Moral Philosophy

Chapter II: Of Happiness.

Section I. -- Of Ends.

1. EVERY human act is done for some end or purpose. The end is always regarded by the agent in the light of something good. If evil be done, it is done as leading to good, or as bound up with good, or as itself being good for the doer under the circumstances; no man ever does evil for sheer evil's sake. Yet evil may be the object of the will, not by itself, nor primarily, but in a secondary way, as bound up with the good that is willed in the first place.

2. Many things willed are neither good nor evil in themselves. There is no motive for doing them except in so far as they lead to some good beyond themselves, or to deliverance from some evil, which deliverance counts as a good. A thing is willed, then, either as being good in itself and an end by itself, or as leading to some good end. Once a thing not good and desirable by itself has been taken up by the will as leading to good, it may be taken up again and again without reference to its tendency. But such a thing was not originally taken up except in view of good to come of it. We may will one thing as leading to another, and that to a third, and so on; thus one wills study for learning, learning for examination purposes, examination for a commission in the army, and the commission for glory. That end in which the will rests, willing it for itself without reference to anything beyond, is called the last end.

3. An end is either objective or subjective. The objective end is the thing wished for, as it exists distinct from the person who wishes it. The subjective end is the possession of the objective end. That possession is a fact of the wisher's own being. Thus money may be an objective end: the corresponding subjective end is being wealthy.

4. Is there one subjective last end to all the human acts of a given individual? Is there one supreme motive for all that this or that man deliberately does? At first sight it seems that there is not. The same individual will act now for glory, now for lucre, now for love. But all these different ends are reducible to one, that it may be well with him and his. And what is true of one man here, is true of all. All the human acts of all men are done for the one (subjective) last end just indicated. This end is called happiness.

5. Men place their happiness in most different things; some in eating and drinking, some in the heaping up of money, some in gambling, some in political power, some in the gratification of affection, some in reputation of one sort or another. But each one seeks his own speciality because he thinks that he shall be happy, that it will be well with him, when he has attained that. All men, then, do all things for happiness, though not all place their happiness in the same thing.

6. Just as when one goes on a journey, he need not think of his destination at every step of his way, and yet all his steps are directed towards his destination: so men do not think of happiness in all they do, and yet all they do is referred to happiness. Tell a traveller that this is the wrong way to his destination, he will avoid it; convince a man that this act will not be well for him, will not further his happiness, and, while he keeps that conviction principally before his eyes, he will not do the act. But as a man who began to travel on business, may come to make travelling itself a business, and travel for the sake of going about; so in all cases there is a tendency to elevate into an end that which was, to start with, only valued as a means to an end. So the means of happiness, by being habitually pursued, come to be a part of happiness. Habit is a second nature, and we indulge a habit as we gratify nature. This tendency works itself to an evil extreme in cases where men are become the slaves of habit, and do a thing because they are got into the way of doing it, though they allow that it is a sad and sorry way, and leads them wide of true happiness. These instances show perversion of the normal operation of the will.

Readings. -- St. Thos., 1a 2ae, q. 1, art. 4, in corp.; ib., q. 1, art. 6, 7; ib., q. 5, art. 8; Ar., Eth., I., vii., 4, 5.

Section II. -- Definition of happiness.

1. Though all men do all things, in the last resort, that it may be well with them and theirs, that is, for happiness vaguely apprehended, yet when they come to specify what happiness is, answers so various are given and acted upon, that we might be tempted to conclude that each man, is the measure of his own happiness, and that no standard of happiness for all can be defined. But it is not so. Man is not the measure of his own happiness, any more than of his own health. The diet that he takes to be healthy, may prove his poison; and where he looks for happiness, he may find the extreme of wretchedness and woe. For man must live up to his nature, to his bodily constitution, to be a healthy man; and to his whole nature, but especially to his mental and moral constitution, if he is to be a happy man. And nature, though it admits of individual peculiarities, is specifically the same for all. There will, then, be one definition of happiness for all men, specifically as such.

