Faith, Hope, and Love as Virtues in the Theological Tradition


Our Autumn 2016 workshop, ‘Faith, hope and love as virtues in the theological tradition’,took  place at the University of Essex on Friday 25th November 2016.

This workshop is part of a series of events organized by the AHRC-funded project, The Ethics of Powerlessness: The Theological Virtues Today. The project started in July 2015 and will run for three years. Its overall aim is to investigate the nature of human experiences of powerlessness and to clarify the ethical challenges that arise from them.

The workshop examined the tradition in which faith, hope and love (caritas) are regarded as virtues. While often neglected in contemporary ethics, this tradition is rich in leads for thinking through the challenges arising from experiences of powerlessness. We examined some key moments in this tradition, from its early sources in Greek and early Christian thought, through lines of development in Augustine, Aquinas and later thinkers. Our aim was to tease out from this tradition its major themes and sources of contention, with a view to reassessing its on-going importance.


  • Ian Clausen (Villanova)
  • George Pattison (Glasgow)
  • Vasilis Politis (Trinity College Dublin)
  • Lydia Schumacher (Edinburgh)


NTC 2.07, University of Essex

9.00: Registration (Refreshments Provided)

9.20: Welcome

09.30-11.00: Vasilis Politis: Reason and Love in Plato.

11.00-11.15: Break (Refreshments Provided)

11.15-12.45: Ian Clausen: Conscience on the Way to Hope: An Augustinian Approach.

12.45-13.45: Lunch Break

13.45-15.15: Lydia Schumacher: Aquinas on the Relationship Between the Moral and Theological Virtues.

15.15-15.30: Break (Refreshments Provided)

15.30-17.00: George Pattison: Humility and the Theological Virtues.

Green Paper

Faith, Hope, and Love as Virtues in the Theological Tradition‘. Available to read online, or as a PDF download.


Ian Clausen 

Ian Clausen is an Arthur J. Ennis Postdoctoral Fellow at Villanova University, Pennsylvania. He is the author of the forthcoming book Reading Augustine: On Love, Confession, Surrender and the Moral Self, scheduled to be released by Bloomsbury in 2017. His research centers on Augustine and the Augustinian moral tradition, and he is working on a second book on Augustine and moral conscience. He is a former British Marshall scholar.

George Pattison

George Pattison is 1640 Professor of Divinity at the University of Glasgow. he has written extensively on philosophy of religion and theology in the tradition of Hegel and his critics, notably Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, and Heidegger. He is currently preparing lectures on the Phenomenology of the Devout Life to be given as the 2017 Bampton Lectures in the University of Oxford.

Vasilis Politis

Vasilis Politis is Associate Professor at and Fellow of Trinity College Dublin, where he has been teaching since 1992. He was born in Athens, Greece, in 1963, and grew up in Aarhus, Denmark, from 1970 to 1982. He studied in Oxford and Munich, from 1982 to 1992. His special area is Plato and Aristotle. In 2009-10 he was Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin and in winter/spring 2018 he will hold a Fellowship at the Durham Institute of Advanced Studies. He holds visiting professorships from Leiden, Wuhan and Uppsala. He is the author of The Structure of Enquiry in Plato’s Early Dialogues (Cambridge, 2015), and is currently working on a sequel, provisionally entitled Platonic Essentialism.

Lydia Schumacher

Lydia Schumacher is Chancellor’s Fellow in Historical and Systematic Theology at the University of Edinburgh School of Divinity. She is the author of three books (Divine Illumination: The History and Future of Augustine’s Theory of Knowledge; Theological Philosophy: Rethinking the Rationality of Christian Faith; Rationality as Virtue: Towards a Theological Philosophy) and is currently engaged in a research project on the early Franciscan intellectual tradition and its contemporary theological relevance. Previously, she was British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Oxford.

Titles and Abstracts

Conscience on the Way to Hope: An Augustinian Approach
Ian Clausen

In this paper, I approach the role of faith, hope and love through engaging the notion of conscience in Augustine’s moral thought. Whereas faith, hope and love are often classified as “theological virtues,” sometimes being discarded in favor of secular alternatives, the notion of conscience holds appeal across religious and secular frameworks, and continues to function within contemporary moral discourse. Insofar as Augustine connects the place of conscience to the virtues, he provides a promising in-road to exploring the role of the virtues as endemic and constitutive aspects to our life as moral agents. To illustrate, I focus on the relation between hope and conscience as it unfolds within Augustine and some contemporary moral philosophies.

