Virtues are dispositions to perform good acts. Virtues orienting us to human perfection are acquired by repeated acts, and are called human or “natural” virtues. They are distinct from theological virtues, which orient us beyond human perfection to God himself and are infused by God.

In creating human persons, God wills for them a perfection or goodness appropriate to their nature. So, God wills that human beings be healthy, intelligent, morally good, perfected by community, and so on. We are called to cooperate with God’s plan, and so part of our vocation is to work energetically for human goods, that is, the perfection of human life and community (cf. Vatican Council II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, 34).

But God has also freely chosen to share with us more than a human perfection. He has freely chosen to invite us to share his own interior divine life. When we were conceived by our human parents, we became children of human beings and received a human nature; when we were baptized, we became children of God and received sanctifying grace, which is a participation in the divine nature. Thus God has called us not only to human perfection but, what is clearly beyond our ability to comprehend, also to a share in his own interior divine life.

 Hence there are two different kinds of virtues: human or natural virtues and theological virtues. Our share in divine life, also called grace, does not negate human nature; so, specifically human perfections are not superfluous in God’s kingdom. Dispositions to human actions that perfect us as human are human virtues; dispositions to communion with God in his own life are the theological virtues. Human virtues include prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude, and others. Prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance traditionally are called “cardinal” (or “moral”) virtues; they are particularly important, since they are sources of other virtues and the foundations of morally good acts. The theological virtues are faith, hope, and charity.


See: Cardinal Virtues; Grace; Kingdom of God; Theological Virtues.

Russell Shaw. Our Sunday Visitor's Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine. Copyright © 1997, Our Sunday Visitor.



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