2. Happiness is an act, not a state. That is to say, the happiness of man does not lie in his having something done to him, nor in his being habitually able to do something, but in his actually doing something. "To be up and doing," that is happiness, -- en tô zên kai energein. (Ar., Eth., IX., ix., 5.) This is proved from the consideration that happiness is the crown and perfection of human nature; but the perfection of a thing lies in its ultimate act, or "second act," that is, in its not merely being able to act, but acting. But action is of two Sorts. One proceeds from the agent to some outward matter, as cutting and burning. This action cannot be happiness, for it does not perfect the agent, but rather the patient. There is another sort of act immanent in the agent himself, as feeling, understanding, and willing: these perfect the agent. Happiness will be found to be one of these immanent acts. Furthermore, there is action full of movement and change, and there is an act done in stillness and rest. The latter, as will presently appear, is happiness; and partly for this reason, and partly to denote the exclusion of care and trouble, happiness is often spoken of as a rest. It is also called a state, because one of the elements of happiness is permanence. How the act of happiness can be permanent, will appear hereafter.

3. Happiness is an act in discharge of the function proper to man, as man. There is a function proper to the eye, to the ear, to the various organs of the human body: there must be a function proper to man as such. That can be none of the functions of the vegetative life, nor of the mere animal life within him. Man is not happy by doing what a rose-bush can do, digest and assimilate its food: nor by doing what a horse does, having sensations pleasurable and painful, and muscular feelings. Man is happy by doing what man alone can do in this world, that is, acting by reason and understanding. Now the human will acting by reason may do three things. It may regulate the passions, notably desire and fear: the outcome will be the moral virtues of temperance and fortitude. It may direct the understanding, and ultimately the members of the body, in order to the production of some practical result in the external world, as a bridge. Lastly, it may direct the understanding to speculate and think, contemplate and consider, for mere contemplation's sake. Happiness must take one or other of these three lanes.

4. First, then, happiness is not the practice of the moral virtues of temperance and fortitude. Temperance makes a man strong against the temptations to irrationality and swinishness that come of the bodily appetites. But happiness lies, not in deliverance from what would degrade man to the level of the brutes, but in something which shall raise man to, the highest level of human nature. Fortitude, again, is not exercised except in the hour of danger but happiness lies in an environment of security, not of danger. And in general, the moral virtues can be exercised only upon occasions, as they come and go; but happiness is the light of the soul, that must burn with steady flame and uninterrupted act, and not be dependent on chance occurrences.

5. Secondly, happiness is not the use of the Practical understanding with a view to production. Happiness, is an end in itself, a terminus beyond which the act of the will can go no further; but this use of the understanding is in view of an ulterior end, the thing to be produced. That product is either useful or artistic; if useful, it ministers to some further end still; if artistic, it ministers to contemplation. Happiness, indeed, is no exercise of the practical understanding whatever. The noblest exercises of practical understanding are for military purposes and for statesmanship. But war surely is not an end in itself to any right-minded man. Statecraft, too, has an end before it, the happiness of the people. It is a labour in view of happiness. We must follow down the third lane, and say:

6. Happiness is the act of the speculative understanding contemplating, for contemplation's sake. This act has all the marks of happiness. It is the highest act of man's highest power. It is the most capable of continuance. It is fraught with pleasure, purest and highest in quality. It is of all acts the most self-sufficient and independent of environment, provided the object be to the mind's eye visible. It is welcome for its own sake, not as leading to any further good. It is a life of ease and leisure: man is busy that he may come to ease.

7. Aristotle says of this life of continued active contemplation:

"Such a life will be too good for man; for not as he is man will he so live, but inasmuch as there is a divine element in his composition. As much as this element excels the compound into which it enters, so much does the act of the said, element excel any act in any other line of virtue. If, then, the understanding is divine in comparison with man, the life of the understanding is divine in comparison with human life. We must not take the advice of those who tell us, that being man, one should cherish the thoughts of a man, or being mortal, the thoughts of a mortal, but so far as in us lies, we must play the immortal (athanatizein), and do all in our power to live by the best element in our nature: for though that element be slight in quantity, in power and in value it far outweighs all the rest of our being. A man may well be reckoned to be that which is the ruling power and the better part in him. . . . What is proper to each creature by nature, is best and sweetest for each: such, then, is for man the life of the understanding, if the understanding preeminently is man.", (Ar., Eth., X., vii., 8, 9.)

