The ontological character of virtue in the thought of St Basil the Great. Aspects of confrontation between Christian and classical ethics

23 December 2015

In St Basil the Great’s view, the positive elements of classical philosophy correspond to Christian ethics in the same way as the Athenians’ altar to the unknown God as mentioned by St. Paul. The philosopher, unaware of the true God and the ontological drama of man’s fall, named virtue what in fact was the human inclination toward it. Actually, man’s innate aspiration to virtue is an ontological characteristic, but not virtue itself. Whereas for the Christian, virtue implies the restoration of man and it constitutes his participation in divine life, for the Greek it is only intellectual knowledge. For the former, virtue is participation in divine life, and for the latter it is limitation to the created and mortal. For this reason, when approached as a premise of the revelation of the ontological character of Christian virtue, the classical concept is useful and even akin to the Christian one, but when it becomes a moral ideal it is characterized as “meaningless” and “the wisdom of the rulers of this age”.