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The Virtue-Driven Life
CatholicCulture.org/Envoy Institue ^ | n/a | Mark Lowery, Ph.D.

Posted on 03/11/2008 3:41:39 PM PDT by Salvation

The Virtue-Driven Life

I heard someone refer to the "cardinal virtues." I know what a virtue is — a good habit — but I need some help with the word "cardinal."

There are four cardinal moral virtues: prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. They are called "cardinal" from the Latin word for "hinge," (cardo, cardinis) since the whole life of natural virtue pivots on these four key virtues. Think of these as "grooves" in your life that keep you headed toward your final destiny. Every particular virtue — patience, magnanimity, gratitude, trust — belongs to one of these grooves.

Think of those cases in which you really had to struggle in your conscience to figure out exactly the right thing to do. Of course we know that we can never violate an absolute moral norm. Yet there are so many cases in which we have to do go well beyond moral norms and determine what it means in this or that particular case to act justly or charitably. It is the virtue of prudence — the first of the cardinal virtues — that helps us discover "just the right way" to act. Let's take the second cardinal virtue, justice, as an example.

Justice is the habit by which the will easily chooses to treat others well, and prudence "attaches" itself to justice so as to practice it in just the right way. For instance, friendliness to others is part of justice. But the person who smiles all the time is excessively friendly, which can harm relations with others who never know when that individual is in fact unhappy and in need of some type of help. On the other hand, the person who barely forces out a weak smile or kind word is defective in his friendliness.

The right balance must be struck, and prudence is the ability to know that middle point. This middle point is called the "mean" of virtue, lying between excess and defect. To strike the perfect mean between excess and defect does not mean, however, that we can be moderately virtuous. We cannot be chaste some of the time, or courageous some of the time. Rather, we must be chaste and courageous all of the time, a task that requires hitting the "mean."

For good examples of particular virtues which fall under the cardinal virtue of justice, turn to the "Scout Law" of the Boy Scouts where you'll find virtues such as trustworthiness, respect, honesty, loyalty, friendliness, obedience, and courtesy.

Can we try out the "middle point" on the virtue of temperance? I believe that's another of the cardinal virtues.

Yes. The moral virtue of temperance (or moderation) perfects our appetites toward things pleasurable. The technical term for that appetite is the concupiscible appetite, not to be confused with concupiscence, though they are related. By the wound of concupiscence we find it difficult to control our concupiscible appetite, as well as other appetites.

While concupiscence is a tendency toward evil (disorder), the concupiscible appetite itself is not evil. Pleasurable things are great — as long as they are properly ordered. Temperance allows us to use the pleasurable goods of the world in a proper and ordered way. Someone who disdains material goods practices temperance on the side of defect, since the creation is good and meant to be used and enjoyed. Someone who takes various goods of creation and misuses them, or makes them into the final end, errs on the side of excess. Prudence assists temperance in helping find the proper mean between excess and defect.

Temperance is too often given a very narrow meaning: curtailment, curbing, repressing. But it is a key to unlocking authentic freedom. It is a directing of reason in the widest sense — getting all the goods of human life properly ordered under the highest good. Without temperance, created goods easily creep up and vie for the position of the ultimate good. When a created good takes that position, something disastrous happens: the desire for that created good becomes insatiable. A person is, after all, treating it as the ultimate good, a position it can never fill, but in which effort it will endlessly absorb that agent. The agent will remain restless until the true ultimate good is placed back where it belongs.

As I'm sure you've noticed, there is something interesting that God built into life to remind us of all this. When we experience created goods, even at their very best, they leave us unfulfilled. Remember the childhood experience of discovering that all the perfect Christmas gifts still leave us wanting something more? That painful experience, and all the adult versions of it, turn out to be friendly to us, reminding us gently (or not so gently) of the true ultimate end.

Ouch! It takes a lot of guts to recognize that fact, no?

And you've just hit upon the fourth and final cardinal virtue: fortitude. Fortitude or bravery is needed to carry out every virtuous act — as you said, it takes "guts" to keep all the goods of life in proper order. We all experience, in different ways, the inertia that lets us "dodge" that proper order. There's a perfect name for that appetite that says "run away!" — the irascible appetite — and there's a virtue, fortitude, by which we can perfect that appetite. For instance, if you understand the importance of studying Latin, but feel so overwhelmed by its difficulty, you are affected by the irascible appetite (that appetite that says "run away!"). Fortitude is the virtue allowing you to overcome this barrier and bravely set out to do that which is difficult. It also allows us to pursue that which is dangerous.