8. But if happiness is an act in discharge of the function proper to man as man (n. 3), how can it be happiness to lead a life which Aristotle says is too good for man? The solution of this paradox is partly contained in the concluding words of Aristotle above quoted, and will still further appear presently (s. iv., n. 1, p. 21), where we shall argue that human life is a state of transition in preparation for a higher life of the soul, to be lived, according to the natural order, when the compound of soul and body would no longer exist.

9. The act of contemplation, in which happiness consists, must rest upon a habit of contemplation, which is intellectual virtue. An act, to be perfection and happiness, must be done easily, sweetly, and constantly. But no act of the intellect can be so done, unless it rests upon a corresponding habit. If the habit has not been acquired, the act will be done fitfully, at random, and against the grain, like the music of an untrained singer, or the composition of a schoolboy. Painful study is not happiness, nor is any studied act. Happiness is the play of a mind that is, if not master of, yet at home with its subject. As the intellect is man's best and noblest power, so is intellectual virtue, absolutely speaking, the best virtue of man.

10. The use of the speculative understanding is discernible in many things to which even the common crowd turn for happiness, as news of that which is of little or no practical concern to self, sight-seeing, theatre-going, novels, poetry, art, scenery, as well as speculative science and high literature. A certain speculative interest is mixed up with all practical work: the mind lingers on the speculation apart from the end in view.

11. The act of contemplation cannot be steadily carried out, as is necessary to happiness, except in the midst of easy surroundings. Human nature is not self-sufficient for the work of contemplation. There is need of health and vigour, and the means of maintaining it, food, warmth, interesting objects around you, leisure, absence of distracting care or pain. None would call a man happy upon the rack, except by way of maintaining a thesis. The happiness of a disembodied spirit is of course independent of bodily conditions, but it would appear that there are conditions of environment requisite for even a spirit's contemplation.

12. Happiness must endure to length of days. Happiness is the perfect good of man. But no good is perfect that will not last. One swallow does not make a summer, nor does one fine day: neither is man made blessed and happy by one day, nor by a brief time. The human mind lighting upon good soon asks the question, Will this last? If the answer is negative, the good is not a complete good, and there is no complete happiness coming of it. If the answer is affirmative and false, once more that is not a perfect happiness that rests on a delusion. The supreme good of a rational being is not found in a fool's paradise. We want an answer affirmative and true: This happiness shall last.

13. We now sum up and formulate the definition of happiness as follows: Happiness is a bringing of the soul to act according to the habit of the best and most perfect virtue, that is, the virtue of the speculative intellect, borne out by easy surroundings, and enduring to length of days -- energeia psuchês kat aretên tên aristên kai teleiotatên en biô teleiô. (Ar., Eth., I., vii., 15, 16.)

14. Man is made for society. His happiness must be in society, a social happiness, no lonely contemplation. He must be happy in the consciousness of his own intellectual act, and happy in the discernment of the good that is in those around him, whom he loves. Friends and dear ones are no small part of those easy surroundings that are the condition of happiness.

15. Happiness -- final, perfect happiness -- is not in fighting and struggling, in so far as a struggle supposes evil present and imminent; nor in benevolence, so far as that is founded upon misery needing relief. We fight for the conquest and suppression of evil; we are benevolent for the healing of misery. But it will be happiness, in the limit, as mathematicians speak, to wish well to all in a society where it is well with all, and to struggle with truth for its own sake, ever grasping, never mastering, as Jacob wrestled with God.

Readings. -- Ar., Eth., I., vii.- viii., 5 to end; I., x., 8 to end; I., v., 6; VII., xiii., 3; IX., ix.; X., vii.; X., viii., 1-10; Ar., Pol., IV. (al. VII.), i., 3-10; IV., iii., 7, 8; St. Thos., 1a 2ae, q. 3, art. 2; ib., q. 3, art. 5. in corp., ad 3 ; ib., q. 2, art. 6.

Section III. -- Happiness open to man.

