Thomas Aquinas: Virtue II
Article 2. Whether human virtue is an operative habit?
Objection 1. It would seem that it is not essential to human virtue to be an operative habit or a principle of activity. For Tully says (Tuscul. iv) that as health and beauty belong to the body, so virtue belongs to the soul. But health and beauty are not operative habits. Therefore neither is virtue.
An operative habit is a principle of activity. A principle of activity brings about an effect. But, as Cicero writes, as health and beauty belong to the body by nature, so does virtue belong to the soul by nature. By reason of its nature or essence the soul is virtuous because of an innate and natural disposition.
Objection 2. Further, in natural things we find virtue not only in reference to act, but also in reference to being: as is clear from the Philosopher (De Coelo i), since some have a virtue to be always, while some have a virtue to be not always, but at some definite time. Now as natural virtue is in natural things, so is human virtue in rational beings. Therefore also human virtue is referred not only to act, but also to being.
It would seem that virtue is natural to man or that virtue is characteristic of man’s being. So man is good by nature or has the propensity to be good by nature. So human virtue does not refer to activity but to the being of man. Thus it would seem that virtue is what naturally moves and defines a man. For example, all men desire to know and to be happy. So virtue seems to describe man’s nature or character than to be related to any action or movement.
Objection 3. Further, the Philosopher says (Phys. vii, text. 17) that virtue is the disposition of a perfect thing to that which is best. Now the best thing to which man needs to be disposed by virtue is God Himself, as Augustine proves (De Moribus Eccl. 3,6, 14) to Whom the soul is disposed by being made like to Him. Therefore it seems that virtue is a quality of soul in reference to God, likening it, as it were, to Him; and not in reference to operation. It is not, therefore, an operative habit.
By nature man is made in the image and likeness of God. By reason of his created nature man is not only virtuous in relation to nature or other men but also in relation to God. Virtue is a quality of soul that reveals man’s similarity and nearness to the nature of God. So virtue is not an operative habit or principle of activity but a created good that reveals man’s created integrity. Man’s being reveals his proximity to God.
On the contrary, The Philosopher says that virtue of a thing is that which makes its work good. (Ethics ii. 6)
Virtue is an activity which generates goodness. Virtue is thus an operative habit that actualizes truth and brings it into being.
I answer that, virtue, from the very nature of the word, implies some perfection of power, as we have said above (Article i). Wherefore, since power [The one Latin word potentia is rendered potentiality in the first case, and power in the second] is of two kinds, namely, power in reference to being, and power in reference to act, the perfection of each of these is called virtue. But power in reference to being is on the part of matter, which is potential being, whereas power in reference to act, is on the part of the form, which is the principle of action, since everything acts in so far as it is in act.
So virtue relates to power in two ways. First, virtue refers to an innate or natural potency that comes with created being. So a man is man with the capacity to be virtuous. In his nature is the potentiality to embrace virtue and then to be moved and defined by it. Second, virtue relates to actuality or to act. So virtue is also the activity of being good. The perfection of both potency and act is called virtue. So there is potential virtue in being, there is actual virtue in becoming, and there is the virtue that brings the two together in one man.
Now man is so constituted that the body holds the place of matter, the soul that of form. The body, indeed, man has in common with other animals; and the same is to be said of the forces which are common to the soul and body: and only those forces which are proper to the soul, namely, the rational forces, belong to man alone. And therefore, human virtue, of which we are speaking now, cannot belong to the body, but belongs only to that which is proper to the soul. Wherefore human virtue does not imply reference to being, but rather to act. Consequently it is essential to human virtue to be an operative habit.
However, human virtue belongs not to matter or the body but to the soul. But when we say ‘soul’, we mean the ‘rational soul’, or the soul that thinks and wills the good. So human virtue belongs not to being but to becoming. Human virtue does not refer to matter or the body, for man shares matter and the body with other animals. Human virtue refers to the operative habit whereby a man thinks and wills the good into his life. So human virtue refers to an activity that is both contemplated and then willed. Once it is actualized by the mind and the will in the first instance, it must be repeated so as to become a habit that characterizes man’s life as virtue. So there is the virtue of thought, will, and then habituation.
