Justice, Temperance, Prudence and the Virtue of “No”

I have sometimes quipped that children are born lawyers. Their cries of, “That’s not fair!” would be at home in any court in the world. Children reveal our instinct for fairness, the root concept in the virtue of justice. Of course, as every parent knows, that instinct is often distorted, with the desire for fairness being expressed only as “fairness for me.” Justice is a virtue with deep, visceral content. Whenever it is invoked, it should be accompanied with flags of warning. Of all the virtues, it is the least able to stand alone.

The virtue of justice, when taken alone, moves towards vice. The instinct for fairness quietly blends with the sin of envy, the desire that someone should “get what’s coming to them,” ironically named, “just deserts.” When we take pleasure in another’s misfortune, it is not the virtue of justice – it is the sin of envy. It is quite rare in our world that we find justice standing alone, pure and undefiled.

When mixed with envy, justice has the nightmare problem of no limitations. It is never satisfied with fairness – it requires punishment (inevitably justified as “fairness” or “recompense” or “justice”).  The desire for justice, by itself, easily becomes an instrument of great evil. Every modern revolution that has been driven by a cry for justice has resulted in a bloodbath. The natural appetite for justice knows no limit. The quiet virtues of temperance and prudence are the necessary antidotes to such excess. They are also much less easily acquired.

In the shrill culture of modern loyalties, we have excelled in the “noisy” virtues. Political correctness, religious correctness, social justice, economic and political causes, all have their loud and zealous voices. Notably lacking in this zealotry are temperance and prudence. Temperance and prudence require ascetical efforts.

Temperance is best described as self-control. Prudence (doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right measure) is the virtue that is the foundation of wisdom. Though both are natural to us, both require nurture and development. Temperance and prudence are least evident in the young – it takes time and experience for them to take shape. It is the context of a virtuous community that allows such experience to safely bear fruit.

No human being stands alone. Just as we require others around us in order to acquire language, so the virtues are formed and shaped in the context of community. Language is a natural facility. However, if it is not acquired early, it can be difficult to acquire at all (as noted in the case of several “feral” children). We should assume that what is natural about the virtues is similar. Self-control and good judgement (other terms to describe temperance and prudence) involve the ability to say “no” – and not just to others – but to ourselves. We could say that the first sin in the Garden was a failure of both. It is interesting that the Fathers are often quite gentle in their treatment of Adam and Eve. They were “adolescents” some say.

Temperance and prudence are also the hardest to measure and define. What is the proper amount of self-control? What should be avoided or encouraged? Those decisions point to prudence as perhaps the queen of virtues. Knowing what is the right amount, at the right time, and the right manner, is the most difficult thing of all. There are no books that can teach this.

Prudence is a stern rebuke of our youth-oriented culture. Since the 1950’s, we have been an economic culture that directs its markets towards youth. What is described as “fashion” (“cool,” etc.) is almost entirely defined by what sells best among the young. The psychology of such marketing has long been a part of American consumer capitalism, refined today by algorithms of artificial intelligence. We have created an economy that thrives on inexperience, intemperance, and poor judgement. The results speak for themselves.

Traditional societies have always held old age in great honor. It is only in those who are experienced that temperance and prudence can be found. Of course, experience alone does not teach – there is a broader consensus across time that must be acquired and later confirmed in experience. This is one function of tradition. Being human is nothing new – it’s been done over and over through history, in almost every conceivable circumstance. The only thing that has not been done throughout history is to live as though the past has nothing to teach us.

The modern project, from its inception, has held tradition (the past) to be a roadblock to progress. William F. Buckley described the conservative project as “standing athwart history, yelling, ‘Stop,’ at a time when no one is inclined to do so”.… That is a voice of prudence. Of course, the nature of tradition and its role in the formation of virtue differs from mere conservatism. Conservatism is easily little more than the resistance to change. Receiving a tradition is a matter of a living relationship with what has gone before and recognizing its place in the present. Conservatism treats the past as important – tradition treats the past as still present.

In a certain manner, modernity is the abrogation of temperance and prudence; as we embrace what is new, young, progressive, innovative, we fail to say “no.” More than this, we forget how to say “no.” Radical shifts in cultural experience are set in place with questions of consequences coming only later. For example, no single invention has had more impact on current culture than the smart phone. It makes the invention of the printing press pale in comparison. There are many complaints at present about the use of smart phones. In truth, you cannot tell what such a change will produce until years later (long after damage may be done).

Modernity, as a philosophy, has had little regard for what has come before. It imagines that human beings live best when they are allowed to freely choose their actions. Choice is certainly a part of life, but it has been exalted to an absurd degree. We do not choose our language, our DNA, the culture into which we are born, the family in which we grow up. Indeed, almost everything that constitutes who a person is comes from something that is not chosen. Choices are tiny variations on a theme that was already set in place.

How well we live those variations will depend upon character, both our own, and that of others around us. Of course, when the inherited wisdom of the tradition is interrupted in a society, what is handed down is diminished. The Orthodox Christian faith teaches the hope that Tradition is not merely human, but a gift from God. Our reception of what is given can be diminished, but the Source of all virtue can also restore what has been lost. In every generation, there are manifest those who embody what it is to be virtuous. In some cases, we call them saints. In other cases, we call them teachers, friends, helpers. In every case, to know them is to be touched by heaven.

