"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

— A Commentary on the Third Part of St Thomas' Theological Summa

by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.


Second Article: Whether In Christ There Were Virtues

State of the question. We are concerned with virtues that are so called in the strict sense, such as the theological and cardinal virtues. Afterward, in discussing Christ's knowledge, we shall devote a question exclusively (q. 9) to the consideration of the intellectual virtues, which are not virtues in the strict sense inasmuch as they do not make a person absolutely good, but only in a qualified manner, such as when we say a person is good in metaphysics or mathematics.

We are concerned not only with directly infused moral virtues, but also with moral virtues of the natural order, which are acquired by our individual acts.

Conclusion. Christ had all the virtues. This means that He had all virtues that do not in their notion imply any defect in the soul of Christ, who was both wayfarer and comprehensor, as will be pointed out farther on. Thus in the following articles we shall have occasion to remark that Christ did not have either faith or hope or penance.

Scriptural proof. The Gospels authoritatively represent Christ as the exemplar of all virtues. Rationalists, such as Renan, acknowledge this to be true. We must insist upon this truth for the better manifestation of Christ's sanctity, which is the motive of credibility that leads to faith in Him.

There is negative evidence of this truth inasmuch as Christ was sinless, so that He could say to the Jews who sought to kill Him: "Which of you shall convince Me of sin?"[859] And nobody dared to contradict Him. Truly, indeed, as the Gospel narrates: "The chief priests and the whole council sought false witness against Jesus that they might put Him to death, and they found not."[860] But it was only because Jesus confessed that He is Christ, the Son of God, that "the high priest rent His garments, saying: 'He hath blasphemed. "[861] Even Judas confessed, saying: "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood";[862] and Pilate said: "I am innocent of the blood of this just man, look you to it."[863]

Moreover, Christ had all virtues and even most different kinds of them which He practiced in a heroic degree. Love and dutiful submission to God are especially evident in the life of Jesus, His love and mercy for men, perfect self-denial, humility and utmost magnanimity, most perfect meekness as also fortitude and patience on the cross, as when He prayed for those who tortured Him. We find wonderfully reconciled in Christ that holy rigor of justice toward the impenitent Pharisees and that immensity of mercy toward those sinners who do not resist God's grace.

In fact, as shown in apologetics, this harmony and perseverance that prevails between such vastly different virtues practiced in a heroic degree is a moral miracle. For this sublime and profound harmony between the virtues or holiness of life is impossible without God's special intervention, for it consists in an inseparable union with God which can come only from God, inasmuch as the order of agents must correspond to the order of ends. Apologetical arguments founded not on revelation but on reason make this already evident.

In fact, Christ's sanctity is not only eminent, but is manifestly extraordinary in that it unites in itself vastly different heroic virtues. We have seen indeed that a person is at times naturally disposed or is by force of habit ready to perform acts requiring fortitude of soul, who, nevertheless, is not ready to perform acts that call for meekness of soul, for by nature such a person is determined one particular way. But that anyone may have all the virtues and also excel in them, even those so vastly different, such as supreme fortitude and supreme meekness, perfect love of truth and justice and also the greatest of mercy toward those that err and fall into sin, this is impossible without God's special help, who alone in the simplicity of His nature contains formally and eminently vastly different perfections, and who can unite these in the human soul, so as to make it a perfect image of God. Thus the soul of Christ is that most sublime image in which it is possible to contemplate the Deity.

Theological proof. It can be proved by theological reasoning that Christ had all the virtues. This reasoning of St. Thomas is valid for the infused virtues, and may be expressed as follows:

As the faculties of the soul stem from its essence, so the infused virtues stem from habitual grace, and in a proportionate degree. But Christ's soul was endowed with habitual grace from the moment of His conception, and indeed in the highest degree of perfection, as will be more clearly explained farther on.[864] Therefore Christ had all the infused virtues and in the highest degree.[865]

We are concerned with virtues which, in what they mean, imply no defect in the soul of Christ, who was both wayfarer and comprehensor. Thus faith, hope, and repentance must be excluded.[866] The reason given by St. Thomas holds good for charity and all the infused moral virtues.

Reply to first objection. Habitual grace performs supernatural acts only through the medium of the virtues.

Reply to second objection. Christ had the virtues most perfectly, beyond the common mode. In this sense Plotinus gave to a certain sublime degree of virtue the name of virtue of the purified soul, as Macrobius says.[867]

Reply to third objection. "Christ showed the highest kind of liberality and magnificence by despising all riches." For these virtues, just as wittiness which has to do with joking, can be either made use of or despised for the sake of a higher end. But Christ had no evil desires whatever, as will be shown farther on.[868] Thus Christ had perfect temperance, but not continence, which St. Augustine says is not a virtue but something less than the virtue of chastity, for the continent person, strictly speaking, has evil tendencies, but resists them by will power. Cajetan[869] remarks, taking the name "continence" in the more common acceptation of the word, that there is nothing that prevents us from calling Christ continent.

First doubt. Did Christ have all moral virtues that of themselves can be acquired? Theologians generally give an affirmative answer to this question..

