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The Character of Virtue: Letters to a godchild by Stanley Hauerwas

24 August 2018

This is a baptismal gift worth revisiting, says Richard Greatrex

READING this book brought to mind the elderly pastor John Ames in Marilynne Robinson’s masterly Gilead: solid in his faith, thoughtful, scholarly, a good observer of people, and generous in his opinions of others, he composes a series of letters for his young son to read after his death, writing to offer a sense of family history and to guide his son on a faithful path towards his true place in the world.

Likewise, The Character of Virtue comprises Stanley Hauerwas’s letters to his godson, Laurence Bailey Wells — son of the bishop-theologian Jo Bailey Wells and the priest-theologian Samuel Wells (Features, 4 May) — which are carefully constructed from a similar deeply considered and tested faith, precise, astute theology, and human liberality. Each letter, produced for the anniversary of Laurie’s baptism, expounds one of Aristotle’s moral virtues in a list augmented and amended by Hauerwas and chosen for its suitability for contemplation in the coming year.

While Hauerwas skilfully relates the subject of each letter to Laurie’s life as far as possible, the nature of his discourse and the boy’s age mean that they are written to be pondered more reflectively at a later date, and, indeed, as both Wells and Hauerwas make clear, written with one eye to publication.

But that makes this a generous offering for us as well as for Laurie, a distillation of some of Hauerwas’s key thinking in virtue ethics, illuminated by his incisive eye, trenchant faith, and God-centred life. With warmth and vigour, it offers a cogent and serious spotlight on lifelong faith and true commitment. I suspect I shall revisit these letters many times, but, in due course, I would be curious to know Laurie’s own response to such an honest, intense, and challenging baptismal gift; just as I wish Marilynne Robinson would give us the later story of Ames’s son.

The Revd Richard Greatrex is Associate Priest of Barrow Gurney, in North Somerset.

The Character of Virtue: Letters to a godchild
Stanley Hauerwas
Canterbury Press £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30

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