Date of Award

Spring 5-21-2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Systematic Theology

First Advisor

Joel Biermann

Scripture References in this Resource

Ex. 20:1-17; Matt. 5:21-30; Matt. 13:22; Mark 7:20-23; Rom. 6:17; 1 Cor. 9:26-27; Gal. 5:18-24; Phil. 2:3-11; Col 3:5-10; 2 Pet 1:3-11; 1 Jn. 2:16


Fieberkorn, Michael T. “From Vice to Virtue: Contours of Idolatry and New Obedience.” Ph.D. diss., Concordia Seminary, 2021. 290 pp. What are the specific contours of life lived in accordance with God’s will? That is the primary question this dissertation seeks to answer. Discerning the particular shape of Christian sanctification is difficult. Radical Lutheranism attempts to define sanctification simply as “love,” which lacks the specificity necessary to adjudicate between competing and mutually exclusive claims concerning Christian morality. Theologians attempting to address this insufficiency by incorporating virtue ethics within a Lutheran theological construct must clearly articulate the particularly Christian telos.

Reading Luther through the lens of virtue ethics suggests a distinctively Christian ethic defined with more precision than the radical account. In the medieval church, sanctification is cast into a specific shape by the vice/virtue tradition of the capital vices and particular dispositions of the cardinal-theological/contrarian virtues. Observing how this shape is both appropriated and adapted in light of Reformation insight regarding anthropology and the nature of justification reveals a differentiated concept of vice and virtue.

As the vice/virtue tradition is refracted through the Reformation, vice is recast as particular manifestations of idolatry and virtues proper are rendered penultimate to outward works of obedient service towards the neighbor, even as the category of virtue is extended to include not solely dispositions but also the good works of the Decalogue, which comprise the proper contours of Christian sanctification.

Discerning this particular telos raises a subsequent question that seeks to understand the potential implications of a Christian failing to strive towards this end. The placing of vice and virtue into the context of the Decalogue not only offers the Lutheran faith tradition an alternate framework through which to comprehend the essence of the sanctified life, but also its task, further revealing the necessity of active participation in the battle against idolatrous vice, and demonstrating the paradoxical role human responsibility plays alongside divine monergism in the perseverance of saving faith though the intentional cultivation of virtue by which the believer mortifies the sinful flesh and engages in the fight of Christian faith.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.