ARTICLE III - THE MORAL VIRTUES
To understand what the action of the spiritual organism should be,
we must clearly distinguish on the level below the theological
virtues, the acquired moral virtues which were described by the
moralists of pagan antiquity and which can exist without the state of
grace, and the infused moral virtues which were unknown to pagan
moralists and which are described in the Gospel. The acquired moral
virtues, as their name indicates, are acquired by the repetition of
acts under the direction of more or less cultivated natural reason.
The infused moral virtues are called infused because God alone can
produce them in us. They are not the result of the repetition of our
acts; we received them in baptism as parts of our spiritual organism,
and absolution restores them to us if we have had the misfortune to
lose them. The acquired moral virtues, known by the pagans, have an
object accessible to natural reason; the infused moral virtues have an
essentially supernatural object commensurate with our supernatural
end, an object which would be inaccessible without the infused light
of faith in eternal life, in the gravity of sin, in the redemptive
value of our Savior's passion, in the value of grace and of the
In relation to the interior life, we shall discuss first of all the
acquired moral virtues, then the infused moral virtues, and finally
the relationship of the first to the second. This subject matter is
important, especially since some souls consecrated to God do not in
their youth give sufficient importance to the moral virtues. Over and
above a rather calm and pure sensibility, they seem to have the three
theological virtues, but they almost lack the moral virtues of
prudence, justice, fortitude, and so on.(2) Something like an
intermediary stage seems to be lacking in their souls. Yet they have
the infused moral virtues, but not the corresponding acquired moral
virtues in a sufficient degree. Others, on the contrary, who are older
and have seen the importance of the moral virtues of prudence,
justice, fortitude, and so on, in social life, do not sufficiently
value the theological virtues, which are, however, incomparably higher
since they unite us to God.
THE ACQUIRED MORAL VIRTUES
We shall ascend progressively from the lower degrees of natural
morality to those of supernatural morality. We must, first of all,
observe with St. Thomas that in a man in the state of mortal sin there
are often false virtues, such as the temperance of the miser. He
practices it, not for love of honest and reasonable good, not for the
sake of living according to right reason, but for love of that useful
good, money. Similarly, if he pays his debts, it is rather to avoid
the costs of a lawsuit than for love of justice.
Above these false virtues, true acquired moral virtues may exist
even in a man in the state of mortal sin. Some practice sobriety in
order to live reasonably; for the same motive they pay their debts and
teach some good principles to their children. But as long as a man
remains in the state of mortal sin these true virtues remain in the
state of a somewhat unstable disposition (in statu dispositionis
facile mobilis); they are not yet in the state of solid virtue
(difficile mobilis). Why is this? The answer is that, as long as a man
is in the state of mortal sin, his will is habitually turned away from
God. Instead of loving Him above all else, the sinner loves himself
more than God, with the consequent result that he shows great weakness
in accomplishing moral good, even of the natural order.
Moreover, the true acquired virtues which are in a man in the state
of mortal sin lack solidity because they are not connected, because
they are not sufficiently supported by the closely related moral
virtues that are often lacking. We may take as an example a soldier
who is naturally inclined to acts of bravery and has often shown
himself courageous, but who is also inclined to become intoxicated. It
may happen that, by reason of intemperance, on certain days he fails
in the acquired virtue of fortitude and neglects his essential duties
as a soldier.(3) This man, who is inclined by temperament to be
courageous, has not the virtue of fortitude as a virtue. Intemperance
makes him fail in prudence, even in the domain of the virtue of
fortitude. Prudence, which ought to direct all. the moral virtues,
supposes in fact that our will and our sensible appetites are
habitually rectified as regards the end of these virtues. A man who
drives several horses hitched to a chariot must see to it that each
animal is already broken and docile. Now prudence is like the driver
of all the moral virtues, auriga virtutunl, and it ought to have them
all in hand, so to speak. One does not go without the other: they are
connected in prudence, which directs them.
Therefore, that true acquired virtues may not be simply in a state
of unstable disposition, and that they may be in a state of solid
virtue (in statu virtutis), they must be connected. That this may be
so, a man must no longer be in the state of mortal sin, but his will
must be set straight in regard to his last end. He must love God more
than himself, at least with a real and efficacious love of esteem, if
not with a love that is felt. This love is impossible without the
state of grace and without charity.(4) But after justification or
conversion, these true acquired virtues may come to be stable virtues;
they may become connected, relying on each other. Finally, under the
influx of infused charity, they become the principle of acts
meritorious of eternal life. For this reason, some theologians, such
as Duns Scotus, have even thought it not necessary that we should have
infused moral virtues.
THE INFUSED MORAL VIRTUES
Are the acquired moral virtues we have just spoken of sufficient,
under the influence of charity, to constitute the spiritual organism
of the virtues in a Christian? Must we receive infused moral virtues?