Reply to Objection 1. Mode of action follows on the disposition of the agent: for such as a thing is, such is its act. And therefore, since virtue is the principle of some kind of operation, there must needs pre-exist in the operator in respect of virtue some corresponding disposition. Now virtue causes an ordered operation. Therefore virtue itself is an ordered disposition of the soul, in so far as, to wit, the powers of the soul are in some way ordered to one another, and to that which is outside. Hence virtue inasmuch as it is a suitable disposition of the soul, is like health and beauty, which are suitable dispositions of the body. But this does not hinder virtue from being a principle of operation.
Virtue is a disposition of the soul that has a potency to order and arrange the powers of the soul. In this way virtue relates to the nature of being or the character of the body. There is a system in place that can be actualized into the service of the pursuit of virtue. The pursuit of virtue is the principle of operation that makes use of the soul’s disposition and perfects it by pursuing and obtaining goodness.
Reply to Objection 2. Virtue which is referred to being is not proper to man; but only that virtue which is referred to works of reason, which are proper to man.
Virtue that is referred to being is related to potencies that can be actualized by appetite and instinct. This kind of virtue is not unique and peculiar to man. Virtue related to works of reason is proper to man alone. This kind of virtue is contemplative and then active. A man contemplates the form of goodness and then through an act of will brings it into being.
Reply to Objection 3. As God’s substance is His act, the highest likeness of man to God is in respect of some operation. Wherefore, happiness or bliss by which man is made most perfectly conformed to God, and which is the end of human life, consists in an operation.
To be made in the image and likeness of God is not a state that simply is or exists by reason of being. For man to perfect the image and likeness of God in his life He must imitate God’s being, which is to actively will His truth, beauty, and goodness. God’s being is pure act or activity. Man is perfectly conformed to God by embracing God’s happiness and bliss. To do so, man must contemplate it and then will it into his life. This thinking and willing are both operative habits or principles of activity that are virtues.
This is thankworthy, that if a man for conscience endure grief,
(1 St. Peter ii. 19)
You might think it strange that our Epistle reading for The Second Sunday after Easter taken from St. Peter’s First Letter should speak of suffering. After all we are in Eastertide. We meditated upon suffering at length on Good Friday. Surely now we are meant to focus more on the positive joy, the surging and rising happiness that comes to us when we meditate upon Christ’s victory over suffering, sin, and death. Is this not what Eastertide is all about? Yes, but the Church Fathers who gathered our Easter tide lections wanted us to remember that our Resurrected life in Christ is no automatic showering of Grace. As joyously focused on Christ’s Resurrection as we should be, the Church Fathers knew only too well that the prudent and cautious pilgrim life that leads to God’s Kingdom involves an ongoing battle between dying to oneself in Christ before we can rise in Him.
