JMC : Four-Square / by Joseph Rickaby, S.J.


By nature we have capacities and predispositions towards virtue, which capacities and predispositions are by practice converted into habits; these habits are the "acquired virtues." Such "acquired virtues" have been our theme hitherto. Now we must note two further points about them. First, in many men they are very ill acquired. The habit of sobriety, of veracity, of honesty, of fortitude, in many a subject is a crude, ill-baked thing; a little temptation breaks through it, and your teetotaler is taken up for drunkenness, your honest cashier is in prison for embezzlement. Human nature on the whole sadly needs to have its virtues reinforced. The "infused virtues," as we shall see, are a reinforcement to the "acquired." Secondly, no amount of virtue acquired by mere effort of nature will ever take a man to heaven, or win for him any reward there. Heaven means the vision of God, and that vision is simply out of range of all creatures' unaided strivings. The vision of God is not due either to the dignity or to the natural merits of any creature that God can possibly create, let alone man. It is a pure grace and gratuitous favour done to any creature who attains it. None but God Himself has a connatural right to see God. As the end to be attained is a grace, so the means to the attainment must consist of graces also. Such graces are the "infused virtues." No infused virtues, no heaven.

The infused virtues, of which I am about to treat, are faith, hope, and charity. Theologians complicate the matter by additions too subtle to be gone into here, and not very profitable for practice. These three virtues are infused in Baptism. Saying that, I do not mean to say that they can exist only in the baptized, but Baptism is the ordinary means of their infusion. Baptism, then, puts into the soul a power to believe in the word of God revealing, a power to hope in the promise of God proffering to man the vision of Himself in heaven, and a power to love God above all things as a child loves its father, for in Baptism we are made adopted children of God and heirs of heaven, neither of which things are we by nature, or merely by being men. It will be seen that an infused virtue is not so much a habit as a power. The three infused virtues bestowed in Baptism are as three new faculties. Man is not born with the faculty of making his way to heaven. It is given him when he is baptized.

These new faculties, -- faculties of what St. Paul (Eph. iv, 24) calls the new man, created in Baptism, -- like other faculties, need exercise, else they perish of atrophy. The baptized child is disposed to believe, but he knows not what to believe until he learns his Catechism. He can not love an unknown God, nor hope for a heaven of which he has never been told. He has to be taught to make acts of faith, hope, and charity; and all his life long the oftener he elicits those acts with God's grace, the more robust do the infused virtues grow in him. By utter neglect of such acts he may become, not entirely, but in many respects, as though he had no infused virtues, as though he had never been baptized, he may become as the heathen and the publican (Matt. xviii, 17).

Young Christians generally, as might be expected, and not a few of longer standing, are strong in "infused virtues," but very weak in the "acquired virtues." They believe and hope abundantly, but as they too rarely exercise the acts, so neither have they acquired the habits of truthfulness, abstinence, sobriety, meekness, justice, obedience. This is no situation to acquiesce in. To acquiesce in it were to fall into the heresy called Antinomianism, which means faith without works.

The Christian, being bound to keep the Commandments, is bound in many various ways and recurring occasions to be just, temperate, brave and prudent. Thus, if he is faithful to his obligations, he forms in himself, whether he think of it or not, the habits of the cardinal virtues. A child may be excused for not possessing those virtues; he has not yet had time to form the habits. But the absence of the said virtues in a grown man, who has truly come to man's estate, having a man's knowledge and a man's appreciation of the law, argues in him a culpable neglect of acts which in many contingencies must have been incumbent upon him as duties. Neither the "infused virtues" should exist in a grown man without the "acquired virtues," nor the "acquired" virtues without the "infused"; neither faith without works, nor works without faith. We notice in the epistles of SS. Paul, Peter and John, traces of a disposition on the part of some early Christians to scorn the "acquired virtues" in the exuberance of the felt graces of their Baptism. This mistaken neglect of the natural order the Apostles were at pains to correct. (See Romans xiii, 1-8; I Cor. v, 1-6, 9, 10; x, 1-12; Gal. v, 13-21; I Pet ii, 13-18; I John ii, 3-6.) This also seems to be the main scope of the epistle of St. James. The Christian is a man sublimated. He ceases not to be a man and should have the virtues of a man. Grace does not abolish ethics. The office of "infused virtues" is to foster and take command of "acquired virtues," and raise their acts to a higher order.

