Daily Reading for January 12 • Aelred, Abbot of Rievaulx, 1167
Human beings long for happiness, and human existence has happiness as its natural end—so Aelred of Rievaulx believes. To put this another way, the happiness for which humans long is the fulfillment of their nature as human beings. For Aelred, human beings are rational creatures created to participate in the happiness, the beatitude, of their loving Creator. Thus, says Aelred, “we were created with the highest dignity. . . .” This dignity derives from the Creator in whose image humans are made—made in the creative act that is only the first of his many gifts to humankind. Throughout their lives, humans continue to be “surrounded on all sides by his [God’s] innumerable favors.” Aelred likens the image and likeness conferred by God on humans to the tribute coin of Matthew 22:12-20: “God has stamped his image on the very nature of the rational soul. . . .” It is because of human participation in the nature of God, of a loving God, that human nature is good and capable of the happiness for which God created it. To be sure, humans share with all other creatures the derivative and dependent nature of their existence. As rational beings, however, humans are given a greater share in God’s being.
All of this may sound rather abstract and remote. But the message assumes immediacy and existential relevance for Aelred when he considers the meaning of human nature, dignity, and dependence for his central concern, human happiness: “For, in the creation of all things, he [God] gave humans not only being and not only some good or beautiful or well-ordered being—as he gave to other creatures—but, beyond these, he granted humans happiness in being.”
From Aelred of Rievaulx: Pursuing Perfect Happiness by John R. Sommerfeldt (Mahwah, N.J.: The Newman Press, 2005).