Sunday, October 10, 2010

quote of the week, october 10-16, 2010

In a chapter on "the Christian attitude of sancta sobrietas," or "holy sobriety," the late Dietrich von Hildebrand writes the following on "an existence based on illusions," which I will here quote at length:

A danger of religious illusionism attaches, in particular, to some Christians' proclivity towards disregarding - leaping over, as it were - the reality of man's terrestrial situation. To be sure, our glance should be directed to eternity; we should consider everything sub specie aeternitatis and accord a primacy to everything that is relevant to eternity and extends to its sphere. Indeed, we must ask with St. Aloysius, "What does this mean to eternity?" Yet, we must not take on a pose of dwelling already in eternity, nor simply pass over the status viae. For we must always abide in truth which we cannot due unless we realize our metaphysical situation as a whole, taking into account both our being ordained to eternity and the fact that as yet we are dwelling on this earth.
This disregard may produce its bad effects in two alternative directions. Either our mode of experience becomes ungenuine, and we dwell in a "psuedo-sublimity"; or else, we fall into debasing and banalizing the supernatural: we drag it down, unintentionally, into an atmosphere entirely of this world [...].
The error of "skipping" the terrestrial phase is typified by the attitude which some Christians take toward the cross. They imagine it to be particularly virtuous or pious behaviour if, at the death of a beloved person, they remain entirely calm and evince little or no pain - since the deceased has won eternity, and chosen the best part. They do as though they were themselves already dwelling in eternity. Again, the alternative holds: either they will develop a kind of false, morbid, foggy idealism, or else, they fall into a shallow, matter-of-fact resignation, a banal routine composure (a cheap substitute for true Christian serenity and peace of mind), becoming thus wholly insensible to the gravity and greatness of death. The fact is that they have lost the sense of the true proportions of our metaphysical situation, the true correlation of earthly life to eternity. The false familiarity they affect with eternity will either seduce them into a thin and pale idealism, an attitude of "floating in the heights," or it will lead to an implicit desubstantialization of the meaning of eternity, a "short-circuited" assimilation of its aspects to the sphere of earthly affairs. In either case, the distinction is blurred between eternity and the earth, and a denatured idea of the supernatural takes the place of its true conception. Instead of our actual transformation into a supernatural mode of being, it is the supernatural that we bring down to the level of natural concerns. (von Hildebrand 1963 [1948]: 370-371)

von Hildebrand, D. (1963). Transformation in Christ: On the Christian Attitude of Mind. Garden City, NY: Image Books. (Original work published 1948)

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