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Augustine On Beauty

In Dignity of the Person on October 27, 2013 at 6:16 pm

The Birth of Venus, by Sandro Botticelli, 1486. Uffizi, Florence

What is Beauty?

It would seem that “beauty” is, as the famous saying goes, “in the eye of the beholder.”  However, if that saying is true, then perhaps beauty is only in particular persons or things, and that beauty is not a universal property of persons or things, not something that could be communicated beyond the individual “beholder.”   So, maybe there are some realities which are universally beautiful? If this isn’t true, then we could never be any agreement on any type of public art or architecture. Or, we could think of the universal interest in beauty, just by the sheer variety of magazines about beauty at any supermarket checkout stand, or beauty products and whole industries dedicated to it or “beautiful people,” models, photography and their respective industries.  If beauty was the most important thing in life, then it would seem that all the “beautiful people,” celebrities and the like, would be the most happy people in the world. However, we can see by the gossip in the tabloid news that beauty and happiness do not always go together.  Plus, beauty can be found also in nature, horses, for example, and all types of animals, even landscapes, mountains, waterfalls and cloud formations et cetera. From Augustine’s Confessions, (Trans. Gary Wills, Penguin Classics; Deluxe Edition edition, January 31, 2006) he ponders this perennial question of “what is beauty” and comes to conclude that that which is beautiful is something that cannot be seen with our eyes at all, but we can know more clearly than sight: it is the knowledge of the very source and creator of all beauty, God Himself through light of faith and virtue.

One of the beautiful things about Augustine’s Confessions is how painstakingly clear he reveals his slightest most whimsical thought or fleeting feeling, all of which are tethered together by the logic of the love of God, and the question of “beauty” is no different. Augustine says, “How can we love anything but the beautiful?  What, then, is a beautiful thing, or beauty itself? Can anything compel us that is not beautiful and fitting?”(p.75)  These are good questions!  We are repulsed by what is disfigured and “ugly” or gory.

Augustine says, “This was my plight at the age of twenty-six or twenty-seven, when I wrote that book, hugging to me my own conceptions of the physical world, which filled my ears with their outer noise while I was trying to hear your inner music, my sweet truth.  By dealing with beauty and decorum, I was trying to lift up and listen to you, gladdened by the call of my spouse, but I could not–the noise of my errors pulled me outside myself, while the weight of my pride sank me below myself, where you could not grant me ‘news of real happiness and joy,’ so my bones could not be lifted up because I had not lowered myself.”(p.78)  Here, Augustine very honestly confesses his dissatisfaction with himself, whom he could not help, without the help of God.  He says, “…my bones could not be lifted up because I had not lowered myself”, possibly implying that he was missing God’s invitation to true joy and true happiness because he sought “the beautiful” from himself and for himself, rather than from God and for God.  Because of his own errors, his puffed up pride and his pursuit of the physically beautiful, Augustine admits that he was severely distracted from discovering the beauty of God in his spiritual soul.  He says, “Man is a great abyss.  Though you ‘number the hairs of his head,’ missing none, yet the moods and attractions of his heart far outnumber the hairs of his head.”(p. 76)  How true it is that our emotions change all of the time, in an instant, even, and our moods creep up on us unaware, many times in one day, and countlessly over a lifetime.

Clearly, Augustine discovered that he couldn’t make himself happy by himself and for himself.  He discovered that the only way to climb out of the abyss of his own selfish world once he sought the light of the love through faith in Jesus Christ and that paradoxically, once he forgot about himself and lived for others, he discovered the beauty of his own life now united to someone much greater than himself, the infinite beauty and light and life of God Himself.  Augustine admits, “See how listless the soul lies when not supported by the solid truth.  It is blown abroad and twisted about, turned and re-turned, by whatever gabble the light-minded bother to puff from their lungs, to cloud the light and obscure the truth, though it be staring us in the face.”(p.76)  Again, that very famous line of Augustine from this book, “My soul does not rest until it rests in You O Lord,” also rings true in a different way here, our soul cannot rest until it assents to the truth, rather it is “listless,” unsettled, full of anxiety, like the atheist Existentialist, though daring, cannot rest because he pridefully tries to fit the infinite knowledge of God and all beings and life into his finite mind.  The person of faith humbly dares to admit that this is a futile enterprise for himself to attempt, denying the Faustian mind, and rests assured in the hope that God will maintain all life, all things in being and in order.  As such, beauty has its place, beauty temporarily exists to attract and raise its perceiver to a higher order of being, to reflect the beauty of its originator, the Creator of all beauty, God Himself.

True Beauty

Augustine reflects on his discovery of true beauty in persons who are virtuous.  He says, “I was drawn to the peace I found in virtue, and repelled by the rancor I found in vice, attributing the former to unity, the latter to division.”  We can discover this to be true in your own life, virtuous people just seem easier to be friends with; they tend to put others first and themselves last.  Whereas, the person who lacks virtue is often difficult to be friends with, hard to be around, critical and a source of division.  He continues, “Unity was the sphere of the ordered mind, of real truth and the highest good, while in division I thought I saw some status of the disordered mind, of the highest evil as a reality, having not only a state of its own but a life as well…I called unity the Monad, pure mind without gender, and division I called the Dyad, pure anger to hurt and lust to despoil.  It was my ignorance speaking, since I had not grasped or been told that evil has no reality of its own and mind is not the highest and changeless good.”  It is much easier to destroy than to create, to divide than to unite, to criticize than to praise, to create chaos than to maintain order, so too in our own lives.  Our minds can change!  This is a great thing, but the fact that our mind can change itself is also a sign of our inherent lack of unity of the mind, with our body and soul, all of which yearn for balance, order, the ideal, and the truth in order to achieve interior peace of person, overall. We need to start with peace in our soul in order to have order in our mind and body.  Augustine says, “You, Lord my God, ‘light a lamp for me to bring light into my darkness.’ For ‘we all partake of your fullness,’ since you are ‘the true light, giving light to every man who comes into this world.  In you ‘there is no alteration or dimming by time.’ (p.78)  Physical beauty is subject to time, experiencing deterioration.  That which is not altered by time is holiness.  Holiness is eternal.  Holy people are the most beautiful people because their holiness is beauty.  Holiness is not subject to deterioration because our soul is extra-cosmic or “outside of time,” our soul is that divine stuff within us.  Augustine found that through faith and virtue even he could reflect the origin of all beauty, of all holiness, and that is God Himself.