 

 

 

 

54 comments:

  1. Thank you for the timely reminder of the importance of Tradition;and especially Holy Tradition handed down to us by the Church.

  2. Robert,
    A bit that really struck me was “Receiving a tradition is a matter of a living relationship with what has gone before and recognizing its place in the present. Conservatism treats the past as important – tradition treats the past as still present.” This makes a critical distinction. It crystallized something in my thinking – thanks Fr. Stephen!

  3. Father, how true your words are today. So many times it is not the parents saying “No!”, but rather the kids doing it and being disrespectful and demanding. That is hard for one of my generation to see, and in some of the children of my generation I have seen the effects of that – disrespect, entitlement, and expecting to get what they want with little or no effort. There are some who learn respect, discipline, and a work ethic, and they do well. So many of the ones that are demanding something for nothing – are moving back in with parents because they cannot survive on their own. They can’t get or keep jobs, and think they should depend on their parents or someone else to take care of them – long past the time they should have been supporting themselves and their own families. It is a sad comment on “progress”.
    Learning to say “No” to others is something I have been trying harder to learn myself. I was the oldest of a large family, and raised a large family. I am used to being the caregiver and taking care of others. A few yrs ago I ended a relationship with a grown stepchild I had raised – because of dishonesty, theft, and many things I don’t want to go into. I have had to learn how to forgive someone, without allowing them back into my life again. I can pray for them, but I have learned to say “No” to resuming a relationship. My priest said some relationships are simply toxic, and should not be resumed. I was glad to hear that, because I was afraid not reconciling was wrong in our faith. He said to forgive, and pray for them, but not get involved again. Learning how and when to say “No”, and to not just go along with something – is more important than ever.
    Thank you for the reminder and reinforcement.

  4. Your comments on Justice made me think of a personal situation that caused me a great deal of pain. I wanted some kind of justice for the terrible way I was treated. I wanted the truth to come out, and the lies and dishonesty to be exposed. I wanted the person they had made hate me to know the truth. I wanted justice, fairness, and honesty to prevail. It was so wrong what happened and why, but I knew I had to find a way to forgive it. The person involved felt no remorse, and enjoyed manipulating people and lies – to their own advantage. With no thought for the devastation it would cause others. Forgiving and letting go of the pain was extremely difficult. It took a lot of prayer and a lot of setting aside my own ego and need for truth/justice. I knew had to leave that in God’s hands, but sometimes all I could say was “Please forgive my unforgiveness” – until I could manage it. Jesus forgives us everything, but we must do the same to others. Not one moment of justice is worth our salvation. Justice is in God’s hands, and Romans 12 is a very true verse.

  5. I was blogging today on Mark’s “Greatest commandments” passage. As we were talking about classical language on the other post, I wanted to mention that I didn’t study the Hebrew, but in the Greek (both NT & LXX I believe) “neighbor” is a word derived from “near” … as in the one who’s nearby. I think that’s a really important sense because it flips us into the personal. Like the illustration of the Good Samaritan parable, it reminds us that it’s about our personal encounters, what we do in the personal, how we actually act in each encounter (maybe especially the unplanned!). It focuses on mindfulness and the here and now, and especially our personal conduct. I like the words prudence and temperance because they are so often what we need to make choices in the personal, the moment, when discipleship is put to the test.

    And oh, sgage, you are so right.

  6. “The Orthodox Christian faith teaches the hope that Tradition is not merely human, but a gift from God. Our reception of what is given can be diminished, but the Source of all virtue can also restore what has been lost. ”

    Yes He can! I think many of us who ran wild in the 60’s – 70’s, where it was hip to rebel against all forms of tradition, formality, authority…and if you didn’t follow the crowd, you were called a prude, deriding that very virtue.
    I think many came to the end of themselves and only then were able to hear the call of God. And you go…and find purpose. You find God, in Christ, your Everything. You find all you’ve rejected and scorned being restored in a life with meaning and intent. And you realize He was with you all along. It’s an amazing amazing thing, His love.

    Thank you Father. Glad you’re continuing on this topic.

  7. Fr Stephen: Thank you for this beautiful article; as always. If I may, your reflection on the “tradition” assumes that everything about the “Holy Tradition” is actually, well, holy! The tradition, like scripture is a divine-human creature and should be viewed like that in my mind. There were many things that are expressed in the Byzantine tradition that aren’t particularly holy. One is the central role of the state within the church symbolized by the 2 headed eagle. You know how the intrusion of Imperial politics have been deterimental to the church leading to all the church schisms throughout church history. That is not a past problem that we can ignore. There are many faithful orthodox that keep looking forward to political leaders that fulfill a “Constantine void” in their world. This is not the point of your post I know. I guess what I want to emphasize is that not everything within the “tradition” isn’t exactly holy and we should continue to examine all those things that we call “tradition” and measure them against the traditions of the ancient church to determine if they truly represent the life and faith of the ancient church.

  8. Basem, I think that Holy Tradition does not indicate everything in the history of the Church but rather the movement of the Holy Spirit through the teaching and practice of the Church. There is no denying that, in the historical sense, the Church has played in politics, but political maneuvering would not be considered a part of Tradition. Rather it is simply the Church existing in the world. There are good and bad decisions made in that regard.

