The Personalist Project

In my recent post on the superficial treatment of sex on TV, I ended up expressing basically just the natural emotions of annoyance and disgust at the situation.  While valid, such responses are nonetheless inadequate from a Christian perspective.  As Dietrich von Hildebrand points out in his classic work Transformation in Christ, “supernatural life represents something radically new, apart from other new aspects it introduces, in that its fullness reveals certain vestiges of that coincidentia oppositorum—that union of apparently irreconcilable opposites—which is the privilege of divine life.”  In this case, the seeming opposites which the Christian is meant to combine are a deep sorrow together with an abiding joy. 

The sorrow is appropriate because we live in the “tension of becoming,” we are still working our way through this world of time and imperfection, of sin and reparation.  Yet we know ultimately that joy has the final word.  Thus we must be neither superficial optimists in relation to the limits of this world nor ultimate pessimists about the final triumph of good.  We ought to be in deep sorrow about the evils of this world while remaining in constant joy over the triumph of Christ over all evils.  To quote Von Hildebrand:

Jesus said to us: “In the world you shall have distress: but have confidence. I have overcome the world” (John 16:33); but again, He said: “Watch ye therefore, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Matt. 25:13).  We still walk in the valley of tears, afflicted with crosses of all kinds.   We still have to “fill up those things which are wanting of the sufferings of Chist, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church” (Col. 1:24); and yet we know “that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come” (Rom. 8:18).  We are still burdened with tasks; we must still hurry on from one moment to the next; we are still caught in the movement of time; we are still contrained to activity—and yet, already on earth, contemplation forms the deeper and more important part of our life.

Thus it is never enough just to complain or show annoyance and disgust at certain aspects of this fallen world; we must also keep in mind the triumph of forgiveness, mercy and goodness which has been accomplished in Christ.  Again, Von Hildebrand:

Unless we always keep in mind this dual character of our situation, we cannot dwell in truth fully and adequately.  We must never, under the spell of the of the relative reality of present life, lose sight of the proper and absolute reality of the life to come; but neither must we forget that we are as yet citizens of the earth.  To think or behave, in a sense, as though we no longer were in statu viae, is as false as to take our earthly passage for the ultimate reality. 

So an expression of sorrow over the sad state of affairs in this world, e.g. the way sex is presented on TV, must never be left as the final word.  The true wonder of sexuality as revealed by Christ, as restored in light of the Father’s original intention, as expounded by such sensitive thinkers as JPII, Von Hildebrand and many others at the forefront of the culture wars, is still with us on our way to eternity!  And, as already Plato says, the truth can never be refuted.  This is a source of an abiding joy which does indeed have the final word!

Comments (1)

Katie van Schaijik

#1, Feb 27, 2012 10:25pm

It's tricky, though, isn't it?  To find a way to take evil fully seriously without losing our rootedness in joy?  

My impression is that most of us fall into one of two categories: 

1) Pessimistic anti-modernists who seen nothing but decline and decay all around, and who come across as bitter and condemnatory

2) Superficial optimists who seem unable to perceive what is really going on in the world.

Few and far between are those who are both sober and realistic and genuinely joyful.  

I fear I lurch all to often between the two errors.

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