What is the “Religious Moment”? Philosopher Max Scheler discusses

In Dignity of the Person on March 27, 2013 at 11:18 pm

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It would seem that not everyone experiences a “religious moment” in life.  Some people don’t claim any religion whatsoever, so surely they wouldn’t have a “religious moment,” or if they did, they’d be the least likely to be affected by such a moment.  Also, it seems that only “religious people” would have “religious moments” in life, so just a specific group of people have “religious moments” which changes them only, but not others.  Plus, it seems that some people, for example, Agnostics couldn’t really have a “religious moment,” nor could an atheist have a “religious moment,” which sounds oxymoronic.  Well, Max Scheler, the German philosopher, would oppose all of the aforesaid arguments.  Scheler contends a rather bold claim, in his book, On the Eternal in Man (Transaction Publishers: New Brunswick, NJ. 2010), where he says, “This law stands: every finite spirit believes either in God or in idols. “(p.267) The human person’s spirit is infinite yet it inheres in a temporal finite body which limits it, at least for a time, so, we either believe in God or idols, according to Scheler.  It is either one or the other.  How can Scheler make such a claim?

The Great Mistake Some People Make

Well, life is full of tests, trials, tribulations, or suffering, all part of the experience of life, just as there are hard times, there are also times of great joy, bliss, happiness.  So, when is that “religious moment” that Max Scheler speaks of?  Firstly, he proposes that all persons somehow fill their life with things which they believe in already. Then, he says, “The question can only be of whether he finds its adequate object, the correlative idea to which it essentially belongs,  or whether he envisages an object acclaiming  it as divine, as holy, as the absolute good, while it yet conflicts with the nature of the religious act because it belongs to the sphere of finite and contingent goods.”(p. 267) In other words, if someone is worshiping an idol,  his “religious moment” will be a grand personal realization, a life-altering event when he sees very clearly that he has to change, to reorient his life toward God and away from his idol or not change at all.  To change is the prudent, wise thing to do, an opportunity to match the adequacy of one’s mind and soul for the infinite God, who is its only “adequate” “object,” or to feign the adequacy of some lesser object for his mind and soul with profound consequences and a miserable dissatisfaction with one’s choice.  The atheist Existentialists would call this latter state, “anxiety” or “angst,” even “freedom” or “happiness” but the problem is the inadequacy of all other, non-God objects for the realm of God alone, the absolutely objective realm of the infinite.  Whereas, the atheist Existentialist places an inadequate thing in the wrong place.   He continues, “Everybody has a particular something, an object bearing (for him) the hallmarks of the supremely valuable, to which he knowingly, or by the unconscious test of practical conduct, accords precedence over all else.”(p.269)  Just as Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatably do,” so too, we can say how we act, how we behave matters, as a manifestation of what we think is the “supremely valuable”–what is the greatest good in one’s life.  Now, the person who believes in God already has the greatest good, the most supremely valuable good in its place when his deeds manifestly reflect such a value.  However, those who misplace the object of supreme value in their life, they engage in what Scheler calls “unending endeavour” to maximize their experience of that finite thing which can never satisfy their infinite desire for the infinite God.  This man “seems magically enchained to its idol, and behaves ‘as if’  it were God himself.”(p.269)  In Platonic terms, this man is worshiping a “copy” of the greatest good.  Scheler sums up this error with some comparisons saying, “For the nationalist it is his nation, for the Faustian limitless knowledge, for the Don Juan repeated conquests of woman.”(p.269)  No man is a relativist in terms of values, everyone has some one supremely valuable value which governs his whole life.

The “religious moment” is something that everyone experiences as either an affirmation of having God at the center of one’s life, or an idol which could cause a significant crisis.  This crisis comes when he realizes what he has done and he must change.  Scheler says “…showing him invincibly…that he has installed a finite good in place of God, i.e. that within the objective sphere of the absolute…he has, in our sense, deified a particular good—or ‘become enamored’ of it.”(p. 267)  Maybe we know people who do this now, maybe even ourselves at one time or even now, who mistakenly put something they really love in the place of God in their lives.  Perhaps we really identified with a sporting team, or a degree, or an institution, or a career goal, or project, an obsession, with a person or thing, a statistic, or a World Cup championship, or a car.  Whatever idol it is, it seems hard to imagine a worse mistake.

The Realization

So, what does Scheler say about how someone processes this experience?  Scheler posits that the person experiences the realization in the following way: “The personality senses that the very nucleus of its existence and value is bound so closely to the object of faith that it is ‘pledged’ to that object, identified with it, as we say.  ‘I shall exist and have worth, and wish to exist and have worth, only in so far as thou, object of faith, art and hast worth’ or ‘we two stand and fall together’- these expressions render into words the relationship in which the person feels that it stands to the object of its faith.(p.269)  This person invests his own existence into the existence of that “object of faith,” such as “my team” or “my car” or “my job,” or, hopefully, my God.  Scheler says that “Essential to the act of faith is the unconditionality with which faith is pledged, and this of course in accordance with the objects location in the sphere of the absolute.”(p.269)  “Unconditionality” is the ultimate condition one put forth toward someone or some “thing.”  The key idea is whether that object for which one would make the ultimate sacrifice is an adequate or deserving subject for such a sacrifice?  Since God is the only being who can “adequately” fill our capacity for the infinite in our mind and soul, then it is only God who can satisfy man’s desire for the infinite.

With this in mind, Scheler discusses how a person’s idols, or that which is not God, are destroyed.  He says, “Once this cause is uncovered, once the veil is removed which concealed the idea of God from the soul of a man, once his idol is shattered, which he has interposed between himself and God, once he is restored to a correct vision from the jumbled or inverted order of things with which he bedeviled his mind’s eye or from the order of values that enslaved his heart, then it is that the religious act turns from its whoremongering in spontaneous quest of its proper object, the idea of God.”(p.268)  In other words, everyone can experience a “religious moment” in any variety of ways that reorder the hierarchy of being and values in one’s life with the Supreme Being, God Himself.

What about the Agnostic?

The Agnostic, who claims to “not know” or more literally “know nothing, Scheler pities the most.  He says that the Agnostic actively resists, in a purposeful, positive way, putting “the will against this covert foreknowledge and quest of the ens a se, a resistance which will not even permit the mind to form and judge the question of God’s existence. This active resistance is accompanied by a factitious clinging to the appearance of things, their superficial aspect.”(p.270)  So, the Agnostic regularly experiences epistemological doubt because he is confounded by the common sense exceptions to reliable sense data in everyday life which founds his paradoxical basis for ontological “nothingness” in place of God.

What is this “ens a se” that Scheler refers to?  According to The Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy (Edited by Nicholas Bunnin and Jiyuan Yu, eISBN: 9781405106795, in 2004), the ens a se “is a thing that is completely self-sufficient and depends on nothing else for its existence, and its description is ascribed solely to God…God is ens a se by existing independent of anything else, but all created things, including human beings, are ens ex se because they depend on God for their existence.” So, we can say that Scheler is saying that all persons have a mind and soul which has within it a realm for the absolute and objective, which is best fit by the Supreme Being, God Himself, who is ens a se, totally sovereign in every way.  However, Scheler points out that what is peculiar about the Agnostic is not that he doesn’t have this absolute and objective realm within him nor that he has no desire for that which is ens a se but that he persistently deceives himself.  Scheler says, “The agnostic maintains [that] he can refrain from the act of faith, claims that he does not believe.  Did he but look more closely into his state of mind, he would notice that he is deceiving himself.  He too has an absolute sphere to his consciousness, one filled with some positive phenomenon.  He is not without any such sphere, neither is that [which] he has empty.  But this positive phenomenon is the phenomenon of the ‘void’ or of nothingness (in respect of value).”(p.269) The Agnostic reserves the absolute and objective realm with empty space, with nothing, it is nothing (relatively) that he “puts” there instead of God.  “No-thing” is the idol of the Agnostic who is the most deceived and in for a shocking “religious moment.”