    Father, I recall you previously writing that forgiveness requires a restoration of relationship (although healthy boundaries must be rebuilt and distance may be a requirement of that). How does that “coexist” with the advice of Merry’s Priest (that some relationships are toxic and should not be resumed)? I am guessing that you spoke more of prayerful healing of the wounds in the heart while Merry’s Priest spoke of a more immediate interaction, but I would like your thoughts on the matter if you would share them.

  9. Thank you again Fr Stephen for yet another insightful and articulate piece.
    Your last two have been very interesting, as I have thought for some time that “virtues” is a weirdly missing piece in the educational/formation culture. (educated) Roman children were brought up on stories specifically designed to teach those four classical virtues, and had them spelled out. Even when I was in primary (elementary) school, they had the equivalent of civics classes, which did not quite do that, but sort of showed the pattern of virtues (e.g. I remember Thomas More being set as an example of a courageous life).
    A couple of years ago, I had a go at trying a “virtues” mini-series with our (Anglican) youth group. I picked three of the “classical” virtues – courage, prudence and temperance (avoiding the fraught “justice”!), and three “Christian” virtues – humility, kindness (aka mercy), and patience. BTW I always thought that humility was the queen of the virtues for a Christian, or is that just a western thing? We did one virtue per week. Revealingly no-one had ANY idea about what prudence or temperance meant., Some interesting discussions followed.
    The really useful Bible passage element for the discussion for pretty much the whole thing was the Cain and Abel story, which brings me to why I am writing this long post. It PERFECTLY illustrates pretty much all of your points. When the Lord accepts Abel’s gifts and rejects Cain’s, what happens? As one of our teens said, “it’s unfair”. While the text does not specifically say that, his downcast reaction says it all – justice, resentment, shame, envy. The Lord’s two questions are a great example of prudence. One stops, and does not act on raw emotion. In fact, the questions are one’s suggesting humility and inward interrogation: “Why are you angry?” – i.e. notice that you are angry, and it is you who have the problem. Then, “why is your face downcast?” – i.e. notice that you are sad, and that maybe your anger is due to the fact that you have experienced a sadness/injury and you are not processing it that well. Then the Lord tries temperance and says “be careful, sin is knocking outside your door”. I.e. whatever you do, do not act on your feelings and impulses. Cain of course has no temperance and, just acts, projecting outwards, and goes out and kills his brother. His brother has done nothing to him, but because he can’t do anything about the Lord (the perceived source of the injury) he lashes out at the one thing that he can. When the Lord reappears and asks him where his brother is, he then dissembles – in contrast with Adam and Eve’s attempt at covering themselves- in a quite shameless way just asks the Lord (!) “am I my brother’s keeper?” which is a quite sophisticated form of trying to divert attention. Then the inevitable consequences follow, albeit with the Lord showing mercy in giving him the protective mark.

    It was Cain’s unprocessed sense of injustice to himself that caused this trainwreck. And the only point at which it could have been stopped really was if he had stopped (prudence) with the internally directed questions. All this at the dawn of humanity …
    Apologies about the length of all of that, but as you can probably tell, you have touched on an area of real interest for me.
    One last point, I think temperance is not just about self control, which sounds rigid. As I explained to the Youth Group, the word “tempered” also comes out with things like steel, where something has to be put in to add some flexibility and durability to the mix, otherwise the pure steel shatters on its first impact. I have this feeling that a large part of the spiritual life in practice is in fact temperance training, in all its aspects.
    Enough.
    Thanks again for a really useful set of posts.

  10. I was sitting in church one Sunday when the whole Ikonostasio became present to me. I had the feeling of experience that we are in the presence of the eternal in the liturgy. I realized that in eternity it is possible I will be reconciled with those from whom I now must remain apart (that’s not just my choice btw). But with the eternal before me, I could drop my burden and forgive, and I could picture everyone in church being able to drop their burdens in that presence of the eternal.

    Oh Merry I do so know about manipulators. And I do know about that painful injustice, product of envy and greed (often the real motive behind the slander), the pain of shattered relationships. Let us keep in mind that all things are reconciled Christ. But we are called to forgive, to give up the debt and the trespass to the One who reconciles. Just my experience, hope I am not being too intrusive.

  11. I thought envy was when you wanted what someone else has? So just wondering how envy can be wanting to see another person ruined?

  12. Father
    On the notion of temperance and prudence as all encompassing virtues I had a very interesting discussion with abbot Elisha of Simonopetra on Elder Aimilianos last week. Amongst many other things we he was explaining to me how everyone who came into contact with the Elder Aimilianos had three very clear and intense reactions while around his presence : love, respect, and fear.
    The last of these was a great mystery because the Elder allowed you a greater freedom than anyone else you could think of. Scandalously so….
    We gravitated towards the conclusion/explanation that his perfect disspasion in its expression, (not so much as love, faith, joy, peace etc.) but as an astounding temperance and prudence was what alerted you to a majestic presence of the divine that inspired such a respect that included even a fear.
    Another element was his (humble and deeply responsible, rather than selfish) awareness that he is God’s image upon earth.
    Your favourite ‘The lower you descend, the higher you ascend’ (St Theognostos – Philokalia) was seen in his responsible humility, producing such an august nobleness, for the sake of the Church and God’s glory and never for his self.

