There are two ironies that stamp the life and labours of Josef Pieper. He was born in its first year 1904 in the Westphalian village of Elte, a town so isolated that no train was available to take any of its citizens to any other part of Westphalia. Yet Pieper’s numerous records, in numerous translations, are well traveled and are read throughout the world. Secondly, though his doctrine has its roots 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 required adjustment modern Christianity cannot do without”.
Pieper passed away in 1997. His keen penetration into modern humanitarianism, however, devotes perfectly to the current crisis that predominates in 2021. “Enlightened liberalism, ” he writes in Fortitude and Temperance( 1954 ), “closes its sees to the evil in the world: to the devilish superpower of’ our adversary’ the Devil, the Evil One, as well as to the strange ability of human delusion and debauchery of will; at worst, the liberal imagines the supremacy of evil to be not so’ gravely’ dangerous that one could not’ negotiate’ or’ come to terms’ with it. The awkward, merciless and inexorable’ No, ’ a self-evident reality to the Christian, has been razed 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 replaces belief. He does not think that he needs to overcome life’s predicaments through goodnes. To him, the ethical lifetime uncovers “free from sorrow and harm”. Liberalism and naivete go hand in hand.
The “liberal” conception of guy does not include qualities, which are man’s moral life blood. Pieper, on the other hand, is perhaps most noted for his journals on modesty, peculiarly 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 informs in The Four Cardinal Virtues, “paralyzes the powers of the moral person”. “Modern man, ” Pieper writes, “cannot conceive of a good play which might not be imprudent , nor of a bad achievement which might be prudent”. Thus chastity, truthfulness, and fearless relinquish appear to be imprudent, while lying, desire, and pageantry appear to be prudent.
We need to read the works of this pre-eminent philosopher so that we can better understand what is happening in the present. In The Silence of Saint Thomas, he remarks that “the truth will be more profound as truth, the more forcefully its timeliness comes to light; it also means that a follower suffering his own occasion with a richer vigour of heart and fuller spiritual awareness has a better chance of knowledge the illuminate oblige of truth.”
Pieper has a remarkable ability to restate traditional gumption in areas of contemporary questions. 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, ascribing him with rebuilding to thinking, “what common sense obstinately tells us ought to be found there: revelation and wisdom.” The late Ralph McInerny avers that “No one has written more wisely on the relation between thinking and doing than Pieper, hitherto there is a lack of obstacles of knowledge 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 collect of essays, Love and Success, Stern recalls being on a plane after attending a convention which was a strange mixture of half-understood existentialism, sociology, group dynamics, anthropology, and psychoanalysis. “Reading Pieper on my path residence, ” he echoes, “I felt like someone who, with his ears still full of street interference, unexpectedly attains 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 ideology which is the love of prudence. He compiles Aquinas understandable, and piques our desire for sense. As a admirer of words, Pieper points out that the word for shrewd in Latin is sapiens while its cognate, sapere, is the word for appreciation. 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 certainly are”. “Taste and be understood that the Lord is Good.”( Psalm 34:8 ).
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