Sunday, July 4, 2004

Christian Heritage - July 4 - Peace

"There is no doubt that our world has as its highest goal a complete and eternal peace. Wherever peace is to be seen we fall in love with it. Not only do we fall in love with peace, we also fall in love with the image of peace, we feel then that we should look like it, because everything seems to bend us toward the kingdom of peace. Even when we admit, as one should acknowledge, that peace is beloved by all, we shall see that the goal of reaching it is and should be our only goal. Everything we do in this earthly life, every human effort and project, has as its goal to reach the golden treasure of peace. There is no doubt that peace is our constant goal. Merchants send their ships to stormy seas, always with the aim of calming down their nagging wish for riches. Peasants work hard, their faces bathed in sweat, tilling their fields, because they want to keep at bay their harsh enemy, poverty and hunger. In the same fashion those who run after pleasure, those who crave after honor, those who look for revenge, in a word, everybody and everything, we are all running after peace, for either we try to reach something that we need in order to feel happy and rest, or we try to escape some evil force that troubles us."

Luis de León, O.S.A. (AD 1527 - 1591), The Names of Christ, from Classics of Western Spirituality, Manuel Durán and William Kluback, Paulist Press, 1984, 214

De León was an Augustinian friar, a poet, mystic, scriptural scholar, and theologian; above all he was a holy man who suffered much for his beliefs. He was the editor of the works of Saint Teresa of Jesus of Avila.

What he says in this quote has an ancient pedigree in the Greco-Roman, and Christian, tradition. Socrates (via Plato) argued that no one knowingly does evil. Aristotle said happiness is the ultimate goal (telos), the highest good, of all life. Augustine once said that all the evil men do, they do to achieve some greater good, some greater peace. Aquinas agreed with Aristotle mutatis mutandis that happiness -- understood as the beatific vision of God in heaven -- was the summum bonum.

I must admit, however, the last few lines of de León's quote have an aroma of Jansenism. Jansenius claimed God absolutely and irresistibly predestines all people either to heaven or to hell. According to Jansenius, due to the Fall, human nature is utterly corrupt and the human will is totally enslaved to a spectrum of "victorious delectation" (LaGrange, Predestination, p. 124). God achieves either end by means of ordaining irresistible poles of attraction or repuslion in people and in their lives. He gives meritorious desires of celestial virtue to those He elects to heaven; but He gives culpable desires of terrestrial gratification to those He elects to hell. Jansenism was officially condemned as a heresy by the Catholic Church, as an excessive perversion of Augustine's views, sometime in the seventeenth century.

To be fair, given that de León was an Augustinian friar and theologian, I am sure he recognized the subtle, key differences between Augustine's sometimes eye-brow-raising views and Jansenus's more bluntly heretical views. I, however, don't know enough to even to begin to wade into or out of the debate.

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