  13. Wonderful Fr Stephen!

    As a former evangelical/protestant/im not sure what i was, the lack and disrespect for tradition is a foundation of the culture or belief system – no wonder it always looks like we were building on sinking sand.

    Only now, by Gods mercy and grace, Orthodoxy has opened my eyes and heart to see and love the wisdom and beauty of rich tradition and history. It was always about bettering and advancing the kingdom and gospel, but with that thinking came the pride of “we are better” and “we are more advanced”. This was usually strengthened with a misinterpreted scriptures like “You will do greater works than these” John 14:12, or “Old wine skins cannot contain new wine”, and the best one was “you make the word of God to no effect through your traditions”. It really is scary to think that one can be so sincerely convinced of a lie – i think i once read a quote “The best lies are told by using the truth”. Even Satan quotes scripture.

    I thank God for His unusual mercy and love – were would we/i be without it!?

    Bless

  14. “…there are manifest those who embody what it is to be virtuous….In other cases, we call them teachers, friends, helpers. In every case, to know them is to be touched by heaven.”
    You are a teacher, a friend, a helper Father. Thank you for the wonderful article.

  15. Nancy,
    That is, indeed, a modern meaning that seems to have become popular. However, it’s older meaning goes to its depth. To want what someone else has, is actually to wish them harm (though we often hide this from ourselves).

    Here is a link to an article on envy that might be helpful in thinking about it.

    I should add (for what it’s worth) that the greater part of our modern landscape of politics is built on envy. It is almost impossible to avoid it.

  16. Thank you, Father. As I am reading greetings and stories being published at our parish website that are coming in about my recently-departed Rector, emeritus, I’m in awe. To a person, I would say all of us recognize we are better people for having known him. The virtues are very much more caught, than taught. Though hidden to the casual observer under some idiosyncrasies, my Rector’s true virtue is coming into high relief in the light of his impact on those he ministered to and for. I can’t help but think of him as I read your last two posts.

  17. Re envy I have found Rene Girard’s work on the subject (“Mimetic Rivalry”) to be very enlightening, especially “I See Satan Fall Like Lightning.” He speaks of scapegoating as its social mechanism (release of the social tension/violence created through envy), and that is surely linked to notions of “justice.” That book is particularly interesting because it traces scapegoating through the myths and then the Old and New Testaments, and how Christ inverts the concept (the scapegoat is the purely innocent). Interesting in that we were talking about literature and Girard was a professor of French Literature.

    It seems to me it’s true that in envy there is a sense in which the envious person wants to replace the other, a form of murder. We can even see this in the extreme in some deranged “fan” behavior. And isn’t envy a type of “archetypal” sin, given the story of Lucifer?

  18. Chris…thanks so much for your thoughts on the virtues and tying them into the Cain and Abel story. An excellent example!

    Merry…I second Janine’s words to you. I too know what it is like to experience these tragedies. As well as their healing, still ongoing. I like what you say, Janine, about reconciliation in the age to come and the ability to forgive here and now. Indeed, all things are reconciled in Christ.

    Father…thank you again for these posts. Among other things, I am still thinking about the difference between a “moral” and a “virtuous” approach. One reason is because, as I take to heart your teachings on these things, I also come across those who use those words interchangeably. I think that because of your intent to show us the flaws of a strictly moral approach, there is a need to magnify to make your point, that there is indeed a difference. What I am trying to do is not so much focus on the terms they use but rather to try to understand the point they are making. I hope you understand what I’m trying to say here!
    One thing for sure, I see that the formation of virtues requires cultivation of a “seed” that is already within us, a part of our “nature”. It is formed and shaped more so by tradition… living with, participating, and being “trained-up” by those who have come before us. It is formed and shaped almost invisibly, being built upon as time passes (hence, the wisdom of elders). Morality, on the other hand, can be merely taught even from a book…do this, don’t do that. Seems like a shallow end to me. Morality does not seem to lend itself to the cultivation of character (although I suppose it can form a kind of character), but rather just tells you what to do to avoid punishment.
    These are just some of my thoughts Father. As always, anything you would add to clarify or correct would be welcome.

  19. Janine…again, thank you! Very interesting what you say about Rene Girard. I looked for the book, I see Satan fall as lightening”, but see only French versions. Is that the book you read? I’d like to read more about this scapegoating phenomenon.
    Also, about “deranged fan behavior” and envy… funny, the other day I read an article about Mark Chapman and his infatuation with John Lennon. It is as you say:
    https://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/12/john-lennon-and-cult-of-celebrity.html

  20. Hi Paula, “I See Satan Fall Like Lightning” is available on Amazon.com. But Girard has written many books, some in collaboration with others. Most of his work is highly academic. But I find that one pretty accessible and straightforward, although the subject isn’t easy. Its also not a huge book which is a good thing :=)
    https://www.amazon.com/See-Satan-Fall-Like-Lightning/dp/1570753199

    Probably it can be found in other versions around the web too

  21. Thanks for the article, Paula. I find it most interesting the emphasis on what an appearance-focused life does. Think about it now. We have 14 year olds who are instant sensations on social media. What does that do to them? What a can of snakes it can unleash.

  22. Thanks Janine for the link. I do better with the “accessible and straightforward”, along with the challenge of the subject itself. I will check it out.

