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History and Theology of Grace

Chapter X

Infused Virtues and Gifts

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

In The Clerk’s Tale by Chaucer, we are told that “natural goodness comes of God, no strain of blood can give it, no, nor ancestor.” [1] This was a poetic way of saying that so-called virtue is not born of nature but comes as a gift of God, who endows some people with qualities of mind and heart that others, after a lifetime of effort, never acquire.

But there is no poetry in the Catholic belief that part of the divine life we obtain in sanctifying grace is the possession of certain enduring powers—infused virtues and gifts—that raise man to a supernatural orbit of existence which is far above nature as heaven is above earth. Grace gives us abilities of thought and operation that are literally born, not of the will of flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. Nowhere else does the true character of the supernatural appear more evident than in the endowments of infused virtue which some people possess and others do not, making some capable of spiritual actions which others cannot perform.

The soul is the substantial form of the body, which gives man all that is properly human and places him essentially into the natural order. [2] Sanctifying grace, by analogy, is the accidental form of the soul, which gives the same man all that is properly divine and puts him habitually into the family of God. Comparing the two, the soul is the foundation of natural existence, and sanctifying grace is the principle of supernatural life.

Yet we know that the soul is not all we have in the body. The soul itself has various powers through which it operates and by which it gives expression to its rational nature. Even so, by a divine consistency, the “soul of the soul,” as sanctifying grace has been called, must have channels for the deiform life that God pours into the just. These are the virtues, theological and moral, according to their respective purposes: like the native abilities through which mind and will come into contact with the visible world around us, and the world, in turn, with us; so grace brings us into contact with the supernatural and with God.

Moreover the powers of nature are possessed of certain instincts or impulses, which are natural propensities that incite animals (including man) to the actions essential to their existence, preservation, and development. In like manner the powers of supernature are endowed with spiritual instincts or gifts by which the Holy Spirit directs souls to follow His inspirations easily and more securely towards the attainment of their heavenly goal.

Theological Virtues

Etymologically “virtue” seems to be derived from the same root as the Latin vir (man) and vis (power), suggesting that in its primitive sense virtue implied the possession of such masculine qualities as strength and courage and, in the moral order, of goodness and human perfection.

The Scriptures have several equivalents for the Vulgate virtus, notably ischus (strength or power), dunamis (might), and arethê (moral excellence or perfection). In the Hebrew Old Testament there is no specific word for virtue, but in the Old Testament books written originally in Greek the word arethê is used to mean moral goodness or a particular moral quality. [3] In the New Testament the Greek word for virtue is used only five times; twice to describe the powers of God, twice meaning moral vigor, and only once of moral virtue in particular. [4]

But if the specific term was used only seldom in the New Testament, the concept of a divinely infused power which God confers on the elect appears throughout the letters of St. Paul and in the two epistles of St. Peter.

The theological virtues are identified as unique possessions conferred specially on the soul by God. “There abide faith, hope and charity,” St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” [5] In the introduction to his first letter to the Thessalonians, he told them he was “mindful before God our Father of your work of faith, and labor, and charity, and your enduring hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” [6]

These are not passing favors but permanent endowments, since those who possess them are urged to “put on the breastplate of faith and charity, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” [7] The faithful are to use them as their constant weapons in the battle against evil, and their protection against the wiles of Satan. They are said to “abide,” in the manner of enduring principles of action; and among them, charity “never fails,” because it continues into eternity.

Not everyone receives these gifts, but only those who are the friends of God. “Having been justified by faith, let us have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we also have access by faith unto that grace in which we stand, and exult in the hope of the glory of the sons of God.” In spite of tribulations, “hope does not disappoint, because the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” [8] Faith, hope, and charity, therefore, proceed from the state of grace, which they manifest and through which the divine life is made to grow.

In the patristic period, the theological virtues were the subject of frequent writing and, in Pelagian times, of controversy. The commentaries of the Fathers on St. Paul offer a complete treatise on every phase of faith, hope, and charity; and St. Augustine’s Enchiridion or Manual of the Christian Religion was always referred to by him as “a book on Faith, Hope, and Charity.” For Augustine, therefore, a summary of these virtues was an epitome of the essentials of Christianity.

However a scientific study was not made until the Middle Ages, in the great Summae of Peter Lombard, Peter of Poitiers, William of Auxerre, and Alexander of Hales, terminating in the definitive work of St. Thomas. The latter’s treatment of the theological virtues remains the standard and figures extensively in all his major writings, especially the Summa Theologica.

Meaning and Comparison

St. Thomas defines virtue as “a good habit bearing on activity,” or a good faculty-habit (habitus operativus bonus). [9] Generic to the concept of virtue, then, is the element of habit, which stands in a special relation to the soul, whether in the natural order or elevated to the divine life by grace. [10]

The soul is the remote principle or source of all activities. Faculties are the proximate sources built into the soul by nature. Habits are still more immediate principles superadded to the faculties either by personal endeavor or by a supernatural infusion from God. Consequently the soul helps the man, faculties help the soul, and habits help the faculties.

Habits reside in the faculties as stable dispositions or “hard to eradicate” qualities that dispose the faculties to act in a certain way, depending on the type of habit. If the habit is acquired it gives the faculty power to act with ease and facility. If it is infused, it procures not readiness in supernatural activity, but the very activity itself. Natural or acquired habits result from repeated acts. They do not give the power to act, but the power to act readily and with dexterity. Thus in the natural order, the faculty without the habit is simply power to act. The faculty with the habit is power to act with perfection. Since custom is parent to habit, it is called second nature. Faculty is like first nature, and habit the second.

Not every habit is a virtue. It is if the habit improves and perfects a rational faculty as to incline it towards good—good for the faculty, for the will and for the whole man in terms of his ultimate destiny.

There is a broad sense in which we can speak of the natural dispositions of any of our powers as innate virtues, but this is a loose rendering and leads to confusion. More properly the infused virtues should be contrasted with the acquired, in which the autonomous will of the individual plays the dominant role. My consistent effort to concentrate on a given course of action, repeating the process over a long period of time and in spite of obstacles, gradually develops a tendency to perform the action spontaneously and almost without reflection, yet with a degree of perfection that someone else without the virtue cannot duplicate.

The infused virtues are independent of this process. They are directly produced by God in the operative faculties of a man, and differ mainly from the acquired because they do not imply the human effort that determines the faculty to a particular kind of activity, namely, facility induced by repetition. God Himself pours in (infundere) the infused virtues, not by compulsion or overriding the free will and without dependence on us. Augustine says that virtues “are produced in us by God without our assistance.” They are supernatural gifts, freely conferred through the merits of Christ, and raise the activity of those who possess them to the divine level in the same way that sanctifying grace elevates their nature to a share in the life of God.

Among the infused virtues, however, some are concerned directly with God and operate in a field where unaided reason cannot work. They are called theological. Others have as their object not God Himself, the final end of all things, but human activities that are penultimate and subordinate to eh final end. They are called moral. Four of them, prudence, fortitude, temperance, and justice—are primary and are called cardinal (cardo, hinge) in human conduct.

The necessity for theological virtues appears from a simple analysis of man’s elevation to the supernatural order. Our final happiness may be considered in two ways. One, obtainable by the use of our native powers of mind and will, is commensurate with our human nature. The other is immeasurably higher, surpassing nature, and is secured only from God by the merciful communication of His own divinity. To make it possible for us to attain this higher destiny in the beatific vision, we must have new principles of activity, which are called theological virtues. These virtues are called theological because their object is God and not, as in moral virtues, merely things that lead to God. Because they are infused in the mind and will by God alone, unlike the habits acquired by personal exercise, they would never be known to us except through divine revelation.

Reflecting on the data of Scripture and tradition, we find a striking reasonableness in the kind of virtues that God infuses in the soul. They direct us to supernatural happiness in the same way that our natural inclinations lead to our connatural end, i.e., in two ways. First we must have a light for the mind, both of principles and practical knowledge. Second we must have rectitude for the will so that it can tend naturally toward the good as defined for us by reason.

Both of these, however, fall short of the order of supernatural happiness, where “the eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love Him.” Consequently in both cases man had to receive in addition something supernatural to lead him to a supernatural end.
For his intellect man receives supernatural principles, held by means of a divine light, which are the articles of belief accepted on faith. His will is directed to the same end in two ways, as an intentional drive moving towards that destiny to attain it (which is hope), and as a kind of spiritual union that somehow transforms the will into the goal it is seeking (which is charity). [11]

Accordingly, the theological virtues supply for the mind and will what neither faculty has of itself, the salutary knowledge, desire, and love of God and His will, without which there could be no supernatural order, which means the voluntary choice of suitable means to reach the heavenly goal to which we were elevated. These virtues make us well adjusted to our last end, which is God Himself; hence they are called theological. They not only go out to God—as all virtue worthy of the name must do—but they also reach Him. To be well adjusted to our destiny we must know and desire it. The desire demands that we are in love with the object to which we are tending and are confident of obtaining it. Faith makes us know the God to whom we are going, hope makes us look forward to joining Him, and charity makes us love Him.

Unlike the virtues known to philosophy, faith, hope and charity are not applications of the golden mean between extremes. In Aristotle’s language, a moral virtue is a certain habit of the faculty of choice, consisting of a mean (mesotês) suitable to our nature and fixed by reason in the manner in which a prudent man would fix it. It is a habit which consists in a mean between excess and defect. Courage, for example, keeps the mean between cowardice and reckless daring; sincerity between ironical depreciation and boastfulness, modesty between shamelessness and bashfulness, and just resentment between callousness and spitefulness.

But a theological virtue can be measured either by what the virtue demands or by what our capacity allows. Concerning the first, “God Himself is the rule and mode of virtue. Our faith is measured by divine truth, our hope by the greatness of His power and faithful affection, our charity by His goodness. His truth, power and goodness outreach any measure of reason. We can certainly never believe, trust or love God more than, or even as much as, we should. Extravagance is impossible. Here is no virtuous moderation, no reasonable mean; the more extreme our activity, the better we are.” [12]

Nevertheless there is a valid sense in which even the theological virtues observe a kind of mean, or better a center of gravity to which they tend. As far as God is concerned, it is simply not possible to believe in Him, trust Him, or love Him too much. From our viewpoint, we should exercise these virtues according to the measure of our condition. For instance, Christian faith goes midway between heretical extremes. Pelagianism, on one hand, dispenses with divine grace while Jansenism, the opposite extreme denies free will: Christian hope must choose a path among the numerous prospective means of salvation; and Christian charity must find a balance in the myriad opportunities for loving God.


In the words of St. Paul, “faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” [13] Thus faith is basically a virtue of the mind, which becomes enabled to assent, on the word of God, to whatever truths He has revealed. The intellectual character of faith becomes clear from a cursory analysis of the Pauline definition.