The reason is that the sensitive appetite in Christ was no different from ours, which is an inclination to sensible delectable good; that it may completely and perfectly tend to its natural and fitting good, it requires a superadded form, that can be nothing else but a moral virtue that is directly acquirable. Infused moral virtues did not suffice, because the direct purpose of these is to incline the will to supernatural acts. The correlative moral and acquirable virtues, although they are in themselves in their own order truly virtues, are related to the virtues as dispositions from which there arises an extrinsic facility for the practice of the infused virtues, for they exclude inordinate inclinations resulting from repetition of acts.[870] The acquired moral virtues are in their relation to the infused virtues somewhat like dexterity in manipulating the harp is to the art that is in the practical intellect of the musician. Hence it is certain that Christ had moral virtues that are of themselves acquirable; otherwise He would have been morally imperfect, just as beginners in the Christian life who, by the very fact that they are in the state of grace, have infused prudence, which scarcely manifests itself, however, because they lack the virtue of acquired prudence, without which it is difficult to practice the virtue of infused prudence.

Confirmation. Christ's will must be perfected as regards good, just as much as His intellect is as regards truth. But there was acquired knowledge in Christ's intellect, as will be made clear farther on.[871] Therefore, likewise in His will and sensitive appetite there was the possibility of acquiring moral virtues.

First objection. To perform a most perfect act is to act from a supernatural motive. But Christ always had to perform most perfect acts. Therefore He always acted from a supernatural motive or by acts of the infused virtues and not by acts of virtues that of themselves were acquirable.

Reply. I distinguish the major: to perform a most perfect act is to act from a supernatural motive, when this motive is the end in view of the person acting, this I concede; that the deed performed must always be in itself supernatural, this I deny. Hence, just as Christ performed not only acts of charity, but also acts of the infused virtues, so also He performed natural acts that as regards the object and end of these acts were good and fitting, though they were subordinated to the supernatural end of charity as being the end in view of the person acting. Thus Christ said: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's...."[872] These are natural obligations, just as even pagans know that commutative justice requires the payment of debts.

As grace does not destroy nature but perfects it, so also the infused virtues neither destroy nor render the acquired virtues useless, but perfect them, directing them to be performed for the love of God, not that the acts themselves are supernatural, but that the end in view of the agent is supernatural. Thus the act of the acquired virtue of temperance is modally supernatural, whereas the act of the infused virtue of temperance is substantially supernatural. Thus the acquired moral virtues are subordinated to the infused moral virtues in some way just as the imagination and sensitive memory are subordinated to knowledge, philosophy to theology, and theology to the doctrine of faith that transcends the science of theology. There is a normal hierarchy of functions in this subordination.

Second objection. But the acquired virtues are required to restrain the immoderate tendencies of the passions, which Christ did not have, for, as will be mentioned farther on,[873] Christ was free from concupiscence. Therefore He had no need of the acquired virtues.

Reply. I distinguish the antecedent: that the acquired virtues are necessary in a secondary sense so as to check the immoderate tendencies of the passions, this I concede; that they are primarily necessary, this I deny. For the primary and special purpose of these virtues is to enable the faculties to act properly, promptly, and with facility in the natural order. It is in this way that chastity operates, for example, even when there are no temptations to be overcome or passions to be curbed. Thus humility in Christ did not check the first movements of pride, but it completely subjected His will to the divine majesty.

Thus Adam in the state of innocence had those virtues that are of themselves capable of attainment, and they remain in the blessed, as St. Thomas teaches.[874]

Second doubt. Did Christ have these moral virtues that can be acquired of themselves by infusion, or did He acquire them by His own acts?

It is difficult to give a definite answer to this question.[875] The more probable opinion of several Thomists is that they were infused, just as Adam in the state of innocence had them from the moment of his creation. However, Adam was created in the adult state, whereas Christ as man gradually grew up to manhood.

The principal reason for this answer is that Christ was never without these virtues, for to be deprived of them for any time is in itself something evil, and no defect is admissible in God, except those that are not contrary to the end of the Incarnation, such as the privation of the glorification of His body for a time. But such is not the case with the temporary privation of these virtues. It would be more derogatory to Christ's dignity that He should be for a time without these virtues, than increase in perfection by acquiring them, which cannot be instantaneous, but only a progressive process. Moreover, the Church declared in the Second Council of Constantinople: "Christ was not subjected to passions, nor did He become better by the repetition of virtuous acts."[876]

Objection. But the Gospel says: "Jesus advanced in wisdom and age, and grace with God and men."[877]

Reply. The answer of St. Thomas is: "Christ advanced in wisdom and grace as also in age (not by an actual increase of the habits but), because as He advanced in age He performed more perfect works."[878]

Another objection. St. Thomas says farther on[879] that Christ advanced in acquired knowledge. Therefore He also advanced in moral virtues that of themselves can be acquired.

Reply. There is not parity of argument. (1) The natural sciences do not make man absolutely good, such as the moral virtues do, but good only in a qualified sense, such as good in mathematics or in physics. (2) If the natural sciences were infused in Christ, then His active intellect would be in a state of continual idleness as regards its first function, which is to abstract intelligible species from the senses. Therefore it is more probable that Christ had moral virtues that of themselves can be acquired from the time of His conception.

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"Lord, take from me everything that hinders me from going to You. give me all that will lead me to You. Take me from myself and give me to Yourself."

St Nicholas Flue

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"It is vanity to love what passes quickly and not to look ahead where eternal joy abides. "

Thomas Kempis

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"God gives us some things, as the beginning of faith, even when we do not pray. Other things, such as perseverance, he has only provided for those who pray."

St Augustine

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