    Indeed, the instant celebrity of these teenagers…a true danger in a false identity…yeah, the mimicking of the rich and famous has led to a downfall of many.

  23. On the subject of virtue and morality –

    Forgive me, but most Orthodox priests have not been trained in systematic theology or in moral theology (as such). It’s therefore not uncommon to get a mixed bag out there in dealing with these topics. I’ve been rebuked (erroneously) before by some who thought my writings on morality were somehow wrong – when, in fact, I was right and represented the tradition correctly.

    Orthodoxy in its oldest form, treats the questions of morality/action from a perspective that is usually label “virtue-based ethics” in which the question is always about character and the formation of character. This also had a strong place in medieval scholastic theology, such as Aquinas. It shared a common basis with pre-Christian philosophy as well.

    The rather moralistic treatment (legal/forensic/juridical) of ethics and such, represents a later development with about as much legitimacy as the penal substitutionary atonement theory – which is really its true home. There’s lots of stuff by Orthodox authors, or, even later Orthodox writers within the “tradition”, who ignorantly put this forward as “Orthodox.” It sounds right, because it is clear about right and wrong, etc. But it is theological mistaken and not rightly grounded in what it truly means to be human and how we actually come to act. It is very voluntaristic, and imagines the will as “free,” in the sense that we have some sort of unimpeded ability to “choose” right and wrong. It’s so simplistic as to be harmful in pastoral application. The topic is much more complex.

    I note that my connections with Stanley Hauerwas are fairly well-known. Though a Protestant, Hauerwas is known to be one of the foremost authorities and teachers of virtue-based ethics. It’s almost impossible to study the topic seriously and not become familiar with his work. The same can be said of Alasdair MacIntyre (After Virtue), the philosopher whose work spawned the “Benedict Option” discussion. He and Hauerwas are strong proteges.

    Vigen Guroian, Armenian Orthodox, taught at Virginia, and also does virtue-based ethics, and is strongly influenced by Hauerwas. His book, Incarnate Love, is something I highly recommend – as well as the recently mentioned work on how classical stories help shape virtue.

    It strikes me as ironic, that in the internet world where I encounter criticism of my work – most of it surrounds actually having a formal education in this stuff. I find that sad, but also a commentary on the rather ill-informed presentation of theology that is all too common. It’s not that academics is the repository of answers – it is a repository of important questions when it is at its best. Those who ignore it usually don’t know what they’re talking about and should be taken with a grain of salt.

  24. “…when the inherited wisdom of the tradition is interrupted in a society, what is handed down is diminished…”

    Father and Chris,

    One of the things I have wrestled with all my life (I turned 50 two months ago) in all areas of my life (including, even especially, life in the Church) is this great tumor rolling through it, this demographic often called “the Baby Boomers” with their “justice” on the one hand and lack of temperance/prudence on the other. I can recall sensing this fundamental disconnect at a young age. The Church, and every other civilizing institution and sub-culture has been deeply wounded by this tumor – so much so that I (and of course others) have asked how it is even possible for virtue to survive past this demographic as anything more than a tiny ‘remnant’.

    The seed of what grew to what little temperance and prudence I possess (or do the virtues possess you?) was planted in me by my grandfather and not by my baby boomer parents. I see now that he possessed little of these virtues himself, but he was acutely aware of their importance and the need to tradition them. Recently, now that my parents are at the end of their life they have both asked me (separately as they were divorced when I was young) how it is I learned of these virtues, confessing that they were not the ones who passed them on and at the same time telling me some deep truths about their own life and formation that were and are very difficult. Yet, even here this is done to “explain” or “justify”, but below this is an asking for forgiveness, so that I am the one “passing on” temperance to them. I myself have realized that I will not live to see this work done – a Church, a culture, a family free of this tumor and back to a ‘normative’ pattern.

    In the last handful of years I have had several experiences that give me hope. In particular, a younger generation (say, 35 on down – both in and out of the Church) appear to often have (if usually only instinctually) an actual grasp of the need for temperance and prudence and the attendant relationship with justice. This has lead me to the thought that in an ironic twist on the “youth culture”, it is in youth that I am seeing restoration of virtue.

    Thanks for this essay Father and your thoughts and experience Chris. Are you the type of teacher to extensively plan/prepare, and if so did you save your notes/slides of your series? If you did I would be interested in them if you are willing to pass them along…

  25. “… it is theological mistaken and not rightly grounded in what it truly means to be human …”.
    Father,
    Very helpful delineation of morality and ‘virtue ethics’. I will definitely keep this in mind in my readings.
    Thank you. Also, thanks for the further book recommendations.

  26. Chris and Christopher, thanks for your thoughtful reflections! A lot to mull over in them… but most of all I must say I am so grateful for your earnest care about these things. FWIW it’s not just Boomers who’ve failed in the virtue dept, just from personal experience of needing to learn and practice what was neglected…

    And Fr. Stephen of course! I, too, a fan of Guroian. He also has a book on medical ethics that I found helpful.

  27. Father,
    There are two editions of Guroian’s “Incarnate Love.” Do you prefer one over the other?
    Dana

  28. Fr Stephen thank you for your elaboration on the distinction between morality and a life (ethics) of virtue. (And thank you Paula for prompting this elaboration)

    I believe I would like to read Hauerwas as well as Vigen Guroian. Would there be a particular book by Hauerwas that you would recommend, also?

