Is Virtue Ethics Compatible With Christianity


Virtue ethics is a philosophical system dedicated to the evaluation of “moral character.” The system advocates for individuals cultivating morally “good” characteristics and behaviours, while avoiding unethical choices and behaviour. In tandem with Christianity, morality is a central focus and object of worship and devotion, though there are complex questions to be asked about how the two systems intersect. In this article, we will analyse the relationship between virtue ethics and Christianity, and explore the implications of this relationship.

Christianity and Virtue Ethics

Virtue ethics has a long tradition in Western religious philosophy, including in the Christian religion. Christianity has two primary forms of moral engagement: the prescriptive form, such as the “Ten Commandments,” and the predictive form, such as the “Sermon on the Mount.” Predictive virtue ethics focuses on Christian teachings on the nature of virtue which serve to cultivate a reflection of the character of God within his or her followers. This form of ethics integrates teaching from the New Testament, such as the “fruits of the spirit,” the “Golden Rule,” and the “great commandments” of “love” and “righteousness.”
For example, the Christian teaching of “love” encourages not just a literal “love” for others, but also a showing of mercy, compassion, and inclusivity. The doctrine of righteousness instills a sense of personal responsibility and requires that a believer strive to treat others with both justice and equity. By learning and practising these virtues, a Christian can bring an exemplary moral character to the world.

Compatibility Between Christianity and Virtue Ethics

The compatibility of Virtue ethics and Christianity depends on the standpoint of the interpreter. While Christianity does not have a definite official stance on virtue ethics, many Christian theologians and ethicists have weighed in on the matter. Some argue that virtue ethics has merit but must be balanced with other more prescriptive forms of morality, while others view Christianity and virtue ethics as two fundamentally incompatible systems that cannot co-exist.
A common theme among opponents of “virtue ethics” is that it is too idealistic and requires too much of the individual. Also, it is argued that virtue ethics emphasises the “self” too much and loses sight of the goal of serving others. In addition, it is argued that virtues can be too subjective and can lead to moral relativism, which is seen as a threatening prospect.
Supporters of Christian virtue ethics focus on the importance of subjective virtues, such as “love” and “righteousness,” in ways that can be applicable to daily life. They often point to the numerous biblical passages that reference “virtue ethics”, such as from the parables of Jesus, as evidence of its legitimacy. They argue that the Christian scriptures have a long history of teaching virtue ethics as a practical and effective form of morality and that it should be embraced.

Virtue Ethics and the Christian Life

Regardless of one’s opinions on the matter, it is undeniable that virtue ethics and Christian beliefs go hand-in-hand in many ways. Applying virtue ethics to Christianity requires self-reflection and discipline. It entails identifying the essential virtues and cultivating them, as well as overcoming the unvirtuous aspects of one’s own character. Therefore, it is essential that a Christian cultivates and demonstrates a good moral character in order to live a life that is honourable and exemplary in the eyes of God.
Virtue ethics can also be seen as a practical way of engaging with Christianity, by regularly reflecting and evaluating one’s own character and behaviour against the idea of “righteousness” that is central to Christianity. It encourages the development of moral fibre, similar to the path an athlete takes to reach a physical goal.

Virtue Ethics in Practice

Practically speaking, virtue ethics can be applied to everyday life with the development of habits and behaviours that are virtuous. An example of this is the practice of regular prayer. Through prayer, one can develop a strong relationship with God, which can be a source of guidance for areas in need of moral improvement. This relationship can be enhanced by regular prayer and study of the bible.
Prayer and study can provide a basis for cultivating Christian virtues and a framework for moral decision-making. Virtue ethics can also be a tool for holding one accountable to oneself and to others through the practice of self-discipline and forgiveness.


In conclusion, integrating virtue ethics into Christianity can be a practical way to engage with and nurture a Christian belief system. By learning and practising the essential virtues of Christianity, a believer can bring an exemplary moral character to the world. This is because Christianity is founded upon divine virtues that help to cultivate a reflection of the character of God within His or her followers. Through prayer, Bible study and self-discipline, the individual can work to cultivate these virtuous characteristics and become a more devoted and faithful follower of Christ.

Jennifer Johnson is an experienced author with a deep passion for exploring the spiritual traditions of different cultures and religions. She has been writing about religion and spirituality for the past ten years in both print and digital platforms, engaging readers in meaningful dialogue about the soul's journey through this life. With degrees in Comparative Religion and English Literature, she brings an insightful perspective to her work that bridges the gap between traditional knowledge and modern theories. A lifelong traveler, Jenn has lived in multiple countries exploring various paths to understanding faith, and her dedication to learning new things is palpable in every piece she creates.

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