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Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses

Book Review: The Cardinal Virtues: A Study in Moral Thought from the Fourth to the Fourteenth Century

Atif Khalil Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 2014 43: 183 DOI: 10.1177/0008429813517459a

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<a href=Studies in Religion/Sciences R e li g i euse s http://sir.sagepub.com/ Book Review: The Cardinal Virtues: A Study in Moral Thought from the Fourth to the Fourteenth Century Atif Khalil Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 2014 43: 183 DOI: 10.1177/0008429813517459a The online version of this article can be found at: http://sir.sag epub.com/content/43/1/183 Published by: http://w ww . sagepublications . com On behalf of: The Can adian Corporation for Studies in Religion Additional services and information for Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses can be found at: Email Alerts: http://sir.sagepub.com/cgi/alerts Subscriptions: http://sir.sagepub.com/subscriptions Reprints : http://www . sagepub . co m/journalsReprints.nav Permissions: http://ww w . sagepub . com/jo urnalsPermissions.nav >> Version of Record - Feb 27, 2014 What is This? Downloaded from sir.sagepub.com at UNIV OF LETHBRIDGE onon April 7, 2014 Downloaded from sir.sagepub.com at UNIV OF LETHBRIDGE April 7, 2014 " id="pdf-obj-0-30" src="pdf-obj-0-30.jpg">
<a href=Studies in Religion/Sciences R e li g i euse s http://sir.sagepub.com/ Book Review: The Cardinal Virtues: A Study in Moral Thought from the Fourth to the Fourteenth Century Atif Khalil Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 2014 43: 183 DOI: 10.1177/0008429813517459a The online version of this article can be found at: http://sir.sag epub.com/content/43/1/183 Published by: http://w ww . sagepublications . com On behalf of: The Can adian Corporation for Studies in Religion Additional services and information for Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses can be found at: Email Alerts: http://sir.sagepub.com/cgi/alerts Subscriptions: http://sir.sagepub.com/subscriptions Reprints : http://www . sagepub . co m/journalsReprints.nav Permissions: http://ww w . sagepub . com/jo urnalsPermissions.nav >> Version of Record - Feb 27, 2014 What is This? Downloaded from sir.sagepub.com at UNIV OF LETHBRIDGE onon April 7, 2014 Downloaded from sir.sagepub.com at UNIV OF LETHBRIDGE April 7, 2014 " id="pdf-obj-0-41" src="pdf-obj-0-41.jpg">

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Book Reviews / Comptes rendus

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The Cardinal Virtues: A Study in Moral Thought from the Fourth to the Fourteenth Century

Istva´ n P. Bejczy Leiden: Brill, 2011. 361 þ vii pp.

The moral consciousness of the Western intellectual tradition has for much of its hist- ory been defined by the cardinal virtues of fortitude, prudence, temperance, and justice. The scheme, which made its first appearanc e in Plato’s Republic, was later diffused into the ethical philosophie s of late antiquity, notably Neoplatonism and Stoicism. With the emergence of Christianity, it w as soon assimilated into Eastern Greek thought, but it took almost four centuries b efore the Latin authors began to integrate it into their own ethical and theological disco urses. It is to this integration and the the- oretical development of the scheme among Latin writers over the course of ten centu- ries – from the patristic period to the end of the 14th century – that the present work is devoted. In this respect, Bejczy’s study stands as the first major analysis of the history of the cardinal virtues in the medieval West. The monograph is divided into four main chapters, the first three of which examine the intellectual history of the cardinal virtues in different periods of the millennium to which Bejczy devotes his broader analysis. The first chapter, which examines the assim- ilation of the scheme, demonstrates the process by which the virtues were not only ‘‘Christianized’’ but stripped of their classical origins. Ambrose in particular – to whom we owe the term virtutes cardinales – is shown to have played a leading role in this pro- cess. It was he who, among Latin writers, first identified the scheme with the four bib- lical rivers of Paradise which spring from wisdom and take one to eternal life, as well as with the four periods of human history (prudence ¼ from creation to flood; temperance ¼ era of the Patriarchs; fortitude ¼ era of Law; justice ¼ era of Christ). The tendency to exegetically tie the virtues to a variety of Scriptural quartets would be faithfully followed by many later writers. The early patristic authors, as Bejczy demonstrates, also took great pains to emphasize the biblical, as opposed to classical, origins of the cardinal virtues, a task at which they were so successful that after some time, few among the early medieval writers seem to have remembered the pre-Christian, non-biblical origins of the scheme. The argument, based on a kind of medieval historical revisionism, was complemented by the theological claim that the unbelieving pagans, despite their knowledge of the scheme, could not have been truly virtuous, since genuine virtue, as Augustine stressed, remained impossible outside of grace. It was only through a life in Christ, or so the argu- ment went, that one could truly participate in a life of goodness. The argument served to reinforce the claim that the cardinal virtues had their real origin in revelation. By the 12th century, the subject of chapter two, it was no longer possible, for a variety of reasons, to feign ignorance of the classical origins of the scheme. There were, as Bejczy demonstrates, three general responses to the dilemma of having to reconcile its ‘‘pagan’’ origins with its widespread assimilation into medieval Christian thought. The first of these responses, championed by the likes of Peter Abelard, stressed the common ground which united Christian and classical ethics. At its heart lay what appeared to be a

