The Theological and Cardinal Virtues

Three Theological Virtues

The three theological virtues “relate directly to God. They dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity… The theological virtues are the foundation of Christian moral activity; they animate it and give it its special character. They inform and give life to all the moral virtues. They are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life” (CCC 1812-1813). They are faith, hope, and charity.

Four Cardinal Virtues

“Four virtues play a pivotal role and accordingly are called “cardinal”; all the others are grouped around them. They are: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance” (CCC 1805).

Click on each virtue to learn more.

Faith

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” –John 20:29

Augustine once wrote that “faith opens the door to understanding; unbelief closes it.” Faith involves belief, trust, and reliance. It’s not a feeling, but something much deeper. It is an act of the intellect, prompted by the will, and it allows to do one of the most important things in the world: say “yes” to God.

What is faith?

“Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself. By faith ‘man freely commits his entire self to God.’ For this reason the believer seeks to know and do God’s will.” –CCC 1814

Living with faith

Faith is a decision we make and a gift from God. When we choose to believe in God and grow in faith, our whole lives will change for the better, and the possibilities of becoming the person God created us to be are endless. The great adventure with Christ starts in faith.

Faith and love (charity) are also intimately connected. St. Alphonsus Ligouri says, “Faith is the foundation of love, on which love is built…love is what brings faith to perfection.”

If you struggle with faith, take time to learn more about the God of the universe and the faith of the Catholic Church He founded. 

3 ideas to help you grow in faith

  1. Read the Bible. Are you reading the Scriptures daily? If not, you should be. Our faith increases with our knowledge and love of God and His plan for us, which unfolds in the Sacred Scriptures. Get yourself a great study Bible or start a Bible study program on your own or with others at your parish.  Of course, always accompany your Scripture reading with prayer! Prayer increases faith.
  2. Receive the sacraments. The grace we receive from the sacraments, especially through regular reception of the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Confession, helps us to grow in faith. Consider going to Confession at least once a month, and make it to Mass not just on Sundays, but maybe even during the week when you can.
  3. Share your faith! Sharing your faith with others is a great way to increase faith in your own life. Check out the book Catholics Come Home: God’s Extraordinary Plan for Your Life for inspiring ways to live and share your faith. 

What do the experts say?

“In her voyage across the ocean of this world, the Church is like a great ship being pounded by the waves of life’s different stresses. Our duty is not to abandon ship but to keep her on course.” –St. Boniface

“The righteous shall live by faith.” –Romans 1:17

“There is only one honest reason why anyone should ever believe anything: because it is true. God is, and God has acted, and God has spoken. Now I must respond. That is the true situation. Do I respond Yes (faith) or No? That is the simple question.” –Dr. Peter Kreeft

Hope

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” –Hebrews 10:23

Nobody can live without hope. The theological virtue of hope gives life to our soul. It is our response to God’s promises, which He always fulfills.

What is hope?

“Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.” –CCC 1817

Living with hope

Dr. Peter Kreeft says this about hope: “Hope is like headlights. It is not easy to drive without headlights in the dark.”

A life without hope is a life of great despair. Hope leads the way to true joy and peace in our lives. Hope gives us meaning in life and the strength to push forward in the midst of adversity, since hope is always directing us to our ultimately heavenly goal. Hope answers the burning desire of our hearts for total happiness. 

3 ideas to help you grow in hope

  1. Reflect on Matthew 7:7-8. Jesus tells us, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Pray for an increase in hope in God’s promises by reciting passages like this daily. The “Our Father” also anchors our hope in God.
  2. Give thanks. Give thanks to God for the things for which you have hoped for in the past that He has since blessed you with. Give thanks to Him for friendship that allows you to hope along with your fellow Christians. Giving thanks increases hope.
  3. Learn about heaven—our greatest hope and longing. Learning about the ultimate destiny we are all aiming for helps increase our hope. Read Dr. Peter Kreeft’s beautiful book, Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing. 

What do the experts say?

“Place all your hope in the Heart of Jesus; it is a safe asylum; for he who trusts in God is sheltered and protected by His mercy. To this firm hope, join the practice of virtue, and even in this life you will begin to taste the ineffable joys of Paradise.” –St. Bernard of Clairvaux

“We must have confidence in God, Who is what He always has been, and we must not be disheartened because things turn out contrary to us.” –St. Philip

“Real hope is not crushed by disappointment. In fact, it is in difficulty that hope often is born.” –Donald DeMarco

Charity

“So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” –1 Corinthians 13:13

God is love, and our vocation, our greatest duty in life, is to love. The theological virtue of love is the greatest of all the virtues. It is the very essence of God. Love is the absolute greatest thing there is. The quality that makes saints unimaginably beautiful is their love.

