The Value-Response to Nature

6:00:00 AMJulia Premus

In Chapter 6 of Transformation in Christ, Hildebrand elaborates that heroes are those who order their love for the created realm in a way that best serves the human person:
The heroic man is simple, and in his heroic act becomes the simpler. Every heroic act is the victory of a dominant aim over a multitude of petty ties and distractions. All experiences which enlarge our hearts, which expand and embolden our souls, and which render us able to sacrifice inferior things heroically—as does, above all, a great love under Jesus—contribute to our achieving true simplicity. What we must seek is a general readiness to give away lower things for the sake of higher ones, according to the divinely sanctioned legitimate order of values, and in this sense, ultimately, even to abandon any and every high good for the sake of the highest one—that is, Christ. (1)

Hildebrand’s discussion of the “value-response” provides the foundation of his conception of heroic behavior. Hildebrand describes value as a hierarchy, which prioritizes that which is intrinsically valuable (having value for its own sake), above that which is extrinsically valuable (having value for the sake of something else). It is for this reason that human beings and even the bonsai plant in someone’s living room are categorized on a higher tier of value than a Nintendo Wii. Human beings have intrinsic value being in the image of God and made for God, while a 2007 Wii has extrinsic value because it functions as a platform for human beings to socialize, commune, and destress.

Interestingly enough, however, we often categorize non-human living creatures as being on the same level as material objects for our use and commercial purposes. This utilitarian perspective ignores the intrinsic value which all living things possess. Nature, including plants and animals, deserves a higher response than our use and abuse. In Hildebrand’s hierarchy, while human beings take priority, they do not claim exclusivity, nor can they be loved effectively when the rest of the hierarchy is ignored. Ordering creation properly allows us to fully integrate each tier into our lives and experience the joys creation has to offer us. Furthermore, we can fulfill our identity as human beings by discovering the care we have to offer creation. What is truly best for us is not to use nature according to our impulse and greed - rather, what is best is for us to immerse ourselves into nature as stewards. As Hildebrand writes in chapter five of Transformation in Christ, “What we have in mind is rather a general vision of creation as something which has not only been made by God but which somehow reflects God” (Hildebrand 1539). This calls to mind Hildebrand’s thoughts in chapter four on the explicit value-response demanded by all of creation: “The wakefulness of the truly conscious person also determines a more real and more significant mode of living. He alone, as we have seen, has a genuine comprehension of values; he recognizes their essential demand, and meets it with an explicit response.” (2) This idea of wakefulness and value-response reminds me of Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato si’, which discusses how our care and love for God’s gift of the environment will naturally lead to our better care for human beings as well - and how the two are inextricably linked. As Pope Francis writes, “the Spirit of life [dwelling] in every living creature, [calling] us to enter into relationship with him.” (3) The personalist approach can extend beyond the human person and into an appreciation and care for all of creation. We need to take a Faulknerian approach to nature, lowering our weapons and respecting the dignity of all of creation, which in turn will improve our human relationships as well. It’s this same Faulknerian idea that Laudato si’ acknowledges:

This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will...We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters. (4)

In this way, our stewardship and relationship with creation has the circular effect of benefitting us as well. Value-response, therefore, becomes a useful concept when determining how to interact with other tiers of the hierarchy, and how a recognition and love for creation will not distract us from humanity but rather enhance our connection with it.

1 - Dietrich von Hildebrand, Transformation in Christ. Kindle Edition. Page 1649.
2 - Dietrich von Hildebrand, Transformation in Christ. Kindle Edition. Page 1112.
3 -  Francis. Laudato si’. [On Care for Our Common Home], sec. 88, accessed July 17, 2015.
4 - Francis. Laudato si’. [On Care for Our Common Home], sec. 2, accessed July 17, 2015.

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