Current Affairs / Religion

I’m starting to believe that the Church needs to do a better job on teaching the reasons temperance is the foundational virtue.

Almost everything in popular culture and in the modern media is sending the opposite message. Which isn’t surprising given that the economic model of the online world and much of the media is driven by the support of advertisers. And the more the consumers of your information impulsively support your advertisers, the more financial reward for the content producers. I’m guessing this is happening in an unconscious way on the part of most of the producers – but in the case of high budget, big production value creations, such a connection can’t be left to chance.

Temperance, which is at it’s simplest the ability of a mature Christian soul to control his or her urges is exactly the opposite of the instant gratification of the online world. I suppose that’s part of the reason that you won’t find much online about the concept. Most people think of the term itself as denoting an aversion to the drinking of alcohol – which is one of the implications of learning to live temperately, but does not nearly reflect the fullness of the concept.

I’m supposed to be writing an essay for our Commission on Ministry on this topic, and it’s time for me to get started. (I’ve been pushing it back because of other commitments, but I really need to have it done for the fall.)

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. The Church doesn’t really seem to teach ANYTHING about any of the virtues, on any side. Mostly it seems to deal in platitudes about just about everything – on every side – and of course, at the moment, everybody’s more into politics than anything else. I really think that people don’t even realize that’s what’s going on, actually; I don’t think there’s any vocabulary or framework these days for even understanding what “virtues” are.
    When Derek first mentioned the “Christian virutes” in a discussion online, I literally had no idea what he meant, so I include myself in that. And actually, I didn’t know what the “four cardinal virtues” were, either, and I suspect I’ve very much not alone in this; this kind of stuff just isn’t taught anywhere today at all.
    It’s because everything’s now, now, now. The past is one long blight with nothing whatsoever to offer today. (This goes for the so-called “orthodox,” too, I think – at least, it does for most of those I’ve come across online, who seem to know very little about any of this either. At the Scotist’s right now, there’s a person called “Sid” who’s arguing that it’s easy to see that TEC is heretical; he tells us we can just Google “Muslim Episcopalian” or “Bill Melnyk”! IOW, he’s telling us to sit in front of our computers and make internet searches about TEC – rather than to look at the evidence of our own eyes when we attend services! It’s really very bizarre out there. But it’s all completely modern and cultural – the so-called “orthodox” position included.)

  2. (BTW, I’ve never heard a sermon on “Faith, Hope, and Love,” either! Granted, I’ve only been in the church for about 7 years, but one would think there might be something mentioned at some point about the Christian virtues.
    “Love,” I supposed, does get an airing sometimes – but mostly as a platitude. There’s very little exposition of any of this, which could easily take up half a liturgical year.
    And as far as I can tell, none of this gets discussed on the so-called “orthodox” side at all – well, at least, not so’s you could notice. It sure doesn’t seem to affect anybody’s behavior – although there are exceptions to this, on both sides, of course.)

  3. You’re absolutely correct bls. We in the clergy have done a pathetic job of teaching the precepts of the moral life. I suppose part of that comes because of the emphasis of modern evangelicalism on the act of assent as being the means of salvation. (I believe in Jesus – therefore I’m saved) As a result on trying to get folks to that point, we have forgotten that there’s responsibility to teach what we’re all supposed to do after that. (Which is not to say that the Episcopal Church believes that salvation comes solely because of our assent to an idea. Some believe that. I’m not sure that I could boil my own understanding down to that simple an assertion.)
    Okay – I’ll get to work on my brief paper. Sounds like I’m going to need to make sure it’s very accessible since most folks don’t have a fully developed context of thinking to bring to the question when they read such a paper.
    If I can get it done quickly, I’ll post it here for people to critique… which would be really helpful frankly.
    (And I’ll make a note to put a sermon on “Faith, Hope and Love” into the mix for the future. That’s a really good and very depressing observation you make.)

