VIRTUES &VICES: Countering the Deadly Vices with Godly Virtues


1. For a fuller treatment on the pursuit of virtue by both early Christian and pagan teachers see the following: "The Lives of the Saints and the Pursuit of Virtue" by Robert L. Wilken, Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Virginia, in First Things, (published by Religion and Public Life, New York, N.Y.) December, 1990, pp. 45-51.

2. Quote from Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (354-430), in Enarrationes in Psalmos 83, no. II.

3. Modem secularists redefine character, virtue and vice to suit their own humanistic belief system and world-view. The following example is taken from Eric Fromm, Man for Himself (New York: Rinehart, 1947), p. 17:

"I shall attempt to show that the character structure of the mature and integrated personality, the productive character, constitutes the source and basis of 'virtue', and that 'vice', in the last analysis, is indifference to one's own self and self-mutilation. Not self-renunciation nor selfishness but the affirmation of his truly human self, are the supreme values of humanistic ethics. If man is to have confidence in values, he must know himself and the capacity of his nature for goodness and productiveness."
4. Quote from Eric Voegel in, From Enlightenment to Revolution (ed. John H. Hallowell, Duke University Press, Durham, N.C., 1975), pg. 85.

5. Quote from Charles Colson, Against the Night: Living in the New Dark Ages (Servant Publications, Ann Arbor, MI, 1989), pg. 58.

6. The following excerpt is from Vision and Virtue: Essays in Christian Ethical Reflection, by Stanley Hauerwas, (Fides Publishers, Inc., Notre Dame, Indiana, 1974).

"Character is not a mere public apearance that leaves a more fundamental self hidden; it is the very reality of who we are as self-determining agents. Our character is not determined by our particular society, environment, or psychological traits; these become part of our character, to be sure, but only as they are received and intepreted in the descriptions which we embody in our intentional action. Our character is our deliberate disposition to use a certain range of reasons for our actions rather than others (such a range is usually what is meant by moral vision), for it is by having reasons and forming our actions accordingly that our character is at once revealed and molded."
7. Quote from Charles Colson, Against the Night: Living in the New Dark Ages (Servant Publications, Ann Arbor, MI, 1989), pg. 67.

8. Steve Clark has written an excellent treatment on character formation in the following article: "The Contemporary Ethos and the People It Molds", by Stephen B. Clark, in The Cutting Edge, pp. 51-59, (edited by Kevin Perrotta, published by The Alliance for Faith and Renewal, Ann Arbor, MI. 1991).

9. Quote from Stanley Hauerwas, Character and the Christian Life: A Study in Theological Ethics (Trinity University Press. 1975, pg. 203):

10. Quote taken from A Man For Alt Seasons, a play by Robert Bolt, pg. 81 (Scholastic Book Services, 1960, 1962, New York)

11. ibid., pgs. xii-xii

12. An excellent book on the role of parents in the character devel-opment of children: Character Building: a guide for parents and teachers, by David Isaacs (Four Courts Press, 1984, Dublin, Ireland)

13. This story is quoted by Christina Hoff Sommers, in an article entitled "Teaching the Virtues", pg. 4, November, 1991 issue of Imprimis, Vol. 20, No. 11, a publication of Hilisdale College, Hilisdale, Michigan.

14. I am indebted to Michael Keating for his course on The Character of a Christian Leader given in 1987 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

15.  Quote from Beyond Identity: Finding Your Self in the Image and Character of God, by Dick Keyes (Servant Publications, 1984, Ann Arbor, Michigan), pgs. 20-21.

16. The terms "virtue" and "vice" were in common usuage among Greek philosophers. The Greek term for virtue, "arete", means "strength" or "excellence". It denotes whatever procures pre-eminent estimation for a person or thing; intrinsic eminence, moral goodness, virtue. The Greek term for vice, "kakon", means "bad". It indicates the lack in a person or thing of those qualities which should be possessed. It denotes bad character morally, by way of thinking, feeling, or acting.
Aristotle, in his book The Nichomachean Ethics, his main work on ethics or morality, defines virtue as follows:

"Virtue (arete) is the settled disposition (hexis) of the mind determining the choice of actions (praxeis) and emotions (pathe), consisting in the observance of the mean relative to us, this being determined by principle (logos), that is, as a prudent man would determine it." (ll,vi,15)
17. The expression "habits of the heart" was first used by the French social philospher Alexis de Tocqueville to describe the "mores" (the way of life) and character of the American people whom he observed and had wide conversation with in the 1830s. He published his analysis of the relationship between character and society in America in his book Democracy in America. See also James Q. Wilson's book. On Character, Chapter 8, entitled Character versus Intellect: Habits of the Heart, pgs. 107-112 (The AEI Press, Washington, D.C., 1991)

The term "habits of the heart" carries the biblical understanding of "heart" as the place of fundamental choice, will, and inner disposition. The scriptures speak of God writing his "law" or "way of life" on the hearts of his people (see Romans 2:15, Jeremiah 31:33, Deuteronomy 6:6).

I use the word "habit" here with caution since it is easy to fall into the erroneous view that growth in character or the virtues amounts simply to developing the proper routines of a Christian life. The modern connotation of habit is seen as an automatic, or rather mechanical response to some accustomed cue.

Ralph McInerny, in his book Ethica Thomistica: The Moral Philosphy of Thomas Aquinas (The Catholic University of America Press, Washington, D.C., 1982) describes a traditional understanding of character traits as habits, developed by Thomas Aquinas. In Chapter 6 of his book, entitled: Character and Decisions (see pgs. 91-92) he writes:

"Thomas, guided by Aristotle, considers such habitual dispositions -virtues and vices — as the sources of the actions we perform. A human life is a history, and we dispose ourselves, by the acts we perform, to do similar deeds in the future. Such a stable disposition to act well or badly is what Thomas means, respectively, by virtue and vice.There is, for better or worse, a predictability in our lives, a stability of choice, an ingrained disposition to act in one way rather than another. We are disposed, because of the actions we have already performed, to perform similar actions in the future. This is what is meant by habit: a disposition to perform acts of a certain kind. "A virtue is quality of mind thanks to which we live rightly, which can never be used badly."  This is, in part, Augustine's definition of virtue, and it is with it that Thomas begins his discussion of the subject in the Summa Theologiae."
Another helpful treatment on the relation of virtue (and vice) to habit or "habitus" its Latin cognate, can be found in The Moral Virtues and Theological Ethics, by Romanus Cessario, O.P. (University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, IN, 1991). Here is an excerpt from Chapter 2. "Habitus", Character, and Growth, pgs. 34-35:
"By definition, "habitus", to use the more familiar Latin term, embodies a definite ability for growth through activity.   The scholastic theologians understood the important function that "habitus" has in shaping human conduct. Accordingly, they described "habitus" as holding a middle position between potency-the capacity for action --and full actuality-actually doing something. Voluntary activity, then, always remains a realization of one or another "habitus". A person without any "habitus" lacks what is required for sure comportment, and finds any kind of purposeful activity difficult and burdensome. Moreover, as long as our psychological capacities persist in this underdeveloped state, human potential goes unrealized."
18. Aquinas' definition of virtue, in his treatise The Summa Theologica, 1-II, "Habits and Virtues", is built on the definition given by Augustine:
"Virtue is a good quality of the mind, by which we live righteously, of which no one can make bad use, which God brings about in us, without us. (1-11.55.4) ...For since every virtue is a habit which is a principle of a good act, it is necessary that a virtue be defined through the good act concerning the proper matter of the virtue." (11-11.58.1)
19. Both Protestant and Catholic authors since the Reformation period have written on the nature of virtue. Here are a few samples:
From The Formula of Concord (1577), Solid Declaration, XI (a Lutheran work):
"Next, since the Holy Spirit dwells in the elect who have come to faith as he dwells in his temple, and is not idle in them but urges them to obey the commandments of God, believers likewise should not be idle, still less oppose the urgings of the Spirit of God, but should exercise themselves in all Christian virtues, in all godliness, modesty, temperance, patience, and brotherly love..."
William Ames, a noted 17th century English Puritan theologian, in his work The Marrow of Theology (1623), 11,11 (translated from the Latin by John Dykstra Eusden, Labyrinth Press, Durham, N.C., 1968), describes the nature of virtue.
"Virtue is a condition or habit (habitus) by which the will is inclined to do well. ...It is called a habit not only because one possesses it but also because it makes the subject behave in a certain manner, i.e., it moves the faculty, which otherwise would not be so moved, toward good."
Joseph Butler, the 18th century British moralist, in his Third Sermon at the Rolls Chapel, (quote from Fifteen Sermons in The Works of Joseph Butler, ed. W.E. Gladstone, vol. 2 (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1896, p. 63) describes the relation between virtue and habit as follows:
"...when virtue has become habitual, when the temper of it is acquired, what was before confinement ceases to be so, by becoming choice and delight"
Yves R. Simon, in his book The Definition of Moral Virtue (Fordham University Press, New York, 1986, pg. 84) writes:
"By a man's disposition we mean precisely the unique arrangement of all his moral traits. And when this arrangement makes him totally reliable and dependable in human affairs, we call both the man and his disposition virtuous. This—has always been the common understanding of the meaning of virtue: dependability in matters pertaining to the good of man as man.'"
20. In his book After Virtue, Alasdair Macintyre, (University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, IN, 1981, 1984) describes the state of moral discourse in modern liberal society. He writes:
" the actual world which we inhabit the language of morality is in the ...state of grave disorder ... What we possess ... are the fragments of a conceptual scheme, parts which now lack those contexts from which their significance derived. We possess indeed simulacra of morality, we continue to use many of the key expressions. But we have - very largely, if not entirely - lost our comprehension, both theoretical and practical, of morality."
21. The classic lists of virtues in the scriptures are the following:
Isaiah 11:2-5 (the seven gifts of the Spirit); Matthew 5:3-12 and Luke 6:20-26 (the beatitudes);1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (the hymn to love); Galatians 5:22 (the fruit of the Spirit); 2 Peter 1:5-7 (the virtues)
Some other key New Testament passages on virtues: Romans 5:1-5;  I Timothy 6:11; Ephesians 4:1-3, 32;  2 Timothy 2:22-25; Colossians 3:12-15;   Titus 2:1-5, 12; Philippians 4:8;  Titus 3:1-2
22.  The seven deadly sins/vices can be traced back to the early church period. The Didache, an early 2nd century church document, contains a list of five. Origen produced a sevenfold list. At the end of the 4th century Cassian amended the sevenfold list. This list was almost exactly followed by Gregory the Great, two hundred years later, in his Moralia in Job (a commentary on the Book of Job). In chapter 35 Gregory gives the list of seven vices which has become the classic exposition of the subject: pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice, gluttony, lust. Gregory likens the capital vices to captains laying waste a conquered city and leading after them a band of following vices. Gregory writes:
"An army in truth follows those captains because there spring up from them importunate hosts of sins. - These several sins have each their army against us. - Seven principal vices produce from themselves so great a multitude of vices that when they reach the heart they bring, as it were, the bands of an army after them."
23. For additional study on the "seven deadly vices" see:
"Are the Seven Deadly Sins Still Deadly?", by Mary Ellen Ashcroft, New Covenant, September, 1989, pp. 9-14, Ann Arbor, MI.
"The Seven Deadly Sins", by George Devine, (Twin Circle Publishing Co.. Nathalie Catholic Register, LosAngeles, CA, 1988).
"Choosing Virtue in a Changing World: A New Look At the Seven Deadly Sins", (published by Liguori Publications, St. Louis, MO., 1990).
24. These definitions are adapted from a course on Christian Character given in 1994 by Steve Clark, a noted author and leader in Christian renewal.

25. Josef Pieper has written an excellent book on the cardinal virtues: The Four Cardinal Virtues (University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, IN, 1966).

26. The full text of The Praises of the Virtues or Salute to the Virtues (Salutatio Virtutum), written by Francis of Assisi, can be found in St. Francis ofAssisi, Writings and Early Biographies: English Omnibus of the Sources for the Life of St. Frnacis, pgs. 132-134, edited by Marion A. Habig (Franciscan Herald Press. Chicago, ILL., 1973).

27. Quote from The Four Cardinal Virtues, by Josef Pieper, p. 195, (University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, IN, 1966).

| Contents | Preface | Study | Formation | Vision | Image of God | Gifts | Habits | Scripture | 7 Deadly Vices |
| Pride | Greed | Lust | Anger | Gluttony | Envy | Sloth | Bibliography | Notes
(c) 1994, 2001 Don Schwager