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The Theological Virtues In General

December 1, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By DON FIER

Upon closing its section on the cardinal or “hinge” virtues, we saw in last week’s installment that the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) promptly highlighted the indispensable role that grace plays in the fruitful practice of the human virtues.
As summarized by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ, the primary purpose of God’s grace in their regard is: to elevate the human virtues from the natural to the supernatural plane; to forge them in a way that enables a certain facility or ease in their practice; to enable perseverance in the practice of the virtues; and to prompt us to pray, receive the sacraments, and respond to God’s call for ongoing conversion through an ever greater practice of the human virtues (cf. The Faith, p. 162).
We also saw last week that sanctifying grace can be defined as a “habitual gift, a stable and supernatural disposition that perfects the soul itself to enable it to live with God, to act by his love” (CCC, n. 2000).
In his work entitled Spiritual Theology (SpT), Fr. Jordan Aumann, OP, lists many of its magnificent effects: it makes us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), adopted children of God (cf. Gal. 4:5), “heirs of God, and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17).
Moreover, it gives us supernatural life, makes us just and pleasing to God, gives us the capacity for supernatural merit, and unites us intimately with God (cf. SpT, pp. 71-74). Sanctifying grace might rightly be called the “seed of glory,” for it makes its recipients heirs of Heaven.
Along with the supernatural moral virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, sanctifying grace is infused into the person’s soul at Baptism. Also known as habitual grace, it remains permanently so long as mortal sin is not committed. Sanctifying grace, the gifts, and the infused theological and moral virtues (except possibly faith and hope) are forfeited through mortal sin; they are normally restored by reception of the Sacrament of Penance.
Sanctifying grace is distinguished from actual grace, which refers to “God’s interventions, whether at the beginning of conversion or in the course of the work of sanctification” (CCC, n. 2000). (Note: Actual grace will be covered in a more complete manner in a later installment.)
The Catechism now devotes a substantial section (nn. 1812-1829) to an examination of the three theological virtues — faith, hope, charity — which are characterized as being 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” (CCC, 1813).
Indeed, the Catechism states that all the moral virtues, which we have been unpacking over the past ten installments, “are rooted in the theological virtues…for the theological virtues relate directly to God…[and] have the One and Triune God for their origin, motive, and object” (CCC, n. 1812).
Etymologically, the word “theological” is derived from the transliteration of two ancient Greek words: Theos (“God”) and logos (“word”). The theological virtues, then, are referred to as such because they direct us to God, and because we receive them from God alone.
In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, these supernatural principles are called theological virtues “first, because their object is God, inasmuch as they direct us aright to God; secondly, because they are infused in us by God alone; and thirdly, because these virtues are not made known to us, save by Divine Revelation” (Summa Theologiae [STh] I-II, Q. 62, art. 1).
In an article entitled “The Meaning of Virtue in St. Thomas Aquinas,” Fr. Hardon, using the Angelic Doctor’s analysis of man’s elevation to the supernatural order, illuminates why the theological virtues are necessary:
“Our final happiness may be considered in two ways. One is commensurate with our human nature, and therefore a happiness obtainable by the use of our native powers of mind and will. The other is immeasurably higher, surpassing nature, and secured only from God by the merciful communication of His own divinity. To make it possible to attain this higher destiny in the beatific vision, we must have new principles of activity, which are called theological virtues because their object is God and not, as in moral virtues, merely things that lead to God” (see www.therealpresence.org/archives/Saints/Saints_004.htm).
The servant of God goes on to explain that the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity supply for the mind and will what neither faculty has of itself, the salutary knowledge, desire, and love of God and His will.
Lacking these, says Fr. Hardon, “There could be no supernatural order….These virtues make us well adjusted to our last end, which is God Himself;…they not only go out to God — as all virtue worthy of the name must do — but they also reach Him.”
How, then, do the acquired natural virtues, infused moral virtues, and infused theological virtues differ with regards to means and end? “The infused moral virtues are habits that dispose the faculties of man to follow the dictates of reason illumined by faith in relation to the means that lead to the supernatural end,” explains Fr. Aumann.
“They do not have God as their immediate object — and in this way they are distinguished from the theological virtues — but they rightly ordain human acts to the supernatural end, and in this way they are distinguished from the corresponding acquired natural virtues” (SpT, p. 86; emphasis added).
Fr. Aumann describes the theological virtues as “the Christian virtues par excellence” (SpT, p. 248). During our sojourn on Earth they enable us, in an enduring manner, to orientate our entire lives and all our actions to God. Indeed, scriptural evidence of their existence and preeminence appears often in the writings of St. Paul. To the Corinthians he wrote, “Faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13); even in eternal life, “love never ends” (1 Cor. 13:8).
Similarly, the Apostle to the Gentiles assured the Thessalonians that he constantly remembered them in prayer for their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 1:3) and encouraged them to “put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thess. 5:8). St. Paul also mentions the three theological virtues together in Romans 5:1-5 and Galatians 5:5-6.
How do the theological virtues order our spiritual faculties to make it possible for us to attain the supernatural end for which we were created? To answer, St. Thomas cites a verse from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians to: “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9; as cited in STh I-II, Q. 62, art. 3).
“With regard both to the intellect (the ‘eye’) and to the will (the ‘heart’),” explains Dr. Lawrence Feingold, STD, “something needs to be supernaturally added to man to order him to his supernatural end” (Course Notes for Fundamental Moral Theology [FMT], December 2009, p. 133). The intellect needs to be perfected by faith and the will by hope and charity.
In a brief, but well-stated summary of the Angelic Doctor’s teaching, Msgr. Paul J. Glenn encapsulates the effects rendered by the theological virtues:
“Faith enlightens the intellect by imparting knowledge of supernatural truths. Hope directs the will to its supernatural last end as to something that requires effort and cooperation with grace, but as something attainable. Charity unites the will with God, its end and object; charity sets the soul into the friendship of God” (A Tour of the Summa [ATS], pp. 144-145).
Stated in different terms, Fr. Aumann says: “Faith enables us to know God as First Truth; hope makes us desire him as the Supreme Good for us; charity unites us to him by the love of friendship, so far as he is infinite Goodness” (SpT, p. 85).

