HAPPINESS AND PASSION II – CONCUPISCENCE
EVERY age in which man has lived has had its share of passion because men are men. Passion, as an integral part of human nature, makes its inevitable appearance wherever men are found. But history would make very dull reading indeed if in every age, or in every man, passionate activity were compactly the same. Fortunately the emphasis on different passions is as shifting as the interplay of light and shadow, rain and sunshine on a spring day, and with results just as interesting and individual. Our own era, in spite of the long centuries which have preceded it, is no more a mere replica of what has gone before than is the thirteenth child of a family merely a copy of the preceding twelve.
Pertinence of this subject-matter: To spoiled children of twentieth century.
In this chapter we are talking of the mild or concupiscible passions — desire and aversion, pleasure and joy, pain ant sorrow — a subject-matter which could expect attention in any age; but which demands attention and application in our own mild age. We are spoiled children. We have been treated far too well for our own good. Dr. Carrel has groaned in spirit and in print on the damage done to us by this constant coddling; whatever the damage, at least the facts are beyond question. It is not only true that our necessities were the luxuries of another age; we are dedicated to a programme of constant creation of new desires, new necessities. Every age has had its pleasures, our own has been overwhelmed with opportunities for amusement and self-indulgence and we are just starting. We are definitely committed to pleasure. We have developed a cult of joy which either shrinks in horror from sorrow and pain or goes to the opposite extreme of deifying suffering. At the very least our views of sorrow and pain are the sharp, vividly arresting views of extremists.
On the grounds of humanity itself: Place of activity and goal in human life.
Merely as products of the twentieth century, mild passions have an absorbing interest for us. As men and women, moving in step with all the men and women of every age towards the goal of all men and women or away from it, these passions, like all passions, intrude on every day of our lives. Human life is a swift movement to a definite end; it has meaning only because of the goal in sight; it is successful or unsuccessful, happy or unhappy as the goal is attained or lost. The dice the cast of which will determine that gain or loss are human actions, actions controlled, aimed at that ultimate target. These mild passions affect every action, they quicken every step or make it dragging, leaden, they co]our every object which inspires that human activity. For they are nothing more than movements of the animal appetite in man, so closely joined to the intellectual appetite or will that the one is constantly affecting the other; and appetite is the principle of all movement in man, of every least activity and of activity’s contribution to the goal of life.
Place of mild passions in relation to activity and goal
All this sounds very serious indeed; and it should sound serious. The investigation of the passions is no mere satisfaction of a tourist’s curious interest in strange sights, rather it is the strategist’s close scrutiny of the field of battle. Familiarity with passion may inspire us with a bored confidence which is dangerous, like that of a men who strides confidently in the dark through a room in his own house, and, very effectively, falls over a chair that is just a few inches out of place either in his memory or in the room.
Passion of desire — concupiscence: Its essence and location
The obvious never seems very important, yet usually it is most important. Chesterton’s remark that “it is not what a man proves that is important but what he forgets to prove” is a statement of a profound truth. It is the truths a man takes for granted that are the pillars of his intellectual life; just as it is the things he takes for granted which are the actual determinants of his actions. A novice at structural steel work very rarely falls; he takes nothing for granted. Our familiarity with passion, the fact that we come face to face with it in ourselves and in others in all our human contacts, is not a reason for dismissing it lightly, but for really uncovering all that we can about it.
It is, for example, important to know where such a very common passion as desire (concupiscence) belongs in our human nature. If we walk back into the store-room of sense appetite, we have only to reach up on the shelf between love and pleasure to put our hand on desire. It is always there and no amount of moving, of disarrangement, no external or internal turmoil will succeed in putting it anywhere else. It is our sense appetite’s reaching out for a good that is loved but absent, a good the possession of which will give us pleasure. Scrutinizing desire we have infallible evidence of what we love, and what will in our estimation give us pleasure. Corresponding to this passion of desire in the sense appetite there is, of course, the emotion of desire in the intellectual appetite or will: the first centres on the attractions of the sensible world and always carries with it the organic changes that are the toll exacted by all passion; the other centres on the suprasensible delights which completely escape the animal world.
