Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Extraordinary Fusion in Things

1.  The title of the lengthy post below, "Qualis artifex! Qualis unitor rerum!" is taken from one of St. Bernard of Clairvaux's sermons on Christmas, in which he marvels at God's ability to mix and unify spirit and body in man.  St. Bernard, the famous prosecutor of Peter Abelard, would not have been terribly fond of St. Thomas Aquinas, so perhaps he wouldn't appreciate the Thomistic spin I'm about to put on his words.  But now he enjoys the full vision of God's essence he knows (to what extent) St. Thomas was right.  Thus, oh glorious doctor and loving man, I appeal to your perfected judgment and ask that you bless my words as I expound upon your own.

2.  Man is at a midpoint in the universe.  Occupying the foothills between mountain and plain, he has something of simple dust in him and also something of the heights of heaven.  Of the dust is his material body, its organs, the dependence of his mind on physical senses and a bodily power of imagination.  Of the heights are the intellect, the capacity to know universals, and the incorruptibility of his soul.  God created humans as physical beings, however, and thus it would be an error to think of man as identical with his immaterial soul or to imagine the body as a vehicle or coat which he inhabits.  The soul is the formal cause of the body (that which makes it to be what it is — a living human being), and is its life.  In this sense animals too have souls, though the forms which make an animal or plant alive are corruptible per accidens.  In destroying a plant one alters it such that it ceases to be capable of vital functions, and thus no longer has that form ("soul") which made it to be alive.  By contrast one can kill a man and yet that form which made him to be alive will persist apart from the body in a real way, though lacking the capacities natural to it in an embodied state.

3.  The reason that post was titled "Qualis artifex.." is that the abstraction of man from the concrete particularities of his life seems to neglect the proper fusion of things.  Everyone wants to make a big splash, to impact a universal audience.  We make a successful gesture and suddenly our wish is for the entire world to be impacted by this single thought.  And frequently in the process we lose what was good in the action in the first place, and alienate the idea from its natural context, the one in which it might have found complementarity with its neighbors, have grown in humility and been shaped gradually.

4.  In other words, (and forgive the irony), the urge of young people to blast their reforms and ideas across the universe and to institute uniformity of change across all of civilization is foolish and counterproductive and emanates from a kind of pride.

5.  Rather, the proper order of things is particular and mediated.  Humility (which flows from the truth) recognizes the extent to which I, an individual, am capable of ordering things beneath me, and the extent to which I, as an individual, am meant to be a local instrument for the universal order which greater causes have ordained for the universe.  

6.  "I heard exactly the same thing, a long time ago to be sure, from a doctor," the elder remarked. "He was then an old man, and unquestionably intelligent. He spoke just as frankly as you, humorously, but with a sorrowful heart. 'I love mankind,' he said 'but I am amazed at myself: the more I love mankind in general, the less I love people in particular, that is, individually, as separate persons. ...In my dreams,' he said, 'I often went so far as to think passionately of serving mankind, and, it may be, would really have gone to the cross for people if it were somehow suddenly necessary, and yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone even for two days, this I know from experience.'"