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Perry J. Patete wrote:

Hi, guys —

I would like to know about the virtues. By that I mean I would like a detailed explanation of what a virtue is. A definition I can understand. To my understanding there are Heroic Virtues and other virtues. Please explain each and include an explanation for each virtue like:

  • temperance
  • prudence, and
  • as well the others.



  { Can you please provide a detailed explanation of what a virtue is that I can understand? }

Paul replied:

Dear Perry,

A virtue is simply a good habit, whereas a vice is a bad habit. Practicing virtues builds good character, which in turn brings one a happier more fulfilling life. This is because these practiced virtues correspond to our human nature.

How one figures out from scratch what particular behaviors are virtues, according to Aristotle, is to recognize the two extremes of dispositions or behaviors and figure the mean (or average) between them. In other words, seek to understand the mean between excess (too much) and deficiency (not enough), and there you'll have your virtue.

For example, the mean:

  • between cowardice and foolhardiness is the virtue of courage;
  • between stinginess and excessive giving away of one's substance is the virtue of generosity;
  • between laziness and lust for fame is proper ambition, etc.

The four basic or cardinal virtues are:

  1. justice
  2. prudence
  3. temperance, and
  4. fortitude.

These enable us to govern our lower-nature desires (temperance and fortitude) while treating others with proper respect (justice and prudence). They are basic to the command of our Lord to love our neighbor as ourselves. Both the practice of loving self and neighbor are assisted in these virtues.

All the above mentioned virtues are called natural virtues because they can be acquired by habit and perfected by practice. In this respect, anyone can become a virtuous person with enough will to follow through.

However, the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity (or love) cannot be acquired by man this way. These theological virtues relate directly to God and are supernatural virtues that can only be received by a direct gift from Him, which formally begins at Baptism. The virtues of faith, hope, and charity go beyond our human nature and raise us up to God, enabling a relationship with Him that is salvific. These three theological virtues also help us with the natural virtues, making them more perfect and more meaningful, and directing our natural perfection to supernatural life.

To recap:

  1. A virtuous person is a godly person.
  2. The four cardinal virtues are four basic natural virtues that can be acquired by choice and perfected by practice. They ground us in living a fulfilling life according to our human nature.
  3. Faith, hope, and charity are the three theological virtues that are infused by God in order to raise us up with His divine Life.
  4. When practiced we remain in union with Him, which is necessary for salvation, and live a good fulfilling life here on earth.


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