The Personalist Project

In preparing for tonight's First Friday Reading Circle gathering, I came across a passage in Liturgy and Personality that strikes me as especially von Hildebrandian--that seems almost to capture the essence of his sense of human life: its "metaphysical situation", its vocation, its fulness.  It is a passage about reverence:

Reverence is the mother of all virtues, of all religion.  It is the foundation and the beginning because it enables our spirit to possess real knowledge, and primarily the knowledge of values.  It is that fundamental attitude toward being in which on gives all being the opportunity to unfold itself in its specific nature, in which on eneither behaves as its master, nor acts toward it in a spirit of familiar conviviality….In this right and appropriate attitude, this affirmation free from obtrusiveness, this silent, contemplative disposition toward being as being, the world begins to disclose itself in its entire depth, differentiation, and plenitude of value.  

Note the importance of reverence not just to the moral and religious life, but also to the intellectual life.  Reality "discloses" itself only when we approach it with the right disposition: one of reverence and receptivity, rather than arrogance and mastery. Those who only want to use the world, can never apprehend it rightly.  

We will be recording Jules' introduction to chapters 5-6 and posting it in the member forum tomorrow.

Comments (6)


#1, Jan 7, 2012 1:03am

That's interesting. Almost the same thing could be said, and more or less was said, by lots of the Medieval theologians such as Aelred of Rievaulx and Bernard of Clairvaux, and later on Thomas More, except instead of reverence for them it was humility. 

I'm left wondering now, which virtue--humility or reverence--is preeminent? 

I remember you saying, Kathleen, that one perfect virtue necessarily contains all of the others. While that strikes me as true, how do humility and reverence compare in the hierarchy, if there is such a thing?

They're certainly similar and connected. Are they maybe the same? It seems like reverence requires more of an understanding and appreciation for whatever one is revering, whereas humility is content to acknowledge a greatness that is entirely beyond any and all comprehension, and to simply have faith in its goodness as that relates to oneself and others.

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Jan 7, 2012 1:09pm

On the metaphysical level, I think it's true that the fulness of all the moral virtues is implied in each.  You can't have the fulness of justice without mercy, and gentleness and courage and honesty and wisdom, and so on.  They are (if it's not irreverent to say so) consubstantial with one another.

But they can be considered independently.  Or, the virtuous life can be examined from different aspects and in its different manifestations.

There was some discussion about this question at our gathering last night. Does vH conflate other virtues into reverence?

Jules can talk about this better than I can. 

I think he would say that in vH's way of seeing it, humility is a specific response to the reality of God in confrontation with my creatureliness, my smallness and insgnificance in comparison with Him.  Reverence, at least in its initial phase, is a disposition toward the whole world of values.

But I feel a little out of my depth and hope others come to my rescue.

Michael Healy

#3, Jan 8, 2012 8:59pm

I always present reverence and humility as two sides of the same coin when I teach Von Hildebrand's Art of Living, which starts with the virtue of reverence.  Reverence involves looking up and out of oneself, acknowledging that there are things in being worthy of being looked up to.  But of course that very attitude implies humility, acknowledging that I am not the center of the world.  So while it is true that each moral virtue in its fullness implies all the others, I think these two have a particularly intimate and symbiotic relationship.

Jules van Schaijik

#4, Jan 8, 2012 9:27pm

They do seem very similar. Von Hildebrand, however, thinks that unlike reverence, humility is a specifically Christian virtue. I think he sees it as reverence deepened and transformed by faith.. From Liturgy and Personality, chapter 5: 

Reverence is not an attitude like humility which can appear only in confrontation with the true image of God, as reflected in the Face of Christ and presented to us by the Church. Reverence is, at least in its primitive form, the presupposition of faith, a praeambulum fidei.

He goes on to say that while there is deep reverence in ancient Greece, "not only in Socrates and Plato, but also in the ethos of the people", "there is no place in the ancient conception of the world [for humility]" 

Michael Healy

#5, Jan 8, 2012 10:27pm

I would certainly agree that the deepest core of humility involves acknowledgement that we are made and sustained each moment by God, created out of nothing.  Further, in the fullness of humility as a supernatural virtue, we must acknowledge the need for a redeemer.  And finally the need for a guide, a regenerator, a teaching authority plus grace (divine help) to lead us home.  

Each of these successive steps is a further blow to our pride and our temptation to self-sufficiency, a further perfection of humility.  I agree that these attitudes, these self-understandings, did not really exist in ancient Greece.

Nonetheless, I think there is perhaps a natural form or, if you prefer, natural prefigurement or anticipation of humility (described above) as the flip-side of reverence. 

Katie van Schaijik

#6, Jan 8, 2012 11:21pm

Nonetheless, I think there is perhaps a natural form or, if you prefer, natural prefigurement or anticipation of humility (described above) as the flip-side of reverence. 

Yes, that makes sense to me.  In the chapters in Liturgy and Personality we discussed in the reading circle the other night, vH wrote about the way we have a general, "primitive" sense of reverence that becomes more differentiated as reality discloses itself and we open ourselves further to it.  I would suppose there's a parallel in other virtues too.  A general, primitive humility that is an awareness of our insignificance in the the scheme of things, which gets deepened and clarified as it is perfected by a deeper penetration of the mystery of Reality and the truth about God.

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