One of the things I like about Thomas Aquinas is his distinction between the delectable good and the arduous good. When I first began to read him it puzzled me that he considered the things I called “emotions” to be movements of “appetite” or desire. I considered desires, like the longing for the beloved, altogether different things than emotions, like anger and hope.
Not so. In both cases we stretch forth toward some desired good, but in one case we are considering it merely as delightful, while in the other we are considering it as something difficult to attain – there is something that must be overcome. Perhaps someone has threatened the beloved. Perhaps she must be wooed. Perhaps she must be rescued from a dragon, real or figurative. Perhaps the beloved is not a mortal being but Virtue, or Truth, or the Church.
The very terminology is magical – for me it was as though it unlocked a spell, like the famous pictorial proof of the Pythagorean theorem. Words, like images and mirrors, are always magical. It is magic that utterances can plight troth with real things.
But the magic of language in general is one thing, and the magic of particular language is another. To speak of the delectable good makes one feel like a lover. To speak of the arduous good makes one feel like a knight. The spurs of this friar’s steely language prick the steed of inquiry to race forward to a hundred unthought-of questions.
Tomorrow: Hard Things