Beyond Virtue Ethics

A Contemporary Ethic of Ancient Spiritual Struggle

Stephen M. Meawad

"Meawad’s book not only brings Orthodox resources to bear on the development of the virtues, but also helps us see how the virtues provide an account of the spiritual life. An important book for the growing literature on the virtues."
Stanley Hauerwas, retired professor, Duke University Divinity School
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A contemporary model of spiritual struggle shifts the emphasis from virtue’s acquisition to its pursuit

Beyond Virtue Ethics offers a distinctive approach to virtue ethics, arguing not simply for the importance of “struggle” to virtue ethics, but that “struggle” itself is a manifestation of virtue. In doing this, Stephen M. Meawad offers a way of thinking about virtue not simply as a perfected state, but as a state that is to a greater or lesser degree a manifestation of the ideal itself, which is not attainable.

Meawad affirms the concept of the unity of virtues—that is, the idea that a virtue is not a virtue unless united with other perfected virtues—which is found in God. Insofar as humans grow in unity with God, they too participate in the unity of virtues, although always to an imperfect extent. Meawad rejects a division between ethics and spirituality and provides two concrete examples of this suggested model. The first is the application of this model to the body and its implications for contemporary sexual ethics. The second is a reintegration of ethics and Scripture through the contemporary application of an ancient Patristic divine reading.

This book establishes for readers a contemporary model of spiritual struggle, defining it as the exertion of effort in all conceivable dimensions—physical, emotional, psychological, and intellectual—with the intent to attain a semblance of, knowledge of, and intimacy with Jesus Christ.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Ethics, Anthropology, and Patristics
From Ancient to Modern: Creating Space for the Church Fathers
Chapter Overview
1. Which Virtue Ethics? Which Problems?
An Orthodox Christian Ethic Politeia?
Aristotle, Aquinas, and Virtue Ethical Problems
The Virtuous Agent and the Unity of the Virtues
Perfectionism and (Un)attainability
Moral Luck and Moral Effort
Self-Centeredness and Self-Effacement
Grace and Works
Grace and Virtue
Works and Antinomianism
A Contemporary Consensus Between Grace and Works

2. A Case for Spiritual Struggle
Why “Spiritual Struggle”?
Struggle Against Base Desires: the Self as Co-operator with God’s Grace
Struggle as Communal Confrontation of External Oppression
Struggle as Purgative, Virtuous Struggle with God

3. Onward and Upward: The Perpetual Godwardness of Spiritual Struggle
Gregory’s Theological Integration
Epektasis: Immutable and Infinite Perpetuity of Godward Progress
Anagogy: Godward Progress as Ascent in Goodness, Virtue, and Perfection
The Stages of Godward Spiritual Struggle

4. Asceticism as Godward Spiritual Struggle Applied to the Body
First Stage: Controlling Impulses Gone Awry
Second Stage: Angelification and Restoration
Third Stage: Liturgical Transformation and Divine Indwelling
Liturgy as Interiorizer
Particular Instantiations of Interiorization

5. Sacred Reading as Godward Spiritual Struggle Applied to Scripture
First Stage: Vulnerability, Christ, and Community
Communal Exegesis
Second Stage: Embodiment, Prayer, and Virtue
Prayerful Embodiment of Scripture
Virtuous Reading
Third Stage: Full Immersion and a New Creation

6. Conclusion: Embodied Ethics and Inevitable Tensions


"The return of virtue ethics is now six decades in the making, and yet, in all that time, very little has engaged the rich tradition of thinking on virtue in Orthodox Christianity. This book fills that gap. With a grounding in deification and with an emphasis on virtue as struggle rather than achievement, it offers a paradigm shift for understanding the meaning of virtue in the ethical and spiritual life."—Aristotle Papanikolaou, professor of theology, Archbishop Demetrios Chair in Orthodox Theology and Culture, co-founding director, Orthodox Christian Studies Center

"Meawad’s book not only brings Orthodox resources to bear on the development of the virtues, but also helps us see how the virtues provide an account of the spiritual life. An important book for the growing literature on the virtues."—Stanley Hauerwas, professor emeritus, Duke University Divinity School

"In Beyond Virtue Ethics, Stephen Meawad disruptively inserts Orthodox virtue ethics into the broader discourse of theological ethics and prompts us to recognize what he calls our spiritual struggle and the perpetual pursuit of God. A refreshing proposal that ought to awaken in any reader the longings we so want (and need) to pursue."—James F. Keenan, SJ, Canisius Professor of Theology, Boston College


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Stephen Meawad is an assistant professor of theology in the Department of Theology and Philosophy at Caldwell University.

280 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-64712-311-6
May 2023

280 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-64712-312-3
May 2023

280 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-64712-313-0
May 2023

Moral Traditions series
David Cloutier, Darlene Weaver, and Andrea Vicini, SJ

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