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A Theology of Honor

David K. Leedy Honor is foundational to The Kings College experience. Every student signs the Honor Code. Honor is featured in our promotional materials and on our website. The Honor System is highlighted on tours and during new student orientation. Houses and the Honor Council are commissioned with perpetuating a culture of honor on campus. The College purposes to graduate students who are marked by an enduring commitment to honor. But what is honor? And how do we think about it theologically? This paper aims to foster deeper Biblical reflection on this vital concept. There are various notions of honor. From America to Asia to the Middle East, we see different conceptions of honor at work. Consider, for instance, the idea of honor killings, which are practiced in parts of the Muslim world. The thought of stoning a woman for an impropriety such as talking to a man on the phone seems anything but honorable to those of us with Western sensibilities. In traditional Eastern cultures, honor is about doing nothing to publicly shame ones family or community.1 An historical example closer to home is honor duels, which featured prominently among the social elite in the early history of the U.S. For the crime of maligning anothers good name, you might find a pistol pointing down your nose. In contemporary American society, and in the great books that have shaped Western civilization, honor can mean fame, a good name, public recognition, esteem, or character, among other things.2 Many of these conceptions of honor run counter to Scripture. Because of this, one may be tempted to conclude that honor is an unbiblical concept and thereby throw the baby out with the bath water. But both the ideaand the languageof honor are firmly rooted in Scripture. Honor, rightly understood, is core to the Christian life. A life of discipleship is a life dedicated to pursuing honor. It is therefore imperative that we cultivate a Biblical understanding of honor. Honor is more than a nice concept for The Kings College; it is central to what it means to be made in the image of God and to be a follower Christ. To that end, this essay outlines basic theology of honor.

See James Bowmans seminal work Honor: a History for a thorough treatment of the way honor features in non-Western societies. 2 Mortimer Adler has undertaken the momentous task of tracing the great ideas though the Great Books. This work, known as The Syntopicon, comprises the first few volumes of The Encyclopedia Britannica. Adler includes honor among the great ideas that have shaped the West. For an historical survey of how honor is used in the Great Books, refer to Chapter 35. Adler, Mortimer J., and William Gorman, eds. ""Honor." The Great Ideas: A Syntopicon of Great Books of the Western World . Chicago, 1952.
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The Language of Honor Honor is not a common part of the vocabulary of contemporary Christians. We are unaccustomed to speaking in terms of honor. We are more comfortable using words like discipleship, obedience, submission, spiritual formation andin some circlesvirtue. Why is honor missing from our vocabulary? The answer to that question is multifaceted. For one, we are now in what James Bowman describes as a post-honor culture. What was once the common mental furniture for 2000 years of Western civilization has been systematically dismantled in American society. Popular culture and media, Bowman argues, have taught us to see right and wrong from an individualistic and relativistic point of view. Consequently, loyalty, courage, self-sacrificethe very things once hailed as honorable in our culturehave all been downgraded as virtues. These have been replaced with the preeminent virtues of toleration, nonviolence, and inclusiveness. Honor has no solid footing in such a culture. As a result, the idea of honor has broadly, though not entirely, disappeared from contemporary American society. It still shows up in moviesand at military academies like West Point, where the traditional concept of honor still has a mooring.3 This cultural shift was exacerbated by the tendencies among evangelicals to disengage from society. Historically, modern American evangelicalism was preceded by early 20th Century fundamentalism. The hallmark of fundamentalism is separation from society for the sake of spiritual purity. Contemporary evangelicalism has, on the whole, opted for a less wholesale rejection of culture. Even so, many strands of evangelicalism still embrace a position that can be described by what R. Richard Niebuhr terms Christ against Culture.4 The move to retreat from society in the 20th Century led to the development of a language and vocabulary distinct from the surrounding culture. Up until the 1950s and 1960s, honor was still part of the mental framework of society. Yet, by then, most Christians had developed a separate vocabulary, leaving talk of honor aside. It should be no surprise that few Christian colleges started before 1960 have an honor system or honor code, per se. Christians grew accustomed to speaking in terms other than what the larger culture utilized prior to 1960. As a result, few Christiansoutside of settings like The Kings Collegehave a vocabulary that includes honor, much less a robust understanding of the concept that inspires them toward a life of virtue. Biblical Foundations The words honor and honorable are used 147 times in the English Standard Version of the Bible. Other related English wordsnoble, virtue, worthy, sanctified, to name a feware used hundreds of more times in English translations. Various Hebrew and Greek words underlie their English counterparts.

