Faith, Hope & Love The Theological Virtues by Fr Andrew Pinsent
All booklets are published thanks to the generous support of the members of the Catholic Truth Society
CATHOLIC TRUTH SOCIETY publishers to the holy see
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Contents Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Forming Character . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Unity of the Virtues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 The Darkness of the World . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 Christ and the Life of Grace . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21 Divine Love (caritas) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31 Faith (fides) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43 Hope (spes) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53 Practical Concluding Remarks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61 All rights reserved. First published 2017 by The Incorporated Catholic Truth Society, 40-46 Harleyford Road London SE11 5AY Tel: 020 7640 0042 Fax: 020 7640 0046. © 2017 The Incorporated Catholic Truth Society. Images: Page 6, Statue of Roman Emperor Augustus on the via dei Fori Imperiali © Gilmanshin/Shutterstock; Page 16, Magdalene with a Smoking Flame by Georges de la Tour (d. 1652) © Google Cultural Institute, Wiki Commons; Page 20, Baptism of Christ by Piero della Francesca (d. 1492) National Gallery © London, UK/Bridgeman Images; Page 24, The Virgin Mary in Prayer by Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato (d. 1685) © National Gallery, London, UK/Bridgeman Images; Page 26, The Martyrdom of St Catherine of Alexandria by Guido Reni (d. 1642), WikiArt, (public domain); Page 30, Stigmata of Saint Francis by Bartolomeo della Gatta (d. 1502) © Bridgeman Images; Page 42, Icon of St Athanasius (d. 373), every effort has been made to trace the copyright of this image, any information gratefully received; Page 52, The Angelus (L’Angelus), Millet, Jean Francois © Everett - Art/Shutterstock; Page 62, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, central panel, Eyck, Jan van; Eyck, Hubert van, Ghent, Saint Bavo Cathedral © Everett - Art/Shutterstock.
ISBN 978 1 78469 154 7
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hat is a good human being and who is good? Has anyone ever been perfect and, if so, who? How does one grow in goodness and become perfect? What is man really? What would man be like, male and female, if human nature could ever be brought to perfection? Such questions are important to anyone who cares about human life and flourishing. Long before the coming of Jesus Christ, there were many attempts to answer these questions, including in ancient Greece, Rome and China. There were also individuals in ancient history or mythology who were regarded as supremely perfect, at least in certain ways: Aeneas, Aristotle, Hercules, Kongzi (Confucius), Pericles and Socrates, among others. Many statesmen and emperors, such as Augustus Caesar, sought to portray themselves as embodiments of such ideals. The Roman general Maximus, in the film Gladiator, is a modern fictionalised example: Maximus is noble, trustworthy, faithful to friends and family, just, prudent, temperate, and courageous in the face of betrayal, dishonour and death. The film also shows him to be extremely efficient at killing his enemies. Jesus Christ, who won our salvation not by killing his enemies but enduring death by crucifixion as the
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atonement for our sins, radically transformed the notion of goodness. In doing so he also established a revolutionary pattern of Christian life and death exemplified by the saints and martyrs of the Catholic Church. What then is human goodness in the light of Christ? What is the perfection of the Christian life? How does one grow to perfection in this goodness? A Christian Revolution
This present booklet, commissioned by the Catholic Truth Society, is an attempt to answer these questions by examining the meaning of virtue following the coming of Christ, or what one might call the â€˜Christian Revolutionâ€™ of virtue ethics. The first booklet examines the virtues of the Christian in relation to God (the theological virtues). A second, accompanying booklet examines the virtues of the Christian in relation to the world (the cardinal virtues). The structure of ideas is drawn principally from the great systematic works of Catholic theology, especially the second part of the Summa theologiae of St Thomas Aquinas. These ideas are illuminated with art, historical references, liturgical sources, parables, prayers and new research in psychology. It is hoped this booklet will be a source not only of rich ideas but also help in cultivating the life of grace to bring a harvest of holy fruitfulness into the kingdom of heaven.
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Scriptural translations used in this booklet are based on the Revised Standard Version, with some minor modifications. The citations from Blessed John Henry Newman are taken from Parochial and Plain Sermons (rev. edn, San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 1997). The prayer for the attainment of heaven of St Thomas Aquinas is taken from The Aquinas Prayer Book: The Prayers and Hymns of St Thomas Aquinas, translated by Robert Anderson and Johann M. Moser (new edn, Manchester, N.H., Sophia Institute Press, 2000). The translation of a passage of St Augustineâ€™s Confessions is taken from The Liturgy of the Hours According to the Roman Rite (London, Collins, 1974). Texts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church are taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: Revised in Accordance with the Official Latin Text Promulgated by Pope John Paul II (2nd edn, Vatican, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2000). Fr Andrew Pinsent Faculty of Theology and Religion University of Oxford January 2017
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Augustus Caesar (d. AD 14), founder of the Roman Empire and its first emperor, depicted by the statue known as the Augustus of Prima Porta, 1C
Augustus is portrayed as exemplifying a virtuous statesman of the classical world: prudent, just, courageous, temperate and exercising magnanimous leadership. Jesus Christ, born during the reign of Augustus, brought a new life of grace to those born in Baptism. In this new life, the virtues of the classical world are transfigured by the divinely-infused virtues of the adopted children of God.
