What is a virtue and why did Aquinas emphasize some?

The word ‘virtue’ comes from the greek word ‘areté’ which means ‘excellence’ in terms of personal qualities of character. Aquinas said there is a link between happiness and virtuous behaviour and that reason can guide people in developing the right virtues. The virtues are important because they represent the human qualities that reason suggests help us to live a moral life and to fulfil our true human nature. This in turn will lead us to achieving life in heaven with God.

4 Cardinal virtues and 3 Revealed Virtues

Known as Cardinal Virtues because in Latin ‘cardo’ means ‘hinge’ – they are of fundamental importance. The 4 Cardinal virtues are:

  1. Prudence: Doing the right thing at the right time.
  2. Justice: Being fair and protecting the innocent.
  3. Fortitude: Having courage and inner strength.
  4. Temperance: Being able to control yourself – self-restraint.

These are Revealed Virtues as they are disclosed through scriptures (St Paul in 1 Corinthians 13). Alternately called theological virtues because they are directed to the divine being (Greek word ‘theos’), God. These cannot be achieved through human effort but must instead be obtained through being infused through divine grace. The 3 Revealed virtues are:

  1. Faith: Belief in God, in the truth of God’s revelation and the obedience to God.
  2. Charity/love: Doing it for someone else – selfless.
  3. Hope: An expectation of and desire of receiving eternal life in heaven with God.
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