"And now as he looked and saw the whole Hellespont covered with the vessels of his fleet, and all the shore and every plain about Abydos as full as possible of men, Xerxes congratulated himself on his good fortune; but after a little while, he wept. Then Artabanus, the King's uncle, when he heard that Xerxes was in tears, went to him, and said: 'How different, sire, is what thou art now doing from what thou didst a little while ago! Then thou didst congratulate thyself; and now, behold thou weepest.' 'There came upon me,' replied he, 'a sudden pity, when I thought of the shortness of man's life, and considered that of all this host, so numerous as it is, not one will be alive when a hundred years are gone by.' 'And yet there are sadder things in life than that,' returned the other. 'Short as our time is, there is no man, whether it be among this multitude or elsewhere, who is so happy, as not to have felt the wish -- I will not say once, but full many a time -- that he were dead rather than alive. Calamities fall upon us, sicknesses vex and harass us, and make life, short though it be, to appear long. So death, through the wretchedness of our life, is a most sweet refuge to our race; and God, who gives us the tastes that we enjoy of pleasant times, is seen, in his very gift, to be envious.'" (Herodotus, vii., 45, 46.)

1. It needs no argument to show that happiness, as defined in the last section, can never be perfectly realized in this life. Aristotle took his definition to represent an ideal to be approximated to, not attained. He calls his sages "happy as men" (Eth., I., x., 16), that is, imperfectly, as all things human are imperfect. Has Aristotle, then, said the last word on happiness? Is perfect happiness out of the reach of the person whom in this mortal life we call man? However that may be, it is plain that man desires perfect happiness. Every man desires that it may be perfectly well with him and his, although many have mistaken notions of what their own well-being consists in, and few can define it philosophically. Still they all desire it. The higher a man stands in intellect, the loftier and vaster his conception of happiness, and the stronger his yearning after it. This argues that the desire of happiness is natural to man: not in the sense in which eating and drinking are natural, as being requirements of his animal nature, but in the same way that it is natural to him to think and converse, his rational nature so requiring. It is a natural desire, as springing from that which is the specific characteristic of human nature, distinguishing it from mere animal nature, namely reason. It is a natural desire in the best and highest sense of the word.

2. Contentment is not happiness. A man is content with little, but it takes an immensity of good to satisfy all his desire, and render him perfectly happy. When we say we are content, we signify that we should naturally desire more, but acquiesce in our present portion, seeing that more is not to be had. "Content," says Dr. Bain, "is not the natural frame of any mind, but is the result of compromise."

3. But is not this desire of unmixed happiness unreasonable? Are we not taught to set bounds to our desire? Is not moderation a virtue, and Contentment wisdom? Yes, moderation is a virtue, but it concerns only the use of means, not the apprehension of ends. The patient, not to say the physician, desires medicines in moderation, so much as will do him good and no more; but, so far as his end is health, he desires all possible health, perfect health. The last end, then, is to be desired as a thing to possess without end or measure, fully and without defect.

4. We have then these facts to philosophise on that all men desire perfect happiness: that this desire is natural, springing from the rational soul which sets man above the brute : that on earth man may attain to Contentment, and to some happiness, but not to perfect happiness: that consequently nature has planted in man a desire for which on earth she has provided no adequate satisfaction.

5. If the course of events were fitful and wayward, so that effects started up without causes, and like causes under like conditions produced unlike effects, and anything might come of anything, there would be no such thing as that which we call nature. When we speak of nature, we imply a regular and definite flow of tendencies, this thing springing from that and leading to that other; nothing from nothing, and nothing leading nowhere; no random, aimless proceedings; but definite results led up to by a regular succession of steps, and surely ensuing unless something occurs on the way to thwart the process. How this is reconciled with Creation and Freewill, it is not our province to enquire: suffice it to say that a natural agent is opposed to a free one, and creation is the starting-point of nature. But to return. Everywhere we say, "this is for that," wherever there appears an end and consummation to which the process leads, provided it go on unimpeded. Now every event that happens is a part of some process or other. Every act is part of a tendency. There are no loose facts in nature, no things that happen, or are, otherwise than in consequence of something that has happened, or been, before, and in view of something else that is to happen, or be, hereafter. The tendencies of nature often run counter to one another, so that the result to which this or that was tending is frustrated. But a tendency is a tendency, although defeated; this was for that, although that for which it was has got perverted to something else. There is no tendency which of itself fails and comes to naught, apart from interference. Such a universal and absolute break-down is unknown to nature.