    I’m in a context (academics) where such distinction and clarity about the distinction might be helpful for discussion.

    Christopher I empathize with your outlook on boomers (categorically by generation I’m one—albeit on the younger edge). A roving tumor is an interesting image, and invokes a prayer of repentance. I wish I would have been less influenced/enticed by my generation.

    I don’t know whether the apples of this generation can fall far from this tree without the mercy and providence of God. But as you indicate, I detect there is a recognition and desire for virtue in the young. However I’m seeing this indicated in people younger than 30.

  29. Janine, Paula AZ, Christopher

    Thanks for your comments and thoughtful perspectives.

    A couple of follow throughs on some particular issues raised, and questions put to me.

    Janine and Paula, yes Girard is very interesting and apropos. If you want a quick topical (if tendentious) introduction to some of his ideas (and envy is a central one) then this Rod Dreher article https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/rene-girard-covington-catholic-boys/ is quite helpful. While the end conclusions of the article go a bit far in a “culture wars” way for my tastes (and ironically somewhat undercut his general case), the bulk of the explanation is helpful. And Dreher is Orthodox.

    Christopher asked “or do the virtues possess you?”. While this may have been intended as a rhetorical in passing comment it is actually a really interesting point. We definitely think of the passions as being things that are innate within us and that can possess us demonically, and which we are trying to and train (with God’s help) over time in our own interests, and so we can act freely. I like to think of the virtues as being like their opposite. To the extent the passions work as demons, the virtues are the angels so to speak, on the side of freedom. And they are not the work of the enemy, but things we (again with God’s help) can actually work on and cultivate. So that when things happen to us (as happened to Cain) there is an array of other things at work in us. I described the Cain story as a train wreck, which I think it was. It happened in part because an initial stimulus gained momentum and then the inability to see what was happening and other possibilities worked like a track careering everyone towards disaster. (Other Biblical stories abound, by the way, in a similar vein. Go and read the David and Bathsheba story and watch that train wreck happen, carriage by carriage, starting with a (hitherto very virtuous) middle aged King no longer going to war with his men, suddenly becoming entranced by the woman of his dreams bathing on a roof … and not seeing ANY of it until Nathan comes along and says “you are the man”.) Prudence and temperance are virtues because they are things we can consciously work on. And this is one reason why I preferred to talk about kindness as a virtue rather than they complex word ”love” (which is after all, to quoute 1 Corinithians patient and kind … :-)). Kindness is something we can work on. “Love” has also sorts of other things happening as a word if nothing else.

    And in working on all of the virtues, prudence and temperance included, I can’t help coming back to thinking that humility remains the most important of the lot. Temperance without humility turns into rigidity and self righteousness. Prudence without humility can morph quickly into pride and a sense of superiority and looking after one’s sense of self. While if one constantly tests how one’s ego is at work in any of our responses, we can’t help but become more prudent and temperate. And so on. To repeat, if only Cain had taken the Lord at his word and asked himself why am *I* angry, why am *I* sad, he would have – bingo!- stopped AND learned something useful about himself, and trained himself but from the right place. He would also have seen that his interpretation of the Lord’s actions in accepting Abel’s gifts were pretty much all his own projections onto the situation. The might not necessarily have been about him at all, there are loads of other interpretations available. It is only the fragile ego, that gets resentful and starts feeding ..,

    Christopher also asked whether I had done extensive preparation. The answer is no. This was a bunch of teens and it was a Friday night youth group, so limited time and all that. A couple of quotations, a bible story, then some questions and discussions. One interesting thing for me was that by using the Cain and Abel story for 3 weeks and revisiting it from several angles (prudence, then temperance, then humility) the kids really did know the deatails of the story by the end (on week 3 I just asked one of them at random to summarise and got it back almost perfectly), and could see how it was useful psychologically and practically. To give you a sense of the prep I did do, here are the notes (such as they are) for the temperance discussion (we did not get to all of these):

    What is temperance?
    Latin source is “temperantia” : moderation, sobriety, self control
    What do we mean by a “temperate climate”?
    Tempered metals
    What are some candidates for the opposite of temperance? What does it mean when we say someone’s behaviour was “intemperate”?
    From last time (Lord to Cain): ‘sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.’
    Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. 25Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. 26So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; 27but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-26)
    “If, then, you wish to behold and commune with Him who is beyond sense-perception and beyond concept, you must free yourself from every impassioned thought.” Evagrius the Solitary – The Philokalia
    How do athletes train? Why?
    Why might temperance be useful?
    In the world?
    In the spiritual life? – Is the point of self control to get credit with God?
    What are some of the things in your life about which there may be value in exercising moderation and self control?
    False Friends: Can temperance be overdone? How do we prevent that? Does temperance equal abstinence, or beating ourselves up? Can you think of a situation where self control becomes dangerous?
    What can we do to develop the virtue of temperance in ourselves? How do we form good habits? How do we avoid bad ones? How do we keep all this in perspective and … balance? (Hint: we will be discussing this more next week!)
    End prayer
    Lord, as we now go forth into the world help us to do so in peace and to be of good courage, to hold fast to that which is good, to render to no-one evil for evil, to strengthen the fainthearted, to support the weak, to help the afflicted, to honour all people, and to love and serve you, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit and may your blessing of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among us and remain with us always. Amen.

