Summary of chapter 5: The moral fabric of medieval faith


This chapter will begin by opening up Lewis’s use of medieval understandings of natural law over against modern utilitarianism and relativism (referencing his Abolition of Man, his Cambridge inaugural address “De Descriptione Temporum,” and Mere Christianity). Segueing to Aquinas’s Aristotelian virtue ethics, the chapter will then peer into the development of the famous medieval lists of seven cardinal virtues and seven deadly sins. It will then focus on the moral seriousness and concern for personal holiness reflected in the development of the sacrament of penance and the doctrine of purgatory. Finally, it will exegete “seven corporal acts of mercy” and “seven spiritual works of comfort,” and look at medieval attitudes and actions related to the poor.

Today, philosophers and practitioners continue to wrestle with the medieval legacy in ethics. We hear Alisdair McIntyre, in After Virtue, diagnose our own age as a new barbarism and call for “a new Benedict”; then we see theologian-ethicist Jonathan Wilson pick up that call and elaborate it into a “new monasticism,” picked up by his son-in-law Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and others across America. We also find in the theology of Stanley Hauerwas and others a re-engagement with virtue ethics on many fronts. The medieval commitment to “faith formed by love,” while heir to works-righteousness, has its own biblical integrity that we should not quickly discard.

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