6. All this appears most clearly in organic beings, plants and animals. Organisms, except the very lowest, are compounds of a number of different parts, each fulfilling a special function for the good of the whole. There is no idle constituent in an organic body, none without its function. What are called rudimentary organs, even if they serve no purpose in the individual, have their use in the species, or in some higher genus. In the animal there is no idle natural craving, or appetite. True, in the individual, whether plant or animal, there are many potentialities frustrate and made void. That is neither here nor there in philosophy. Philosophy deals not with individuals but with species, not with Bucephalus or Alexander, but with horse, man. It is nothing to philosophy that of a thousand seeds there germinate perhaps not ten. Enough that one seed ever germinates, and that all normal specimens are apt to do the like, meeting with proper environment. That alone shows that seed is not an idle product in this or that class of living beings.

7. But, it will be said, not everything contained in an organism ministers to its good. There is refuse material, only good to get rid of: there are morbid growths; there is that tendency to decay, by which sooner or later the organism will perish. First, then, a word on diseases. Diseases are the diseases of the individual; not of the race. The race as such, and that is what the philosopher studies, is healthy: all that can be imputed to the race is liability to disease. That liability, and the tendency to decay and die, are found in living things, because their essence is of finite perfection; there cannot be a plant or animal, that has not these drawbacks in itself, as such. They represent, not the work of nature, but the failure of nature, and the point beyond which nature can no further go. 8. On the preceding observations Aristotle formulated the great maxim -- called by Dr. Thomas Browne, Religio Medici, p. i., sect. 15, "the only indisputable axiom in philosophy," -- Nature does nothing in vain. (Ar., Pol., I., viii., 12; De Anima, III., ix., 6; De part. animal., 1. i., p. 641, ed. Bekker.)

9. The desire of happiness, ample and complete, beyond what this world can afford, is not planted in man by defect of his nature, but by the perfection of his nature, and in view of his further perfection. This desire has not the character of a drawback, a thing that cannot be helped, a weakness and decay of nature, and loss of power, like that which sets in with advancing years. A locomotive drawing a train warms the air about it: it is a pity that it should do so, for that radiation of heat is a loss of power: but it cannot be helped, as locomotives are and must be constructed. Not such is the desire of perfect happiness in the human breast. It is not a disease, for it is no peculiarity of individuals, but a property of the race. It is not a decay, for it grows with the growing mind, being feeblest in childhood, when desires are simplest and most easily satisfied, and strongest where mental life is the most vigorous. It is an attribute of great minds in proportion to their greatness. To be Without it, would be to live a minor in point of intellect, not much removed from imbecility. It is not a waste of energy, rather it furnishes the motive-power to all human volition. It comes of the natural working of the understanding that discerns good, and other good above that, and so still higher and higher good without limit; and of the natural working of the will, following up and fastening upon what the understanding discerns as good. The desire in question, then, is by no means a necessary evil, or natural flaw, in the human constitution.

10. It follows that the desire of perfect happiness is in man by the normal growth of his nature, and for the better. But it would be a vain desire, and objectless, if it were essentially incapable of satisfaction: and man would be a made and abiding piece of imperfection, if there were no good accessible to his intellectual nature sufficient to meet its proper exigence of perfect happiness. But no such perfect happiness is attainable in this world. Therefore there must be a world to come, in which he who was man, now a disembodied spirit, but still the same person, shall under due conditions find a perfect good, the adequate object of his natural desire. Else is the deepest craving of human nature in vain, and man himself is vanity of vanities.

11. It may be objected that there is no need to go beyond this world to explain how the desire of perfect happiness is not in vain. It works like the desire of the philosopher's stone among the old alchemists. The thing they were in search of was a chimera, but in looking for it they found a real good, modern chemistry. In like manner, it is contended, though perfect happiness is not to be had anywhere, yet the desire of it keeps men from sitting down on the path of progress; and thus to that desire we owe all our modern civilization, and all our hope and prospect of higher civilization to come. Without questioning the alleged fact about the alchemists, we may reply that modern chemistry has dissipated the desire of the philosopher's stone, but modern civilization has not dissipated the desire of perfect happiness: it has deepened it, and perhaps rather obscured the prospect of its fulfilment. A desire that grows with progress certainly cannot be satisfied by progressing. But if it is never to be satisfied, what is it? A goad thrust into the side of man, that shall keep him coursing along from century to century, like Io under the gadfly, only to find himself in the last century as far from the mark as in the first. Apart from the hope of the world to come, is the Italy of to-day happier than the Italy of Antoninus Pius? Here is a modern Italian's conclusion: "I have studied man, I have examined nature, I have passed whole nights observing the starry heavens. And what is the result of these long investigations? Simply this, that the life of man is nothing; that man himself is nothing; that he will never penetrate the mystery which surrounds the universe. With this comfortless conviction I descend into the grave, and console myself with the hope of speedy annihilation. The lamp goes out; and nothing, nothing can rekindle it. So Nature, I return to thee, to be united with thee for ever. Never wilt thou have received into thy bosom a more unhappy being." (La Nullit della Vita. By G.P., 1882.)