Prudence assists fortitude in knowing the proper mean. For instance, jumping in the water to save a drowning swimmer requires fortitude. If I jump in even though I don't swim well myself, I have erred in the direction of excess. People might say I was brave, but in fact I was rash. Or, if I am afraid to jump in, and then do nothing else to help, I err by defect and am called a coward.

If we take a bird's-eye view of the four cardinal virtues, we see that ultimately they all work together, getting us into that "groove" toward our ultimate end. We distinguish the different virtues only to finally unite them. All the virtues need prudence to find the mean; in carrying out any virtue, fortitude and temperance are needed, and they all help us to treat others the right way: justice. When we grow in virtue, all the cardinal virtues grow together, just as each finger on a hand grows as the hand grows.

Learning about the whole tradition of virtue is illuminating, but scary. Any way at least a few of these could be directly infused into us without all the practice?

To give a professorial answer: yes and no. The bad news is that you have to practice — grace does not cancel nature, but presupposes it. A person's vices do not nicely fall away like scales when that person receives the grace of Christ. The good news is that all of the natural virtues a person has can be infused with Christ's grace, raising them to a supremely high level. These infused-by-grace moral virtues then do wonders for helping a person cooperate with grace to conquer remaining vices.

When people perform virtuous acts, they might have any number of ends in mind, such as fulfilling themselves (virtuous people are happy people) or contributing to the common good (people are happier when they are around virtuous as opposed to less-than-virtuous individuals — think of the exhausted clerk who still gives a smile). But the ultimate end of a virtuous act is one's final end, union with God for eternity. If people are ordered toward that end, it is due to the gift of God's grace inhered in them, called charity. When the natural moral virtues are directed toward the ultimate end, they are then infused with that very charity and, without losing their natural dimension, they are lifted up to a higher, transcendent, or supernatural dimension. Only when the moral virtues are so infused do they come into the fullness of real virtue; without charity, they are only virtues in a qualified sense. That is why charity is called the "queen" of the virtues, and also the form of the virtues.

It's now easy to see why a person who becomes a Christian does not instantaneously become a virtuous person. He has the indwelling of charity, but until the arduous work of cooperation with grace to develop natural virtues occurs, charity has nothing on which to work (it certainly can't work on the privation of virtue, or vice).

If the "infused-by-grace moral virtues" allow a person to be directed toward the final end, what is the effect on other people? Does that effect remain identical to the effect of the natural virtues?

Now that, with the virtue of charity, I am ordered toward my final end, I can love other people with the love of God that has been poured into my heart. Loving other people with this love means caring for them with their final end in view — as God cares for them. With this love, I will always want my neighbors to follow the moral law — no matter how difficult — and I will not assist them in breaking it.

In this light, the great biblical saying "love thy neighbor as thyself" takes on its true meaning. If I genuinely love myself, I am concerned ultimately with my final end, and I orient my whole life toward it. I can only thus love myself if I have the gift of charity. To love my neighbors as myself means to be likewise concerned for them — not just with their temporal comfort and well-being, but with their eternal destiny.

Alongside charity are two other infused theological virtues, faith and hope. Faith is the intellectual assent to the truths revealed by God, while hope is the confidence that we will be able to reach our final goal. Like the moral virtues, these virtues are not full virtues unless infused with charity. When faith is so infused, one then possesses by participation the very thing believed in — the Trinitarian life. Likewise when hope is so infused, that which is hoped for is already present by anticipation.

Let me try to stump you. If a person loses charity — the queen of the virtues — due to mortal sin, then faith and hope are obviously lost as well. Then, the individual would have no motivation to get back on track again because he no longer even believes in any of this, much less hopes for it.

Good try, and you might have stumped me had I not just read St. Thomas on this very point. Recall by analogy how, when one has lost charity, the moral virtues remain as virtues in a qualified sense. The patient person still exhibits patience — good habits, like bad habits, die hard — but those patient acts are no longer ordered toward the final end. Likewise with faith and hope (without charity they still can exist, but that which is believed in and hoped for is no longer present in the soul), sanctifying grace is absent. We call them "dead" faith and hope, or "unformed" (by charity) faith and hope. They still do the person enormous good because if one still believes and hopes, one can be motivated to get back on track, with charity, onto the path to one's final beatific end.


Mark Lowery, Ph.D., is an associate professor of moral theology at the University of Dallas. Contact him at lowery@acad.udallas.edu.

© Envoy Institute of Belmont Abbey College



TOPICS: Apologetics; Catholic; Moral Issues; Theology
KEYWORDS: catholic; catholiclist; sins; virtues
For your information and discussion.