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James Bowman. "Decline of the Honor Culture." Policy Review 156 (2009): 27. R. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture. New York: Harper and Row, 1951. Modified January 17, 2012 Page | 2

A Theology of Honor

In short, honor is noble character. It is highly esteemed in the Bible. The writers of Scripture regularly use the language of moral excellence as they urge believers to inculcate godly character qualities. Let us consider a few instructive passages. In the book of 1 Chronicles, Jabez is celebrated as being more honorable than his brothers (1 Chron. 4:19). The writer of Chronicles pauses in the middle of a genealogy to extol the character of this man. The Hebrew word translated as honorable is kabod, which conveys the idea of weightiness or heaviness. The word is used most often in the Old Testament in reference to Gods glory. The author of Chronicles is declaring that Jabez character was weightier, more substantial, than his kinfolk. There was more substance to him; his character was more solid and noble than those around him. What was it about Jabez that stood out so markedly? Was it that he opted not to bunk up with the neighborhood prostitutes when that was the norm among men of his day? Was it that he was painstakingly honest and fair in his business dealings? Was it that he treated friends and foes alike with dignity and respect? Perhaps all of the above. The author does not give details. The picture is more vivid in the Book of Ruth. Boaz is portrayed as the embodiment of honor. He is a man who outshines most of his generation for his moral fiber. Boaz is introduced with these words: Now Naomi had a kinsman of her husband, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz (Ruth 2:1 ESV). What does it mean that Boaz is a worthy man? The Hebrew phraseish gibor hayilis curious. A literal translation would be a man mighty in strength. The phrase has been alternatively translated: man of great wealth (NASB), wealthy and influential man (NLT), prominent rich man (NRSV), man of standing (NIV), and man of substance (JPS). These translations vary widely in meaning. What is the book of Ruth saying about Boaz? That he is rich? That he is physically strong? That he holds a prominent position in the community? Or something else? Light is shed upon the question when we see how a related phrase is used in the book of Ruth. Consider what Naomi says to Ruth: Now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you whatever you ask, for all my people in the city know that you are a worthy woman (Ruth 3:11 ESV). The Hebrew phrase used hereisha hayilis similar to that used to describe Boaz. Isha is the feminine construction of ish (man). Hayil can be translated strength, wealth or army. A literal translation would be mighty woman or rich woman. Yet we know that Ruth was neither rich nor powerful. Quite the opposite was trueshe was poor and vulnerable. She, a recent immigrant from the despised nation of Moab, was a foreigner without position or power. So what is the book of Ruth saying about her? English versions are more consistent in how they translate this phrase. Ruth is a woman of excellence (NASB), a virtuous woman (KJV), an honorable woman (NLT), a woman of noble character (NIV). Heres the point: the author of the book of Ruth uses two related Hebrew phrases to drive at the same idea. Ish gibor hayil and isha hayil are figures of speech pointing to the strength of character seen in Boaz and Ruth. The ESV is accurate in translating both phrases worthy, as this accords best with the sense of the entire book. Ruth is a woman of impeccable character. This Moabite woman demonstrates unfathomable loyalty to her widowed and bereaved Jewish mother-in-law, to the point of sacrificing the familiarity of her country and culture to remain with Naomi. Where you go, I will go, declares Ruth, and where you die, I will die (Ruth 1:16-18).
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When in Israel, Ruth braves the harvest fields, risking sexual assault, to gather food for Naomi and herself (2:2, 22). She demonstrates the utmost kindness and respect in every conversation with Naomi, and the utmost dignity in her contact with Boaz. Her character is so outstanding that the entire population of Bethlehem gossips about it (3:11). Boaz is, of course, wealthy. The author of the book of Ruth makes this evident. But that is not what Naomi is saying about Boaz when she calls him ish gibor hayil. Naomi uses this phrase to declare that Boaz is a man of impeccable character, a man of moral substance, a truly noble man. Boaz is a business owner who treats his employees with dignity and kindness (2:4). He is respectful in how he conducts business relations with other members of the community (4:1ff). When Boaz learns that Ruth has come into his field to glean grain that the harvesters missed, he commands the young men not to touch her (2:9ff). He supplies water to quench her thirst. He speaks kindly and compassionately to her. He serves her lunch in the presence of his workers. After lunch, he tells the harvesters to leave bundles of grain in Ruths path for her to gather. Later he tells her not to go to any other field to gather grain, lest she be raped. His protective care, generosity and kindness toward Ruth are moving. Boazs noble character is also demonstrated in his resolute commitment to take action; Naomi can confidently assert that Boaz will not rest until he has settled the matter today (Ruth 3:18). He is no slacker, but a man with a keen sense of responsibility for using his position and influence to better the lives of others. Boaz is ish gibor hayil, a man marked by strength of character. Honor as moral strength accords nicely with Aristotelian thought. Aristotle posited that moral excellence is strength of character. Conversely, Aristotle describes vice as incontinence, or weakness. For example, he declares: Now the man who is defective in respect of resistance to the things which most men resist successfully is soft. 5 Men who are unable to resist the things they ought to resist are flaccid. The author of the book of Ruth, writing from a vastly different cultural perspective, would be in full agreement with Aristotle, as both depict honor as moral strength, and lack thereof as weakness. Boaz and Ruth manifest the sort of character acclaimed by the prophet Isaiah, who declared, the noble man devises noble plans; and by noble plans he stands (Is. 32:8). The Hebrew word used herenedibconveys an idea similar to that of kabod and ish gibor hayilthat of noble character and moral conviction.6 It is fallacious to equate honor with passive purity, an avoidance of bad behavior. This is a truncated view of honor. An individual may be pure, yet passive. Honor is more than piety. Such a view of honor does not produce warriorsthose ready to courageously stand, and perhaps even sacrifice themselves, for what is right. Honor propels one to stand up for whats right when others cower, to speak the truth when truth is unpopular, to fight to protect the vulnerable and weak. Assume I am walking down my neighborhood street in Queens and I see a young man physically assaulting an elderly woman as he grabs at the purse in her clenched fists. My first response might be to pray that God would protect her. That is pietyand not a bad initial response. Conversely, propelled by a sense of justice, I might put my personal safety on the line and intervene to stop the man from hurting this woman. That is honor.

