Ellen Charry’s “God and the Art of Happiness” – Part 1 recap

I was planning to write my own brief recap of the volume’s first part – the historical survey of Christian thought about happiness – but then I saw that Dr Charry wrote one herself. So, I’m just going to quote her. Following this lengthy quotation, I’ll highlight a few particularly good lines from the first ~150 pages of this work.

Also, I should mention here that you can download the audio of Dr. Charry's recent inaugural lecture at PTS, as well as watch a short video clip - just click here! Dr Charry recaps much of her material on happiness in that lecture.

Ellen Charry, God and the Art of Happiness, 152-3:
Augustine’s doctrine of happiness is primarily theological, eschatological, and conceptual, with room for atheological, temporal, and material happiness – unstable as it may be. Boethius’s teaching is theological, temporal, and noetic, not eschatological or material. Aquinas followed Augustine’s theological, eschatological, noetic precedent, but he made a small place for theological, temporal, and material happiness.

Fitting Butler into this schema is not easy, because his treatment of happiness is inadvertent as he pursues another project. His understanding of self-love does not recognize happiness as a side effect of obedience to conscience. That remains outside his theological purview, though it is easily incorporated into his doctrine of self-love without damage to his separation of happiness form self-love. Still, we may conclude that his teaching on happiness is material and temporal, and mildly theological to the extent that he recognizes the joy in loving God. He does not ground temporal happiness in obedience to God.

The theological conversation on happiness has staggered across the centuries, with the theologians addressing salient issues of their days. As I have noted…this foray into the subject seeks to address two theological concerns: the heavy emphasis on future eschatology at the expense of temporal, realizing eschatology in the classical tradition, and the academic triumph of theology in the modern university that has obscured the practical task of theology. The first concern, causing an underemphasis on temporal happiness, resulted in the hyper-Augustinian Jansenism of Pascal, which, while it was condemned by the church, has left tracks that make Christians skittish about temporal material happiness, fearing it is untoward from a Christian perspective. The second concern, for the consequence of the scientizing of theology within the theoretical structures of modern academic convention, has made it difficult for theology to fulfill its proper calling of helping people in their life with God.

The proposal that follows [in Part 2] addresses the first concern by suggesting a theological, temporal, realizing eschatology. It addresses the second concern by offering a theological, temporal, and experiential doctrine of happiness in the proposal of asherism.
Now, here are some tidbits:

Speaking of Augustine w/ref to his philosophical forebears:
He drank deeply from the Platonist well but finally could not be satisfied there because the incarnate Christ brought God down from heaven to earth (24).
Some more on Augustine:
The implicit teaching on happiness in The Trinity is soteriological. Salvation is the healing of the soul through the slow and painful recovery of the shattered and lost image of God that we are intrinsically by the grace of creation (49).

For Augustine, happiness is the spiritual benefit of knowing, loving, and enjoying God, and loving self and others in pursuit of that goal. It is being at rest in God, as he so famously said: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you” (57).

[Augustine’s] soteriology is one of ascent, but ascent through knowing Christ enabled by divine grace (59).
Speaking in the context of treating Boethius:
The wicked are feral, and the more wickedness they pursue, the less human they become (83).
Speaking in the context of treating Aquinas:
Self-realization is living as an agent of the divine will (98).
Speaking of changes that occurred with Protestantism:
Although Protestants did not talk much about happiness, it implicitly became relief from anxiety before God…The search for peace of mind is a fresh form of Augustine’s resting in God, though [Protestants] do not use the language of felicity (111-2).
Speaking of Thomas Hobbes:
Life is either a naked or disguised power struggle in which no one and nothing is secure. The Christian fear of divine wrath, which finds refuge in humility, becomes fear of one another, which finds security in power (118).


Thanks for posting this, Travis. I have followed some of Prof. Charry's work and enjoyed the paper that she gave at NAPS last year. Her summation is helpful to see - I am planning to read this work in August, and it's nice to know what to expect.

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