Early Thought of Karol Wojtyla on the Dignity of the Human Person

In Dignity of the Person on February 17, 2013 at 6:03 am

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It would seem that the dignity of the human person is not important to everyone.  Consider the millions of people willing to deny the dignity of the human person due to the unborn child.  Consider the number of nations that are now legalizing euthanasia around the world.  Now, if we consider that many people, even many very well educated people, are willing to deny the unborn and the terminally ill their most basic of human rights, the right to life, then one might suppose that these same people are willing to deny also that there is any effect of these unjust actions on the aggregate sum total of the dignity of the humanity globally.  Well, it might behoove such persons of naive intellection to consider the thought of a man who passionately loved the world by expending his entire life in defense of the dignity of every human person through his faith and reason, Karol Wojtyla, the late pope, Blessed John Paul II

In the book Person and Community: Selected Essays of Karol Wojtyla (Trans. Theresa Sandok OSM; Peter Lang: NY, 2008), the essay by Wojtyla “On the Dignity of the Human Person” is particularly striking because he speaks about that sum total of the dignity of the human person as often overlooked by many people.  Wojtyla says, “Human beings do not live for the sake of technology, civilization or even culture; they live by means of these things, always preserving their own purpose.  This purpose is intimately connected with truth, because the human being is a rational being, and also with the good, because the good is the proper object of free will.”(p.179)  To be connected with the truth is the purpose of the human person.  To be connected with the good, that is the purpose of the human person.  Well, one might ask, “Isn’t technology, or civilization or culture true and good?”  Again, Wojtyla points out that these things are exactly that, things; things are means not ends, persons are not things, persons are not means.  He clarifies this by saying, ” The human being holds a position superior to the whole of nature and stands above everything else in the visible world…Our distinctiveness and superiority as human beings in relation to other creatures is constantly verified by each one of us, regardless of how inferior we might feel because of our physical or spiritual deficiencies.”  (p.178)  The human dignity of every person is inherent in his very essence in spite of his human failings, which is why capital punishment and war are against the interest of human dignity as well.  As a phenomenologist, Wojtyla was interested in all sources of knowledge that led to the truth, including the very obvious sources of knowledge, that our actions as persons, our normal, everyday interactions all verify the dignity we afford each other in family and civic life.  With this in mind, we can think of his further encouraging words, “It follows that the matter of the dignity of the human person is always more of a call and a demand than an already accomplished fact, or rather it is a fact worked out by human beings, both in the collective and in the individual sense”  (p.179)  In other words, each and every person has a critical role here and now, in the present moment, in the life of the world of actively substantiating and fortifying the dignity of the human person through our actions and our ideas.  We have to actively work out the preservation of human dignity in the world and in our own mind and heart.

As mentioned previously, there are many people who are willing to deny affording the dignity of the human person their due, the right to life.  Any creature or created goal, such as, the protection of the environment, are inferior ends trumped by the superior end, the right to life of every human person which protects human dignity writ-large.  Why?  For Woytyla, the answer is simple and profound: “To acknowledge the dignity of the human being means to place people higher than anything derived from the visible world…There is no  way to acknowledge the dignity of the human being without taking this purpose and its thoroughly spiritual character into account.”(p.178-179)  Well, persons who deny the right to life of innocent unborn persons or of the rights of the person undergoing euthanasia, not only deny that particular person their most fundamental human right, to life, but also deny the very core of their personhood, their immaterial spiritual nature.  Wojtyla says something very beautiful and life affirming, “…through religion God confirms the personal dignity of the human being.” (p.179)  In other words, we can put our trust, our faith, our very personal dignity into the hands of God, affirming our own sense of the ultimate purpose and dignity to our lives.  Wojtyla continues, “The dignity of the human person finds its full confirmation in the very fact of revelation, for this fact signifies the establishment of contact between God and the human being…God becomes a human being; God enters into the drama of human existence through the redemption and permeates the human being with divine grace.”  God did not have to “contact” man, or reveal Himself, but because He desired all persons to know the source of their spirituality, the truth, the good and the genuine value of their own person, He revealed Himself for man to know his-self.  Wojtyla continues, “For those of us who are believers, this is where the dignity of the human person finds its fullest confirmation; this is where it is, so to speak, brought to surface.”(p.179)  God raised the dignity of all persons by becoming human in Jesus Christ while remaining God, entering human history so that all persons could appreciate his or her own infinite individual value as a person while attributing that  same infinite value to all other persons through love.

Wojytla points out another aspect that of man that gives rise to his dignity, the intellect and freedom.  He says, “Intellect and freedom are essential and irrevocable properties of the person.  Herein also lies the whole natural basis of the dignity of the person.” (p.178) With these statements, one may think of the many philosophers who parsed up “the intellect” into pieces with separate functions, but Wojtyla, as a personalist phenomenologist speaks of the intellect and freedom as two parts of one ontological whole being, the human person. One might be reminded of the dignity of man that Gregory of Nyssa attributes to the person from the Fourth century (long before Pico de Mirandola or the French Philosophes). In Gregory’s doctrine on man, De hominis opificio, Gregory says that,

“Man has been created after all the rest because all the rest has been created for him.  Unlike other creatures, he was created in the image of God.  This can be gathered from the shape of his body, but still more from his soul, to which man owes his truly royal dignity.  Man is masterless; he does everything of his own accord;  he governs himself, so to speak, with supreme authority ; in short, he is a king.  Man is not a king unto himself only, but with respect to the whole world.  He is in the image of God, because he is a king as God is a king. The beauty that shines in God also shines in man, whose destiny it is to share in an ineffable beatitude through virtue, and thus to become still more similar to his Creator.” (Etienne Gilson. History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages.  Random House: NY. 1955. p.56,57)

These are very powerful words from Gregory of Nyssa.  In other words, with his intellect and his freedom, God has created man to be sovereign over his own thought and life through the aid of virtue and faith.  With his mind, man can choose how to react to his-self’s experience of life and others experience of him with his own mind and with his own freedom, provided he is constantly seeking dominion over himself through all the virtues (human and theological) while assenting to the knowledge that faith bequeaths to him as a creature.  In this way, man can have certitude about the morality of his decisions and of achieving his destiny, closing the knowledge gap through faith and reason, which is true freedom, as Blessed John Henry Newman speaks about with his “illative sense.”

