"The good of the grace of one soul is greater than the good of the nature of the whole universe"
- St Thomas Aquinas Ia IIa, q.24, a. 3, ad 2

 
REALITY—A Synthesis Of Thomistic Thought

by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.

CH51: THE MORAL VIRTUES

Article One: Prudence

The charioteer among the virtues, the name given to prudence by the ancients, shows that prudence is an intellectual virtue which guides the moral virtues. St. Thomas, following Aristotle, says that prudence is right reason as directing human acts. [1261] This definition is found, proportionally, in acquired prudence which educates and disciplines the will and the sense faculties, and in infused prudence which pours divine light into these faculties. [1262].

Prudence, acquired or infused, determines the golden middle way between extremes, between cowardice, say, and temerity, in the virtue of fortitude. But the medium way of acquired prudence is subordinated to that of infused prudence; as, for example, in the musician finger dexterity is subordinated to the art of music which is in the practical intellect.

Prudence has three acts: first counsel, which scrutinizes the means proposed for an end; second, practical judgment, which immediately directs choice; third, imperium, which directs execution. [1263].

In determining the relation between prudence and the moral virtues, St. Thomas is guided by Aristotle's principle: "As are a man's dispositions, so are his judgments." [1264] If we are ambitious, that is good which flatters our pride. If we are humble, that is good which agrees with humility. No one, then, can give prudent judgments unless he is disposed thereto by justice, temperance, fortitude, loyalty, and modesty, just as, to illustrate, the coachman cannot guide the vehicle well unless he has well-trained horses. This is what St. Thomas means when he says that the truth of the judgment passed by prudence depends on its conformity to well-trained appetites, rational and sensitive. [1265].

Here, as always, we see St. Thomas passing progressively from the common sense of natural reason to philosophic reasoning, all in the service of theology. Thus, even when the judgment of prudence is speculatively false, in consequence of ignorance, say, or of involuntary terror, that judgment is still true in the practical order. To illustrate. When we simply cannot know nor even suspect that the drink offered to us is poisoned, our act of drinking is not imprudent. In the speculative objective order our judgment is not true, but in the practical order it is true, because conformed to right disposition and intention.

This virtuous disposition and intention, necessary for counsel, is more necessary for the imperium. Prudence cannot command unless the will and the sense appetites are seasoned in obedience. Here lies what is called the interconnection of virtues, the union of all virtues in one spiritual organism. Prudence, acquired and infused, is the charioteer whose first task is continual training of his steeds. For the education and formation of a good conscience, the doctrines just explained are excellent guides, more sure, profound, and useful than the shifting balance of conflicting probabilities.

The gift which corresponds to prudence is that of counsel, which gives us divine inspirations in eases where even infused prudence hesitates, in answering, for instance, an indiscreet question, so as neither to lie nor to betray a secret. [1266].

Article Two: Justice [1267]

Justice, either acquired or infused, is a virtue residing in man's will, a virtue which destroys selfishness, and enables him to give to each neighbor that neighbor's due. Justice is found on four ascending levels: commutative justice, distributive justice, social justice, equity.

Commutative justice rules everyday commercial life. It commands honesty in buying, selling, and exchanging. It forbids theft, fraud, calumny, and obliges to restitution.

Distributive justice is concerned with the right distribution of public duties and awards, which are not to be given indiscriminately, but in proportion to merit, need, and importance. [1268].

Social justice, also called legal justice, establishes and maintains the laws required for the common good and advancement of society. Its source lies in political prudence, which belongs principally to the rulers of the state, but also to the subjects of the state, since without it the subject cannot be interested in the common good which he shares with his fellow citizens, nor in the observance of the laws which uphold that common welfare. [1269].

Equity, also called epikeia, is the highest form of justice. It is concerned, not merely with the letter of the law, but with the spirit of the law, i. e.: with the intention of the legislator, particularly in difficult and afflicting circumstances, where rigid application of the law's mere letter would work injustice [1270] and thus defeat the intention of the legislator. Equity, resting on great good sense and wisdom, sees the spirit behind the law and emulates charity, which is still higher than itself.

All these divisions reappear in higher form in infused justice, which increases tenfold the energies of the will, imprinting upon it a full Christian character which dominates even man's physical temperament. If acquired virtue pours natural rectitude down into our will and sense appetites, infused virtue, from an immeasurably higher source, pours into those same faculties the supernatural rectitude of faith and grace.

Justice, further, though it is the instrument of charity, differs from it notably. Justice gives to each fellow man his right and due. Charity gives each not only his rights, but the privileges of a child of God and a brother of Jesus Christ. Justice, says St. Thomas, [1271] looks on our neighbor as another person with his own personal rights, whereas charity looks on him as another self. When our neighbor sins, justice will not punish him beyond measure, whereas charity will even forgive his sin. And, while peace depends, first on justice, secondly on charity, justice produces peace indirectly by removing wrongs, whereas charity, by making men's hearts one in Christ, produces peace directly.

A specific question under justice is the right of ownership. "Ownership," says St. Thomas, [1272] "includes two rights: first, the right to acquire and administer property as my own, second, the right to use the revenues arising from this property." "But from this second right," he adds, "there arises the duty of aiding others in their necessities." [1273] The rich man, far from being a selfish monopolist, should rather be God's administrator in favor of the needy. Only thus can human society escape the domination of covetousness and jealousy, and live in God's kingdom of justice and charity. [1274].