So what we are being taught is that suffering is a necessary component in the process of our sanctification and redemption. Last week we spoke of how Christ’s Peace comes to us in order to generate the forgiveness of sins and new life in us. Today we learn that the assurance of its rule in our lives demands a kind of spiritual suffering that tends to be threatened by the devices and desires of our own hearts. St. Peter presents us with the rule: For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. (1 St. Peter ii. 19,20) He knows that Christ has offered to us that communion Peace with God the Father that overcomes all evil with goodness. He knows, too, that in this Peace the Lord extends to us the forgiveness of sins, which gift, if received in a grateful heart, should inspire us to suffer patiently as His goodness is established in our souls. This is the Peace and Forgiveness of Christ that overcame the Apostles long ago. What they neither anticipated nor imagined began to grow in their hearts as the power of God and the love of God. For I have given you an example, that ye should do [to one another] as I have done to you. (St. John xiii. 15)
For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. (Ibid, 15) The message is clear. By embracing the forgiveness of sins, Christians are now situated to impart the same forgiveness to all others. The forgiveness of sins is given that it might be shared with others as the goodness of God alive in the heart. This is the well doing with which Christians overcome evil with good. God’s goodness overcomes evil, His mercy vanquishes judgment, His generosity destroys selfishness, and His forgiveness breathes love and hope into new lives. That the reception of this reality will be difficult, St. Peter acknowledges. He writes his Epistle to a community which is struggling to allow Christ’s Resurrected goodness to overcome all and every form of evil that stubbornly resists it in the human heart. St. Peter knows only too well that Christians are engaged in spiritual warfare. But what he wants to emphasize is the battle going on in men’s souls with their own demons. The visitation of evil upon men from the outside is of secondary importance to him. For it is only when men begin to suffer the truth of their own vices that the forgiveness of sins can begin to be found and embraced as what enables them to be Risen with Christ.
St. Peter reminds his flock and us today that Christ Jesus was the only Person in history who endured and overcame evil through goodness because the loving forgiveness of God was perfectly alive in His heart. St. Peter tells us that Jesus Himself, our Lord and Brother, in Himself, endured man’s sinful desire to torture and kill God. Yet in response to it, He did not sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered he threatened not; but committed himself to Him that judgeth righteously. (1 St. Peter ii. 22,23) Christ was killed because man could not bear that God’s living love possessed and defined the whole of His being. Yet He responded to it only with forgiveness of His enemies and desire for their salvation. Because sin was dead to Him, He forgave. Because God’s goodness saturated His heart, He longed to love His enemies into friendship with God. In His suffering death, Christ rendered Fallen Man’s sin powerless and meaningless. Who in His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes you were healed; For ye were as sheep, going astray, but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. (Ibid, 24,25)
What the Apostles realized long ago was that the Crucified Jesus who rose up from death on Easter Day was God’s Good Shepherd. But what became clearer and clearer was that the Good Shepherd, in laying down His life, had actually already begun the process of seeking out His lost sheep from the hard and rough terrain of the Cross. What moved out from the Cross of His love was the forgiveness of sins that loves the sinner much more than his sin. In this morning’s Gospel parable, Jesus likens himself to both to the Good Shepherd and the door through which He will carry us back to the Father’s eternal presence. We can become His sheep, He suggests, if we begin to perceive and accept His intention and need to find and to save us. Dr. Farrer explains Jesus’ words in this way:
What does Jesus say? A man cares naturally for his own things. He does not have to make himself care. The shepherd who has bought the ground and fenced the fold and tended the lambs, whose own the sheep are to keep or to sell, cares for them. He would run some risk, rather than see them mauled; if he had only a heavy stick in his hand, he would beat off the wolf…He says that he cares for us as no one else can, because we are his. We do not belong to any other man; we belong to him. His dying for us in this world is the natural effect of his unique care. It is the act of our Creator. (Weekly Paragraphs for the Holy Sacrament: Easter II)
We do not belong to any other man. We belong to God through His only-begotten Son. This belonging comes through the desire and care of Jesus Christ. It is only through God’s Peace and Forgiveness made flesh in the saving life of Jesus that we can belong to our Heavenly Father again.
But we protest: All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every man to his own way, and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah liii. 6) We do not deserve the desire and care of God’s Good Shepherd for us. But though we are lost in sin and death, His forgiveness and love are greater. I am the Good Shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known by them. (St. John x. 11, 14) Jesus tells us not only that He loves us but that He knows us. He knows who we are, where we have landed, and what kind of sin has enveloped us. He knows our deepest fears and the enduring pain of their persistent attacks. Because His knowledge penetrates into the secrets of our hearts, His desire to find, help, heal, and save us has extended into human life, has moved through death, and has risen up into new life. His life and death were but the beginning moments of an uninterrupted passion that would carry us back from earth to heaven. His death already began to reveal the new life that He intended to make in us. From His Cross Jesus the Good Shepherd came to find us and to carry us on His shoulders into death. Jesus the Good Shepherd now desires to lift us onto His shoulders and into the new life where sin, death, and Satan can harm us no more.