A Center Of Gravity

There exists a noteworthy and interesting difference between the theological virtues and the moral virtues. As was repeated and demonstrated often during our consideration of the cardinal virtues and the many related virtues, they realize their perfection in the golden mean between excess and defect. The theological virtues, on the other hand, are not subject to measure or mean in the same way.
“Never can we love God as much as He ought to be loved, nor believe and hope in Him as much as we should,” states St. Thomas. “Much less therefore can there be excess in such things. Accordingly the good of such virtues does not consist in a mean, but increases the more we approach to the summit” (STh I-II, Q. 64, art. 4).
Nevertheless, as Fr. Hardon explains in his previously cited article, “there is a valid sense in which even the theological virtues observe a kind of mean, or better, a center of gravity to which they tend.”
As an example, he contrasts two heretical extremes: Pelagianism (which dispenses with divine grace) and Jansenism (which denies free will). Considered from our point of view, Christian faith “goes midway between these heretical extremes.”
Similarly, Christian hope must choose between many means of striving for salvation and Christian charity must find a balance among the abundant ways of loving God and loving neighbor.
Beginning with next week’s column, each theological virtue will be examined in greater depth, starting with faith, for “first is to know (faith), then to desire (hope), and lastly to attain (charity)” (SpT, p. 85).

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(Don Fier serves on the board of directors for The Catholic Servant, a Minneapolis-based monthly publication. He and his wife are the parents of seven children. Fier is a 2009 graduate of Ave Maria University’s Institute for Pastoral Theology. He is a Consecrated Marian Catechist.)

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