Tag Archives: virtue

Spirituality and economic work in the Middle Ages: Complementarity, not enmity? Part IV


The earliest known portrait of Saint Augustine in a 6th-century fresco, Lateran, Rome; Wikipedia, public domain

Continued from part III, and repeating the last couple of sections of that article:

Clearly, Augustine is not dismissing the active life (though he has also not yet fully defined it). He is pointing, in fact, to a sanctifying function in that life.

In a similar text, with a less absolute division between the two lives, Augustine says the following (I give it in two translations – the first from the Cuthbert Butler book cited above, and the second, again, from an online NPNF version):

“Two virtues are set before the soul of man, the one active, the other contemplative; the one whereby we journey, the other whereby we reach our journey’s end; the one whereby we toil that our heart may be cleansed for the vision of God, the other whereby we repose and see God; the one lies in the precepts for carrying on this temporal life, the other in the doctrine of that life which is eternal. Hence it is that the one toils, and the other reposes; for the former is in the purgation of sins, the latter in the light [or illumination] of the purgation effected. Hence it is that, in this mortal life, the former consists in the work of leading a good life, the latter more in faith, and with some few, through a mirror in enigma and in part, in some vision of unchangeable Truth. These two virtues are seen figured in the two wives of Jacob. . . . the three first evangelists, who principally record the words and deeds of our Lord for the right conduct of the present life, are chiefly concerned [230] with active virtue; but John is chiefly concerned in commending contemplative virtue.”[i]

Then we find in Augustine a view we might almost describe as “pragmatic” – that the active life is simply necessary to us, as beings of the sort we are, and though we might desire to fly directly to the contemplative life, we cannot do so – and that’s not entirely a bad thing. We’ll take it piece by piece, reflecting on each as we go:

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The deepest values of early American evangelicals, revealed in what Methodists said about their dead; part III


Continued from “The deepest values of early American evangelicals, revealed in what Methodists said about their dead; part II

The highest virtues:  “the courage of one’s 

Peter Cartwright, Methodist circuit rider and "man's man"

convictions” and the boldness to speak them

Along with this manly work-ethic, Methodist memorialists of the 19th century seem most to admire the traits of unshakeable conviction and bold speech.  In fact, the phrase “the courage of his convictions” is liberally laid on throughout the 19th century.   As early as 1793, Benjamin Carter, an ex-soldier, was noted as “a pointed, zealous preacher, and a strict disciplinarian,” who “appeared not to fear the face of any.”  Ninety years later, in 1884, the eulogist of Tennessee’s Robertson Fagan wrote, “He was of ardent temperament, indomitable will, and commanding faith,” “not a man of half measures,” whose “power over men seemed to be almost magical.” Continue reading

C S Lewis and “medieval morality”


The following are some thoughts on how C S Lewis will figure as a “guide” into the look and feel of the “moral fabric of the Middle Ages,” and how that fabric differs from our own. It’s basically me grinding away at the grist for this Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants book.

My argument in this chapter is not that Christianity—either in the medieval period or any other period—has taught some distinctive morality, or even that it taught that morality in a distinctive way (although it did, from the earliest years of the church, as Robert Louis Wilken persuasively argues in The Spirit of Early Christian Thought). Rather, my argument is that today, Protestants, especially evangelicals, have fallen so in love with Luther’s (Augustine’s) message of grace, and have so spiritualized their faith (I almost said Gnosticized, and sometimes I wonder) that questions of morality have receded from view. So we need to hear again from a time (the Middle Ages) when Christianity structured not only people’s worship, but also their moral lives. Continue reading

Are you guilty of vainglory? I know I am!


Folks, if you want to see whether Aquinas’s (and other medieval) moral philosophy is useful for Protestants today, then you should check out Rebecca De Young’s book Glittering Vices. Dr. De Young will lead the seminar on the seven deadly sins I will be attending at Calvin College next month.

This morning I had the pleasure to hear Dr. De Young present a paper on the vice of vainglory. I (and not just I, but at least one other person I spoke with) was both enlightened and convicted (in a constructive way) by what I heard. I DO talk about myself too much. I DO, even in this blog, self-present in vainglorious ways. There ARE remedies (though Dr. De Young didn’t get to them in this paper).

Here are my scratched-down, piecemeal notes on that session, minus the handout she provided for us: [For further notes I took on the conference, of a more general nature, see this post.]

From “Spin” to Silence: Aquinas and Cassian on the Vice of Vainglory

Rebecca Konyndyk De Young, Calvin College

Vainglory was contracted into pride after Thomas (certainly by the typical list of 7 deadlies in the 20th/21st c.)

Today pride and vanity often used synonymously.

Before (including in Aquinas), they were separated, helpfully. Vainglory had to do with excessive desire for others’ attention and approval. Pride might also include a power dimension, over other people. [she noted other distinctions I didn’t catch.] We lose a range of explanation if we drop the distinction.

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