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God Is in All Things

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Great Chain of Being

God Is in All Things
Thursday, February 5, 2015

The whole universe together participates in the divine goodness more perfectly and represents it better than any single creature could by itself. —Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I, 47, 1

The “Catholic synthesis” of the early Middle Ages was exactly that—a synthesis that held together for its adherents one coherent world, a positive intellectual vision that was not defined by “against-ness” or enemies, but by “the clarity and beauty of form.” You see it architecturally in the art forms of the European cathedrals like Salisbury, Cologne, Orvieto, and Vezelay. It was a cosmic egg of meaning, a vision of Creator and a multitude of creatures that excluded nothing. The Great Chain of Being was the first holistic metaphor for the new seeing offered us by the Incarnation: Jesus as the living icon of integration, “the coincidence of opposites” who “holds all things in unity” within himself (Colossians 1:15-20). God is One. God is whole, and everything else in creation can now be seen as a holon (a part that mimics, replicates, and somehow includes the whole).

Sadly, we seldom saw the Catholic synthesis move beyond philosophers’ books and mystics’ prayers and some architecture. The rest of us often remained in a fragmented and dualistic world, usually looking for the contaminating element to punish or the unworthy member to expel. While still daring to worship the cosmic Scapegoat—Jesus—we scapegoated the other links in the Great Chain of Being. We have been unwilling to see the Divine Image in those we judged to be inferior or unworthy: sinners, heretics, animals, the poor, the bounty of the Earth, the Earth itself, and often we must admit half of the human species called women. Once the Great Chain of Being was broken or disbelieved, we were soon unable to see the Divine Image in our own species, except for “men” just like us. This was the dominant view called patriarchy that formed most cultures, and in some cultures lasting until today. Of course the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries and modern secularism denied the whole heavenly and divine links altogether—an attitude unknown in all of human history until the recent West and the cultures that we colonized.

As the medieval teachers predicted, once the Great Chain of Being was broken, and any one link not honored and included, the whole vision collapsed. It seems that either we acknowledge that God is in all things or we have lost the basis for seeing God in anything, including ourselves.

Gateway to Silence:
Loving God in creation

Adapted from Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety, p. 136

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