In conformity with tradition and with a decision of Pope Clement V
at the Council of Vienne,(5) the Catechism of the Council of Trent
(Part II, On baptism and its effects), answers: "The grace
(sanctifying), which baptism confers, is accompanied by the glorious
cortege of all the virtues, which, by a special gift of God, penetrate
the soul simultaneously with it." This gift is an admirable effect of
the Savior's passion which is applied to us by the sacrament of
Moreover, in this bestowal of the infused moral virtues, there is a
lofty fitness that has been well set forth by St. Thomas.(6) The
means, he observes, must be proportioned to the end. By the infused
theological virtues we are raised and directed toward the supernatural
last end. Hence it is highly fitting that we should be raised and
directed by the infused moral virtues in regard to supernatural means
capable of leading us to our supernatural end.
God provides for our needs not less in the order of grace than in
that of nature. Therefore, since in the order of nature He has given
us the capacity to succeed in practicing the acquired moral virtues,
it is highly fitting that in the order of grace He should give us
infused moral virtues.
The acquired moral virtues do not suffice in a Christian to make
him will, as he ought, the supernatural means ordained to eternal
life. St. Thomas says, in fact, that there is an essential difference
between the acquired temperance described by pagan moralists, and the
Christian temperance spoken of in the Gospel. (7) The difference is
analogous to that of an octave between two musical notes of the same
name, separated by a complete scale. We often distinguish between
philosophical temperance and Christian temperance, or again between
the philosophical poverty of Crates' and the evangelical poverty of
the disciples of Christ.
As St. Thomas remarks,(8) acquired temperance has a rule and formal
object different from those of infused temperance. Acquired temperance
keeps a just medium in the matter of food in order that we may live
reasonably, that we may not injure our health or the exercise of our
reason. Infused temperance, on the contrary, keeps a superior happy
mean in the use of food in order that we may live in a Christian
manner, as children of God, en route to the wholly supernatural life
of eternity. Infused temperance thus implies a more severe
mortification than is implied by acquired temperance; it requires, as
St. Paul says, that man chastise his body and bring it into
subjection,(9) that he may become not only a virtuous citizen of
society on earth, but one of the "fellow citizens with the saints, and
the domestics of God." (10)
The same difference exists between the acquired virtue of religion,
which ought to render to God, the Author of nature, the worship due
Him, and the infused virtue of religion, which offers to God, the
Author of grace, the essentially supernatural sacrifice of the Mass,
which perpetuates in substance that of the cross. Between these two
virtues of the same name, there is even more than the difference of an
octave; there is a difference of orders, so that the acquired virtue
of religion or that of temperance could grow forever by the repetition
of acts without ever attaining the dignity of the slightest degree of
the infused virtue of the same name. The tonality is entirely
different; the spirit animating the word is no longer the same. In the
case of the acquired virtue, the spirit is simply that of right
reason; in the infused virtue, the spirit is that of faith which comes
from God through grace.
These two formal objects and two motives of action differ greatly.
Acquired prudence is ignorant of the supernatural motives of action;
infused prudence knows them. Proceeding not from reason alone, but
from reason illumined by infused faith, it knows the infinite
elevation of our supernatural last end, God seen face to face. It
knows, consequently, the gravity of mortal sin, the value of
sanctifying grace and of the actual graces we must ask for every day
in order to persevere, and the value of the sacraments that are to be
received. Acquired prudence is ignorant of all of this, because this
matter belongs to an essentially supernatural order.
What a difference there is between the philosophical modesty
described by Aristotle and Christian humility! The latter presupposes
the knowledge of two dogmas: that of creation ex nihilo, and that of
the necessity of actual grace for taking the slightest step forward in
the way of salvation. What a distance there is also between the
virginity of the vestal virgin, whose duty it was to keep up the
sacred fire, and that of the Christian virgin who consecrates her body
and heart to God that she may follow our Lord Jesus Christ more
These infused moral virtues are Christian prudence, justice,
fortitude, temperance, and those which accompany them, such as
meekness and humility. They are connected with charity in this sense,
that charity, which sets us aright in regard to our supernatural last
end, cannot exist without them, without this multiple rectification in
regard to the supernatural means of salvation.(11) Moreover, he who
loses charity by a mortal sin, loses the infused moral virtues;
because, by turning away from the supernatural end, he loses infused
rectification in regard to the means proportioned to this end. But it
does not follow that he loses faith and hope, or that he loses the
acquired virtues; the latter, however, cease to be stable and
connected in him. In fact, a man who is in the state of mortal sin
loves himself more than he does God and tends through egoism to fail
in his duties even in the natural order.
