Christmas contemplation

The Art of Living: Is it really that hard?

6:30:00 AMMeredith Kuzma

To kick off my winter break I have begun reading Dietrich von Hildebrand's The Art of Living. This topic is especially compelling during this time of year, when many people focus on going through the motions of a commercialized Christmas, stripping it of the response required to God becoming incarnate. In the Foreword of The Art of Living, Alice von Hildebrand says; “Never in the history of mankind has the average man had so many material possessions and yet never has he been more restless and unhappy” (p. ix). The Art of Living addresses the “happiness problem” that has been discussed previously on this blog before but also goes beyond happiness to discuss all elements of a fulfilling human life.


The Art of Living could probably be described as practical philosophy. The book began as radio talks by Dietrich von Hildebrand, given in a very simple style that was easily understood by those without philosophical training (like me!). The first chapter is entitled “Reverence,” and each chapter adds an additional virtue, culminating in the crowning virtue of Gratitude. Today I will cover Reverence in this blog.


The book opens with the topic of value response, discussing the importance of moral values. There's a beautiful quote for this:


“That which is realized and shines forth in an act of genuine forgiveness, in a noble and generous renunciation, in a burning and selfless love, is more significant and more noble, more important and more eternal than all cultural values” (p. 1).


Here von Hildebrand stresses that “only persons can bear moral values” (p. 2). This is significant because it means that man's life is not solely dominated by survival or entertainment, that there is a higher level in man's moral life. If neglected, this higher level can become corrupted and, in turn, corrupt man.


With each virtue, there is a corresponding vice. Opposed to Reverence is Irreverence.There are many problems that may arise with the irreverent man, but the most striking is that “the irreverent man can never remain inwardly silent” (p. 4). The inability to cultivate inward silence becomes a stumbling block later, when, for example, religious response is required.


“Confronted with being, the reverent man remains silent in order to give it an opportunity to speak” (p. 7).


Thus, Reverence is necessary for value response, it is an essential element of love, and it is the necessary basis for justice, purity, and religion. The concept of Reverence embodies recognition of personal value, which towers over material possessions. The art of living out Reverence means living a response to the value of persons. At Christmas, this may mean less focus on material possessions and more focus on human beings.


“For far above his cultural accomplishments rises the importance of man's own being: a personality radiating moral values, a man who is humble, pure, truthful, honest, and loving.” (2)


We can all issue ourselves a challenge to cultivate silence and reverence this Christmas season.




--


Von, Hildebrand Dietrich, and Hildebrand Alice. Von. The Art of Living. Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute, 1994

Reverent Woman Image Source
Candle Image Source


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