From the end of the paper:
I began by asking how far we could go in accepting Gregory’s claim that, “patience is the root and guardian of all the virtues,” if we do not share Gregory’s theological orientation. MacIntyre notes that the value of patience in the context of particular practices will be clear enough—parents, teachers, athletes, etc., will benefit in their practices from an ability to act (and wait) patiently. MacIntyre then asks:
But what if the material is just too refractory, the pupil too slow, the negotiations too frustrating? Ought we always at a certain point just to give up in the interests of the practice itself? The medieval exponents of the virtue of patience claimed that there are certain types of situation in which the virtue of patience requires that I do not ever give up on some person or task, situations in which, as they would have put it, I am required to embody in my attitude to that person or task something of the patient attitude of God towards his creation. But this could only be so if patience served some overriding good, some telos which warranted putting other goods in a subordinate place. (After Virtue, 188-9)For Gregory, as well as al-Ghazālī and Justus Lipsius, patience is tied to faith in a well-ordered universe, in which everything happens for a divinely sanctioned reason, and thus can fruitfully be borne with patience (and constancy). Faith enables the hope that one’s patience will not turn out to have been pointless.
How far can we go in patience without that divine hope? Patience will remain instrumentally valuable across many practices and domains, and may retain its connection to other virtues. But there will seem to be limits to patience that are not present in the theistic traditions. For example, suicide perhaps can no longer be universally forbidden, or regarded always as a failure of patience. (Consider even ancient Stoic attitudes about suicide, in contrast with the Christian tradition.) Even so, I suspect that MacIntyre’s remark above is a red herring.
Eamonn Callan writes that, “in patience anger and despair are the things to be controlled if we are to cleave to the good against the temptations of impatience or a dejected passivity” ("Patience and Courage," Philosophy 68, 1993, p. 526). Callan suggests that where the possibility of a good life remains, patience makes it possible to persevere in the “moral task” of “re-creat[ing] a good life,” when various forms of adversity have derailed the life we have lived up to that point. But again, it seems that patience itself must be supported by some kind of hope. It might be hopelessly cliché, and thus insufficiently serious, to suggest that, “where there is life there is hope.” Perhaps instead: in general, we cannot say in advance when hope must run out. In patience, we make room (and time) for the attention and imagination necessary for envisioning how we might go on or begin things anew. Such patient—and perhaps also humble—activity thus serves as a “root and guardian” of the other virtues by enabling us to adapt to the changing circumstances of our lives, relationships, and world. Of course, such adaptations may also require courage, or be guided by love, but we have seen already how these virtues themselves rely upon patience.