RELATIONS BETWEEN THE INFUSED MORAL VIRTUES AND THE
ACQUIRED MORAL VIRTUES
The relations between these virtues and their subordination are
explained by what we have just said.(12) First of all, the facility of
virtuous acts is not assured in the same way by the infused moral
virtues as by the acquired moral virtues. The infused virtues give an
intrinsic facility, without always excluding the extrinsic obstacles;
whereas these extrinsic obstacles are excluded by the repetition of
acts that engender the acquired virtues.
This is easily understood when by sacramental absolution the
infused moral virtues, united to sanctifying grace and to charity, are
restored to a penitent who, though he has imperfect contrition for his
sins, has not the acquired moral virtues. This happens, for example,
in the case of a man who is accustomed to becoming intoxicated and who
makes his Easter confession with sufficient attrition. By absolution
he receives, together with charity, the infused moral virtues,
including temperance; but he has not yet the acquired virtue of
temperance. The infused virtue that he receives gives him a certain
intrinsic facility for the exercise of the obligatory acts of
sobriety; but this infused virtue does not exclude the extrinsic
obstacles which would be eliminated by the repetition of the acts that
engender acquired temperance.(13) This penitent ought also to watch
seriously over himself in order to avoid the occasions that would
cause him to fall back into his habitual sin. For this reason it is
evident that the acquired virtue of temperance greatly facilitates the
exercise of the infused virtue of the same name.(14)
How are the virtues exercised? They are exercised simultaneously in
such a way that the acquired virtue is subordinated to the infused
virtue as a favorable disposition. Thus, in another domain, the
agility of a pianist's or a harpist's fingers, which is acquired by a
repetition of acts, favors the exercise of the musical art that is in
the artist's intellect and not in his fingers. If he completely loses
the nimbleness of his fingers as a result of paralysis, he can no
longer exercise his art because of an extrinsic obstacle. His art,
however, remains in his practical intellect, as we see in the case of
a musical genius who is stricken with paralysis. Normally there ought
to be two subordinated functions that should be exercised together.
The same holds true for the acquired virtue and for the infused virtue
of the same name.(15) In like manner the imagination is at the service
of the intellect, and the memory at that of knowledge.
These moral virtues consist in a happy mean between two extremes,
shown by excess on the one hand and deficiency on the other. Thus the
virtue of fortitude inclines us to keep a happy mean between fear,
which flees danger without a reasonable motive, and temerity, which
would lead us into the danger of getting our head broken without
sufficient reason. However, this happy mean may be misunderstood.
Epicureans and the tepid intend to keep a happy mean not for love of
virtue, but for convenience' sake in order to flee from the
discomforts of the contrary vices. They confuse the happy mean with
mediocrity, which is found not precisely between two contrary evils,
but halfway between good and evil. Mediocrity or tepidity flees the
higher good as an extreme to be avoided. It hides its laziness under
this principle: "The best is sometimes the enemy of the good"; and it
ends by saying: "The best is often, if not always, the enemy of the
good." It thus ends by confusing the good with the mediocre.
The right happy medium of true virtue is not only a mean between
two contrary vices; it is also a summit. It rises like a culminating
point between these contrary deviations; thus fortitude is superior to
fear and temerity; true prudence to imprudence and cunning;
magnanimity to pusillanimity and vain and ambitious presumption;
liberality to avarice or stinginess and prodigality; true religion to
impiety and superstition.
Moreover, this happy medium, which is at the same time a summit,
tends to rise without deviating to the right or the left in proportion
as virtue grows. In this sense the mean of the infused virtue is
superior to that of the corresponding acquired virtue, for it depends
on a higher rule and has in view a more elevated object.
We note, lastly, that spiritual authors insist particularly, as the
Gospel does, on certain moral virtues which have a more special
relation with God and an affinity with the theological virtues. They
are religion or solid piety,(16) penance,(17) which render to God the
worship and the reparation which are due to Him; meekness, (18) united
to patience, perfect chastity, virginity,(19) and humility,(20) a
fundamental virtue which excludes pride, the principle of every sin.
By abasing us before God, humility raises us above pusillanimity and
pride and prepares us for the contemplation of divine things, for
union with God. "God giveth grace to the humble," (21) and He makes
them humble in order to load them with His gifts. Christ delighted in
saying: "Learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart." (22) He
alone, who was so well established in truth, could speak of His
humility without losing it.
Such are the infused and acquired moral virtues which, with the
theological virtues to which they are subordinated, constitute our
spiritual organism. This ensemble of functions possesses great
harmony, although venial sin may more or less frequently introduce
discordant notes in it. All the parts of this spiritual organism grow
together, says St. Thomas, like the five fingers of one hand.(23) This
proportionate growth demonstrates that a soul cannot have lofty
charity without profound humility, just as the highest branch of a
tree rises toward heaven in proportion as its roots plunge more deeply
into the soil. We must take care in the interior life that nothing
troubles the harmony of this spiritual organism, as happens
unfortunately in those who, while perhaps remaining in the stat of
grace, seem more preoccupied with human learning or exterior relations
than with growth in faith, confidence, and the love of God.
