Aristotle, “By Faith or Works?”

The ultimate aim of Christians is salvation, or entry into the Kingdom of God. The final end for humans, according to Aristotle, is happiness. Aristotle’s happiness is not fleeting joy, but closer to a life of satisfaction. And he recognizes that some (I suspect including Aristotle) see the path to happiness as virtue. Which leads to this:

With those who identify happiness with virtue or some one virtue our account is in harmony; for to virtue belongs virtuous activity. But it makes, perhaps, no small difference whether we place the chief good in possession or in use, in state of mind or in activity. For the state of mind may exist without producing any good result, as in a man who is asleep or in some other way quite inactive, but the activity cannot; for one who has the activity will of necessity be acting, and acting well.

Nicomachean Ethics, Book I, Chapter 8. Compare this with excerpt from the second chapter of Ephesians, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast,” and this from the second chapter of James, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” Eph. 2; James 2 (note deeds is just a different translation of works).

Aristotle initially indicates that virtue without action is no good, noting, “in the Olympic Games it is not the most beautiful and the strongest that are crowned but those who compete (for it is some of these that are victorious), so those who act win, and rightly win, the noble and good things in life.” Nonetheless, if the possession of happiness is the ultimate goal, it is hard to see how it requires action.

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