July 13, 2016

Christ's Golden Rule Perfects Aristotle’s Golden Mean

Aristotle & Christ

Note: The philosophical concepts below have been greatly summarized. Christ, the Divine Logos, is the embodiment of truth, beauty and goodness. Aristotle's insight is but a reflection of the perfect knowledge and wisdom of God.

The brilliant Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC) in his treatise on ethical conduct, Nicomachean Ethics, discusses the "Golden Mean." It is a way of acting that enables us to live according to our ideal nature, improve our character, and deal effectively with life's hardships while striving for the good of all. The golden mean is the desired middle between two extremes, one of excess and the other of deficiency. For example, to Aristotle, courage is a virtue, which if taken to extreme is recklessness, and, in deficiency, is cowardice.

Aristotle's ethics is practical and decidedly teleological. He believed the end of human life is happiness (Greek: eudaimonia). Today, happiness is understood as the emotional state of joy, contentment and bliss. Such happiness is ephemeral. Aristotle's conception of happiness is a state of virtue resulting from the habitual practice of right action, unrelated to our feelings or personal fortunes. Therefore, it is possible for one to be happy (virtuous) even amid tremendous suffering and difficulty. Aristotle's golden mean is a seminal development in ethics, synthesizing Greek notions of moderation with a defined understanding of personal morality.

Four centuries later, Jesus Christ would teach humanity through His words and example, how we should live. His "Golden Rule" is a positive articulation of our moral responsibility for others. Two passages in Sacred Scripture show Christ expressing this rule. In Matthew 7:12, Jesus states: "'Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.' This is the law and the prophets." In Luke 6:31, Our Lord again says: "Do to others as you would have them do to you."

Christ's golden rule perfects Aristotle's golden mean in two respects. The moral principle of treating others as you would like them to treat you is universal, unconditional and objective. It applies to our enemies as well as our friends. Aristotle's mean is dependant upon the individual and the circumstances involved. Aristotle's mean evokes the timeless Greek maxim that we should do all things in moderation. (A sentiment inscribed in the edifice of the temple at Delphi.) While Christianity has long espoused moderation in relation to our appetites, Christ's golden rule commands us to love abundantly without limit.

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