  30. “In an age of relativism. (o)rthodoxy is the only form of rebellion left.” – Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft

  31. Excellent article and discussion! But I have a question about the two illustrations showing a child receiving a blessing: Where can I find the story of that meeting? Thanks you!

  32. Bonnie,
    The painting (by Nesterov) depicts St. Sergius (as a child he was named “Bartholomew”) with an old monk (an “Elder”). He was troubled because he was unable to learn how to read. The old monk blessed him, gave him some holy bread (prosphora) to eat and went home with him. That evening, at supper, they usually had a child read from the Scriptures. This time, the elder said, “Let Bartholomew read.” And he read perfectly. It’s one of many stories of one of Russia’s greatest saints. Here’s a link: http://www.st-sergius.org/life1.html

  33. Dear Fr. Stephen, thank you for this blog article and thank you very much for your comment here above beginning “On the subject of virtue and morality” I so appreciate your taking time to write this comment as it answers some questions which I have had, and gives some guidance that I have needed, but really didn’t know how to ask or approach. God bless all you do! Glory to God for All Things!

  34. Chris…I have been reading over your response (including the link to Dreher’s article) for over an hour now. Thank you so much for taking the time to expound on this. This post, coupled with all the comments has opened a much needed and welcomed door…so very enlightening to our purpose, our formation, healing…really, transformation, into ‘what it is to be human’…yes, in the image of Christ.
    One place among many in your comment captures my attention:
    “…humility remains the most important of the lot. Temperance without humility turns into rigidity and self righteousness. Prudence without humility can morph quickly into pride and a sense of superiority and looking after one’s sense of self. While if one constantly tests how one’s ego is at work in any of our responses, we can’t help but become more prudent and temperate . ”
    This is so very true. It is noteworthy (in Dreher’s article) that instead of destroying Cain as Cain did his brother, God put a mark on him so as he would not be destroyed. He protected him from utter destruction. In this I see God’s way in chastisement, leading to repentance, and not punishment leading to destruction (as I was taught).

    It is important to remember this when we fall into despair and self-condemnation (hatred). Not only does this stem from thwarted pride…a blow to the ego…but as we see, it is not how God deals with us. His call is to repentance. So when our passions enrage, we need to stop right there, as you say, and ask ourselves what is going on, why do I feel this way. This kind of impulse (as an indication of temperance, prudence), where we can immediately begin to reflect, comes by much rigorous training (you give such good examples with St Paul!).
    Also Chris, thank you for including your lesson plan you used as a guide. I am saving this post to pass on to those at Church who instruct our youth.

    One more thing…Dee….you speak a lot about humility. Because of your culture you have keen insight into this need. So I have this thought, as an example of what I just said above. Forgive me, I don’t mean to embarrass you in doing so:
    I can imagine that just as you grill your students to test their measure of comprehension in the lessons you teach, so too you grill yourself, you test yourself as well, to determine your level of comprehension in the teachings of God, His precepts, as we are called to walk. As I see it, you do not ask of your students anything less than what you ask of yourself. It is a valuable lesson that goes both ways. This testing oneself, admitting our failures, and turning from them, all the while giving thanks to God for his longsuffering and compassion toward us (rather than to despair), to me is surely the path to humility.

    I am looking forward to reading more on scapegoating and how it has been twisted apart from its true meaning in Christ.
    Thank you all so very much.
    And Father Stephen, to you I am so very grateful!

  35. Thanks for all the thoughtful comments, everybody.

    Chris, you asked, in your earlier comment, above:
    “BTW I always thought that humility was the queen of the virtues for a Christian, or is that just a western thing? ”
    No, it’s totally an Orthodox thing, too. 🙂

    Christopher, you write of passing virtues upstream (so to speak). I, too, have had the experience of expressing virtue to elders who had not shown the same to me. But they weren’t Boomers, they were the “Greatest Generation.” Oh, I’ve had my own hefty share of unbecoming poor behavior, and had to learn through decades of experience and faith (ongoing). But maybe it’s hopeful to say that the Boomers, while possibly elevating a sort of “tear everything down” mentality, as social construct, have not had a monopoly on selfishness and its varied manifestations. In a sense I think we should remember that the Boomers were also products of something else, and rebelling against something else once upon a time.

  36. Janine,

    Yes, long before the Boomers (Cain an excellent example) and long after there are any left the difficulty will remain. What I am noting about the Boomers is a kind of exception to the ‘normative’ pattern, in that the unbalance between justice on the one hand and temperance/prudence on the other had a kind of widespread peak. The Boomers obviously are at the center of the Sexual Revolution, though we acknowledge that its foundation goes back 1000 years to the very root of western Christendom. The Boomers are the first generation (in our culture) after the collapse of the ‘protestant consensus’, and thus the first generation to *live* in a true non or “post” Christian culture and Christian anthropology. We as “church” (everybody, Orthodoxy included) are just now realizing what this means for us, for our children, etc.
    Father mentioned in his essay how revolutions are always bloody. As an example, the sexual revolution has been as bloody for otherwise “traditional” Christianity as it has been for everybody else when you look at the statistics on abortion – we traditional Christians abort our children at about the same rate as everybody else.