Natural and acquired desires
With all our effort to increase desire, there is one class of desires which the most ingenious advertising man cannot influence. The natural desires, whether in the sensible field of passion or in the spiritual field of will, operate in a closed shop and no length of apprenticeship can win a membership card in this union. Apprentices are not neccessary, for members of this union do not die. The reason for this is the complete stability of the individual natures. Natural desires reach out for the goods nature must have; and the nature of man, as long as he is man, always requires the sane things for its existence and perfection. Limited in this sense, there is another sense in which these natural desires are insatiable. We may think we have enough sleep or food for the moment, but we are quite sure that it is for the moment only. Man is not one of the animals that take on enough food for the winter at one sitting; but even if he were, that desire for food would reappear with the chirp of the first robin. At the very moment when these natural sensible desires are satisfied, they completely disappear. This brings out sharply the dividing line between desire of an absent good and pleasure in a possessed good; never does food seem less desirable than immediately after we have furnished a big meal.
The advertising man’s genius has an opportunity to prove itself in the field of acquired desire. Here the limits of desire are as flexible as the limits of love, and low range. the whole horizon opened up by knowledge. It is possible to teach a dog to drink coffee at night — and have him keep himself and everyone else awake. A bright dog can acquire many more desires than a stupid dog because he can learn of the goodness of more things. If the advertising business were strictly limited to dogs, the individual dog approached by a salesman would have every reason to be flattered. But it does not work the same with human beings. It is not a compliment to have a man edge up to us on a street corner and offer to sell a genuine diamond for fifty cents. Even the dullest man is capable of infinite acquired desires because he is so bright, but because he is a man and the human intellect, with the human will only a step behind, of its very nature reaches out for the infinite, is never satisfied with any particular good, or any number of particular goods. Every man was made for the universal good, the universal truth.
A man is quite capable of desiring riches without limit; but it is quite stupid of him to expect even limitless riches to satisfy his desires. Joyce Kilmer’s poem, “Pennies”, accurately describes the twist a man puts in his nature by centring his desires on particular goods. The poem pictures a little boy standing perplexed and sad with a few long-hoarded pennies in his hand, sad because the first delight of ownership has gone. Suddenly he drops the pennies on the ground and sees them scatter, and immediately his old zest returns and joy is born again in seeking the lost treasure. Desire is made to do the double duty proper to desire and pleasure; because we have learned so well that none of these things once had will satisfy, our pleasure is put into the hunt for them, not in the things themselves. It is as though we read a book, not for the story, but that we might turn the pages; or run a race in the fervent hope that it will never end. Of course there is no peace for such a desire, for peace is the end of desire and the end of such desires brings nothing but tears such as dimmed the eyes of Kilmer’s “kilted Hedonist”.
Arm in arm with the powerful passion of desire, like a weakling clinging to a strong man, or a fool to a wise man, is the pettiest of the passions. In the last chapter we called it “flight”; perhaps “aversion” would be a more concrete name for that turning away of the appetite from the disagreeable or evil. It is not to be confused with fear, for fear is by no means a petty thing. Aversion has for its object an absent evil, the kind of thing that furnishes so much material for worry; but the evil which inspires aversion is not a great, difficult, or even imminent evil — all those come under fear. It is not that we are afraid of thy particular evil, that we are in any danger from it, we simply do not like it. The idea of caressing a pet snake, the surgeon’s enthusiastically detailed account of an operation given at the dinner table, a graphic picture of a murder spread across a newspaper, all might very well arouse the passion of aversion, even with surprising organic changes.
