Joy

 

Man’s ultimate happiness consists in the contemplation of truth, for this operation is specific to man and is shared with no other animals. Also it is not directed to any other end since the contemplation of truth is sought for its own sake. In addition, in this operation man is united to higher beings (substances) since this is the only human operation that is carried out both by God and by the separate substances (angels). (Summa Contra Gentiles, book 3, chapter 37)

Aquinas was a lecturer to various Dominican houses in Italy but his real task was the masterpiece, his Summa Theologica, “The Summation of All Theology,” sets out an entire book dedicated to the question of happiness. For twenty years Aquinas worked on this project, but on a night in December 1273 after celebrating Mass he experienced a mystical vision that shattered his entire aspirations. After that night he never wrote another word, and he died six months later. On his deathbed he is reported to have pointed to all of his books and said “After what I have experienced, all that is just straw.” As we shall see, this is most ironic when considering Aquinas’ views on happiness, since in the Summa one of his main conclusions is that true happiness consists in a mystical (beatific) vision of God that is only possible in the afterlife.

 

It is impossible for any created good to constitute man’s happiness. For happiness is that perfect good which entirely satisfies one’s desire; otherwise it would not be the ultimate end, if something yet remained to be desired. Now the object of the will, i.e., of man’s desire, is what is universally good; just as the object of the intellect is what is universally true. Hence it is evident that nothing can satisfy man’s will, except what is universally good. This is to be found, not in any creature, but in God alone, because every creature has only participated goodness. Therefore, God alone can satisfy the will of man, according to the words of the Psalms (102:5): “Who alone satisfies your desire with good things.” Therefore, God alone constitutes man’s happiness.” (Summa Theologica Part 2. Q.1. Article 8)

Aquinas held the following views about human happiness:

  • Perfect happiness (beatitudo) is not possible in this lifetime, but only in the afterlife for those who achieve a direct perception of God
  • There can be an imperfect happiness (felicitas) attainable in this lifetime, in proportion to the exercise of Reason (contemplation of truth) and the exercise of virtue.
  • Virtue is to be divided into two categories: 1) the traditional Aristotelian virtues of wisdom, courage, moderation, friendship, etc., and 2) the theological virtues revealed to man through Jesus Christ: faith, hope, and love.
  • There is an important distinction between enjoyment and happiness. Enjoyment concerns satisfaction of worldly desire. Happiness concerns obtaining our absolute perfection, which by definition can only be found in the absolute Being, which is God.

‘The happiness of man on earth, my children, is to be very good; those who are very good bless the good God, they love Him, they glorify Him, and do all their works with joy and love, because they know that we are in this world for no other end than to serve and love the good God.’

St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney, the Cure of Ars

‘Therefore God says to this proud man: If thou seekest, according to the nature of the created soul, for such great things as seem at present to be good and for that happiness which belongs to earth, know that they are not, they cannot satisfy nor afford contentment seek rather in heaven, where pride is lawful, and where it is not placed in things empty and vain, but in those which are really great, which always remain and which cause a sinless pride; but if thou seekest after worthless things thou shalt never find them and shalt lost those which thou shouldst have sought.’

St. Catherine of Genoa

‘Now although man is created for the possession of happiness, yet, having deviated from his true end, his nature has become deformed and is entirely repugnant to true beatitude. And on this account we are forced to submit to God this depraved nature of ours which fills our understanding with so many occupations, and causes us to deviate from the true path, in order that he may entirely consume it until nothing remains there but himself; otherwise the soul could never attain stability nor repose, for she was created for no other end.’

St. Catherine of Genoa

‘It is much better to obtain only an ounce of happiness in not risking our salvation, than one hundred pounds in hazarding it.’

St. Ignatius of Loyola

‘See my children; the treasure of a Christian is not on the earth, it is in Heaven. Well, our thoughts ought to be where our treasure is.

Man has a beautiful occupation, that of praying and loving.

You pray, you love — that is the happiness of man upon the earth.

