The Logos, the Transcendentals, and Sanity
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These days, there’s an intense and prevailing sense that the world’s gone mad. We’re sick with knowing it, with feeling it bone-deep. Everything’s gone on tilt, turned inside-out and upside-down. Relations between the sexes and among the races; gender madness; mass immigration of unassimilable populations; lives lived in the virtual world of screens; children raised without fathers; high divorce rates and low marriage rates; gay “marriage”; women murdering their own unborn and just-born children; young people clamoring for death-dealing socialism; student debt, and saturated markets undermined by oligarchs importing cheap labor, making it impossible for a generation to get jobs, buy homes, and raise children; our institutions overtaken by the modern equivalent of Maoist Red Guards; divisive politics; social mobbing; unelected corporatist oligarchs totally unresponsive to citizens’ needs; the global persecution of Christians that goes unnoticed by the mainstream media; the victory of scientism — the list of what ails us goes on and on. Even in the human element of Holy Mother Church, disease, confusion, and unholiness fester, all the way to the top.
There is one — and only one — solution to all this: the Lord Jesus Christ.
He is God. He is Man. And He is something else: He is “the Word.”
John 1:1-5, 8-14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him: and without Him was made nothing that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. That was the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world.He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, He gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in His name. Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we saw His glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
The Greek word — Logos — translated as “the Word” in English has many, many definitions, but the phrase “Divine Order” encapsulates it best.
Now, the ancient Greeks believed that before the universe came into being, there was Chaos — a formless mass of fire, air, water, and earth, described by Ovid:
Before the ocean and the earth appeared— before the skies had overspread them all— the face of Nature in a vast expanse was naught but Chaos uniformly waste. It was a rude and undeveloped mass, that nothing made except a ponderous weight; and all discordant elements confused, were there congested in a shapeless heap.
We Christians know, though, that God — I AM — has always been, and that nothing else existed until He created it by speaking it into being. Psalm 32:6-9, my emphasis:
By the Word of the Lord the heavens were established; and all the power of them by the spirit of His mouth: Gathering together the waters of the sea, as in a vessel; laying up the depths in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord, and let all the inhabitants of the world be in awe of Him. For He spoke and they were made: He commanded and they were created.
He spoke the world into existence, and on the sixth day, He created man — doing so in His image: Genesis 1:26-27
And He said: Let Us make man to Our image and likeness: and let him have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and the beasts, and the whole earth, and every creeping creature that moveth upon the earth. And God created man to His own image: to the image of God He created him: male and female He created them.
Preceding creation and underlying it is an Order of divine origin, an Order that’s found in the phenomena of the natural world — from the structure of cells to the movement of the Heavens — and written into the very hearts of men, as Jeremias 31:33 tells us: “I will give my law in their bowels, and I will write it in their heart…” All that He’s made has a divine purpose — a telos — and an order to it, a way of participating in being that is its own. When the Divine Order is honored, all goes well; when it’s not, chaos reigns.
Because man is made in God’s image, we have rational souls — souls with the powers of Intellect, Will, and Memory. The Intellect lets us recognize the Divine Order; the Will allows us to conform — or not — to that Divine Order; and Memory allows us to pass on what we know to our children, to teach others and form civilizations, and, along with the Intellect, gives rise to the creative imagination.
To wit: there is such a thing as objective Truth, and we can know it and conform to it and teach it to others.
For 2,000 years, worshipers of the Logos have conformed their Intellects and Will to the Divine Order, a conformity that allowed them to build up Christendom with its universities, cathedrals, paintings, statues, symphonies, hospitals, rule of law, chivalrous treatment of women, and the honoring of patriarchy without which civilization is impossible. They’ve honored Memory and conformed it to the Logos by handing down to their children what their ancestors knew. But increasingly, since the so-called “Enlightenment,” the very concept of the Divine Order has been not just ignored, but actively taught against, and the things described in this page’s opening paragraph are the result. Because of this, our perceptions of the True, Good, and Beautiful — the transcendentals — are being destroyed or perverted.