Pleasure and joy:
A much more important passion, and certainly a much more joyous subject for consideration, is the passion of pleasure. Its consideration can be a thing of joy; but the passion itself can never bring joy. In that statement we have the very important distinction between the act of the sensible or animal appetite and the act of the intellectual appetite in the possession of good. Joy is the movement or rather rest of the intellectual appetite, corresponding to pleasure in the sensible appetite. Or at least it is in this sense that we shall use the terms. Both occupy the final position in the mild emotions, in fact of all emotions, for to them is ordained the activity of all others. This is the reason for desire, for hope, for daring — in order that the good loved might finally be poseessed. They mark the end of emotion, as they do of life, for it is to this end that life and emotion began. Every pleasure, every joy, is a tolling of a great bell marking the passing of a struggle; perhaps that is why so often in the midst of pleasure or joy we pawe to wonder if the prize were worth the effort and sacrifice that went into its winning. And often the tolling of the bell of pleasure seem” to awaken us from a dream to the bitter realization of the shoddiness beneath the bright tinsel which deceived us.
Nature and distinction of the two.
It is sometimes surprising, though it should not be, how much of profound truth is expressed in our ordinary choice of words. We are quite willing to say that a warm sunny day gives us pleasure; but we would be reluctant to admit that our meals are a source of joy to us. We prefer to save that word joy for something less obviously sensual, or at least for something superlative. Taking joy as the intellectual emotion corresponding to the passion of pleasure, there is a great deal of truth in this practice of ours. For considered in themselves, in the abstract, spiritual joys are far greater than anything the senses have to offer. After all, they deal with much greater goods, and our union with these goods, from which springs our joy, is much more intimate, more perfect, more enduring. The contrast of the joy of friendship and the pleasure of a cigarette shows us there is no comparison between the two from the point of view of value. As for union, well, certainly the cigarette does not penetrate the barriers of our mind and will to take up an eternally enduring position which nothing can change or corrupt, as does the true friend, nor are we plunged mind and heart into the very essence of the cigarette.
Their evaluation: In themselves
From our point of view, however, the sensible pleasures may be, in fact usually are, greater. We are, on the whole, very much better acquainted with the smell of clean fresh air than with the odour of sanctity; scalding coffee is much more vivid to us than the imperfection of the words we use after drinking it, for the coffee — like all things sensible — extorts the toll of organic change, leaving us something by which to remember it. Perhaps an even stronger reason for the pre-eminence of sensible pleasures is that they are direct antidote to sorrow, while spiritual joys have no correct pending sorrow, unless it be the sorrow of their loss. The sorrow of a child over its lost pennies can be combated effectively by the pleasure of ice-cream, where a sublime exposition of the beauty of poverty would leave the child unmoved. Spiritual joys help us to sustain sensible sorrows, but they will not drive them out of our lives.
The scale of pleasure.
Comparing the sensible pleasures one to another, the greatest in dignity, the supreme in reference to knowledge, is sight. This comes closest to the boundary lines of the spiritual and ministers more heavily to the intellect than do the other sent. Our pity for a blind man as against our annoyance at a deaf men has some basis in fact.
Very often, however, our pity is based on the heplessness of the blind man, from the view point of the utility of sight. Really from this angle sight ranks much further down the list than does the sense of touch and the pleasure it gives. A horse in a majestic pose looking towards the east at dawn is not lost in the beauty of the sunrise but alert to the prospect of oats. In all the animals touch is more intimately wrapped up with the conservation of nature and so is more useful than any of the other senses. All other pleasures are with reference to the pleasure of touch. The sight of a deer may give a lion as much pleasure as it does a man; but the lion’s pleasure will certainly not be the pleasure of an aesthete.
Contrariety of pleasures.
It is not hard to see that sensible pleasures are often directly opposed. They are the result of movements reaching different goals; their opposition is the opposition of their goals. There is the vivid contrariety, for example, of sleeping and listening to a brass band, or walking in the rain. But this is not true of the joy of virtue; no virtue is opposed to another, for all regard the same landing place, the same terminal or goal — reason. If the act is virtuous at all, it will agree with all other virtuous acts in this one particular at least: that it is in harmony with reason, it is according to the rule of reason.
Although it will not be a joy of virtue, a man can act against reason and by his action win pleasure. In this sense, the pleasure of every sin is unnatural, unhuman, i.e. in violation of the rule of humanity in man, the rule of reason. The word unnatural, in ordinary usage, is reserved for things more monstrous than the violation of reason, though of course they include that. We apply the word only to violations of man’s physical as well as his moral nature, things like cannibalism or bestiality. These totally unnatural things can bring man a pleasure, though of course it is thoroughly unnatural pleasure. This fact presents a real difficulty. Pleasure is a passion, and as such is an integral part of our nature, ordained by the author of nature to the full perfection of nature; yet here we find it in full vigour in an open violation of all that is natural to man.
