What is the good life?
This is one of the most basic philosophical questions. But Christianity speaks of something more than even the good life: the promise is eternal life. What does that mean?
The answer the Apostle John gives us, in his Gospel, in the Apocalypse, and in his Epistles always has to do with the Trinity, especially with life in the Holy Spirit of truth and love.
In these days after Pentecost, with Eastertide receding from us, and in preparation for the celebration of Trinity Sunday, I want to conclude my cycle of reflections on the Johannine readings that have dominated the liturgy during the festival days.
The good life is a life of spirit. Philosophically, spirit means knowing and loving, the perfective acts of intellect and will. In terms of the powers of the soul, we cannot love without knowing our beloved, which is also to say that loving is the point of knowing. Of course, it’s an ever-intensifying cyclical rhythm: the more we know our beloved, the more we love that person; the more we love, the more we want to know… But though the recurrent operations of the spirit have no upper limit, the logical order is clear, which accounts for the unique excellence of the Third in God, the Holy Spirit.
Each divine Person is excellent in His own way: the First, the Father, most obviously so, as the Source without source. The Second, the Son, is the center in God (and, therefore, as Saint Bonaventure indefatigably traces out, the center of history), the One Who proceeds and from Whom Another proceeds. But the Third, Who proceeds from Father and Son, and from Whom no other proceeds? What’s the excellence in being Third? [We might lapse into Arianism and think, a la The Simpsons, “beautiful gold, so-so silver, and shameful bronze.” :P] What we must recognize is that the Third is the ultimate in God: the culmination, God AS the transcendence of God.
Everything culminates in loving, which is the union of our personal knowing and loving with another person’s knowing and loving, in a common spirit of love, a mutual subjectivity. Common spirit is inherently expansive; it gives rise to children, and nations. We speak of the “spirit of a people,” correlative to a body politic. (Spirit forms bodies: a man and woman love each other and form one flesh…)
The good life is, in the first place, a life of questioning inquiry stirred by the wonders of sheer existence and of the manifold good things of this world, luminous in their intelligibilities, as well as by a thirst for self-knowledge, for the common good, and for relieving the plight of agonized humanity. Our desire to know draws us out of ourselves, towards the other.
As one advances in understanding and wisdom, one’s heart grows larger. Knowing gives rise to loving. Our spiritual nature drives towards communion with other persons.
This is simply because we are made in the image of a God Who is Trinity. As the council fathers of Vatican II put it: “Indeed, when the Lord Jesus prays to His Father that ‘they may all be one…, even as We are one’ (John 17:21-22), opening prospects impervious to human reason, He indicates a certain similitude between the union of the divine Persons and the union of the sons of God in truth and charity. And this similitude manifests that it is not possible for man, who is the only creature on earth that God willed for its own sake, to come to himself fully except through the sincere gift of self” (Gaudium et spes 24).
Why is man the social/political animal? Because God is Trinity. Why is our deepest need to love and be loved? Because God is Trinity.
There is nothing esoteric about the Trinity. That God is so, is why we are so.
God the Father wishes all humans, through all space and time, to be gathered together as one people, in the one Body of Jesus, joined in the Holy Spirit.
The good life is a life of spirit. Eternal life is life in the very Spirit of God—and What God IS is infinite knowing and loving.
Eternal life means infinite wonder and infinite learning, and getting to know forever, without comprehending, the ever-greater Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, AND every other person, within the Trinitarian processions: billions of created persons being raised forever towards the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.
Which all means that eternal life is falling in love forever.