This is an extreme case, but much of modern progress tends this way. Civilization is not happiness, nor is the desire for happiness other than vain, if it merely leads to increased civilization.

Readings. -- St. Thomas, C. G., iii., 48; Newman's Historical Sketches -- Conversion of Augustine; Mill's Autobiography, pp. 133-149.

Section IV. -- Of the Object of Perfect Happiness.

1. As happiness is an act of the speculative intellect contemplating (s. ii., n. 6, p. 9), so the thing thus contemplated is the object of happiness. As happiness is the subjective last end, so will this object, inasmuch as the contemplation of it yields perfect happiness, be the objective last end of man. (s. i., nn. 3, 4, p. 4.) As perfect happiness is possible, and intended by nature, so is this objective last end attainable, and should be attained. But attained by man? Aye, there's the rub. It cannot be attained in this life, and after death man is no more: a soul out of the body is not man. About the resurrection of the body philosophy knows nothing. Nature can make out no title to resurrection. That is a gratuitous gift of God in Christ. When it takes effect, stupebit natura. Philosophy deals only with the natural order, with man as man, leaving the supernatural order, or the privileges and status of man as a child of God, to the higher science of Scholastic Theology. Had God so willed it, there might have been no supernatural at all. Philosophy shows the world as it would have been on that hypothesis. In that case, then, man would have been, as Aristotle represents him, a being incapable of perfect happiness; but he who is man could have become perfectly happy in a state other than human, that is, as a disembodied spirit. Peter is man: the soul of Peter, after separation, is man no longer; but Peter is not one person, and Peter's soul out of the body another person; there is but one person there, with one personal history and liabilities. The soul of Peter is Peter still: therefore the person Peter, or he who is Peter, attains to happiness, but not the man Peter, as man, apart from the supernatural privilege of the resurrection. Hence Aristotle well said, though he failed to see the significance of his own saying, that man should aim at a life of happiness too good for man. (s. ii., nn. 7, 8, p. 9.)

2. The object of happiness, -- the objective last end of man, -- will be that which the soul contemplating in the life to come will be perfectly happy by so doing. The soul will contemplate all intellectual beauty that she finds about her, all heights of truth, all the expanse of goodness and mystery of love. She will see herself: a vast and curious sight is one pure spirit: but that will not be enough for her, her eye travels beyond. She must be in company, live with myriads of pure spirits like herself, -- see them, study them, and admire them, and converse with them in closest intimacy. Together they must explore the secrets of all creation even to the most distant star: they must read the laws of the universe, which science laboriously spells out here below: they must range from science to art, and from facts to possibilities, till even their pure intellect is baffled by the vast intricacy of things that might be and are not: but yet they are not satisfied. A point of convergency is wanted for all these vistas of being, whence they may go forth, and whither they may return and meet: otherwise the soul is distracted and lost in a maze of incoherent wandering, crying out, Whence all this? and what is it for? and above all, whose is it? These are the questions that the human mind asks in her present condition: much more will she ask them then, when wonders are multiplied before her gaze: for it is the same soul there and here. Here men are tormented in mind, if they find no answer to these questions. Scientific men cannot leave theology alone. They will not be happy there without an answer. Their contemplation will still desiderate something beyond all finite being, actual or possible. Is that God? It is nothing else. But God dwells in light inaccessible, where no creature, as such, can come near Him nor see Him. The beauties of creation, as so many streams of tendency, meet at the foot of His Throne, and there are lost. Their course is towards Him, and is, so far as it goes, an indication of Him: but He is infinitely, unspeakably above them. No intelligence created, or creatable, can arrive by its own natural perception to see Him as He is: for mind can only discern what is proportionate to itself: and God is out of proportion with all the being of all possible creatures. It is only by analogy that the word being, or any other word whatever can be applied to Him. As Plato says, "the First Good is not Being, but over and beyond Being in dignity and power." (Rep. 509, B.)