The answer can only be that in these cases something is rotten in the individual nature. There is corruption there, a gangrenous decay which has eaten away some of the very bones of nature and left it lopsided. It might be a corruption of body, such as we get from sickness and fever; as a cold might make everything a man eats taste like so much leather, or a disease make sweet things taste sour, or make hot things feel cold. Some such physical corruption can make a man enjoy munching on a piece of coal or a lump of dirt. It may be a corruption of soul, a deterioration or obliteration or change of the natural inclinations of a man through bad habits, vicious education either by word or example, and from this latter corruption we have such practices as cannibalism.
The cause of these unnatural pleasures is significant. It means that where they have taken root, the nature of man has gone far along the way of corruption. This corruption has sometimes gone as far as actual putrescence, though accompanied at the same time by a kind of brilliance and unhealthy beauty, a brilliance that has been characterized quite rightly as the “phosphorescence of decay.”
Causes of pleasure and joy: Work.
How can we win to that natural healthy pleasure and joy which is the natural goal of all our activity? Well, one way would be to stop pitying the postman’s dreary trudging of the streets or the sailors’ weary days and nights on stormy seas and watch them when they have a day free. The postman takes a walk and the sailor rows a boat about on some lagoon. There is a real pleasure in the exercise of any of our faculties; what we do well we enjoy doing, what we do not enjoy doing is usually connected with some impediment to the operation of our faculties.
It is pleasant to experience the movement from cold to warmth as we come home on a bitterly cold night; though the same thing is not so pleasant on a July day in the city. It is in this sense that St. Thomas takes movement as a cause of pleasure; the passage from one state to another, which of course would include such a thing as the movement from ignorance to knowledge. Not that St. Thomas would deny pleasure to an interpretative dancer through the exercise of her art; but he would insist that such pleasure proceeds from that very plebeian cause “work,” the exercise of natural faculties.
Love: Union; Action of others; Action for others.
There are many causes of pleasure and of joy flowing from love. There is the supreme pleasure of passion and the supreme joy of will in that essential climax of love which is union. We explained this quite thoroughly in the last chapter, but it is worthy of note here that it is precisely this union springing from and culminating in our love for God and God’s love for us that makes up the central joy of heaven. The successful or triumphant actions of friends bring us joy, for we look on their success, their triumphs, as our own; the multiplication of self by beneficent love (which includes friendship) is also a multiplication of the sources of joy. We might receive considerable pleasure from the actions of mere acquaintances, when, for example, they tell us how wonderful we are; or when these actions are the means by which we obtain some good. Actions for others are a cause of joy springing from love, for they are really love in action, responding to that deep desire of love, not merely to wish good, but effectively to wish good to another, to get something done for another, to prove to ourselves and to the world that our love is not a matter of mere words. When one of the Fathers said “love is not lazy” he was giving a very laconic expression to this truth; it is the explanation of the Christian paradox of emptying oneself that one’s joy may be full, of having nothing but possessing all things, the paradox that explains the Christmas spirit and draws our eyes to the spectacle of God giving Himself to man.
Similarity; Sorrow; Novelty.
Because it is so intimately connected with love, similarity is a great contributor to pleasure and joy. At the same time it may, quite accidentally, be a cause of hatred and sorrow, as in the case of the twins who are a great joy to each other until they both decide to marry the same man. The disappointed girl may then withdraw into a corner for a satisfying fit of melancholy; but do not sympathize with her too much, for there can be joy even in sorrow. That is what makes operations such an engrossing topic among erstwhile patients — the emphasis on such past sorrows if placed on the fact that they are past, or on evils that have been escaped, is a definite cause of pleasure. People who insist on knowing the worst, have joy as well as sorrow from the bad news; the joy which comes from knowing what should be known. Toyland or sightseeing is a perennial cause of pleasure and joy; the novelty of everything we see pleases us, not because of the ignorance of which it reminds us, but because of the knowledge it gives us, or at least the hope of knowledge.
