Saturday, December 5, 2009


The gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent last week was from Luke 21:

Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap....Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.
That conjunction of "dissipation/drunkenness" with "anxieties of life" struck me, especially in light of Pieper's thoughts on leisure and the role of philosophy in the life of the human being.

You would tend to think Dissipation & Drunkenness = Bad, while Anxieties of Life = Justifiable, Responsible, even Good or at least Excusable.

But Jesus doesn't seem to reprehend the one and justify the other in this passage. He warns us, on the contrary, to "be careful" and "be on the watch". Carefulness and watchfulness are here opposed to both anxiety AND dissipation, though perhaps in different ways. Could it be that both the "cares of life" AND preoccupation with trivial or sensual appetites diminish from the focus necessary to keep the real things in mind?

I just reread CS Lewis's Screwtape Letters and one of the letters, about the present and the eternal, seems relevant to this --(this is the devil talking, of course, so the "Enemy" referred to is God):

The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which our Enemy has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them. He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him) or with the Present—either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.
It goes on:

In a word, the Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time—for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays.... Hence nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead. ...
And finally:

To be sure, the Enemy wants men to think of the Future too—just so much as is necessary for now planning the acts of justice or charity which will probably be their duty tomorrow. The duty of planning the morrow's work is today's duty; though its material is borrowed from the future, the duty, like all duties, is in the Present. This is not straw splitting. He does not want men to give the Future their hearts, to place their treasure in it. We do. His ideal is a man who, having worked all day for the good of posterity (if that is his vocation), washes his mind of the whole subject, commits the issue to Heaven, and returns at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over him
In a similar way, Philosophy calls us to consider the eternal things in the light of the present moment. Pieper writes:

"The one who philosophizes does not turn his head in a different direction, when he transcends the work a day worldin the philosophical act; he does not take his eye off the things of the working world -- away, that is, from the concrete, purposeful, manageable items of the working day -- he does not need to look in a different direction in order to behold the universal world of essences......

"To find the truly unusual and extraordinary, the real mirandum, within the usual and the ordinary, is the beginning of philosophy."
This seems to require a certain vigilance and care -- to see in the immediate things of the moment, the ultimate things that endure. As Lewis says, justice and charity tell us what we ought to be doing in the present moment. Dissipation -- frivolity -- and self-indulgence, AND anxiety -- fretting about the future or preoccupying oneself exclusively with the work world -- are distractions from the watchful, hopeful, expectant, diligent, careful spirit needed for both the Christian life and the philosophical approach.

As Pieper points out, philosophy in its concern with ultimate ends is unavoidably ordered to religion. You can even come to this conclusion by natural means (that is, by human reason, without Revelation, has Aristotle did:

For the most divine science is also most honourable; and this science alone must be, in two ways, most divine. For the science which it would be most meet for God to have is a divine science, and so is any science that deals with divine objects; and this science alone has both these qualities; for (1) God is thought to be among the causes of all things and to be a first principle, and (2) such a science either God alone can have, or God above all others. All the sciences, indeed, are more necessary than this, but none is better.

This does not mean that philosophy and religion are the same thing by any means. It does mean that philosophy will resolve in sterile "human wisdom", what Pieper calls a "closed system" unless it dedicates itself ultimately in the direction of what Aquinas called the "beatific vision" -- beholding, by gracious permission, the "face of God".

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad you posted on last week's Gospel. I was going to but never got around to it, and you did so SO much better than I could have. :)


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