When to the proper motive of an "acquired virtue" there is superadded the motive of an "infused virtue," the act thence resulting is said to be elicited by the acquired, or natural, virtue, and commanded by the supernatural, or infused virtue. As a rule, in a man leading a Christian life, all the acts elicited by his acquired virtues are commanded by his infused virtues. Thus if he prays, which is an act of religion, he is led to pray by motives of faith and hope in Christ. Martyrdom, elicited by fortitude, is commanded by charity. It is only by being commanded, at least habitually, by charity that the virtuous acts of man become meritorious of heaven. The "acquired virtues," as such, qualify for well-being on earth. The "infused virtues," and the "acquired" as commanded by the "infused," qualify for happiness in heaven. Further, as we have seen, the "infused" virtues fortify the "acquired."

The "infused virtues" are the care of the Church; the "acquired virtues" are the care, although not the exclusive care, of the State, as such. I say as such, because a Christian State in concert with the Church will have some concern about the infused virtues. The State's direct care of virtue is limited to "overt acts" of the same. An "overt act" is defined "an act which externally manifests the disposition of the mind." Virtues are as oil to the machinery of government. In so far as they are needed as an aid to government and social order, they are called "civil virtues." It must be confessed that the necessary standard of civil virtue is not very high. A man may be a good citizen, yet not a good man, still less a good Catholic. On the other hand, no State can get on without a certain measure of goodness and virtue among its people. Every government must trust some of its subjects; the ruler can not constrain everybody, nor oversee every official's doings, there must be some fortitude, some justice, some temperance and self-restraint away from the eye of the policeman. And besides, who shall police the police? Who shall answer for the fidelity of the soldiers? A State may become so morally rotten as scarcely to hold together as a State: then it perishes under the first strong arm raised against it either from without or from within. Both Church and State have a common interest in making the citizens virtuous up to a certain point. Beyond that point the Church will wish to raise them to a still higher virtue; but the State, if it be not a Christian State, is apt to hang back, to consider the Church importunate, meddlesome, punctilious and scrupulous, and even actually to thwart its efforts. Thereupon Church and State fall out. We see this in the matter of marriage laws, and above all in the education question. The State subsidized school refuses to have Christian Catholic morality and piety inculcated within its walls. It opens its doors only to "Biblical morality," whatever that may mean, or "simple ethics."

Without insisting on the divine mission of the Church, which the heathen statesman will not admit, this practical consideration may be advanced to move even a heathen. Whatever ideal of conduct you put up, you may make up your mind that the multitude will fall short of it in practice. You must propose a high ideal to get the mass of mankind to be even moderately virtuous. Schoolmasters forget this, who will not have their charge made "too pious." Preachers forget it, who are fond of expatiating on the topic how little after all Christ requires of a layman in the world, -- albeit surely the layman must be Christ's disciple, and Christ's condition of discipleship is to renounce all things (Luke xiv, 33). Now the Church's ideal of virtue is a high ideal. The State's ideal of virtue is a low one. Train men to the Christian standard, and you may reasonably expect them not to fall short of that human standard which must be attained for the decent well-being of civil society. He will stop far short of murder, who dreads violent hatred as a mortal sin for which he may lose his soul (Matt. v, 21-26). He will not commit adultery, who is taught to abhor a lustful glance (Matt. v, 27-30). He will not swear a false oath in court who boggles at an unnecessary one (Matt. v, 33-37). He who loves his enemy will not fail his friend, nor be an enemy of lawful government (Matt. v, 43-47). A man who seriously aims at perfection will not be a bad citizen (Matt. v, 48). But preach an easy and lax morality, just sufficient for State purposes, and what sort of practice can you expect? That which you get in sundry godless schools, where the State, thinking to subsidize education, is really subsidizing crime, and the coming socialism.

