Examining "virtue" at the Great Plains Undergraduate Theology Conference

Examining "virtue" at the Great Plains Undergraduate Theology Conference

Great Plains Undergraduate Theology Conference

Dr. Colby Dickinson (pictured) explored what "virtue" means with students at the annual Great Plains Undergraduate Theology Conference.

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Dr. Colby Dickinson of Chicago focused on a dilemma in today’s world at an undergraduate conference talk at Briar Cliff University.

The Loyola University professor addressed “Finding a place for virtue today: A theological account of the need for putting proper things in their proper place” at the Great Plains Undergraduate Theology Conference, which brought together academics on March 27 to examine topics of religious studies.


“...Any science, as one facet of the extended rationality of the human being, is simply a part of what makes us human, not the whole.”

— Dr. Colby Dickinson, Loyola (Ill.) University


According to Linda Harrington, BCU associate professor of theology, the purpose of the conference was to provide students with the opportunity to hear and discuss research papers on a variety of spiritual topics.

“It opens their eyes to a wide variety of scholarly work and how those topics may fit into their own studies,” she said.

Dickinson recommended in his plenary address turning to the virtues as a way to think anew about the complexity of the life of faith.

“In Max Scheler’s words, ‘Virtue has become so intolerable to us most of all because we no longer understand it as an enduring, living, joyful consciousness of one’s capacity and power to desire and to act for what is right and good,’” he said, referencing the 20th Century German philosopher.

“In his (Scheler’s) opinion, it is time to remind science that without the attitude of reverence toward things, even the living fascination with its own progress would at once be stifled.”

The issue, as Dickinson sees it, is not that living the virtuous life is in radical conflict with science — “but that any science, as one facet of the extended rationality of the human being, is simply a part of what makes us human, not the whole,” he said.

Dickinson admitted taking up the practice of everyday life as a virtuous endeavor is not an easy thing and warned that to detach and uplift one virtue about others is to miss the point of their interconnectedness.

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“Hence, humility leaps out of place, for example, and is utilized in the wrong spaces of our lives, elevated above courage or truthfulness, but so is something like reason, understanding or wisdom, which are often crowned with the highest honors in the modern period, much to the detriment of their relations with modesty and reverence, to name but a couple that are neglected in this way,” he said.

Dickinson questioned: What are the spiritual uses of virtue and vice? Where do I see them flourishing in my life, in ways both bad and good? How might I embrace certain virtuous relationships?

“It would make sense, in light of all of this, that the church has taken so much time throughout the centuries in order to establish and refine complex networks of virtues and vices that are aimed at interweaving the fullness of being human with the fullness of living a life of faith,” he said.

“We may, over time, jostle the list about a bit, rearranging priorities so to speak, but this is also not simply a haphazard affair for the person who is trying to live out a virtuous life, for these are changes that must be appropriately embodied, lived out, practiced.”

Read the entire Catholic Globe article →



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