To See Good Rather than Evil Print
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 18 October 2007 07:35
Tom over at Disputations has done it again.

St. Thomas writes:

It is the mark of a happy disposition to see good rather than evil. Wherefore if someone has conferred a favor, not as he ought to have conferred it, the recipient should not for that reason withhold his thanks. Yet he owes less thanks than if the favor had been conferred duly, since in fact the favor is less, for, as Seneca remarks (De Benef. ii.) "promptness enhances, delay discounts a favor."

"To see good rather than evil" -- the Latin is, "ut magis attendat ad bonum quam ad malum," which may be more like "to pay more attention to good than to evil."

This struck me as a neat little formula (neater still in Latin, perhaps, with the "boni/bonum" parallel). If you have a good disposition, you notice and respond more to the good in those around you than the evil. Contrapositively, if you respond more to the evil, you probably don't have a good disposition.

Moreover -- and I know nothing about the history of the "boni animi" as a philosophical concept, so this might be a silly thing to draw attention to -- St. Thomas's argument assumes that people should have a good disposition, or at the very least that they should follow the lead of those who do.

I think this points to one of my pet themes (touched on in various ways, most recently with the posts about loving the sinner) that human nature is properly oriented toward the good.

Some people express themselves primarily in terms of "away from the evil." And to be fair, there are some topics that really are about avoiding evil. But that's an unnatural orientation for a human, especially for a Christian, who ought to be directed toward Christ first and foremost, and away from other things only by implication. (If you see what I mean.)

Others strike a balance in being "away from evil toward the good." Even Scripture does this in places (e.g., "I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse"). But when we think in these terms, it seems to me we need to avoid thinking we're in some third state from which we make our choice.

Let me try putting it this way: If I am looking toward Jesus, then I am necessarily looking away from other things (in the limit of Christian perfection, I'm looking away from all that is not God). But what I am actually doing is looking toward Jesus. I'm not looking away from evil and hey, what do you know, here's Jesus in front of me! I can't see what I'm not looking at; I certainly shouldn't be thinking about not looking at it.

True, a person might flee evil and collide unexpectedly into Jesus. But once they've seen Him, they shouldn't take their eyes off Him, not even to rebuke what they've fled.

Sherry's comment

Exactly. There are so many situations in life where this is playing out today: in our culture wars, in our liturgy wars, in the debates over "Catholic identity" and in our attempts at evangelization.

When we try to proclaim Christian morality without first proclaiming Christ, we give the impression that we have nothing beautiful, good and true to look toward. When we do not first present Christ whom we know and love and follow, but mutter abstractions about Christian "values", we will be understood by the average person as entirely negative since they assume Christian values are exhausted by a few wearily familiar "don'ts".

That's the impression many, many people that I've talked to who were raised within the Church received from their childhood catechesis.