When Virtue Becomes Vice and Vice Becomes Virtue

Allegory of Virtue and Vice (1505) by Lorenzo Lotto.

I encounter this all the time. One man’s “righteous zeal” seems to another an unjust burst of rage. We call out the “false humility” of some, while their defenders will stand up for such a person’s unbelievably modesty and prayerfulness. It plays out left and right within any community, not least among Catholics.

One could pick from about a million different examples, especially within the world of Catholic blogging. I’ll stick to one in the hope that it might illustrate a much bigger, snakier issue.

Steve Skojec’s reputation gives us a way in. Most of you reading this (and how few that very likely is!) probably know who he is. Most neutrally, Skojec is the founder of One Peter Five, a website dedicated to discussing Catholic issues. If you like him, he’s something of a crusader for the truth, standing up to an increasingly-liberal Church. If you don’t, he’s the sort of person who trashes Pope Francis daily in a bid to do nothing more than constantly raise his own blood pressure.

Compare these two portraits, one from Skojec himself and the other from my fellow Patheos blogger Mary Pezzulo:

I can’t stop being angry.

Every day there is an endless parade of stupidity, malice, debauchery, and violence that assaults our senses and steals our peace.

This week, I’ve been helping an elderly family member with a move, and I have been away from my desk more often than not. The work has been hot, dirty, and tiring, but in a way, it’s a welcome relief. Because every time I get near a computer I don’t know what to say.

I’m sick to death with what is happening in the Church and the world. I’m overwhelmed with the feeling of futility in attempting to fight it. I see good people making the best efforts they can to do their part, and people — even people who agree with them — seek to trivialize their efforts, because “nobody is going to listen.”

We deal mostly in these pages with the attacks coming from within the Church. And believe me, I’m more than at my limit with theological terrorism – which is exactly what is being perpetrated by our pope and his cadre of destroyers. (One Peter Five)

In any case, an alert reader has drawn my attention to the twitter feed of Steve Skojec, so now I’ve had to educate myself yet again. I find that Skojec is, like me, a writer who broadcasts his opinions on the internet. Like me, he went to Franciscan University, though he graduated with his BA a few years before I arrived to do my MA there. Like me, he doesn’t think before he speaks all the time and likes to run his mouth. Unlike me, he has an awesome pointy Freud beard.  His blog is called One Peter Five, and the tagline is “Restoring Catholic Culture. Restoring Catholic Tradition.” I like “Everything is Grace” better, personally.

Oh, and of course, Skojec is very into conspiracy theories that paint Pope Francis in a terrible light. He may or may not be full-blown sedevacantist yet, but he’s pretty far out there in the drama queen department. I tend to drama queen about certain things myself, but I am faithful to the Holy Father. (Steel Magnificat)

Notice the framing. Both sides acknowledge that anger is present; both sides recognize that that anger plays a major role in how issues are addressed. What differs here is what we call the anger, how we name it, and therefore what it means. For Skojec, his ire is righteous; thus it’s really not quite ire at all. It’s simply the reaction any sane person would have to a world gone to pot. By thinking of it in such a way, it becomes righteous anger, zeal, a testament to his faithfulness, not a defect, that is, a virtue and not a vice.

For Pezzulo, it’s just the opposite. Skojec’s rage is patently an example of someone who is allowing secular concerns (and likely the wrong ones at that) to override anything like rational thought. Seen this way, Skojec’s attitude is anger pure and simple, an unnecessary and harmful rage that has consumed a good-nature human being and turned him into a parody of wrath, something like a medieval allegorization of a vice.

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