Highlighting mine.

1 posted on 03/11/2008 3:41:39 PM PDT by Salvation
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To: All

Cardinal virtues:
prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude

Theological virtues
faith, hope and charity.

Thus — the Seven Heavenly Virtues!


2 posted on 03/11/2008 3:43:45 PM PDT by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: nickcarraway; sandyeggo; Lady In Blue; NYer; ELS; Pyro7480; livius; Catholicguy; RobbyS; ...
Catholic Discussion Ping!

Please notify me via FReepmail if you would like to be added to or taken off the Catholic Discussion Ping List.

3 posted on 03/11/2008 3:44:32 PM PDT by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: All
The Virtue-Driven Life

The Virtues (counteracting the REAL Seven Deadly Sins)

What are Capital Sins? [Seven Deadly Sins]

4 posted on 03/11/2008 3:46:29 PM PDT by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: All
And all the threads that got this discussion going in the first place!

Truth threads
 

The Virtue-Driven Life

The Virtues (counteracting the REAL Seven Deadly Sins)

Media Falsely Portrays (Catholic) Bishop’s Opinion in Interview as ‘New’ Sins

The New Forms of Social Sin (Finally, An English Translation of the Bishop Girotti Interview)

What are Capital Sins? [Seven Deadly Sins]

[Catholic Caucus] The Forum: Not "new sins" but an old media blind spot

Not "new sins" but an old media blind spot (Vatican _DOES_NOT_ Announce Seven New Deadly Sins)

Vatican Lists "New Sins," Including Pollution (Catholic Caucus)

--------------------------------------------------------

Falsehood and leftist spin threads
 

Recycle or go to Hell, warns Vatican

UH OH ... NEW SINS FROM THE VATICAN

5 posted on 03/11/2008 3:49:24 PM PDT by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: Salvation

I’m afraid virtue was behind the delivery room door when I was born. ;) I fight for it every day. Thanks for the ping!


6 posted on 03/11/2008 4:08:06 PM PDT by pray4liberty (Watch and pray.)
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To: pray4liberty

I think the first line of the second paragraph has us all pegged!
**Think of those cases in which you really had to struggle in your conscience to figure out exactly the right thing to do.**


7 posted on 03/11/2008 4:15:49 PM PDT by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: Salvation; NYer; Mrs. Don-o

“We unite ourselves to Him, in so far as this is possible, by participating in the godlike virtues and by entering into communion with Him through prayer and praise. Because the virtues are similitudes of God, to participate in them puts us in a fit state to receive the Deity, yet it does not actually unite us to Him. But prayer through its sacral and hieratic power actualizes our ascent to and union with the Deity, for it is a bond between noetic creatures and their Creator.” +Gregory Palamas


8 posted on 03/11/2008 6:31:39 PM PDT by Kolokotronis (Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!)
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To: Salvation

The bad news is that you have to practice — grace does not cancel nature, but presupposes it. A person’s vices do not nicely fall away like scales when that person receives the grace of Christ.

&&&
So true!

Good piece. Thanks for the flag.


9 posted on 03/11/2008 7:07:05 PM PDT by Bigg Red (Position Wanted: Expd Rep voter looking for a party that is actually conservative.)
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To: Bigg Red; All

Prayer to be Freed of the Seven Deadly Sins

O meek Savior and Prince of Peace, implant in me the virtues of gentleness and patience. Let me curb the fury of anger and restrain all resentment and impatience so as to overcome evil with good, attain your peace, and rejoice in your love.

O Model of humility, divest me of all pride and arrogance. Let me acknowledge my weakness and sinfulness, so that I may bear mockery and contempt for your sake and esteem myself as lowly in your sight.

O Teacher of abstinence, help me to serve you rather than our appetites. Keep me from gluttony - the inordinate love of food and drink and let me hunger and thirst for your justice.

O Lover of purity, remove all lust from my heart, so that I may serve you with a pure mind and a chaste body.

O Father of the poor, help me to avoid all covetousness for earthly goods and give me a love for heavenly things. Inspire me to give to the needy, just as you gave your life that I might inherit eternal treasures.

O Exemplar of love, keep me from all envy and ill-will. Let the grace of your love dwell in me that I may rejoice in the happiness of others and bewail their adversities.

O zealous Lover of souls, keep me from all sloth of mind or body. Inspire me with zeal for your glory, so that I may do all things for you and in you.

10 posted on 03/11/2008 8:06:07 PM PDT by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: Salvation

Fortitude, a most noble virtue to aim for.


