What is the Christian view of the human person? Who are we? What is our ultimate potential, our destiny, our shape? What does it mean to be an excellent human being?
The last great master of Western Christendom before the schism, Thomas Aquinas, designated human virtue as ultimum potentiae, meaning: the utmost best a person can be…
This means implicitly, that the human person is, at the core, someone becoming; in any case, that he is not simply made as this or that, not a purely static entity but an unfolding being, a dynamic reality. Two thousand years ago, the Greek poet Pindar expressed it in this famous statement: “Become what you are.” This says something that seems truly astonishing, namely, that we are not yet what we already are…
Virtue does not mean being “nice” and “proper” in an isolated act or omission. Virtue means: man’s being is right, and this in the supernatural and natural sense. Virtue is… an essential enhancement of the human person; it is the fulfillment of human potential…
The wisdom of the West expresses the sum total of what man “ought to” do [to fulfill his potential] in seven sentences:
First: Man, insofar as he realizes his meaning, is someone who – in faith – opens himself by listening to God’s word, whenever he can perceive it.
Second: Man is true to himself only when he is stretching forth – in hope – toward a fulfillment that cannot be reached in his bodily existence.
Third: The man who strives for fulfillment is someone who – in love (caritas) – partakes in the eternally affirmative power of the Creator himself and, with all the strength of his being, finds it good that God, the world and he himself exist.
Fourth: Man’s life is authentic only when he does not allow his vision of reality to be clouded by the yes or no of his own desire; on the contrary, his decision-making and action depend upon reality revealing itself to him. By his willingness to live the truth he shows himself to be prudent.
Fifth: The good man is above all just, which means he understands how to be a companion. He possesses the art of living with others in such a way that he gives to each what is rightfully his.
Sixth: The man who is prudent and just knows that it is necessary to put himself on the line in order to realize the good in this world. He is ready – with courage – to accept loss and injuries for the sake of truth and justice.
Seventh: To the authenticity of man belongs the virtue of temperance or self-discipline that protects him from the self-destruction of pleasure seeking…
The supernatural life in man has three main currents: the reality of God, which surpasses all natural knowledge “not only of men, but also of angels”, manifests itself to faith. Love radically affirms – also in its own right – the Highest Good, which has become visible beneath the veil of faith. Hope is the confidently patient expectation of eternal beatitude in a contemplative and comprehensive sharing of the triune life of God; hope expects from God’s hand the eternal life that is God himself. (Josef Pieper)
The Catholic view of the excellent human being is the eminently faithful, hopeful, loving, prudent, just, courageous, self-disciplined person. The ways in which we are lacking are the ways in which we don’t live out these seven dimensions (and all that they entail).
So, how do we be that and live like that? Certainly not by relying on a “Try harder!” mentality that is preoccupied with performance. We’ll save this discussion for the next post.