Romano Guardini on
The Purpose of Life
N.B. Not to be read, but studied and meditated!!
The purpose of life may be described as the realization of values. The word is not employed in an idealistic sense but to express the meaning of existence. Value is what makes a being worthy to exist and an action worth performing. The value attaches to the being itself as its essential and significant content; it also transcends it as the standard by which it is measured. Finally, value denotes the creative thought of God which establishes the essence and significance of the being. To speak of values is thus a shortened way of speaking about the particular character of being.
Every genuine value has its significance within itself. Strength is just strength and, because it is something primary, it cannot be derived from any other source. A man can realize it only out of itself, by acting strongly and growing strong. But the fact also remains that the man is essentially strong only when he is also just. Justice differs from strength, has its own significance, from which alone it can be put into practice. As soon as a man seeks power without justice, it is immediately altered. It becomes violence and brutality with a void of weakness inside it. Correspondingly, true justice preserves its character only when reinforced by courage, otherwise it may drift into insecurity and indecision. Utility again is utility and it indicates that an action is directed towards a rational purpose related to human existence. It becomes unfruitful, however, tiresome and finally unreasonable unless it also has a relation to the spontaneous development of life, to pure zest in growth and the joyfulness of existence. Similarly, these values become frivolous, trivial and wasteful if they drift from the order of intelligible ends. A careful analysis of wisdom would show that it requires to be related to the irrational and even to folly since otherwise it can be mere pedantry and lose touch with reality; that beauty can be superficial and destructive where it is not subject to a serious moral purpose; and that without the free flow of mercy justice changes into injustice, and so forth. Freedom consists in pure surrender to the value, but if this is not continually related to complementary values, it shuts itself up, as it were, and is made a prison.
Each value is a primary feature, established in itself. It is related also to other values and its character is preserved by this relationship. These values are themselves directed toward still further values so that we have a structure that makes itself felt in all activity. The Right, as an expression of what ought to be willed and done in the circumstances, is always complex and flexible. It is a balance that must constantly be readjusted to concrete reality if the whole structure is to avoid being hardened. The same is true of the various stages and levels of value within the universe. Animate being, for example, presupposes inanimate being. Man, in his biological capacity, rests everywhere upon the realm of inorganic existence. On the other hand, it is equally clear that the final conclusions of inanimate being are drawn only in the animate world. Mechanism, for instance, realizes its fuller possibilities in the organic world, which is essentially higher and different. Correspondingly, the spiritual factor has a continually changing relation to the vital element: an ethical attitude always presupposes biological potentialities. On the other hand, man's health, quite different from that of an animal, finds its last safeguard in the ethical order, to wit, man' responsibility for his existence. These glimpses suggest the vision of a whole, of a realm of values as the reflection of the significant content of the world, from which alone each value derives its truth. The question remains whether this realm of values can establish its unity form itself alone.
The world which finds its center in man has its orientation toward God. A man with keen eyes for reality [Blaise Pascal] has said that "man infinitely transcends man." Man soars above his own level and does not fully realize himself until he is in contact with God. In a certain sense this is also valid of the world. The self -sufficient world, postulated by some modern thinkers, does not exist; it was a postulate of revolt. What does exist is the world related to God through man. Man, there, in Augustine's memorable phrase, is by his very essence a searcher, and in man the world also is searching. The only realization of values which leads to freedom includes this knowledge and recognition. Yet, unaided, this quest does not reach its goal because of the confusion in which it is enshrouded, along with the human existence from which it proceeds. In consequence, it requires revelation and redemption, and it discovers the way only in faith. Revelation, which proceeds from God's free will, shows the goal to which all values are directed and it therefore provides the final safeguard for human freedom.