The Inner Struggle

Duty … Virtue … Suffering (part two)

“Hotaru” by Kobudo, from the album “Ototabi”, (2013)

Personification of virtue

Personification of virtue (Greek Ἀρετή) in Celsus Library in Ephesos, Turkey By Carlos Delgado, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17885872

What about virtue? Virtue (Latin: “virtus”) is moral excellence. A virtue is a trait or quality that is deemed to be morally good and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being. Personal virtues are characteristics valued as promoting collective and individual greatness.

“Virtue”, then, is the sum of the traits and qualities through which we are enabled to perform our duty. The opposite of virtue is vice. This is the state of life when we do not practice the virtues and do not “do our duty” to the best of our ability.

For clarity, I think that there is “Virtue”, a virtuous life as it were, as a state of being, and there are virtues which are traits of personality or training which, when efficaciously employed, lead to a “state of virtuous existence”. I don’t know if that is true, or even linguistically correct, but it is how I see things.

Book of Job, "Naked Came I..."

Book of Job, “Naked Came I…”

The four classic cardinal virtues (from antiquity) are temperance, prudence, courage, and justice. Christianity adds the three theological virtues of faith, hope and love (charity) from 1 Corinthians or more accurately from God through scripture and revelation. Together these make up the seven virtues of Christianity.

Buddhism’s four brahmavihara (“Divine States”) could be regarded as virtues in the classical European sense. The Japanese Bushidō code is characterized by up to ten virtues, including rectitude, courage, and benevolence.

So we progress through the execution of duty by exercise of virtue and onward to the discovery that this exercise of virtue in our doing of our daily duty engenders suffering in both our own spiritual life (controlling our vices or self discipline) and in our relations with others (who do not espouse the same goals, morality and virtues).

So what of suffering? Even though man knows and is close to the physical sufferings of the animal world, we also use the word “suffering” to express the sense of mental or spiritual suffering which seems to be essential, and unique to the man’s nature.

This mental and spiritual suffering is as deep as man himself, because it manifests in its own way that depth which is proper to man. Suffering seems to belong to man’s transcendence: it is one of those points in which man is in a certain sense “destined” to go beyond himself.

Hamachidori“, by Ryutaro Hirota, played by Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra & Kazumasa Watanabe, from the album “Konomichi―Favorite Japanese Melodies (Japanese Melody Series)” (2004)

I think it might be said that man transcends himself, that is, becomes part of something greater than himself, when suffering enters his life. This happens at different moments in life, and takes place in different ways. Suffering assumes different dimensions, different manifestations, but whatever the form suffering seems to be inseparable from man’s earthly existence. It might not be too much of a stretch to think that man exists to suffer.

Saint John Paul II

Saint John Paul II

Assuming that throughout life man walks on the long path of suffering, it is in this suffering that we meet man (mankind) in a special way on the path of his suffering.

It is probably no surprise that as our Progressive culture moves further and further away from the divine experience of God and more and more towards the worship of self that we more and more reject the experience of suffering and the necessity of suffering.

We, in our Progressive society, exist in the midst of a fantasy that “no one should have to suffer”, or at least we give lip service to the idea while trying our individual best to avoid any personal suffering.

The suffering of others seems to be less important as long as we don’t have to do any suffering ourselves. So, to relieve suffering we turn to antidotes to suffering: drugs, medicines, rituals, sensual pleasures and gratification of appetites, counseling and camaraderie, pursuit of desired “goods”.

Medicine, in our culture, is the science and the art of relieving suffering by “healing”, and presents the best known area of the human struggle to answer the universal condition of suffering, the area identified with precision and counterbalanced by methods of “reaction” to suffering, that is to say therapy.

Unfortunately, this is only one area, the concern with physical suffering. The analysis of symptoms (diagnosis) is less than precise, and, outside of setting bones and sewing up of wounds, the offered treatments or therapies are even less precise, offering in most cases only small percentages of improvement and countless side effects.

