Volume 96, Issue 1, Winter 2022
Jacob J. Andrews
Conformed by Praise: Xunzi and William of Auxerre on the Ethics of Liturgy
The classical Confucian philosopher Xunzi proposed a naturalistic virtue ethics account of ritual: rituals are practices that channel human emotion and desire so that one develops virtues. In this paper I show that William of Auxerre’s Summa de Officiis Ecclesiasticis can be understood as presenting a similar account of ritual. William places great emphasis on the emotional power of the liturgy, which makes participants like the blessed in heaven by developing virtue. In other words, he has a virtue ethics of ritual closely aligned with that of Xunzi. Xunzi’s writings on ritual illuminate and enrich one’s reading of the Summa de Officiis. But unlike Xunzi, William is not a naturalist with regard to ritual: although much of William’s language about the causal power of liturgy can be explained in Xunzian terms, Christian liturgy has an irreducible supernatural element.