Finally, Wojtyla points out that the dignity of the person is a priori to his contribution to society or any anthropological conception of his origin or value. Wojtyla says, “Neither the concept of homo faber nor the concept of homo sapiens, understood in a purely functional way, will suffice here.”(p.179)  Those perspectives, one might say, of homo faber typified by Hannah Arendt and homo sapien by Charles Darwin respectively, both gravely neglect the reality of the spiritual dimension of man, both are intellectual leftovers from the absolute secularism of the Enlightenment, seeking pure pragmatism, a materialist understanding of the person.   The consequence of this is a degradation of the human person based purely upon his or her utility, like that of any thing, as espoused by Karl Marx, Jeremy Bentham and Thomas Malthus.  Wojtyla counters this notion saying, “Who the human being essentially is derives primarily from within that being.  All externalizations–activity and creativity, works and products–have here their origin and their cause.”‘ (p. 178) In other words, the origin of all of our action, all of our creativity, all of our work in the material external world is spiritual in origin.  Because this spiritual cause is immaterial and unique to each individual person, it is unrepeatable by nature and makes the ordinary activity of every person in the life of the world historical in the ordering of all being toward its Creator.   Wojtyla asks “Can the dignity of the human person be fully preserved?  And it must be preserved!” (p.180)  With this, we return to the beginning of the life course of all human beings, in the womb.  There, we see that, in order to fully preserve the dignity of the human person globally, as Wojtyla goads us to do, then the very first, most important step is to end the most barbaric degradation of the most innocent of human persons by ending all abortion.

What is the “Common Good”? Jacques Maritain’s Thoughts

In Dignity of the Person on December 17, 2012 at 12:24 am

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It would seem that the “common good” is not really that important to the average person in Modern Westernized societies. Even if it is, what is the “common good” anyway? The term gets used from time to time as something important to sustain, but does anyone really know what it means? Isn’t what’s good for the individual the same as what is good for the community and so there is no real need to focus on the needs of the community if everyone takes care of himself? Well, Jacques Maritain, who was one of the primary authors of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in his book The Person and the Common Good (trans. John J. Fitzgerald.  University of Notre Dame Press: Indiana. 1985) discussed many reasons why the individual person should have a significant interest in the “common good.”

Something that Jacques Maritain makes quite clear in his book, is that there a very strong inter-relationship between the dignity of the person and the “common good” of society. Maritain says, “Man is constituted a person, made for God and life eternal, before he is constituted a part of the city; and he is constituted a part of the family society before his is constituted part of the political society.” (p.75)   A person’s destiny is not an earthly fame or terrestrial immortality like some of the Ancient Greeks thought, as Achilles in the epic poem the Illiad or so many others. No, the person’s real destiny is to achieve his or her vocation in this life in order to live in eternity with God in the next life; and, this is the origin of every person’s dignity, before any other relationship, including before his national citizenship. So, this most transcendent human dignity needs to be preserved both in the family, and in society for the sake of the individual person to achieve his or her eternity with God which is his highest and primary calling. Maritain explains, “To get the right idea of human society, we must consider it as located in the analogical scale between the uncreated exemplar, the super-analogue of the concept of society, namely, the divine society…Infinitely above the city of men, there is a society of pure Persons, who are at the summit of individuality, but without the shadow of individuation by matter…Each one is in the other through an infinite communion, the common good of which is strictly and absolutely the proper good of each…”(p.58) Our destiny as created persons is to experience eternal life with the eternal community, with God, the Uncreated Trinity of Persons, in the beatific vision.

The person’s infinite intrinsic dignity derives from this divine relationship with God. Each person is an unrepeatable, irreplaceable being in relationship to God and in relationship to mankind.  Maritain says something very beautiful here, that “A single human soul is worth more than the whole universe of material goods. There is nothing higher than the immortal soul, save God. With respect to the eternal destiny of the soul, society exists for each person and is subordinated to it.”(p. 61)   We can think of the devastating poverty of abortion in Modern society, and how this purposefully hidden holocaust of ensouled unborn children destroys human creativity, destroys human flourishing and dooms the “common good” by killing society’s most valuable resource: other persons. There is nothing in the universe exchangeable for a single person, nor is the aggregation of all things of the universe worth the value of a single person, because only the person is made in the image and likeness of God, neither the entirety of the universe nor any other material thing.

So, where does society fit in as a “good” between that of the individual person and God? Maritain says, “The end of society, therefore, is neither the individual good nor the collection of the individual goods of each of the persons who constitute it…It is the good [of] human life of the multitude, of a multitude of persons; it is their communion in good living.”(p.51) Society can only sustain itself if each and every person makes an active effort to live in community with one another, at peace and in justice, in mutual subsidiarity to each other’s needs. But, how do people experience the “common good”? What does it look or feel like?  Maritain says the “common good” includes the following:”…the sum or sociological integration of all the civic conscience, political virtues and sense of right and liberty, of all the activity, material prosperity and spiritual riches, of unconsciously operative hereditary wisdom, of moral rectitude, justice, friendship, happiness, virtue and heroism in the individual lives of its members.” (p. 52)   In other words, the “common good” is the sum total of the best, most virtuous acts of human activity and the product of these most virtuous acts can only be offered by persons for sake of other persons.

The “common good” is diminished when a person does not live with his eternal destiny presently in mind throughout his life.  Non-virtuous activity by any person diminishes the human dignity both of ‘the actor’ himself and ‘the acted upon,” everyone else.  Maritain says, “…the common good of the city or of civilization…does not preserve its true nature unless it respects that which surpasses it, unless it is subordinated, not as a pure means, but as an infravalent end, to the order of eternal goods and the supra-temporal values from which human life is suspended.”(p.62) In other words, the person must be free in society in order to orient his life toward achieving his eternal destiny by living out his transcendental values in private and in public.  Therefore, any society that fails to allow its people this freedom deprives the most basic human dignity of the person and destroys the “common good,” and ultimately, itself.  This is why religious freedom is the first and most basic of all individual human rights, as Jacques Maritain understood very well.

Edith Stein on Faith and Philosophy

In Dignity of the Person on October 28, 2012 at 5:38 pm

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It would seem that faith and philosophy are opposed to each other.  At first glance, when compared to philosophy, it is faith that appears subjective, irrational or emotional.  Also, it seems that considering philosophy in light faith is how philosophy was done in the olden days, way back in the Middle Ages or during the pre-Scientific Revolution times, or in pre-Modernity.  So, even if this is a valid way of doing philosophy how could be relevant now? So much time has passed, so much “water under the bridge” already, that it seems irrelevant to the Information Age, or the post-Modern era to even begin to discuss seriously faith and philosophy. Well, Edith Stein, the female phenomenologist and saint thought quite differently and seriously about how the two could work together even today.