The apostle calls faith the substance (hupostasis) of things to be hoped for, or as the New English Bible has it, “faith gives substance to our hopes.” Taken objectively, faith is the substance of our hopes because it is the basis of all merit, and consequently the ground of our hope to obtain eh heavenly promises in which we believe. It also gives substance to our hope by defining the nature of the blessings we desire and gives us a foretaste of what they will be. Faith gives a firm conviction in the objective truths communicated by God. Because we know that we know what He has revealed, we have absolute assurance that our will is not hoping in fabulous myths or aspiring to airy dreams.

But faith is also the evidence (elegchos) of things unseen, i.e., it “makes us certain of realities we do not see.” The first meaning of elegchos in ancient Greek literature was “proof,” and “argument to convince.” Consequently the things which are not seen are more than invisible to human eyes. They are beyond the capacity of the mind to comprehend. Yet by faith we know they are true because the word of God supplies for comprehension. He sees and understands and tells us what He knows. For “if we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater.” [14] If we believe fallible men and guide so much of our lives by their equally fallible claims, why not the word of God, which is not fallible?

The roots of anti-intellellectualism in Christianity may be found in the Gnostic theories of the first and second centuries, and in the classic Reformers who depreciated the mental element of faith. But the gravest challenge arose more recently under the form of Modernism. According to the Modernists, faith is not an operation of the mind but a function of the emotions and will. Its object is not the truth of revelation but a “feeling of dependence,” which Schleiermacher (1768-1834) defined as the essence of all religion.

In a series of documents that have made theological history, St. Pius X condemned the Modernist version of faith, and then prescribed what has since become known as the Oath against Modernism. Published on September 1, 1910, the oath was to be taken by all clergy advancing to major orders, pastors, confessors, preachers, religious superiors, and professors of philosophy and theology in Catholic seminaries. The person declares, among other affirmations, “I hold with certainty and sincerely confess that faith is not a blind sentiment of religion welling up from the depths of the subconscious, under the impulse of the heart and the motion of a will trained to morality. Faith is a genuine assent of the intellect to truth received by hearing from an external source. By this assent, because of the authority of the supremely truthful God, we believe to be true that which has been revealed and attested to by a personal God, our Creator and Lord.” [15]

There are two kinds of intellectuality to divine faith, which is the human response to God’s revelation. Its very essence is intellectual, since we are assenting on faith with our minds to the objective truths communicated by the Lord. But at least logically prior to actual belief, we also use intellect to arrive at a reasonable conviction that God has really spoken some revealed truth.

Traditionalists like Bautain and de Lammenais would not credit the mind with this capacity to recognize revelation, and postulated instead a blind acceptance of what purportedly was revealed. They were censured by the Church, especially Pius IX, who stressed the indispensable need to know (however dimly) the preambles of the Christian faith.

Lest human reason be deceived or err in a matter of such vital importance, it must diligently inquire into the fact of revelation, in order to become certain that God has spoken, and in order to offer Him “a reasonable service,” as the Apostle so wisely teaches (Romans 12:1). For who does not or cannot know that complete faith should be reposed in God when He speaks, and that nothing is more consonant with reason itself, than to acquire and firmly adhere to whatever is known to have been revealed by God, who can neither deceive nor be deceived. [16]

Echoes of the same tendency to lower the role of reason antecedent to faith are still being heard among the Demythologists, who show a positive hostility to historical data as the legitimate foundation for Christian belief. Where St. Paul appealed to the resurrection of Christ as the crowning proof of His mission, Demythologists say “it would be wrong to raise the problem of how this preaching arose historically. That would be to tie our faith to the results of historical research. The word of preaching confronts us as the Word of God. It is not for us to question its credentials. It is we who are questioned, we who are asked whether we will believe the word or reject it.” [17] Nothing, it is held, must weaken the “unprovability” of the Christian proclamation. If it could be proved, faith would be deprived of its essential skandalon and robbed of its character of decision. Demythologists also say that faith must not be delivered over to the vagaries of historical criticism, in the fashion of David Strauss and his kind.

As regards the second concern, Catholics agree that the iconoclasm of Strauss and the nineteenth-century Rationalists left nothing of the Gospels but a handful of disconnected phrases. Emphatically the faith should not depend on the gentle mercies of Hegelian dialecticians who conceive God Himself as only a progressive evolution of the Idea.

Paradoxes of Belief

From whatever angle we view it, faith is a bundle of paradoxes, each an apparent contradiction that on closer analysis reveals a profound religious truth. We believe with the mind, yet the will is essential to profess anything in Christianity. The principal objects of belief are complete mysteries hidden in the mind of God and faith is by definition assent to things that are not seen. No light is so penetrating as the lumen fidei in which those walk who sincerely believe. The preambles of faith which lead the mind to accept the word of God revealed are assurances, indeed, that God has spoken and that we can reasonably believe. But they are faint whisperings compared to the absolute certainty of faith itself. It was exactly that firmness of faith that Christ said could move mountains and that history shows to have been the stay of martyrs and other millions of the faithful under the most pressing trials.

The relation of mind and will in the act of faith derives from the various states of mind we can have, according to the amount of evidence present and the cooperation of the commanding will.

Faced by a proposition to which it is asked to give assent, the receptive mind can be affected in several ways. It may be swayed either to one side or the other. Either sufficient evidence is lacking for both, as in problems about which we have no clue, or the conflicting evidence appears to balance perfectly, leaving us in a state of doubt. Sometimes the mind tends more to one side of the proposition than to the other, yet without being entirely convinced. Although partially resolved in favor of one, it is not finally decided. This is opinion, i.e. accepting one side of a question while fearing the opposite may be true.

At other times we make up our minds in favor of one side, and reach a decision either from evidence of the subject under inquiry or from the influence of the will. Objective evidence may be immediate, when the truth of something appears infallibly certain without discursive analysis, as with the basic principle of contradiction and the fact of our own existence. More often it is only mediate, when we have to reason by deduction from general principles or by induction from individual cases. Scientific knowledge is always mediate; we do not immediately perceive the Pythagorean Theorem or the ethical norm of the double effect.

However, it may happen that the mind cannot take a stand on the internal evidence, either immediately seen, as with principles, or mediately demonstrated, as with conclusions, but comes to a decision under the influence of the will, which resolutely and firmly chooses to adopt one side, because this is the right and advantageous course to take. The motive is enough to sway the will, though not the mind. Such is faith.

One person takes the word of another for the sake of prudence, or common sense, because the other person knows what he is saying and his judgment can be trusted. This is what happens with the religious faith, where the mind is moved by revelation because of the divine promise of the reward of eternal life, though the mind remains blind to the inner evidence of what is proposed wherever the mysteries of Christianity are concerned. We can be unwilling about other acts, but we cannot believe unwillingly. St. Augustine explains that we may go into church, approach the altar, and take the sacrament without internal intention about what our body is doing, but we can make an act of faith only if we want to. [18]

Twice in the course of its history, the Church passed judgment on the liberty of divine faith when this was impugned or called into question. At the Council of Trent, freedom of belief was defined to answer the Reformation theory that man’s free cooperation with God’s grace was impossible before justification. Human nature in Protestant theology was so debilitated that man had lost the power of autonomous choice in matters of religion. As a result, faith was no longer the joint product of man’s freedom and the help of God, but the sole effect of divine grace. [19]

At the First Vatican Council the liberty of faith was redefined, but now to answer the Rationalists who were so impressed by the inherent power of human reason that they denied the necessity of a volitional influx (under grace) to make an act of faith. The mind alone, they said, can assent to whatever is objectively true without the command of a free will. Certain German theologians were willing to admit the need of revelation to recognize the existence of the mysteries of faith, but, once revealed, the mind is quite able to understand their nature without further assistance. [20]

The paradox of mind and will correlating in belief is repeated in the combination of obscurity and clarity in the virtue of faith. Nothing seems more hidden that what we believe, and yet nothing gives more understanding to the human mind.

All sources of obscurity in faith are reducible to the absence of intrinsic evidence, but this may differ widely according to the different truths revealed. Every revealed truth, insofar as we believe it on God’s authority and not because we see why it must be so, will lack the clarity of perception arising from intrinsic rational evidence. There will be quantitative defect in perceptible properties, because fewer elements are generally present in things believed than in things that are personally known. Thus an American knows quantitatively more about the United States than a European who depends for his knowledge of the United States on the testimony of others. There will also be a qualitative defect in the depth of perception. It is common knowledge that things believed do not naturally effect as deep a mental penetration as things personally experienced. A civilian, for example, cannot have the same realization of the horrors of war as the soldier who engaged in combat.

Strict mysteries, like the Trinity, Incarnation, and the life of grace, have an obscurity all their own. They have two transcendencies, i.e., ways in which they exceed the capacities of the rational mind, as part of their nature. Before revelation not even the existence of the mystery can be certainly known. After revelation, the existence is known only on the authority of God while the essence cannot be so understood that the intellect sees the inner nature of the thing revealed. This side of the beatific vision we cannot understand how there can be three persons in one God, or the details of how the humanity of Christ can be simultaneously present in heaven and in all the Eucharistic species throughout the world. We accept the fact on the word of God. We do not see the ultimate reasons why.

In spite of this veil of mystery drawn across the dogmas of faith, there is also a perspicacity that no one but those who believe are allowed to possess. The insight they have is more than a cold mental perception: It is a vision that affects the whole of their lives and penetrates every corner of their being. Unless they are specially trained in the sacred sciences, they may not be able to give a full account of what this means, and still less defend their revealed philosophy against hostile criticism. Nevertheless their faith is the most real thing in their lives and they could no more act without it or ignore its illumination than a man could enjoy the colors of nature without opening his eyes.

Christians have an evidence of the truth of their religion for which nothing else can supply. They sense that the religion which has power to move them to action is true and to the extent it can renew the human heart it is divine. This is the secret reason why they believe, whether they are adequately conscious of it or not. Their lives are being changed daily in the direction of an unseen power, which only the infused light of God can explain.

They have the conviction that a Divine Presence is with them. This Presence comes stronger according to the length of time they have served God, and as they advance in holiness. They recollect that in the course of years they have become very different from what they once were. They are equally certain that much more than advancing age, outward circumstances, trials and experiences were responsible for the different. “I think a religious man would feel it little less than sacrilege, and almost blasphemy, to impute the improvement in his heart and conduct, in his moral being, with which he has been favored in a certain sufficient period, to outward and merely natural causes. He will be unable to force himself to do so: that is to say, he has a conviction, which it is a point of religion with him to doubt, which it is a sin to deny, that God has been with him.” He is convinced that “God is present with him to an extent, with a fullness, in a depth, which he knows not.” [21]

Above all, the virtue of faith produces a personal relationship with Christ that makes His character and conduct, His words, deeds and sufferings, the very food of our devotion and rule of life. What Paul said of himself, “I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me,” is valid in its way for all followers of Christ. The Imitation of Christ by Thomas á Kempis is not just a manual of pious reflections that, after the Bible, has been more widely used than any other book in Christian literature: It symbolizes the light in which every believer walks in the company of the Savior, according to the measure of his faith, speaking with Him and contemplating His actions (historically in the Gospels and mystically in the Church) as a sure guide on the road to salvation. The whole gamut of Catholic worship and piety—assistance at Mass and reception of the sacraments, devotion to the Sacred Heart and the Spiritual Exercises, Friday abstinence and the Rosary, the liturgical life and evangelical counsels—are meaningful only on the premise of faith, a faith that sees behind the façade of external practices to the Person of Christ by whom the believer is motivated, who is within the believer, and to whom the believer spontaneously directs his thoughts and affections.

