Servais PINCKAERS. Passions and Virtue, trans. Benedict M. Guevin. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2015. 139 pp., $65.00 hardback. ISBN: 978-0-8132-2751-1. Reviewed by Steve W. LEMKE, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, LA  70126.


This book is the posthumously published last work of Thomistic moral theologian Servais Pinckaers, OP, a complementary volume to his earlier book Plaidoyer pour la vertu (An Appeal for Virtue) published in 2007. Benedict M. Guevin, OSB, ably translates the text previously published in French. In Passions and Virtue, Pinckaers assumes rather than argues for virtue ethics. In this work, however, he focuses on exploring the role that emotions play in the practice of virtues. He rejects a Jansenist suppression of emotions, arguing instead that emotions (when properly channeled) can be incorporated into a more holistic view of virtue ethics. Pinckaers overviews the lists of virtues identified by various ancient thinkers, and then addresses some topics that one might expect in a volume on virtue ethics, such as love, mercy, pity, hope, joy, piety, and prayer. However, he also addresses some surprising topics such as concupiscence, delectation, pleasure, pain, humor, anger, work, rest, leisure, and sports in relation to the virtues. The author argues that an approach to virtue ethics that does not take adequate account of the role of emotions is inadequate. The intellect must guide the emotions, but the emotions should be included for the practice of the virtues by the whole person. In support for this argument, Pinckaers describes a human psychology fitting for the practice of the virtues, including the relation of the virtues to the concupiscible and irascible appetites, the will, and rationality.

The author typically begins each section with a careful definition of passion or virtue he is addressing. He then traces how a selection of ancient thinkers addressed these passions or virtues, including biblical materials, church fathers, and ancient philosophers. But Pinckaers always filters these concepts in light of the thought of Thomas Aquinas. The Thomistic bent of Pinckaers’ virtue ethics is clearly evidenced throughout the book.

Pinckaers addresses both the theory and the practice of virtue ethics in this volume. He gives attention first to the description and history of ideas of each of these concepts. This is not, however, merely a theoretical work. Pinckaers also provides thoughtful and wise guidelines for the practice of these virtues. Passions and Virtue thus affords the reader both a theoretical discussion about the virtues as well as profound spiritual insights about their application in the life of the Christian disciple.

Passions and Virtue is of interest to both scholars of virtue ethics and for the devotional reader. This comparatively brief and readable volume would be an excellent text to be utilized for discipleship and spiritual formation purposes. Highly recommended.