Josef Pieper – The meaning of life, according to Plato

 

“I wish to sum up Plato’s stance [regarding the meaning of human existence] in three brief statements:

The First Statement: To perceive, as much as possible, all things as they really are and to live and act according to this truth (truth, indeed, not as something abstract and “floating in thin air” but as the unveiling of reality)–in this consists the good of man; in this consists a meaningful human existence.

The Second Statement: All men are nurtured, first and foremost, by the truth, not only those who search for knowledge–the scientists and the philosophers. Everybody who yearns to live as a true human being depends on this nourishment. Even society as such is sustained by the truth publicly proclaimed and upheld.

The Third Statement: The natural habitat of truth is found in interpersonal communication. Truth lives in dialogue, in discussion, in conversation–it resides, therefore, in language, in the word. Consequently, the well-ordered human existence, including especially its social dimension, is essentially based on the well-ordered language employed. A well-ordered language here does not primarily mean its formal perfection, even though I tend to agree with Karl Kraus when he says that every correctly placed comma is decisive. No, a language is well ordered when its words express reality with as little distortion and as little omission as possible.”

Pieper, Josef. Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius, 1992. 35-26. Print.

Sophistry, propaganda, and the drowning out of Truth and Reality

“It is entirely possible that the true and authentic reality is being drowned out by the countless superficial information bits noisily and breathlessly presented in propaganda fashion. Consequently, one may be entirely knowledgeable about a thousand details and nevertheless, because of ignorance regarding the core of the matter, remain without basic insight. This is a phenomenon in itself already quite astonishing and disturbing. Arnold Gehlen labeled it “a fundament ignorance, created by technology and nourished by information”. But, I wanted to say, something for more discouraging is readily conceivable as well: the place of authentic reality is taken over by a fictitious reality; my perception is indeed still directed toward an object, but now it is a pseudoreality, deceptively appearing as being real, so much so that it becomes almost impossible any more to discern the truth.”

Pieper, Josef. Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius, 1992. 33-34. Print.

Rest

“On the seventh day God finished his work which he had done and he rested” Genesis 2.2

The first issue involving New Media and Christian holiness is that of rest. The Lord created the heavens and the earth. After that, he rested. The act of creation (space, time, and the ordered matter within it) was an act of divine love. God did not need to create anything in order to add to his own holiness and perfection. However, from all eternity God rested.[i] Being at rest, in other words, is an intrinsic part of his nature. Being a creator was an act of gratuitous love. The fact that creation and rest are the first two things revealed to us about God means they are fundamental to how we are to understand him. At the beginning and centre of the act of creating everything, there is a God who rests. After creating he returns to rest, and invites all that he has created to join him in it.

Continue reading

Curiositas killed the New Media cat

 

Curiosity, a desire to learn and discover new things, is a good and necessary part of what it means to be a healthy and active human being. However, if a person is spiritually sick (because of their own actions or the actions of others) this good impulse can become warped and symptomatic of a troubled soul. Ancient and medieval philosophers, mystics, pastors, and theologians gave a lot of thought to diagnosing spiritual ailments and prescribing appropriate treatment for those ailments in the form of spiritual discipline. One philosopher named Josef Pieper is almost unmatched in his ability to distill this ancient and medieval wisdom and present it fresh to the modern world.

 Josef Pieper died in 1997 at the ripe old age of 93. New Media would doubtless have been known to him, though it had not yet begun to dominate late-modern life as it now has. However, what he writes seems to anticipate some of the issues that New Media has exasperated in human souls. It seems that New Media, may act as a kind of stimulant for spiritual struggles which have always afflicted Adam’s helpless race in varying degrees.

