"Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable,
whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely,
whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue
and if there is anything praiseworthy, meditate on these things.
Letter of Paul to the Philippians 4:8
A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good.
Grace is God's free gift of himself, and virtue is man's free response to God. God gives us grace to live a virtuous life. The moral life of Christians is sustained
by the Holy Spirit. The People of God proclaim the virtues of Jesus "who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (First Peter 2:9). The goal of a virtuous life is to share in divine nature with God and Our Lord Jesus Christ (Second Peter 1:1-7).
Faith, Hope, and Charity are called the Theological Virtues, for they unite us to God. Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance are called the Cardinal or Moral Virtues, as they govern our relationships during life. The virtues enable us to give the best of ourselves to God and the people in our lives and in everything that we do.
The Moral Sense is one of the Spiritual senses of Scripture, and addresses how we are to act in matters of right behavior and in application to Christian life. Morality refers to the goodness or evil of human acts. A morally good act requires the goodness of the action, the intention or purpose, and the circumstances.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the Holy Family, are exemplary Models of Virtue. The Bible gives us several examples of virtue such as the love of God, the faith of Abraham, and the hope of Job. St. Thomas Aquinas has written the definitive work on the Virtues in the Summa Theologica. Dante Alighieri in the Divine Comedy offers many Biblical examples of the Virtues, one always from the life of the Virgin Mary, that offset the seven deadly sins. The Virtues are key to the traditional principles of Medical Ethics.
Faith is belief and a personal commitment to God and to his saving truths. "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). Having faith in God leads us to truth, for he is Truth itself. The more one is committed to faith in God, the more fruitful one’s life will be, for "the righteous shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17). "For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge" (Second Peter 1:5). Faithfulness is a Fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22).
Biblical Examples: Noah (Genesis 6:8), Abraham (Genesis 22), Rahab (Joshua 2, Hebrews 11:31), Moses (Numbers 12:7)
Related virtues: Humility, Trust in God
Jesus - "I am meek and humble of heart" (Matthew 11:29); Mary (Luke 1:38); the tax collector (Luke 18:14)
Hope is the desire for God and the trust we will receive the graces to be with Him for eternity in Heaven. Life is a pilgrimage, and it is our hope that we are on the way to attain this ultimate goal. Hope responds to the desire every man has for happiness, which God has placed in our hearts. Hope sustains us in times of difficulty, and keeps us from discouragement. Jesus Christ is the actual fulfillment of our hope. St. Paul reminds us “in hope were we saved” (Romans 8:24). One hopes for God's mercy. Prayer is the expression of our hope.
Biblical examples: Job 13:15, Psalm 33:22, Jeremiah 29:11
Related virtue: Fear, the beginning of wisdom
Charity is love. Charity leads us to love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus Christ calls this the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37-39). "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). Charity is the greatest of all the virtues (First Corinthians 13), for it inspires and informs all the other virtues. "And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity" (Colossians 3:14). Have mercy and forgive your loved one; forgiveness is the key to peace. Jesus on the Cross reminds us, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). Love is the first Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
Biblical examples: God (Genesis 1:29-30, Numbers 14:19), Jesus (Matthew 5:14, John 15:13), Tobit (Tobit 1), Mary (John 2:1-11)
Related virtues: Mercy, Generosity, Kindness, Gratitude, Obedience, Peace
Prudence is the moral virtue which helps us make the right choice in every instance, to allow us to properly treat our neighbors, and accomplish our ultimate goal of union with God. Prudence is "right reason in action," writes St. Thomas Aquinas. One needs to have foresight, experience, and an ability to quietly contemplate in order to perform the reasonable and right action according to one’s conscience. It is so important to think before you act! Emotions and passion cloud the mind, and lead one astray. Too often major life decisions are made in a rush. Thinking over things in prayer and solitude with prudence and reason will help guide you to make the right decision.
Biblical example: Joseph (Genesis 41), Daniel (Daniel 2:14)
Related virtues: Reason, Understanding, Foresight
Justice is the moral virtue that leads one to respect the rights of others and to give God and neighbor their due. It means being fair to God and others. Being fair to God includes a responsibility to work, for work honors the Creator's gifts and the talents received from him. Jesus offers the Golden Rule in the Sermon on the Mount: "Do to others as you would have them do to you" (Matthew 7:12). The word "justice" appears in Isaiah more than any other book of the Bible.