A final paradox is the disproportion between the moral assurance about the prelude to faith, that God has spoken, and the absolute certitude of the faith itself. Blaise Pascal, whose Jansenist leanings made him exaggerate the weakness of man’s intellect apart from grace, asked “who will blame Christians for not being able to give a reason for their belief, since they profess a religion for which they cannot give a reason? They declare, in expounding it to the world, that it is a foolishness, stultitiam; and then you complain that they do not prove it! If they proved it, they would not keep their word; it is in lacking proofs that they are not lacking in sense.” [22] Pascal was mistaken in depreciating the preambles of faith to the vanishing point; but his mistake serves to emphasize the vast difference that separates the bare reasonableness of believing and the unshakeable conviction once the faith has been attained.

At the First Vatican Council, the question was raised how the less educated among the faithful, who may not clearly understand the motives of credibility and are unable to explain them, can be said to make a rational act of faith in the Church’s divine authority, and through this in the whole corpus of Catholic doctrine. The answer was given in the form of an analogy.

The natural providence of God has disposed that the entire human race should have complete certitude about the basic rational truths, without necessarily being able to prove them scientifically. On philosophical analysis, of course, this certitude can be more fully explained and clearly reduced to first principles, and correspondingly defended against opposing objections.
In the same way, the wisdom and goodness of God in the order of supernatural providence has made the Catholic Church outstanding in certain characteristics, which do no require a scientific demonstration that is beyond the metal capacity of most people. Thus even uneducated persons (rudes) may have a kind of rational compendium of motives of credibility to arrive at full certitude. Once convicted in this way, they can clarify and amplify their conviction through scientific apologetics; but they can never be induced rationally to call this conviction into question by any arguments to the contrary. [23]

Theologians have been aware of the condition of such people, perhaps the majority of the faithful, and speculate not only how they get the faith but (for our purpose more important) how they rise so far above their native intelligence that “they can never be induced rationally” to question their certitude by any arguments to the contrary. The final explanation, as defined by the Church, is “the efficacious help of supernatural power,” whereby the Lord “strengthens with His grace those whom He has brought out of darkness into His marvelous light, so that they may remain in this light.” [24]

The virtue of faith, therefore, carries its own mysterious light which God supplies to sustain the faith of all believers, not only the more educated. But more than sustain, the Spirit so illumines those in whom He dwells that they become literally spiritual-minded. They are able to see those invisible beings who actually surround them, though without seeing them with bodily eyes. They see them by faith as vividly as others see the things of earth—the ground and vegetation, they sky and brilliant sun. They are also just as certain about this world of faith, as ever the natural man is about the world of sense. “Hence it is that, when saintly souls are favoured with heavenly visions, these visions are but the extraordinary continuations and the crown, by a divine intuition of objects which, by the ordinary operation of grace, are ever before their minds.” [25]


The virtue of hope is related to faith as desire is related to knowledge, or as the question was posed by St. Augustine, “what can be hoped for which is not believed?” If the object of faith is natural, the hope it inspires is the same; but when the truths believes are divinely revealed, the hope with aspires to possess them is supernaturally divine.

Hope implies seeking and pursuing, in other words, the appetite of desire and not of delight and enjoyment. Although hope and desire are often equated, they differ a great deal. Strictly speaking, when we desire something we look for any good that may be offered, and therefore respond to that instinctive urge which likes pleasure and shrinks from pain. But hope is for a difficult good, and responds to that higher part of our nature which is ready to tackle opposition. Moreover desires may be vague yearnings for an object without reckoning whether we can obtain it or not, whereas hope is always evoked by some good that can be secured and even inspires a sense of confidence of achievement.

Speculative theology distinguishes hope by the four qualities that characterize the things we hope for. Hopeful things are invariably good; we do not hope for what is evil. They are future, and in this hope differs from joy which implies satisfaction over something good already possessed. They are difficult of attainment, otherwise than mere desire which prescinds from the hardships involved. They are also possible, and therefore hope is the opposite of despair, which looks to a future prospective good that cannot be obtained.

Just as we speak of a human and divine faith, depending on the persons (man or God) on whose authority we believe, so we have two kinds of hope, natural and supernatural, according to the things desired and the persons from whom we expect to receive them. In the natural order, an object is possible either because we can secure it by our own efforts or because we rely on the help of friends, in which case two elements enter, the good hoped for, and the person who will support our desires. Supernaturally, however, no one is able of himself to grasp the supreme good of eternal life, whose very existence would be unknown except for a gracious revelation from God. To reach heaven we need divine help, so that hope as a theological virtue has a twofold object: the beatific vision we look forward to attaining, and the supernatural grace by which this heavenly goal is attained.

Essential Elements

The two basic elements of Christian hope are desire and confidence, so that hope itself may be defined as the confident desire of obtaining eternal beatitude. Already in the Old Testament, notably in the Psalms, we find this dualism expressed, where the just man looks forward to the consummation of happiness in the life to come. “I am sure,” sings the Psalmist, “I shall see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living. Hope in Him, hold firm and take heart. Hope in the Lord.” [26]

However, it was not until the fullness of revelation was made under Christ that the full meaning of hope became clear, since the clarity of what we desire determines the surety of what we hope for. Once the mystery of man’s elevation to the divine life and the love of God in the person of His Son were made manifest, the wellsprings of desire to reach this high destiny were opened as never before. Compared with the glory that awaits us, the trials of our present existence are as paltry chaff, of which St. Paul wrote to encourage the Romans. “I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that will be revealed in us.” We who are the first fruits of the Spirit, “groan within ourselves, waiting for the (perfect) adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope were we saved. But hope that is seen is not hope. For how can a man hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” [27]

Implicit in the notion of hope is that we do not see but accept on faith the glorification that awaits us. The will strives for what the mind, on the word of God, presents to us as desirable: In the same faith that we believe in heaven as the goal of our striving, we see the incapacity to reach that goal of ourselves. Trustful reliance on divine grace is more than a feature of supernatural hope; it is that quality without which hope would be a fabulous dream. The phrase “to hope in God” recurs in all the writings of Peter, Paul, and John, to impress the faithful that what makes them distinctive is not only the sublimity of their religion, or the certitude of their destiny, or even the purity of life to which God calls His chosen ones—but the confidence they should have of passing out of their “great tribulation” into the day of eternity. The effort they expend in serving God will be recompensed as only the Creator can reward those who are submissive to His name.

The Grace of God our Savior has appeared to all men, instructing us, in order that, rejecting ungodliness and worldly lusts, we may live temperately and justly and piously in this world; looking for the blessed hope and glorious coming of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity and cleanse for Himself an acceptable people.
According to His mercy He saved us through the laver of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit; whom He has abundantly poured out upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior, in order that, justified by His grace, we may be heirs in the hope of life everlasting. [28]

Christians, therefore, are not as other men, who “have no hope,” because the faith is lacking. They see through the eyes of God what the Lord has prepared for those who love Him, and this vision gives substance to the future which is closed, or at least uncertain, to all who do not believe.

In the centuries since the New Testament was written, the vagaries of philosophy apart from revelation have reached their zenith in the utter pessimism that characterizes a great deal of modern thought, sometimes in circles that are only nominally Christian but always among people who have lost their faith, and consequently hope, in the supernatural. “The universe is what it is,” for Bertrand Russell, “not what I choose that it should be. If it is indifferent to human desires, as it seems to be; if human life is a passing episode, hardly noticeable in the vastness of cosmic processes; if there is no superhuman purpose, and no hope of ultimate salvation, it is better to know and acknowledge this truth than to endeavor, in futile self-assertion, to order the universe to be what we find comfortable.” [29]

Cut off from the moorings of Christian hope, the alternative is stark pessimism which sees no finality in man’s existence and no purpose beyond the grave. Among the ancient Romans, Seneca ventured the opinion that “death is the end of all sorrows,” because once a man dies, “he no longer exists.” [30] Modern naturalism offers nothing more hopeful.

Since the world is not ruled by a spiritual being, but rather by blind forces, there cannot be any ideals, moral or otherwise, in the universe outside us. Our ideals, therefore, must proceed from our own minds; they are our own inventions. Thus the world around us is nothing but an immense spiritual emptiness. It is a dead universe, purposeless, senseless, meaningless.
Nature is nothing but matter in motion. The motions of matter are governed, not by any purpose, but by blind forces and laws. If the scheme of things is purposeless and meaningless, then the life of man is purposeless and meaningless too.. Everything is futile, all effort is in the end worthless. A man may, of course, still pursue disconnected ends, but his life is hollow at the center. [31]

If not all naturalists are equally frank (or clear), the reason is only because they have not followed their philosophy to its logical conclusion.

Object and Motive

The object of Christian hope is heavenly beatitude and the divine grace by which we aspire to the intuitive vision of God. Those who believe in Christ live “in the hope of life everlasting which God, who does not lie, promised before the ages began.” [32] Faith and hope are theological virtues because both have God as their direct and immediate object; but where God is the object of faith as infallible truth, He is the object of hope because He is our highest good, towards whom the will of man constantly aspires and in whom alone it finds rest. [33]

Coessential with the tendency to reach God, hope relies on the divine goodness to furnish the instrumentalities of reaching Him. We desire to possess Him in eternity, and to receive the help He alone can give us in time. Both elements are a part of hope: the goal, which is God, and the way, which is grace. Without the first, there would be no destiny. Without the second, there would be no means. [34]

Theologians differ in their ultimate analysis of the motive for hope. If we look upon hope mainly as the virtue of trust in God, and reliance on Him from whom we await the reward of eternal life, then the motive of hope becomes God as our Helper. For St. Thomas and the more common tradition since patristic times, hope is essentially a confident dependence on God’s help. It does not include but presupposes the desire of union with God. It consists mainly in the expectation of a good which is difficult to obtain, namely the possession of God. The motive on our part is to receive the assisting divine Omnipotence which elevates our souls, weans them from seductive desires for earthly things, and bears them in the direction of heaven. God’s promises, as revealed in the Scriptures, simply confirm the certainty of His aid.

