Theological virtues

Last updated

Theological virtues are virtues associated in Christian theology and philosophy with salvation resulting from the grace of God. [1] Virtues are traits or qualities which dispose one to conduct oneself in a morally good manner. Traditionally they have been named Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love), and can trace their importance in Christian theology to Paul the Apostle in 1 Corinthians 13, who also pointed out that “the greatest of these is love.”


The medieval Catholic philosopher Thomas Aquinas explained that these virtues are called theological virtues "because they have God for their object, both in so far as by them we are properly directed to Him, and because they are infused into our souls by God alone, as also, finally, because we come to know of them only by Divine revelation in the Sacred Scriptures". [2]


1 Corinthians 13

The first mention in Christian literature of the three theological virtues is in St. Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians 1:3, "...calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope..." [3] In 1 Thessalonians 5:8, he refers to this triad of virtues again, "But since we are of the day, let us be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet that is hope for salvation." [4]

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul places the greater emphasis on Charity (Love). "So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love." First, because it informs the other two: "It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." According to Augustine of Hippo, from a temporal perspective, love lasts, while "Hope isn't hope if its object is seen", and faith gives way to possession. [5] This view is shared by Gregory of Nyssa. [5]


Aquinas found an interconnection of practical wisdom (prudentia) and moral virtue (e.g. courage without prudence risks becoming mere foolhardiness). This is frequently termed "the Unity of the Virtues." [6]

Aquinas stated that theological virtues are so called "because they have God for their object, both in so far as by them we are properly directed to Him, and because they are infused into our souls by God alone, as also, finally, because we come to know of them only by Divine revelation in the Sacred Scriptures". [2]

In his treatment of the virtues, Aquinas viewed the theological virtues as being the product of habitual grace. According to Aquinas, this grace, through the theological virtues, allows humanity to become agents in meritorious action that is beyond their own natural ability. In this way it is supernatural. [1]

Aquinas says "Faith has the character of a virtue, not because of the things it believes, for faith is of things that appear not, but because it adheres to the testimony of one in whom truth is infallibly found". (De Veritate, xiv, 8) [7]

Aquinas further connected the theological virtues with the cardinal virtues. He views the supernatural inclinations of the theological virtues, caused by habitual grace, to find their fulfillment in being acted upon in the cardinal virtues. [1]

Teaching by denomination

Catholic Church

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that faith, hope and love "dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity." [8]

Moravian Church

Among essential beliefs, the Moravian Church teaches that "God creates; God redeems; God blesses. And we respond in faith, in love and in hope." As such, Moravian Christians teach to judge themselves "by how deep our faith is, how expansive our love is, and how life affirming our hope is." [9]

Anglican Communion

Churches of the Anglican Communion also follow Augustine and Aquinas. "Faith is a matter of knowledge of God which perfects the intellect...Hope is a matter of the perfection of the will...Love is a matter of perfection itself as love is the perfection of all powers." [10] Richard Hooker said regarding faith, that its

'principal object is that eternal verity which hath discovered the treasures of hidden wisdom in Christ'; of hope that its 'highest object is that everlasting goodness which in Christ doth quicken the dead'; of charity, that its 'final object is that incomprehensible beauty which shineth in the countenance of Christ the Son of the Living God'.(Ecclesiastical Polity, bk.i, chap. xi) [11]

Moral theology

The three Virtues in Bom Jesus, Braga VirtudesBraga.jpg
The three Virtues in Bom Jesus, Braga

A person receives the theological virtues by their being "infused"—through Divine grace—into the person. [12] The theological virtues are so named because their object is the divine being (theos).

Comparison of Cardinal and Theological Virtues

The moral virtues are acquired by practice and habit. Catholic moral theology holds that the theological virtues differ from the cardinal virtues in that they cannot be obtained by human effort, but are infused by God into a person. The Episcopal Church shares this view. "As distinct from the cardinal virtues which we can develop, the theological virtues are the perfection of human powers given by the grace of God." [10] Like the cardinal virtues, an individual who exercises these virtues strengthens and increases them, i.e., they are more disposed to practice them. [15]

Following St. Augustine, Aquinas also recognized a separate but related type of moral virtue which is also infused by God. The distinction lies both in their source and end. The moral virtue of temperance recognizes food as a good that sustains life, but guards against the sin of gluttony. The infused virtue of temperance disposes the individual to practice fasting and abstinence. The infused moral virtues are connected to the theological virtue of Charity. [15] [13]

Pope Benedict XVI wrote three encyclicals about the theological virtues: Deus caritas est (about love), Spe salvi (about hope), and Lumen fidei (about faith: this encyclical was written both by Pope Benedict XVI and by Pope Francis). [16]

See also

Related Research Articles


Piety is a virtue which may include religious devotion or spirituality. A common element in most conceptions of piety is a duty of respect. In a religious context piety may be expressed through pious activities or devotions, which may vary among countries and cultures.