    Chris, thanks for posting your notes!

  37. Thanks, Christopher. I do see what you mean. A lot of what passes for morality seems to be quite “pharisaical” for want of a better word. A lot of sloganeering, a lot of abstraction, and a lot of appearance-based identification with the ostensibly “good” (side), especially hating the appropriate people or things. All in all, it’s a kind of bypassing of the heart and the personal conduct resulting. That certainly sounds familiar 🙂 All joking aside, that is a place of violence, indeed, and it can go unnoticed and hidden.

  38. Just back from church this morning, and – probably because of Fr Stephen’s post – I made a couple of extra connections that I thought might be worth sharing. The OT Reading was this gorgeous passage from Isaiah 58:9b-14 :

    If you remove the yoke from among you,
    the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
    if you offer your food to the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
    then your light shall rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be like the noonday.
    The Lord will guide you continually,
    and satisfy your needs in parched places,
    and make your bones strong;
    and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters never fail.
    Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
    you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to live in.

    If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
    from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
    if you call the sabbath a delight
    and the holy day of the Lord honourable;
    if you honour it, not going your own ways,
    serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;
    then you shall take delight in the Lord,
    and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
    I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

    The first part sets out (in fabulously poetic language and imagery) the two notions of justice that Fr Stephen was talking about : the sense of injustice to me (which turns into the pointing of the finger), and what justice really looks like in helping the afflicted. And ending with the intergenerational piece “your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt and you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach.” Of if, only. Christopher, perhaps that is partly our work do you think?

    But then I thought the really interesting pivot was from those justice ideas towards the sabbath, of all things. I had not made the connection before between the sabbath and these virtues of temperance and prudence. It got me thinking that really it is temperance that is the virtue of “saying no”, but that prudence is really the virtue of knowing how to stop. Just to be able to stop before reactions build momentum is a hugely valuable thing to be able to do. And the Lord built such a thing into the recommended structure of our lives. One of the meanings of the Sabbath is surely to practice stopping – to take time out from all the concerns and fears that are eating us up, and just go and try to be, and being content with lifting up our hearts to the Lord.

  39. Chris,
    Thank you for that beautiful meditation and verses from Isaiah. And to pointing us toward the Sabbath connection with temperance and prudence, with saying no to ourselves at appropriate times…such as pursuing our own pursuits on the Sabbath. I’ve been very guilty of that.
    My wife and I were in Talladega, Al., in the late sixties, on a Saturday evening. All commercial lights were out by nine. It seemed the whole town shutdown in anticipation of the Lord’s day, our Sabbath. Stores stayed closed on Sunday. Now all is non-stop, 24/7. Who has time to think, slow down, let alone to meditate and pray?

  40. Beautiful reflection, Chris.

    Certainly our justice is meant be “righteousness” and what that encompasses, and that includes the second passage in the varied ways you note.

  41. “Conservatism treats the past as important–tradition treats the past as still present”.

    Brilliant.

  42. Paula, thank you for your kind words. I pray I live up to them, God willing, to live humbly.

  43. Michael have you read ‘The Unintended Reformation’? It seems to me Fr Stephen’s reference to the Holy Tradition in the manner that he describes it, fits well with the author’s historical method as well. I know you are a ‘history buff’. If you haven’t read it you might enjoy it. I’m still reading it. But Father has referred to it several times on this blog, also.

    In reference to Hauerwas’ book (took a brief peek at that) our account of our history in the ‘secular’ two story narrative, places some sort of boundary upon ‘what was before’, as if there is no continuity. I liken this to the ‘digitized’ (the word ‘particulate’ is used) nature of matter— punctuated as it were by space, as supposed “void”. In reality the boundaries are not so distinct. And the “void” not so empty of ‘substance ‘.

  44. Fr. Stephen,
    I would like your view on the modern/secular use of “Restorative Justice” You probably know about it. From this basic definition it seems like a good thing and just what you were talking about:

    – it views criminal acts more comprehensively — rather than defining crime as simply law breaking, it recognizes that offenders harm victims, communities and even themselves. Second, it involves more parties in responding to crime — rather than giving key roles only to government and the offender, it includes victims and communities as well. Finally, it measures success differently — rather than measuring how much punishment is inflicted, it measures how much harm is repaired or prevented.

  45. I was not aware of this recent (or is it?) “Restorative Justice” philosophy/movement/program until last week, when I noticed that the teachers at my daughters school were off on Friday not for the usual “work day”, but to attend a training session put on by the RC diocese on “Restorative Justice” and how to apply it on a primary school level. I Googled it and found many explications such as luke’s above, but no real critique (i.e. everything was positive). For now, I have a wait and see attitude.

  46. Old is new. The bard spirit of Aristotle is alive. I found all the virtues teetering in a state of imbalance, and only through will and the help of faith, do u keep from the whole lot tumbling down. We are all multi armed juggler sinners. And even after a fall, easy up again. I enjoyed that read, thank you

  47. One of the reasons I really like the book ‘Hiding From Love” (John Townsend) is that it talks about how we need to learn to grieve. We see suffering everywhere and cannot fix everything. Because our desire for justice will not be fully satisfied in this life we need the skill of ‘entering the house of mourning’

    This relates to the desire for justice being a virtue that cannot ‘stand alone’ as you mention in paragraph 1

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