Because we belong to Jesus, we can reciprocate His desire for us. We can begin to know Him as the Good Shepherd, who prepares a table before us in the presence of [our] enemies; [who will] anoint [our] head with oil; [so that our] cup runneth over. (Ps. xxiii. 5) His forgiveness of our sins can become our forgiveness of other men’s sins. Our enemies can become those whom we can touch with His Peace and Forgiveness. Suffering the assaults of malevolent men or desperate demons can become occasions for overcoming evil with good and hatred with love.
So today, my friends, as we continue to wend our way through Easter tide, let us always remember that, God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…[and that] if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Romans v. 8, 10) Let us remember too that we have erred and strayed from [Christ’s ways]like lost sheep. Yet still He insists that we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture. (Ps. c. 3) We belong to Him and He longs to have us forever. And so, as Cardinal Newman says, Let us not be content with ourselves; let us not make our own hearts our home, or this world our home, or our friends our home; let us look out for a better country, that is, a heavenly. Let us look out for Him who alone can guide us to that better country; let us call heaven our home, and this life a pilgrimage; let us view ourselves, as sheep in the trackless desert, who, unless they follow the Shepherd, will be sure to lose themselves, sure to fall in with the wolf. We are safe while we keep close to Him, and under His eye; but if we suffer Satan to gain an advantage over us, woe to us!... Blessed are we who resolve—come good, come evil, come sunshine, come tempest, come honour, come dishonour—that He shall be our Lord and Master, their King and God!... and with David, that in "the valley of the shadow of death, we shall fear no evil, for He is with us, and that His rod and His staff comfort us…(The Shepherd of Our Souls) Amen.
Virtue: Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas on Virtue
Article 1. Whether human virtue is a habit?
Objection 1. It would seem that human virtue is not a habit: For virtue is the limit of power" (De Coelo i, text. 116). But the limit of anything is reducible to the genus of that of which it is the limit; as a point is reducible to the genus of line. Therefore virtue is reducible to the genus of power, and not to the genus of habit.
The limit of virtue would seem to be power. What is meant here is that virtue is to be reduced to a power to act. So it would seem that virtue is a power and not a habit. When we say that a virtue is reducible to power, we seek to identify the origin or cause of its activity. In this case, it would seem that virtue is caused by power.
Objection 2. Further, Augustine says that virtue is good use of free-will. But use of free-will is an act. (De Lib. Arb. ii) [Retract. ix; cf. De Lib. Arb. ii, 19) Therefore virtue is not a habit, but an act.
It would seem that virtue is caused by free will, which is a voluntary act. So virtue is the effect of the mind’s free willing of the good. Virtue is thus an operation or movement that moves from contemplation into action.
Objection 3. Further, we do not merit by our habits, but by our actions: otherwise a man would merit continually, even while asleep. But we do merit by our virtues. Therefore virtues are not habits, but acts.
Habits seem to be more like forms or patterns that are present to and within us. But virtue must be willed continuously. If virtue is habit in the sense of a possession that resides within us, which is present to us merely by belief or knowledge, then we need not do anything with it to be saved. But virtue is the fruit of a believing heart that wills goodness into works.
Objection 4. Further, Augustine says that virtue is the order of love,” (De Moribus Eccl. xv) and that the ordering which is called virtue consists in enjoying what we ought to enjoy, and using what we ought to use. (QQ. lxxxiii, qu. 30) Now order, or ordering, denominates either an action or a relation. Therefore virtue is not a habit, but an action or a relation.
Virtue seems to be the ordering of love to its objects. In other words, virtue seems to be the activity in which our loves are expressed by way of enjoyment or utility. When we order something we either act or we relate to it. So we choose to do something either in thought or deed.
