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Introduction to Virtue

Updated on July 9, 2014

Defining Virtue

Virtue, in a broad sense, can be defined simply as "a good habit". However, St. Thomas Aquinas outlined more specifically virtues that apply to the person as a spiritual and ethical being. Aquinas stated that there are three theological virtues and four cardinal virtues. Additionally Aquinas posited over fifty other "allied" or "sub" virtues that fall under the 7 primary virtues.

Virtues are the mean between two extremes, and are habits, meaning one must typically cultivate them through years of practice. Therefore, Virtue is more than the obedience and the works themselves. Virtue is a way of living. It is a way of being. It’s called CHARACTER. Aristotle discusses this in depth in his Nichomachean Ethics.

The Big 7

Three Theological Virtues

The Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love are called Theological Virtues because 1) they come from God, primarily through Baptism, and 2) they help us become better Christian Persons. Love is the highest of all virtue, and faith is the lowest of these three.

4 Cardinal Virtues

The term "Cardinal" here does not refer to the bird, but to its Latin root cardo --"that upon which something hinges or depends". Therefore, the Cardinal Virtues are called such because all other moral virtues are dependent upon them and can be categorized under one of them. They are also called "Natural Virtues" because 1) we have them from birth by the very nature of being human, and 2) they help us become better human persons. The 4 Cardinal Virtues, from most important to least important, are Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance.

Why do we need Virtue?

Consider my favorite analogy on this subject--the analogy of the ship.

The Human Person is like a ship, and Mankind like a fleet, all sailing on the ocean to a common mission (death). Now in order to complete this mission successfully, three things must happen.  1) You must not collide or damage other ships, 2) You must keep your ship in working condition, and 3) you must know your mission, where you're going, and how to get there.
Therefore, Morality consists of three parts: 1) The external relationship between man and man (Social Justice), 2) The internal ordering of the human person (Personal Virtue), and 3) the Purpose or end goal of the morality itself (Holiness). To be a "moral individual" one must cultivate all three parts.

There is no point in not colliding with other ships if your own ship can't complete its mission because of "faulty equipment".  This is the second purpose of morality, to keep US in working order.  Humans were made to work in a certain way, in accordance with love, free-will, and right reason.  Morality are instructions for proper operation of the human machine.  If we try to operate outside our normal parameters our machine breaks down and fails to work in love, free-will, and right reason.  Once this happens
we fail to control our collisions with others

List of Virtues

Aquinas listed many virtues which he thought comprised the totality of human habits. Below is a list of some that will be covered later in the series.

Charity(Love)--Orients us towards the Good

Chastity--Proper stewardship of our sexuality

Clemency--Moderates our punishments towards others

Compassion--Concern for the suffering of others

Conviviality--Being Friendly

Diligence--Carrying out duties in a timely manner

Docility--Openness to being taught something

Endurance--Bearing discomforts without quitting

Faith--Assenting to the truth of something unseen

Fairness--Paying someone a just wage

Forbearance--Patient self-control

Forgiveness--Erasing debts


Generosity--Giving of gifts

Gentility/Meekness--Moderation of Anger

Good Counsel--Giving good advice

Gratitude--Being Thankful

Honor--Recognizing the Virtue in others

Hope--Trust in God's Promises

Hospitality--Treatment of guests

Humility--Moderation of self-worth

Integrity--alignment of values and actions

Innocence--Ignorance of sin

Justice--Giving persons their dues

Jubilance--Manifesting of Joy

Kindness--Consideration towards others

Leadership--Properly influencing others

Magnanimity--Greatness of Soul

Modesty--Moderation of action and dress

Obedience--Properly following authority

Observance--Recognition of a persons title

Patience--Resistance to sorrow

Patriotism--Honor of one's country

Perseverance--Persistence in accomplishing virtue

Piety--Honor of family

Prudence--Knowledge and execution of proper action

Religion--Worship of God

Reverence--Proper disposition towards holy things

Solidarity--proper action towards injustice


Sympathy--Identifying another's discomfort

Temperance--Proper moderation of the passions

Thankfulness--appreciate for things received

Truthfulness--proper expression of reality

Understanding--knowledge of creation

Unselfishness--proper concern for self

Uprightness--Free from scandal

Wisdom--knowledge of God's ways

More will be added as I continue to discover more Christian Virtues. Please click on the link to go directly to that Virtue's hub.

© 2011 rdlang05


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