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Class 20

In the secunda pars, Saint Thomas doesn’t study the contents of the divine precepts, but their pedagogical function in the development of virtue. It is the reason which is behind the virtue that Saint Thomas tries to catch, what value is involved. He studies the good which is appropriate for each faculty, how we find the appropriate mean. The virtuous action in each individual has an individual measure. God doesn’t issue his will directly in every moment. God enriches our happiness through the effects of the divine indwelling and the gifts, which help us to find the mean. But the determination of the mean in each act is the fruit of reason and free choice. Divine charity is infused in the soul and influences the entire action, but we have to choose how to act. Virtue has disappeared from most pulpits, and has the character in an old maid. There are attempts to replace the term with "attitude" or "moral value" or "excellence." Virtus comes from either vis or vir, the idea of strength, not of an old maid. Virtue is a good operative habitus, disposing toward that which is best, not what is mediocre. There is a moment of risk and of improvisation. It is an echo of the creative action of God. It grants goodness to the act and to the person performing it. There can be an excellent thief, but he’s not good, although there is something good if he knows how to use his intelligence and positive talents for robbing a bank.

What virtue is

In virtue, the reason has to find the appropriate mean. Virtus in media rei. We have to distinguish between the mean of the reason, medium rationis, not the mean of the thing itself, medium rei. In the virtue of justice, I restore not what my reason has decided, but what I owe. In some virtues, the rational mean is limitless. We can always love God more. There is a mean in the theological virtues as perceived from our point of view. The virtue of prudence governs the expression in the way I express faith and love. You use prudence to express one’s love of God. Saint Augustine called virtue the ordo amoris, a balance in love. The Christian virtue introduces into our entire life the balance which comes from divine love, ama et fac quid vis. Virtue is a good quality of the mind by which one live righteously, of which no one can badly use, in which God works within us without us was the traditional notion of an infused virtue attributed to Saint Augustine through Lombard.

In all virtues, the virtue of prudence must be active, but in those virtues which order the emotions, the seat or subject of the virtue is the emotion involved itself. In temperance, the virtue is in the reason and in the emotion. Prudence has its seat in the reason, temperance in the emotions of the pleasure appetite, and fortitude in the irascible appetite. The puritans taught to exclude the emotions. Virtue shouldn’t eradicate the emotional life by reason, but to coordinate it by reason. The reason has a political but not a despotic governance over the emotions. Saint Thomas disagreed with Bonaventure, who located the governance of the emotions by the will dominates the emotions. The harmonious cooperation between the rational and sensual is both concrete and necessary. The fact that I enjoy wine is accepted by reason. The attractiveness of the object lies in the fact that it’s there now. If the natural expression of the emotions is denied, and rejected, then the emotions grow and cannot be the subject of growth in virtue. Kant said only action driven by duty is good, which is absurd. We are entitled to enjoy the pleasures of this life as long as they don’t become idols. It is possible in the place of trials to beg for divine aid. Saint Ambrose said that God most often knocks on the doors of those in trouble and distress.

Does the will need the perfection of the virtue? Strictly speaking, it doesn’t need the virtue, because there is an attraction to the good shown by reason. In this sense, the will doesn’t need a special virtue. In our nature marked by the consequences of original sin, it doesn’t always work out this way. The will is not always apt to follow the good, and so thinking is a romantic vision of man. The will doesn’t need any virtue to strive after happiness. In other cases, we need the virtue of justice, which perfects the will to respect the rights of others — to choose the medium rei, that in accord with the rights of others — and charity to perfect the will toward the rights of God. In the supernatural action of God within the human will, the will is drawn to that which has been presented to us in faith. There is a supernatural action of God moving us to accept what was presented in faith. The act of faith is a special gift of self giving ourselves to God in giving ourselves to the inspirations given in faith. It is important never to say no to God. The will is also formed by the growth of the virtues in the emotions. If we grow in fortitude, it allows our will to persevere in the good, so that we won’t be tied by the disordered emotions.

The connection among the virtues

There is a connection between the moral virtues. The intellectual virtues are not connected: you can be expert and ignorant at the same time. The moral virtues are connected: the moral quality of one virtue flows into the entire personality. This is particularly true in the infused virtues, especially of charity. If we try never to say no to God, this will have an influence on all our acts. This is why temporary continence in marriage can produce good effects, for it leads not only to the control of child-bearing but to the control of sexuality and the other emotional aspects of marriage. There is more dialogue between the spouses and with the children of parents who practice NFP, according to a Polish study. The theological virtues are mutually interconnected. They unite us to God and help the following of grace in all the faiths. There is a distinction between faith formed by charity and unformed faith. If charity is lost to mortal sin, faith remains. Without charity, the contact of God through faith doesn’t allow one to follow the God who is known to the same degree. Only those sins directly contrary to faith and hope deprive us of these virtues. Saint Thomas rejected the Stoic’s position that the virtues are identical in everyone. Because of the creativity of charity, the virtues may be more deeply rooted in some than others. We can lose virtues. The growth in virtue is like the growth of fingers among different people. If we sincerely grow in one virtue, it influences the entire personality.