Truth, Goodness, and Beauty are called the “transcendentals” because they are aspects of God’s very nature and, so, transcend the merely physical. Because they are independent of physical laws (though are reflected in them), science has little to say about them, which is why the Faith is a necessary part of a sane social order. Science is wholly unsuited — unable — to answer questions about the meaning of life, the morality of murder, or why something is seen as beautiful. But every legal system has some notion of what should and should not be allowed (that’s what the law does), and every thing fabricated by man is either beautiful and good or not; legal systems and art are either rooted in the Logos and, ergo, the transcendentals — or they’re bound to lead to disorder, confusion, and unhappiness.
To know the True, Good, and Beautiful, we must know the Logos, Who is Christ. The True, Good, and Beautiful are rooted in God’s very Being and, so, are one just as the Three Persons of the Trinity are One. The True is good and beautiful; the Good is true and beautiful; the Beautiful is true and good; and they all flow from Him, Who is Being.
Truth is Being — what is — and to adhere to Truth is to conform one’s mind to what is. I find it fascinating to ponder the Persons of the Trinity and consider how They challenge some of the basic assertions of modernity — for example, the ideas that nothing is really real, and that we can’t know anything even if it were. The Father’s calling Himself EGO SUM QUI SUM — I AM WHO AM — affirms Being; the Son’s Incarnation shows that we can know what exists; and the workings of Holy Ghost show how we can know it. Metaphysics, ontology and epistemology are given foundation by the Trinitarian nature of God Himself (which is why, contra Carl Friedrich Gauss, theology and not mathematics has classically been considered the “Queen of the Sciences”).
But because God has been ousted from modern human consciousness, and materialist scientism has become the accepted way of seeing the world, the transcendentals are becoming lost to us, leading to the madness we see around us.1 Men are now allowed to wander into women’s restrooms because they are deemed to “be” women, and resistance to this bizarrerie can lead to crippling fines, boycotts, social shaming, and worse. Our laws allow for the murder of babies in the womb. Our architectural landscape is pockmarked by Brutalist monstrosities. Ours is a world in which the True, Good, and Beautiful have been ignored, or redefined without reference to the Logos.
Angels have intellects, and animals have sensible appetites (the desires for food, sex, pleasure, etc.). Man has both of those — symbolized by the head and the belly respectively — but he has something extra: his moral dimension, symbolized by the chest, or the heart. In the brief but profound “The Abolition of Man,” C. S. Lewis explained how educators, even in his time (he was writing in 1943), were teaching children to become what he called “men without chests.” He wrote about how “Gaius and Titius,” writers of The Green Book, a textbook meant for schoolkids, expounded on a visit Samuel Taylor Coleridge made to a waterfall, where the poet overheard two tourists. One of the tourists described the waterfall as “sublime”; the second described it as “pretty.”
Gaius and Titius comment as follows: ‘When the man said This is sublime, he appeared to be making a remark about the waterfall… Actually… he was not making a remark about the waterfall, but a remark about his own feelings. What he was saying was really I have feelings associated in my mind with the word “Sublime”, or shortly, I have sublime feelings’ Here are a good many deep questions settled in a pretty summary fashion. But the authors are not yet finished. They add: ‘This confusion is continually present in language as we use it. We appear to be saying something very important about something: and actually we are only saying something about our own feelings.’