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genuine appreciation of the knowledge which the pagan philosophers had to offer. This conciliatory approach, however, was far from secular, since its proponents did not con- test the superiority of virtue infused by faith. There was also a more closed, fideistic approach, which stressed the exclusively Christian character of virtue, and which retraced much of its approach to certain aspects of earlier patristic thinking, indebted to the likes of Ambrose, Jerome and Augustine. This tendency, exemplified by such think- ers as Bernard of Clairvaux, downplayed or minimized the scheme’s classical origins as well as refusing to admit the virtuous dispositions of non-Christians. Finally, there was a middle-ground forged by the Parisian masters, who argued that there were in fact two kinds of virtues, those which were gratuitous, that is to say, the consequence of grace, and therefore conducive to salvation, and non-gratuitous ones, which any morally upright human being could develop through study and effort. This latter category had, however, no real bearing on one’s fate in the afterlife, since only a life in Christ was conducive to salvation. The gratuitous virtues were therefore heavenly as opposed to earthly. Along similar lines, the Parisian authors also distinguished between Catholic and political virtues with the demarcation resting on whether or not the virtue had God as its final end. The debates which marked the 12th century continued into the 13th and 14th centu- ries, but took a new turn as a consequence of the recovery of Aristotle’s Ethics, translated into Latin in 1250, as well as the overall growing influence of the Stagirite philosopher, at least in the domain of moral theology and ethical philosophy. It is to these issues that Bejczy devotes the third chapter. While the question of the relation between virtues acquired in and outside faith continued to remain central, many writers felt compelled to explain the pivotal place of the cardinal virtues within Christian thought in view of the absence of such a place in Aristotle’s ethical system. The 13th and 14th century authors responded to this challenge, according to Bejczy, by giving the four-fold scheme even greater importance than was accorded it by tradition. Aquinas, for example, explained the significance of the scheme by arguing, among other things, that the cardi- nal virtues are central to moral activity since prudence perfects reason, and therefore one’s knowledge of virtue; justice takes one in the direction of doing that which is good; while fortitude and temperance restrain the passions. In other words, moral activity is not possible without the cardinal virtues. In a similar vein, Philip the Chancellor argued that the cardinal virtues involve mental dispositions which, taken together, are present in every act of virtue. Along similar lines, the medieval authors also related the cardinal virtues to the various faculties of the soul. Building on the ideas of his predecessors, Aquinas interlinked prudence to reason, fortitude and temperance to the irascible and concupiscent appetites, and justice to the will. Through these and other such measures, 13th and 14th century thinkers sought to more concretely secure a place for the cardinal virtues within medieval thought. The final chapter is more thematically centered, and explores the role of virtue within a religious anthropology sensitive to the human being’s fallen nature. More specifically, it examines the role of virtue in combating vice and sin. One of the most interesting fea- tures of this chapter, particularly for the present reviewer, revolves around the question of the extent to which women could be characterized as virtuous in medieval thought. Bejczy argues that those who were more heavily influenced by Aristotle on this issue tended to relegate women to an inferior moral status. Those less bound to Aristotelianism

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felt that since grace encompassed all believers, both genders were equally capable of exercising virtue. In Bejczy’s own words, ‘‘[a]lthough it is sometimes believed that medieval Christendom and Aristotelianism reinforced each other in portraying women as morally inferior, Christendom actually introduced the idea of the moral equality of the sexes in the West, as a result of its understanding of virtue as a gift extending to male as well as female believers’’ (p. 270). While Bejczy’s overall analysis rests on a close survey of a broad range of sources, the very strength of this approach also turns out to be its weakness. Due to the sheer amount of material the author sets out to cover in one succinct volume, he was forced by the very nature of his project to often simply catalogue a variety of conflicting views without extensive analyses. One often wishes that he would explain a particular point of contention in greater depth. For example, he states in more than one instance that such- and-such a thinker believed that the cardinal virtues exist in God. How exactly they exist in divinis, however, is never adequately explained. Or to give another example, in the opening chapter Bejczy demonstrates with great erudition the exegetical strategies that the early patristic authors employed to integrate the cardinal virtues into Christian moral theology. As to why they felt compelled to do this, however, the reader is left more or less in the dark – the inevitable consequence, as already noted, of an attempt to channel ten centuries of intellectual history into one volume. These shortcomings aside, the present work stands as an impressive contribution to our knowledge of medi- eval Western thought and the broader history of ideas, and will prove useful to mediev- alists, intellectual historians, philosophers, scholars of religion, and theologians alike.

Atif Khalil

Dept. of Religious Studies, University of Lethbridge

Understanding Religion and Science: Introducing the Debate

Michael Horace Barnes New York: Continuum Books, 2010. 308 pp.

While there is no shortage of introductory books on the topic of religion and science, Michael Horace Barnes does attempt to distinguish his contribution from the others. His book has a generally slick presentation that makes it easy to use in the context of an intro- ductory undergraduate classroom. Barnes approaches religion and science from a theo- logical–philosophical perspective that sets his introduction apart from many of the more historically based books already on the market. Addressing topics such as the problem of evil, the possibility of miracles, the nature of the human soul, the existence and nature of God, the relationship between faith and reason, the cosmic and biological origins of human beings, the nature of the human mind/brain and the methods of both religion and science, his book might have been more appropriately sold as an introduction to the philosophy of religion with a strong emphasis on Christianity. Barnes embraces a prescriptive mandate that he interweaves throughout his entire narrative. While seeking to ‘‘sit in the stands’’ (5) and offer a descriptive account of the conflict, he refuses to maintain any pretense to neutrality. Barnes styles himself as a

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