aesthetics Appreciation

The Mother of All Virtue

6:00:00 AMJonah Soucy



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It’s a pretty big claim to say that reverence is the “mother of all virtues”. If you were to ask me an hour ago what virtue was the “mother” of all the rest, I’d think about it for a moment and then probably tell you that it’s ‘humility’ or ‘patience. But after reading a section from Dietrich von Hildebrand on reverence, I've been convinced that reverence is indeed the “mother of all virtues”, and I hope to show you why.

Reverence is a topic I’ve wanted to write about for some time now, because I don’t think many of us understand the term in its fullness. Too often we equate it with “seriousness” or “piety”. As a kid I remember the phrase “show some reverence” had pretty much the same meaning as “shut up”. But if we look at the definition of reverence, we see that what it really means is  “deep respect for something or someone.” In other words, we can’t reduce it to a moment of silence held at the side of Uncle Billy’s coffin . True, this moment is a very reverent one, as long as it is directed towards the respect of Uncle Billy in some way. Later on, drinking a couple beers with the cousins and sharing “glory stories” of the adventures of Uncle Billy takes place. Has it ever crossed our minds that this too, is a form of reverence towards beloved Uncle Billy? I think that if we’re sticking with the definition laid out for us by the good ole Google dictionary, it is. Reverence does not need to be somber. There is something to be said about those moments of intimacy where that special, silent, kind of reverence needs to take place, but our reverent attitude is something that we can carry with us into every moment of our lives, including the crazy moments which seem so far away from the tender and intimate ones which we so often equate it with.

It’s for this reason that reverence can even be considered a “mother” of other virtues in the first place. It’s an attitude, and one that we can change almost at will. What it takes is a conscious choice in looking at the world in a certain way. It is by our attitudes that we grow in virtue. Virtue is not something freely given; it must be worked for. Here’s what Dietrich von Hildebrand, one of my favorite philosophers, has to say about it: “Reverence is the attitude which can be designated as the mother of all moral life, for in it man first takes a position toward the world which opens his spiritual eyes and enables him to grasp values.” (1) How often do we limit reverence to God and the deceased? At every moment beauty is screaming at us through all of creation. How many sunsets have we missed because we were too focused on getting through  traffic? And how many people have we failed to give the time of day to because we simply don’t care or we have our nose buried in our phones? The reverent man takes the time to “stop and smell the flowers” so to speak.He is in touch with the depths of reality and aware of what is going on around him under the surface.

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Well and dandy, you may say, but how does this translate to virtue? Reverence, simply put, is the first step. You can’t be virtuous if you can’t see or understand what a virtue is, and it is reverence towards the world of virtues which allows one to do so. The beautiful thing about reverence is that you don’t even have to be aware of it for it to be there. For some it comes more naturally than for others. A young child who seems to be naturally virtuous may not know the definition of ‘reverence’ or find a suitable definition of patience (one that doesn’t use the word ‘patient’), but he sure can tell you what it means to be a good person and tell you he wants to be one. That attitude is one of reverence towards the world of virtues.

The other beautiful thing about reverence is that in those who struggle with certain virtues, it is the beginning of our journey to acquiring them. It is the first step, and the one which we have the most control over. An intemperate or impatient temperament may be hard to overcome, but by choosing to see our flaws and taking a stand of respect towards the virtues we want to attain we can gain much strength in the battle for virtue. You hear coaches, parents, and teachers say all the time “what you need is a change in attitude”. Reverence is the very definition of that attitude we need to mold ours into.

Of course, like any good thing, there are dangers lurking around the corner ready to snatch it away at a moment’s notice. There are two vices which will kill any sense of reverence towards the world of values quickly. Von Hildebrand lists these two great obstacles: pride and concupiscence. On one hand, we have a man who thinks he knows all there is to know. He fails to see the mystery in creation, in virtue, in goodness. He “believes that he penetrates everything at first sight and knows all things right from the start.”(2) If you believe nothing is outside of your reach, you’re never going to actually be able to grab anything outside of your reach. The other great vice which keeps us from reverence, and consequently the other virtues, is only being able to see what is in his or her immediate interest. One who approaches life seeking the next big thrill, or seeking happiness for its own sake will fail to find it. One such as this approaches the world around him closed off to the intrinsic value it contains, outside of just what it contains for his or her person. A man who does this will only experience a fraction of the goodness in the world.

