“Yet even in these nobility shines through, when a man bears with resignation many great misfortunes, not through insensibility to pain but through nobility and greatness of soul… For the man that is truly good and wise, we think, bears all the chances of life becomingly and always makes the best of circumstances…as a good shoemaker makes the best shoes out of the hides that are given him.”
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
Aristotle was not a Christian. As such he did not have the unique Christian understanding of how suffering can be redemptive.
Nonetheless he saw the power of suffering. He says that in a man of good character nobility shines through. He seems to mean that suffering reveals the man.
Yet surely when nobility shines through in suffering, this is more than just a revelation of what was already there. When such character is revealed, it is strengthened, it comes into its own. Not only bystanders but also the sufferer himself see and learn something about the reality of good character, and of the suffering that somehow ‘makes it.’
St. Augustine remarks that only in the actual loss of various goods can we know that we have the right order of affection in our hearts. And must not the shoemaker finally come into his own, when he learns to make the best shoes out of whatever is given to him?
The truth about misfortune and suffering is perhaps easy to understand when seen in this light, in the abstract. The one who lives this truth well is a marvel among men. In him virtue matures to a ripe fruit.
I think I will try to remember the good shoemaker.
Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, has been considered by many to be the greatest ancient philosopher. The Nicomachean Ethics is his major ethical work.
Image: Jozef Israels (1824-1911), Awaiting the Fisherman’s Return
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