3. To see God face to face, which is called the beatific vision, is not the natural destiny of man, nor of any possible creature. Such happiness is not the happiness of man, nor of angel, but of God Himself, and of any creature whom He may deign by an act of gratuitous condescension to invite to sit as guest at His own royal, table. That God has so invited men and angels, revelation informs us. Scholastic theology enlarges upon that revelation, but it is beyond philosophy. Like the resurrection of the body, and much more even than that, the Beatific Vision must be relegated to the realm of the Supernatural.

4. But even in the natural order the object of Perfect happiness is God. The natural and supernatural have the same object, but differ in the mode of attainment. By supernatural grace, bearing perfect fruit, man sees God with the eyes of his soul, as we see the faces of our friends on earth. In perfect happiness of the natural order, creatures alone are directly apprehended, or seen, and from the creature is gathered the excellence of the unseen God. The process is, an ascent, as described by Plato, from the individual to the universal, and from bodily to moral and intellectual beauty, till we reach a Beauty eternal, immutable, absolute, substantial, and self-existent, on which all other beauties depend for their being, while it is independent of them (Plato, Symposium, 210, 211.) Unless the ascent be prosecuted thus far, the contemplation is inadequate, the happiness incomplete. The mind needs to travel to the beginning and end of things, to the Alpha and Omega of all. The mind needs to reach some perfect good: some object, which though it is beyond the comprehension, is nevertheless understood to be the very good of goods, unalloyed with any admixture of defect or imperfection. The mind needs an infinite object to rest upon, though it cannot grasp that object Positively in its infinity. If this is the case even with the human mind, still wearing "this muddy vesture of decay," how much more ardent the longing, as how much keener the gaze, of the pure spirit after Him who is the centre and rest of all intellectual nature?

5. Creatures to contemplate and see God in, are conditions and secondary objects of natural happiness. They do not afford happiness finally of themselves, but as manifesting God, even as a mirror would be of little interest except for its power of reflection.

6. In saying that God is the object of happiness, we must remember that He is no cold, impersonal Beauty, but a living and loving God, not indeed in the order of nature our Father and Friend, but still our kind Master and very good Lord, who speaks to His servants from behind the clouds that hide His face, and assures them of His abiding favour and approving love. More than that, nature cannot look for: such aspiration were unnatural, unreasonable, mere madness: it is enough for the creature, as a creature, in its highest estate to stand before God, hearing His voice, but seeing not His countenance, whom, without His free grace, none can look upon and live.

Reading. -- St. Thos., ia 2ae, q. 2, art. 8.

Section V. -- Of the use of the present life.

1. Since perfect happiness is not to be had in this mortal life, and is to be had hereafter; since moreover man has free will and the control of his own acts; it is evidently most important for man in this life so to control and rule himself here as to dispose himself for happiness there. Happiness rests upon a habit of contemplation (s. ii., n. 9, p. 10), rising to God. (s. iv., n. 4, p. 24.) But a habit, as will be seen, is not formed except by frequent acts, and may be marred and broken by contrary acts. It is, then, important for man in this life so to act as to acquire a habit of lifting his mind to God. There are two things here, to lift the mind, and to lift it to God. The mind is not lifted, if the man lives not an intellectual life, but the life of a swine wallowing in sensual indulgences; or a frivolous life, taking the outside of things as they strike the senses, and flitting from image to image thoughtlessly; or a quarrelsome life, where reason is swallowed up in anger and hatred. Again, however sublime the speculation and however active the intellect, if God is not constantly referred to, the mind is lifted indeed, but not to God. It is wisdom, then, in man during this life to look to God everywhere, and ever to seek His face; to avoid idleness, anger, intemperance, and pride of intellect. For the mind will not soar to God when the heart is far from Him.

Previous Chapter - - - Next Chapter