In her book, Knowledge and Faith, (Trans. Walter Redmond. ICS Publicastions: Washington, DC, 2000, p. 11) Stein says, “Phenomenology proceeds as though our reason had no limits in principle.”  The beauty of phenomenology is its openness to knowledge from all sources.  Such an epistemological disposition is only limited by one’s capacity for imbibing knowledge, understanding it and interpreting it.  For Stein, the only problem with natural reason alone is that it is incomplete.  She continues, “Certainly, it grants that its task is endless and knowledge is an unending process.  But it heads straight for its goal: that is, the full truth, which as a regulative idea sets the course it is to take.”  One might say that the only limit to the phenomenologist is her intentions and her capacity for the reception of knowledge, ultimately finding the truth.  But Truth is what the phenomenologist is searching for in all being.  She says, “From the perspective of philosophy, there is no other way to the goal.  St. Thomas’s view is also that this is the way of natural reason.” (p.11) Truth in its totality, truth in all of its manifestations, therefore includes faith as a subject.  She continues discussing natural knowledge that “Its way is endless, and this implies that it can never reach its goal but only approach it step by step.  Another consequence is that all human philosophy is bound to be fragmentary.” (pp. 11)  Fragmentary knowledge fails to display being in its totality ontologically.  Such a failure begs for completion, the true phenomenologist wouldn’t fail to search faith for this missing insight.  Surely, Stein understood this when she says, “This it grasps in faith, which on our earthly pilgrimage is a second way of gaining knowledge alongside the natural way.  At our goal, both what we now know and what we now take on faith, we will know in another way.”(p. 13)  In other words, in Eternity, we will attain knowledge in its totality according to our capacity, while faith supplants that lack here and now through supernatural reason with the addition of our natural knowledge through reason.  She says, “For philosophy is also a mater of ratio for me (in the broad sense that includes natural and supernatural reason.)  And you gather, of course, from what I was just saying, that I do not take faith to be irrational at all; that is, having nothing to do with truth and falsehood.”  What Stein seems to be interpreting of Saint Thomas Aquinas here, is that faith is not unreasonable, or irrational, or devoid of logic, but rather it is a reasoning that starts with Revelation and proceeds with its supernatural reasoning with an openness to the insight from faith about the knowledge that God has made known to man about Himself which he otherwise would not know or be able to grasp with out the aid of Revelation, certainly not reason alone.  As a consequence, for Stein “…faith is a way to truth.  Indeed in the first place it is a way to truths–plural–which would otherwise be closed to us, and in the second place it is the surest way to truth.”  This is a strong statement, to say that faith is the surest way to truth.  However, when analyzed from from a phenomenological perspective, the claim is that those who have received this Revelation start from a position of contemplation of what is purported to be divine knowledge, and when such knowledge proves to be reasonable supernaturally, it carries with it a certainty that natural reason neither claims nor can claim by itself.  She continues, “For there is no greater certainty than that of faith; what is more, for human beings [in the state of being on our earthly journey] no knowledge lends a certainty that can come up to that proper to faith…”(p.17)  In other words, with knowledge coming from faith one can behave in real, materially manifest ways, which include resting one’s entire life upon faith’s truth and even investing one’s eternal life on the truth of faith.

Who would be willing to rest his life on knowledge solely based upon human reason without belief?  Who can say that what she knows by reason alone, she is therefore willing to risk her life upon it?  Surely not her eternal life upon it. Whereas, the person of faith would be willing to risk both her earthly life and eternal life on her supernatural knowledge from faith if necessary, and many martyrs in the history of Christianity have done that very thing.  Whereas, any rationalist who was willing to risk both her earthly life and the possibility of her eternal life on what she knew by reason alone would be thought of as a fool.  Hence, it would behoove philosophers to consider faith more seriously, as Stein did saying, “Philosophy aspires after truth to the greatest possible extent and with the greatest possible certainty.  If faith makes accessible truths unattainable by any other means, philosophy, for one thing, cannot forego them without renouncing its universal claim to truth.” (p. 17)  All philosophers seek truth, truth is their aim from whence it comes.  If it comes from faith, as Stein discovered, in order for philosophy to claim to seek truth honestly, it cannot renounce the truth deriving from knowledge of faith without giving up its universal claims, which can be said that some Postmodernists have done in order to ignore and to discount that very discovery.  Stein wisely advises philosophers who neglect truth deriving from faith by saying, “Furthermore, it cannot forgo these truths without risking that falsehood will creep even into the body of knowledge left to it, since, given the organic interrelationship of all truth, any partial stock, when its link to the whole is cut off, can appear in a false light.  One consequence then, is a material dependence of philosophy on faith.”  The importance of the aforesaid cannot be understated, for more than 500 years some philosophers since Machiavelli have actively excluded availing themselves to faith as a source of truth, (which would have been considered strange in the prior 1500 years).  Stein says, “Then too, if faith affords the highest certainty attainable by the human mind, and if philosophy claims to bestow the highest certainty, then philosophy must make the certainty of faith its own.  It does so first by absorbing the truths of faith, and further by using them as the final criterion by which to gauge all other truths.” (p. 18)  Blessed John Henry Newman, in his The Idea of the University, refers to this phenomenon in the university, of having removed the study of theology and philosophy from the academy, as one of the greatest pedagogical errors of the West.  Stein alludes to a similar sentiment toward philosophers at large in the prior quote saying that philosophy informed by the aid of faith would contribute to its own certainty rather than simply the aid of natural reason alone, instead with this aid of supernatural knowledge philosophers could benefit even in their judgement of being with the use of natural reason.  Stein exhorts phenomenologists by recalling Thomas Aquinas saying that, “He would never admit that this is the only way of knowledge, nor that truth is but an idea that must be actualized in an unending process–and hence never fully.  Full Truth is; there is a knowledge that embraces truth completely, a knowledge that rather than unending process, is unending, infinite, fullness at rest.  Such is the divine knowledge.”(p. 12)  In other words, divine knowledge, or knowledge from faith, does not endlessly seek more and more knowledge or does not continually process for the sake of processing, as if knowledge or process is the end in itself, but that the fullness of truth is God and faith embraces this knowledge, a knowledge that is both infinite yet complete, unending but at rest.   God, as Pure Act, knows His Self perfectly and completely, the person of faith recognizes this, loves this and appreciates this Truth as genuine knowledge with a certitude that no other natural knowledge can claim, yet it is only the starting point of reasoning for the philosopher who is a person of faith.  The philosopher who adds the aid of her reason with the supernatural knowledge of faith is no longer confined as the Heideggerian being in time and space, but a new being in time and space who is also simultaneously a being outside of the cosmos, outside space and time, with insight from faith of the knowledge of God.  This advantage is truly something about which we should celebrate and be grateful.

What Is Faith? Nicolas of Cusa thought it was God’s greatest gift

In Dignity of the Person on October 12, 2012 at 6:51 am

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It would seem that between faith and reason, that faith is the weaker.  Rather, it would seem that reason, the mind, the intellect, these are man’s greatest strengths.  Isn’t it through the mind anyway that we come to know nature, the world and our identity?  Isn’t reasoning with the mind responsible for so much of our knowledge of science, mathematics, nature and the universe?  Isn’t it through the intellect that we come to know indubitably both the interior world of our mind and the exterior world of the world?  So, with such prolific evidence of the great power of reason, it would seem that faith is opposed to reason and a less powerful faculty.

