The fellowship of life: Virtue ethics and Orthodox Christianity

Joseph Arthur Woodill, Fordham University


This dissertation examines Orthodox Christianity in light of the recent recovery and renewal of the place of virtue in ethics. Its argument is that virtue is an appropriate category for an Orthodox Christian ethic and that Orthodox Christianity is profoundly illumined by being conceiving of as the pursuit of true virtue in Christ. An overview of recent stances in virtue ethics--Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Secular--leads to the uncovering of certain common and key elements that structure these positions. Those elements are telos, practice, virtue, community, narrative, and mentoring. All of these elements are found to be initially attractive to Orthodox Christianity. The initially attractive elements found in contemporary virtue ethics are shown to be fundamental to Eastern Patristic thought, especially as employed by Athanasius, the Cappadocians, and John Chrysostom. The Ladder of Divine Ascent by John Climacus is examined to present a complete and exhaustive Orthodox Christian virtue ethic for celibates that presents the primacy of practice leading to and led by love. Contemporary Orthodox Christian ethicists are examined to further support the uncovering of a virtue ethic. Orthodox Christian doctrine, dogma, prayer, spirituality, worship, and understandings of Scripture are shown not only to support but require an appreciation of virtue. The dissertation draws on all of these elements to present an Orthodox Christian virtue ethic for marriage that is both faithful to and continuous with tradition, while being responsibly imaginative in employing those sources. Marriage is revealed as the practice of the common pursuit of virtue. When the nuptial and celibate ways of virtue are compared and contrasted, a profound congruity is found to obtain between them, especially in the consideration of the virtues of chastity, humility, obedience, and love. Finally this study claims that while any Orthodox Christian Virtue Ethic would need be distinctive to Orthodox Christianity, its concerns are intelligible to and--to a degree--commensurable with other understandings of virtue. This thesis suggests that the renewal of the place of virtue in ethics may yet serve to further ecumenical dialogue.

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Recommended Citation

Woodill, Joseph Arthur, "The fellowship of life: Virtue ethics and Orthodox Christianity" (1996). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9628355.