11 posted on 03/11/2008 8:45:20 PM PDT by Ciexyz
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To: Salvation

I am glad we are talking about this topic because it is of great interest to me. I only wish I could say I was more free of the vices


12 posted on 03/11/2008 9:36:22 PM PDT by ChurtleDawg (voting only encourages them)
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To: Salvation

Thanks for pinging me to this prayer.


13 posted on 03/12/2008 9:27:22 AM PDT by Bigg Red (Position Wanted: Expd Rep voter looking for a party that is actually conservative.)
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To: Kolokotronis

Wow. Lots to think of, there.


14 posted on 03/12/2008 1:21:56 PM PDT by Mrs. Don-o (I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life.)
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To: Mrs. Don-o

“Wow. Lots to think of, there.”

I understand that +BXVI will be discussing +Gregory Palamas at one of his Wednesday catechesises after Pascha.


15 posted on 03/12/2008 1:32:44 PM PDT by Kolokotronis (Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!)
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To: Salvation

Wow! So the difference between the virtue driven Catholic and the virtue driven Muslim is what? They are both headed in the same direction, no?

How about having a GOSPEL centered life instead. Virtuousness can be practiced by the infidel, and leads to the same place where they are going, without Christ. Only the Gospel leads one to Jesus, and He is the only hope of salvation. (But I am sure that is taught by the Catholic Church, right?)


16 posted on 03/12/2008 4:55:50 PM PDT by Ottofire (But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation)
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To: Ottofire

I think you will find all the virtues in the Gospels. I have no problems with them.


17 posted on 03/12/2008 10:17:14 PM PDT by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: Ottofire

You have got to be kidding that Christ did not talk about these subjects:

Faith, hope, charity (love)

prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude

Perhaps you won’t find those exact words, but Christ talks about them.

Check the Sermon of the Mount for some of them.


18 posted on 03/12/2008 10:59:43 PM PDT by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: Salvation

I agree that the virtues are admirable traits. They are a blessing to all that practice them, regenerate or not.

But the question was: what is the difference between the virtuous Catholic and the virtuous Muslim? Do you suggest that they are headed in the same direction? Are both working to gain the same end, much like Mother Teresa suggested when she said she was working to make Muslims better Muslims, Hindus better Hindus...?


19 posted on 03/12/2008 11:09:26 PM PDT by Ottofire (But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation)
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To: Salvation

Dear Salvation,
Thank you for the ping...just getting to it. I especially enjoyed the article explaining the capital sins....truly they are at the root of everything! Sometimes these slip in unnoticed and grow. A reminder that these temptations are there and calling these tools of the adversary by name, along with an explanation, can be nothing but helpful.


20 posted on 03/14/2008 4:51:24 AM PDT by eaglesnest1 (there has always been a price for freedom and we are GRATEFUL to those who sacrifice so much for us)
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To: Ottofire

I get where you are going and agree - it is through Christ we are saved, not practicing the virtues (though the virtues should be the gradually increasing visible fruit of a life of faith dedicated to Him). The difference between the virtuous Catholic and the virtuous Muslim is the root: faith in Christ-crucified and resurrected and knowing salvation is through Him alone. We must be cautious to ensure our striving for holiness is out of adoration for Him for Who He is as revealed in His Word and not to become subject to the Law once again. The virtues must spring forth from a heart crucified to Christ, in that for love of Him we choose to crucify the desires of the flesh which do not honor His Way and not seek to perform the virtues for the virtues themselves.

May He grant you a day richly blessed in His grace and His love in a way which all around you can see!


21 posted on 03/14/2008 5:02:11 AM PDT by eaglesnest1 (there has always been a price for freedom and we are GRATEFUL to those who sacrifice so much for us)
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To: eaglesnest1

>May He grant you a day richly blessed in His grace and His love in a way which all around you can see!

Thank you!

Christ is the root, the cause of our salvation! Without Him we are not going to do anything but burn for all eternity. Thus the Muslim, as a Muslim is on the broad road, and those that believe that virtue itself is a way, without faith in Christ, is walking beside the Muslim.

Works without faith cannot produce salvation, and this is generally not taught in the Catholic Church, outside some universalists, such as suggested by Mother Teresa’s writings and some interpretations of Vatican II.


22 posted on 03/14/2008 6:54:49 AM PDT by Ottofire (Psalm 18:31 For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?)
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To: Ottofire

Catholics have the Sacraments of the Church. Moslems do not.

‘Unless you eat my body and drink my blood you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.’


23 posted on 03/04/2010 7:56:03 PM PST by bigoil
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