It remains to consider the motives of virtue. Why be virtuous at all? Like any other skill, virtue is acquired by training and self-denial. It is far easier to be vicious; and though vice itself be not pleasant, inasmuch as it makes a slave of a man, anyhow the acts that lead to vice are alluring enough. The Aristotelian motive for any virtuous act is its being the kalon, the right thing. Of this motive I desire to speak with all respect. I admit its potency. Hundreds of heroic deeds have been done with scarce any other motive than this, that it was the right thing to do. "Duty," or "the right thing," has exercised a marvelous sway over human hearts. It has been obeyed without its claims being questioned, or its title verified. Still, quite as often, it is flouted and disobeyed. Sceptics have analyzed it, and some have found to their own satisfaction that duty is only pleasure in disguise; whereupon many prefer pleasure undisguised. Any strengthening of the motive of virtue is of the highest value to mankind. Such strength is afforded by the infused virtues of faith and charity. They propose, not an abstract kalon, but a personal kalos, -- One who is all beautiful, all lovable, all holy, because, being man, He is also God. The Christian aims at virtue for love of "the right thing," to be sure, but still more for love and imitation of the adorable person of his Saviour, the living Head of that living Body of which every Christian is a member; by incorporation in which he has grace to do all works of virtue requisite for salvation, and better than Melchisedech, who lived under the ancient dispensation, to be assimilated to the Son of God (Heb. vii, 3). Enthusiasm for a person is wanted to eke out the intellectual grasp of a principle. Men will do for persons what they will never do for principles. An impersonal principle, whatever its philosophical merits, too often leaves the heart cold. We want personal enthusiasm to meet a crisis, and principle to insure stability. To meet both these wants, the Catholic Church holds up in her one hand charity and the Sacraments, in her other faith and the Creed. The virtuous Christian is characterized alike by clear knowledge of and steady adherence to the principles of faith and reason, and by steady loyalty to the person of his Saviour.

The essential idea of virtue is that of firmness and steadiness. Virtue is the corrective of impulse. The man of mere impulse may do many good and generous deeds, still he is not a good man, for the proneness to do good has not been engrafted on to his nature. This important psychological fact, that we are more inclined to act in some given way for having acted in that way before, the fact that having often acted in a certain way we arrive to a habit which inclines so to act always, except under quite abnormal circumstances, -- this fact is the generator of the whole economy of virtues and vices. Of itself, in the right order of nature, it is a provision to steady our wills in good; incidentally, and by abuse, it may fix the will in evil. As habits form, man approaches to the condition of an angel, either of a good angel or of a devil. One act is said to make a fixed habit in an angel; many acts are needed to fix the more volatile will of man. Nor is the fixture ever quite perfect. You are never quite sure that the virtuous man will elicit his virtuous act every time that the occasion calls for it. His will always remains in some measure indeterminate and free, and his consequent adion uncertain. Free will in man never passes away into character. Thus plexus of habits, which is called character, never becomes the sole and adequate determinant of human conduct.

Some room is always left for effort and free choice. But undoubtedly the growth of virtues and vices does abridge the freedom of the will for better or for worse. It anticipates in some measure that fixed determination of the will to good, which obtains in the blessed in heaven; or to evil, in the case of the lost. Nor is it any loss of perfection, -- nay, it is a higher freedom, -- to have your will bent immovably upon good, so immovably that temptation, however clamorous, offers you no real inducement to act upon it. There are outrageous sins to which any decent man is never really tempted. He is above solicitation in that direction. That man would not be far above the level of a wild beast, who had to exert all the moral energy of his will, time after time, to restrain himself from cutting your throat. Growth in virtue gradually raises man above all deliberate sins, almost as much as the common man is raised above murder. Indeliberate acts, "sins of surprise," as they are called, are an infirmity cleaving to man as long as he lives. They are not committed on principle. They are triumphs snatched by impulse from principle when principle is caught napping. But for the avoidance even of great sins the Christian, however perfect, must never rely upon his own acquired virtues. He must watch and pray that he enter not into temptation (Matt. xxvi, 41).

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