In the video titled “Virus and Virtue,” Dr. Marvin Oxenham from London School of Theology, who is also the coordinator of the European Council for Theological Education (ECTE), calls Christians to respond to COVID-19 outbreak with four cardinal virtues – prudence, courage, justice and temperance.
Among much to reflect on in the face of COVID-19 outbreak, “what is within reach of us is our own character – what kind of people we will choose to be as we face” it, he stated, before offering a few thoughts on how four cardinal virtues should be seen in our character in times such as this.
(1) Prudence – understanding what is needed to meet unpredictable circumstances of life
“In time like this, we need to deploy virtues we have not deployed before, as well as discern new areas of application of virtues that are already a part of our character,” said Dr Oxenham, calling prudence the “meta virtue.”
“We need to be on guard against some vices that oppose the virtue of prudence,” referring to “cleverness as that which gives the appearance of wisdom but has no substance” and “over-simplicity which is happy for quick superficial solutions based on hearsay.”
We should not pretend to know what we don’t; offer easy answers to complex issues; or fall into negligence which gives up on seeking the best in every situation, he added.
(2) Courage – doing what is right despite our legitimate fears
Although fear is the natural feeling as the virus continues to spread, “we must tame the will to do what is good in the face of our legitimate fears,” said Dr. Oxenham. “Fear should not control us, but courage is not fearlessness. We need to rightfully fear the things that are fearful and take necessary precautions without becoming imprudent or reckless.”
(3) Justice – respecting rights without distinction and practicing legality
The current coronavirus outbreak “gives us an opportunity to practice respect of everyone’s rights without distinction or rank or position,” he continued.
In particular, we must guard against xenophobia, racial or geographical discrimination, and in general, we should “treat fellow human beings always as equals not as threats to our own wellbeing.”
Justice is also respecting the law – “as responsible citizens we should respond the new laws governments produce as they try to protect the general population against the virus,” he stated, adding, “if a law is passed that forbids having public meetings including religious meetings, we practice the virtues of justice and civility in taking these laws seriously.”
(4) Temperance – taming our impulses against excess and governing ourselves by reason
Temperance, or self control, has to do with avoiding excesses. “Let’s not over-panic, but also let’s not underestimate. Let’s not talk obsessively about the latest statistics, but let’s not avoid talking about what is happening altogether,” said Dr. Oxenham, emphasizing, “when we are inconvenienced by what is happening, lets us not be angry but temperate.”
“Even when others are rushing to empty the shelves of supermarkets, cancelling all international travel, gossiping about conspiracy theories, uncritically sharing and liking every post in their social media, staying out of Chinese and Italian restaurants let us practice temperance and remain reasonable.”
To conclude the remark, he urged the viewers to practice these virtues, because “although life is not predictable, character is controllable.”
Lastly he shared his hope that these virtues will be contagious, quoting Wisdom of Solomon 4:1-2 – “Immortality is in the memory of virtue, because it is recognized both before God and before men. When it is present, people imitate it.”
Dr. Marvin Oxenham is the programme leader of the MA in Theological Education at London School of Theology, and the author of Character and Virtue in Theological Education.