August 27, 2012

How to be Happy: Some offhand remarks

Filed under: Ethics,Spiritualty,Theology — William Witt @ 9:28 pm

Over at StandFirm, Sarah Hey has interrupted the usual grousing to post “A Few Thoughts on Happiness: Is Happiness A “Moral Obligation”?”. This led to the following offhand remarks.

Melancholy While Aristotle (and Christian eudaemonists like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and Richard Hooker) granted that beatitude (translated “happiness,” but more like “complete well being”) was correlated with character, they saw it as a byproduct of something else, namely doing a worthwhile activity.  To set out to pursue happiness in itself led to unhappiness.  However, doing something inherently worthwhile, and doing it well, can lead to happiness.

This is the unexpressed assumption in Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, the intent of which is to help sort out one’s vocation.  One begins not by asking “What makes me happy?,” but “What do I love?”

How to be happy? Pursue those things you love doing, and, to the extent it is possible, do good.  Don’t pursue happiness for its own sake.  Be aware that if you’re unhappy, that may be a sign that you need to change something you’re doing.

May be, not must be. Our ancestors were very savvy about the passions (not to be equated with the emotions, full stop), and recognized that some people just had a disposition to melancholy.

The most significant way in which Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Richard Hooker  differ from Aristotle on happiness is that Aristotle believed neither in a personal God nor in an afterlife.  Like so many of our contemporaries, Aristotle believed that if we were going to be happy, it had to be here and now. In contrast, the Augustinian tradition recognizes that God is the Greatest Good (summum bonum), and true happiness can be found only in the beatific vision (seeing God “face to face” and enjoying him forever). This is what we are made for, and it is the fuel that drives all our seeking for happiness.  As Augustine expressed it at the beginning of the Confessions: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts our restless until they rest in you.” (more…)

August 20, 2012

The Wisdom of the Cross: A Sermon

Filed under: Sermons — William Witt @ 5:48 am

Proverbs 9:1-6
Psalm 147
Ephesians 5:15-20

CrossThe theme of wisdom is prominent in today’s lectionary readings. The selection from Proverbs begins “Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars.” (Prov. 9:1) This is part of a lengthy section of several chapters in Proverbs in which wisdom is personified in the figure of a woman who appeals to the reader to flee the way of folly and pursue the way of wisdom instead. This is not surprising, since Proverbs is one of those books in the Old Testament that is classified as “wisdom” literature. But the theme appears in our other texts as well. The Psalm tells us: “Great is Our Lord and mighty in power/ There is no limit to his wisdom.” (Ps. 147:5, 1979 BCP translation) In Ephesians, Paul writes: “Look carefully how you walk, not as unwise but as wise.” (Eph. 5:15) Although it is not as immediately evident, even the gospel passage in John echoes this wisdom theme, I think. We’ll look at that in a few moments. I would like to speak a little about this theme of wisdom this morning, first in Scripture, but also how it applies to our own lives as Christians.

When the Bible speaks of wisdom, it often does so by contrasting the two different paths of Wisdom and Folly, or sometimes by contrasting genuine Wisdom, with a “worldy wisdom,” that thinks it is wise, but is actually foolish. Unfortunately, as it so often does, the lectionary greatly shortens our readings this morning so that it is not obvious, but the original passages all make this contrast. In Proverbs, the first half of the chapter portrays Wisdom as a female character who calls out to a young man: “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” (Prov. 9:5). In the last part of the chapter, Lady Wisdom is contrasted with Folly, who is also portrayed as a female figure, and who uses much the same invitation: “The woman Folly is loud,” says Proverbs. “She sits at the door of her house, . . . calling to those who pass by . . . ‘Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!’ And to him who lacks sense, she says: ‘Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” (v. 13-17) Similar invitations, but with very different consequences. (more…)

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