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The meaning and importance of character
o you know someone well? If so, how would you describe that person? How would you describe yourself? How would someone else describe you? Apart from physical appearance and some basic facts about the person’s history, your description will probably include the ways in which the person behaves - that is, how the person is disposed to act. Positive dispositions might be described by words like ‘loving’, ‘truthful’, ‘loyal’, ‘trustworthy’, ‘prudent’ and ‘courageous’. Negative dispositions might be described by ‘cold’, ‘lying’, ‘disloyal’, ‘untrustworthy’, ‘reckless’, ‘cowardly’ and so on. There are also more or less neutral words, like ‘shy,’ ‘outgoing,’ ‘thoughtful’ and many others. Collectively, these words form a description of a person’s characteristic behaviour or character. Setting aside the neutral words, and precisely how the positive words relate to goodness and the negative words to evil, the good aspects of a person’s character are called ‘virtues’ and the evil aspects are called ‘vices’. One who is virtuous, from the Latin word vir meaning ‘man’, is man as he is meant to be. Conversely, one who is vicious, from the Latin
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word vitium meaning ‘defect’, ‘offence’ or ‘imperfection’, is a corrupted man, one who falls short or is perverted away from what man is meant to be. As a metaphor, a virtuous man is like a healthy or fruitful plant, whereas a vicious man is like a diseased and decayed plant. Love and friendship
Character is central to love and to friendship. Genuine friends share similar virtues and goals, even if the neutral aspects of their personalities are very different. Deep and loving friendship involves close harmony between persons, a harmony that is in practice only achieved gradually over a long time by the mutual discovery, shaping and alignment of their characters. Character is also extremely important in every profession, vocation and way of life. Businesses require judgements of character to assess the suitability of persons to perform certain tasks and depend on characteristic dispositions for tasks to be carried out reliably. Soldiers need to be able to trust their colleagues in situations of danger, and all those in positions of authority and service need to know themselves and to be sensitive to the characters of those around them. Given its importance and diversity, what is it that shapes a person’s character? What makes a person good or evil, along with having a wide range of neutral dispositions? Some aspects of a person’s character may
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be innate, part of what we are born with as individuals. Other aspects of character may be formed in some way by a combination of experience, choice and habit. What is particularly important is the hope that good and evil dispositions can be shaped and even radically transformed while we are still alive. Indeed, much of what is meant by becoming a good person consists in acquiring the virtues and eliminating the vices. Of course, this transformation is easier said than done, as dispositions can often be hard to change. Moreover, there is also the problem of motivation, as what is evil often seems attractive, and what is good can often seem unrewarding and distasteful, at least in the short term. Nevertheless, few would dispute that those character traits named virtues are ultimately good for oneself, oneâ€™s relationships and society. Conversely, those character traits named vices, if indulged consistently, are ultimately destructive to oneself, oneâ€™s relationships and society. Consequently, if we want to be happy, the formation of virtue should be a central project of our lives. Cultivating virtue Since virtue helps to make any kind of society possible, questions about the meaning and cultivation of virtue long predate Christianity. For example, the Chinese philosopher Kongzi (Confucius, d. 479 BC) in Analects 1.15 likens the project of cultivating oneâ€™s character to crafting something
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fine from raw material. Virtue ethics is also a central theme of ancient Greek philosophy, addressed in detail in the works of Plato (d. 347 BC) and Aristotle (d. 322 BC). How, then, is this cultivation carried out? An important starting point, recognised from ancient times, is that there is no foolproof way for those in authority to produce virtue in those for whom they have care. The wisest statesmen cannot guarantee having virtuous citizens, and the ancient Greeks puzzled over the problem of why virtuous men so often fail to have virtuous children. Indeed, the account of the Fall in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3) teaches how even God, who created human beings to be whole, virtuous,and happy in his presence, could not force Adam and Eve to be obedient and remain in paradise. Divine constraint would have prevented their actions being their own freely chosen actions, and by removing free will, God would have made them less than human and incapable of virtue. Exercising choice As in the case of the Garden of Eden, all created personal beings capable of exercising choice are, at some point in their existence, capable of choosing what is vicious. Nevertheless, there are ways of encouraging people to make those virtuous choices that will, one way or another, form virtue. Parents and others in authority have also long sought to smooth the path to virtue by rewards and punishments, making virtue more pleasurable and vice
