Thursday, September 25, 2014

"City of God" XIX.4

Chapter 4:
But what should the Christian think of all this "highest good" stuff? Well, the believer and the church:
holds that eternal life is the supreme good and eternal death the supreme evil, and that we should live rightly in order to obtain the one and avoid the other. hence the Scriptural expression, 'the just man lives by faith'--by faith, for the fact is that we do not now behold our good and, therefore, must seek it by faith; nor can we of ourselves even live rightly, unless He who gives us faith helps us to believe and pray, for it takes faith to believe that we need His help.
In other words, we look in vain for our highest good in this life or by human means. Instead, we must look to God, the source of salvation and justification and the means by which the best life comes to us.

What we find when we look for satisfaction or fulfillment in this life is that it always disappoints us. Physical health always declines (whether by sickness or old age hardly matters). Beauty always fades. Reason and intelligence crumble with time. Even philosophers fall victim to these evils.
Virtue itself, if we are speaking of the virtue which is available to us, is nothing more than 'one unending war with evil inclinations, and not with solicitations of other people alone, but with evil inclinations that arise within ourselves and are our very own." Or, as the Apostle says, when I want to do good "evil is right there with me."
Pick your virtue as you please: temperance, prudence, justice, or courage ('fortitude'). Each of these we strive for and in each we regularly and repeatedly fall short. The Stoics claim this as their great virtue, yet would we ever say they are 'happy'? [Of course, they would also claim not to care about happiness...] We must decry any philosophy which holds up suicide as a possible route of virtue.

Rather, we confess that happiness and virtue are not united to each other here, but in the heavenly city they can never be separated:
For, when virtues are genuine virtues--and that is possible only when men believe in God--they make no pretense of protecting their possessors from unhappiness, for that would be a false promise; but they do claim that human life, now compelled to feel the misery of so many grievous ills on earth, can, by the hope of heaven, be made both happy and secure. 
Our happiness is certain because it does not reside in this fleeting world of sin, but because it is stored up in heaven. The problem with the philosophers of this world is that they are looking to this world to try to find the one thing that can only be found in the presence of God.

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