Humility and the Theological Virtues

George Pattison

Humility is a major theme in Christian spirituality and is as such intimately connected with the theological virtues of faith, hope and love. Some see it as the first virtues, others as the precondition for practising the virtues. What humility particularly emphasises is the incapacity of the self to act virtuously apart from divine help and the consequent need gratefully to acknowledge the precedence of divine help in any work undertaken. Humility thus marks a limit to any account of agency directed at maximal autonomy and inscribes a dimension of passivity into all (Christian) moral action. The argument is developed with reference to medieval and early modern examples as well as their reinterpretation by Kierkegaard, whose argument that ‘without God we can do nothing’ thus reveals a very different from of nothingness from what we find in Sartre.

Reason and Love in Plato

Vasilis Politis

Plato argues that our happiness as well as our goodness depend on the rule of reason in the soul and require the subordination of irrational desires. At the same time, he characterizes love—erōs—as an irrational force, even as a form of madness. It would seem to follow that love is not essential to, indeed that it is inimical to, our happiness and goodness. This, however, is not a conclusion that Plato is willing to draw; he goes out of his way to oppose it as not only false, but shameful and sacrilegious. The fallacy, he argues, is due to the mistaken supposition that all irrationality is bad. True, much irrationality is undoubtedly bad, but there is a form of irrationality that is supremely good and nothing short of ‘divine’; and love has a share in this irrationality. In this way, Plato affords love a central place in the good and happy life.

The Platonic account of love and its relation to reason raises important and difficult questions. How is it consistent and coherent to hold that our happiness and goodness depend on two apparently opposed principles: reason, and divine irrationality? And how does love have a share in divine irrationality, since, as Plato acutely recognizes, it also has a share in an irrationality that is harmful, destructive and bad? And what is the significance of Plato’s characterizing a form of irrationality as ‘divine’, especially in the apparent absence of a god and with only the appeal to Forms—especially the Good and the Beautiful—to explicate the significance?

I think we can answer these questions from out of Plato’s account. Doing so depends, first of all, on recognizing what love is: erōs is the desire stimulated by the immediate apprehension of beauty and having the potential of issuing in a variety of creative activity, from the conceiving and raising of children to artistic and philosophical activity. It depends, further, on recognizing that, for Plato, love is not something absolute with a fixed value and a fixed telos, but something essentially relational, dynamic and with the potential of moving in opposite directions, good as well as bad. It depends, finally, on considering how, for Plato, beauty is related to goodness, and how our apprehension of beauty is related to our apprehension of goodness.

Aquinas on the Relationship between the Moral and Theological Virtues

Lydia Schumacher

In theological circles, Aquinas’ account of the moral virtues that govern natural human life have generally been supposed to work separately from the theological virtues. In turn, these virtues oversee a spiritual life that operates over and above or alongside the ordinary. In this paper, however, my objective is to demonstrate that this interpretation of the virtues is a misreading of Aquinas, who conceived the relationship between the virtues in a much more complementary way. Whereas the theological virtues serve as conditions for the possibility of moral virtue, on my argument, the moral virtues conversely constitute the substance of spiritual life. As I will demonstrate, consequently, to be spiritual for Aquinas is simply to realize our human potential as individuals.


The workshop will be taking place in the room 5S.4.9, on the Colchester campus of the University of Essex. There will be a separate buffet lunch for the speakers in the Ethics of Powerlessness room.

You can find directions to each room on our interactive campus map

To reach Colchester by car from London and South Essex, leave the A12 at the Colchester (A133) exit. If you are approaching from Ipswich, leave the A12 at the exit for Colchester (A1232). You can then follow the road signs to Colchester campus, which is in East Colchester off the A133. The postcode for the Colchester campus is CO4 3SQ, but please be aware that directions from satellite navigation can sometimes be misleading.

We have a number of car parks available on campus and would recommend Valley car park as the nearest to the workshop location. Please note that there are visitor parking charges on a Friday, and these are pay and display.

If you are travelling by train, the nearest station is Wivenhoe. Buses to campus (the 62) leave from right outside the station. Alternatively, buses (the 62) and taxis to campus are available at Colchester North Station.

For more information about getting here, please refer to the travel page on the main University website.


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