Happiness and Self Mastery

Jul 17th, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts

It belongs to the natural order for lesser powers, like appetite, to be subject to greater powers, like reason.  Since man is a rational creature, his  appetite , for example, must be subject to reason although he cannot fully do so in this life. Nevertheless, the inevitable persistence of concupiscence must not deter our earthly quest for self mastery. The fact that is so difficult to convince ourselves of is this: we will be more happy right now if, and insofar as, we develop mastery over our passions.

Recently, I wrote a post entitled, “the Divine Metaphor.” I presented a case for God’s simplicity and His immutability calling special attention to the fact that God is not moved by external passions. Notice how in our quest for self mastery (subjecting the lesser powers of the soul to the greater powers) we become more like God. God, the Prime Mover, is not moved by passions; He moves others by the pure act of His will.

Our happiness consists in participating in the divine nature and our quest for self mastery is an image of the entire justification process. Through justification, we are made participants in the divine nature. Our ultimate end is ultimate happiness: the Beatific Vision wherein we are given perfect participation in the life of the Blessed Trinity. To subject the passions to reason is to become like God and to enter into the happiness we were created for.


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  1. Tim,

    Great post. I love teaching my students on the faculties of the soul and the importance of reason and intellect in helping master the passions so that the will can make the proper choice to follow our true happiness, namely God. The late Father Pinkaers’ work on Christian ethics is excellent in this regard. The students are always surprised to hear St. Augustine say that everything we do we do for our happiness and that there isn’t anyone who does not want to be happy.

  2. Finally, vindication!

    Tell me what you think of this. I’ve been trying to convince anyone who will listen that “self mastery” is the equivalent of justification by works.

    And that the Sacraments are the equivalent of justification APART from works. After all, they are the Mighty Works of God and all that is required is a proper disposition to the extent of which God will work in our soul:
    Romans 12:3
    For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

    In essence then, there are two modes of justification which are working together seamlessly in the Catholic Sacramental system to achieve one end, the union of God and man in eternal glory.

    From reading your article, you seem to have arrived at the same conclusion. Am I correct?



  3. Juan,

    We might be on the same page. I didn’t mean to identify the quest for self mastery with justification simply; I only called it an image of justification. Justification for me was a secondary thought in this short article.

    But you’re right – there are two sides of the justification coin. I’m not an expert on the subject by any means. This stuff is way over my head. All I know is what the Scriptures and Tradition tell me: we are justified by faith apart from works, and we are justified by works and not by faith alone.

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