Prayer is nothing else than union with God. When our heart is pure and united to God, we feel within ourselves a joy, a sweetness that inebriates, a light that dazzles us. In this intimate union God and the soul are like two pieces of wax melted together; they cannot be separated. This union of God with His little creature is a most beautiful thing. It is a happiness that we cannot understand. . . God, in His goodness, has permitted us to speak to Him. Our prayer is an incense which He receives with extreme pleasure.’

St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney, the Cure of Ars

‘Oh, how senseless we are! the good God calls us to Him, and we fly from Him! He wishes to make us happy, and we will not have His happiness. He commands us to love Him, and we give our hearts to the devil. We employ in ruining ourselves the time He gives us to save our souls. We make war upon Him with the means He gave us to serve Him.’

St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney, the Cure of Ars

‘If we look forward to receiving God’s mercy, we can never fail to do good so long as we have the strength. For if we share with the poor, out of love for God, whatever he has given to us, we shall receive according to his promise a hundredfold in eternal happiness. What a fine profit, what a blessed reward! With outstretched arms he begs us to turn toward him, to weep for our sins, and to become the servants of love, first for ourselves, then for our neighbors. Just as water extinguishes a fire, so love wipes away sin.’

St. John of God

‘If all could know the happiness of the religious state, men would rush madly into it. . .’

St. Lawrence Justinian

‘You know that there is no middle course, and that it is a question of being saved or lost for all eternity. It depends on us: either we may choose to love God eternally with the Saints in Heaven after we have done violence to self here below by mortifying and crucifying ourselves as they did, or else renounce their happiness by giving to nature all for which it craves.’

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

‘It seems to me that the happiness of a soul consists entirely in conforming to the most adorable Will of God; for in so doing the heart finds peace and the spirit joy and repose, since he “who is joined to the Lord in one spirit” with Him. (1 Cor. 6:17).’

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

‘My greatest happiness is to be before the Blessed Sacrament, where my heart is, as it were, in Its center.’

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

‘I have my room, some books and a nearby chapel. That is complete happiness.’

St. Miguel of Ecuador

‘Happy the heart that keeps itself on the cross, in the arms of the Well-Beloved, and that burns only with divine love!’

St. Paul of the Cross

‘Lord, how sweet is Thy Spirit! “I know whom I have believed, and I am certain.” (2 Tim. 1:12.) I am certain that Thou art in the tabernacle. What happiness to remain during the most silent hours at the foot of the altar! Oh, who will give me the wings of a dove, that I may take my flight of love towards Thy divine Heart?’

St. Paul of the Cross

‘It is most certain that the malice of our own hearts is the principal cause that hinders us from attaining to our beatitude and everlasting happiness, because it makes us slow to godly actions, dull to virtuous exercises, and suggests a greater difficulty in them than there is, which if it were not a man might walk without any molestation in the way of virtue, and at length without labor attain to his desired end.’

St. Peter of Alcantara

‘The Lord excites in me a longing for the hidden life, as if to make me shun in the various duties that I fulfil the forming of acquaintances and too close relations with people of the world. . . . My happiness would be to be able to say Holy Mass in some abandoned chapel to which no one came.’

St. Peter Julian Eymard

‘Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end.’

St. Teresa of Jesus

‘Brethren and Fathers, everyone who is starting something, whether it be word or action, at the beginning has affliction and difficulty, but at the conclusion of the struggle joy and happiness. So a farmer sows with tears, as we sing, but reaps with gladness [Cf. Ps. 125:5]. The soldier as he sets out to war is depressed, but as he returns from war he is filled with joy. So we too now that we have come near the end of our abstinence, no longer remember the mortification of our former struggles, but we rejoice at our present ones and glorify the Master. Would that you may excel in noble struggles for the time ahead.’

St. Theodore the Studite

‘It is God Himself who receives what we give in charity, and is it not an incomparable happiness to give Him what belongs to Him, and what we have received from His goodness alone?’

St. Vincent de Paul

‘I would willingly endure alone all the sufferings of this world to be raised a degree higher in Heaven and to possess the smallest increase of the knowledge of God’s greatness.’

St. Teresa of Jesus

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