Tuesday, January 1, 2019

George Bailey at the Bridge: The Costly Virtue of It’s a Wonderful Life

From Christ and Pop Culture-

When George Bailey cries out to God, God’s answer is not an easy one. Die to yourself some more, George. Continue doing the hard things. Dive into the river and save an old man from drowning. When George pulls Clarence out, Clarence shows him that although the price he paid for virtue was costly, he was the one man who could pay it, thereby standing against a great tide of evil. For all the lives George Bailey touched throughout his life, what he really held back through his (often small) virtuous actions was utter depravity and darkness. He saved countless lives, he prevented financial ruin, he elevated the lowly, he prevented the establishment of institutions degrading to women, he built a community for families where instead there would have been a graveyard. For as costly as George’s virtue was to him personally, the absence of his virtue would have cost his community far more.

Virtue should have a communal aspect. In our age of roaring individualism, this is something we might need to be reminded of. In Rome, the word virtus—from which we derive virtue—denoted greatness, valor, and courage, and a virtuous Roman was often one who did great service to the state (it was a male trait—the female equivalent was prudence). In watching It’s a Wonderful Life, I was reminded of a legendary Roman who did for Rome as George Bailey did for Bedford Falls, although in far more Roman fashion.

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