing isn’t enough; to really understand something,
you have to love it. Love is the prerequisite of happiness because
it more perfectly understands and affirms. To be happy, you have
to be willing to recognize and be attracted by the good, and in
particular, the ultimate good, because without the recognition
of this ultimate good, life would be meaningless, like an argument
without a premise.
"Were there no ultimate end, nothing would be desired,
no activity would be finished, no desire would come to rest."
Trinity for humans
Happiness resides in an act of perception. When we allow ourselves
to be fully present and fully aware, because the mystery of existence
is present in all existence, we get that divine whiff of God.
Everything around us, even the smallest object, holds in it the
essential mystery of our good universe. And in seeing and knowing
and loving it and world, we are happy. We know and love world
and God like the Son knows and loves the Father; we are the creaturely
self-awareness of the universe, made flesh.
And the whole point of the rest of the Summa is to explain how
humans get and stay in this Trinity-like graced state with world
and God that Aquinas calls beatitudo.
"God and happiness are the same."
(C.G. I, 101)
"... the highest intensification of life, the absolutely
perfect activity, the final stilling of all volition, and the
partaking of the utmost fullness that life can offer, takes place
as a kind of seeing ..."
- Josef Pieper, In Tune with the World, pg. 15
"Although it is a delightful thing to be able to see; it
is even more delightful—another thing altogether—to
see one whom we love."
- Thomas Aquinas
"Feelings of limitless horizons opening up to the vision,
the feeling of being simultaneously more powerful and also more
helpless than one ever was before, the feeling of ecstasy and
wonder and awe, the loss of placement in time and space with,
finally, the conviction that something extremely important and
valuable had happened, so that the subject was to some extent
transformed and strengthened even in his daily life by such experiences."
- Abraham Maslow, describing peak experiences.