Effects of pleasure and joy: Enlargement of soul.
Inevitably the effect of pleasure and joy is an enlargement of a man; the pleasure of passion is an almost literal enlargement, an aggrandizement which is the end of selfish love, an expansiveness easily seen in the pleasure afforded by a good meal. The same is true in the spiritual order, for there the possession of good is an addition of perfection to a man.
Desire and distaste.
In the sensible order of passion, when our desires are satisfied, we enjoy pleasure, and we have enough. In fact if we have any more it will cause disgust and distaste; perhaps later on, when desire awakens again, but not now. For these sensible goods can exceed the demands, even the capacities, of nature; a man can literally drink himself to death. But the goods of the spiritual order, instead of exhausting nature’s capacity, perfect that capacity. The desire for them is never satiated, too much of them cannot disgust us, for we cannot have too much of them; though now and then, quite accidentally, because of weak knees, a headache or an empty stomach, they can become a source of annoyance rather than of joy.
Keenness and dullness of apprehension; Perfection of operation.
There is the same contrast between the passions of pleasure and joy in their effects on the mind of man. Joy increases the facility and effectiveness of reason, for the very workings of reason are themselves a spiritual joy, in no way hindering but rather increasing the joy of the soul. Sensible pleasure, on the contrary, impedes the reasoning of man in direct proportion to the magnitude or intensity of that pleasure. It is just as well that a man cannot talk with his mouth full of food; at least he will have more important things to say some other time. The vividness, familiarity and appeal of the sensible is too much of a match for the high aims of reason. It is this very power of sensible pleasure which makes physical relaxation and recreation such a boon to man. It really rests his soul, the way turning off a light rests a boy’s eyes. And of course, as a final effect of pleasure and joy, our work improves. Not only is our soul rested by the pleasure, but what we like we work at more heartily, give it a more vehement attention and start the pleasantly vicious circle in which our work gives us more joy and our joy gives us greater capacity for work.
Morality of pleasure and joy: Good and evil pleasures; Moral possibilities of pleasure.
From what we have seen of natural and unnatural pleasures, it is evident that good and evil pleasures exist; the difference between the two is found in the object whose possession gives rise to the particular pleasure. For pleasure in itself, like any other passion, is neither good nor bad; it is the material from which we fashion good or bad deeds, the moral evil or moral goodness comes rather from our fashioning than from the material itself. What is true of pleasure is not necessarily true of joy, for the saint simply cannot make bad use of the joy of his virtue any more than a mathematician can square a circle.
Sorrow: Its nature; distinction of the passion from rational sorrow.
The course run by appetite is the course run by human life. At the end of human life there is heaven and hell; at the end of every human activity there is pleasure and joy, or sadness. These are the two great landing fields on one of which the soaring flight of every human action must come down. Perhaps many of us think we have a mechanics job at the airport of sorrow; but that is usually an exaggeration. We are all inclined to be very gentle with ourselves and to extend a heartfelt sympathy to ourselves on the slightest provocation. One of the most ordinary foundations of this self-pity is the failure to make the same distinction in these emotions that we have made in all the others: one sorrow is passion, the sorrow of the sensible or animal appetite when evil actually enters the house; the other is the sorrow of the intellectual appetite or will under the enforced visit of the same unlovely guest. If we count up our sorrows we will be astounded to discover how few of them can make a serious claim to entry into the domain of the soul. Almost all will be flatly opposed to the passion of pleasure, to sensible pleasure; for that is the way of such pleasure, to be always dogged by its very opposite. No sensible pleasure escapes the existence of its horrible twin. But when we enter the domain of spiritual joy, there is real difficulty finding apposite of joy outside of the very patent sorrow over the evil of sin. Certainly there is no sorrow standing over against contemplation or knowledge, unless we have recourse to sensible nature again and point to fatigue of body, or such an impediment to contemplation as a headache.
