The Christian Case for Virtue Ethics

By Kraus, C. Norman | Mennonite Quarterly Review, January 1998 | Go to article overview

The Christian Case for Virtue Ethics


Kraus, C. Norman, Mennonite Quarterly Review


The Christian Case for Virtue Ethics. By Joseph J. Kotva Jr. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press. 1996. Pp. 184. $22.95.

Although Mennonite theology abounds with treatises on ethical issues, so far as I am aware this is the first published thesis dealing with theoretical ethics.

Under the mentorship of James Keenan, the author dialogues with the Roman Catholic (Aquinas) tradition, which leans heavily on Aristotle. The author owns this nexus, although he does not spend much time discussing the ethics of either Aquinas or Aristotle. Kotva's thesis is that the eudaimonian, or teleological, approach to ethical definitions ("virtue ethics") provides the most adequate framework for defining and developing Christian ethics. Of course, in place of Aristotle's rationalism Kotva argues that one must make the biblical concept of the "image of God" the telos; and that authentic human "happiness," or well being, is the achievement of that telos. The relation of Aristotle is more formal than material.

The concept of a "virtue ethic," as the author himself recognizes, needs explanation. He is using the term in the Aquinian sense to mean "a settled disposition of doing good," or "habit" (character), and he is following the lead of contemporary writers like Alasdair Maclntyre and Stanley Hauerwas.

A virtue ethic is a teleological, not a deontological approach. It defines right ethical behavior as behavior directed toward the realization of "human excellence" as defined in the biblical concept of the image of God. This contrasts with the predominant Mennonite deontological approach, which has emphasized the authoritative rules handed down by God. …

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