Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Virtue and Knowledge

"Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge."
2 Peter 1:5

In this passage, Peter tells us that God has given us everything that pertains to life and godliness in order that we can be partakers of His divine nature (vv. 3,4). This shows that in a sense, our salvation is all of Grace. It comes from God, and it is through His power that we are able to become like Him. However, the passage goes on to show us that we have a part in the process too. The verse above introduces that idea. We are to add to our faith various things. The first thing on the list is virtue, followed by knowledge.

This caught my attention. For it is exactly the opposite of how many of us do it. We seem to put a higher priority on knowledge. New converts, or inquirers, are quickly given doctrinal teachings to begin their formation. Virtue is left for much later when they are more mature. But according to Peter, it is virtue which should be taught first.

Virtue pertains to moral excellence. It refers to how we actually behave. Perhaps this is why knowledge is so much more popular. It doesn't necessarily have to mess with our current practices in life. But virtue upends our former life and calls us to holiness in deed.

The early Church was characterized much more by virtue than knowledge. That is not to say they were ignorant of their faith. But it means that much more emphasis was placed on how one lived. Christ had come to destroy our sins and restore His holiness in our lives. That would be seen the clearest through the demonstration of a changed life, not a theological education. Even those chosen as presbyters and bishops were chosen more for the virtue of their lives than for their intellectual aptitude.

I am not campaigning for ignorance. Ideally, both virtue and knowledge will be pursued. But I think the order, and the emphasis, are important. It must be virtue. The observance of virtue in the Church will make many more converts than that of knowledge. So let us add to our faith virtue, then knowledge, etc. A restoration of the apostolic order can be expected to produce apostolic results.


Joni said...

It seems that the two need to go hand-in-hand, too, though. A new convert can't really live in new ways without having some teaching, right? Or am I misunderstanding the passage?

Keith said...

You are right that both need to go together. But we typically think of teaching as doctrinal content such the Trinity. It's truth, and we need it. But it doesn't typically lead to a transformed life.

The early Church emphasized virtue. They taught virtue. So a new convert would be learning things like how to love your enemies, how to minister to the poor, and how to pray. It's still teaching, but the emphasis is different.

Again, both are needed. But I think St. Peter is bringing out the need for moral instruction before we receive deeper theological instruction.