In contrariety: To contemplation; To pleasure.
Remembering that for sorrow there must not only be an evil present but we must know of its presence, it is not too difficult to see that interior sorrows are much greater than are the exterior ones. Martyrs were quite logically willing to undergo the pain of suffering and the loss of life rather than the loss of virtue. Exterior suffering, which affects us through our bodies, is undergone quite as a matter of course every time we visit a dentist; it is repugnant to the appetite because of in repugnance to the body, while the interior sorrow is directly opposed to the appetite itself. We can, and often do, undergo these exterior pains joyfully, even eagerly, in the name of a higher good desired by our will — like caring for a sick baby or having gallstones removed. Yet, counting over the sorrows that weigh us down, we find it is these lesser sorrows which make up the vast majority.
I remember, shortly after electric refrigerators and consequently ice cubes became a household word, seeing a very small child filch one of these cubes and crawl off to one side to enjoy himself sucking the ice. Suddenly he was screaming at the top of his lungs; his hand was so very cold it felt like it was burning, yet the ice cube was clutched in a death grip. Perhaps the child did not know the ice cube was causing his pain; or knowing it, wanted to hold the ice cube and escape the pain at the same time. At any rate he succeeded in giving a vivid portrayal of many of our relations to sorrow; very often we know what is wrong but we want to eat our cake and have it, and perhaps just as often the cause of the sorrow is by no means clear to us.
Causes of sorrow: Evil.
Yet in itself the cause of sorrow is ridiculously simple. It goes back, of course, to evil, but behind evil there is desire. Our constant effort to increase sensible desire is at the same time an increase of the causes of sorrow; a multiplication of pleasure inevitably multiplies its opposite.
Desire: For good; For unity and love.
An age of self-indulgence is invariably an age of discontent, disappointment and sorrow; it places its emphasis on the sensible side where every pleasure has its opposite pain. It is desire for good, for love, for the integrity and happiness of the things or persons we love that is at the root of sorrow, as love is at the root of hate. Our sorrows, like our loves and our hates, are invaluable indicators of what is closest to our hearts.
The mere existence of evil would not inflict sorrow on us; there must be that union effected between ourselves and the evil, as the union of love joins good to us and gives us pleasure and joy. So that the really active cause of sorrow is power, a power which cannot be resisted and that therefore succeeds in thrusting this evil upon us. There is a great difference between running head on into a fog and running head on into a door; and that difference lies in the irresistible power of the one to inflict evil on our senses and the helpleaness of the other. The weakening of our power of command is inevitably a multiplication of our sorrows; where our power of resistance wears down, we are really conferring power on enemy forces — and this is a corollary to self-indulgence which is constantly skimmed over though in itself it is a powerful argument for discipline and self-control.
Effects of sorrow: impairment of nature. Blindness; Depression; Debility; Bodily injury.
Sorrow can be quite accurately conceived as a process of deflation. Pleasure and joy puff us up; sorrow puts a pin in the balloon and watches it collapse That is exactly what sorrow does to us, it collapses us. A young wife whose husband has been killed in an accident will wander about in a daze, unable to think, with no interest in food or sleep, her step will drag, she will feel utterly fatigued, and that time of sorrow will be a serious drain on her strength. She is not necessarily a nervous type; these are not signs of hysteria. They are the normal effects of sorrow. It simply lets us down completely. In the extreme it can paralyse our reason, impede even our physical actions, actually do bodily harm. It does more than that; it turns the motion which is life in the wrong direction; instead of an eager pursuit of the goal of life, it becomes a rout, a constant attempt to escape, a flight from evil rather than a pursuit of good.
It is, in a word, something that must be remedied, and remedied as quickly as possible. This is not to be misunderstood: not every sorrow produces these effects fully, but every sorrow will produce these effects in some little degree. As a matter of fact, a moderate sorrow, while it cuts down our reasoning abilities, may actually contribute to the cause of learning; the old-fashioned use of the switch to make a boy learn his lessons, cut down the sweep of his mental wanderings but considerably increased his intellectual efforts on his studies because those intellectual efforts were the means by which he hoped to escape from his sorrow.
