Anything that is not God is potentially poison to the soul. That does not mean that nothing that God creates is good—only that God alone is Goodness itself.
How are things “potentially poisonous”? How do things become poison to our souls? There is a place deepest in us where God alone should dwell. We all belong primarily to God, because our deepest core is made for Him. Our interior self is designed to be a tabernacle for the holy presence of God. But if we allow something else into that most interior, most sacred place, then that something causes unrest and disorder. Our deepest self becomes inclined toward something finite, something merely created; our soul begins to revolve around and turn in upon a mere creature. Our being caves in upon a finite point and removes itself from everything else, to become confined and solitary.
To be poisoned by something is the opposite of being enlivened and refreshed by the holy presence of God. God alone gives Life, for God alone is Life. To be in the presence of the Holy One and to let the Holy One work silently upon us is to be gradually healed of all of our inner attachments, all of our mad cravings and worrisome fears. So much of our time, and so much of our energy, is spent on attachments that restrict us and constrict us!
The Divine Will is like an ever-expanding circle transcending every finite thing, every partial reality, every limited idea. The Divine Will cannot limit itself or attach itself exclusively to anything lesser than its own majestic infinity. It eternally overflows and overcomes; it holds itself outwards in its splendid fullness, a fullness that knows no bounds. The Divine Will is eternally in the Act of affirming its infinity and thus expanding beyond everything finite and partial. It eternally utters the All, thereby transcending everything that is merely something, everything that is merely “this” or “that”. It keeps itself stretched out beyond anything limited and constricting. Its eternal expansion is omnipotent, irresistible.
The Divine Will does indeed embrace every finite something, every “this” or “that”, but only by going beyond it. The Divine Will refuses to identify itself exclusively with any finite thing, any partial manifestation of itself. The Divine Will cannot fixate itself upon any finite object. With all of its might—with all of the might of Being Itself—the Divine Will resists being reduced to the level of finite objects.
This is how God lives. This is God’s Life—to affirm His infinity, to appropriate the All, to extend His “Yes” to every moment of Himself in one all-encompassing Act. There is no point or moment in Himself from which He retracts. There is no moment of contraction or repulsion by which something in Him would remain unaffirmed or neglected. God actively owns and knows and loves every last bit of the All that He IS. His affirmation of Being is complete, unable to be surpassed, leaving nothing unembraced. The Life of God resists being broken up, divided, or constricted. For God is God by embracing the All at Once. For God to leave just one miniscule moment of Being unaffirmed and embraced, would be for God to be God no longer—which is impossible. There is no positive reality in God that is not taken up in His eternal Act of Subjectivity (His self-positing, self-affirmation, self-appropriation).
Now for the really important part. The soul’s true horizon is the same as God’s own unlimited horizon. (“Horizon” means: the overall context in which one lives, the overall place or environment of one’s existence.) The only life that is truly good for created spirit, is a life that opens up towards the All of God. To be whole, then, is to be on the way toward the infinity of God, to be ecstatically inclined beyond every finite thing or idea or project in anticipation of the unlimited expansion of God. The wholeness of the soul is a reflection of the wholeness of divine Being (conversely, the sickness of the soul is a reflection of the constricted horizon of a life centred on finite things). The life-breath of the soul is the Life of God in His infinite expansion and complete self-embrace.
It follows that any finite reflection of God—any finite reality, any created good—can become poison to the soul. If we are not living in the Divine Will—if we are not stretched out generously toward the All of God—then we place too much hope in creatures, expecting to find our fulfilment in finite goods and finite projects. We treat the created world as our final destination, our final resting place. We are content to feed on finite being—and yet we are not content. In this condition, the true horizon of our spiritual fulfilment remains the same—the soul is still created for God, and will remain restless until it rests in Him (St. Augustine). Yet in this fallen state, the “factual” horizon of our spiritual life becomes limited and fragmented. In this condition, the soul sets itself up for a so-called “life” in a horizon that cannot possibly give Life. The limited horizon in which it builds its little kingdom and attempts to “settle down”, is not its true horizon.
The healthy soul is the one that lives off divine Life. But essential to this Life is the Act of “being ever-more”—eternally going beyond (while affirming and embracing) everything finite. To the extent that the soul lets itself becomes entangled in something finite—something which the All of God goes beyond—the soul loses its holiness and health. It remains behind the movement of God. The Divine Life, by necessity, keeps expanding beyond everything finite (if it could do otherwise, or even desire to do otherwise, it would not be divine). The wayward soul dallies—it prefers to remain behind the perpetual transcendence of the Divine Life. The wayward soul fixes itself at a point where God does not (and cannot) fix Himself. The wayward soul puts itself in a holding pattern which contradicts the flight of God through and beyond everything finite. At this point, the soul stays behind to feed on finite being. Yet God, the Holy One, moves on.