If, on the other hand, hope is conceived primarily as an act of desire, then its dominant motive is that God is supremely able to enrich us. Scotus and the Franciscan school prefer to look upon hope in this light. The principal act of the virtue is the desire or love for God, not as He is in Himself but as our happiness and the terminus of all our wants. This emphasis is traceable to St. Francis himself, whose exhortations to the Friars were built on the same theme.

Let us desire nothing, wish for nothing, take pleasure in nothing, and delight in nothing except our Creator, Redeemer, and Savior, the one true God, who is the plentitude of goodness, all good, complete good, the true and supreme good. For He alone is holy, just, true, and righteous; He alone is beneficent, innocent, pure, and from Him, through Him, and in Him is all pardon, all grace, all glory for the penitent and the righteous, as for all the blessed saints who rejoice together in Heaven. [35]

Objectively, of course, the virtue of hope comprehends two responses to God—trust and desire—and therefor includes both motivations—confidence in His help and yearning for Himself; nor is it possible in practice to separate the one from the other.


Christ our Lord told the disciples, and through them all His followers, “No longer do I call you servants, because the servant does not know what his master does. But I have called you friends.” [36] In this statement of friendship, He was declaring the charity by which God loves those who are in His grace and the virtue by which they are enabled to love Him in return.

Sanctifying grace makes us friends of God, members of His Trinitarian family, and capable of knowing and loving Him in the beatific vision even as He knows and loves Himself. Friendship is bilateral. It implies a mutual loving between two persons, here between the soul and God. Theological charity is simply the virtue that gives this friendship expression, allowing us to reciprocate for the “loving kindness” that God is constantly showing to us.

Hope and charity both are directed to God, and both find their fulfillment ultimately in Him. But where hope is a form of self-interested love, whose motive is the desire to possess the Summum Bonum for oneself, charity is a disinterested love of benevolence for God Himself. The motive is not to have His goodness so we can enjoy it but His goodness as it, in itself, shines forth in Him.

The motive force of supernatural charity, then, is the absolute goodness of God, i.e., not relative to us but as it is in Itself. When we love God for His sake and not for ours, we seek no profit or utility from so loving Him as happens with the virtue of hope. Yet while excluding self-interest strictly so-called, we do not exclude from perfect charity a desire for union with the God whom we love, since this is necessarily part of every true love or friendship. In other words, the desire of possessing God is one thing (always present in hope), and the desire of union with God is another (always present in charity). When we love God perfectly, we want to love Him as He wishes to be loved, which cannot be otherwise than united with Him in the embrace of consummated charity.

The main element here is the motive that psychologically flows into the will to effect an act of perfect love of God. In this sense we eliminate all self-seeking motivation. However, it is quite another question whether objectively and ontologically it is possible to have any love among creatures, such as we are, where an object is loved only for itself and without benefit to the one loving. It is not possible, given our finite nature and the built-in perfectibility of every act of love we perform. Consequently our wills cannot love God, whether in hope or with theological charity, without ontological advantage and increased perfection to ourselves. Nevertheless the guiding and dominant motive in charity is not this benefit, which is never absent, but the sheer goodness of the Triune God.

It is the motive of charity, in the love of friendship, that most clearly distinguishes this virtue from all others and, in practice, even from those acts which may be acts of charity but which are not the perfect love of God. To clarify the obvious, the motive moves a faculty to action and determines its distinctive quality. Where the rational will is involved, the moving force must always be goodness, real or apparent, created or divine, otherwise the will remains unmoved.

What precisely is the divine goodness which Catholic theology says is the object that moves us to a perfect love of God? In general a good thing is suitable for the being in question, and among creatures always improves it. Thus food and drink are good for the body, and knowledge is good for the mind. The goodness of God is a composite of all His attributes: His wisdom and power, justice and mercy, beauty and liberality, in fact all the “qualities” that form His divine being and are therefore “good to Him” in constituting His infinite perfection. Most theologians teach that any divine attribute, even taken singly, when viewed under the aspect of its goodness to God, is an adequate motive for placing an act of perfect charity.

For practical purposes it is well to consider these perfections under two aspects, absolutely, as they are in God, and relatively, insofar as they produce some benefit in creatures. We do not mean that divine attributes like mercy and magnanimity cannot be the object of perfect love, although they bear a direct relation to the world outside of God. Everything depends on the aspect under which they are viewed. Seen as perfections proper to God, emanating from Him, deriving from the ocean of goodness which He contains, they are adequate motives for loving God with pure benevolence. But taken from our viewpoint as benefiting me, either personally or collectively as a member of society, the divine mercy and magnanimity are objects of hope or gratitude, but not strictly of theological charity. Of course charity may arise from hope and gratitude, and these will always be present along with charity, but the latter is itself caused by no personal benefit accrued or desired. Its guiding star is the divine perfections insofar as they are God’s.

True love for God is spontaneously demonstrative, since genuine charity cannot remain sterile and our benevolence towards the Creator will not be unproductive. It shows itself internally by acts of affection and externally by effective deeds. The terms “internal” and “external” in this connection are misleading, but they have to be used, much as when we spoke of the difference between internal and external grace. Internal acts of affection are called such with reference to the will, and cover all the elicited (immanent) acts of volition, which begin and terminate in the will faculty.

In the hierarchy of acts of perfect charity, the highest are the joy and complacency we experience by reflecting on the perfections of God. Among those are His holiness and dazzling beauty, His wisdom and boundless power, His mercy and selfless liberality. When the mind attentively considers the infinite perfections of the divinity, it is impossible for the will not to be animated with the sense of complacency in this good. The first reaction of complacency, it may be said, arises unbidden at the very sight of an attractive object. But where God is concerned, “we promptly use the liberty we have to provoke our heart to redouble and strengthen its first complacency by acts of approbation and rejoicing. We enjoy the infinite perfections of God, deriving happiness and satisfaction from them as from an inheritance which belongs to us. By this means the divine perfections become in some manner our own property. We attract them to our heart, and they become a heavenly banquet that fortifies our souls.” [37] In a word, we are pleased to see the greatness and beauty and goodness of God and, without envy, join with Him in rejoicing over His myriad possessions.

If this kind of complacency seems unreal or superfluous to the believing mind, it is only because the thought never occurs to Christians to do anything but rejoice with God over His perfections. There is a complete “otherness” we naturally associate with loving God, and taking satisfaction in seeing Him as He truly is: We never dream of wanting to “deprive” Him of what He is or has, or claim for ourselves what belongs to Him.

But not every one reacts in this way, and one of the minor revelations that believers receive is the rude awakening about the way some people think and feel about God. We expect dialectical materialists to dismiss the Deity as an antiquated projection of suppressed desires, and teach that Communism has no place for religion. We may be surprised to learn that varying degrees of unsympathy with theism, which believes in and worships a personal God, is also found in Western thought. Men like Dewey and the Huxleys, Emerson, Royce and Einstein, Fichte, Freud, and Spengler have left a deep impress on the history of modern civilization, and that impress has not been theistic.

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) represented religion as essentially wish-fulfillment. Religion, he claimed, originated in man’s feeling of helplessness and need for protection, at a period in history when his intelligence was not yet fully developed. Man invented God by wishing Him into existence, in order to allay his anxieties in the face of life’s dangers, including the crushing superiority of nature, which gave rise to the doctrine of Providence; and in order to insure at least a long-range justice, which produced the doctrine of immortality. Man invested God with the qualities of his human father toward whom he has a mixed attitude of love and fear. Like the father remembered from childhood, God makes everything turn out to man’s advantage, consoling him in his tragic situation, and giving him answers to his curiosity. Religion, therefore, is an illusion, derived from our ignorant ancestors. “The comparative method of research,” he wrote, “has revealed the fatal resemblance between religious ideas revered by us and the mental productions of primitive ages and peoples.” [38] If American and English naturalists have been less crude, their impact on contemporary thinking has been equally influential if not more so. Like Freud, they leave no place for a Deity to whom our affections may turn with whole-souled dedication in acts of perfect love.

There is more than academic value in seeing how transcendent is the Christian religion, which enlightens the mind by faith to recognize with complete certitude the existence of a personal God; and inspires the will not only to trust God, but so generously to love Him that reflection on His goodness evokes sentiments of the purest and most selfless charity. A parallel reading of a work like Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra and Newman’s Apologia would show the chasm that divides two contradictory philosophies of life or, in Augustine’s phrase, the two loves that have created two cities: “self-love to the extent of despising God, the earthly; love of God to the extent of despising one’s self, the heavenly city. The former glories in self, the latter in God.” [39]

Parallel with complacency, love of benevolence urges a desire to increase the divine goodness as far as possible, since benevolence means just that—“to wish another well”—except that God is infinite and cannot be enriched by anything we do. If there is question of God’s intrinsic perfections, His power, wisdom, and goodness, then, barring a fiction of the mind, we cannot desire to increase them because nothing can be added to infinity.

But there is no figment or hypothesis about desiring to increase God’s external glory, which consists in the knowledge and love that rational creatures have for Him on earth, in purgatory, and in the beatific vision. The internal impulse to great sanctity and heroic work in the apostolate stems from this principle, that the glory of God admits of degrees and variations. In the measure of a man’s love he will seek to increase the depth of his own and other people’s knowledge of God, the intensity of his and their love, and the number of host who advance the ultimate purpose of rational creation—the loving acknowledgment of the Creator by His creatures.

Among the internal acts of supernatural charity, sorrow for sin follows consistently on the desire to see God honored and duly loved. When I think of my own sins and those of others, I am grieved at the injury done to the Divine Majesty and wish to make amends for the offenses committed against a loving God.

External acts of divine charity are the effective counterpart of internal affection. They are called external only in relation to the will, and include every form of activity (not excluding the most internal) that may be commanded or directed by the power of free will. In the history of Christian asceticism, they are an essential part of any true love of friendship, which consists not only in sentiments of affection but in the exchange of any goods that are separately possessed.

Basically these acts are of two kinds: those involving labor for the glory of God and those concerned with reparation for sin. On the first level, the desire to promote God’s kingdom is manifested (beyond internal affection) by using every means at our disposal to advance in personal holiness, and doing everything in our power to increase the knowledge and love of God in the souls of others. In the same spirit, the sorrow we feel over sin moves us to the practice of penance and mortification, to expiate the injustice committed against the Divine Majesty and make satisfaction for man’s ingratitude to God.

Love of Christ

Among the most satisfying truths of the Catholic faith is the fact that we can direct our affection for God to the Person of Jesus Christ and be certain that the love we express is not lessened but fortified by this method. Christ Himself told us that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. “In Christ,” said Augustine, “you have all. Do you wish to love God? You have Him in Christ. ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ Do you wish to love your neighbor? You have him in Christ. ’The Word was made flesh.’” [40] The whole panoply of theological charity finds scope in the person of the Savior; in His divinity we have the primary object and the fulfillment of the first great commandment, “Though shalt love the Lord they God with thy whole heart”; in His humanity we have the secondary object, responding to the precept to love our neighbor as ourselves.

