What is Holiness?

Holiness

Before I place Teresa of Avila back on the shelf, I would like to share the first page of the preface from Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle (Classics of Western Spirituality). The following quotation eloquently summarizes three questions that, I have found myself pondering in times past. Often we are drawn, form this or that belief, by questions that seem to loudly announce themselves as we humbly seek God…

What is Holiness?

“In our anthropocentric (humanistic) times it is common to hear too much of an anthropomorphic concept of sanctity, considered as the summit of human perfection. A person is said to be a saint, in this humanistic climate, when he is perfect.  That is not altogether wrong, but depends on the meaning we give to the concept of “human perfection”. Beauty, for instance, is undoubtedly a human perfection, but does it strictly belong to sanctity?  Perfection means fullness, completion, and a being is perfect when it does not lack anything that is due to it, (when it has no holes). If that being is composite it is required further that all its parts are blended in a harmonic unity (so that again it has no gaps). But what is the human being, so that we may know its perfection?  When does a person reach his fullness?  Is there or can there be real sanctity here on Earth?

To follow these philosophical ascending considerations we would come to the conclusion that only God is perfect and that consequently holiness is His exclusive attribute, so far as we can speak of attributes in the Godhead.  We could, further, from here develop some theological — descending reflections, of some importance for our subject.

Only God is holy.  Strictly speaking, only God is good and beautiful and true, and even only He is, only He is being. Nevertheless, there is a participation, an analogy, a communication of all this in the creatures. Our human being — for example — only “is” and, in consequence, only as good and beautiful and true insofar as it participates and receives all this from God.

But there is something peculiar with sanctity.  Every being by the very fact that it “is”, is good and beautiful and true, but it is not holy.  It may be sacred, each existence being a participation in God, but as such it is not holy.

What is sanctity? 

What is, then, sanctity?  It is God himself, it is His very Life, His Existence, the proper Structure of His Being, if we may speak so.  God bestows and communicates along with being all the constitutive attributes of being to the creatures.  But He does not communicate Sanctity, because it cannot properly be created or given along with being, for it is the very Essence of God Himself.

And yet there are saints on earth, because the Almighty can still do one thing, namely, communicate and give Himself.  He can descend and dwell in the person of the saint.  He can simply take possession of His creatures and in a personal and intimate way. Here lies the role of Christ as an ontic (physical) mediator between God and creation.

So sanctity is on the one hand an absolute perfection, viz. God, and on the other hand, it is the Life of this very God in some of His creatures. It is not, in consequence, primarily a moral concept, but an ontological  reality; the divine reality, communicating His intimate and proper Life to some of his children.  The saint is thus not primarily the humanly perfect man, but the divinised human person. Of course, the divinisation implies a very peculiar transformation of the saint and an ontological — and in consequence also moral — purity, but it does not require humanistic perfect man.

What is a Saint?

The saint — “santus” — is, thus, the man God has taken specially for Himself, the man He has “reserved” and “segregated”. God calls everybody to be divinely perfect, i.e., holy.  Each person receives his personal vocation to sanctity.  But only the saint’s answer fully to the divine call and freely accepts, wills, loves to be this living Temple of the Holy.  Each saint is, in consequence, a kind of revelation of God, he has a message to deliver, though not always with words, is an instrument of the Divine, he is the Man (and Woman) in whom God, who is Love, finds not only His resting but also His acting place.  True sanctity is not so much God-realisation on man’s part, as Man-realisation on God’s part. The saint is the ontological full human personality in spite of our rational concepts about human perfection, and notwithstanding the objective shortcomings in his pilgrimage towards God.  We cannot forget that sanctity is a concept-limit, only attainable here on earth as far as the everlasting life of Union has already shattered all human limitations.”

Pax Vobiscum
-C.M. Gregory

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5 Responses to What is Holiness?

  1. seth says:

    “True sanctity is not so much God-realisation on man’s part, as Man-realisation on God’s part.”

    Beautiful.

  2. Very thought-provoking, Gregory! It’s interesting that you distinguish sanctity as an ontological rather than moral condition, because many of history’s saints have clearly not been morally perfect, at least as “morally perfect” would commonly be understood. Your distinction between sanctity and holiness also reminded me of the more specific meaning of the Hebrew term usually translated as “holiness”, which is “kedusha”, meaning “separateness.” While, according to Jewish tradition, holiness in this sense is a quality that can be attributed to righteous people, or sacred places and things, for some theologians it more properly refers to the transcendent mystery of God.

    • C.M. Gregory says:

      Thanks Chuck,

      To clarify, the post is quoted from a book, I did not write it, I’m not so eloquently versed in philosophy. I agree with what you’re saying about morality and think that was also the point of the author. Here is how I see it…

      As he/she becomes less of self or without “human limitations,” as stated:
      We cannot forget that sanctity is a concept-limit, only attainable here on earth as far as the everlasting life of Union has already shattered all human limitations”.

      That soul who “answers fully to the divine call and freely accepts, wills, loves to be this living Temple of the Holy” can receive the essence of God or “Sancity” and as a “consequence also moral — purity, but it does not require humanistic perfect ”.

      Moraly purity then becomes fruit of the Spirit rather than a requirement for earning sanctity.

  3. Alisha says:

    So, in your opinion, how can you reach the “ultimate” goal……of being “holy”….of being a “saint”……”Without holiness, no man shall see God”. Does this mean if we cannot achieve the actual result of becoming so God-like that all human imperfection flees, that we cannot ever make it into Heaven? What steps do we need to take in order to reach the desired results from God? How can we make our bodies a living sacrifice so that every oracle of ourselves resonates His true grace and mercy and holiness?

    • C.M. Gregory says:

      Hi Alisha, so many questions! I would suggest that you consider opening a topic in the forums that may appeal to a more broad range of people who are interested in theological discussions. I don’t profess to be a guru or know-it-all. I’m simply a Christian in Love with God and consider my method of worship and prayer to be mystic.

      “So, in your opinion, how can you reach the “ultimate” goal……of being “holy”….of being a “saint”……”Without holiness, no man shall see God”.”
      I cannot accept the premise of your question mainly because my “goal” is not to become holy, my goal is to become humble.

      “Does this mean if we cannot achieve the actual result of becoming so God-like that all human imperfection flees, that we cannot ever make it into Heaven?”
      What your eluding to is called “sinless perfection”. My opinion is that sinless perfection in the flesh is a pursuit worthy of any great Pharisee willing to take the matter of sin into his/her own hands and completely disregard the atonement of Jesus… It’s not for me, but you should be able to find a plethora of discussion by searching for “sinless perfection” online.

      “What steps do we need to take in order to reach the desired results from God?”
      I’m not sure I understand what you mean by “desired results”. But I strongly disagree with the assumption that we have it in our power to somehow “reach the desired results from God.” I’ll leave it at that for now and suggest reading Job chapters 38-40 and Romans 10: 6-7.

      “How can we make our bodies a living sacrifice so that every oracle of ourselves resonates His true grace and mercy and holiness?”
      There are many scriptures that direct Christians to a life focused on spirit rather than flesh, but to imply doing so leads to some sort of special or “true grace and mercy and holiness” appears to stem from faith in works rather than grace.

      Ephesians 2: 8-9 reads “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

      Have you ever considered studying critical thinking, I’m not trying to be facetious… Anyone who would consider themselves Christian, on a mystic journey, should have somewhere along the way discovered not merely the value of questioning theological beliefs and assumptions, but learned to primarily value questioning their own beliefs and assumptions, humbly before our faithful God.

      Pax Vobiscum
      -C.M. Gregory

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