The cardinal virtues

The cardinal virtues, the principle virtues of the moral life, were distinguished by the Greek philosophers, as was echoed in Scripture. Saint Ambrose called these virtues cardinal because on these virtues the entire moral life is hinged. We have prudence in the practical reason, justice in the will, temperance in the emotions of the pleasure appetite, and fortitude in the irascible appetite. Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine understood these virtues as conditionings of the soul. Each virtue is somehow prudent, just (governing the emotions of the will). Saint Thomas understood the virtues as having specific subjects and objects, locating them in specific places. We can perceive a certain progress in virtue. Justice is learned in childhood. Temperance is the virtue teenagers should acquire, and the father’s role is needed here. Often fathers fail to give the pressure needed for this virtue to grow. Prudence is the virtue of the adult life, to deal with people among complicated tasks. Fortitude is the virtue of maturity which allows one to die in defense of true goods. Of course this progress is somewhat schematic. All of the cardinal virtues are needed in childhood and children need fortitude as well.

Saint Thomas in the secunda secunda studies more than fifty virtues under a methodology which sets together all of the virtues. Saint Thomas distinguishes the integral, subjective and potential virtues. The integral virtues are those without which the cardinal virtues are impossible. In justice, the pursuit of good and the aversion of evil are needed. Subjective virtues are those places where the virtues are applied: parts of temperance are sobriety (drinking) and chastity (sexual). The potential parts denote allied virtues different from the cardinal virtue that show something of the respective cardinal virtue. Humility is allied with temperance, breaking ambition; magnanimity with fortitude, to go for goals. We can say that Saint Thomas’s list is by no means complete. We can devise new, more comprehensible terms. Saint Thomas doesn’t speak of solidarity. Is solidarity an allied virtue of justice or charity? We can propose different schemes that Saint Thomas did.

The Intellectual virtues

Talking about the intellectual virtues, Saint Thomas mentions the habit of the first principles of theoretical intellect, helping it to know obvious truths. The intellect grasps the principles by an intuitive knowledge. This capacity is called the intellectual virtue of the intellectus. The next is that of wisdom, which perfects the mind in the cognition of the mind of the entire reality in light of the first principle, the ultimate cause. It deals with that known in the other sciences, and is somewhat discursive. It ties it to the fundamental cause. We have to distinguish this intellectual virtue from the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is not discursive. If wisdom is based solely on philosophy, the supreme wisdom is metaphysics; on revelation, theology grants us this wisdom. It doesn’t have to have an academic structure. There are three wisdoms: of philosophical reflection, of theological reflection, and of the direct movement of the Holy Spirit. Aristotle says it is better to know little about the most important truths than an extensive knowledge of secondary truths. It is important to know the answers to the most important truths. It is better to refer things to the first cause, than to be a specialist in some specific field. We can live without knowing much about spiders. There are people extremely talented in specific sciences who are ignorant of the meaning of life. Such people can be very dangerous, because they may have great knowledge, without knowing to where it should be used.

The third intellectual virtue is scientia, which perfects the mind in the apprehension of the various temporal realities. Science gathers knowledge through other sciences; it is discursive. The fourth intellectual virtue is synderesis, the habit of the first principles of the practical reason, to pursue good and avoid evil. The next is art, the capacity of the appropriate execution of artistic projects. Art covers the fine arts and politics, education, spiritual direction. We assess the value of the art not by the moral quality of the artist, but by the product. Saint Thomas defines art as recta ratio factibilium. It is a virtue which perfects products. It is a product of the art, not of the person, which is why it’s an intellectual virtue and not a moral virtue. We assess a dentist as a dentist, not whether he says the rosary every day. The next intellectual virtue (and a moral virtue) is prudence, recta ratio agibilium, of the things done by the agent. Prudence concerned not only with the action but with the rectitude of the will. It gives the capacity to act appropriately in accord with human nature. It is a servant, and leads to, wisdom. It directs and aids all the other virtues and is called a general virtue. Due to its seat and subject it is intellectual; do to its object, it is moral. Stalin had the virtue of political art.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit

The scholastics describe the special gifting of the Holy Spirit with donum. Documenta, gratia, were used before the middle ages. The term munus appears in Veni Creator Spiritus. Munus signifies an offering, a tax, an obligation, a bribe, something which is committed with confidence. The scholastics tried to distinguish various workings of God in the soul. Donum is distinctum from dare and datum. Donare means not only to give, but to gift, without expectation of return. It becomes the possession of the recipient. There’s a free generosity of the Holy Spirit. The classical Biblical passage is in Isaiah. The Greek Septuagint translated the fear of Yahweh as the fear of the Lord and piety. So the seven spirits were increased from six to seven. This doesn’t describe six or seven distinct attributes of the Holy Spirit, because the Hebrew terms overlap. We cannot say that we have a full description of the Holy Spirit. This text is messianic, and Saint Augustine was the first to apply it to every Christian. We have several other texts referring to the anointing of the Holy Spirit on Jesus and on us.[27] The Church tradition worked out its thought mainly on Isaiah. Scripture is to be read in faith and within the Catholic tradition in which is contained the religious experience of various saints. To receive the tradition, we need a faith in the tradition. In the tradition, there is a conviction that the Holy Spirit works in a specific way.

Saint Thomas says that the gifts are habits that perfect man so that he can promptly obey the Holy Spirit. Seen from the Holy Spirit, these cannot be distinguished from graces. They can be distinguished from actual graces, for the gifts are in the state of grace. From our perspective, we can discern the habitus, the ability to react, to respond according to the interior movements of the Holy Spirit. Saint Thomas presented a objection that the perfection belongs to the Holy Spirit and not to ourselves. The talent is in the guitar player, not the instrument. If the gifts make us respond to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, they have perfected the Holy Spirit and not us. Such an argument would be true about a passive instrument, Saint Thomas says, but human beings are not such passive instruments. When we act under the Holy Spirit, we act freely, and the Holy Spirit works through our free choice. This responsiveness liberates our whole being. We can speak of a permanent habit of responding to the Holy Spirit, but we respond through our virtues.

The difference between the gifts and the virtues

How are the gifts distinguished from the virtues? Lombard thought they were identical. Saint Thomas, Saint Albert, and Saint Bonaventure said they were distinct. Over his life, Saint Thomas changed his position on the gifts. In his Commentary on the Sentences, Saint Thomas said that the virtues, including the infused ones, perfect us, though the mode of the virtue is human; in the gifts, the mode is superhuman, he taught. The gifts are a support for the virtues, supplementing the defects of the virtues. A human way of knowing the divine is through natural reflection, whereas the gift of understanding gives us a foretaste of heaven. He says that the gifts are necessary for salvation for all Christians, not extraordinary gifts to those who lead the life of the evangelical counsels. In writing the Summa, Saint Thomas developed a new approach to the gifts, a motio. In the gifts there is the idea that we are pushed by the Holy Spirit. He prefers the term instinctus rather than inspiratio, because it allows a greater diversification in the action of the Holy Spirit, not just a blowing. The action comes from without in a variety of ways, inviting, enlightening, strengthening. The Holy Spirit’s action influences both the intellect and the will. Saint Thomas compares here a human and divine principle of action, the voice of a theologian and metaphysician, not a moralist, as in the Commentary. It is the Holy Spirit himself who is the measure, and all the gifts move as a counsel. All the movements of the Holy Spirit invite us to an intelligent response. Just as the virtues make us act according to the light of reason, the gifts help us to follow the inspirations of the Holy Spirit.

In the secunda secundae, there is a further evolution. He gave up the attempt to treat the seven gifts as a coherent system. Saint Thomas attaches the gifts to those virtues which fit best, but he doesn’t try to convince that every virtue has an appropriate gift. The gifts are not to be seen to animate a specific aspect of the moral life. The number of the gifts, their specific differences, is not so essential. We are in the realm of mystery. The more deeply we enter, the more mysterious the language. Saint Thomas liberates the teaching on the gifts from a straight-jacket into which it had been locked. In his Commentary to the Romans, Saint Thomas says that the Holy Spirit enlightens the mind and moves the will.

In the acquired virtues, the measure which decides how much to act is acquired prudence, which comes from natural reasoning. The measure of the infused virtues in the life of grace is an infused prudence, coming from reasoning enlightened by faith. In the acts of the theological virtues, the measure is infused prudence. In the theological virtues in reference to the object, as they are moving toward God, the measure is faith. In faith the measure is the authority of the revealing God. In the gifts, the measure if the Holy Spirit. The gifts are necessary for salvation. They are permanent points of contact in the soul through which we are led to the Holy Spirit. They allow a perfect docility to the Holy Spirit. It is important to lead people to discern where the Holy Spirit is leading people. The Holy Spirit leads us in ways that precede our reasoning and surpass our judgment, leading us to tasks and fields we never would have anticipated. The Holy Spirit replaces the light of our reason with his light, and the movement of our will with his movement, in such a way that our liberty is enhanced. If we live a life of faith directed toward God, we perceive the goal, and the gifts allow us to contact God.


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