Three virtues rank ahead of all the others
Faith, hope and love help us build the other virtues in our lives
By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor
The countdown is underway.
At least it is for anyone possessing the theological virtues.
We've heard of the theological virtues - St. Paul told us about them in-his letters: to the Hebrews, to the Romans, to the people of Corinth. And we've all heard of basic virtues, theological or not.
The word "virtue" comes to us from the Latin virtus, which means several things, including courage, valor, strength and character. St. Augustine, the fifth century bishop of Hippo, called a virtue a good habit that is consistent with our human nature. And our nature, as faith tells us, is to be like God and to be good (Gen 1:31).
While church tradition lists seven virtues, there are many virtues: "The Catholic Encyclopedia" lists intellectual, moral and theological virtues. (The seven traditional virtues are the moral and theological ones.)
Intellectual virtues deal with our abilities to reason and create, and are related to the pursuit of truth. They are virtues dealing with science, craftsmanship and other practical pursuits. St. Thomas Aquinas, the great doctor of the church, drew on the teachings of Aristotle and numbered three intellectual virtues: wisdom, science and understanding. Aquinas believed that these three led off each other, with wisdom being an intellectual
trait that lead to science, and understanding allowed one to comprehend and use
what science had discovered.
Moral virtues are closely related to what the church calls "the cardinal virtues," from the Latin word cardo, meaning "hinge." These virtues, as St. Thomas Aquinas said "overflow onto each other." The cardinal virtues are prudence, justice, courage and temperance. These, like the intellectual virtues, are graces that we have to work at to fully receive. In them, we see what we usually think of in defining virtue: doing good, seeking truth, striving to become like God. And God helps us grow in these moral virtues. As the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" says, "the moral virtues grow through education, deliberate acts, and perseverance in struggle. Divine grace purifies and elevates them" (no. 1839).
That leaves the theological virtues - these are the ones that help us develop the others, because - as their name implies, they come directly from God (Theo in Greek). And we don't have to do anything to get them; God handles that.
The catechism tells us that "the theological virtues are the foundation of Christian moral activity; they animate it and give it its special character. They inform and give life to all the moral virtues. They are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life. They are the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the faculties of the human being" (n. 1813).
God gives us these virtues, freely and lovingly. We don't have to work for them, but we do have to work with them in order to reach our full potential of being the image of God.
The three theological virtues are faith, hope and love. In art, they are sometimes depicted as an anchor for hope; a cross for faith; and a heart for love.
St. Paul spent a lot of time explaining these three virtues.
Hope, he told us, is "eager expectation," but, he added, it is also blind. This is because hope cannot see its goal and still remain hope. "For who hopes for what one sees?" Paul wrote. "But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with patient endurance" (Rom 8: 24-25). Adam and Eve were the first to look forward in hope, because, even as they were banished from God's presence, Adam chose to call his wife, Eve "the mother of all the living" even though no child had yet been born.
Faith is related to hope. As Paul said, "Faith is the realization of what is hope for and evidence of things not seen" (Heb 11:1). Abraham, who obeyed God's commands, is a great biblical example of hope and he is traditionally called our "father in faith."
Charity is the last theological virtue. However, as Paul tells us, it is the greatest of all. "So faith, hope and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1Cor 13:13). And the best example of love is, of course, God. As John told us, "God is love" (1 Jn 4:8). And Jesus showed us this in human form.
So faith, as Aquinas explained it, is related to things not yet seen, and hope to things not yet possessed (Summa, Q95, art. 3). But love is with us always.
As we reflect on the feasts of the past month - the Body and Blood of Christ (May 25), the Sacred Heart (May 30) and even the secular celebration of Father's Day (June 15), we bask in the comforting knowledge that we have no control over getting these theological virtues - or fear of losing them. God alone gives us these virtues, and adds whatever each of us needs to work with him so the virtues grow strong within us.
So, in the end, all that will remain is love - between us and God, eternally.
Yes, the countdown is under way and the virtues are already powering up within each of us.
Sources: The Catechism of the Catholic Church; Summa Theologica; The Catholic Encyclopedia.
FOUNDATIONS OF FAITH IS EDITED BY PAT KASTEN; FR. DAVE PLEIER, PASTOR OF ST. BERNARD & ST. PHILIP PARISHES, GREEN BAY, IS THEOLOGICAL ADVISOR.