Losing Sight of the Human Person

Speaking of the classical (“pagan”) idea of Virtue, Josef Pieper writes:

It is true that the classic origins of the doctrine of virtue later made Christian critics suspicious of it. They warily regarded it as too philosophical and not Scriptural enough. Thus, they preferred to talk about commandments and duties rather than about virtues. To define the obligations of man is certainly a legitimate, even estimable, and no doubt necessary undertaking. With a doctrine of commandments or duties, however, there is always the danger of arbitrarily drawing up a list of requirements and losing sight of the human person who “ought” to do this or that. The doctrine of virtue, on the other hand, has things to say about this human person; it speaks both of the kind of being which is his when he enters the world, as a consequence of his createdness, and the kind of being he ought to strive toward and attain to – by being prudent, just, brave, and temperate. The doctrine of virtue, that is, is one form of the doctrine of obligation; but one by nature free of regimentation and restriction. On the contrary, its aim is to clear a trail, to open a way. [The Four Cardinal Virtues (University of Notre Dame Press, 1966), pp. xi-xii]

This is an intriguing quote. One more piece of an argument that the excessive form of “antithesis think” so popular in Reformed circles today is essentially a war against the createdness of man, a collapsing of “is” into “ought,” a confusion of what man is to become in regeneration with what he just is when he comes into the world. The pessimism and stoicism of this variety of Reformed “antithesis-think” seems to be a drastic devaluation of general revelation, a drastic denial of the goodness of creation even as marred by sin, a drastic reduction of human life to “systems of thought” which have to be ruthlessly pressed toward “consistency,” and a purely negative understanding of duties. Wanting to utterly magnify the Divine, this sort of thinking inevitably leads to utterly losing sight of the human.

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One Response to Losing Sight of the Human Person

  1. Kevin D. says:

    Very true. And it extends to salvation itself. I’ve been told that salvation “has nothing to do with you; it’s about God and for the glory of God.” Of course, I respond that our salvation is certainly to our benefit, only to be told quite confidently that “it’s not about you.” This sort of mindset is truly exasperating.

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