Remedies for sorrow: Pleasure.
One way of eradicating sorrow is to remove the evil which is causing it. But that is not always practical. There are very many and very practical remedies for sorrow, of which perhaps the most obvious is pleasure. The radio has cut down the sorrows of sick men; and a good movie is a first-class remedy for a fit of the blues. Where the sorrow is a sensible one, we can easily and quickly attack it by ministering physical pleasure. In other words, we are pulling a little wind back into our collapsed human balloon, and things are looking up.
“A good cry” is not necessarily a sign of weakness; it may be the sensible thing to do as a remedy for sorrow. Actually it falls under the same heading as movies or radio, for it is a source of pleasure. It is always a pleasure for us to do what we are perfectly disposed to do at the moment; on a brisk day a man may feel like taking a walk, and it is quite true that “nothing would give him greater pleasure.” The same thing is true of tears. When a person feels like crying, a flood of tears will be more than a relief, it will be a pleasure and will help very much in conquering sorrow. There is a deeper relief to tears than this. It is a dispersion of sorrow, a scattering of it to the four winds. Instead of pressing it down within us, we allow it to overflow outside of us, and immediately release the pressure of sorrow and rob it of much of its power.
Compassion of friends; Contemplation of truth.
Friends are a great help against sorrow, not only became it is a joy to know that we are loved, but also became their compassion shows us graphically that we are not carrying our sorrow alone. Going up the ladder of relief one step higher, mental concentration, contemplation of truth, is a very potent factor against sorrow, but only in proportion as we are lovers of truth. In itself it is the greatest of human joys and will one day make up the essential joy of heaven; but for a man whose love has been centred in the sensible world, whose pleasure has always been the pleasure of passion, there is little relief to be expected from contemplation. On the other hand, there is the story of St. Thomas whose ulcerated leg was cauterized very crudely by fire and the pain of it went unnoticed because of his preoccupation with a problem; while the martyrs, with their minds fixed on the eternal truth, could pass from life, as Thomas More did, with a laugh on their lips.
Sleep and a bath.
I am sure St. Thomas would be very impatient indeed with our preoccupation with sorrow if he could see our luxurious beds and abundant shower-baths. To his medieval mind, an immediate and practical remedy for sorrow is a sleep and a bath. When a Prime Minister told a former King to “sleep on it,” he was giving sound Thomistic advice. We have said that sorrow deflates us, presses us down, actually drains us of energy and turns the whole motion that is life in the wrong direction, making it a flight; sleep and a bath renew our energy, restore the physical balance of our bodies so that we can and do take a saner view of our situations, and that saner view will of course include a condemnation of the attempt to run away from life. St. Thomas gives one more reason for the effectiveness of this last remedy: he says it is a relief by the subsequent pleasure it brings us and adds, in the laconic fashion of the schoolmen — “quod patet,” “and this needs no proof.”
Conclusion: Mild (concupiscible) passions are peculiarly modern passions
If we look at Thomas’s explanations of the mild passions and then glance at the tendencies of our time we must feel like a doctor who reads through a list of symptoms in a medical book and then listens to a patient recite that list as though it had been memorized. The applications to our time are so glaringly evident that we are almost forced to the conclusion that these mild passions are peculiarly ours, that in this twentieth century of own they have reached one of the most flourishing states of their long history.
Economic theory and concupiscence.
Let us look at the facts. Our economic theory calls for a constant increase of concupiscence or the passion of desire. To take care of the excess products of man’s production and at the same time guarantee its profits new markets must not merely be found, they must be created. People must constantly be made to need more things, need new things, to have their desire’ always on the increase.
Advertising, scientific discoveries, amusement and pleasure.
To this end we have one of the outstanding achievements of American genius in the field of advertising. Art, psychology, statistical science, modern printing miracles, untold wealth, all the genius of oratorical devices, of the theatre, and of the novel are poured into this great machine that out of it might come a flood of new desires.
