Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Simplicity: Hierarchy of Values

I'm on pages 99-104 in the chapter on True Simplicity in Transformation in Christ. This concludes the chapter! So on with the last part, about having a hierarchy of values, though I won't do it justice.

This is the second time recently I've read a Catholic theologian using the word "values" in a philosophical context. Previously I'd read several things to the effect that the word "values" was tainted -- perhaps they are talking in a different context, about public discourse. The article I just linked to said that Hitler had values, it's just that they were bad ones. So talking about "values", the article holds, only muddies and relativizes things.

In the context of Christian theological discussion though, it appears to be important not to hand the word over to the other side, so to speak. In this context, determining what "values" are being expressed is very helpful in determining where things come from. Hitler, bad values and all, didn't come out of nowhere. In their encyclicals, the Popes have often been much more acute than their contemporaries in tracing back the errors in the values espoused by key philosophies and ideologies of their time. Plus, by determining our own acting values -- what we REALLY subscribe to in spite of our pious professions -- can help us reach simplicity. Someone who professes charity but speaks in an unnecessarily hurtful way, for instance -- or someone who says they want to serve God but complains at the first trace of suffering or hardship. As Von Hildebrand says, reaching simplicity in this matter -- all our thoughts, words and deeds springing from and flowing towards one Source -- is not at all natural to us. It is a heroic struggle that lasts a lifetime.

Von Hildebrand says that Faith allows us to see the right hierarchy of values more clearly. There is no substitute. He says:

"With a new clarity and certitude we shall understand that eternal truths -- for example, that man is endowed with free will, or that all finite beings require a cause -- reflect God more clearly than do empirical and accidental truths, such as the true statement that on a certain day it was raining or that hydrogen and oxygen combine into water. ...

We shall no less clearly grasp the hierarchic distinction that moral values like charity, faithfulness, and veracity, refer to God in a much deeper and more specific sense than do a man's vital values, such as healthiness, a lively temperament, etc."
So here are the things he says values do:

  1. The encounter with genuine values simplifies the soul
  2. Values elevate us above a multiplicity of interests.
  3. Values unify communities and individuals
I suppose in other words genuine values give you a focus and a perspective, or vantage point.

He describes an upward pull that we can either consent to or pull against, in fearfulness and sloth. "If today you hear My voice, harden not your hearts." We have a choice. Giving into oneself is one sort of servitude, obeying God's voice is another sort. But the latter is ennobling -- even Jesus Himself was not degraded by doing in every detail exactly what God asked Him.

He says that the

elevation above petty terrestrial goods must take root in our souls as a permanent attitude of sursum corda, of eagerness to let ourselves be borne aloft by God..... If, invoking Jesus' assistance and imitating his example, we undergo these experiences in a spirit that allows us to penetrate not merely into the specific content of the high goods in question but into the very presence of the "Father of all lights" (a condition for fully comprehending that specific content itself), then all these experiences will become milestones along our path to true simplicity.
I THINK that this is another way of saying "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you." But it's so easy to try to use God as a means to get some lesser good, instead of vice versa. My oldest and I were just talking about Amadeus (the movie) -- how Salieri seemed to want to use devotion as a bargaining chip to get to be a great musician, whereas Amadeus (Mozart), flawed as he was, seemed to have a basic integrity in his approach to music that in some way transcended himself.

That's about all! Von Hildebrand talks about heroism in the last bit -- I may write another post eventually on that but I want to move to Benedict's Rule for a while first and think about the whole chapter a bit more.