"God: Conferences delivered at Notre Dame in Paris"
(series begins here)
THE INNER LIFE OF GOD
We would understand something of the divine life: the first question, therefore, we have to ask is: What is life? For, as long as we do not know what life is in itself, it is clear that we shall not be able to form any idea of the life of God. What, then, is life? In order to comprehend this, we must learn what being is; for life is evidently a certain state of being. We thus arrive at that first and supreme question: What is being? And we shall solve it by seeking what is permanent and common in the infinitely varied beings which surround us. Now, in all of these, whatsoever their name, their form, their degree of perfection or inferiority, we find a mysterious force which is the principle of their substance and organization, and which we call activity. Every being, even the most inert in appearance, is active; it condenses, it resists foreign efforts, it attracts and incorporates to itself element which obey it. A grain of sand is in contest and in harmony with the whole universe, and maintains itself by that force which is the very seat of its being, and without which it would become lost in the absolute incapacity of nothingness. Activity, being the permanent and common characteristic, of all that is, it follows that being and activity are one and the same thing, and that we are warranted in making this definition: Being is activity. St. Thomas of Aquinas gave us an example when, having to define God, who is being in its total reality, he said: God is a pure act.
But activity supposes action, and action is life. Life is to being what action is to activity. To live, is to act. It is true that spontaneous, and above all, free action, being perfect action, the birth or apparition of life is generally marked at the point where that kind of action is manifested. Thus we say that the stone is, that the plant grows, that the animal lives; but these different expressions mark only the gradations of activity, whose presence, how feeble soever it may be, everywhere constitutes the living being.
We know what life is. Let us advance another step, let us learn what are its general laws, and then apply them to God.
The first general law of life is: The action of a being is equal to its activity. In fact the action of a being can be limited only by a foreign force, or by its own will. Now a foreign force checks it only at the point where its own energy ceases, and as to its own will, should it possess any, that necessarily bears it as far as it can reach by its own nature. An action superior to its activity is impossible to it; an action inferior is insufficient; an action equal to its activity is the only action that places it in harmony with itself and with the rest of the universe. Therefore, whether you consider the general movement of worlds or the tendency of each being in particular, you will find them all acting according to the measure of their forces, and placing limits to their ambition only because they exist to their faculties. All, and man among the rest, advance as far as they can; all, having reached the point which exhausts and stops them, write like the poet, proudly accusing their own powerlessness:
SISTIMUS HIC TANDEM NOBIS UBI DEFUIT ORBIS.
God: Conferences - Notre-Dame in Paris (1871)