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).


“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).

Eros, Agape, and mere sex

“There is an implication to calling eros a mediative power that unites the lowest with the highest in man; that links the natural, sensual, ethical and spiritual elements; that prevents one element from being isolated from the rest; that preserves the quality of true humanness in all the forms of love from sexuality to agape. The implication is that none of these elements can be excluded as inappropriate to man, that all of them “belong”. The great tradition of Christendom even holds that those aspects of man which derive from his nature as a created being are the foundation for everything “higher” and for all other divine gifts that may be conferred upon him. “It is not the spiritual that comes first but the sensuous-earthly and then the spiritual”–if one were unfamiliar with this quotation, one would scarcely guess that it comes from the New Testament (1 Cor 15:46). Furthermore, Thomas Aquinas, the last great teacher of a still undivided Western Christendom, says that were natural love (amor), or eros, not something good in itself, then caritas (agape) could not perfect it. Rather, agape would have to discard and excluded eros (which Anders Nygren asserts that it does). That same tradition we call “Western” in the specific sense of being not unworldly but rather characterized by a “worldliness” founded on a religious and theological basis–that tradition speaks with complete matter-of-factness of sexuality as a good. It says, with Aristotle, that there is something divine in the human seed. And unresponsiveness to sensual joy, insensibilitas, is treated not only as a defect but also as a vitium, a moral deficiency. On the other hand, the underlying conception implies that all of man’s powers, and especially sexuality, can remain “right” and “in order” only in their natural place, which is to say, within the wholeness of physical-spiritual-mental existence. Once again we call to mind the mediative and integrating functions of eros. Continue reading “Eros, Agape, and mere sex”

Leisure, culture and philosophy

“Culture depends for its very existence on leisure, and leisure, in its turn, is not possible unless it has a durable and consequently living link with the cultus, with divine worship.

The word “cult” in English is used exclusively, or almost exclusively in a derivative sense. But here it is used, along with worship, in its primary sense. It means something else than, and something more than, religion. It really means fulfilling the ritual of public sacrifice. That is a notion which contemporary “modern” man associates almost exclusively and unconsciously with uncivilized, primitive peoples and with classical antiquity. For that very reason it is of the first important to see that the cultus, now as in the distant past, is the primary source of man’s freedom, independence and immunity within society. Suppress that last sphere of freedom, and freedom itself, and all our liberties, will in the end vanish into thin air.

Culture, in the sense in which it is used above, is the quintessence of all the natural good of the world and of those gifts and qualities which, while belonging to man, lie beyond the immediate sphere of his needs and wants. All that is good in this sense, all man’s gifts and faculties are not necessarily useful in a practical way; though there is no denying that they belong to a truly human life, not strictly speaking necessary, even though he could not do without them. Continue reading “Leisure, culture and philosophy”

To be a “pilgrim” (status viatoris)

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Viator means wanderer, walker, wayfarer, pilgrim. The last term has acquired a special meaning and became a familiar part of religious parlance. We speak of the “pilgrimage” of this earthly life. This is a perfectly honorable and legitimate use of the word, to which no serous objections can be raised. However, certain rather melodramatic overtones have become associated with this usage, overtones which may blur the precise meaning of this important term, or even cause us to brush it aside. In reality the concept of status viatoris involves nothing sentimental, nor even anything distinctively religious or theological. What is meant, rather, is that man, as long as he exists in this world, is characterized by an inward, as it were ontological quality of being on-the-way to somewhere else. Continue reading “To be a “pilgrim” (status viatoris)”

Love and approval

“We have seen that loving concern, although it actually confirms the beloved in his existence, can also have a shaming element. This fact–which seems paradoxical only at first glance–indicates that love is not synonymous with undifferentiated approval of everything the beloved person thinks and does in real life. As a corollary, love is also not synonymous with the wish for the beloved to feel good always and in every situation and for him to be spared experiencing pain or grief in all circumstances. “Mere ‘kindness’ which tolerates anything except [the beloved’s] suffering” has nothing to do with real love. Saint Augustine expressed the same idea in a wide variety of phrases: “Love reprimands, ill will echoes”; “the friend speaks bitterly and loves, the disguised foe flatters and hates.” No lover can look on easily when he sees the one he loves preferring convenience to the good. Those who love young people cannot share the delight they seem to feel in (as it were) lightening their knapsacks and throwing away the basic rations they will eventually need when the going gets rough” (Josef Pieper, Faith, Hope, Love, p 187).