St. Teresa of Avila wrote at length on the importance of directing attention to the Savior and, indeed, to His humanity (united with the Godhead) as the way instituted by God for growing in His love. She warned from her own experience what a mistake it would be to think that as one grows in the spiritual life he should dispense more and more with the humanity of Christ, as though this were a hindrance to advancement in virtue. “Is it possible,” she prayed, “that I could have had the thought, if only for an hour, that You, my Lord, could be a hindrance to my greatest good?” It is “a great matter,” she added “to have our Lord before us as Man while we are living and in the flesh.” All the great saints acted in this way; they centered their love on the person of Christ and found in Him all that their souls desired.

Seek no other way, even if you were arrived at the highest contemplation. This way is safe. Our Lord is He by whom all good things come to us; He will teach you. Consider His life; that is the best example. What more can we want than so good a Friend at our side, who will not forsake us when we are in trouble and distress, as they do who belong to the world. Blessed is he who truly loves Him, and who always has Him near him.
Let us consider the glorious St. Paul, who seems as if Jesus was never absent from his lips, as if he had Him down deep in his heart. After I had heard this of some great saints given to contemplation, I considered the matter carefully; and I see that they walked in no other way. St. Francis with the stigmata proves it, St. Anthony of Padua with the Infant Jesus, St. Bernard rejoiced in the Sacred Humanity, so did St. Catherine of Siena and many others.
What I would say is, that the most Sacred Humanity of Christ is not to be counted among the objects from which we should withdraw. Let this be clearly understood. I wish I knew how to explain it. We are not angels, for we have a body; to seek to make ourselves angels while we are on the earth is an act of folly. Our thoughts must have something to rest on, though the soul may go out of itself. [41]

There is profound wisdom in these injunctions. They accentuate a principle of spirituality that cannot be too strongly emphasized. Since Christ is true God, we not only may but should love Him with all the ardor reserved for the Creator, and be assured that His humanity is no obstacle but a help to supernatural charity.

It is a help because we have in the Person of the Savior the incarnation of the divine attributes, lived out for us in historical perspective, and manifested in flesh and blood. We know on faith that God is loving, merciful, forbearing, all wise, and infinitely powerful. But the man Jesus is God in human form. The love He showed by His death on the cross was no abstraction. His mercy in the parables of the Prodigal and the Good Shepherd and in the prayer for His enemies on Calvary was no mere idealism. His patience with sinners and kindness towards those in distress and want were not speculation. His wisdom in the Sermon on the Mount and power in the miracles He worked were not idyllic representations but vivid realities, perceptible to the senses and palpable with all the materiality that only God-made-man could have devised. He wants us to profit from these evidences of the divine perfections in order to more easily love Him because we can witness Him in action so tangibly.

The Person of Christ as the object of divine love makes the practice of perfect charity and contrition simple for those who believe that Christ is God. This Person becomes the focus of affective volition every time we choose to do so. A single glance at the figure of Christ on the cross, or a passing thought in the direction of the Eucharist, are enough to evoke and act of benevolent love. He epitomizes in Himself all the goodness of the Divinity, manifested in every detail of His moral and glorified life; and continues in the Mystical Body which He animates. All that is necessary on our part is the momentary recollection of this fact, even implicitly, and a responsive act of the will that reacts to the mental realization.

People sometimes wonder what sentiments are needed to express an act of the perfect love of God. The answer may be found in all the standard formularies approved by the Church, and summarized in the short sentence that was St. Francis of Assisi’s most common exclamation, “My God and my all!” [42] At the same time, it is imperative to know that whatever formula is used, it can always be directed to Christ, the God-man, whether the name of the Savior is mentioned or not. The practice of the saints, however, was to explicate the Holy Name often when they addressed God in terms of affection. [43] St. Paul’s desire “to be dissolved and be with Christ,” and Ignatius of Antioch’s “I am the grain of God, being ground by the teeth of beasts, that I may become the pure bread of Christ,” are echoed in the history of Christian hagiography. The Christological concept of supernatural charity was explained in a prayerful reflection of St. Anselm. “My soul,” he said, “attach yourself to God, obstinately attach yourself to Him. Good Lord Jesus, do not repulse my soul. It hungers for Your love, strengthen it. Grant that it may be sated with Your charity, enrich it with Your affection, filled by Your love. Grant that this love may wholly seize me and entirely possess me because You are, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one only God, blessed for ever and ever.” [44]

The devotion to the Sacred Heart, approved by the Holy See in solemn documents, is a practical implementation of this principle, that perfect love of God may find expression in the love of Jesus Christ. Conscious of the prejudice still lurking on this point, Pius XII declared “it is wrong to say that contemplation of the physical heart of Jesus is a hindrance to attaining intimate love of God, and that it impedes the soul in its progress to the highest virtue.” [45]

This practice of associating acts of theological charity with the person of Christ has special relevance to perfect contrition, which for many people may be the only means of salvation, either because they are not Catholic or have not the opportunity of receiving sacramental absolution. As defined by Trent, “contrition is made perfect through charity and reconciles man to God.” [46] The problem is how to insure that the sorrow is perfect. For those who believe in the divinity of Christ, reflection on His mercy and love, especially in His death on the cross, can be an effective, and relatively easy, way of inspiring the will to contrition based on disinterested love. Faced with the utter generosity of God who became man to redeem mankind by the shedding of His blood, a soul that believes what this means will be led to respond with like generosity and beg pardon for having offended such selfless Love.

Love of Neighbor

Although the primary object of supernatural charity is God Himself, it also includes the person loving as well as his neighbor. [47], [48] In fact, whatever increases the divine glory is indirectly related to the secondary scope of the highest theological virtue, and follows logically from the perfect love of God. If we love Him, we must love what He loves and for the same reason. Among the objects of His affection are ourselves and our neighbor. He loves us with complete selflessness and out of sheer liberality. Therefore within the ambit of true charity are included, besides God, all the persons touched by His beneficent will, notably myself and my fellowman. Yet even in loving ourselves the motive is not self-interest but to love God, here seen as the divine Rewarder in the exercise of His liberality towards me.

If legitimate self-love subordinated to perfect divine love offers no practical difficulties, love of neighbor as an instrument and index of theological charity is a lifetime effort and its precept has been woven into the texture of the Christian religion. “This is my commandment,” Christ told His disciples, “that you love one another as I have loved you.” [49] On the last day the human race will be judged on the practice of fraternal charity, with the good entering heaven because they loved others, and the wicked condemned because they closed their hearts to the neighbor. [50] The first epistle of St. John is a treatise on the subject, rising to a climax that synthesizes the Christian faith.

Let us therefor love, because God first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar. For can anyone who does not love his brother, whom he sees, love God, whom he does not see? And this commandment we have from Him, that He who loves God should love his brother also. [51]

The correlation of these two loves, God and neighbor, is a matter of faith, already found in the Old Covenant. “Thou shalt love the Lord they God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with all they strength and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.” [52] Christ repeated the injunction and confirmed it, “This do, and you shall live.” [53] He further added that in this twofold precept are contained all the Law and the Prophets. St. Paul declared in a brisk sentence that “love is the fulfilling of the Law,” and went on to explain in lyric language the excellence of divine love, whose manifestation in the love of neighbor comprehends all the virtues: patience, kindness, modesty, meekness, humility, selflessness, and generosity. [54]

Not only are these two loves always conjoined, but one is a proof of the presence of the other. “The surest sign that we are keeping these two commandments,” according to Teresa of Avila, “is that we should be really loving our neighbor. For we cannot be sure if we are loving God, although, we may have good reasons for believing that we are. But we can know quite well if we are loving our neighbor. And be certain that, the farther advanced you find you are in this, the greater love you will have for God. For so dearly does His Majesty love us that He will reward our love for our neighbor by increasing the love that we bear to Himself, and that in a thousand ways. This I cannot doubt.” [55]

The norm for loving our neighbor is deceptively simple: We are to love him as we do ourselves. “As yourself,” therefore, is the divine mode of fraternal charity, which ascetical theology has invested with the qualities of truth, order, decisiveness, constancy, and generosity.

We should love others ordinately, and not treat them as though they were the ultimates of our affection. Christ stressed this rule even where the closest bonds of human relationship are involved. “He that loves father and mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” [56] Love of neighbor must be subordinated to the love of God.

We should love others effectively, as do ourselves, doing them whatever good we can, and, where possible, protecting them from evil. “Let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and truth,” and “without dissimulation.” [57] The prototype of such affection is the divine love for us, which God effectuated in time, though He loved us from eternity, bringing us out of nothing into existence, raising us to the supernatural order, and constantly serving our bodily and spiritual needs.

We ought to love patiently, calmly bear with people’s defects, endure quietly whatever is disagreeable in them, and pardon readily the offenses they commit against us. This is the way we like to have others deal with us, or as we deal with ourselves. We prefer to have people overlook our faults, keep silent about them, ignore them and excuse them, and if possible, even keep them off their minds. The same standard is a divine mandate in our treatment of every person who enters our life. Patience joined to meekness are the keystone of enduring fraternal charity.

Finally we should love generously and without envy, rejoicing over the success of others as we do over our own. No aspect of charity is more difficult, as none is more pleasing to God. Envy has been described as a criminal sorrow over the good fortune of others. It is not coincidence that the earliest and longest extant document in Christian literature outside the Scriptures, the first-century letter of Pope Clement to the Corinthians, treats exclusively of this one vice, to which Christians as everyone else are readily prone. It was envy, Clement explained, that brought sin into the world when the devil tempted Eve; it was envy that moved Cain to slay his more successful brother, Abel; it was envy that brought death to the prophets of the Old Law, and finally death to Christ on Calvary. The lesson of history is the story of conflict, born in large measure on envy, where human pride is saddened at other people’s happiness and seeks to destroy what it cannot share.

A brilliant insight into God’s providence which invites us to communal charity is the bond of love by which He seeks perforce to unite the human race, through family ties and language, circumstances and every kind of need. Necessity is not only the mother of invention, it is the parent of selfless charity.

Effects of Sin

Theological charity is the mainstay of the supernatural life. When grave sin is committed, this virtue is lost, even though faith and hope may remain. [58] The reason is fairly clear. Every mortal sin means the deliberate choice of a creature in place of the Creator, a reversal of charity which by definition, adheres to God above all things.

Not only charity is lost by deliberate grave sin. Also lost are the gifts of the Holy Spirit and all the merits that a man may have gained during a lifetime of effort. The merits of a man in the state of enmity with God are technically called “mortified” (mortificata), which St. Thomas says have the same standing in the sight of God, even after sin, as they had when they were performed. But sin prevents the reception of the heavenly reward. Hence, as soon as the obstacle is removed, they can exercise once more the efficacy that belongs to them, leading to everlasting life.