Justice prevails in a stable society when three basic relationships in a community are in harmony: the relations of individuals to each other, the relation of society to individuals, and the relations of individuals to society. These three basic relationships correspond to the three basic forms of justice: commutative, distributive, and social justice. Commutative justice calls for fundamental fairness in all agreements and exchanges between individuals or private social groups. Distributive justice is concerned with the apportionment of privileges, duties, and goods in consonance with the merits of the individual and in the best interest of society. Social justice implies that persons have an obligation to contribute and be productive participants in the life of society and that society has a duty to enable individuals to have ready access to their own fulfillment and thus be able to contribute.
Biblical example: Solomon (I Kings 3:11)
Related virtues: Diligence, Zeal
Fortitude is the moral virtue that gives us the courage to carry out what is right, even in the face of difficulty! It strengthens the resolve to be brave and to do right by others. Fortitude does not allow one to be forced into evil by fear, or to be kept by fear from doing good. It helps one conquer fear and to endure suffering, trials, and persecutions. Fortitude often needs magnanimity - "greatness of soul" - to pursue what is honorable for the service of others. So whoever realizes the good by facing injury is truly brave. The ultimate achievement of fortitude is martyrdom. Fortitude is a Gift of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:2)
Biblical examples: Joshua (Joshua 1:6-1:9), David (II Samuel 7)
Related virtues: Magnanimity, Patience, Perseverance
Temperance is the moral virtue that gives us self-control over our desires and appetites, in order to live godly and upright lives in this world (Titus 2:12). Temperance defends the inner soul and serenity of the moral person from all the seductions of the world, the flesh, and the devil. One learns self-discipline by abstaining from certain pleasures in life, which helps to free us from being enslaved to them. Temperance gives one control over instincts and helps us resist temptations. Self-control is a Fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Related virtues: Chastity, Fasting and Abstinence, Meekness
Biblical examples: Joseph (Genesis 39), Daniel (Daniel 1:8-16), Moses (Numbers 12:3).
The virtues are listed both collectively and individually in many passages of Scripture. The First Letter of Paul to the
Corinthians 13:13 notes the three Theological Virtues.
The Book of Wisdom 8:5-7 lists the four
Cardinal Virtues as above. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit
(Isaiah 11:2-3) are Wisdom, Counsel, Knowledge, Understanding, Fortitude, Piety,
and Fear of the Lord. The Fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)
are Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness or Generosity, Faithfulness, Gentleness or Meekness, and Self-Control. And
Colossians 3:12 mentions Compassion, Kindness, Humility, Gentleness, and Patience.
All other virtues proceed from the above seven, such as obedience, for example. Obedience is the moral virtue that leads the will to comply with the will of another who has the right to command. St. Thomas Aquinas informs us that obedience stems from both charity and justice. It is only fair to obey the will of God or your parents, for example, for they love you and care about you. Jesus is obedient to his Father: he follows his praise of the Father with ""I am meek and humble of heart" (Matthew 11:25-29). The Commandment to "Honor your father and mother," is the only commandment with a promise: "that thy days be long in the land which the Lord gives thee."
The virtue of Humility is related to Faith. Humility is the foundation of prayer, for prayer is an expression of faith in a relationship with God. Humility is the realization that all one's gifts and blessings come from the grace of God. Humility is the acceptance of the inexpressible distance between God and man. The Virgin Mary offered a good example of humility when she answered the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to thy Word" (Luke 1:38). Forgiveness and mercy, joy, and peace are the fruits of charity. Counsel and good judgement are products of prudence. Judgement and restitution are related to justice. Patience during sorrow and misfortune and perseverance in times of fear require fortitude. And the virtues of meekness to stem anger, fasting and abstinence to offset gluttony, and chastity in the face of lust derive from temperance.
1 St. Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, Part II of II - the Virtues: translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 1920; Volume III of V, Christian Classics, Allen, Texas.
2 Dante Alighieri. The Divine Comedy. Translation by John Ciardi. WW Norton Company, New York, 1970.
3 The New American Bible, Revised St. Joseph Edition. Catholic Book Publishing Company, Totowa, New Jersey, 2010.
4 Pope John Paul II. The Splendor of Truth, the encyclical Veritatis Splendor. Pauline Books & Media, Boston, August 6, 1993.
5 The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Second Edition, Liberia Editrice Vaticana, Paragraphs 1803-1832, 2000.
6 Regis Martin. Grace and Virtue. Class Lectures and Texts, Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio, 2003.
7 Josef Pieper. Faith, Hope, Love. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1997.
8 CS (Clive Staples) Lewis (1898-1963). The Four Loves. Harcourt-Brace, Orlando, Florida, 1960.
9 Josef Pieper. The Four Cardinal Virtues. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana, 1966.
10 Edward Sri. The Art of Living: The Cardinal Virtues and the Freedom to Love. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, and the Augustine Institute, Greenwood Village, Colorado, 2021.