Faith and Reason Together

Well, Nicholas of Cusa, the 15th Century philosopher and theologian, looks at how faith and reason could work together rather than separately, according to what Karl Jaspers says in his book Anselm and Nicholas of Cusa (Edited by Hannah Arendt, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich:NY. 1966). Nicholas of Cusa implies that faith could be a problem for the philosopher when he says, “Faith produces conflict in the mind.  The mind assents necessarily to what has been proved.”(p.56) This is entirely understandable, the philosopher wants to use his mind logically, going slowly in his reasoning process in order not make a single mistake, as Descartes said.  In Aristotelian terms, when the mind abstracts the universal, learning takes place and the mind has therefore assented, induced the universal from the particular phenomena.  But, faith, works with divine revelation, revealed truth, divine reasoning, not man’s reasons or reasoning, therefore a conflict of possible answers could cause a dilemma for the philosopher.  He says, “But faith must struggle.  The improbability of its content clashes directly with discursive reason.”(p. 56) This doesn’t mean that a person doesn’t have to work mentally to assent to the proofs that reason provides, but rather the person of faith assents to divinely revealed proofs through belief. Whereas, the mind assents to proofs through reason, no belief is necessary to struggle through because the logic has been worked out in the mind, whereas the clash between faith and reason arises between the sources of the proofs: human versus divine.  The person of faith has to struggle, in a sense, to fight, to figure out for himself his belief in the divinely revealed truth, rather than simply accepting the assent of his mind as with a logical proof.  Instead, with faith, his will has to assent to the truth of faith: that is the struggle, the clash that Nicholas of Cusa speaks of, it seems.  He says, “Without courage in the struggle that faith must wage, there is no victory. (p.56)  In other words, faith requires fortitude order in to believe, to trust the testimony of a predecessor without all of the discursive reasoning, without extensive rationalist proofs, but based upon simple and profound faith.  Just as a soldier risks his life based upon the commands of a commander, or a child trusts his mother completely, the believer entrusts his or her life now and in the next life to the truth of the revelation of God, completely.  Nicolas of Cusa continues, “Because of its weakness, discursive reason looks for points of support in demonstration and proof.  Because of its inherent strength, faith needs no external support.”(p.56) What could be insightful here is Nicholas of Cusa’s famous doctrine that “all oppositions are united in their infinite measure, so that what would be logical contradictions for finite things coexist without contradiction in God, who is the measure of all things…”(The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Ed. Robert Audi. Cambridge UP: NY. 1995, p. 531).  Faith and reason seem to be logical oppositions, but given infinite time, which is the realm of God, things can coexist without contradiction.  We live in time currently, we live in a realm that inheres in space and time, where the law of non-contradiction applies, in reason, but given that faith takes the timeless view, and the person is the composite of the two, time with the timeless, reason and faith, taken together seems to be the perspective of God, from what Nicholas of Cusa says. This is the modus operandi for the believer, he says, “Christians believe in God’s revelation without it [discursive reason].”(p.56)  Protagoras and rationalists, believed man to be the measure of all things, if man can know it, it exists, if he can’t it doesn’t.

Nicholas of Cusa analyzes faith from a philosophical perspective.  He says, “The believer’s self-understanding is called knowledge of faith.” (p.56) In other words, faith is knowledge.  Faith is not non-knowledge, anti-reason or irrational.  It is knowledge of revealed wisdom, knowledge of divine revelation, of divine truth, and it is through this knowledge, knowledge of faith, that a believer truly “knows thyself.” He says, “Only by reflecting upon faith do we achieve clarity about it.”(p. 56) Faith is not unthinking, faith is not blind but rather, faith is open to the contemplation of the truth of God who is the ultimate measure of all things; rather than judgment by man’s measure, his reason alone, encapsulated by space and time, which is its “weakness” as Nicholas of Cusa calls it.

A Person’s Will and Faith

Maybe the most interesting ideas Nicholas of Cusa has to say about faith are about its relation to the will.  He says, “The humble man, however, does not understand unless he believes.”(p.57)  We can be reminded here of Anselm’s famous statement, “I believe so that I may understand.”  Here too, the believer starts with his will open to belief, not a-critical, but also not pessimistic or skeptical, but rather, open to all possibilities of knowledge, including faith.  This humility is critical to understanding as Nicholas of Cusa says, because he “…does not understand unless he believes.”(p.57)  It seems that we could say the same thing but in reverse, that “The prideful man, however, does not understand because he does not believe.”  It is almost frightening to think that because of one’s faults, bad character, erroneous conscience or poor disposition, that one could be closing oneself off to the most important source of man’s knowledge, faith.  Nicholas of Cusa says, “The ability to believe is our greatest virtue; it is the power of the will, God’s greatest gift.”(p.57)  It seems that what he is saying here is that the “power of the will” or our individual human freedom as a person is exemplified in our faith, in our ability to believe, not in our ability to reason alone.  It seems appropriate that he uses the word “virtue” here, because it reminds us of the other virtues, and like all virtues, human, intellectual and theological, they all have to be worked at, they all take time, effort, diligence, perseverance to obtain their reward, so too with the faith, which he calls our “ability to believe.” Believing is also an ability, a skill, a mental openness to the Word of God.  It makes sense that reception of the most important gift, what he calls “God’s greatest gift” requires constant virtue, constant work, a continual earning of it, regularly maintaining it, and showing our gratitude for the gift throughout life, not a simple one time acknowledgement and getting on with life.  Nicholas of Cusa calls faith “the power of the will” which we should consider more closely.  When we think of reason, we wouldn’t call it the “power of the will” necessarily but rather the power of the mind.  Reason, as he says, assents to proofs, but it seems that what he is saying is that faith is “the power of the will” to assent to Divine Revelation.

Nicholas of Cusa says, “Faith is the light of the soul…the light of the living faith surpasses ‘the natural light of the senses and even the intellect, as we see in the sacrament of the Mass, where the senses are vanquished by faith.  In this faith the visible coincides with the invisible.”(p.57)  Similar to Robert Grosseteste’’s metaphysics that God is Light, and that just as in the physical world we know being via light, so too, we can say that in the spiritual world do we know God via spiritual light, revelation.  Gregory of Nyssa says we know God via two manifestations, creation and revelation.  For Nicholas of Cusa, he seems to be saying that, “faith” itself is the vehicle through which the soul transmits itself, through which the soul shines.  Just as Nicholas of Cusa’s reference to light, that it is through light we know being through the senses, thus analogously, in the Mass, through the light of faith our soul learns knowledge of God.  As a consequence, the person of faith can see the world from the perspective of God’s knowledge of the world through his faith, in addition to his knowledge of the world through his senses and his mind.