Scientific genius is pressed to its utmost to satisfy these desires. Labour-saving and time-saving devices are necessities, the possession of which is not only a pleasure in itself but it releases us to sample freely the incredible opportunities for amusement and pleasure that are showered upon us from every side. We can see a very small but overpowering fraction of the possibilities our twentieth century offers the seeker after pleasure by spending a solid evening at the radio or attempting to read the titles of all the magazines which are dedicated to amusement.
Vividly contrasting positions on sorrow and pain: Of horror.
Because of this dedication to pleasure, sorrow and pain take on the guise of utter catastrophes. We would very much rather hide sorrow and pain in institutions at any cost than face them or give them our personal ministrations. Physical sorrow, disease and poverty all put a check on pleasure, when they do not make it impossible; and to an age dedicated to pleasure, there can be no greater catastrophe.
Or, what is perhaps worse, pain itself is perverted, lifted up into the class of pleasures in the frankly militaristic states which are painting war under any form in such glorious colours. In Japan, for example, the highest joy in life is death on the field of battle; in the countries where the governing party has become a kind of deity, physical encounter and duelling are the great tests of manhood, suffering and death are supreme acts of worship.
Effects of this modern emphasis on mild passions: On make-up of man.
All of this has made a deep impression on the modern man. Dr. Carrel does not go so far wrong in his pessimistic summing up of the damage done to us by the “benefits” of the twentieth century. From what we have seen in this chapter it is evident that such dedication to sensible desire and pleasure, such horror or glorification of physical sorrow and pain, have a deadening effect on the mind of man in direct proportion to the emphasis on pleasure. And if such a dedication deadens the intellect of man, it deadens his intellectual appetite or will. The multiplication of desire and pleasure is also a multiplication of sorrow with all the devastating effects of sorrow: blindness, depression, debility, sapping even our physical strength and turning life’s motion completely around. And with this ever-growing physical sorrow there is an insensibility to the spiritual sadness that should be our greatest concern.
On activity of man
Consequently the activity of modern man is not likely to be aimed at a spiritual goal that will alone perfect his nature. In fact it is less and less likely to be aimed at all, for the increase in artificial sorrow means a constant weakening of our resistance, of our power to command or to aim our actions, and a constant approach to a more complete slavery to things unworthy of our high destinies. Preoccupation with the sensible tends to have us concentrate on the immediate, the concrete, the so-called “practical,” to the detriment, even to the impossibility, of coping with the universal, the absolute, the enduring thing which is truth, the proper object of our intellects, the goal of our human lives.
On outlook of man
It is not surprising that our age should he characterized by a philosophy that undermines intellect, by religious ideas that cannot ascend above man himself, by an acquiescence in the degrading conviction that man is no more than just another animal, or the despairing belief that man is only a part of something else, unimportant in himself: a part of a state, or of a party, or of a machine, or of a process.
Paradox of Man of Sorrows and His philosophy of joy
If we could stand aside from the whole world struggle for just a moment, we would see a double paradox that staggers the mind: the paradox of an age dedicated to pleasure with a philosophy of despair; and the paradox of the Man of Sorrows who could leave His follower only a way of the Cross and a philosophy of joy. Part of the solution of this double riddle is hidden in what we have been saying in this chapter and in what we laid in the preceding chapter. The passions are an integral part of man and so physically good; morally they are good or bad as they are aimed by us at the goal of life or away from it; completely out of control they rob us of all semblance of humanity in our actions by robbing us of control of those actions. They are then subordinate things, subordinate to the spiritual side of man; in comparison to the emotions of that spiritual side they shrink into insignificance, yet as part of the nature of man they are not to be scorned. The Man of Sorrows was never an instant without the joy of the beatific vision; the Man Who did not have time to so much as eat because He was healing all manner of sickness, Who did not shrink from the leper’s touch, Who brought sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf and did all things well, had no scorn for the passion of sorrow. But because He came that our joy might be full, it was necessary that He endure incredible physical sorrow in the name of an even more incredible spiritual joy. He did not pretend that man was an angel, nor did He tolerate his being merely an animal; but rather He insisted man was man, made in the image of God and datined to that supreme union of love which is the source of the supreme joy of humanity.