  4. Don’t be so hard on yourself, Fr. Nick. This stuff used to be taught – the cardinal virtues, at least – in schools, didn’t it? It’s Philosophy – a topic nobody knows much about any more, I think, or has, they think, much use for, because Science is King now. You see this everywhere, not just in the churches.
    Our educational system is in general pathetic, and the churches really can’t be expected to take up the slack on that sort thing. They should, on the Christian Virtues, though – and of course, the Cardinals could come up then.
    It’s hard enough, I’m sure, to speak to the Readings of the Day – and actually, many clergy do an excellent job there. But the Christian virtues ought to be the center of our lives, I’d think.
    I’ll be really happy to read what you write.

  5. Christopher says

    We don’t seem to have the tools to discuss what a moral life even looks like, which is sad, for as David Yeago, a Lutheran theologian notes of our tradition, we are a tradition that looks more practical than theoretical, monastic than scholastic. Within a practical and monastic Christianity, virtues as the tools to discuss what a moral life looks like are sine qua non.
    When I read Hooker and the Caroline Divines, who might be best regarded as Reformed Patristic, this emphasis on the fruits/virtues is obvious. But we seem focused not on what makes a moral life, meaning a life lived in response to the gracious self-gift of Jesus Christ, but rather on laws for laws sake or on no laws at all. Laws at heart outline observation over time (tradition) about what has been observed to best support a life lived virtuously in community, i.e., in response to Jesus Christ. The radicality of asserting prominance of marriage at the Reformation was a real break with tradition, and yet, was founded deeply in putting forward longtime observation. Hooker et al are very clear that in light of new evidence, laws stretch. The result of our current state is that we increasingly appear more legalistic, yet incapable of interpretting and applying laws to new circumstances. Our Jewish kin are doing a better job than we, and yet, we claim to be other than a people of law as such. Or we appear antinoministic, which simply such lawlessness cannot bear the weight of a community composed of sinners. In other words, our mediated approach, neither legalistic, nor lawless, but careful to work with our finitude, is missing.
    On the other hand, I don’t think we’ve done a very good job of teasing out God’s salvation offered in Jesus Christ from our response of a life lived with an eye to virtues and care of neighbor. In other words, too many are speaking and writing of the Gospel (who is none other than Jesus Christ) and our salvation as if these are one and the same with _______ (pick your program). Our response to the Gospel, our receiving of salvation, which some of our best, including Hooker would describe as being received into participation in the life of the Trinity, if too tightly bound to a particular program or action or inaction or change or even sin (which each grouping is defining differently) tends to suggest that our salvation is predicated on our works. Again, working within a Reformed Patristic framework, such notions will not do. At least sin makes obvious the need for grace, or more accurately, grace shows what is sin. But purity of works righteousness obscures our need.
    The result is a tendency toward a lack of toleration of our peculiarities, picadillos, foibles, and even sins (for we are never really without sins, so how we approach one another minds careful consideration for the possibilities of our own seeing dimly); a move for a pure church rather than a pilgrim church composed of persons all of whom are a mixed bag, even the most holy among us; and a failure at generosity with real flesh-and-blood persons in favor of abstractions in terms of speaking of “issues” and the like, and a closing off of space to simply praise God together.
    But a common prayer community and christology cannot withstand for long this lack, this purity, this failure, this closing off. The way our conversations are presently worded and framed is antithetical to this radical heart upon which we are built, and I fear that in our self-focus, we are turning people off and turning people away, myself included because our agendas are placed as barriers to meeting the Living God. And that, I have to say, will be our undoing.

  6. Amen to all the above! I look forward to the fruits of your efforts…
    Liberal protestantism–especially where it has learned from Luther and Barth–seems to have little idea of what to do with ascetical theology or the moral vocabulary of virtues and vices. I’m all for more on these topics.
    While I use to think lust or envy were our society’s greatest sins, I’ve come to see Madison Avenue’s appropriation of these as tools in service of gluttony. It’s all about consumption and the suggestion that somehow consumption can satiate the hunger that gnaws at us… Temperance is the act of saying no, acknowledging that we cannot consume our way to happiness. Simplicity and sustainability, I’d argue, are two of its chief fruits especially in this age…

Comments are closed.