"Bridge of Spies" and the Path to Virtue | Bishop Robert Barron | The Dispatch at CWR
In recent years, Steven Spielberg has emerged as a latter-day Frank Capra, a celebrator of core values and the courage required to defend them
My great mentor Msgr. Robert Sokolowski told a class of eager philosophy students many years ago that we should read Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics every year of our lives. As we grew older, he explained, new dimensions of the book would continually present themselves.
I can't say that I've followed Sokolowski's advice perfectly, but I have indeed returned often to Aristotle's great text for inspiration and clarification. One of the Philosopher's principal insights is that the best way to understand virtue is not through abstract study but rather by watching the virtuous man in action. Learning the moral life is, for Aristotle, something like acquiring artistic skill through apprenticeship or like becoming an actor through understudying to an established thespian. Finding a master and striving to imitate him is the key. It seems only fitting, by the way, that I learned the craft of philosophizing largely by watching Sokolowski in action.
I thought of all of this as I watched Steven Spielberg's latest film Bridge of Spies. Especially in recent years, Spielberg has emerged as a latter-day Frank Capra, a celebrator of core values and the courage required to defend them. In this most recent movie, Tom Hanks (the Jimmy Stewart of our time) plays James B. Donovan, a New York insurance lawyer who is pressed into service to provide a defense for Rudolf Abel, a man very credibly accused of spying for the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. Donovan does this, not because he's convinced Abel is innocent, but because he believes in the moral principal that, in a free society, everyone deserves a fair trial. In so doing, he exemplifies the most fundamental of the classical virtues, namely, justice. Plato famously defined justice as "rendering to each his due," and Thomas Aquinas refined that definition as "a constant will to render to another his right." To state it as simply as possible, it is doing the upright thing.
So Donovan defends Abel because Abel is owed this privilege; to give him legal counsel is due to him.