Matt D’Antuono is a physics teacher in New Jersey, where he lives with his wife and seven children. He holds bachelor’s degrees in physics and philosophy, a master’s degree in special education, and is working on a master’s degree in philosophy at Holy Apostles in Cromwell, Connecticut. He returned to the Catholic Church in 2008. He is the author of A Fool’s Errand: A Brief, Informal Introduction to Philosophy for Young Catholics and The Wiseguy and the Fool. On YouTube you can find him at DonecRequiescat and his family at MisterD418.
One of the marks of a truth is that one can arrive at it from different starting points, and, as a result, that truth has explanatory power over many different phenomena.
For example, in my physics classes — I promise that this will not be an extensive lesson in physics, just a paragraph to illustrate my point — my students and I derive Newton’s laws of motion toward the beginning of the year. Later on, while studying collisions in an effort to understand conservation of momentum, we arrive as the same conclusions about Newton’s laws when we analyze the forces involved. Yet again, Newton’s laws are vindicated when we look at the data concerning the orbits of the planets and universal gravitation. Newton’s laws can be observed from many separate starting points, and those laws can be used to describe all of those various observations. That is very good evidence that those laws are true.
In the context of a theological and philosophical treatise on the nature of God and his omnipresence (Summa Theologiae, Prima Pars, Question 8), St. Thomas Aquinas comes to the conclusion that God is, in fact, in all things. This conclusion is based heavily on all of his preceding reasoning: intricate, precise and detailed. He begins with observations of the changing world and reasons his way to a God who is the very act of existence itself. Anything else that exists, then, exists by participation in God’s existence. (Aquinas has a few more steps in the argument, but I was instructed to aim for 800 words. Brevity is the soul of wit, I suppose. So, I abbr.) Therefore, God is present in every thing “according to its mode of being” (Article 1).
And then comes that sweet, nerdy moment when my heart soars while reading a dense metaphysical treatise. “But being is innermost in each thing and most fundamentally inherent in all things.” An unfathomable philosophical statement. My own being is most interior to me and the most basic foundation of me. Nothing is more basic than being. “Hence, it must be that God is in all things, and innermostly.” That most elemental fabric of my existence is where God is present. He is not outside of me, observing me from afar, but at my deepest core, animating my being from the inside. He is not way out there, but way in here.
Inspiration and beauty from some heady intellectual reflections.
But that truth of God’s innermost presence is not derived only from philosophical reflections. St. Augustine says the same thing in his Commentary on Psalm 75. No one can escape God. Even though the wicked may hide where no witness can find them, God is still there. “He is more inward than thy heart.” Thou canst not flee from God, so thou must run to Him, the “One more inward than thyself.” The same idea communicated by Aquinas, but in the context of a biblical commentary.
In his reflections on a time in his own life when he was far from God, St. Augustine echoes his commentary on the Psalms. “You were more inward to me than my most inward part” (Confessions III, 6). While Augustine was far from God, God was closer to him than he could imagine. In fact, even for those who are close to God, it is not possible to form an accurate picture of God’s existential action on our being.
Abstract theology, biblical commentary and personal reflections, from Sts. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas no less, and the same point in all three: the utter interiority of God to us. An indubitable truth, and at the same time an ineffable mystery. Here, like all great vistas, we cannot “get into” the landscape. We gaze on it as from a distance and stand in awe of the view. Who can ascend the mountain of the Lord? The beauty of this truth is enough to break the heart, let alone the beauty of the reality that this truth expresses, even at such a distance.
While it is deeply encouraging to meditate on the nature of God’s presence within me, it is challenging to remember that God’s same presence lies at the heart of every person I meet. As C.S. Lewis says in The Weight of Glory, “There are no ordinary people.” When one man faces another, deep calls unto deep. Even the other physical objects that surround me participate in the power of God’s Existence according to their own mode. As G.K. Chesterton has already pointed out, the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas finds a perfect match in the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi: “Brother Sun and sister Moon.” I am inundated with the presence of the One God in the many things and persons I encounter all day long.