Aristotle, Book 7. Nichomachean Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. For other passages that use nedib similarly, see Isaiah 32:5, Psalm 51:12, and Proverbs 17:26. Modified January 17, 2012 Page | 4

A Theology of Honor

In the movie version of Prince Caspian, Miraz, the usurper and head of the Telmarine army, is preparing to lead his hoard in an all-out assault on the Narnians, who are led by Caspian and Peter. One of Miraz commanders, observing Edmund and two other Narnians walking toward them across the battlefield carrying a white flag, turns to Miraz and suggests that perhaps the Narnians are coming to surrender. Miraz immediately dismisses the notion, stating, They are too noble for that. What is Miraz saying? That Peter and company are so dedicated to truth and justice that they are not about to cower before the power of the Telmarine army. They are willing to lay their lives down for their cause. Such is honor. It involves a readiness to pay a price in standing for what is just. Fast forward to the Greco-Roman world of the New Testament and we find similar Biblical emphases. In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul exhorts his readers to know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor (1 Thess. 4:4). Likewise, in his second letter to Timothy, Paul teaches, In a large house there are vessels some to honor and some to dishonor if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work (2 Tim. 2:20-21). In these passages, Paul makes use of the Greek word tim. While tim can have a variety of meanings depending upon the context, Paul uses tim in these verses to convey the idea of noble character. To manage ones vessel in honor is to use ones body for honorable purposes. The contexts of these passages suggest that Paul specifically has sexuality in mind. A vessel for honor is a person who has learned to control his sexual appetites and direct his body toward noble ends. Paul makes use of another word to convey the idea of honor. To the church at Philippi, Paul writes, Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable let your mind dwell on these things (Phil. 4:8). The Greek word here translated as honorable is arte. Arte relates to what is virtuous or morally esteemed.7 Paul calls believers to identify things that are noble, pure and praiseworthywhether righteous character, beauty, kindness, or courageand to ponder these things. We see a similar use of the word in the Apostle Peters writings, as he urges believers to strive for moral excellence: Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge and in your brotherly kindness, love (2 Peter 1:5-7). Same Greek word, similar emphasis. Arte is noble character or virtue, an uncompromising commitment to doing whats right out of love for God and othersa quality vivified in the earthly life of Christ. Peter urges his readers to strive toward such character with all diligence. Peter teaches us that honorable character is not passively attained; it calls for rigorous pursuit. Interestingly, Peter and Paul use a Greek word that figures prominently in the writings of Aristotle, writing some 400 years earlier. In Nicomachean Ethics, arte is tantamount to excellence. Aristotle uses the word in reference to both moral and intellectual life. For Aristotle, arte conveys the idea of peak human intellectual and moral achievement and, as such, is a crucial dimension of the good life.

See also 2 Corinthians 8:21: We have regard for what is honorable [arte], not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.
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It is no mistake that Peter and Paul use the same word, albeit differently. The apostles, like Aristotle, esteem excellence. However, the New Testament writers have two distinct emphases. First, arte in Pauline and Peterine thought is not generic excellence; it is specifically moral excellence. Arte has a decidedly moral tone; arte is equivalent to virtue or noble character. Secondly, Aristotle is essentially humanistic in his treatment of arte; he focuses on what humans are able to attain through sheer discipline, through human self-effort, motivated by a desire to live fully in accord with human nature. The New Testament writers, in contrast, have a distinctly Christo-centric perspective of arte. The goal for the believer is to mimic the qualities manifest in Christ, the motive of which is to honor God, not self. Honor and Virtue Is honor a virtue? Yes and no. Honor is really a compilation of virtues. The cardinal virtues prudence, justice, temperance, courageare all aspects of what it means to live an honorable life. Being an honorable person involves cultivating all of these in ones soul and in society. Without prudence, the ability to discern the right course of action, we are tossed to and fro by the pressures of life and the opinions of those around us. Without justice, we will not contend for the rights of others. Without temperance or self-control, we are easily lured by dishonorable longings. Without fortitude, we do not have the courage to stand up for what is right and endure difficulty. Hence, honor is not a distinct virtue; it is function of the four cardinal virtues. Thomas Aquinas, building upon the work of Aristotle, believed that the cardinal virtues are part of the natural order of the universe and are therefore binding on everyone, Christian or not. In other words, the cardinal virtuesand therefore honorare theoretically attainable by anyone regardless of faith, as these are part of the order of creation and human nature. The fall of mankind may have impaired our judgment and will, but it did not completely dissolve our capacity to cultivate within ourselves courage, self-control, justice and prudence. Civil society rests upon the belief that these qualities are accessible to some extent by humankind. Corruption and crime exist, but the fact that they do not completely dominate society is a testament to our common belief that people can inculcate the cardinal virtues, albeit imperfectly. It is therefore not unreasonable for institutions like The Kings College to call students, regardless of their faith orientation, to lives of honor. This call, simply put, is a summons to embrace the cardinal virtues as part and parcel of what it means to be fully human, to live in accordance with our God-given nature. For this reason, a secular institution like the United States Military Academy at West Point can legitimately use as its motto Duty, Honor, Country to inspire cadets toward honorable living and service. Honor and the Gospel If the cardinal virtues, and therefore honor, are theoretically apprehensible for everyone, what does the Gospel have to do with honor? For the believer, a life of honor is not attained by moral self-improvement apart from the Gospel. The Gospel is the starting point. This is where we must go beyond Aristotle. Aristotle, an astute student of human nature, observed, Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting a
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particular way. We become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions.8 For Aristotle, moral excellence is cultivated by habituation.9 He has much to say about how choice and human action lead to moral and intellectual virtue. But a distinctly Christian perspective of honor goes beyond moral selfimprovement. The grace of God changes everything. First, the Gospel keeps us from self-condemnation. The road to honor will be marked by successes and failures. There is no such thing as a perfectly honorable person. The higher the standards we have for ourselves, the more we are susceptible to heaping condemnation upon ourselves when we fall short. The solution is not to lower our moral aspirations; we should aim high, striving toward the qualities we see in Jesus Christ himself. But how do we deal with inevitable failure? The Gospel. The Gospel tells us that we are terribly warped, yet deeply loved. We are thoroughly flawed, yet unconditionally embraced. In the words of Martin Luther, we are simul iustus et peccatorsimultaneously righteous and sinful. We are marred by sin, yet declared righteous by God. Because we are declared just by our Creator and Judge, our value is no longer based on our performance. The Gospel grants us the identity of beloved children of God, with Christs righteousness credited to our account. Hence, the Gospel frees us from condemnation. We fail, but are thoroughly forgiven. We flounder, but are completely embraced. The Gospel, consequently, frees us to be honest with ourselves and others. If we believe our identity is dependent upon maintaining a public image of moral uprightness, we will do everything we can to maintain that image. But if we know our value is secure, we are free to be honest. To expose our shortcomings is not a threat to our sense of worth. I can be honest with myself and with my brothers and sisters. The Gospel also keeps us from judgmentalism. It is in our nature to look down on others as inferior and upon ourselves as superior. But the Gospel informs us that we are all morally reprehensible in the eyes of God apart from grace. When I realize that it is only Gods grace that covers my own failings, not my efforts to reform myself, how dare I look down upon my brother as morally inferior? The Gospel also steers us away from humanistic moralism, from stringent efforts toward selfimprovement. While it is true that the cardinal virtues are accessible to humankind, the grace of God infuses something otherworldly into the believernamely the Holy Spirit. The grace of God sets us free from the law of sin and death, and enables us to live up to Gods moral standards (Rom. 8:1-4). Only grace can set us free from the tyranny of our corrupt nature. We are all like Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treadera nasty dragon dwells within us, one that cannot be exorcised through self-effort. When the dragon rears its foul head, we are shocked by its hideousness. But it was always there. Only Aslan could rip the dragon out of Eustace; only the grace of Christ can rip the beast out of us. God infuses the believer with empowering grace, via the indwelling Holy Spirit, to progressively develop Christ-like character qualities. Cultivating Christ-centered honor in ones life is impossible apart from the power of the Spirit.
Aristotle is not nave about the difficulty involved in this process. He writes: It is easy to perform a good action, but not easy to acquire a settled habit of performing such actions. 9 Jeffrey Hause. Aquinas on the Function of Moral Virtue. http://puffin.creighton.edu/phil/Hause/Updates/Aquinas%20on%20the%20Function%20of%20Moral%20 Virtue.htm
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An aspect of this infusion of grace into the believer comes in the form of what Aquinas terms theological virtuesfaith, hope, love. These virtues, unlike the cardinal virtues, are divinely infused. We cannot attain them through human self-effort. They are deposited by the grace of God into us. The theological virtues redirect our motives. Faith, hope, and love are all oriented toward God, not self. Faith in God, hope in God, and love for God and others become driving motives. These undergird and propel our pursuit of prudence, fortitude, justice and temperance. In other words, the Gospel completely reorients our motive for pursuing honor. Our faith and hope in Christ, and love for Christ, compel us to strive for moral excellence for his glory, not our own, and for the benefit of others, not merely ourselves. Honor and Community Honor is lived out in relationships. While it is certainly possible to embody honorable qualities as an individual, honor affects how we relate to others. Community both aids our individual pursuit of honor, and serves as the context in which we help our friends in their pursuit. Love mandates that we help each other live nobly. That is the impetus behind Scriptural exhortations such as Galatians 6:1: If another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. To love people is to value them. If I value my brother, I want to help him go further down the road toward right livingtoward honor. If I see him veering from that road and do nothing, I do not value him. It may even be said that I disdain him. This is where accountability comes in. To call my friend to account is to value him, to esteem him. When my brother sees me pursuing a harmful course and calls me to turn from it, he shows how he esteems me, even if I initially scorn his loving correction. The modern archenemies of honor are individualism, relativism, and indifference. Individualism suggests that we are autonomous beings, accountable to no one but ourselves. Relativism posits there are no universal standards, only personal preferences. How can I be so pompous as to impose my personal lifestyle preference upon someone else? Indifference says, I dont really care what others do. These threads of thought have saturated Western society, undermining the very idea of community and accountability. After Cain killed Abel, God asked Cain where his brother was. Cain retorted, Am I my brothers keeper? In Cains mind, the answer was obviously no. Too many of us have adopted a murderers philosophy as our own by concluding that we are no ones keeperand no one will be our keeper. Nothing could be more antithetical to the ethic of love. In Gods estimation, we are responsible for, and accountable to, one another. Aquinas, echoing Pauls exposition of love in 1 Corinthians 13, describes love as the highest virtue, and prime motive for all other virtues. Love, he says, is the mother and root of all

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virtue.10 Love orders our behavior to its ultimate goal [to enjoy God], and so gives all virtuous behavior its existence and life. That is why we call love the life of the virtues.11 According to Aquinas, we should strive to be individuals characterized by honorable actions, but not as an end in itself. We do so because the mother of all virtueslovegives birth to these other virtues in our lives. We challenge and confront others when needed, not to feel superior, but because those are acts of love that mimic Gods love. Love compels us to value others, to correct each other, to hold one another accountable. Brotherly correction, writes Aquinas, is an act of love, and we all owe it in love to anyone we see doing wrong.12 By exercising such acts of love, we help each other become more honorableand thereby honor Christ. Summary The idea of honor is rooted in Scripture. Honor is noble character and, as such, should be pursued by all. To be fully humanto live in accordance with our God-given natureis to be a man or woman characterized by moral excellence and action. Believers are called to pursue a life of honor, not for self-improvements sake, but for loves sake. An honorable life is inextricably linked to a life of discipleship. To follow Christ is to learn to mimic the honor he manifested in his earthly life. A failure to cultivate honor is a failure to bring all of life under Gods reign, with consequences for our personal lives, our communities, and society. The means for doing so is not stringent self-effort, but the grace of God. The motive is not selfimprovement, but love and glory to God. The Gospel frees us from human self-effort apart from grace, and infuses us with the power to pattern our lives after that of Jesus. The Gospel also beckons us to help one another on our journey toward a life that brings honor to Christ. Perfection is not the goal, as there is no such thing as a perfectly honorable person. Progressive inculcation of the character and love reflected in the earthly life of Jesus Christ our Lord, amidst successes and setbacks, is the goal.

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Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica: A Concise Translation. Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1989, 241. Ibid. 351. 12 Ibid. 364.

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Sources Adler, Mortimer J., and William Gorman, eds. "Honor." Chapter 35. The Great Ideas: A Syntopicon of Great Books of the Western World. Chicago, 1952. Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica: a Concise Translation. Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1989. Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Bowman, James. "Decline of the Honor Culture." Policy Review 156 (2009): 27. Bowman, James. Honor: a History. New York: Encounter, 2006. Hause, Jeffrey. Aquinas on the Function of Moral Virtue http://puffin.creighton.edu/phil/Hause/Updates/Aquinas%20on%20the%20Funct ion%20of%20Moral%20Virtue.htm Niebuhr, R. Richard. Christ and Culture. New York: Harper and Row, 1951.

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