13 March 2006

Loving ordinately

Speaking of John Buchan, Gideon Strauss is trying to decide whether he agrees with one of the Scottish author's characters, Janet Raden, when she says, "... all wisdom consists in caring immensely for the few right things and not caring a straw about the rest." I find it surprising that someone who delights in drawing up interminable lists of things loved would have difficulty seeing the flaw in this statement. Here's Augustine on the subject:

When the miser prefers his gold to justice, it is through no fault of the gold, but of the man; and so with every created thing. For though it be good, it may be loved with an evil as well as with a good love: it is loved rightly when it is loved ordinately; evilly, when inordinately. It is this which some one has briefly said in these verses in praise of the Creator: "These are Thine, they are good, because Thou art good who didst create them. There is in them nothing of ours, unless the sin we commit when we forget the order of things, and instead of Thee love that which Thou hast made."

But if the Creator is truly loved, that is, if He Himself is loved and not another thing in His stead, He cannot be evilly loved; for love itself is to be ordinately loved, because we do well to love that which, when we love it, makes us live well and virtuously. So that it seems to me that it is a brief but true definition of virtue to say, it is the order of love. . . .

Unless I am misreading it, it seems to me that the Buchan quote is a recipe for idolatry, which consists in esteeming a very few things inordinately at the expense of everything else. This is sure to make for an imbalanced life.

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