Before considering the issues really raised by this momentous little paragraph (designed, you will remember, for ‘the upper forms of schools’) we must eliminate one mere confusion into which Gaius and Titius have fallen. Even on their own view—on any conceivable view—the man who says This is sublime cannot mean I have sublime feelings. Even if it were granted that such qualities as sublimity were simply and solely projected into things from our own emotions, yet the emotions which prompt the projection are the correlatives, and therefore almost the opposites, of the qualities projected. The feelings which make a man call an object sublime are not sublime feelings but feelings of veneration. If This is sublime is to be reduced at all to a statement about the speaker’s feelings, the proper translation would be I have humble feelings. If the view held by Gaius and Titius were consistently applied it would lead to obvious absurdities. It would force them to maintain that You are contemptible means I have contemptible feelings’, in fact that Your feelings are contemptible means My feelings are contemptible…
The schoolboy who reads this passage in The Green Book will believe two propositions: firstly, that all sentences containing a predicate of value are statements about the emotional state of the speaker, and secondly, that all such statements are unimportant.
The Green Book taught the young to rip their heads from their chests by encouraging them to ignore the moral and emotional dimension of their lives, and to see the Intellect as all that matters. Eric Harris, one of the Columbine shooters, must have been a good student, as one of his diary entries attests:
theres no such thing as True Good or True Evil, its all relative to the observer. its just all nature, chemistry, and math. deal with it. but since dealing with it seems impossible for mankind, since we have to slap warning labels on nature, then… you die. burn, melt, evaporate, decay, just go the [f***] away!!!! YAAAAAH!!!!
Harris learned well the lessons modernity taught him.
Even worse, the young are now being taught to destroy what remains of the disembodied head: the very idea that there are objective facts at all is being treated as “problematic,” “racist,” “sexist,” “transphobic,” and so on:
We live in a world in which CNN can tell us, simultaneously:
And the news gets even worse than that: What remains of the chest is being deformed and amplified. Feelings — even pathological ones — are seen as sacrosanct such that it’s socially shameable behavior (or outright illegal) to necessarily offend the feelings of a man who thinks he’s a woman, or of an hysterical girl who says she was raped because she didn’t sign a contract before fornicating. Applause is being replaced by “jazz hands” lest someone be “triggered.” Words are considered to be “violence,” and “social justice warriors” clamor to censor speech some might deem painful. Our emotional lives are rudderless — uninformed by our crippled Intellects, unmastered by our Will — but treated as all-important.
The “belly” — symbolizing our appetites — has also been separated out from the judgment of the Intellect, and from temperance born of the Will. Unrestricted heodinism and materialism rule the day, and any speech against it is seen as “silly,” “prudish,” “judgmental,” “boring,” or “no fun” in spite of the destruction these things bring to our society, our selves, and our environment. The same people who shame occasional smokers are silent as women turn their wombs into abattoirs, and health-destroying sodomy is promoted to schoolkids. .
The more we divide our collective head, chest, and belly from each other, and the further we uproot them all from the Logos, the more we descend into a simulacrum of Hell. And the modern West slouches in that direction more and more all the time.
Living in accordance with the Logos
We need to teach the world to regain respect and love for the Logos and to once again see the task of education as integrating the head, chest, and belly so they’re in accord with each other, and with the Divine Order. We need to be guided by and aspire to the transcendentals so we can begin to rebuild our civilization.
The Head: The Intellect
Every created thing has a nature, a purpose, and a way of being that furthers that purpose and tends toward perfection. The fascinating female Orb Weaver either builds a web or she starves. Worker honeybees either perform and understand their little waggle dance, or their colony dies. And man, too, has a way of participating in being that is in accordance with God’s eternal law, or “the Divine Reason’s conception of things,” as Aquinas put it. This way is called the “natural law,” and man either acts in accordance with it, or he descends into chaos. Man either fulfills his ultimate purpose — to know, love, and serve God so he can be happy with Him eternally in the next world — or he doesn’t, and when he doesn’t, he and the world pay a price.
The natural law is called “natural” because it’s built into us, into our very nature, and because we can use human reason to discover it. It is universal and immutable except by dispensation by God Himself, and it applied as equally to the ancient men who lived in caves as it does to us in the modern West. We need to exercise reason to come to know it, and we need faith to come to know God, Who created us able to reason, and Who wrote the natural law into our very being.