Pieper outlines a particular kind of spiritual illness which is called accidie, or acedia (Faith, Hope, Love, pp 120-121). Accidie is normally (and unfortunately) translated ‘sloth’. It is regarded as one of the Seven Capital Sins (often referred to as the Seven Deadly Sins – also a misnomer). It is more accurate to understand accidie as a ‘sorrow of the world’ (2 Corinthians 7:10), existential listlessness, a kind of wrath turned inward on the self (shown vividly in Dante’s Inferno, canto 7). Accidie will come up again and again in New Media Holiness, but for now I want to focus upon a couple of the by-products, or symptoms, of accidie. Continue reading

Medieval Philosophy, Barbarians and cultural change.

“It remains, then, a historical fact that “barbarian” peoples made themselves at home in a house they had not themselves built.  And this fact makes more comprehensible an otherwise troublesome discord which from the very beginning–especially at the beginning–characterized medieval philosophy.  Hegel, in spite of the summary haste of his survey, made a very penetrating remark concerning this: “The chief element in the Middle Ages is this division, this duality: two nations, two languages.  We see peoples who had previously ruled, who had previously rounded off their own world, their own language, their arts and sciences; and we see the new nations settling down upon this alien foundation.  Thus these new nations began with a serious cleavage within themselves.  Thus Hegel explains the aspect of scholasticism which so alientated him, the “total confusion of dry reason in the gnarledness of the Nordic-Germanic nature.”  Upon that Germanic nature, he continues, “the infinite truth of the spirit weighed like a ponderous stone whose tremendous pressure it could only feel but not digest” during those centuries.  It is false, and demonstrably false, that the “stone” could not be digested.  But on the other hand it is true that the incorporation of something not sprung from native soil, the acquisition of both a foreign vocabulary and a different mode of thinking, the assimilation of a tremendous body of existing thought–that all that was in fact the problem  which confronted medieval philosophy at its beginnings, and which it had to master.  In the very act of mastering it, medieval philosophy acquired its own character” (Josef Pieper, Scholasticism, p. 21-22).

The Believer and the Knower

“To believe means: to participate in the knowledge of a knower.  If, therefore, there is no one who sees and knows, then, properly speaking, there can be no one who believes.  A fact everyone knows because it is obvious can no more be the subject of belief than a fact no one knows–and whose existence, therefore, no one can vouch for.  Belief cannot establish its own legitimacy; it can only derive legitimacy from someone who knows the subject matter of his own accord.  By virtue of contact with this someone, belief is transmitted to the believer” (Josef Pieper, Faith, Hope, Love, p. 42).

Belief

“Man can be compelled to do a good many things. There are a good many other things he can do in a halfhearted fashion, as it were, against his will. But belief can never be halfhearted. One can believe only if one wishes to. Perhap the credibility of a given person will be revealed to me so persuasively that I cannot help but think: It is wrong not to believe him; I “must” believe him. But this last step can be taken only in complete freedom, and that means that it can also not be taken. There may be plenty of compelling arguments for a man’s cedibility; but no argument can force us to believe him.

The unanimity of statements on this point is astonishing; and the agreement ranges all the way from Augustine and Thomas to Kierkegaard, Newman and Andre Gide. Augustine’s phrase from the Commentary on John is famous; “Nemo credit nisi volens”: No one believes except of his own free will. Kierkegaard says that one man can do much for another, “but give him belief, he cannot”. Newman is forever stressing, in one guise or another, the one idea that belief is something other than the result of a logical process; it is precisely not “a conclusion from premises”. “For directly you have a conviction that you ought to believe, reason has done its part, and what is wanted for faith is, not proof, but will.” And Andre Gide? In the last jottings he published after his Journals we may read these sentences: “There is more light in Christ’s words than in any other human word. This is not enough, it seems, to be a Christian: in addition, one must believe. Well, I do not believe.” Taken all together, these statements obviously mean the following: It is one thing to regard what someone else has said as interesting, clever, important, magnificent, the product of genius or absolutely “true”. We may feel compelled to to think and say any and all these things in utter sincerity. But it is quite a different matter to accept precisely the same statements in the way of belief. In order for this other matter, belief, to come about, a further step is necessary. A free assent of will must be performed. Belief rests upon volition” (Josef Pieper, Faith, Hope, Love, p 35-36).