To be a “pilgrim” (status viatoris)

Viator means wanderer, walker, wayfarer, pilgrim. The last term has acquired a special meaning and became a familiar part of religious parlance. We speak of the “pilgrimage” of this earthly life. This is a perfectly honorable and legitimate use of the word, to which no serous objections can be raised. However, certain rather melodramatic overtones have become associated with this usage, overtones which may blur the precise meaning of this important term, or even cause us to brush it aside. In reality the concept of status viatoris involves nothing sentimental, nor even anything distinctively religious or theological. What is meant, rather, is that man, as long as he exists in this world, is characterized by an inward, as it were ontological quality of being on-the-way to somewhere else. The life of historical man is structured as becoming, “not-yet,” hope. Granted, we have countless choices on our “life’s journey.” We can make detours and take byways; we can stand still; perhaps also we can, in a certain sense, go backward. Above all we can progress in the true direction. Only one alternative is barred to us, that of not being en route at all, of not being “on the way.” This quality of man’s “being as becoming” has been treated extensively in modern philosophical anthropology, especially in the existential camp–starting with Pascal (“We are not, we hope to be”) and going on to Gabriel Marcel, Ernst Bloch and Jean-Paul Sartre. Marcel’s philosophical and dramatic works present a multitude of variations on the fundamental insight that hope is the stuff of which our soul is made. And Sartre strikes precisely the same note when he says that our life is “made up not only of waitings but of waitings which themselves wait for waiting.” As for Ernst Blosh’s fascinating though rather perplexing philosophy of hope and the future, it certainly makes one point with complete clarity: “The real thing, in man as in the world, is impending, waiting”; man is something “not yet at all present, and for that very reason his has history.”

As we have said, this is precisely the meaning of the traditional phrase status viatoris; it denotes the dynamic state of not-yet-being, of still unfulfilled and incomplete being that is, however, pointed towards fulfillment, completion and final realization. Incidentally, one can come to this perception without overmuch philosophical speculation. It is accessible to everyone on the basis of ordinary empirical knowledge, on the basis of experience with himself. No man has ever said: I have already completed the draft which I myself am; I already posses all that was truly intended for me; I am not still “on the way” towards the real thing; fulfillment does not lie in the future for me. No man would ever be capable of saying that, not if he lived to be a hundred and were already standing on the threshold of death” (Josef Pieper, Death and Immortality, p. 75, 76).

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This entry was posted in Existentialism, Hope, Josef Pieper, Pascal, Sartre, The Self. Bookmark the permalink.

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