There are two ironies that characterize the life and wreaks of Josef Pieper. He was born in the year 1904 in the Westphalian village of Elte, a town so isolated that no instruct was available to take any of its citizens to any other part of Westphalia. Yet Pieper’s numerous volumes, in countless translations, are well traveled and are read throughout the world. Secondly, though his ideology 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 improvement modern Christianity cannot do without”.
Pieper passed away in 1997. His keen insight into modern humanitarianism, nonetheless, requests perfectly to the current crisis that monarchies in 2021. “Enlightened liberalism, ” he writes in Fortitude and Temperance( 1954 ), “closes its gazes to the evil in the world: to the demonic power of’ our adversary’ the Devil, the Evil One, as well as to the inexplicable superpower of human delusion and perversion of will; at worst, the radical imagines the ability of evil to be not so’ gravely’ risky 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 obliterated from the liberalistic world view”.
Today’s liberal 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 believe that he needs to overcome life’s rigors through honour. To him, the ethical soul develops “free from sorrow and harm”. Liberalism and naivete go hand in hand.
The “liberal” conception of being does not include dignities, which are man’s moral life blood. Pieper, on the other hand, is perhaps most noted for his notebooks on morality, specially 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 advises in The Four Cardinal Virtues, “paralyzes the powers of the moral person”. “Modern man, ” Pieper writes, “cannot conceive of a good deed which might not be imprudent , nor of a bad number which might be prudent”. Thus chastity, truthfulness, and courageous relinquish appear to be imprudent, while lying, desire, and pomposity 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 energetically its timeliness comes to light; it also means that a follower knowledge his own term with a richer severity of heart and fuller spiritual awareness has a better chance of knowledge the illuminating make of truth.”
Pieper has a remarkable ability to restate traditional ability in areas 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, ascribing him with restoring 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 are no deterrents of erudition between the reader 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 collecting of essays, Love and Success, Stern recollections 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 acces residence, ” he recalls, “I felt like someone who, with his ears still full of street interference, unexpectedly determines himself listening to The Art of the Fugue. I was back in a life of invariable harmony”.
We should read the works of Josef Pieper because he opens the door to that perennial thinking which is the love of wise. He performs Aquinas understandable, and whets our desire for profundity. As a devotee of words, Pieper points out that the word for prudent in Latin is sapiens while its cognate, sapere, is the word for preference. Wisdom is accessible to us, so much so that we can “taste” it. Pieper’s philosophy may be summarized in a term by Bernard of Clairvaux: “A wise man is one who savors all things as they really are”. “Taste and be understood that the Lord is Good.”( Psalm 34:8 ).
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