Mar 04, 2021Shift towards Virtues

Shift towards Virtues

Kim Snodgrass Three-minute read.   Resources
Image by Michael Gaida from Pixabay

The conversation about the seven deadly sins began with Aristotle. It continued to evolve through various theologians into the list we are most familiar with today – Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth (spiritual detachment), Greed, Gluttony, and Lust. These seven sins were more or less deadly depending on how they offend against love.

We can shift from the things that seek our own will, distorting our relationship with God and all creation. God is calling us to a life of holiness and virtue. By redirecting our attention to building up the seven virtues, God frees us from bothersome chains over time. After Pope Gregory I released his list of seven deadly sins in AD 590, the seven virtues became identified as chastity (self-restraint),  temperance (abstinence), charity, diligencepatiencekindness, and humility.

Without a doubt, this is an everyday challenge, but we cannot give up, lower the bar or forego God’s dream. Lent is a good time to share this post from The Reverend Bill Breedlove of Hayesville, NC.

“God says to those who have ears to listen, “You will be holy because I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev 19:2). And he tells them what to do. They have something to do in order to be.

The early church was called The Way (Acts 9:2) because it was about a doing and a being. It was about an orthopraxy before the church turned it into an orthodoxy. The first call of God is a call to a way of life.

The church has traditionally taught the learning, practice, and development of virtues as a means toward holiness for both individuals and the church community. Virtues are the defense and the remedy for the various sins that afflict us. Pride, envy, gluttony, greed, anger, lust, and sloth are each defeated by the practices of the virtues such as humility, kindness, charity, and patience.

These are easy enough to find on the Internet if you would rather not talk to your priest about personal vices and helpful virtues. In this traditional teaching, it is pride that is cast as the chief of all vices. Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas both taught that pride is the root of all sin. C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, wrote that “Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.” What is pride? It is narcissism. It is overconfidence in and boasting about oneself. It is arrogance. It is an attempt to take the place of God and so is an offense against God. The remedy? The virtue of humility.

Humility is about knowing one’s place in relationship to God. It is about letting God be God and not exceeding the bounds of our humanity and taking the place of God. It is also about recognizing our various gifts and not practicing a false humility by denying ourselves, our worth, and our giftedness. As one person put it, “humility is not thinking less of oneself, but rather thinking of oneself less often.” In that sense, and in contrast to narcissism, humility may be taken as thinking about others and how one’s gifts may be of service to others in God’s name.

Holiness is a way of life, an orthopraxy, and virtues are a means to help us along the way. They are meant to be practices. Flex your virtues and let us with God’s help become holy people.”

What practice(s) can you adopt that would encourage you to build up these practices as opposed to avoiding the things that separate us from God and each other? Fruits of the Spirit videos Bryan Spoon created on will provide inspiration.

Kim Snodgrass is Assistant to the Bishop for Christian Formation.

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