Food for the Soul
A bi-weekly blog on the virtuous life. Written not by a master, but by a student, but one at least who knows whence sound teaching is found.
St. Thomas Aquinas surrounded by Aristotle and Plato.
•“And in some of the people in the town and the community surrounding it, one of the characteristic diseases of the twentieth century was making its way: the suspicion that they would be greatly improved if they were someplace else.” – Wendell Berry.
•Abba Anthony said: “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.” - cf. The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers
•Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good. - Catechism of the Catholic Church
As we begin our endeavor to make the virtuous life central to our approach to formation and education the natural starting point is with a definition of terms. What is meant by virtue? In truth, the word virtue, coming from virtus in Latin, has its roots in the word for man (vir), and thus connotes manliness. So from rather simple etymological insight, it becomes easy to see that when Josef Pieper said that virtue is the "utmost of what a man can be", he was simply expounding upon the root meaning of the word.
I'm convinced that a return to virtue, beginning with a return to the perspective that virtue theory holds, is the best way for us to approach the great human project that is trying to not just live, but live well. In a way that is the unique characteristic of being human, we aren't just after survival, but flourishing. Virtue shows the way to this flourishing, because is corresponds to utmost of what a man can be.
So how do virtues accomplish this rather bold claim to be the be all and end all of human action? Quite simply by stabilizing our psyche and emotions in such a way that they readily act how they are supposed to act. In the words of the Catechism, they are "firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions (think emotions), and guide our conduct according to reason and faith." This is why I thought Wendell Berry's remarks were worth including in this post. At the end of the day, where we live doesn't determine whether or not we can be good. Sure, sometimes it can help our hinder our progress. I certainly believe that environment is important in moral formation. (That is why we need to work together to make the school environment great!) But the outside world is not me. It doesn't cause me to act or not to act in a certain way...if I have attained the level of freedom that virtue produces. So many people that I know today, seek to leave their problems by leaving their neighborhood, when in reality the problem is that they don't have the capacity to deal with their neighbors because of a lack of virtue. Changing addresses won't change your character.
The Desert Fathers of the third century are a unique bunch of folks. I encourage you to read some of their stories for practical wisdom and a good laugh. They left the cities of the Roman empire in order to seek God through simple lives of virtue. In a certain way, St. Benedict, the unwitting father of Christian Europe, was the western version of the Desert Fathers, albeit in a more moderate form. Abba Anthony's prophetic statement about insanity taking over society to the point that those who see things clearly are proclaimed to be mad is strikingly similar to our times. The reason, I believe, is because we have lost touch with our very humanity. We have lost touch with understanding what precisely human flourishing consists in and how to achieve it. The virtues as understood teach us what it means to be human, the virtues lived actually make us more fully human. Similarly, the vices obscure humanity and keep us from the human flourishing for which God created us.
The subsequent posts will be a systematic look at the individual virtues for which we should strive in life.
In conclusion, I'm linking a video of a lecture given by my old professor Fr. Giertych, O.P. It is worth your time. Even if you don't understand everything that he says, you will be richer for understanding anything that he says. I certainly was.
Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Jadyn Nelson