First and foremost, ask God for the supernatural gift of faith such that you can truly make an Act of Faith. If you are not Christian, sincerely ask the “if-You-are-there-God” to illuminate you and bring you to Truth. If you are sincere, you will, at some point, be given what you need. You will be opening yourself up to grace.
Then study to know what the Church traditionally teaches, starting with catechisms and then going through this site’s Traditional Catholicism 101 page. Great Mysteries aside, if there’s something you don’t understand, trust that there is an answer to be had this side of the veil, and find it. Trust, too, that if there is something the Church formally teaches that you disagree with, it indicates a problem with your understanding or Will and not with the Faith itself.
Know that there is not and cannot be a contradiction between the Faith and Reason, and the Faith and sound science. Never fear science, which secularists abuse and — through faulty premises, and theory rather than observation — often twist to try to destroy faith. Modern science derives from Catholic thought (the scientific method itself comes from a Franciscan friar); it is one of man’s best tools for learning about the universe and how it works. But never forget that it is just one of man’s tools — and not the most important one at that. It can only show us how things work as they do; the reasons why things not only work, but exist at all are where the Faith comes in.
Study Logic, learn how to recognize fallacies and cut through misleading rhetoric, and teach your children to do the same. Send your kids to good, private schools or homeschool them, if possible. If neither’s possible, supplement what they know, and help them unlearn propaganda they’ve likely picked up from school and popular culture. Stress to them the importance of Truth, and the evil of lies. When they’re young, tell them stories such as “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”. Make your home a Catholic one.
Relearn what your ancestors knew, embrace it, and pass it on to your progeny — or, as Chesterton might have said given his definition of tradition as “the democracy of the dead,” let your spiritual ancestors have their voice through how you live. The power of tradition is brought to mind by something the British philosopher Roger Scruton said:
Tradition and even “the stuff” of the Holy Faith itself can act as shorthand guides to the greatest, deepest Truths. Fashionable ideologies capture the minds of intellectuals — but only the midling ones, or else not for long. The truly intelligent of good will always find their way back to what their ancestors knew all along — knowledge culled from and tested by centuries of experience. A great and good-willed intellectual can expound on holy matrimony in fascinating ways that are stimulating to other intellectuals — ways that are important and good. He can find support for the traditional view of marriage from psychology, sociology, and other sciences in addition to Sacred Scripture and the writings of the Fathers. But the less intellectually endowed “peasant” can love God just as well (or perhaps even better) and follow the natural law by learning about marriage through stained glass, pictures in books, and what his parents taught him over the dinner table. Both can state the dogma that marriage is a sacrament, do the right things, and hand what they know on down to their children in their different ways.
Meanwhile, the midling intellectual, cutting off his head to spite his chest, and guided by the likes of “The Green Book” Lewis wrote about, might mock and slander the both of them while pushing for no fault divorce, polyamory, and homosexual “marriage.” Thinking himself “woke” and “cool,” he’ll tear down tradition and push for endless reform, for what he’s sure is “progress.” If that half-bright half-witted “progressive” would think some more, he’d come around to what “even” the “peasant” knew all along, and what the truly great intellectual can write volumes on.
G. K. Chesterton wrote,
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”
This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, or that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion. We might even say that he is seeing things in a nightmare. This principle applies to a thousand things, to trifles as well as true institutions, to convention as well as to conviction. It was exactly the sort of person, like Joan of Arc, who did know why women wore skirts, who was most justified in not wearing one; it was exactly the sort of person, like St. Francis, who did sympathise with the feast and the fireside, who was most entitled to become a beggar on the open road. And when, in the general emancipation of modern society, the Duchess says she does not see why she shouldn’t play leapfrog, or the Dean declares that he sees no valid canonical reason why he should not stand on his head, we may say to these persons with patient benevolence: “Defer, therefore, the operation you contemplate until you have realised by ripe reflection what principle or prejudice you are violating. Then play leapfrog and stand on your head and the Lord be with you.”
