Blessings in disguise

To the evil man, everything is evil. To the good man, everything is good. For bad men, good fortune is bad; for good men, bad fortune is good.

Saint Paul may be consulted in Romans 8, or I Corinthians 2, but centuries before him, Plato was onto this. “Virtuous men possess beatitude despite pain and misfortune, while vicious men are miserable because of the condition of their souls, no matter how much wealth, sensual pleasure, or fame they enjoy.” (I think that was Augustine’s précis. The whole argument may be found in the Gorgias.)

Polus thinks Socrates is talking nonsense. The whole world knows that pain hurts, that money can buy stuff, that pleasure feels good. And, without being so invidious as to name them, he notes that many evil men seem happy. But as Socrates shows (I cannot improve on him), this happiness is glib. To say nothing of unsustainable.

It would be fair to say, that Socrates is one of my heroes; my fellow opponent of “democracy.” I like the way he addresses Polus, who’d like to put things to a vote. Socrates will accept this, in principle, but specifies there must be only one voter: Polus.

Let gentle reader vote, on divorce and remarriage.

“If thou have an evyll wife, take pacience, and thanke God; for all is for the best, well taken.” (I quote the preacher John Colet, friend of Thomas More and Erasmus.) It is something to bear in mind if one thinks that replacing one spouse with another will make things any better. Why try to improve on what can’t be improved?

Boethius, too, is very good on “blessings in disguise.” That is why those mediaevals adored him: because he could put it so well.

Now, some people are not that good. Take me, for instance. They may not be entirely evil, but they sure haven’t risen to the condition where they might e.g. joyfully accept martyrdom. And when a frypan falls on my toes, I cuss. I may have readers who are almost as bad as I am.

But I should think any well-catechized Catholic, or thoughtful Protestant for that matter, or sublime Greekie, should be capable of taking the point: that in the fullest view of Heaven, it’s “all good.” We need to aspire to fuller views of Heaven. It beats trying to fix what cannot be fixed.

It was a peculiarity of the teaching of Our Lord that He demanded Perfection. On the other hand, He was willing to provide the requisite Grace.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” He says. That was in Saint Matthew. In Saint Luke it gets even edgier: “Blessed are the poor,” full stop. And the hungry, too. Notice that he does not call them victims. He merely warned the rich that, while everything is possible with God, it is hard to fit through the eye of a needle. (Camels can’t do it; can you?)

The function of His Church was not to meet “the people” half way. It was certainly not to accommodate the world. Rather, vice versa: the early Church faced a Roman society in many respects like our own decadent society. Lots of abortions. Really kinky sex (read Suetonius and Cassius Dio). A whole Empire full of faithless unbelievers, to take this from the Christian point of view. Fifty or a hundred million of them. (And that was just looking in one direction.)

Were I Paul with my first converts — a couple of rather batty women — I think the idea of trimming my sails to the prevailing breeze might occur to me. But he looked to Europe, and the task before him. The confrontation was head on.

And he knew something I am still learning. That all the world’s problems can be solved by one man. It is a simple matter of putting one’s hopes in the right place. As opposed to, say, one of the wrong places, whence nothing good can come. Do what you should, and “let God take care of it.”

Of course, “simple” doesn’t necessarily mean “easy.”

Stop preaching compromise, resume teaching Hope. This is my free advice to Rome. We do not have a world to come to terms with; we have, as ever, a world to convert.