Virtue isn’t “natural” it’s a “craft”

In the Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle is considering the question, “What is the highest of all the goods pursued in action” (1095a15)? In order to answer this question, we must begin with things that we know (1095b). He proceeds to answer the question by considering and ruling out what vulgar people and socially cultivated people regard as the highest goods to be pursued. These things are not sufficient for Aristotle, as they are not self-sufficient. They are transitory and fragile. He states that “the best good is apparently something complete” (1096a25) and he understands the best good to be happiness, as this is the thing we aim at in all our activities and investigations. He says, “we regard something as self-sufficient when all by itself it makes a life choiceworthy and lacking nothing; and that is what we think happiness does” (1097b10).

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Aristotle’s view of the human good in the Nicomachean Ethics

Aristotle is absolute in stating “Every craft and every investigation, and likewise every action and decision, seems to aim at some good; hence the good has been well described as that at which everything aims” (1094a). However, this does not mean that everything aims at the same ‘goods’. As he says, “there is an apparent difference among the ends aimed at” (1094a). Whereas humanity shares the characteristics of plant and animal life, and whereas the same things which are good for the wellbeing of plants and animals are also good for us (nourishment, health, etc) the good at which we aim is different and greater than the good at which a plant, for example, aims in growing and reproducing. This is because of the specific difference between humans and other living things, plant or animal.

What makes humans unique? What is our function that differentiates our good from other goods? “The human function is the soul’s activity that expresses reason, or requires reason” (1098a5). This expression and requirement of reason is for the human “a certain kind of life” which when completed well expresses “proper virtue” (1098a10). As this is regarded as the right function of the human being, the virtue of living well according to reason is the human good. “The human good turns out to be the soul’s activity that expresses virtue” (1098a15).

Continue reading “Aristotle’s view of the human good in the Nicomachean Ethics”

The Trinitarian anthropology of St. Augustine

“Who can understand the omnipotent Trinity? We all speak of it, though we may not speak of it as it truly is, for rarely does a soul know what it is saying when it speaks of the Trinity. People wrangle and dispute about it, but it is a vision that is given to none unless they are at peace. There are three things, all found in a person , which I should like people to consider. They are far different from the Trinity, but I suggest them as a subject for mental exercise by which we can test ourselves and realize how great this different is. The three things are existence, knowledge, and will, for I can say that I am, I know, and I will. I am a being which knows and wills; I know both that I am and that I will; and I will both to be and to know. In these three–being, knowledge, and will–there is one inseparable life, one life, one mind, one essence; and therefore, although they are distinct from one another, the distinction does not separate them” (Augustine, Confessions, XIII, 11).

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.

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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 “Curiositas killed the New Media cat”

“My Way of Life” opening paragraphs.

[“My Way of Life” (Walter Farrell O.P., S.T.M, and Martin J. Healy, S.T.D) was written to be a simplification (yes, that’s correct, a simplification) of Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. I only discovered this little book while rummaging through a used book store yesterday. I’ve since learned that it is a classic in its own right. I found the opening paragraphs very thought provoking. Here is a link to an online edition of Walter Farrell’s 4 vol Companion to the Summa.]

“THE ROAD THAT STRETCHES before the feet of a man is a challenge to his heart long before it tests the strength of his legs. Our destiny is to run to the edge of the world and beyond, off into the darkness: sure for all our blindness, secure for all our helplessness, strong for all our weakness, gaily in love for all the pressure on our hearts.

IN THAT DARKNESS beyond the world, we can begin to know the world and ourselves, though we see through the eyes of Another. We begin to understand that a man was not made to pace out his life behind the prison walls of nature, but to walk into the arms of God on a road that nature could never build.

LIFE MUST BE LIVED, even by those who cannot find the courage to face it. In the living of it, every mind must meet the rebuff of mystery. To some men, this will be an exultant challenge: that so much can be known and truth not be exhausted, that so much is still to be sought, that truth is an ocean not to be contained in the pool of a human mind. To others, this is a humiliation not to be borne; for it marks out sharply the limits of our proud minds. In the living of life, every mind must face the unyielding rock of reality, of a truth that does not bend to our whim or fantasy, of the rule that measures the life and mind of a man.

IN THE LIVING OF LIFE, every human heart must see problems awful with finality. There are the obvious problems of death, marriage, the priesthood, religious vows; all unutterably final. But there are, too, the day to day, or rather the moment to moment choices of heaven or hell. Before every human heart that has ever beat out its allotted measures, the dare of goals as high as God Himself was tossed down: to be accepted, or to be fled from in terror.

GOD HAS SAID SO LITTLE, that yet means so much for our living. To have said more would mean less of reverence by God for the splendor of His image in us. Our knowing and loving, He insists, must be our own; the truth ours because we have accepted it; the love ours because we have given it. We are made in His image. Our Maker will be the last to smudge that image in the name of security, or by way of easing the hazards of the nobility of man” (My Way of Life, pgs 1-2).

Introductory Essay concerning Accidie – Francis Paget.

Introductory Essay Concerning Accidie.

Yea, they thought scorn of that pleasant land, and gave no credence unto His word; but murmured in their tents, and hearkened not unto the voice of the Lord

Most men may know that strange effect of vividness and reality with which at times a discoloured of character and experience in some old book seems to traverse the intervening centuries, and to touch the reader with a sense of sudden nearness to the man who so was tried, so felt and thought, so failed or conquered, very long ago. We are prepared, of course, for likeness and even for monotony, in the broad aspect of that ceaseless conflict through which men come to be and to show what they are; for the main conditions of a man’s probation stand like birth and death, like childhood, and youth, and age awaiting every human soul, behind the immense diversity of outward circumstance. We expect that the inner history of man will go on repeating itself in these general traits; but when out of an age whose ways imagination hardly represents to us with any clearness, there comes the exact likeness of some feature or deformity which we had thought peculiar to ourselves or our contemporaries, we may be almost startled by the claim thus made to moral kinship and recognition. We knew that it never had been easy to refuse the evil and choose the good; we guessed that at all times, if a man’s will faltered, there were forces ready to help him quietly and quickly on the downward road; but that centuries ago men felt, in minute detail, the very same temptations, subtle, complex, and resourceful, which we today find hiding and busy in the darker passages of our hearts, is often somewhat unreasonably surprising to us. For we are apt, perhaps, to overrrate the intensive force of those changes which have extended over all the surface of civilized life. We forget how little difference they may have brought to that which is deepest in us all. it is, indeed, true that the vast increase of the means of self-expression and self-distraction increases for many men the temptation to impoverish life at its centre for the sake of its ever widening circumference; it may be harder to be simple and thoughtful, easier to be multifariously worldly now than once it was; but the inmost quality, the secret history, of a selfish choice or a sullen mood, and the ingredients of a bad temper, are, probably, nearly what they were in quieter days; and there seems sometimes a curious sameness in the tricks that men play with conscience, and in the main elements of a soul’s tragedy.

Continue reading “Introductory Essay concerning Accidie – Francis Paget.”

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”

St. Thomas Aquinas

“St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) reconciles the teaching of the Christian Faith with Aristotle’s philosophical principles. Theology uses reason/philosophy to understand the supernatural mysteries of God, Trinity, Incarnation, Grace, Redemption, of revealed Truths first known by believing. Philosophy and theology cannot ultimately contradict each other, since the one, final sources of both truths known by unassisted reason and truths known by faith is God, who cannot and will not contradict himself. Aquinas argues Five Ways to God’s existence, starting from facts about ordinary experience: Continue reading “St. Thomas Aquinas”