Extremism: The Solution for our Times (Part I)

“I will spew you out of my mouth, for you are neither hot nor cold.” Chilling words, inflammatory words. Our Savior’s words!

There are many truths one can draw out of this statement. Today, I should like to draw out its endorsement of extremism. Our Lord wants extremists.

But that sounds harsh. That sounds contentious. That sounds incorrect, politically. Aren’t the terrorists extremists?

The fallacy in the objection is the equation of extremism with terrorism, with being harsh, with imbalance. But the truth is “Not all extremism is evil.” Some extremism is evil. Some is good. In fact, some is necessary and called for, especially at a time of blurry lines, confusion, lukewarm reception of the Gospel, comfort, tradition as monotony, status quo. And we are in these times, even as we are also in times of false extremism, of wicked extremism.

The extremism demanded by the Gospel is that of the theological virtues: Faith, Hope, Charity. All human virtues have a “mean” between two errant extremes, but no theological virtue has a mean. Every theological virtue is and must be extreme! Prudence, for instance, should be neither too deliberative (hesitating) nor too quick (reactive) in its work. Fortitude helps us be neither cowardly nor rash. The rash man a brave man is not. Temperance helps us strike the mean in sensitive delights, such as those of food. The temperate man is neither the man who gorges himself on sumptuous delicacies nor the man who hates good food.

The theological virtues are different. They must be extreme. The reason for the difference is the difference in object. The moral virtues moderate our relation with finite goods. No finite good should be loved beyond its measure. That would be “im-moderate”. Every finite good has a measure, for it is “finite”. Thus, we must approach it as a measured thing. Take pasta as an obvious example. Take tennis. Take good wine. Take a good book. Even my love of you must be measured. I must not will you to be “president” when you have not the aptitude. Even in the order of grace is this so. I will you the infinite good of salvation but in an orderly fashion, for I will you not to be the infinite good but to be united to the infinite good. And I will you to be united to the infinite good in the measure God wills (which, I guess, is more than your cooperation indicates, just as my cooperation does not indicate the measure to which God invites me through his sufficient graces). Thus, I will you a measured participation in the infinite good. I do not will you to be Mary, much less our Lord and Savior Jesus.

But the theological virtues, by contrast, have as their object the All Good and Almighty God. And of course God is the infinite Good itself. Therefore, he is not measured so as to be finite. He is beyond all measure. He is his own measure. If the theological virtues have him as their object, their object is absolutely without measure. They do not strike a mean. They strike infinity. Take faith, for example. It is the virtue whereby we believe that what God reveals is true because of his trustworthy authority. Now, he is infinitely trustworthy. No one ca be said to trust “too much” in God as he reveals. Such a thing is impossible. Take hope. It is the virtue whereby we hope that God will be merciful to me, a sinner and a frail man. Since God is subsistent mercy and love, I cannot hope in him too much. Pile my sins up to heaven if you wish. I cannot hope too much in him. A young girl, beautiful, was murdered by a man who wanted to seduce or rape her. She prayed for him. For years, he was impenitent. Finally, he cracked. He opened his festering wounds to the Savior’s healing eyes. “My sins spoke to me, and I could not hide them. I confessed, and you healed my bones” (paraphrase of a psalm). The Savior cannot resist such confessions. He is helpless before his own tenderness. Thus, this man not only received the healing balm of justifying grace, cleansing him from all mortal sin, but also the grace of a priestly vocation. He was ordained and served the Lord faithfully. Let us consider, finally, charity. This is the virtue whereby we love God with that tender love that springs from his own heart. And we cannot cleave to him too much.

Thus, God wants extremists for Christ. He does not want the lukewarm. Part II to follow.