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Christian Union: The Magazine
June 16, 2021

Noted Author Speaks at CU Martus Lecture Series

By Anne Kerhoulas, Staff Writer


Most college students are not concerned about virtue. According to author Karen Swallow Prior, virtue has primarily been whittled down to an old-fashioned word for sexual purity. But the concept of virtue is a robust one, extending far beyond what most modern Americans attach to the word, she said. Prior shared those sentiments when she spoke earlier this year at CU Martus’ leadership lecture series, Philia.

KSPKaren Swallow PriorVirtue was explored first and most widely by Aristotle, who argued that it is functionally a synonym for excellence. Aristotle grasped something of the Imago Dei when he argued that everything that exists or was created has a purpose and we can measure the excellence of something by how well it fulfills its purpose.

Just as a hammer is measured to be excellent if it fulfills its purpose of placing and removing nails from a wall, humans are created with purpose and virtue offers a kind of measure that instructs us in the way of pursuing excellence. When she addressed students with CU Martus, Prior examined how this principle can be applied to Christian living since the believer’s purpose is to love God and enjoy Him forever, bringing Him glory as we do so. To live a virtuous, Christian life, therefore, means that the Christ-follower strives to be virtuous, or excellent, in the ways we love God and neighbor. 

Prior dove into the value of understanding virtue and how pursuing it leads us into a godly lifestyle. The four main virtues are courage, temperance, prudence, and justice, each of which we must strive to achieve the “golden mean,” a perfect proportionality in which we have neither too much nor too little of that virtue. Aristotle explored the qualities and characteristics of human nature and found that virtue lies in not having too much or too little of something. Too much of any virtue becomes excess and too little becomes deficient. Prior used courage as an example. No one argues that courage is a good thing, but too much courage becomes recklessness and too little courage bends into cowardice. 

Having set the stage for what virtue is, Prior delved into how the virtue of justice is difficult to navigate well due to the fact that we can easily find ourselves doing unjust things in the name of justice, making us unvirtuous. Using the example of the The Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, Prior argued that in the rebel’s response to tyrannical aristocracy during the French Revolution, they perpetrated many of the same evil actions that had been done to them. In their pursuit of justice, they acted without virtue in the same unjust ways that they had been treated. In the age of social justice, we must be incredibly thoughtful and prayerful about how to pursue justice that does not inflict injustice along the way. 

Listen to the full audio here.