Contrariwise, the atheist rationalist is always confronted with the problem of insufficient knowledge, yet he continues to believe that preferencing reason alone will lead him to his ultimate answers, only to discover he needs more knowledge, again, again and again, ad infinitum.  Whereas, the believer reasons that there will always be a knowledge deficiency for man when comparing his capacity for knowledge against God’s infinite knowledge, and therefore, he preferences God’s knowledge through faith.  The believer sides with not presuming to be able to know everything himself, but recognizes the limits of his reason and his own ability to understand, and instead entrusts his lack of knowledge to God, who really does know all things completely.  Whereas, the rationalist sides with not recognizing his own inherent limits of knowledge and understanding but believes his system of knowledge can surpass his own limits, when he can’t possibly know anything completely through reason alone through all of space and time.

Faith as Power

The rationalist sees faith as devoid of power, whereas the faithful see faith as power.  Nicholas of Cusa says, “Faith surpasses nature by what it itself is and by the goal it has in view.  It also surmounts the power of nature, for nothing is impossible for the believer. “(p.57)  The person of faith has real, human knowledge from his senses and can process it in his mind just like the rationalist, however, the person of faith adds an additional dimension to his knowledge by attempting to learn the perspective of God on the things he knows with the aid of communication with God: prayer.  The rationalist lacks this dimension.  The rationalist assumes that this dimension is neither real nor valid, even imaginary.  But the difference is that the person of faith sees nature timelessly, whereas the rationalist cannot escape the urgency of his present because the present is his only knowledgeable perspective on nature, on being.  Whereas, the person of faith seeks to return all materiality and interiority to its source in its entirety, back to God, as gift.

Faith seeks God, who is infinitely beyond the confines of space and time.  Whereas, man, by nature, with his reason alone, is always limited to and immersed in the confines of space and time.  The person of faith has humility not fool himself into thinking that he has the ability to know all things.  The person of faith knows with certainty that God knows with certainty and prudently hesitates to conjecture about what he himself knows with or without certainty.  Whereas, the person without faith and puffed up with pride has imprudently fooled himself into believing that he can know all things and thus brashly conjectures about what he thinks he knows with certainty while also conjecturing about the things he doesn’t know with certainty, especially the past or the future.

Nicholas of Cusa says, “Faith raises us above every limitation.”(p.57)  It raises us above every limitation because the faithful person believes in the God, the Infinite Being, the Eternal Being, the unlimited Being, unchanging Being, whereas the rationalist is always working with finite being, temporal being, which are highly limited and ever changing.  Reason limits, while faith unlimits: together the person struggles with and attempts to make sense of both.  Nicholas of Cusa says, “The believer knows what he wants.  His knowledge of God is both his strength and his power (potentia).”(p.57)  The believer knows a priori that God knows all things with certainty and completely: that is the believer’s strength and power; that God really does know even when he himself doesn’t know or no one else knows. God knows.  The person of faith knows that God knows  and therefore he knows that it is not merely knowledge of things that he wants, but he wants to know the source of all things, the cause of all things, the essence of all things, the origin of all things, the ceaseless goodness of God.  Just as Aristotle correctly says, in his Metaphysics “All men desire to know,”  one could say that all believers’ preferentially desire to know God, who by definition will never be entirely knowable to us, but He who quenches our thirst also teaches us that there are still infinite oceans left to drink.  Whereas, the man of reason alone is not only ignorant a priori but also only knows a posteriori yet incompletely, neither stepping in the same river twice nor once.

Nicholas of Cusa concludes his disquisition by saying, ” He who knows what he desires to know, and who is what he knows,’ has achieved ‘the peace that passeth understanding.'”(p.57)  The believer has a goal, his goal is God.  The rationalist has a goal, his goal is more knowledge and knowledge as power, a sort of gnosticism, and consequently, he is ever weaker in his own knowledge of himself, because he specifically excludes knowledge of God who is his source of life and being.  The faithful person knows what he desires to know, God, ineffable knowledge, and as a consequence comes to know his true self in relation to his knowledge of God who is his final destiny.  The common problem with more knowledge is that it does not necessarily lead to more understanding or peace.  Whereas, as Nicholas of Cusa said, the humble, faithful person who constantly seeks more understanding of God through his faith certainly receives more peace. Who doesn’t want more peace?  So it seems fairly reasonable to say, that the one thing we really do need more of in this life, is faith.

Max Scheler On the “Order of Love” (Part 2)

In Dignity of the Person, Friendship on October 1, 2012 at 7:11 am

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Max Scheler uses one of Pascal’s theses on love as a philosophical foundation for his idea of “ordo amoris.”  Pascal’s famous quote is “Le coeur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point,” (The heart has reasons that reason does not know). Scheler says, “The heart is itself a structured counter-image of the cosmos of all possible things worthy of love; to this extent it is a microcosmos of the world of values.” (Selected Philosophical Essays Max Scheler. Ed. John Wild et al., Northwestern University Press: 1973, p.116) It is only through the heart that we understand the true meaning of the person and the person’s place in the universe, the meaning of the universe itself and where he finds himself in relation to God.  Scheler believes Pascal’s point to be that the mind formulates its reasons, but so too does the heart formulate its own reasoning, its own understanding, both are autonomous, but the heart’s reasons are based upon moral values not strict logic.

Scheler says that if you have the ordo amoris of a person, you understand the person, because within the parameters of his values paradigm, there is a range of his behavior which he is wont to follow.   Scheler says, “Where his ‘heart’ is attached, there for him, is the ‘core’ of the so-called essence of things…His actual ethos, that is, the rules of his value-preference and value-depreciation, defines the structure and content of his world-view and of his knowledge and thought of the world…This is true of individuals and of races, of nations, of cultural circles, of peoples and families, of parties, of classes, of castes and of professions.”(p.111)  The ordo amoris is transcultural, everyone universally experiences value instantiation in their life from their culture and this is the window out of which they view the world.  Scheler continues, “Within the world-order which is valid for all men, every particular form of the human is assigned some definite range of value-qualities.  Only the harmony of these, their fitting together in the structure of common world-culture, can display the greatness and expanse of the human spirit.”(p.111) Scheler seems to be saying that each culture has a series or system of values that it emphasizes, and taken aggregately, the whole of the world’s mix of cultures creates a tapestry of the one world’s soul, this is the world’s spiritual magnanimity.  Somehow if awareness of this commonality is promulgated successfully, then the world will experience greater peace.

How about the ordo amoris at the personal level?  What if we don’t want others to depend on us or us on them?  Well, that’s not going to work according to Scheler, it simply isn’t reality.  Scheler emphasizes the fact that as persons, we are all intimately interdependent upon each other, not just for resources and community life, but even to the point of influencing each other’s individual eternal salvation.  In other words, from a spirit perspective, Scheler says that not only is there a macrocosmic universe that God is ordering based upon love, but that each individual person’s destiny is tied to all other persons.  If each person’s life is a universe and mystery unto himself, and each person’s individual destiny is a story of salvation, then the billions upon billions of persons who make up the history of humanity from Adam and Eve to the last person at the end of human history and beyond into the afterlife of eternity, all people constitute the central part of the macrocosmic drama of salvation history, or Time, into Eternity.  With this in mind, we all have a duty to serve the interests not only of our own salvation but that of all others persons we come in contact with everyday of our lives.  Our life experience with another person is part of that individual’s salvation history which is directly tied to the macrocosmic end of the universe and eternity.   No act is small when it is done out of love because it is an integral part of all of the ordo amoris.