What is charity?

“Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.” –CCC 1822

Living with charity

We can so easily confuse love, charity, with a feeling, like our other feelings. But love doesn’t just come upon us like our other emotions; we don’t simply “feel love” like we “feel sad.” Love comes from us, in a beautifully active way by our own free choice, making it far more powerful and transformative in our lives than emotions that come and go. Our hearts long for—and were made for—love: to love and to be loved. God is love, which is why our hearts long for God, whether or not we sometimes realize He is who were longing for most.

3 ideas to help you grow in charity

  1. Commit to praying more than you do. Prayer is a gift of charity that we can give God and ourselves! He longs to grow in loving relationship with us, and prayer is the way we work on our relationship together with Him. Think about praying for at least ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes in the evening. Also try and stop in to see Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament exposed in Adoration at your local parish at least once a week.
  2. Jesus tells us in the Bible to love our enemies. Love of enemies is one of the most difficult, but transformative things we can do in our lives. Think of someone who you hold a grudge against. Pray for God to help you to forgive that person. Whatever has happened, ask God for you to truly love them, by having mercy on them through forgiveness.
  3. Loving those in our own homes can be very challenging at times, but it is one of the greatest ways to practice charity and grow in holiness. Who in your family can you show love to in a creative way today, this week, or this month? Think of an act of charity you can do for them, and do it. 

What do the experts say?

“Charity is that with which no man is lost, and without which no man is saved.” –St. Robert Bellarmine

“At the end of our life, we shall all be judged by charity.” –St. John of the Cross

“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…” –1 Corinthians 13:4-8

“Charity may be a very short word, but with its tremendous meaning of pure love, it sums up man’s entire relation to God and to his neighbor.” –St. Aelred of Rievaulx

If, then, we possess charity, we possess God, for “God is Charity” (1 John 4:8). –St. Albert the Great

Prudence

Prudence is the mother of all the virtues. Prudence allows us to recognize our moral duty to act with goodness and right discernment in situations that confront us and allows us to choose the right way to make that happen.

Prudence requires a formed conscience, so that we can know God’s truth and then act in accord with it.

What is prudence?

“Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it.” –CCC 1806

Living with prudence

Dr. Edward Sri calls prudence “the virtue that most immediately helps us live our lives on target.” Prudence helps us apply reason and practical wisdom to our everyday actions and decisions, big or small. Through counsel, judgment, and decisiveness, we come to make prudent choices that help steer our lives in the right direction.

Too many of us get in the bad habit of making decisions without considering God’s laws, our eternal judgment, and our heavenly happiness. When we ignore prudence, we can more easily opt for sin and fail to see and make decisions that will bring us more perfect joy and in closer relationship with God.

Three ideas to help you practice prudence

  1. Seek counsel. Before making a big decision, practice seeking the advice from wise, faithful people in your life, like a priest and other devout friends of yours.
  2. Make a judgment. Prudence involves weighing options when you are faced with a decision. Pray for discernment to make a proper judgment on the best course of action.
  3. Be decisive. It can be difficult to practice prudence when you are always flip-flopping your decisions. Discern the best choice or course of action for you, and then follow through. Be decisive.

What do the experts say?

“Blessed the one…who is not anxious to speak, but who reflects prudently on what he is to say and the manner in which he is to reply.” –St. Francis of Assisi

“I, wisdom, dwell in prudence.” –Proverbs 8:12

“The wisdom of a prudent man is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving.” –Proverbs 14:8

Justice

The word justice comes from a Latin word (jus) meaning “right.”

“A just man is one who habitually wills such a relation of equality, always, constantly, consistently, wherever and whenever there is a debt or something owing.” –Doug McManaman

What is justice?

“Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor.” –CCC 1807

Living with justice

“Justice toward God is called the ‘virtue of religion.’ Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor” (CCC 1807).

Justice also concerns judgment. At the end of time, God’s perfect justice will be revealed so that all will be made “right” or just.