Charity (virtue) One of Christianitys seven theological virtues

In Christian theology, Charity is considered one of the seven virtues and is understood by Thomas Aquinas as "the friendship of man for God", which "unites us to God". He holds it as "the most excellent of the virtues". Further, Aquinas holds that "the habit of charity extends not only to the love of God, but also to the love of our neighbor".

In Christian theology, divinization, or theopoesis or theosis, is the transforming effect of divine grace, the spirit of God, or the atonement of Christ. Although it literally means to become divine, or to become god, most Christian denominations do not interpret the doctrine as implying an overcoming of a fundamental metaphysical difference between God and humanity, for example John of the Cross had it: "it is true that its natural being, though thus transformed, is as distinct from the Being of God as it was before".

Ascetical theology

Ascetical theology is the organized study or presentation of spiritual teachings found in Christian Scripture and the Church Fathers that help the faithful to more perfectly follow Christ and attain to Christian perfection. Christian asceticism is commonly thought to imply self-denial for a spiritual purpose. The term ascetical theology is used primarily in Roman Catholic theology; Eastern Orthodox theology carries its own distinct terms and definitions, and other religious traditions conceive of following and conforming to God and Christ differently from either Orthodoxy or Catholicism.

Cardinal virtues Virtues of mind and character

Cardinal virtues are four virtues of mind and character in both classical philosophy and Christian theology. They are Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance. They form a virtue theory of ethics. The term cardinal comes from the Latin cardo (hinge); virtues are so called because they are regarded as the basic virtues required for a virtuous life.

Beatific vision Christian theological term for the direct self-communication of God to the individual person

In Christian theology, the beatific vision is the ultimate direct self-communication of God to the individual person. A person possessing the beatific vision reaches, as a member of redeemed humanity in the communion of saints, perfect salvation in its entirety, i.e. heaven. The notion of vision stresses the intellectual component of salvation, though it encompasses the whole of human experience of joy, happiness coming from seeing God finally face to face and not imperfectly through faith..

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines virtue as "a habitual and firm disposition to do the good." Traditionally, the Seven Christian Virtues or Heavenly Virtues combine the four classical Cardinal Virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and courage with the three Theological Virtues of faith, hope, and charity. These were initially adopted by the Church Fathers as simply The Seven Virtues, and are not to be confused with the Seven Capital Virtues.

Christian perfection is the name given to various teachings within Christianity that describe the process of achieving spiritual maturity or perfection. The ultimate goal of this process is union with God characterized by pure love of God and other people as well as personal holiness or sanctification. Various terms have been used to describe the concept, such as entire sanctification, perfect love, the baptism with the Holy Spirit, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the second blessing, and the second work of grace.

Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit Spiritual gifts

The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are an enumeration of seven spiritual gifts originating from patristic authors, later elaborated by five intellectual virtues and four other groups of ethical characteristics. They are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.

In one sense, faith in Christianity is often discussed in terms of believing God's promises, trusting in his faithfulness, and relying on God's character and faithfulness to act. Some of the definitions in the history of Christian theology have followed the biblical formulation in Hebrews 11:1: "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen". As in other Abrahamic religions, it includes a belief in the existence of God, in the reality of a transcendent domain that God administers as his kingdom and in the benevolence of the will of God or God's plan for humankind.

<i>Summa Theologica</i> Theological treatise by Thomas Aquinas

The Summa Theologiae or Summa Theologica, often referred to simply as the Summa, is the best-known work of Thomas Aquinas, a scholastic theologian and Doctor of the Church. It is a compendium of all of the main theological teachings of the Catholic Church, intended to be an instructional guide for theology students, including seminarians and the literate laity. Presenting the reasoning for almost all points of Christian theology in the West, topics of the Summa follow the following cycle: God; Creation, Man; Man's purpose; Christ; the Sacraments; and back to God.

Aeterni Patris was an encyclical issued by Pope Leo XIII in August 1879,. It was subtitled "On the Restoration of Christian Philosophy in Catholic Schools in the Spirit of the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas". The aim of the encyclical was to advance the revival of Scholastic philosophy.