To form a right idea of the spiritual organism, it is not
sufficient to know these virtues. We must consider the seven gifts of
the Holy Ghost, and not ignore the diverse forms under which divine
help is offered.
||1. See Ia IIae, q.63, a.4.
these persons, being in the state of grace, do have the infusedd moral
virtues always united to charity, but their attention is not
sufficiently focused on them, and they have the corresponding acquired
virtues only in a feeble degree.
3. See Ia IIae, q.65, a.2. Thomists generally admit this
proposition: "Without charity there can be true acquired moral
virtues, but imperfect ones, as there were actually in many peoples."
Cf. John of St. Thomas, Cursus theol., De proprietate virtutum,
disp. XVII, a. 2, nos. 6, 8, 10, 11, 14. Salmanticenses, Cursus
theol., De virtutibus, disp. IV, dub. I, no. I; dub. 2, nos. 26,
27. Billuart, Cursus theol., De passionibus et virtutibus,
diss. II, a.4, par. 3, especially in fine.
We treated this subject at greater length in the Revue Thomiste,
July, 1937: "The instability of the acquired moral virtues in the
state of mortal sin." Consult in particular St. Thomas, Ia IIae, q.49,
a.2 ad 3 um; this text is of primary importance.
4. See Ia IIae, q.65, a.2. In the present state of humanity, every
man is either the state of mortal sin or in the state of grace. Since
the Fall, man cannot, in fact, efficaciously love God the Author of
his nature more than himself without healing grace, a grace which is
not really distinct from sanctifying grace which elevates. Cf. St.
Thomas, Ia IIae, q. 109, a.3.
5 Clement V at the Council of Vienne (Denzinger, Enchiridion, no.
483), thus settled this question, which was formulated under Innocent
III (Denzinger, no. 410): "Whether faith, charity, and the other
virtues are infused into children in baptism." He answers: "We,
however, considering the general efficacy of the death of Christ,
which is applied by baptism equally to all the baptized, think that,
with the approval of the sacred Council, we should choose as more
probable and more consonant and harmonious with the teachings of the
saints and of modern doctors of theology, the second opinion, which
declares that informing grace and the virtues are bestowed in baptism
on infants as well as adults." By these words, "and the virtues,"
Clement V means.not only the theological virtues, but the moral
virtues, for they also were involved in the question formulated under
6. See Ia IIae, q.63, a.3.
7. Ibid., a.4.
9. See I Cor. 9:27.
10. Eph. 2:19.
11. See Ia IIae, q.65, a. 3.
12. Cf. St. Thomas, Quaest. disp.: De virtutibus in communi,
a. 10, in corp., ad 1 um, ad 13 um, ad 16um; also P. Bernard, O.P.,
La vie spirituelle, January, 1935; suppl., pp. 25-54: "La vertu
acquise et la vertu infuse."
13. Hence it follows that this penitent has through experience a
much greater knowledge of the obstacles to be conquered than of the
infused virtue of temperance, which he has just received, and which is
of too elevated an order to fall under the scope of sensible
14. Infused temperance can exist without acquired temperance, as in
the case we have just discussed. And inversely, acquired temperance
can exist without the infused virtue, for the latter is lost after
every mortal sin, whereas acquired temperance remains at least in an
imperfect state (in statu dispositionis facile mobilis) if it existed
before this sin. Thus the sensible memory, which is at the service of
intellectual knowledge, can exist without it; inversely, a great
scholar, preserving his knowledge in his intellect, can, by reason of
a cerebral lesion, lose his memory which facilitated the exercise of
15. In the just man, charity commands or inspires the act of
acquired temperance by the intermediary of the simultaneous act of
infused temperance. And even outside the production of their acts,
since these two virtues are united in the same faculty, the infused
confirms the acquired. Only in those Christians who live a more
supernatural life, does the supernatural motive most appear as the
explicit motive of acting; in others it is a rational motive, and the
supernatural remains somewhat latent (remissus). Similarly, one
pianist may show great technique and a modicum of inspiration, whereas
in another the inverse may be true. The motives of inferior reason,
which touch on health, are more or less explicit according as a person
is more or less freed from these preoccupations, or according as he is
so healthy that he need not think of his health.
16. See IIa IIae, q.81.
17. See III q.85.
18. See IIa IIae, q. 157.
19. Ibid., q. 151, 152.
20. Ibid., q. 161.
21. Jas. 4:6.
22. Matt. II: 19.
23. See Ia IIae, q.66, a.2. These virtues grow together with
charity because of their connection with this virtue, just as the
different parts of our physical organism grow simultaneously. But the
infused moral virtues grow especially with charity. The acquired
virtues may not develop as much if tbey are not sufficiently