(Part 2, see Part 1)
Virtue has been defined for ages and put into practice equally as long. It is therefore both a place of reason and doing. In context to the western world, Aristotle is most famous for his explanation and application of virtue. Accordingly, in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, he explains virtue as intellectual and moral; intellectual progress resulting mostly from teaching while the moral is fulfilled from habitual practices (Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Book 2, p. 26). From the standpoint of virtue ethics in philosophy, Aristotelianism is its practical foundation. Ethics and morality are different branches of a similar tree as R.C. Sproul explains:
The English word “ethic” or “ethics” comes from the Greek word ethos. The word “morals” or “morality” comes from the word mores. The difference is that the ethos of a society or culture deals with its foundational philosophy, its concept of values, and its system of understanding how the world fits together. There is a philosophical value system that is the ethos of every culture in the world. On the other hand, mores has to do with the customs, habits, and normal forms of behavior that are found within a given culture.
In the first instance, ethics is called a normative science; it’s the study of norms or standards by which things are measured or evaluated. Morality, on the other hand, is what we would call a descriptive science. A descriptive science is a method to describe the way things operate or behave. Ethics are concerned with the imperative and morality is concerned with the indicative. What do we mean by that? It means that ethics is concerned with “ought-ness,” and morality is concerned with “is-ness.”
Ethics, or ethos, is normative and imperative. It deals with what someone ought to do. Morality describes what someone is actually doing. That’s a significant difference, particularly as we understand it in light of our Christian faith, and also in light of the fact that the two concepts are confused, merged, and blended in our contemporary understanding.
Not to discount all things Aristotle, Christianity has long argued not only for the differences between morality and ethics, but the ultimate source or ethic is God. Sourcing where our measure of what is right or wrong ought to determine our actions. Following from that understanding, the highest virtue arises from God and is progressed forward by God, in us and through us, all for the Glory of God and His Kingdom rather than our own. Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done is the imperative. Humanity, however, rebels against God seeking to make their own way forward. Now postmodernism, a reflection of present realities, promotes the Self as god and king. In response to that falsity, society must be rebuilt by Christianity once again until the return of Christ who is the ultimate ethic.
In part one, Virtue By Decree, I explained the decree being:
[A] set of obligations weighted upon and against all institutions that hold power and authority over a people. And it represents a set of values expected from those institutions.
Virtue by Decree is a moral legal framework that applies to an entire society, an infrastructure of revolving checks and balances by an eternal clockwork of good over evil; right versus wrong; consistent rather than inconsistent. Roots or foundations though apply. Where does one gain this method of authority that binds all to its one accord however imperfect its creatures? Evolution? Hardly. Reason? Whose? It is enforced by God, the most perfect and most high authority. Yet, left to our own devices, we can quickly destroy that which we have been given. As the Book of Genesis explains,
Imago Dei, the likeness and reflective substance of God, are the elements of men and women bound eternal to God regardless of their will. “His will be done” (Matthew 6:10), applies to the entire nature of man. There are no boundaries between God and man, only man and God. We can never reach heaven by our own will. A two-way street metaphor is entirely obliterated. Human sovereignty can only be inclined to the creators imputed design. God’s Sovereignty triumphs our own in every which way. Divine Providence holds absolute dominion.
Real-value virtue is therefore rooted in God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Christ is the foundational source of all things virtuous through His Triunity and Christ Incarnation. Christ is the completed (perfect) Image of Man, not the distortions we have become, images broken long ago:
1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
14 The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
16 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shallrule over you.”
17 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
20 The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.21 And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.
22 Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3: 1-24).
Responding to the jarring event of human damnation God predestined the answer for humanity’s fallen state. Through the workings of Christ eternal, Jesus would one day become flesh. A man, yet divine without blemish. God and Man. The Incarnation of Christ is when “the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4–5). “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). Christ is the final sacrifice, the last scapegoat, and the sacred feast for a holy altar. His incarnation completes the image bearer. Distorted images of believers can now slowly retune with the Incarnation of Christ through sanctification. In us and through us, Christ demonstrated for us by fulfilling the law and prophecies; He has revived the soul, made the wise simple, rejoiced the heart, enlightened the eyes, endured us on forever, and rules with truth and righteousness. Interpretation of the Scriptures are a sacred duty of all believers through the reliance of the Christian Church for Scripture is our guide.