The point: don’t fear real education; fear half-baked simulacra thereof. Fear ill-willed, midling intellectuals who treat tradition with disdain, who rip down fences they haven’t bothered to even truly understand first. Fear propaganda and ideologies that sucker people in with easily understood, sound bite answers — answers that always seem to satisfy vanity, hedonism, vengeance, or the lust for power.2
Bottom line: you need to “remember what the dormouse said” and “feed your head,” to borrow a line from Jefferson Airplane — but you need to feed it with Truth, using discernment, reason, respect for the knowledge of your ancestors, and healthy skepticism with regard to the motives, means, and vast blindspots of ideologues.
And then, after learning the Truth, you must speak it. There may be lots of times it won’t be prudent or serve charity or the greater Good to speak a Truth unnecessarily, to volunteer something true that doesn’t need to be said at a given time, in a given place. But there is never a time to lie. Especially to oneself. Make nightly examinations of conscience, see where you need work, and then do that work so that you’ll be seen by others, by yourself, and, most importantly, by God as a person of integrity.
When it comes to speaking the Truth to others, there’ll undoubtedly be a price to pay, just as there is a price to pay — a bigger price to pay — for not speaking the Truth. We live in a time in which speaking honestly comes at great cost, but truth-telling is the only way forward! As in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, someone must be the first to emulate the little boy who cried, “but the Emperor’s naked!” And once one person demonstrates fortitude by doing that, others follow. Then entire edifices built of lies crumble. Please read these two brief pdf files, save them, and pass them around to your friends and family:
- Live Not By Lies written by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in 1974
- The Power of the Powerless by Vaclav Havel, written in 1979 against the Communist regime then controlling his country, Czechoslovakia
When we lie to ourselves and to others, when the Logos is ignored, when we are complicit in evil because of fear, disaster is inevitable. But the Logos can’t be ignored forever, and the Truth will out in mysterious and dangerous ways. 3
The Chest: The Will
You may have heard the line that “Beauty will save us!” Alexander Solzhenitsyn agreed when he wrote:
[P]erhaps that ancient trinity of Truth, Good and Beauty is not simply an empty, faded formula as we thought in the days of our self-confident, materialistic youth. If the tops of these three trees converge, as the scholars maintained, but the too blatant, too direct stems of Truth and Good are crushed, cut down, not allowed through, then perhaps the fantastic, unpredictable, unexpected stems of Beauty will push through and soar to that very same place, and in so doing will fulfil the work of all three.
Our passions reflect the intensity of our will, and they need to be tempered so that we become their masters, so that they don’t rule us. One help in ordering them to the True and the Good is to surround ourselves with Beauty.
In the aforementioned “The Green Book,” the story is recounted of the two tourists commenting on a waterfall, with one calling it “sublime.” In saying this, he was saying that the waterfall’s beauty and majesty point to something much greater than the waterfall itself. They reveal something about He Who made the waterfall. of those who worship “fire, or the wind, or the swift air, or the circle of the stars, or the great water, or the sun and moon” because of their beauty, in which the idolators delighted:
[L]et them know how much the Lord of them is more beautiful than they: for the First Author of beauty made all those things. Or if they admired their power and their effects, let them understand by them, that He that made them, is mightier than they: for by the greatness of the beauty, and of the creature, the Creator of them may be seen, so as to be known thereby.
Nature’s beauty gives us glimpses of God Himself. The stars, plants, and animals all point to their Creator, as does the sea, about which Dr. Peter Kreeft 4 feels as I do. Listen to him speak of it (mp3) and of how God can be seen in its beauty, power, and mystery.
And is there anyone who can watch this murmuration of starlings and not be stunned into worshipful silence?:
Pondering nature with the mind in addition to taking it in through the heart reveals a different sort of beauty that brings us back to stunned silence: the beauty of mathematics. Nature’s reliance on and repetition of the Fibonacci numbers (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21 …), and that the ratio of any two successive Fibonacci numbers is close to the Golden Ratio (and get closer to that ratio the larger the numbers are), are mindblowing. The Golden Angle, which informs how leaves are arranged on trees, how petals appear on flowers, and how pinecones and certain seashells are spun into spirals makes for humbling beauty which gives us a flash of reassurance that the Ancient of Days is.
