Why You Can't Name the Virtues

Karen Swallow Prior

A few years ago, British theologian N.T. Wright wrote a book about being a Christian called Virtue Reborn. When he sent the manuscript to his American publisher, they promptly told him that the title would never work in America because no one would ever pick up a book with a stuffy word like virtue on the cover.

Therein lies our problem, writes American English professor Karen Swallow Prior. Certain types of Christians are very concerned about moral issues and some even put a strong emphasis on character, but the healing balm we most need comes in the ancient idea of virtue – things like justice, magnanimity, courage, temperance, friendship, and honorableness.

What makes these virtues so important? You can read the article, but Prior notes that each virtue lies in the middle of two extremes, called vices. Between the vices of stinginess and wastefulness lies the virtue of generosity. Between self-deprecation and boasting lies humility. "In today’s increasingly polarized climate," Prior writes, "finding a mean between two extremes is an aspect of virtue that is especially pertinent."

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