Theory And Practice Of Moral Virtue -- By: James Lindsay

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 067:268 (Oct 1910)
Article: Theory And Practice Of Moral Virtue
Author: James Lindsay


Theory And Practice Of Moral Virtue

Reverend James Lindsay

An uneasy feeling comes to one at times that moral virtue has not yet come to its own in the Christian world of to-day. Alike in theory and practice, Christian virtue seems to suffer greatly because thought is so seldom turned to direct meditation on the basal worth of the natural virtues — the cardinal virtues of the Greeks. Aquinas thought these philosophical virtues — temperance, fortitude, wisdom, justice — were acquired, while the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love were inspired. But Aristotle had already pointed out most clearly that moral theory exists only for the sake of practice, saying that “we study ethics not that we may know what virtue is, but that we may become good men; otherwise there could be no advantage in it whatsoever.” Plato had previously declared, in the “Republic,” that ethical virtues “are like qualities of the body, which, not being in us at first, are put into us by training and habit”; and, in the tenth book of the “Laws,” that “there are in us certain virtues; therefore God possesses fully all virtue.”1 There is a thoughtless assumption that, in Christianity, such a direct cultivation of these former virtues is unnecessary — superseded by the possession of higher and later virtues in Christianity. The “theological “virtues are supposed to make the ancient contemplation of moral excellences or ἀρεταί no longer needful. It is not seen that this is to have fallen from Christianity itself.

Pauline Christianity, at any rate, was wider and wiser, and did not think it superfluous to present a splendid range of distinctively virtuous objects before men — things true, grave, righteous, pure, lovable, attractive — bidding them “think” on “these things.” Pauline virtue is not a virtue of right doing merely, such as Aristotle inculcated, but a virtue so interior as to consist in right thinking. Our right thinking will issue in our virtue being, in terms of a true Aristotelian idea, a good “habit of choice.” The vague and complicated definitions of virtue given by various recent ethical writers, both British and American, seem to have but little practical advantage, after all, over such views of virtue as those of Jonathan Edwards and those New England philosophers who took it broadly to consist in choice of the good of being.

The natural virtues wait to be grandly subsumed in Christian virtue, not thoughtlessly neglected or despised. The transcendent worth of moral virtue waits to be seen in the prismatic blending of sevenfold virtue in the Christian ideal. To Aristotle, ...

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