Three ideas to help you increase in justice

  1. Increase your worship. Think of prayerful worship as one way to give God His due. Consider attending daily Mass if you don’t already, or trying go more often if you do.
  2. Volunteer in the pro-life movement. Justice toward the most innocent of our neighbors—the unborn—is being fatally infringed upon in our culture today. Abortion also leaves the parents hurting and in need of mercy, grace, and healing. Helping work for the pro-life cause by volunteering for a prayer event, for example, or helping out at a women’s help center, can positively govern our relationships with our neighbors, which is what justice is all about.
  3. Be honest on your taxes. It may sound silly, but as Fr. William Saunders writes, “General justice concerns the individual’s relationship to the whole community. Every person has the duty to uphold and obey the just laws that ensure the common good. For instance, every citizen has a duty to support the common good through the defense of the country or through the payment of taxes (too bad, but true).”

What do the experts say?

“Even if we are praised for it, not all we do is right. Justice is present. Our deeds will be judged. We can avail ourselves of punishment, forgiveness, and charity. If we do not, and we need not, what is left is transcendent judgment in justice.” –Fr. James Schall

“You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.” –Lev 19:15

“When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous, but dismay to evildoers.” –Proverbs 21:15

Fortitude

Fortitude helps us to persevere in virtue and toward the good, especially when the going gets tough. Fortitude is not fearlessness, but rather involves recognizing and embracing fear, moderating it and holding fast to what is good and right.

What is fortitude?

Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life.” –CCC 1808

Living with fortitude

Fortitude is a heroic virtue. It’s a higher form of courage, in that God is involved in assisting the soul supernaturally through the virtue of fortitude.

Fortitude is essential for advancing in our spiritual lives and for our personal growth. When we encounter obstacles in our lives, fortitude helps us push through, and often we find ourselves stronger as a result!

3 ideas to help you grow in fortitude

  1. Practice patience. Patience is a habit that helps us endure hardship so that we maintain our reasonable course of action. By practicing patience, we exhibit and strengthen our fortitude for resisting temptations and overcoming obstacles when things get difficult.
  2. Exercise constancy. Constancy helps us endure the toil that comes with accomplishing some good work we are engaged in. Working in ministry, for example, can pose its exhausting challenges, but constancy helps us endure, knowing that our work—whatever our good work is—is all for the glory of God.
  3. Avoid “pusillanimity”—which means smallness of soul. Many people are tempted with the danger of settling for a small existence, in which they do not attempt to strive for greatness. Think about some way in your life right now that you could strive for greatness. Make a plan to work toward that and make sure prayer is a part of that plan!

What do the experts say?

“Fortitude is an engaging virtue.” –Donald DeMarco

“It belongs to fortitude to remove the obstacles that withdraw the will from following reason on account of difficulties that give rise to fear and sorrow.” –Doug McManaman

“The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause.” –CCC 1808

“The Lord is my strength and my song.” –Psalm 118:14

Temperance

Temperance is associated with the beatitude, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). In holding fast in the face of persecution, one shows the strength of self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice and temperance are closely united.

Temperance combats the sin of gluttony. While gluttony is unrestrained in its consumption of food, drink, or other pleasures, temperance practices healthy moderation.

What is temperance?

Temperance is a virtue that moderates the attraction and desire for pleasure and “provides balance in the use of created goods” (CCC 1809). St. Thomas calls it a “disposition of the mind which binds the passions.”

Living with temperance

You’ve probably heard people say, “It’s all about moderation.” Well, it really is. More accurately, it’s all about temperance. Living with temperance frees us to partake in material goods in proportion with the way that is best for us and will bring us the most happiness in the end. Our culture today often promotes instant gratification, but temperance helps us achieve long-term happiness.

Three ideas to help you increase your temperance

  1. Moderate your food and drink. Practice not eating past the point of being full or drinking too much.
  2. Avoid excess. Practice doing without certain earthly goods that aren’t necessary. Maybe you can make a commitment not to buy too many extra clothes you don’t need or electronic gadgets you can live without.
  3. Reflect on the areas of your life that you have a difficult time practicing moderation in. Come up with a game plan to practice temperance with whatever that hang-up is. 

What do the experts say?

“Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites.” –Sirach 18:30

“Temperance is a mean with regard to pleasures.” –Aristotle

“Do not follow your inclination and strength, walking according to the desires of your heart.” –Sirach 5:2

“For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world” –Titus 2:11-12

“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” –Romans 13:14

What sin will temperance remedy?

The good news about temperance is that it helps us get rid of gluttony in our lives.

Temperance is also a cardinal virtue

Virtue is the utmost of what a man can be; it is the realization of the human capacity for being. –Josef Pieper