There are two ironies that characterize the life and wields of Josef Pieper. He was born in its first year 1904 in the Westphalian village of Elte, a town so isolated that no civilize was available to take any of its citizens to any other part of Westphalia. Yet Pieper’s numerous records, in numerous renditions, are well traveled and are read throughout the world. Secondly, though his philosophy is rooted in a 13 th century thinker–Saint Thomas Aquinas–it is most timely. Speaking of his “hero, ” he stated that the work of Aquinas “is inexhaustible and his affirmative way of looking at the reality of the whole creation seems to me a necessary chastening modern Christianity cannot do without”.
Pieper passed away in 1997. His keen revelation into modern humanitarianism, however, requests perfectly to the current crisis that reigns in 2021. “Enlightened liberalism, ” he writes in Fortitude and Temperance( 1954 ), “closes its looks to the evil in the world: to the devilish capability of’ our adversary’ the Devil, the Evil One, as well as to the inscrutable capability of human delusion and falsification of will; at worst, the liberal imagines the dominance of evil to be not so’ gravely’ risky that one could not’ negotiate’ or’ come to terms’ with it. The uncomfortable, merciless and inexorable’ No, ’ a self-evident reality to the Christian, has been obliterated from the liberalistic world view”.
Today’s radical believes that all man needs to prosper as a human being can be found in politics. In his view, politics supplants religion. He does not think that he needs to overcome life’s rigors through dignity. To him, the ethical being unfolds “free from sorrow and harm”. Liberalism and naivete go hand in hand.
The “liberal” conception of somebody does not include perfections, which are man’s moral live blood. Pieper, on the other hand, is perhaps most noted for his journals on honour, extremely the cardinal virtues of Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance. In fact, he has come to be known as “The Philosopher of Virtue”. “Surrender to sensuality, ” he forewarns in The Four Cardinal Virtues, “paralyzes the powers of the moral person”. “Modern man, ” Pieper writes, “cannot conceive of a good achievement which might not be imprudent , nor of a bad ordinance which might be prudent”. Thus chastity, truthfulness, and courageous relinquish appear to be imprudent, while lying, desire, and affectation appear to be prudent.
We need to read the works of this notable philosopher so that we can better understand what is happening in the present. In The Silence of Saint Thomas, he observes that “the truth will be more profound as truth, the more vigorously its timeliness comes to light; it also means that a man knowing his own epoch with a richer intensity of heart and fuller spiritual awareness has a better likelihood of knowing the decorate oblige of truth.”
Pieper has a remarkable ability to restate traditional gumption in terms of contemporary difficulties. This is well documented in Belief and Faith, Happiness and Contemplation, The End of Time, and Guide to Thomas Aquinas.
T. S. Eliot, who wrote the Introduction to Pieper’s Leisure the Basis of Society, offer the author high praise, crediting him with regenerating to logic, “what common sense obstinately tells us ought to be found there: insight and wisdom.” The late Ralph McInerny avers that “No one has written more wisely on the linkages between thinking and doing than Pieper, more there are no drawbacks of erudition between the book and the presentation”. Pieper is not only worth reading, he is also readable.
The eminent psychiatrist, Karl Stern, was a good friend of Pieper. In his accumulation of papers, Love and Success, Stern recollects being on a plane after attending a convention which was a strange mixture of half-understood existentialism, sociology, radical dynamics, anthropology, and psychoanalysis. “Reading Pieper on my space residence, ” he remembers, “I felt like someone who, with his ears still full of street sound, suddenly meets himself listening to The Art of the Fugue. I was back in a world-wide of immutable harmony”.
We should read the works of Josef Pieper because he opens the door to that perennial logic which is the love of profundity. He constructs Aquinas understandable, and sharpens our appetite for prudence. As a love of words, Pieper points out that the word for intelligent in Latin is sapiens while its cognate, sapere, is the word for flavor. Wisdom is accessible to us, so much so that we can “taste” it. Pieper’s philosophy may be summarized in a utterance by Bernard of Clairvaux: “A wise man is one who enjoys all things as they truly are”. “Taste and be understood that the Lord is Good.”( Psalm 34:8 ).
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