The Virtue Of Uprightness

“For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold His face,” says Psalm 11:7. While there are many allusions to the virtue of “uprightness” in the Old Testament, it is scarcely ever mentioned in today’s secular world. Uprightness, nonetheless, remains an essential virtue, and one, in fact, that genuinely epitomizes the good man.

According to the Old Testament, uprightness is a rich and complex notion. It refers to integrity, justice, honesty, fidelity, mercy, and sincerity. Yet it is more than these. It also demands a harmony between moral principles and personal wholeness. But most of all, uprightness is a manifestation of God’s will. The person who is upright presents God to the world. As a consequence, God honors the upright man who honors Him:

“Truly God is good to the upright” (Ps 73:1);

“the upright enjoy his favor” (Prv 14:9);

“the tent of the upright will flourish” (Prv 14:11).

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While the world does not embrace uprightness in its biblical wholeness, it does cling to vestiges of uprightness. R.K. Douglas, in his book Confucianism and Taoism, refers to the “Sage,” who “maintains a perfect uprightness and pursues the heavenly way without the slightest deflection.” Buckingham palace guards are at least visual embodiments of unswerving uprightness, as are, for example, military personnel who officiate at funeral ceremonies.

The American cinema in the 1940s and ’50s offered images of uprightness in the form of the cowboy who sat tall in the saddle. Gary Cooper in High Noon (the time when both hands on the clock are in the upright position) personifies, though without a relationship with God, a character of fearless and unimpeachable uprightness.

On the other hand, the secular posture is captured in the pungent image in the title of the book by culture critic Robert Bork, Slouching Towards Gomorrah. Jacques Maritain had complained earlier in The Peasant of the Garonne of certain Catholics “kneeling before the world.”



Uprightness differs from righteousness,” according to Scripture, more by emphasis than by distinctiveness of meaning. One emphasizes the person who is moral, the other emphasizes the morality apart from the person. Thus, David can say:

“I will praise thee with an upright heart, when I learn thy righteous ordinances” (Ps 119:7).

There are abundant references in the Old Testament linking uprightness to the heart:

“My words declare the uprightness of my heart” (Jb 33:3).

“My shield is with God, who saves the upright in heart” (Ps 7:10).

“[I]n the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things” (1 Chr 29:17).

The “heart” symbolizes both spontaneity and wholeness. Uprightness is not a matter of mere intellect. It represents the unity of body and mind, faith and action, posture and practice. Here the concept of “rectitude” fittingly captures the dignity and moral impeccability of the upright person. By contrast, the serpent in the Garden of Eden crawls on its belly. Cowards and other less upright people are “cowering,” “devious,” “crooked,” “low,” “shaking,” “shuddering,” “trembling,” and so on. Rectitude and posture cannot be emphasized enough. Christ on the Cross is the ultimate symbol and redemptive image of the worth and power of uprightness. Christ remains upright, though it means His agony and death.

Eric Liddle

Eric Liddle

The 1924 Olympic Games in Paris offered the world a memorable example of uprightness, as portrayed in the movie Chariots of Fire. Scotland’s Eric Liddle, a theology student, refused to dishonor the Lord’s Day by running on that day. Instead, he made an arrangement with his compatriot, Harold Abrams. The two athletes traded events. Liddle agreed to run Abrams’ 400-meter race that was scheduled for Tuesday, while Abrams agreed to run the 100 meters that was scheduled for Sunday. Abrams had no religious objection to running on Sunday since, according to his Jewish faith, the Sabbath is Saturday.

The exchange satisfied both their religious beliefs, but put them at a disadvantage competitively inasmuch as they surrendered their best events. Abrams, however, won the 100 meters. No European had ever won a gold medal in that event, and it would be 50 years before one won it again. Liddle, despite the disadvantage he took upon himself, ran the race of his life and won the 400 meters in a new world-record time of 47.6 seconds.

In the days leading up to his victory, the masseur who was officially assigned to care for the British team had come to know and admire Eric Liddle. As Liddle was leaving for Colombes Stadium on the day of his stunning victory, the masseur came up to him and pressed a piece of folded paper into his hand. Later that day, in a quiet moment, Liddle unfolded the paper and read the message it contained: “In the old book it says, ‘He that honor me I will honor.’ Wishing you the best of success always.”

Eric Liddle was a man of inspiring uprightness. His example has not lost its luster with the passing of time. His embodiment of moral rectitude, courage, faith, and victory may be difficult to emulate, but it is impossible to ignore. At the same time, it is also a testimony that God will not abandon the upright man.

By Donald DeMarco, Lay Witness

This article is borrowed from


Donald DeMarco is Professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, CT and Professor Emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo Ontario. Donald DeMarco is on the Advisory Board of The Catholic Educator’s Resource Center.

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