Theologians agree on this revival of merits. The majority further say that everything is restored, just as it was before grave sin had been committed, along with the added merit of repentance. In a famous statement of Pius XI, those who return to God “repair and recover entirely the fullness (copiam ex integro) of merits and gifts which they had lost by their sins.” [59]

Mortal sin does not, of itself, deprive a person of membership in the Mystical Body, unless the sin were against the faith. Consequently Catholics living in the state of sin but still believing and otherwise practicing their religion do not cease to belong to the Church: Although they are “dead members,” they are members none the less. They still have a special bond of union with Christ and others in the Mystical Body not enjoyed by those who were unbaptized and do not profess the Catholic faith.

The loss of supernatural charity, then, does not cut a person off from the Church. However, every sin weakens the hold on faith and a habit of sin tends to break down the faith altogether. Commenting on the situation in his own day, Bellarmine asked himself, “By what means is the faith preserved,” and he answered, “through good works.” And conversely, without subscribing to the Reformation theory that every sin is an act of unbelief, he added that faith is lost through evil works.

A multitude of sins, a facility in sinning, and the practice of an evil life are the road and, as it were, the steps, towards infidelity. For men are so fashioned by nature that they easily and readily believe what they desire, what pleases and delights them. It is not hard to convince voluptuous and carnal-living people that priests should be married, that chastity is impossible, that fasting is superfluous, that selection in the matter of food is superfluous. It is not difficult to excuse usury before the avaricious, or simony among the ambitious, or fornication with the sensuous. [60]

This has been borne out by centuries of experience, and is proved in everyday life. In the degree to which a man strives to stay in the state of grace, he safeguards the power to believe; but self-indulgence through habitual sin blinds the intellect to Christian revelation, finally extinguishing the light of faith altogether.

Infused Moral Virtues

Besides the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, a person in sanctifying grace receives an infusion of the moral virtues whose immediate object is not God Himself but the practice of human actions conducive to man’s final end. Most theologians, following St. Thomas, teach that just as faith, hope, and charity correspond in the supernatural order to natural knowledge, hope, and love, so there are other divinely infused habits to supplement and match these theological virtues. These habits are elevated counterparts of the acquired virtues of prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice. [61]

In order to understand what the infused moral virtues are, it is useful to see what they mean naturally, since the infusion of these powers does not radically change their character but sublimates and raises their capacity to a higher than natural end.

The four cardinal virtues can be considered as either the main characteristics of every virtue or special types of virtue. In the patristic tradition, especially of St. Augustine, they are treated as elements of every true virtue. All directing knowledge is prudence, all balanced fairness is justice, all firmness of soul in misfortune is fortitude, and all moderation in the use of earthly values is temperance. [62] Accordingly no prudence is genuine unless just, courageous, and temperate; no temperance perfect unless strong, just, and prudent; no courage complete unless prudent, temperate, and just; and no justice true unless prudent, strong, and temperate. [63] That there should be four cardinal virtues is a matter of stress, and not, as medieval scholastics held, because they are specifically different habits dealing with diverse types of object.

More commonly, however, they are treated as special virtues, each occupied with its own proper type of situation, without denying that they overlap, or that one flows into the other. Thus fortitude is temperate and brave, for a man who can contain his lusts can well control himself in danger of death; and if he can face death unflinchingly, he can also withstand allurements.

Aristotle was the basic source on which St. Thomas built the now familiar structure of the cardinal virtues, which are reduced to four because of the objective order of morality. The mind must first discover this order and propose its commands to the will. Prudence, or the habit of doing the right thing at the right time, is reason’s helper. The will, in turn, must execute these commands in its own field. Justice, or the habit of giving everyone his due, is helper to the will in its own operations. Temperance assists the will in its management of the appetite’s desire, and fortitude helps to manage the same appetite’s aversions. [64]

Just as there are four faculties that contribute to our moral acts—intellect, will, appetite of desire, and appetite of aversion—so there must be four virtues to keep these faculties straight. Prudence is for the mind, justice for the will, temperance for the urge to what is pleasant, and fortitude for the instinct away from what is painful. The Latins summarized their function in the words, circumspice (look around), age (act), abstine (keep away from) and sustine (bear up with).

All other virtues in the moral order can be referred to this tetrad as their potential parts. In view of their practical value as possessions of nature (also infused by grace), it is worth examining the gamut in some detail.

The principle act of prudence is the practical executive command of right reason, and the following virtues come within its orbit: good counsel (eubulia), sound judgment (synesis) concerning the ordinary rules of conduct, and a flair for dealing with exceptional cases (gnome).

As regards justice, its classical type renders what is due between persons who may or may not be equal, but other virtues also come under the general heading of justice. Some render what is owing to another, but not as to an equal. Others deal with a situation where both parties are equal, yet the due or debt, though demanded by decency, cannot be enforced by law, and so is not an affair of strict justice. In the first category of these phases of justice comes religion, which offers our service and worship to God; then piety and patriotism, which renders our duty to parents and country; then observance, which shows reverence to superiors; and obedience to their commands. In the second category comes gratitude for past favors, and vindication when injury has been done; also truthfulness, without which social decency is impossible, liberality in spending money, and friendliness or social good manners.

The respective parts of fortitude, on the attacking side, are confidence, carried out with magnificence, which reckons not the cost, and magnanimity, which does not shrink from glory. On the defensive side is patience, which keeps an unconquered spirit, and can be protracted into perseverance.

Finally the subordinate kinds of temperance are continence, which resists lustfulness and evil desires concerned with touch; clemency, which tempers punishment; meekness, which tempers anger; modesty in our deportment, which includes disciplined study, reasonable recreation and good taste in clothes. [65]

Supernatural Infusion

The existence of supernatural equivalents for the natural moral virtues follows logically on all that the Scriptures say about man’s condition in the state of sanctifying grace. The evangelist John and the apostle Paul emphasize the new life acquired by those who are justified. They are enabled to perform actions beyond the capacity of their native powers because of the new dispositions they received from the indwelling Spirit. These dispositions in the moral order are the infused virtues, directing the justified to a supernatural destiny in the beatific vision.

More than once St. Paul spoke of various types of these virtues as the special possession of those in the friendship of God. “I exhort you to walk,” he told the Ephesians, “in a manner worthy of the calling with which you are called, with all humility and meekness, with patience,” and “careful to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” [66] Timothy was reminded that “God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of prudence.” [67] In a long exhortation to the Romans, the converts were urged to practice zeal and fervor, patience and perseverance, hospitality and condescension, peaceableness and justice. [68]

The Church’s tradition reflects the same idea, that the souls of the just are graced with infused moral powers beyond the reach of acquired virtue. Early in the thirteenth century, Innocent III censured the Albigensian speculators for saying that “faith or charity or the other virtues are not infused in children since children do not give their consent.” [69] At the Council of Trent, the justified were said to advance from virtue to virtue by mortifying the members of their flesh, showing them as weapons of justice unto sanctification by observing the precepts of God and the Church. [70]

In his letter on true and false Americanism addressed to the United States, Leo XIII singled out the infused moral virtues as especially potent in the spiritual life because they imply the operations of divine grace. He took issue with those who underrated these supernatural powers. “It is hard to understand,” he said, “how those who are imbued with Christian principles can place the natural ahead of the supernatural virtues, and attribute to them greater power and fecundity.” At most the latter lead to human perfection, but only the former direct us to God. “For as the nature of man, because of our common misfortune, fell into vice and dishonor, yet by the assistance of graced is lifted up and borne onward with new honor and strength; so also the virtues which are exercised not by the unaided powers of nature, but by the help of the same grace, are made productive of a supernatural beatitude.” [71]

Reflecting on the teaching of faith about the consistency of the supernatural order, Catholic theology has concluded to the necessity of infused moral virtues. It is obvious that a person in the state of grace performs actions of virtues other than just the theological, that is, justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude. These actions are essentially supernatural; and therefor require, besides the state of grace, moral habits that are equally supernatural. Otherwise we should postulate an imbalance in the moral order, since God’s ordinary providence uses secondary causes of the same kind as the effects produced. If we are to have truly supernatural acts of justice and chastity, for example, we should have infused supernatural virtues that proximately bring these actions about. [72]

In the last analysis, the main reason why there must be infused moral virtues, in addition to the theological, is the possession of faith in the person justified. A moral virtue, by definition, avoids extremes. It does not offend against right reason by excess or by defect. But once the faith is head, there is no question of limiting the practice of moral virtue by reason alone. Faith sublimates reason as the standard of moderation. Just as prior to faith there are acquired virtues commensurate with reason to assist the natural mind and will in the performance of morally good acts, so with the advent of faith there should be corresponding supernatural virtues commensurate with the light of faith to assist the elevated human faculties in the performance of supernaturally good actions in the moral order.

A slight problem arises from the fact that the infused virtues are necessarily spiritual. This would mean that the infusion must directly take place in the mind and will, in spite of the fact that two of the virtues, temperance and fortitude, involve the sense appetite. One explanation is to have the virtues immediately enter the spiritual faculties, in turn affecting the lesser powers as called upon for moral action.

Here, if anywhere, the familiar dictum that “grace dos not destroy but builds upon nature” is eminently true. All that we say about these virtues as naturally acquired qualities hold good for the infused virtues, but much more. With the reason enlightened by faith, the scope of virtuous operation is extended to immeasurably wider horizons. By the same token, faith furnishes motives which reason itself would never dream of, and theological charity offers inspiration that surpasses anything found in nature.

Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Along with the infused theological and moral virtues, sanctifying grace also includes the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which were anticipated in the prophetic text of Isaias, when he spoke of the coming Messiah. “There shall come forth a rod out of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and piety, and he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord.” [73]

Although directly attributed to the Messias, the gifts are implicitly the common possession of all Christians, in God’s friendship since Christ received them as the Second Adam to be dispensed to all who come under His influence and receive from the fullness of His grace.

In the Greek Septuagint, Vulgate, and other texts, seven gifts are named. But in the Massoretic text, produced by Jewish grammarians between the sixth and eighth centuries, the gift of piety is not mentioned. The last word yirah occurs twice, which the Septuagint and Vulgate render first as “piety” and then as “fear of the Lord.” All evidence indicates that the Christian tradition of seven gifts, found in the ancient patristic writers was not derived from the Septuagint version of Isaias but attached to it. Thus the Syriac Church, which did not use the Septuagint or Vulgate, as early as the third century spoke of the “Spirit of the Lord which rested upon Christ with His seven activities, as related by the prophet Isaias.” [74]

A parallel text familiar to the Fathers was the passage in Romans, that “whoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” [75] They argued that for the sons of God to act supernaturally, they must be directed by a higher than natural disposition that operates on a level commensurate with their divine dignity. This disposition is assured permanence by the infused gifts of the Holy Spirit, who disposes the souls of the just to be moved according to His will.