Circles, spirals, pre-ordained angles, harmony, symmetry, proportion — nature is filled with mathematical beauty and order, both of which are seen in man himself. Leonardo da Vinci wrote about his “Vitruvian Man”:
For the human body is so designed by nature that the face, from the chin to the top of the forehead and the lowest roots of the hair, is a tenth part of the whole height; the open hand from the wrist to the tip of the middle finger is just the same; the head from the chin to the crown is an eighth, and with the neck and shoulder from the top of the breast to the lowest roots of the hair is a sixth; from the middle of the breast to the summit of the crown is a fourth. If we take the height of the face itself, the distance from the bottom of the chin to the under side of the nostrils is one third of it; the nose from the under side of the nostrils to a line between the eyebrows is the same; from there to the lowest roots of the hair is also a third, comprising the forehead. The length of the foot is one sixth of the height of the body; of the forearm, one fourth; and the breadth of the breast is also one fourth. The other members, too, have their own symmetrical proportions, and it was by employing them that the famous painters and sculptors of antiquity attained to great and endless renown.
Similarly, in the members of a temple there ought to be the greatest harmony in the symmetrical relations of the different parts to the general magnitude of the whole. Then again, in the human body the central point is naturally the navel. For if a man be placed flat on his back, with his hands and feet extended, and a pair of compasses centred at his navel, the fingers and toes of his two hands and feet will touch the circumference of a circle described therefrom. And just as the human body yields a circular outline, so too a square figure may be found from it. For if we measure the distance from the soles of the feet to the top of the head, and then apply that measure to the outstretched arms, the breadth will be found to be the same as the height, as in the case of plane surfaces which are perfectly square.
As I say on the page about Mystery, Miracle, and Morality Plays, how wonderful it would be for Catholics to “seize the day” and do things like getting a group of young men together to form a flash mob and randomly give the world some Gregorian chant! Beauty like that cuts right through snarky arguments and captures the imagination. It intrigues. It invites. It leads people “upwards”. It leaves the Christian-bashing atheist with nothing to say.
We need much more beauty in the world, and we need to start with a restoration of our churches’ aesthetics. Bring back the stained glass, the bells, the incense, the things that fill the senses with beauty and give us something to hold on to, to feed our imaginations, and to dream about!
And, please, expose your children nature and to Christendom’s art, its “gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh.” Don’t let them be 12-year olds who’ve never heard Bach or Beethoven. Don’t let them be unable to recognize Michelangelo’s Pieta or Bernini’s St. Teresa. Surround them with beauty!
In addition to and above the beauty of nature and of man’s art is the beauty of Christ Himself, the Author and Source of all Beauty. In The Via Pulchritudinis (The Path of Beauty), the Pontifical Council for Culture under Pope Benedict XVI tells us:
Jesus Christ is the perfect representation of the Glory of the Father. He is the most beautiful of the children of man, for He possesses the fullness of the Grace by which God delivers man from sin, delivers him from the bondage of evil and returns him to his first innocence. A multitude of men and women have let themselves be seized by this beauty to consecrate themselves to it. As Pope Benedict XVI expressed during the first Canonisation of his Pontificate at the closing Mass of the XI ordinary general Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, “the saint is the one who is so fascinated by the beauty of God and by his perfect truth that he is progressively transformed by it. For this beauty and this truth, he is ready to renounce everything, even himself.” (23 October 2005)
If Christian holiness configures to the beauty of the Son, the Immaculate Conception is the most perfect illustration of the work of beauty. The Virgin Mary and the saints are the luminous reflection and attractive witness of the singular beauty of Christ, beauty of infinite love of God who gives Himself and makes Himself known to men. These reflect, each according to their manner, as prisms of a crystal, faces of a diamond, contours of a rainbow, the light and original beauty of the God of Love; man’s holiness is participation in the holiness of God and by it His beauty. When this is fully welcomed into the heart and spirit, it illuminates and guides the lives of men and women in their daily actions.
