How our quest for the five transcendentals points to our desire for Christ.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
2 August 2017
In Today’s gospel (Mt 13:44-46), Jesus speaks to his disciples about the kingdom of heaven:
The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.
Whether we realize it or not, we are all searching for perfect truth, love, beauty, goodness/justice and being—although many people engage this search in a confused, haphazard or even disordered way. Philosophy refers to these spiritual realities as the five transcendentals, so named because they are attributes of God, who transcends the physical universe yet remains mysteriously present to it as well. For example, God is perfect, absolute truth and love. So, the transcendentals are attributes of the transcendent Creator from whom all perfections find their origin and source.
Created in the image of God, the Imago Dei, man mirrors certain aspects of God. For example, God possesses a divine, rational and perfect intellect; man possesses a human, rational and imperfect intellect. But our intellect does by analogy and in a greatly diminished way image the divine intellect of the Tripersonal God. Another example is human free will. As God is free, so too is man free to choose this or that. Human freedom is a divinely bestowed gift of God, graced upon humankind primarily to enable men to freely choose to love God above all else for his sake—it is this highest and most sublime use of human freedom that our life finds its true purpose and meaning.
Man also images the five transcendentals. Although disfigured by sin, our being is permeated by truth, love, beauty, and goodness. If we desire to live the fullness of human life, we must strive to image God all the more perfectly, as Christ said, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). As God is absolute, perfect truth and love, so we must strive to image perfect truth and love in our lives, through our external deeds and words, as well as within the interior spiritual life we live. All Christians—and in fact all mankind—are called to holiness of life and the perfection of truth in charity (cf. CCC 2013). We are called by God the Father to live like the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, who himself is perfectly God and man—an endeavor beyond the potential of human nature alone but which is made possible by God’s own divine assistance of grace.
God has called us from non-existence into being and has planted a divine seed of thirst for Love within the human heart and soul. He has fashioned us for himself and willed that we experience his life, share in his divine nature by the gift of sanctifying grace and the communication of his Spirit, and join in intimate communion with his Son in unending life. Because we are created by and for God, destined to eternal communion with the Father through his Son and in the Holy Spirit, we desire ever-more perfect truth, love, beauty and goodness. Our thirst for the transcendentals continues to drive us to seek them out, acquire and possess these spiritual realities with increasing strength and purity. This points to the fact that the innate longing of the human heart, our deepest desires, are fulfilled only by union with God. It is God alone who satisfies because he has made us for himself; in him alone is found the fulfillment of all desire.
That total fulfillment is found in God alone is important to understand. If it is not, we can be led to expect ever more perfect love from creatures, which can lead to disappointment, impossible demands, lost relationships, and an inward turning on ourselves. There are no perfect creatures who can offer us the total, unconditional and perfect love we crave; there are no created beings who possess the sum of all beauty; there are no things in the world totally and perfectly good in and of themselves.
It seems we are destined to a life of craving, driven by insatiable thirst, never to experience satisfaction, for there is nothing in this world that can totally fulfill us. However, while we cannot experience perfect fulfillment and full acquirement of the transcendentals until we possess God in heaven through the Beatific Vision, we can indeed experience abundant joy and fulfillment in the here and now of our temporal, earthly life.
How is this possible? The solution to satisfying our unceasing thirst is to give ourselves over to Christ in faith. He is the kingdom of God in his Person, he is the fulfillment of every human desire and the pearl of great price in whom all perfection rests. The more we grow in union with Christ, the more complete we become, the more we experience the fulfillment of all desire. This requires a complete gift of self through entrustment to Christ in faith. It means we must model our lives morally after the pattern of his life in perfect, loving obedience to the Father; we must live to build virtue and carry out our lives in holiness, united to Christ in charity and truth; we must bear our cross as he bore his; we must worship the Father with zeal as members of his physical and mystical body, the Church.
It’s the saintly life—it’s not easy, but every ounce of misunderstanding we suffer, every moment of persecution for the sake of righteousness and the truth of Christ we endure is worth the price; for by these gifts of self to Christ and the gift of grace he bestows on us, making all possible, the hidden treasure is found, opened, possessed.
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Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.