True virtue is Christ incarnated. There can be no separation between He and the Common Good. Eudaemonia, in the ethics of Aristotle and many virtue ethics, is concerned with happiness or human flourishing by means of prosperity and blessings. While that exists in the Christian life, the goal is not happiness, but one of obedience toward the source of joy. In the final paragraphs of, The Cost of Discipleship by Bonhoeffer, he writes:
“But all our works are the works of God himself, the works for which he has prepared us beforehand… From this it follows that we can never be conscious of our good works. Our sanctification is veiled from our eyes until the last day, when all secrets are disclosed. If we want to see some results here and assess our own spiritual state, and have not the patience to wait, we have our reward. The moment we begin to feel satisfied that we are making some progress along the road of sanctification, it is all the more necessary to repent and confess that all our righteousness are as filthy rags. Yet the Christian life not one of gloom, but of ever increasing joy in the Lord. God alone knows our good works, all we know is his good work.” (p. 296-97)
Christian Virtue and the source of our JOY is in contrast with Eudaimonia.
The Christian walk requires sacrifice, surrender, service, admonishment, judgement, guidance, and above everything else to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ all for the Glory of God. Virtue and virtuousness are not the goal, though they are expected of believers, the purpose of the faith is to live out the truth of Christ for Christ. Virtue in Christian application is beyond just the habitual and the teachable, virtues are of eternal concern, a matter of works that demonstrates salvation and after salvation comes a life of discipleship and sanctification.
Uncovering Christ as the source for all institutions and peoples may at first appear disingenuous considering that not everyone is a Christian or a Primitive Conservative for that matter. However, as much as I would like to make everyone converts, I know that is not in my control nor even possible. My purpose here is only to clarify the root of a Christian and a Primitive Conservative by which virtue is justified and vice judged.
Principles Over Politics
Ideas and the meaning of those ideas are important to practicing virtue, encouraging virtue, and decreeing virtue. For example, loyalty and patriotism share similar strands yet one is deeper than the other. Loyalty to friends and family hold a different form of bond versus that of a loyalty to country that we call patriotism. Equally vital to the institutions at hand even considered virtuous, but the cost of discipleship for which Christ commands can quickly turn these ideas upside down as it reads in Luke 14:25-33:
Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
This is part of Bonhoeffer’s “Costly Grace” metaphor versus that of “Cheap grace” (The Cost of Discipleship, p.45) as one requires surrender, suffering, repentance, and a life dedicated to a singular purpose; the other is quick, painless, and easily dispensable when it fails to converge with competing narratives and visions and desires of ones life. But that exchange of choosing a costly or cheap grace has outward effects on family, friends, and even country. Where do such loyalties stand when they are juxtaposed between a rock and a hard place? Neither scripture nor the saints before us guarantee easy answers or always “the correct” responses, yet that should not dismay the principles of morality and ethics to be used in our laws, economies, education, and daily living standards. Furthermore, history has taught us that not every good idea ought to be enforced i.e. leniency is important; the law cannot save us from eternity anymore than can it save is from harm, ignorance, hurt, hate, or pain. Grasping the essential qualities of a conservative mind therefore are important for the political and social arena.
A Way Forward
Christian, how can we exclaim Christ Alone, but allow ourselves to be swayed in a life of debauchery? Or, how can we claim Christ as King yet spread disinformation for a political identity? True virtue is not an identity. It is a way of life. A philosophy and a religion. Virtue is the oxygen to whose lungs are gasping for air. The struggle for life is not life itself; the struggle is for the life maker Himself. Seek pardon from false riches, fraught authority, and expedient freedoms the world promises. Turn away from it all. Rather, run toward the light of Solus Christus the finished and forever foundation.
From my previous series, Principles Over Politics, in part one called Exordium, I cite Professor J. Budziszewski:
From time to time Christians may find themselves in tactical alliance with conservatives, just as with liberals, over particular policies, precepts, and laws. But they cannot be in strategic alliance, because their reasons for these stands are different; they are living in a different vision.
Christians can no more be others on the right than others on the left. Citizenship is an obligation of the faith, therefore the Christian will not abstain from the politics of the nation-state. But his primary mode of politics must always be witness. It is a good and necessary thing to change the welfare laws, but better yet to go out and feed the poor. It is a good and necessary thing to ban abortion, but better yet to sustain young women and their babies by taking them into the fellowship of faith. This is the way the kingdom of God is built.
I knew then the time was quick at hand when Christians will have to confront the reality that their way of life in America was coming to an end. That time has arrived. As I proposed also in Part 1 of this series on Virtue, “Christendom and Conservative Thinkers must now begin to prepare for a better and brighter future should that future come. To begin a process of structuring what mankind has learned over the centuries, successes and failures, so as to reform or rebuild the crumbling globe before us.” My message remains the same to Conservatives as well. Anyone who is willing to at least consider the reality and truth of God should prepare for a post-liberal world.
Like Budziszewski, I cannot ignore the calling of Christ, but I will be arguing for a universal Christological Virtue Principle (CVP). It will take time, but it is necessary in preparing a better future for generations seeking a way forward beyond the false dichotomies of our modern political landscape. A landscape quickly decaying beneath our feet.