Contemplate the life of Christ, His Mother, and the Saints through spiritual reading, prayer (the Rosary is especially good for this), and making the liturgical year come alive.
The Belly: The Sensible Appetites
In this age, the body is seen in a non-Christian manner, as either radically separate from the soul, or as existing without a soul at all. Either way, it’s treated either as unimportant or as more important than it is. It seems that some see surface beauty and health as the greatest goods, as any look at Instagram will tell you. Most of the folks who attend yoga classes, spend hours perfecting make-up techniques, and eat only vegan have no problems engaging in fornication, having abortions, and so on. Others, unable or unwilling to compete with the physically lovely, give up altogether, giving in to obesity, drug abuse, radical body modification, sloth, and other unhealthy ways of living (and then they campaign to get us to change our standards, to see, for ex., morbid obesity and full sleeve tattoos as beautiful and “hot.” The girl who looks like a sailor who’s swallowed a whale isn’t doing anything wrong; the man who doesn’t want her to become the mother of his children is, you see.). Today, the body is too often treated as either a monarch or an abused and hated enemy.
There is a sense, though, in which the body and soul can oppose one another: the rational part of man desires his ultimate end while the appetites of the body yearn for sensuous goods, and when the body does so inordinately, it’s called “concupiscence.” But note the word “goods” there: food, sex, physical pleasure — all of these are good things. But they must be experienced only in an ordinate manner or they will destroy us.
A metaphor I use on the page on modesty is that of fire: fire is good. It warms us, cooks our food, and delights us. But a fire that’s not contained and controlled, a fire that’s lit in the wrong place or at the wrong time, is a disaster. Fire in the hearth? Good! Fire on the roof? Not good. A great dinner with a just-right amount of lovely dessert? Good! Shoving an entire large pizza down your throat and chasing it with a full box of Twinkies? Not good. Sex with your spouse? Good! Sex outside of marriage? Not good. (Of course, this is understood by the secular-minded to mean “Catholics hate and feel guilt about sex.” 6 Whatever. Leave them to their destruction if they don’t want to understand and conquer themselves.)
It’s the same with all of our lower appetites. We must order them according to reason, and the way we do this is through practice, by developing good habits (virtues). In this sense, overcoming concupiscence is like exercising a muscle: the more you do it, the stronger you get. The more you lift, the more easily lifted are heavier loads in the future.
It’s, in part, for this reason that fasting, including periodic abstinence from eating meat, is an aspect of the Catholic life. Fasting is a means to discipline the body, to keep the concupiscible appetites under control. Other ways include prayer, finding distractions from or healthy replacements for a given vice, and avoiding “near occasions of sin” — those situations or people who tend to lead you to stumble (here, nightly examinations of conscience help yet again).
Mind you, few think that mastering the concupiscible appetites is easy. Even St. Francis, in his struggles to do so, referred to his body as “Brother Ass.” But the point is to try, to start somewhere in developing good habits. One step at a time, party people… Let your motivation be, in part, the knowledge that true freedom is the freedom from your passions. We either master them, or they master us. We master them, or they are used to control us. Remember the story of Samson and Dalila, wherein Samson — the strongest, most powerful man in Israel — was unable to control his passion for Dalila and was blinded, made almost helpless, as a result (see Judges 13-16). 3
Do these things — learn the truth, submit to Truth, speak the truth, surround yourself with beauty, discipline yourself by developing good habits — and, before you know it, you’ll be “living in the Logos”; your head, chest, and belly will be integrated; and you’ll have made your life better. And once your life is much better, it may well ripple out in ever larger circles, eventually “changing the world.”