The Theology of Pleasure
October, 2008By Mitchell Kalpakgian
Mitchell Kalpakgian, a Contributing Editor of the NOR, is Professor of Humanities at Wyoming Catholic College in Lander. He is the author of The Marvelous in Fielding's Novels (University of America Press), The Mysteries of Life in Children's Literature (Neumann Press), An Armenian Family Reunion (Neumann Press), and the forthcoming Wisdom Ever Ancient, Ever New (Neumann Press).
It is common to associate pleasure with the temptations of the flesh or with the Epicurean philosophy of hedonism -- "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die," "Seize the day" (carpe diem), or "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may." The "theology of pleasure," however, views the enjoyment of the senses as a God-given gift that reveals He who created man for happiness, heavenly beatitude, and eternal joy. The theology of pleasure also encompasses other forms of happiness besides the delight of the senses -- intellectual, aesthetic, and spiritual pleasures enrich the quality of human experience. Although the seven deadly sins include the sins of the flesh -- gluttony, lust, avarice, sloth -- the natural pleasures of eating in moderation, expressing marital love in conjugal relations, and earning money honestly and spending it prudently do not fall into the category of vice.
God created man to enjoy the various delights of the senses in the Garden of Eden. In Milton's Paradise Lost, Eve experiences the sensuous beauty of Paradise as she marvels at the glory of the day and the beauty of spring:
Sweet is the breath of morn, her rising sweet,The Garden is ordered to man's delectation: "All things to man's delightful use." Adam and Eve behold the splendor of the flowers, contemplate the radiance of the stars, taste the deliciousness of the fruit, and exchange "the Rites/Mysterious of connubial Love." The experience of the goodness of the natural pleasures of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch, as well as the intellectual, spiritual, and emotional pleasures of the soul, reveals God as the Author of inexhaustible joy who created man for happiness in all its fullness, inspiring man to sing with David in Psalm 23, "Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows."
With charm of earliest Birds; pleasant the Sun
When first on this delightful Land he spreads
His orient Beams, on herb, tree, fruit, and flowr.
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