Existence and Finitude

Originally written July 26, 2014

To be is to be finite. All beings are finite; only Being-Itself is infinite. To be an existing thing is to conform to the categories of being and thought, which necessarily act as categories of finitude (cf. Tillich). So existence entails finitude, which makes existence deeply problematic. To be an individualized, particular thing is to be confined to a place and time, to be distinct from other things (this is simply what it means to be a thing), and in the case of human beings, it is to be limited by the bounds of reason and experience. It is this human finitude which is at the heart of human tragedy, and thus lies at the root of sin and injustice (though not essentially or necessarily, as we shall see). It determines our deep estrangement, our pride, malice, selfishness, distrust, and destructiveness (cf. Temple). It is felt in our ultimate emptiness, loneliness, and desolation. The source of political and moral problems is ontological, not conventional, and cannot be solved conventionally.

Yet it would be a mistake to equate finitude with evil, for in doing so one would condemn existence itself, like the Platonists, rather than regrding it, like Maritain, as a perfection, – the highest perfection – by which the potential of essence “flowers”. Furthermore, since the highest human good is the communion of love, and since love is a relation of participation, then finitude is a potential source of the good – indeed, it is a prerequisite for the highest good – for relation presupposes individualization (Tillich).

Therefore, our hope lies not in the overcoming of our finitude, for this would imply our annihilation, but rather in our reconciliation and participation with the Absolute Ground of Being, who sanctifies and redeems our finite existence. Only in this way is sin and injustice conquered. Standing outside ourselves, forgetting ourselves, immersed in the glory of Being, our hearts and minds filled with Its light, is the true meaning of ecstasy. Thus, redemption is not found through the work of human hands, but through the transcendent intervention of the Divine, which, being eternal, is present and awaits our response at every moment, for it isĀ Incarnate.

Sources

Maritain, Jacques, A Preface to Metaphysics (Sheed and Ward, 1939)

Temple, William, The Centrality of Christ (New York: Morehouse, 1936)

Tillich, Paul, Systematic Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967)

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