Is there an “Order to Love”? Personalist Philosopher Max Scheler Thought So…(Part 1)

In Dignity of the Person on August 16, 2012 at 7:02 am

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It would seem that maybe one of the last things in the world that anyone would want in love, is order.  The idea of “order in love” seems to connote “routine,” “lack of spontaneity,” “predictablity,” “dispassionate,” “uncreative,” just plain “boring.”  So, why would Max Scheler, known as the founder of personalism and an expert on the philosophy of emotions and feelings propose that there is an “order to love” (“ordo amoris”), a sort of rationalism for the emotions?  Plus, even if this “order to love” did exist, as Scheler suggests, what good would it be even if one did come to learn what Scheler meant by it?

Well, according to Scheler, the ordo amoris is the root of all ethics.  Scheler says that “The study of this formation belongs to the most important problems of an intensive study of the moral being ‘man.'” [Selected Philosophical Essays Max Scheler. Ed. John Wild et al., Northwestern University Press: 1973, p.102]  In other words, the most important philosophizing  that the world needs to engage in is the ordo amoris.  Scheler says because, “…the highest thing of which a man is capable is to love things as much as possible as God loves them…”  This is the loftiest possible standard of love: infinite love.  He says, “the concept of ordo amoris…is the means whereby we can discover, behind the initially confusing facts of man’s morally relevant actions, behind his expressions, his wishes, customs, needs and spiritual achievements, the simplest structure of the most fundamental goals of the goal-directed core of the person, the basic ethical formula, so to speak, by which he exists and lives morally.”(p.102)  This “order of the heart” is the window into the soul of the person.

What Scheler says is a radical break from the trends of rationalism, empiricism and pragmatism of modern philosophy.  He says, “…[the] heart deserves to be called the core of man as a spiritual being much more than knowing and willing do.”(p.102)  This is very different from what other very important philosophers have said about man.  We can think of Aristotle’s statement that man is a “rational animal,” implying that it is his knowledge, his learnedness, his capacity for abstracting the universal from the particular that makes him a person.  However, according to Scheler, this is not the core or root of man’s being.  Rather, he says it isn’t knowing that is at the root of man’s being, but rather that the person“has a spiritual model of the primary source which secretly nourishes everything emanating from this man.”(p.102)  In other words, one might say that the person’s heart, his “order of love,” is the formal cause of his spirituality, therefore his personhood, directed toward the Final Cause which is also the First Cause.

This ordo amor is also a radical break from the German Romantic philosophers of the late Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth Century who advocated a sort of mythical, nature-based spiritedness, a “will to power,” for example, the will, was the focal point of man’s personhood for many of them in this life, only.  Whereas, Scheler is not saying “spiritedness” in their sense at all, but instead he says, “The idea of a correct and true ordo amoris is, for us the idea of a strictly objective realm independent of man, the objective order of what is worthy of love in all things, something we can only recognize, but cannot “posit,” produce or make…It is not something we have to posit, but something we have to recognize.” (p.103)  This point that Scheler makes is important because what is inherent yet hidden and awaiting discovery in all things and in all persons is the moral order.  With this value ranking man is obliged to recognize its value, not posit, produce or make (because he cannot).  Such a value ranking, an inherentness of being, is something that persons need to recognize subjectively, individually.  This subjective aspect of the ordo amoris can be misled, disordered or confused by a person, which would need to be corrected and restored.  Well, how can it become disordered?

According to Scheler, a confused conception of the ordo amoris can come about when someone over emphasizes a “love of the self” over and above the “love for one’s own salvation.”(p.102)  He says that the disorder comes about when “we purposely see everything, even ourselves, through our ‘own’ yes only.  We refer every datum, even ourselves, to our sensuous states of feeling, without having a distinct and clear awareness that this is what we are doing.  Thus, we can, in clinging to these states of feeling, make even our highest spiritual capacities…the slaves of our body and its conditions.” (p.107)  In this way, Scheler states that “The sensualist is struck by the way the pleasure he gets from the objects of his enjoyment gives him less and less satisfaction while his driving impulse stays the same or itself increases as he flies more and more rapidly from one object to the next…”  He quotes Pascal who said that “Our heart is too spacious,” (p.102) meaning that although the person’s body and spirit both have the desire for the infinite, only the spirit has the capacity for this infinity.  A disordered ordo amoris can arise and frustrate the intemperate person’s heart because his pursuit of infinite bodily experiences cannot possibly be satisfied.  The consequence of this is devastating, Scheler says, “Our spirit finds itself in ‘metaphysical confusion’ when an object which belongs among those in any way and in any degree value-relative is loved in the manner appropriate only to objects of absolute value; that is when a man identifies the value of his spiritual personal core with the value of such an object to the extent that he stands to it basically in the relation of faith and worship, and thus falsely deifies it, or rather idolizes it.”(p.124)  For Scheler, a person that perceives a thing as value relative is the person who correctly perceives a thing according to its rank as a being and he understands the love due to that thing, its ordo amoris.  Whereas, the person who perceives a thing incorrectly metaphysically attributes ultimate, absolute value, to a thing that does not merit absolute value (such as a person who fanatically desires his team to win the World Cup in soccer).  As a consequence, this person incorrectly attributes too much value to a thing that is not its due while omitting the recognition and appreciation of what does have absolute value, such as God.

Whereas, when the ordo amoris is correctly perceived, Scheler maintains that the spiritual life is very different in the effects it receives from the pursuit of spiritual things correctly.  He says, “…the satisfaction of one who loves spiritual objects, whether things or persons, is always holding out new promise of satisfaction…In the highest case, that of love for a person, this movement develops the beloved person in the direction of ideality and perfection appropriate to him and does so, in principle, beyond limits.”(p.109)  He says this because “Every love is love for God, still incomplete, often slumbering or self-infatuated, often stopping, as it were on its way.”(p.109) He continues, “If a man loves a thing or a value…if he loves this or that formation in nature, if he loves a man as a friend…It means that in and through the action of this unity he joins the other object in affirming its tendency toward its proper perfection that he is active in assisting it, promoting it, blessing it.”(p.109)  In other words, the person contributes to the achievement of the destiny of all things and of all persons, which is to be united with God.  Just as the saying goes “Charity starts at home,” charity or love, begins with the obvious persons with whom we already live, those for whom we are most indebted for their agapeic love, our parents, or our spouse or children, family and friends.  This ordo amoris as charity properly ordered, is a self-donation of one’s true self  to others that doesn’t confuse or delude oneself or others about the a priori hierarchy of love in being and in the dignity of the person.