The Divine Perfections
Presence of God – Grant, O Lord, that I may understand something of Your infinite perfections.
Jesus has said, “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), thus turning our attention to God’s infinite perfection. Here on earth, we can see some pale reflection of this infinite plenitude through the consideration of the limited perfections that we find in creatures, but we cannot know it in itself, for the human mind is incapable of embracing and comprehending the infinite. Our ideas tell us something about God and His infinite perfections, but they cannot show Him to us as He really is. “God,” says St. Paul, “inhabiteth light inaccessible” (1 Timothy 6:16): light which infinitely exceeds the capacity of the human intellect, light too bright and dazzling to be gazed at directly by the eye of our mind, even as the sun, which in the full power of its summer brilliance so far exceeds the capacity of our sense of sight that no human eye can look at it fixedly.
Yet on several occasions when Jesus spoke about the divine perfections, He invited us to raise our eyes to these heights. He taught us that although we can understand very little about them, this little will not be useless, but rather, of great value. In fact, the more a soul advances in the knowledge of God, the more it understands that what it knows about Him is nothing compared with what He is in reality. Far beyond its ideas—however lofty and beautiful they may be—there is an infinite ocean of splendor, beauty, goodness, and love which no human intellect can ever fathom. This awareness of God’s immensity, which infinitely surpasses the capacity of our mind, is a great grace. St. John of the Cross says: “One of the greatest favors God can bestow on a soul in this life is to give it to understand clearly and to sense manifestly that He cannot be entirely known or sensed” (Spiritual Canticle 7, 9). This is a precious grace, because it infuses into the soul an ever-deepening realization of God’s immensity and infinite transcendence; and, by contrast, it also gives it a greater understanding of its own nothingness and the extreme limitation of any human perfection.
“When shall we reach You, O fount of wisdom, indefectible light, inextinguishable brilliance, and see You, no longer as in a mirror and darkly, but face to face? Then our desires will be satisfied, since we shall no longer be able to desire anything but You, O Lord, the supreme good. In You, we shall see and love and praise; in Your glory we shall see Your light, for near to You is the fountain of life, and in Your light we shall see the light.
“What light? An immense, incorporeal, incorruptible light; an indefectible, inextinguishable, inaccessible light; an uncreated, true, divine light, which enlightens the angels and gladdens the eternal youth of the saints; light which is the source of all light and life, which is You, O Lord, my God! You are the light in whose light we shall see the light, that is, You in Yourself, in the splendor of Your face, when we shall see You face to face.
“To see You is all the compensation, all the reward, and all the joy we wait for. This is eternal life, that we know You, the only true God…. Then shall we have what we seek, when we shall see You the only true God, the true, living, omnipotent, simple, invisible, unlimited, incomprehensible God.
“O Lord, my God, do not permit me to be distracted anymore from You, but take me away from exterior things and make me interiorly recollected. Give Yourself to me, so that I may give You my heart forever. I have sought Your face, O Lord, and I shall seek it, the face of the Lord of Hosts, in which consists the eternal glory of the blessed, in whose sight consists eternal life and the eternal glory of the saints” (St. Augustine).
“Make me understand, O Lord, that beauty and all other gifts of creatures are but dust; that their charm and attractiveness are only smoke and wind, and that I must esteem them for what they are, so as not to fall into vanity. In all these things help me to direct my heart to You, joyfully and cheerfully, remembering that You are, and have in Yourself, all beauties and graces in a most infinite degree; You are infinitely high above all created things, for, as David says, ‘They are all like a garment which shall grow old and pass away, and You alone remain immutable forever’” (cf. St. John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel III, 21, 2).
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Art: : Detalle del grabado de San Juan de la Cruz (Detail of Engraving of Saint John of the Cross [1542-1591]), Francisco Pacheco, circa 1599, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons; Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.