Grace and Virtue: Theological and Psychological Dispositions and Practices

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Within this issue of Psychology of Religion and Spirituality,Schnitker, Houltberg, Dyrness, and Redmond (2017) define virtue as a composite of characteristic adaptations and narrative identity for their study of patience and Emmons, Hill, Barrett, and Kapic (2017) identify the significance of grace for understanding virtue. Both draw upon theological resources, and this commentary article examines their theological assumptions and suggests additional theological resources that may extend their research and strengthen the interdisciplinary value of their approaches. In particular, grace and virtue historically share a dependence upon the embodied dispositions of habitus that could benefit from further contemporary study and may illuminate new insights into mutually supportive development of virtue and embodiment of grace. Grace and virtue have centuries-old, complex scholarly history with numerous well-reasoned contributions, some of which may better cohere with contemporary psychological findings than those views more recently popularized within the American Protestant traditions upon which the authors draw. Not only does a Roman Catholic understanding of grace undergird the faith tradition of the majority of the world’s Christians but its nuanced view of grace’s structuring of a person’s habitus directly connects to a common understanding of virtue as disposition. An Eastern Orthodox process of spiritual formation, due to Irenaeus, has dispositional, mediating, and telic dimensions similar to virtue that may correlate with Schnitker et al.’s personality model of virtue, which thus suggests a possible psychological model of personality development that might support both virtue development and spiritual formation.

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