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more painful to those who indulge in it. Hence Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics (EN) refers to steering the young by pleasure and pain (10.1.1172a19-21). Good example may nevertheless produce deeper and more authentic results, as in the case of children imitating their parents or disciples their masters. Discipleship, rewards and punishments have almost always been supplemented by stories and sayings. Examples include Aesopâ€™s Fables, or collections of sayings about patterns of good and bad life, as in the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament, for instance: He who heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof goes astray. One man gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. He who walks with wise men becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Prov 10:17; 11:24; 13:20) Such proverbs help to encourage good choices and to discourage evil ones, principally by bringing to mind the longer-term consequences of actions. Good examples, rewards and punishments, proverbs and stories all help to promote individual virtuous choices, and their remembrance is often effective
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even when a person is otherwise without assistance. Nevertheless, virtue in the proper sense is something deeper than merely making good choices. For example, genuinely courageous persons will be courageous in the face of danger and just persons will act justly even without fully conscious reflection, but simply because these are the kinds of actions such persons do. For this reason, it is often in moments of crisis and a need for sudden action that a personâ€™s true character reveals itself. How, then, does one cultivate genuine virtue, rather than simply making good choices? Aristotleâ€™s answer to this question is inspired by the parallel of learning to play a musical instrument (EN 2.1.1103a26-b2). By playing an instrument repeatedly, this playing eventually becomes what is now called second nature, and much of the detail of what goes on when playing can then happen without conscious awareness. Similarly, Aristotle argued that if we choose to act well repeatedly, which for him usually means taking the path of moderation between two extremes, these good choices eventually become easy. For example, the person who chooses repeatedly to eat a modest amount at each meal becomes accustomed to this choice and has then acquired a type of temperance. The general principle is that repeated virtuous actions themselves produce virtue (a virtuous circle), just as repeated vicious actions lead to vice (a vicious circle).
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Unity of the Virtues
irtues or good dispositions come in several different types depending on the kind of action to which they are directed. As noted above, virtue with respect to food and drink, for example, is one aspect of ‘temperance’, and the disposition to act well in the face of opposition, especially deadly danger, is called ‘courage’. The existence of the various virtues raises further questions. What are the principal virtues? How do virtues work together? Can a person who is virtuous in every way but one, such as a disposition to steal or to lie, otherwise be called ‘good’? Diverse thinkers and societies have generally answered ‘no’ to the last question. Just as a plant with just one disease is not a healthy plant, so also people who have just one serious vice are usually called ‘flawed’ or ‘evil’ rather than ‘good’. To have a good character, it is insufficient to have most of the virtues mixed with a few serious vices. One has to have all the virtues to have a good character. A recognition of this truth leads to the idea of the unity of the virtues: the need to have all the virtues, and for these virtues to work together. What, then, are the principal virtues and how do they work together? The Nicomachean Ethics approaches these questions by asking first what is the final goal of
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human action. What do we seek? Aristotle concludes that the answer is happiness (sometimes translated today as â€˜flourishingâ€™), but observes that human beings disagree over what happiness means. He examines and dismisses a variety of popular notions, such as money or honour, and concludes that true happiness must consist in an activity of the soul in a life of the best or most complete virtue. For Aristotle, the most noble activity of the soul is that of wisdom, which deals with first causes and principles of all things, in the company of friends who are also wise, and in a well-ordered society. This wise activity is made possible principally through a combination of prudence (practical wisdom), which disposes someone to know what should be done in particular situations, and a wide variety of moral virtues that dispose someone actually to do what should be done. For Aristotle, therefore, the unity of the virtues is based on philosophical and practical wisdom, the Biblical parallel to this insight being the figure of the philosopher-king Solomon, who asked for divine wisdom to govern the people of God (1 Kings 3:1-15). Four key virtues
Besides the Nicomachean Ethics, another unified system of virtues became influential in the late pre-Christian world. The Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero (d. 43 BC), as well as the Old Testament (DeuteroCanonical) Book of Wisdom, identifies four key virtues:
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And if anyone loves righteousness, her labours are virtues; for she [‘Wisdom’] teaches temperance and prudence, justice and courage; nothing in life is more profitable for mortals than these. (Wis 8:7) In this passage, ‘Wisdom’ is personified as a woman who is loved by the righteous soul and who teaches the four principal virtues of prudence, justice, courage and temperance. In the Latin-speaking world, these four principal virtues, under which all other virtues were grouped, were given a special name: the ‘cardinal virtues’ from the Latin word ‘cardo’ meaning ‘hinge’. With modifications, the idea of four cardinal virtues was incorporated later into Christian virtue ethics.
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Magdalene with a Smoking Flame by Georges de la Tour (d. 1652).
St Mary Magdalene is enveloped in the darkness of the world with her face illuminated only by the candle, a symbol of the light of Jesus Christ. The skull symbolises mortality and also Christ’s sacrifice for our salvation on Calvary or Golgotha, the “place of the skull”.
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