Vital Flux

August 8, 2013

There is a complementary ordering principle, found in the extraordinary dynamism in all living things, which we call “vital flux.”(1)

Vital flux can be seen, for example, in the vigorous growth of plants or energetic movements of animals. But it is especially in man that we see unlocked talents and qualities that can unleash tremendous bursts of energy and enthusiasm. Perhaps the most expressive human example is the innocent exuberance of the small child.

Queen Mary visits the Mary Macarthur Holiday Home, High Ongar, in 1924

Queen Mary visits the Mary Macarthur Holiday Home, High Ongar, in 1924

This bursting drive for expression differs greatly from frenetic intemperance that resists restraint. On the contrary, vital flux works well within the limits of nature because it welcomes efforts to channel and refine its exuberant energies to useful purposes.

Thus, vital flux is the very driving force of all the creativity and vigor that the individual has to offer society. In fact, this vigor is often represented in medieval portrayals of rural and urban scenes reflecting an extremely intense social life that contrasts with the ghostly emptiness of the streets of many modern cities and suburbs.

Painting of a medieval street scene by Franz Kaspar Huibrecht Vinck

This vital flux is something observed by economists and historians who note the vitality of peoples whose development is due to “something more” than just excellent natural resources. This “something more,” writes economic historian Carlo Cipolla, “is the human vitality of a whole society which, given the opportunity, comes into play and sets loose [to use the expression of Joseph Schumpeter] the ‘creative response of history.’”(2)

Cipolla further explains how this “something more” can create an atmosphere of collective enthusiasm, exultation, and cooperation. This could be seen, for example, in the enthusiasm for the building of the cathedral of Chartres when all the people gathered together to pull carts loaded with stone and wood. It is this vitality full of “intangible and nonmeasurable factors” that makes “miracles possible,” and the absence of which “depresses production both quantitatively and qualitatively.”(3)

The building of a Cathedral c. 1465, painted by Jean Fouquet

Yet another description of vital flux is provided by Pius XII. In contrast to the inertia of the modern masses, the Pontiff describes this vital flux as that “fullness of life,” that “life energy,” which “lives and moves” inside a people. He describes its effect upon society in the following terms:

“From the exuberant life of a true people, an abundant rich life is diffused in the state and all its organs, instilling into them, with a vigor that is always renewing itself, the consciousness of their own responsibility, the true instinct for the common good.”(4)


(1) We employ the term “vital flux” only in the sense of the dynamism of this life principle found in all living things. It has nothing to do with apparently similar concepts such as élan vital, a creative principle held by Henri Bergson to be immanent in all organisms and responsible for evolution.

(2) Carlo M. Cipolla, Before the Industrial Revolution: European Society and Economy, 1000-1700 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1976), 117.

(3) Ibid., 118.

(4) Pius XII, “1944 Christmas Message,” in Vincent A. Yzermans, ed., The Major Addresses of Pope Pius XII (St. Paul, Minn.: North Central, 1961), vol. 2, 81.


John Horvat II, Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society—Where We’ve Been, How We Got Here, and Where We Need To Go (York, Penn.: York Press, 2013), 173-4.


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