Heroic virtue is a phrase coined by Augustine of Hippo to describe the virtue of early Christian martyrs and used by the Catholic Church. The Greek pagan term hero described a person with possibly superhuman abilities and great goodness, and "it connotes a degree of bravery, fame, and distinction which places a man high above his fellows". The term was later applied to other highly virtuous persons who do extraordinary good works.

Hope (virtue)

Hope is one of the three theological virtues in Christian tradition. Hope being a combination of the desire for something and expectation of receiving it, the virtue is hoping for Divine union and so eternal happiness. While faith is a function of the intellect, hope is an act of the will.

In Christianity, the term state is used in various senses by theologians and spiritual writers.

Thomas Aquinas Italian philosopher and theologian

Thomas Aquinas was an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, Catholic priest, and Doctor of the Church. An immensely influential philosopher, theologian, and jurist in the tradition of scholasticism, he is also known within the latter as the Doctor Angelicus, the Doctor Communis, and the Doctor Universalis. The name Aquinas identifies his ancestral origins in the county of Aquino in present-day Lazio, Italy. Among other things, he was a prominent proponent of natural theology and the father of a school of thought known as Thomism. He argued that God is the source of both the light of natural reason and the light of faith. His influence on Western thought is considerable, and much of modern philosophy developed or opposed his ideas, particularly in the areas of ethics, natural law, metaphysics, and political theory.

Christian views on sin Christian views on sin

Sin is an immoral act considered to be a transgression of divine law. The doctrine of sin is central to Christianity, since its basic message is about redemption in Christ.

Latin Church Autonomous particular church composed of most of the Western-world Catholics

The Latin Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church or the Western Church, is the largest particular church sui iuris of the Catholic Church, and traditionally employs in the majority the Latin liturgical rites, which since the mid-twentieth century are very often in practice translated into the vernacular. The Latin Church is one of 24 such Churches, the 23 others being referred to as a group as the Eastern Catholic Churches. The Latin Church is headed by the Bishop of Rome, the Pope—one of whose traditional titles in some eras and contexts has also been the Patriarch of the West, and whose cathedra as a bishop is located in the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome, Italy.

Religion (virtue)

Religion is a distinct moral virtue whose purpose is to render God the worship due to Him as the source of all being and the giver of all good things. As such it is part of the cardinal virtue of Justice, and falls under obedience to the First Commandment.

Holy Obedience means two things: 1) Jesus' obedience unto death that makes atonement and reparation for mankind's disobedience (sins) and 2) Christian obedience to God in imitation of and share in Jesus' obedience.


  1. 1 2 3 Rziha, John Michael (2009). Perfecting Human Actions: St. Thomas Aquinas on Human Participation in Eternal Law. CUA Press. pp. 143–149. ISBN   9780813216720 . Retrieved 6 April 2017.
  2. 1 2 3 Delany, Joseph. "Hope." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 6 April 2017
  3. NAB, 1 Thessalonians 1, n.2
  4. NAB, 1 Thessalonians 5:8
  5. 1 2 1 Corinthians: Interpreted by Early Christian Medieval Commentators, (Judith L. Kovacs, ed.), Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005, p. 227 ISBN   9780802825773
  6. Annas, Julia. The Morality of Happiness (Oxford; Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. 73-84
  7. 1 2 3 Pope, Hugh. "Faith." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 6 April 2017
  8. "Catechism of the Catholic Church". Catholic Culture. Retrieved 28 July 2021.
  9. "In Essentials, Unity: Understanding the essential things". Moravian Church . Retrieved 28 July 2021.
  10. 1 2 "Theological Virtues", The Episcopal Church
  11. Kirk, Kenneth E., Some Principles of Moral Theology, London, Longmans, Green and Co Ltd, 1920, p. 42, note 6 PD-icon.svgThis article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  12. Waldron, M.A. (1912). "Virtue". In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  13. 1 2 3 PD-icon.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Waldron, M.A. (1912). "Virtue". In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  14. Sollier, Joseph. "Love (Theological Virtue)." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 6 April 2017
  15. 1 2 Drefcinski, Shane. "A Very Short Primer on St. Thomas Aquinas’ Account of the Various Virtues", University of Wisconsin–Platteville
  16. Speciale, Alessandro (4 July 2013). "The light of faith: origin, history and horizon of the christianism". La Stampa . Turin. Retrieved 19 October 2013.

Further reading