“To whom will will the sublime beauty of a sunset or the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven reveal itself, but to him who approaches it reverently and unlocks his heart to it?”
-Von Hildebrand, The Art of Living p. 9
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  1. Dietrich von Hildebrand, The Art of Living p. 4
  2. Ibid. p. 5

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1 comments

  1. This Answer to mother of all virtues is brilliant.Upon reading first line,Contemplating reverance. Prior considered humility. Interpreting the first teaching of Jesus Blessed are the poor in spirit... As those who recognize their spiritual deficiency. Wherein this could be the revelation for reverance of Virtue. Love Joy Peace Long-suffering Meekness Temperance Faith, Are these not all fruit of The Spirit? Is it not The Spirit which reveals The Way (immutable Law), The Truth (unfailing principle) and Life (enabling Spirit) These three, Jesus said I Am to Be*. After all All things were made by Him and without Him was not anything made that was made. Jesus is the Beginning and the End the Alpha and Omega ,Who was in the Bosom of the Father,from Eternity Who was also slain from the foundation of the world ... John the Baptist spoke ,Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the _____ of the world ...do you think the blank should say sins
    Hmmm? You would be wrong John One: Twenty-nine Is not our continual test on earth ,wether or not we reverance what the Father (Who can not lie), says? Jesus said why do you call Me Good There is none Good but One ,God. Do we have ANYTHING that we did not receive ? From where comes boasting? The "sin",{singular} of the world is it not Unbelief also
    Being irreverence as in questioning the Goodness of God All in all Eve mi was deceived being not well advised for there was no prohibition to touching or examining the fruit of the tree of knowledge while Adam too much self-confidence disobeyed . Solomon wrote ONLY by Pride comes contention but with the well advised Wisdom.Thus the heart of the matter being matters of the heart as stated above reverance with an open heart ,..in conclusions The Heart is the policy Maker Proverbs 4:23 wherein Jesus declared Where your treasure is there will be your heart also, Responsible Reverance : Our response to His Ability Psalms 1 +23, 17:15
    2 Cor. 3:18 + 10:4-6 to complete Genesis 1:26 Character Development Hebrews 5:8,9 1John 3:1-3,16
    Franklin : Prosperity does best discover Vice, Adversary does best discover Virtue Acts 14:22 For of Him and through Him and to Him are ALL things to Whom be Glory Forever!
    Think before Creation God Had a Father's Heart ...What father does not Glory in a mature fruitful son? Such is the adoption process of Romans 8:18-23 biblical adoption being a father has tutors train up a child in the mind,will,and purpose of the father to maturity wherein his signet ring of Authority is placed on mature sons hand. Stated in this passage All Creation groans and travails (in birth) to bring forth the manifestation of the (mature) son's of God as in Rev.12:2,5 considering time frame of Rev.1:19 This birth spoken of in Isaiah 66:6-9 THEE result of THEE Unique command of Isaiah 45:12 for the time period of Dan.12:1-3 the second half of Dan.9:27 with verse 24 in which only 2/3rds have been fulfilled this in conjunction with the question Why did Christ at the beginning of His 3.5 year ministry stop in the middle of Isaiah 61:1-3 reading the prophecy concerning His Ministry? Reason being John 3:17 for second half 61:2b,3 starts with the day of Vengeance as it is written in Luke 4:18-23 thus well did "The Preacher" say in Ecclesiastes 7:8
    In Hebrew 7 equals Covenant, Kingdom, Divine Completion while 8 equals Rebirth Resurrection
    Better is the END of a thing than the Beginning there of and patient in Spirit better than proud in spirit. So rejoices the highly honored saints of Revelation 20:4-6 1Cor.15:21-28,51,53 John 11:25 first the dead in Christ then immediately after the rapture...of those who are alive and remain. Rev.3:21 for overcomers for the increase of His Government there shall be No END .HIS Kingdom will grow through out the countless Galaxies in Infinite Dimensions and that only scratches the surface of His Glory !!!

    *John 14:20 17:17-23 20:21 5:19,30

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