In our societal fantasy about not suffering, and in our “Modern Medicine” we completely miss the mark. We seem to be not even conscious of the necessity of suffering and what we lose in chasing a suffering-free existence. For the mass of man the field of human suffering is much wider, more varied, and multi-dimensional.

Man suffers in different ways, ways not always considered by modern medicine, even in its most advanced specializations. Suffering is more than sickness, more complex than injury and deeply rooted in humanity itself. A sense of what we are thinking of here comes from the distinction between physical suffering and moral suffering.

This distinction is based upon the double dimension of the physical and the spiritual nature of the human being, of the body nature and of the soul nature and points to the bodily (physical) and spiritual (soul) aspects as the immediate subject of suffering.

Insofar as the words “suffering” and “pain”, can, up to a certain degree, be used as synonyms, physical suffering is present when “the body is hurting” in some way, whereas moral suffering is “pain of the soul”.

Saint Theresa of Calcutta

Saint Theresa of Calcutta

Pain of a spiritual nature, not only the “psychological” dimension of pain is a part of both moral and physical suffering.

The vastness and the many forms of moral suffering are probably greater than the forms of physical suffering, and at the same time, seem to be less identified and less reachable by any recognized therapy.

Let us, for just a moment, look into Sacred Scripture for some universal examples of situations which bear the mark of suffering, especially moral suffering. This story of suffering exists in every sacred tradition, on every continent, in every culture in history, from ancient times right up to the present.

It is significant that the physical aspect of suffering is simply assumed and unremarked in Sacred Tradition. What gets the lions share of the focus is the aspect of moral suffering.

Moral sufferings, the danger of death, the death of one’s own children and, especially, the death of the firstborn and only son; the lack of offspring, nostalgia for the homeland, persecution and hostility of the environment, mockery and scorn of the one who suffers, loneliness and abandonment; the remorse of conscience, the difficulty of understanding why the wicked prosper and the just suffer, the unfaithfulness and ingratitude of friends and neighbours; and the misfortunes of one’s own nation.

In treating the human person as a psychological and physical “whole”, Sacred Scripture often links “moral” sufferings with the pain of specific parts of the body: the bones, kidneys, liver, viscera, heart, and so on. In fact one cannot deny that moral sufferings have a “physical” or somatic element, and that they are often reflected in the state of the entire organism. As we see from these examples, we find in Sacred Scripture an extensive list of variously painful situations for man.

This varied list does not exhaust all that has been said and repeated on the theme of suffering in the “book of suffering” of the history of man (this is an “unwritten book”), as read through the history of every human individual, in every time and place. It can be said that man suffers whenever he experiences any kind of evil.

In the vocabulary of Sacred Scripture, suffering and evil are identified with each other. In fact, that vocabulary did not have a specific word to indicate “suffering”. Thus it defined as ” evil” everything that was suffering. Only the Greek language, and together with it the New Testament (and the Greek translations of the Old Testament), use the verb “I am affected by …. I experience a feeling, I suffer”

Thanks to this verb, suffering is no longer directly identifiable with objective evil, but expresses a situation in which man experiences evil and in doing so becomes the subject of suffering. Suffering has indeed both a subjective and a passive character. Even when man brings suffering on himself, when he is its own cause, this suffering remains something passive.

This does not mean, however, that suffering in the psychological sense is not marked by  “activity”. There are, in fact, multiple and subjectively differentiated “activities” of pain, sadness, disappointment, discouragement or even despair, according to the intensity of the suffering subject and his or her specific sensitivity. In the midst of what constitutes the psychological form of suffering there is always an experience of evil, which causes the individual to suffer.

Parts of the portion of this post on suffering are paraphrased from: APOSTOLIC LETTER, “SALVIFICI DOLORIS“, OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF, JOHN PAUL II TO THE BISHOPS, TO THE PRIESTS, TO THE RELIGIOUS FAMILIES AND TO THE FAITHFUL OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON THE CHRISTIAN MEANING OF HUMAN SUFFERING, 1984.

More thinking and more to follow I think but enough for now …

Cheers

Joe

 

Standard