Objection 5. Further, just as there are human virtues, so are there natural virtues. But natural virtues are not habits, but powers. Neither therefore are human virtues habits.
Natural virtues are powers present in the creature that ensure survival, endurance, and even the limited perfection of the creation. Human virtues are likewise powers that ensure the perfection of the same for the purposes of the good life that leads to Heaven.
On the contrary, The Philosopher says that science and virtue are habits. (Cat. Vi)
Aristotle teaches that science is study and virtue is both study and its application.
I answer that, virtue denotes a certain perfection of power. Now a thing's perfection is considered chiefly in regard to its end. But the end of power is act. Wherefore power is said to be perfect, according as it is determinate to its act. Now there are some powers which of themselves are determinate to their acts; for instance, the active natural powers. And therefore these natural powers are in themselves called virtues. But the rational powers, which are proper to man, are not determinate to one particular act, but are inclined indifferently to many: and they are determinate to acts by means of habits, as is clear from what we have said above. Therefore human virtues are habits.
Virtue is a perfection of power in relation to its end. The end of power is an act. Now some powers are moved and defined by their ends. They are determined by the ends that perfect them as powers. So, for example, the living being is moved by the end of self-preservation to eat in order to perfect the virtue of living. Rational powers or human virtues are moved by different ends and require the perfection of wisdom and the will. By reason of acclimatization to their ends they perfect habits that ensure their well being. So the habits or powers of perfection are the virtues that ensure their ongoing possession of he good.
Reply to Objection 1. Sometimes we give the name of a virtue to that to which the virtue is directed, namely, either to its object, or to its act: for instance, we give the name Faith, to that which we believe, or to the act of believing, as also to the habit by which we believe. When therefore we say that virtue is the limit of power, virtue is taken for the object of virtue. For the furthest point to which a power can reach, is said to be its virtue; for instance, if a man can carry a hundredweight and not more, his virtue is his strength, which is the original signification of the Latin virtus, thus we speak of an engine being so many horse-power, to indicate its strength. But the objection takes virtue as being essentially the limit of power.
Virtue can refer to the object that is sought, to the activity of seeking, and also to the habit by which the virtue is obtained. If virtue is the limit of power, it is the extent to which the power is actualized. But virtue can also be the habit of actualizing it. Thus through the perfection of a power as a means to an end, virtue is habit.
Reply to Objection 2. Good use of free-will is said to be a virtue, in the same sense as above (ad 1); that is to say, because it is that to which virtue is directed as to its proper act. For the act of virtue is nothing else than the good use of free will.
Good use of free will is virtue because this is proper activity or process by which virtue is perfected. So good use of free will is the activity that makes a man virtuous.
Reply to Objection 3. We are said to merit by something in two ways. First, as by merit itself, just as we are said to run by running; and thus we merit by act. Secondly, we are said to merit by something as by the principle whereby we merit, as we are said to run by the motive power; and thus are we said to merit by virtues and habits.
We merit the benefit of the virtue by practicing or actualizing it. So we become good by doing good things. Becoming good is the actualization of goodness. But we merit also by the virtues and habits that are coming alive in our lives. So the virtues and habits are both activities but also forms that are being perfecting as activities.
Reply to Objection 4. When we say that virtue is the order or ordering, we refer to the end to which virtue is ordered: because in us love is set in order by virtue.
So virtues are means to ends but are also the ends. They enable us to be made better, and yet the particular virtues must be actualized on a continuous basis if love is to be set in order. The highest love is the love of God and all other loves must be set in order so that we are pursuing the highest love always.
Reply to Objection 5. Natural powers are of themselves determinate to one act: not so the rational powers. And so there is no comparison, as we have said.
Natural powers aim towards the preservation of the creature’s natural existence. Rational powers are the virtues that aim towards various ends that then perfect our first love.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons