Dying and the Virtues

In the useful book “Dying and the Virtues”,  Matthew Levering writes:

Underscoring the significance of dying, the Orthodox philosopher Nicholas Berdyaev comments that “a system of ethics which does not make death its central problem has no value and is lacking in depth and earnestness.”  Similarly, Socrates observed that “true philosophers make dying their profession, and … to them of all men death is least alarming.”  Even if this is an exaggeration, as Samuel Johnson insists it is in his novel Rasselas, it remains the case that virtue ethics takes shape around the human journey which culminates in dying.  In a book on the art of dying, the virtue ethicist Christopher Vogt focuses “on three virtues that are essential for a contemporary development of the Christian art of dying well: patience, compassion, and hope.”  Among the many virtues of dying, I will explore the following nine:  love, hope, faith, penitence, gratitude, solidarity, humility, surrender, and courage.

. . .

In the present book, I examine nine virtues of dying, but I explore these virtues by taking up numerous other topics.  These topics are carefully chosen to display some of the most importand sources for Christian understanding of death: the book of Job, Ezekiel 20, the dying of Jesus Christ, the dying of the first martyr (Stephen), Hebrews 11, Gregory of Nyssa’s account of the dying of his sistem Macrina, the tradition of ars moriendi (Robert Bellarmine, Francis de Sales, Jean-Pierre de Caussade), the consolations of philosophy (Josef Pieper), the divine mercy (Faustina Kowalska), the sacrament of anointing of the sick, liberation theology’s emphasis on solidarity with those who are suffering, biblical eschatology, and contemporary medical perspectives — in addition to the fear of annihilation expressed so frequently in elite culture today, and to the New Age spirituality that is popular in less intellectual circles.  My book is therefore a work on the border of virtue ethics and other theological, exegetical, and cultural domains, as required by the effort to retrieve and engage Christian resources on dying.  Balthasar notes that those “who follow the Lamb wherever he goes” (Rev 14:4) are botyh those who follow him from life into death and those who follow him from death into life….under the law of living and dying for others (for all).  We need to be among those who follow Jesus in this way, because the life of the Lamb — of possessing in order to give away — is the only true and meaningful mode of living, just as it is the only true and meaningful mode of dying.

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