Lastly, let us notice the auxiliary virtues of justice, i. e.: virtues which can only imperfectly render to others their due. Here we find, first religion which, aided by the gift of piety, gives to God that worship to which He has transcendent right. Secondly penance, which repairs injuries to God. Thirdly filial piety, toward parents and fatherland. Fourthly obedience to superiors. Fifthly gratitude for benefits. Sixthly vigilance, to be just, but also mild, in inflicting just punishment. Seventhly truthfulness, both in word and deed. Eighthly, ninthly, and tenthly are friendship, amiability, and generosity. [1275].

Article Three: Fortitude [1276]

Fortitude keeps fear from shrinking and audacity from rushing. Thus it holds the golden middle way between cowardice and foolhardiness.

This definition holds good, proportionally, both of acquired fortitude, as in the soldier who faces death for his country, and of infused fortitude, as in the martyr who, guided by faith and Christian prudence, faces torments and death for Christ.

The principal act of fortitude is endurance, and its secondary act is aggression. Endurance, says St. Thomas, [1277] is more difficult than aggression and more meritorious. Greater moral strength is shown in daily and long-continued self-control than in the momentary enthusiasm which attacks a deadly adversary. Three reflections show this truth:

a) He who endures is already in continual warfare against a self-confident adversary.

b) He is accustomed to suffering, whereas he who waits for the far-off struggle does not in the meantime exercise himself in suffering and even hopes to escape it.

c) Endurance presupposes long training in fortitude, whereas attack depends on a moment of temperamental enthusiasm.

Endurance at its best is exemplified in martyrdom, the supreme act of fortitude, which gives even life to God. [1278] Whereas counterfeit martyrdom, supported by pride and obstinacy, may also be inflexible against pain, the genuine martyr is supported by virtues seemingly opposed to fortitude, namely, charity and prudence and humility, and loving prayer for his tormentor.

Fortitude is also the name of the gift which corresponds to the virtue. He who is faithful to the Holy Ghost in the details of daily life is prepared to be heroically faithful in the supreme trial. [1279].

The auxiliary virtues of fortitude are magnanimity, constancy, patience, perseverance.

Article Four: Temperance

Temperance rules the concupiscible appetite, particularly in the domain of the sense of touch. It holds the golden mean between intemperance and insensibility. Acquired temperance is ruled by right reason, infused temperance by faith and grace. [1280].

The kinds of temperance are chiefly three: abstinence, the right medium in food; sobriety, the right medium in drink; chastity, the right medium in sex. [1281] Chastity, the virtue, must be clearly distinguished from the instinct of shame, which naturally inclines man to the virtue, just as sense pity inclines him to the virtue of mercy. [1282].

Virginity is a virtue distinct from chastity, say, of the widow, because virginity offers to God perfect and lifelong integrity of the flesh. Virginity, then, is related to chastity as munificence is related to liberality. [1283] It is a more perfect state than that of matrimony, since it is a disposition for contemplation, which is a higher good than propagation of the race. [1284].

Among the auxiliary virtues of temperance we must emphasize humility and meekness. [1285] Humility, which, in Jesus and Mary, found no pride to repress, consists in self-abasement first, before the infinite Creator, secondly before each creature's share in God's goodness. The humble man, recognizing that of himself he is nothingness and emptiness, sees in all other creatures what they have from God, and hence is persuaded, and acts according to his persuasion, that he is the lowest of all. [1286] This simple and profound formula, the key to the life of the saints, ascends by successive levels to perfection: [1287].

a) I recognize that I am contemptible.
b) I accept the consequent suffering.
c) I acknowledge my contemptibleness;
d) I wish my neighbor to believe me contemptible;
e) I hear patiently his expression of that belief.
f) I accept corresponding treatment.
g) I love this kind of treatment.

Humility is thus a fundamental virtue, which eradicates all pride, the root of all sin, and leaves us completely docile to divine grace. [1288] The sin of the first man, we note further, [1289] was, like that of the angels, a sin of pride. But angelic pride arose from a perfect knowledge which pre-existed, whereas human pride came from a desire of knowledge which man had not, but wished to have, in order to live independently of God, without being bound by obedience. [1290].

Finally, [1291] we note the auxiliary virtue of studiousness, which is again the golden middle road, between uncontrolled curiosity and intellectual laziness, the latter being often a consequence of the former, curiosity being spasmodic and short-lived.

All in all, St. Thomas examines about forty virtues, all arranged under the four cardinal virtues. Justice excepted, each virtue is flanked by two opposite vices, one by excess, the other by defect. Hence it comes that a virtue may have an external resemblance to a vice. Magnanimity, for example, thus resembles pride. Acquired virtue is often defective in this way, until it is perfected by gifts of the Holy Ghost. Hence, if man's virtuous organism be compared to an organ, defective virtue can easily strike false notes, and thus we need the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost to attain perfection in virtue. And thus we are brought to the study of perfection, contemplative and active.

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Footnotes

1260 - 1291

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