The Fourth level of Happiness: The transcendentals and God

Looking out over the Ojai Valley, Ventura County, California. Photo by Gary Crabbe.

For a complete Doctrinal Homily Outline for the Solemnity of Christ the King, Year A, click here.

The Transcendentals 

Fr. Spitzer points out the truth, discussed in the Western tradition for at least 2500 years, that we have five desires we want to be completely fulfilled, that we can pursue in this life and obtain to some degree, but which we can never fully gain unless we receive them from a transcendental power whose attributes include them perfectly and unconditionally.

These transcendentals are perfect and unconditional truth, love, justice-goodness, beauty, and home.

We desire to know the truth about ourselves, other people, the natural world, and God. A remarkable attribute we possess is that we can know things but also know that there is more to know. In this life, we ask questions, often find answers, and then those answers provoke more questions. We have a tacit awareness that somewhere there is the fullness of truth.

We desire to love and to be loved. We want to be loved completely, unconditionally. We are deeply fortunate if we give love this way and receive it from another person, but all the defects in ourselves and in creation, including death, takes that love away.

We desire to be the kind of person who gives to everyone what we owe them and to receive the same from them. This is the transcendental of justice and goodness. We don’t want to live in a world filled with evils and evil people and we don’t want to be one of those fearful, suspicious, crafty people ourselves. Utopian movements promise heaven on earth but they deliver misery.

We are deeply moved by beauty and repelled by ugliness. But even when contemplating a scene or face or sound of seemingly perfect beauty, we experience heart-pangs for more and forever. The experience of beauty is short-lived.

Finally, we desire perfect being and home. We want to exist and to exist forever. We want to be fully what our human nature calls us to be. But we want to exist in a place where we are welcomed, safe, belong. We desire to get back to the home that probably has never actually existed for us and try to create such a home for ourselves and our loved ones, but very imperfectly.


If we are ever to attain this five-fold happiness perfectly and unconditionally, it will have to be through a gift, given to us by the Transcendental Being whose nature includes perfect and unconditional truth, love, justice-goodness, beauty, and home. We call this being God and all human beings have at least a tacit awareness and desire for this Sacred and Spiritual Being.

 The crisis in level-four happiness

We begin a relationship with God in this life. We do it by a life of prayer, that is, talking with God, person to person. We do it also by a moral-spiritual connection. This is to say we strive to do the will of God as best we know it. We also enter into some religious tradition. Religious practices and traditions have arisen in every human culture.

We Catholics have a special advantage that we should want to fully embrace and to spread. For God took on a human nature in the person of Jesus Christ and he founded a Church that provides sacred teachings, sacraments through which we receive grace, and many exemplars (the saints) on how to live.

This concludes a brief view of the four levels of happiness as articulated by Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J. Any errors in the presentation are mine.






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