What is virtue? Virtue refers to the integrity of character which man in a fallen state must build in order to be fully human. Virtue is the ability to choose freely, unconstrained by the power of concupiscence that can reduce his freedom. There are natural virtues and theological virtues as well as infused virtues. What they have in common is that they are gained by developing habits that conform to human nature. They are achieved through habitual acts appropriate to the development of each particular virtue (e.g. developing the virtue of courage requires the habitual choice to act rightly when fear or other difficulties would tempt one to act otherwise). The natural virtues are organized into four cardinal virtues. One virtue has to do with the intellect (prudence) and three involve the will (justice, temperance and fortitude). There are many other natural virtues that fall under each of these cardinal virtues, but we will focus on the four cardinal virtues in the next series of posts.
The theological virtues are related to the natural virtues. The natural virtues are rooted in the theological virtues of faith, hope and love, and they only grow to full maturity in concert with the maturation of the theological virtues. Faith, hope and love begin with God’s invitation. One then responds through an act of the will, to surrender to God in faith (to trust in God and His promises), hope (faith projected into the future) and love (total self-gift). God then responds with the gift of Himself, by which our act of the will is super-naturalized and made redemptive. The supernatural virtues are deepened and perfected through continual acts of faith, hope and love by our cooperation with the grace of the Sacraments. The supernatural virtues have the fruit of super-naturalizing our efforts in the natural virtues as well, leading us to the capacity to overcome enslavement to concupiscence and to gain increasing ability to more freely and joyfully choose the authentic good. It must be emphasized that concupiscence never goes away, but it becomes increasingly manageable through self-mastery perfected by grace. In futures posts, we will look more closely at the natural virtues beginning with prudence.