Until the Middle Ages, there were some who wondered if the gifts were really different from the virtues and not merely the virtues viewed from another aspect. St. Thomas found the clue in the scriptural term regularly used, namely “spirits,” to describe the gifts as distinct from the virtues, which suggests that they come to us by divine inspiration, by way of motion from the outside. He further associated this with Aristotle’s teaching about the two dynamic principles, one of which is within us, namely reason, and the other outside us, that is, God. Whatever is set in motion, Thomas reasoned, should be adapted to its mover. The higher and nobler the mover, the more necessary a better disposition: for instance, the higher a doctrine proposed, the more attentive and highly equipped should be the learners.

The virtues perfect our inborn tendency to be set going by our reason in our inner and outward life. But we need higher dispositions in order to be stirred by the Divinity which transcends us. These dispositions are called Gifts, not only because they are infused by God, but also because by them we are prepared to be promptly responsive to divine inspiration: “the Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back” (Isaias 1:5). Aristotle notices how persons touched by a divine instinct have no need to take counsel by human reasoning, for they are stimulated by a nobler principle. In this manner the Gifts arouse men to acts higher than the capabilities of virtue. [76]

If we would define the exact difference between the virtues and gifts, it lies in the need to have a supernatural counterpart for the natural instincts of mind and will. Even the infused virtues are not enough. They do not, by themselves, so perfect a man on the road to heaven that he has no further need of being moved by the yet higher promptings of the Holy Spirit. For whether we consider human reason and will in their natural powers alone, or as elevated by the theological virtues, they are still very fallible and require help. Wisdom is against folly, understanding against dullness, counsel against rashness, fortitude against fears, knowledge against ignorance, piety against hardness of heart. And fear of God against pride. The gifts of the Holy Spirit supply this help by giving us remedies against these defects and making us amenable to the promptings of His grace.

It follows, then, that the gifts, no less than the virtues, are necessary for salvation, at least to meet those critical situations when the mind and will, though elevated by ordinary grace, cannot cope with the problem or difficulty but require assistance that is ready at hand in the gifts. Moreover, according to the present economy of salvation, the special help we need to persevere in God’s friendship includes immediate illuminations and impulses from the Holy Spirit. The infused gifts furnish us with the readiness to answer these divine invitations, and thereby save our souls. [77]

The function of the gifts cannot be understood without reflecting that God acts upon the soul in two different ways. In one case He accommodates Himself to the human mode of action. He gives light to see the best means suitable to perform a good work and strength of will to carry it out; yet we are left free to take the initiative on the basis of reason enlightened by faith. We are thus acting, through the virtues, under the impulse of grace.

At other times, however, God takes the initiative Himself, before we have a chance to reflect on a course of action, by sending illuminations and inspirations that call for immediate response. His movements affect us, as it were, from the outside, although deep in the soul and never without our consent. Hence the call for a supernatural responsiveness to these visitations, where the habitual disposition to react favorably and easily is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They are in the nature of supernatural reflexes, or reactive instincts, spontaneously answering to the divine impulses almost without reflection but always with full consent.

Christian theology has analyzed the gifts according to certain norms, clarified by St. Thomas and developed by later scholars. The analysis begins with the postulate that the gifts are infused habits which perfect a man by making him ready to follow the promptings of grace, just as the moral virtues perfect the appetitive powers so they conform to right reason. And just as it is natural for the appetites to be moved by the command of reason, so it is natural for all the forces in man to be moved by the impulse of God, as by a superior power. Consequently whatever human powers that can be the sources of human acts, can also be the subjects of infused gifts, even as they are of supernatural virtues. Such powers are the reason and appetite.

There are two kinds of reason, the speculative and practical, and in both we find the apprehension of truth (pertaining to its discovery) and the judgment concerning truth. In terms of the gifts, therefore, the speculative reason is perfected by understanding; the practical reason by counsel. For the speculative reason to judge correctly it receives perfection from wisdom, and for the practical reason knowledge is given.

As regards the volitional powers, whatever touches on our relations to other people is graced by piety. Whatever concerns ourselves is gifted with fortitude against the fear of dangers, and with fear of the Lord against inordinate lust for pleasures.

The first of the gifts is also the highest in dignity. It is wisdom that makes the soul responsive to the Holy Spirit in the contemplation of divine things and in the use, so to speak, of God’s ideas for evaluating every contingency in the secular and spiritual order. Often the word “wisdom” is used to describe a fulness of knowledge possessed by a man through study and acuteness of mind. But this is far removed from the gift, which implies fullness of knowledge derived from an affinity to divine things, as when a person learns to know the Passion of Christ through suffering or the joys of virtue by personal experience.

Wisdom also differs from faith. Where faith is a simple knowledge of the articles of belief that Christianity proposes, wisdom goes on to a certain divine and explicit contemplation of the truths that the articles contain, which faith accepts without further development. Built into the concept of wisdom is the element of love that inspires contemplative reflection on the dogmas of belief, rejoices in dwelling upon them, and directs the mind to judge all things according to their principles.

The gift of understanding is a supernatural enlightenment given to the mind for grasping revealed truths easily and profoundly. It differs from faith because it gives insight into the meaning of what a person believes, whereas faith, as such, merely assents to what God has revealed.

Ascetical writers since Augustine have said that understanding characterizes the clean of heart, following the teaching of Christ, “Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God.” This beatitude, they explain, contains two clauses: one refers to merit, namely cleanness of heart, the other to reward, namely seeing God. Both in a sense correspond to the gift of understanding.

There are two stages of purity, one preparatory, the other final. Preliminary to the sight of God is a cleansing of the affections from inordinate desires, performed by the virtues and the gifts in the appetitive parts of man. Then there is a final development of purity, when the mind is purified from errors and phantasies, and receives divine truths without anthropomorphism or heretical distortion. This cleansing comes from the gift of understanding.
Similarly, there are two stages in our seeing of God, one is imperfect, which though not gazing on God in Himself, well perceives what He is not. We know Him the better in this life the more we appreciate how far He is beyond our comprehension. The other is perfect vision which sees His essence. Both visions correspond to the gift of understanding; the first to its beginning on earth, the second to its consummation in heaven. [78]

Sometimes called “the science of the saints,” the gift of knowledge enables us, through some form of relish and warmth of charity, to judge everything from a supernatural viewpoint by means of lesser causes. Closely tied with this gift is the lesson of past experience, after a person has learned the emptiness of things created and the hollowness of sin.

Thus the function of knowledge is to help us pass judgment on creatures, which can be the occasion for our turning away from God. Sorrow for past mistakes answers to the gift of knowledge; then comes consolation when creatures are accepted as God would have us do. So that knowledge corresponds to the third beatitude, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Mourning is by way of merit, comfort by way of reward. In the measure that a person knows the vanity of this world, his comfort begins already now and is destined to reach fruition in heaven, when all things earthly will have passed away.

Counsel is a specialized gift which assists the mind and perfects the virtue of prudence by enlightening a man on how to decide and command individual supernatural acts. It refers primarily to prudent conduct in one’s own case, and only secondarily in favor of others. Its proper object is the right ordering of particular actions, after the gifts of knowledge and understanding furnish the general principles. Enlightened by the Spirit, a person learns what to do in a specific case, what advice to give when consulted, or command to make if he is in authority.

Implicit in the gift of counsel is the native inability of reason, left to itself, to grasp all the facets of a concrete situation and see at a glance all the contingent circumstances. It needs the help of God who comprehends all things, and who acts in the capacity of counsellor to the humble soul, as in human affairs when we consult others who have more experience or knowledge than we do. Speaking of this interior Guide, St. Augustine says that in the last analysis it is not external teachers who instruct us, “but Truth that presides within, over the mind itself; though it may have been words that prompted us to make such consultation. The One consulted, who dwells in the inner man, He it is who teaches, Christ, the unchangeable Power of God and everlasting Wisdom. No doubt every rational soul consults this Wisdom, but to each one only so much is shown as he is able to receive because of his own good or bad will.” [79]

Hence, the importance of nearness to God and personal holiness in those whose positions require them to direct other people. The interior Counselor will advise them on how to advise others in virtue of their office, and the greater their sanctity the more claim they have on this divine consultation. Patristic tradition further associates counsel with the beatitude, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy,” The reason is that among all the virtues that counselors need, none stands higher than mercy—which knows how to be compassionate and forbearing under provocation, and communicates this spirit to those who come for advice. “The only remedy for great evils, the only way of plucking them out is to forgive and to give.” [80] When persons come for help, no matter what their problems may be, two things will always be needed and the counselor should offer them by word and example: forgiveness of injuries real or imagined, and great generosity; both are covered by the concept of mercy.

Piety as a gift of the Holy Spirit aids and supplements the virtue of justice by disposing us to show reverence for God as a most loving Father as men who are the sons of God. We respect and serve our parents through the virtue of piety. It is, therefore, analogous to the gift that prompts us to offer worship and service to God. He is the divine Parent of our souls in the natural and supernatural order.

Consistent with the same analogy, as the virtue of piety urges us to serve everyone related to us by the bonds of blood, the gift makes us ready not only to worship God but also to honor His children. “The saints are honored, misery is relieved, the Holy Scriptures are not contradicted, whether they be understood or not.” [81] In a word, whatever is connected with God as the Author of nature and of grace comes within the scope of piety.

The characteristic feature of this gift is filial attitude towards God and a fraternal attitude towards the neighbor which it engenders in the soul, with special reference to our spiritual regeneration and incorporation in the Mystical Body of Christ. It makes us look upon God not only as Lord and Master but as the Originator of our being, naturally by creation and supernaturally by grace, and upon our fellowmen not as competitors in the struggle of life but co-equals under God as our common Maker and brothers in Christ through the saving merits of His Passion.

Fortitude as a gift goes beyond fortitude as a virtue by carrying to a successful conclusion even the most difficult tasks in the service of God. “This is beyond human power, for sometimes we are not strong enough to win through and override all evils and perils, which press us down to death. The Holy Spirit leads us to eternal life, which is the final achievement of all we do, the escaping from all ills and dangers.” [82]

Two forms of courage are implied in the gift of fortitude: to undertake arduous tasks and to endure long and trying difficulties for the divine glory. The two are quite distinct. There is a type of courage which anticipates grave obstacles while entering on a course of action, a state of life, or a new venture in the spiritual life or the apostolate. The obstacles are faced with a quiet trust in Providence that inspires the willingness to suffer in the prosecution of the plan. Fortitude of this kind is characterized by a dauntless spirit of resolution, firmness of mind, and an indomitable will.

Another form of courage does not pioneer in God’s service but finds itself tried by unexpected trials, sickness, persecution, and external failure. Nevertheless it perseveres in the practice of virtue and unflinchingly carries on in spite of oppressive odds.