Prior to the Fall, Adam and Eve followed the ecstatic flight of the Divine Will through and beyond everything finite. The Fall was humanity’s departure from this divine trajectory, in favour of a holding pattern centred on finite beings. Adam and Eve became too interested in something that was good but not the Good. Their souls slowed down. Adam and Eve wrenched themselves from the expansive flight of the Divine Will, in order to linger obsessively upon something finite.
To lose spiritual flight, to dally spiritually, to become fixated upon something finite, to remain behind as the Divine Life moves on toward the All, to stop and feed deeply on finite being—this is to wrench finite being away from its original place in the All of God. Finite beings are created to be symbols that reflect and manifest (partially) the All of God. As Hans-Georg Gadamer says, a symbol is something that unites a world and holds things together. If we approach things in the world as symbols of the Divine (as St. Bonaventure recommends) then we keep the world together. We see all of creation held together in the Divine. Or more precisely, as held together in Christ (Col 1:17). We see things in their true light, and experience them as they are meant to be experienced—as so many gifts from God. Gifts that, in diverse ways, bring with them the very Gift of God Himself. As long as our eyes remain open, and we continue to inhabit this “symbolic economy”, all creatures in the world are released for us in their “sacramental” power (so to speak)—they are allowed to speak God to us. They are set free to be so many words of God to the soul, so many morsels of Divine Bread.
But if we wrench creatures away from their Divine Ground, we stray from the symbolic economy and set up a diabolic (=divisive) economy in its place. Creatures are no longer seen as gifts that bring the divine Gift to us. They are reduced to mere “givens”. We no longer draw deeply from the Living Waters in which they are immersed. Instead, we attempt to feed on finite being as such—finite being abstracted from its Divine Ground. Not that finite beings (creatures) have changed in themselves; it is only that they are now seen in a false light, in abstraction from their true context (their ontological horizon in God).
Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568 – 1625): Paradise and the Fall
The serpent’s offer of the forbidden fruit is an offer to taste and see finite being separated from God. Satan proposes that we relish in an object removed from the Divine Life. He offers us a diabolic way of seeing things—a divisive approach to reality, a way of taking things (God’s created gifts) by wrenching them from the Giver and His Gift of Life. As Adam and Eve feed upon this forbidden object—an object that, when seen under Satan’s false light, promises nourishment apart from the true Nourishment of God—their “eyes are opened” (Gen 3:7). Under the tutelage of Satan, they learn to taste and see objects as mere “givens” (and not gifts) with an autonomous power to nourish the soul (and not as symbols mediating God’s true Nourishment). The first abomination is completed. Adam and Even open the “inner sanctum” of their souls to something which is not God. When things are seen in this diabolic light—when they are approached within the diabolic economy—they become poison for the soul, at least potentially. To feed so deeply upon merely finite being—to open one’s “inner sanctum” to something which is not God—is to distort the image of God that one is, by reconfiguring the spiritual élan (vitality, dynamism) of one’s soul.
In the state of innocence, the soul is stretched out toward the All of God. But in the state of fallenness, the lines of communication between the soul and God—the bonds between finite soul and infinite God, by which the soul is stretched outward toward the All of God—these are wrenched from their original object (God); they become fixed instead on something of limited proportions. In its original state, the soul is projected outward from its finitude out upon the Great All of the Divine Will. The Great Object of its spiritual dynamism is beyond everything in the world. But in its fallen state, the soul’s dynamism is no longer projected onto the Divine All. The object upon which its spiritual intentionality (its deepest tendency) is focused is no longer the One God. The rays of its spiritual projection no longer stretch out in an ever-expanding circle to communicate with God in His Holiness. Rather, these rays now constrict inwards upon a finite object, and the soul alienates itself from the Holiness of God.
Anything that is not God is potentially poison to the soul. An object upon which the soul, if it is not vigilant, might become fixated. A potential occasion of distraction from the soul’s flight in the Divine Will. A possible vortex in which the soul might be caught. Something desired too much. Something that, when seen in the wrong light (outside of the Divine Will), promises more than it can possibly give. Something that can motivate the exchange of true Life in the open expanse of the Divine Will, for a distorted life (existence in a restricted horizon). An occasion for trading God’s true Food for a false food—a poison presented as nourishment.
Only in the Divine Will are we protected from these potential poisons. Only in the Divine Will can we see things as they really are. Only in the Divine Will can we take full drafts of true nourishment for our souls and continue to spurn what is actually unhealthy. Only in the Divine Will can we live out St. Augustine’s ordo armoris, receiving and enjoying the gifts of God in accordance with a properly ordered love. The ordo armoris is a divine love—a love in which the Divine Giver alone is loved in everything and above everything.
Only in the Divine Will can we begin to love the Lover with the same Love by which He loves us.
I am a cradle Catholic, husband, and father of three girls. My wife and I have long been convinced of the truth of the "new and divine holiness" as revealed to the Italian mystic, Luisa Piccarreta (1865-1947). I began reading Luisa's writings in the early 2000s. I hold a PhD in philosophy and specialise in metaphysics as applied to theological topics (Trinity, creation, grace and freedom).