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Part Two - of the journey to God of reasoning creatures


Humans are built to crave happiness; it’s encoded in our brains.

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 loved.

"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." (Ia2ae.I.4)

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.

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"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.

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