Both types are necessary for salvation, at least to the extent that perseverance in grace over a long period of time will call upon the deepest resources of courage in resisting the allurements of flesh, the wiles of the devil, and the seductiveness of worldly ambition. Not the least strength a man needs is to live up to his ideals in spite of the criticism and, perhaps, opposition he meets from those who should encourage him in the struggle for perfection. “When any Christian has begun to live well, to be fervent in good works, and to despise the world; in this newness of his life he is exposed to the condemnations and contradictions of cold Christians. But if he persevere, and get the better of them by his endurance, and faint not in good works, those very same persons who before hindered will now respect him.” [83] His strength of character, born of the Spirit will become a grace of attraction for others to follow his example. [84]

The seventh of the gifts, and yet first in the rising scale of value, is the fear of the Lord which confirms the virtue of hope and impels a man to a profound respect for the majesty of God. Its correlative effects are protection from sin through dread of offending the Lord, and a strong confidence in the power of His help.

There are various kinds of fear, only one of which is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Worldly fear is a fear of creatures that may lead a person to offend God, as when Peter was led to deny Christ because he was afraid of the bystanders in the court of the high priest during the Savior’s passion. Slavish fear also should not be numbered among the gifts because it cringes only at God’s punishments without detaching the heart from sin. If a man remains attached to sinful intentions but, out of fear of being punished, fails to carry them out, there is no merit in his conduct and no profit, except the possible restraint which keeps him from giving scandal or causing injury to his neighbor.

Even servile fear is not yet the infused gift, although it is certainly noble and praiseworthy. It not only shrinks from the pain that follows sin, but has the positive effect of detaching the will from affection for sinful creatures and keeping it attached to God. However, the gift cannot be based on this type of fear because, while good, it can be found in persons not in the state of grace. The useful fear of punishment may concur in disposing a sinner to justification through attrition. According to the Council of Trent, treating of attrition born of the fear of hell or God’s punishments, servile fear is a grace of God. It is an impulse of the good Spirit, not, indeed, as dwelling within the soul but merely as moving it. Consequently servile fear is excluded from the gifts which abide only in those who possess the Spirit of God in sanctifying grace.

Unlike the servile kind, the gift of fear is filial because it is based on the selfless love of God, whom it dreads to offend. In servile fear, the evil dreaded is punishment. In filial fear, the fear is offending God. Both kinds may proceed from the love of God, but filial fear is par excellence inspired by perfect charity. In that sense, it is inseparable from divine love. When I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, my fear, though servile, is basically motivated by the love of God, whom I am afraid of losing by my sins, since heaven is the possession of God and hell the loss of Him for eternity. To that extent, even servile fear cannot be separated from supernatural charity. On a higher plane, however, when the object of my fear is not personal loss, though it be heaven, but injury to the Divine Majesty; then the motive is not only an implicit love of God but love to a sublime degree. And this is the scope of the infused gift of the fear of the Lord.

To further clarify the meaning of this gift, we may recall that the sources of divine charity from which servile and filial fear arise correspond to the familiar difference between perfect and imperfect love. One is benevolence and the other is self-interest. In the pure love of benevolence, I love God for Himself alone, not for any benefit He can bestow on me. To this corresponds the filial fear wherein I am afraid to offend God, whom I love above all things, because I know that sin would “deprive” Him of the only good I can give, which is the gift of my voluntary love. In self-interested charity, my love is egotistic. I love God because of the blessings, including Himself, that attachment to His will can bring me. To this corresponds the servile fear that causes me to dread the loss of those very things to which self-interested love inclines me.

Persons in the state of grace are therefore disposed by the gift of fear instinctively to shrink from causing injury to One whom they love more than themselves, and in whom they recognize a Father deserving of their deepest affection.

Moreover, the gift of fear is not only filial but also chaste, and in its chastity lies hidden that perfection of divine love which raises a soul from earth to heaven already in this mortal life. St. Augustine uses a powerful similitude to explain what this means. Suppose some chaste woman, he says, fears her husband; suppose another, an adulterous woman, also fears her husband. The chaste woman fears lest her husband depart, the adulterous wife is afraid lest hers come. What if both husbands are absent? The one fears that he might come, the other lest he delay in coming.

He to whom we have been betrothed is in a certain sense absent. He is absent, who gave us as a pledge the Holy Spirit. He is absent, who redeemed us with His blood. He is that Bridegroom than whom nothing is more beautiful. He is beautiful, and is absent. Let the spouse ask herself if she is chaste. Our Bridegroom is absent. Ask your conscience: do you wish that He come, or do you prefer that He delay?
A chaste fear, then, has this quality, that it comes from love. But that fear which is not yet chaste, fears His presence and punishment. From fear a man does whatever good he performs, not from fear of losing that good, but from fear of suffering the contrary evil. He does not fear the prospect of losing the most beautiful Spouse of his soul, but lest he be cast into hell. This fear is good and useful; but it will not last forever. It is not yet that chaste fear which endures into eternity. [85]

Consequently, the gift of fear gives us the power to sublimate all lesser fears, including the salutary and much-needed dread of God’s justice. In the measure that this gift becomes active through generous cooperation, we come closer to realizing the ideal of the Christian life, namely that charity casts out fear. Our love of God becomes so intense that gradually the dominant disposition is to fear losing the least particle of God’s friendship. As we grow in charity, the dread of God’s punishment flows into a calm assurance of ultimate salvation, and even becomes a strong desire, like St. Paul’s to be dissolved into and to be with Christ. [86]

[1] Geoffrey Chaucer, The Clerk’s Prologue and Tale. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1966).

[2] CCC 365.

[3] Virtue as moral goodness (Wisdom 4:1; 5:13; 2 Macc. 6:13), and as particular moral quality (Wisdom 8:7).

[4] Divine powers (1 Peter 2:9; 2 Peter 1:3), moral vigor (2 Peter 1:5), and moral virtue (Philippians 4:8); CCC 1803.

[5] 1 Corinthians 13:13.

[6] 1 Thessalonians 1:3.

[7] 1 Thessalonians 5:8.

[8] Romans 5:1-6.

[9] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa I-II, 55, 4; CCC 1806.

[10] CCC 1804, 1810.

[11] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I-II, 62, 3.

[12] Ibid., 64, 4.

[13] Hebrews 11:1.

[14] 1 John 5:9; CCC 1814.

[15] DS 3542; CCC 155-56.

[16] DS 2778.

[17] Rudolf Karl Bultmann, Kerygma and Myth (London: S.P.C.K., 1953), 41.

[18] St. Thomas, De Veritate, XIV, 1; St. Augustine, “In Joannis Evangelium”, 26 MPL 35: 1607.

[19] DS 1554; CCC 154.

[20] DS 3035.

[21] John Henry Newman, Sermons Bearing on Subjects of the Day (London: Longmans, Green, 1902), 350.

[22] Blaise Pascal, Pensees, 194.

[23] “Acta Concilii Vatican”, Collectio Lacensis, Friburg: Herder, 1892, 7:533; CCC 812.

[24] DS 3014.

[25] John Henry Newman, Meditations and Devotions, 78.

[26] Psalm 26:11; CCC 1843.

[27] Romans 8:18-25.

[28] Titus 2:11-14, 3:5-7; CCC 1817.

[29] Bertrand Russell, Understanding History (New York: Philosophical Library, 1957), 102.

[30] Seneca, Ad Marciam de Consolatione, 19.

[31] Walter T. Stace, “Man Against Darkness,” Atlantic Monthly 182 (September 1948): 153-58.

[32] Titus 1:2.

[33] CCC 215, 2052.

[34] CCC 1266, 1813.

[35] St. Francis of Assisi, “The First Rule of the Friars Minor,” 23 in The Writings of St. Francis of Assisi, trans. Ben Fahey, OFM (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1964), 52.

[36] John 15:15; CCC 1972.

[37] St. Francis de Sales, Treatise on the Love of God (Westminster, MD: The Newman Book Shop, 1942), 196.

[38] Sigmund Freud, The Future of An Illusion (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1957), 68-69.

[39] St. Augustine, City of God 14; CCC 1850.

[40] St. Augustine, “Sermo 261,” MPL 38.

[41] St. Teresa of Avila, Autobiography, XXII, 5-14.

[42] B.P. Francisci Assisiatis Opuscula, ed. Luke Wadding (Antwerp: ex Officina Plantiniana apud Balthasarem Moretum, 1623), 119.

[43] CCC 2668.

[44] St. Anselm, Meditationes, XI, trans. W.J. Copeland, Meditations and Prayers to the Holy Trinity and Our Lord Jesus Christ (Oxford: J.H. Parker, 1856).

[45] Pius XII, On Devotion to the Sacred Heart [Haurietis Aquas] (1956), 102; CCC 2699.

[46] DS 1168; CCC 1492.

[47] CCC 1822.

[48] CCC 1022.

[49] John 15:12; CCC 1823-24.

[50] CCC 1022.

[51] 1 John 4:19-21; CCC 1878.

[52] Deuteronomy 6:5-7.

[53] Luke 10:25-29; CCC 2055, 2196.

[54] 1 Cor. 13:1-13; CCC 1825-26.

[55] St. Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, V, 3, trans. E. Allison Peers (NY: Image Books, 1961), 115.

[56] Matthew 10:37.

[57] 1 John 3:18; Romans 12:9.

[58] CCC 1855.

[59] DS 3670.

[60] St. Robert Bellarmine, De Lumine Fidei, I; CCC 162.

[61] CCC 1804, 1810.

[62] St. Augustine, Of the Morals of the Catholic Church, 24.

[63] St. Gregory, “Moralum Liber,” 22, MPL 76:22.

[64] CCC 1805-9.

[65] St. Thomas, Summa Theologica, II-II, 48, 1; 58, 5-6; 61, 1-2; 79, 1; 80, 1; 103, prologue; 128, 1; 143, 1;,144, 1; 145, 1; 147, 1;161, prologue; 166, 2; 168, 2; 169, 1.

[66] Ephesians 4:1-3.

[67] 2 Timothy 1:7.

[68] Romans 12:9-19.

[69] DS 780.

[70] DS 1535; CCC 2015.

[71] DS 3343.

[72] CCC 1810.

[73] Isaiah 11:1-3; CCC 712,,1830, 1831.

[74] Aphrates, “Demonstratio: De,Fide,” 10, Patrologia Syriaca (Paris: Firmin-Didot et Socii, 1926), 1:22.

[75] Romans 8:14.

[76] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I-II, 68, 1.

[77] CCC 1303.

[78] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, 8, 7.

[79] St. Augustine, “De Magistro,” 38, MPL 32:1215-20.

[80] St. Augustine, Sermon on the Mount, 1.

[81] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, 121, 1.

[82] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, 140, 1.

[83] St. Augustine, “Sermo 38,” MPL 38:548.

[84] CCC 828, 2030; cf. Lumen Gentium 40; 48-51.

[85] St. Augustine, “Enarrationes in Psalmos,” 127, 8, MPL 37:1681-82; CCC 1041.

[86] CCC 1011, 2086.

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