Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Perfect Post (Part IV: The Perfect Vocation?)

So, then, I'm finally back on the topic of perfections again, considering how they yet again apply to life, this time in a profoundly practical way, and one which actually comes into play with regards to theology, in a fascinating manner. It's the issue of personal goods. I'm sure you've all come into contact with it in one form or another, so I'll tell it to you in the way I arrived at the whole thing.

It all started with discussions I've had about people on this topic or that topic, about something which we know is good, such as reading books, for example. At some point or another, I see this good highly encouraged in a very enthusiastic manner, such that something feels off to me. I will hear them exalting this good so far that it almost seems (to me) that they want every single person to be completely immersed in the good. And yet, I can't ever seem to quantify a reason why this is bad. I mean, it's a good thing, right? And honestly, "too much of a good thing" can always be knocked down by things such as "you can never have too much good", or "you can never have too much wisdom".

So it leaves me with the question, "What's wrong here?" Well, it finally came to me. The answer lies in the idea of perfections. And what I realized is that there's a fundamental lack of distinction here between mixed perfections and pure perfections. There are indeed certain goods of a human person which are good, but not absolutely good. There are mixed perfections which a human person can attain. For example, a human person can be well-read, incredibly athletic, highly visually attractive, witty, and many other things. Ought a human person to be any of these things? It depends. These are not pure perfections, and so it is not necessarily better for a person to have these than not to have these.

It becomes even clearer if we look at the relation of mixed perfections to pure perfections. I've found, by analyzing them, that it seems for every pure perfection, there are mixed perfections that are mistaken for it. For example, transparency is mistaken for Truth, aesthetics is mistaken for Beauty, and lawfulness is mistaken for Goodness or Justice. Now I ask myself, what is the relationship between them? Quite simply, the mixed perfection is a means by which we find the pure perfection. Look at the term "mixed perfection" itself! It is a mixture of things. A mixture of what, you may ask? My only answer is that it is a mixture of a pure perfection and of something else. The only remaining question? What is that something else?

I don't immediately have an answer to that, but I do believe that it will play an important role in the final part of this enormous post. For now, suffice it to say that the mixed perfections can be a means, a ladder, to the pure perfections. That is, through aesthetics we can reach Beauty, through lawfulness we can reach Justice. That's not guaranteed, though. Because we can also reach other things through them. Something may be visually appealing, and yet at the same time be so empty and so devoid that it does not show Beauty. (Case in point: JPII's remark that pornography is not wrong because it shows too much, but because it "shows too little", that the visuals do not lead to what they ought to, that sexual pleasure is placed above Beauty; the same can also be said of some nude art, that which does not seek to lead to Beauty, or to any of the other pure perfections) Thus the mixed perfection can only truly have value insofar as it relates to a pure perfection; otherwise, it is empty and practically meaningless. Flat.

So these personal goods which I spoke of, these are all things which may be good for one, but not necessarily good for everyone. Being well-read, for example, is a mixed perfection, but it relates to the pure perfection of Wisdom (intellectual growth through the gain and application of knowledge). If one is well-read but it is not in pursuit of Wisdom, or does not lead to an increase in Wisdom, the reading is futile. Furthermore, one may gain Wisdom without being well-read, in many ways, including life experiences. The same could be applied to many of these personal goods. That's not to say that it's wrong to do any of them if they don't absolutely lead you to a pure perfection; rather, it may be more beneficial for one to not partake of these goods in a large manner, if they can get to pure perfections through a better-suited route, or if partaking of those goods would interfere with their existing pursuit of pure perfections.

This also applies to another interesting part of life, which is Vocation. That's right, the concept of Vocation. The calling from God. What you're supposed to do with your life. And here's the deal. You look at all of the vocations, and you see, there's married life, which is good. There's religious life, that's also good. There's priestly life, that's good too. But you can't choose them all! (Well, okay, maybe you could get married, then your spouse dies, and you get a dispensation to join a religious order, and then to get ordained a priest, but that's a rather extraordinary circumstance...) This is when we see the difference of perfections take place. In a way, a vocation is a mixed perfection, in that it is not always necessarily better for you to have than not to have. The same vocation is not destined for every person, because a vocation is not a pure perfection. Rather, the vocation is what gives you assistance to seek the pure perfections in a higher, greater, stronger manner!

The entire purpose of a vocation is to bring you closer to God, right? Well, we already established that God is the perfection of perfections, the perfect being qua being, so it's the same as saying that vocation is designed to bring you closer to the pure perfections...and if we look at the relationship between the mixed and pure perfections, that's self-evident! The only question remains, why are vocations special? Well, among the mixed perfections, there is a hierarchy of sorts. First come the mixed perfections common to humanity, those characteristics which are better for a human to possess than not to possess. Next come the mixed perfections which pertain to males and females. There are certain mixed perfections which are better for females to possess than not to possess...and which are most definitely not better for males to possess. After that, you start to work up through mixed perfections which get more and more specific. Ethnicity, state of life, career...and at the very top is vocation. Our specific calling from God.

Now, we can analyze a vocation as a mixed perfection, and see why vocations are unique. One reason why a mixed perfection is only better for some people to possess rather than others is because of conflicts with other mixed perfections. One of my friends had gone on a discernment retreat for religious life, and decided very concretely as a result that she was not called to be a religious sister, because it conflicted with what she already knew about herself. That particular mixed perfection was not suited to her own personality, abilities, and identity. The other reason why a mixed perfection is not necessarily best is because the person possesses a better way to arrive at the pure perfection. This is the more common example for those who discern a vocation. Two options may be attractive, but only one of them is the one which best fits the person. For example, someone might note that they would fit both within the context of marriage or as a consecrated virgin. They see the goods of both, and recognize that they could serve God through both. What in the end the decision hinges upon is which way enables them better to find the pure perfections, that is, to follow God.

Hopefully that was decently insightful...I will wrap things up tomorrow, examining the mixed perfections...and touching upon the question of what evil actually is. Substantial? Privation? (I guess I'll leave you on a cliffhanger now...)

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