BASICS OF CATHOLICISM: 10. THE VIRTUES AND THE GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT PART 1 – THE VIRTUES
Jul 1, 2019
Having given a very brief overview of God’s grace, (as both “sanctifying grace” and “actual grace”), we turn to considering what can simply be called the “life of grace,” or the living of this life in a God-like manner – in truth and love. Such a life of grace, by definition, is lived in reliance upon and cooperation with God’s grace as His gift of His own life dwelling within us and not by reliance upon our own capacity for the good. To grow in living such a God-like life is to grow in virtue.
In the glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “virtue” is defined as “an habitual and firm disposition to do the good.” There is a distinction made between the “theological virtues,” which are God’s direct gifts to us, and the “moral virtues” that are acquired with the help of God’s grace through our own human effort. It is important to note that any virtue is a cooperation with God’s grace, beginning with an opening of ourselves to receive His gift of divine life into our souls – such that we would grow in living in the manner that we are meant to live as those made in His image and likeness.
The “theological virtues” of faith, hope, and charity, are the foundation of our lives in Jesus Christ. As gifts from God that are said to be “infused” within us, these theological virtues draw us toward participation in the divine life for which God made us. At their heart, therefore, the theological virtues are primarily gifts of God’s grace, as He Himself is their source and their goal. By our opening of our hearts to receive these gifts of grace, all other virtues are more effectively able to be acquired and lived – that we would become all the more like what St. Paul says of himself in Galatians 2:20: that it is no longer he [Paul] who lives, but Christ who lives in him.
When it comes to the “moral virtues,” these are understood as the four “cardinal” virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude (or courage). Each of these cardinal virtues are acquired by a cooperating with God’s grace to learn them and practice living them. They are considered “cardinal” in that all other virtues “hinge” upon them (as taken from the Latin word “cardo,” meaning “hinge”). Take for example prudence (which is that virtue that aids us in discerning and choosing that which is good and then do the good in the most fitting way). To become prudent requires both an openness to God’s help in our discerning and choosing to act and in the very acting itself. With each prudent decision and act we become ever more conformed onto living such prudence as a true and more effortless way of life – as it becomes part of our being. As we continue to grow in this and all the virtues, we truly become freer – as our lives are able to be lived in the effortlessness of acquired and practiced virtue, without the heaviness or influence of those ways of life that are contrary to virtue (called “vices”).
For this installment, I strongly urge that you look at the paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that are given below – as each of the four cardinal virtues and three theological virtues are given straight-forward and detailed descriptions. What is key for us to remember is that these virtues draw us into a fuller and more perfect participation in the life for which God made us – which is eternal life in Him in heaven.
For further reading: In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1803-1845 treats the virtues, both that are natural (or the “cardinal virtues”), and those that are supernatural (or the “theological virtues”).