The ancient philosophers always tried to live out their philosophy. Long before Jesus told the parable of the wise man who built his house upon the rock to illustrate the importance of acting on wise words, teachers were insisting on good ethical living as a key to happiness. From the second century AD onwards, Christians were combining Neoplatonism with the lifestyle taught by Jesus. This is central to Christian monasticism even to this day.
Plato’s ideas on contemplation and Aristotle’s teaching on virtue are, for many in the religious life, the keys to happiness. Modern ideas of happiness are mainly about feelings, Plato taught that contemplation leads to knowing the good. The “knowing” he was talking about is like knowing a friend rather than knowing a fact. Aristotle’s virtue is about doing good. So, knowing the good (like a friend) and then doing the good is the key to happiness.
In our day, we should be teaching young people to beware of the signposts that lead them towards happiness as feeling good and guide them towards everything that the feeds the habit of knowing the good and then delighting in doing it. It’s a struggle! Every minute of every day, there will be voices tempting us along a path of shortcuts to happiness. The ancients keep reminding us that there is a better way of happiness as joy and delight, so powerful that it can even make death happy.
Father Mark Smith