Mother of all virtues
by Ken Myers
“A man is rich in values, is a personality, in the highest sense of the word, to the degree that he perceives values, that he possesses a spiritual vision clear and open to the fullness of the world of values, above all to the world of supernatural values; to the degree that the gift of himself to the realm of values is pure and absolute; and, above all, to the degree that his self-surrender to Christ, and through Christ to God, is complete. Reverence is the essential basis for such a perception of values and for a true relationship with the whole realm of values, with what is above and what speaks from 'above,' with the Absolute, the supernatural, and the divine. Reverence is the mother of all virtues, of all religion. It is the foundation and the beginning because it enables our spirit to possess real knowledge, and primarily the knowledge of values. It is that fundamental attitude toward being in which one gives all being the opportunity to unfold itself in its specific nature, in which one neither behaves as its master, nor acts toward it in a spirit of familiar conviviality.
“In its most primitive form reverence is a response to the general value of being as such, to the dignity which all being (as opposed to nothing or to mere fictitiousness) possesses, to the value of its own consistency, of standing on its own, of the ultimate ‘positivity’ of being. In this right and appropriate attitude toward being as such, this affirmation free from obtrusiveness, this silent, contemplative disposition toward being as being, the world begins to disclose itself in its entire depth, differentiation, and plenitude of value. Every newly disclosed value creates a new form, enrichment, and differentiation of reverence. So, too, every newly evolved form of reverence and, consequently, every new response of reverence to the newly disclosed values opens and widens our outlook, enabling us to grasp new values and to understand better those which are already known. Reverence is thus the foundation of all perception and sense of values. But it is also an indispensable element of every response to value; in other words, it is a fundamental component of a true relationship with the world of values. It represents the proper answer to the majesty of values, to the ‘message’ they convey to us of God, of the absolute, the infinitely superior. Only the person who possesses reverence is capable of real enthusiasm, of joy insofar as it is motivated by values, true love, and obedience. The man who lacks reverence is blind to values and incapable of submission to them.
“The lack of reverence may have two roots, and accordingly there are two different types of men wanting in reverence: the arrogant person and the senseless, blunt one. The root of the first is to be found in pride. The man who lacks reverence because of pride and arrogance approaches everything with conceit and presumption, imagines that he knows everything, that he sees through everything. He is interested in the world only insofar as it serves his self-glorification, insofar as it enhances his own importance. He does not take being seriously in itself, and he leaves things no spiritual room to unfold their own essences. He thinks himself always greater than that which is not himself. The world holds no mystery for him. He treats everything tactlessly, with easy familiarity, and everything seems to him to be at his disposal. To his insolent, conceited gaze, to his despotic approach, the world is sealed, silent, stripped of all mystery, deprived of all depth, flat and limited to one dimension. He stands in desolate emptiness, blind to all the values and secrets of being, circling endlessly around himself.
“There is, however, another form of irreverence, one which is born of concupiscence. The concupiscent man is interested in the world only as a means in procuring pleasure for himself. His is a dominating position in the face of being, not because he wills domination as such, but because he wants to use being for his pleasure. He, too, circles around in the narrowness of his own self. He does not face the world with arrogance and conceit, but with a blunt stupidity. Stubbornly imprisoned in his own self, he violates being, and seeing it only from the outside, he thus misses its true meaning. To this type of the irreverent man the world refuses to disclose its breadth, height, and depth, its richness of values and mysteries.
“The reverent man, the man who is disposed to know something higher than himself and his pleasure, and wills to submit to it and abandon himself, the man who grasps his metaphysical situation and lives it, is not only capable of perceiving values and open to the mysteries of being. Such a man is also open first of all to the Absolute; in other words, he does not shut himself off from the Fact of all Facts, from the existence of God, the absolute Lord. Without this reverence there is no religion, not even primitive, natural religion. Reverence is not an attitude like humility which can appear only in confrontation with the true image of God, as reflected in the Face of Christ and presented to us by the Church. Reverence is, at least in its primitive form, the presupposition of faith, a praeambulum fidei. In antiquity, we find a deep reverence not only in Socrates and Plato, but also in the ethos of the people. How deep was the consciousness of the unrighteousness which lies in hubris, in that failure of reverence, in that unbridled self-assertion, in that loud and false security! For humility, on the contrary, there is no place in the ancient conception of the world. The ancient fear of God which the Scriptures say is the beginning of wisdom (initium sapientiae timor Domini) in itself presupposes this fundamental attitude of reverence.”
— from Dietrich von Hildebrand, Liturgy and Personality (The Hildebrand Project, 2016)
Read Alice von Hildebrand’s article “Reverence: The Mother of All Virtues” here.