Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Simplicity is Abundance

On pages 81 -84 of True Simplicity now.

Von Hildebrand says that

"All these forms of false simplicity ... (are) purchased at the price, either of self-confinement to a diminutive section of some inferior sphere of being (viewed from a unilateral angle, at that) or a distorted vision of the universe according to a pattern taken from an inferior sphere."
True simplicity can be summed up in the Gospel dictum:

Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you

"I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly."

Going back to earlier parts of the chapter, you can see that Von Hildebrand said that living beings, even the humblest, are simpler and richer both than inorganic matter because all their components are devoted to a single unifying principle. I suppose one way to understand this might be thinking of seeing or learning something new. At first it is chaotic -- as we learn or see more we come to see the unifying principles that make sense of it. A confusing jumble of color, texture and shape becomes a chair -- in the process of simplifying, we also heighten our understanding. I'm not sure if that's a good analogy or not, but I'm holding onto it for now to help me grasp what seems like a contradiction -- that simplicity is richer, more variegated, more powerful than disunity.

So one axiom -- simplicity is in proportion to the degree of height. It has to be repeated since so much of our life experience in this society goes against it. Multiplicity and accumulation are all around us, in knowledge, in the shopping centers, even in religion where you get all different kinds of devotions and practices. He says that the difference between the richness and abundance of simplicity and the motley multiplicity of complexity is an "inward" vs an "outward" approach. The same principle distinguishes "false simplicity" from true simplicity because false simplicity is a veneer, an outward thing.

"All forms of false simplicity, except the one based on a deficiency of intellectual gifts, constitute an insuperable obstacle to the attainment of true simplicity. For they keep us bogged down in the flat regions of our nature, devoid of the heroic readiness to die unto ourselves and to be lifted towards the heights where alone we might receive the gift of true simplicity."
With those who are primitive in natural capacity for whatever reason, true simplicity is attainable. There are several notable examples in saint's history of "simple" people who were also very holy. All of us lack some basic qualities that we need to be entirely successful. These are not obstacles unless we allow them to "bog us down" as he says.

On page 84 he talks about the "consonance of simplicity and abundance". To be un-simple is to fritter away one's resources in unessentials. One analogy that comes to mind in the secular sphere is if we save all our pennies and live frugally in order to use what we've saved for some good cause -- like, say, sending our children to a truly excellent school. Or let's say something even more mundane and ordinary, like a nice house in the country. You can see that by not "frittering" and dissipating our small resources, but focusing them towards a greater purpose, we end up with more abundance than we would have had.

He mentions the parable of the "pearl of great price" which is another way of saying the same thing. The "pearl" of course, is our relationship with God. There is no reasonable way around it -- everything in the world is unsatisfying in itself. St Augustine talks about this very convincingly. Some things are less unsatisfying -- if you think about it, the more satisfying things in life are usually harder, less tangible -- things like achievement, excellence, strong family relationships. But even those things turn into a cruel mockery if they become "ends" -- goals in themselves. Ecclesiastes is always a good reminder of that. Even virtue becomes "vanity", a blowing of the wind. Try doing something virtuous and difficult out of context of the bigger picture (as I have many times). It tastes bitter. Praise and respect may sweeten the taste just a bit but not enough. You end up either throwing yourself wholly into something ultimately not worth all your efforts -- something that will pass away in time or become decayed -- or basically hanging back, taking a lukewarm course, just trying to get through the bitter bits with mild pleasures like coffee and sociableness and good books, or whatever your personal preference happens to be. These things are good in themselves. But they aren't true palliatives or remedies, because they were never meant to be that.

Von Hildebrand writes:

Even within the limits of the natural sphere, a life filled by one high vocation is richer and more differentiated than the life of a person whose energies are frittered away on many peripheral things. A great love not only informs a person's life in greater depth but lends it a far greater abundance than a multitude of superficial love relationships.... The old wisdom still holds which sets multum (much) higher than multa (many things) . How much truer is this of unity centered on God, who not only contains per eminentiam all fullness of being but is the Cause and the End of all created things.
I'm glad he mentioned "non multa sed multum" because it helps with one of my questions about how an education becomes Catholic rather than secular especially when often, the same subject matter is concerned. Education, then, would have to be "inward", directed to the person per se, rather than "outward", things imposed upon the person.

I also like "a great love... informs a person's life in greater depth.."

Inform, etymologically, means "shape, form, train, instruct, educate".

A great love "informs" life, then, in the sense of giving it form and "education" which in turn, etymologically, means "bringing out" and "leading". So in other words, a great relationship and/or purpose has the effect of forming and focusing and bringing a person out to a higher plane than they would reach otherwise. The Christian life is both relationship AND purpose on a high level.

That's enough for today!