BITE-SIZE PHILOSOPHY (32) – What do the transcendentals teach us about priorities?

Rev José Mario O Mandía

We have seen that the transcendentals are ways of describing some aspects of being such that we can say that any being is one, true, good, and beautiful. We also said that there are different degrees of being. 

Degrees of being imply degrees of unity, knowability (truth), desirability (good), delight (beauty). The higher a thing is in the degree of being, the more knowable it is, and more worth knowing. It is also more good, more worth loving. And it is more worth appreciating and gives more delight.

In other words, there is a hierarchy among beings. And consequently there is a hierarchy among truths we can know, goods we can love, beautiful things we can appreciate.

Beings who are higher than others in the hierarchy are more knowable than the beings below them. There is more to know about a butterfly than a piece of marble. We can discover more things in a human being than in a dog. This also means that some beings are more worth knowing than others. And there is One who deserves to be known and, indeed, must be known by all: the Supreme Being. Indeed, our limited human mind will never come to the end of knowing Him, even in heaven. Infinite surprises await us there!

Likewise, there are degrees of goodness in beings: some beings are more desirable than others. A cat is more desirable than a bacterium, a person is more deserving of love than a car. And there is One who deserves to be desired and loved and, indeed, must be loved by all: the Supreme Being. And as our poor human intellect discovers more about Him, the more our love for Him will grow.

What we have said about truth and goodness applies to beauty, but we should realize that beauty also requires us to use not only our external senses, but also our intellect. Because there is such a thing as interior beauty, which is invisible to the eyes. Our mind will help us see that some things which may not seem beautiful at first sight, are truly beautiful on the inside. We will also discover the hierarchy of beauty in the world around us. And there is One who gives the utmost delight and contentment: the Supreme Being. Finding ourselves in His embrace will be for us, in Pope Benedict’s words, “the supreme moment of satisfaction” (Spe Salvi, 12).

The fact that there exists degrees of truth, of goodness, of beauty around us means we ourselves need an inner hierarchy, an interior order, so that we will strive to know, to love, to appreciate the highest of these truths, these goods, these beautiful things. We need to establish priorities in our life because these priorities determine how much attention we put into our daily activities, how much time we spend on them, how much effort we exert and how many sacrifices we make to attain them. Quite often we tire ourselves out, we worry about things that, in the end, turn out to be of little value! We tend to surround ourselves with a clutter of things we don’t really need, and that’s because there is a lot of clutter in our heads and in our hearts.

The virtue of order is the good habit that helps us know our priorities, sort out what’s important from what is trivial, what truly matters from what is  mere whim. It is good to know and remind ourselves that we were made for a Being, a Truth, a Good, and a Beauty Who is greater than we are.

Featured image: José Mario O Mandía

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