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Monday, 30 January 2012

Perfection Part Three-Thomism and the Spiritual Life

The concept of grace is rarely taught in catechesis and yet, a Catholic needs an excellent grasp on the concept of, especially, sanctifying grace, in order to grow in the interior life. The other concepts which an adult Catholic needs to understand are the virtues, or the life of virtue. The title of a key book, based on many sources, but none more than St. Thomas Aquinas, is Garrigou-Lagrange's The Three Ages of the Interior Life. When St. Paul writes of giving his converts "meat", this is meat, not milk. And, a caution to the pilgrim is that one can learn something intellectually and not have such concepts actually be part of the interior life of the soul, but only head knowledge. An excellent spiritual director is a necessity and good luck trying to find one in this day and age. Also, before one engages the ideas of Garrigou-Lagrange, I highly suggest at least the lay version of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, again under a director. Again, good luck trying to find an orthodox, conservative director and not one involved in New Age interpretations of the classic thirty day retreat.

In a mini-series, of which this is the third part, I want to cover a basic approach to perfection, with an emphasis on the life of the virtues. One can read the complete discussion in Garrigou-Lagrange's great book, but I shall outline a few things on this blog just to interest readers. In this installment, I want to look at the infused virtues and in the next posting,  the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, which we all receive in Baptism. Here is a useful chart from the book:

 Charity -->
 Faith -->
 Hope -->
Gift of Wisdom
Gift of Understanding
Gift of Knowledge
Gift of Counsel
Gift of Piety
Gift of Fortitude
Gift of Fear
 Prudence -->
 - Religion -->
 - Penance
 - Obedience
 Fortitude -->
 - Patience
 - Humility
 - Meekness
 - Chasity

The Theological Virtues are infused, that is given to us by the Father. These are, of course, Faith, Hope and Charity. St. Thomas and Garrigou-Lagrange explain that the Theological Virtues are directed towards God as the End. We are given these virtues, but we must use and incorporate them into our souls. This is the job for each one of us, given these wonderful virtues at Baptism. One can read Garrigou-Lagrange for more detail. 

The Moral Virtues, however, help us get to Heaven-these are a means to that end. I highly recommend Josef Pieper's The Four Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance, a book I have used in class with great success in the past. These Cardinal Virtues may be considered Moral Virtues, but there are more Moral Virtues, while there are only the Four Cardinal Virtues.  I am not going into the entire list here. You can look here. One cannot be in mortal sin and develop the acquired Moral Virtues. Here is Garrigou-Lagrange: a man must no longer be in the state of mortal sin, but his will must be set straight in regard to his last end. He must love God more than himself, at least with a real and efficacious love of esteem, if not with a love that is felt. This love is impossible without the state of grace and without charity.(4) But after justification or conversion, these true acquired virtues may come to be stable virtues; they may become connected, relying on each other. Finally, under the influx of infused charity, they become the principle of acts meritorious of eternal life. For this reason, some theologians, such as Duns Scotus, have even thought it not necessary that we should have infused moral virtues.

As much as I would not like to do so, I shall leave Duns Scotus for another time. But, notice two words being used here-acquired and infused. Even pagans, state Aquinas, using Plato and Aristotle, can acquire virtues; however, an example from Garrigou-Lagrange helps here: As St. Thomas remarks,(8) acquired temperance has a rule and formal object different from those of infused temperance. Acquired temperance keeps a just medium in the matter of food in order that we may live reasonably, that we may not injure our health or the exercise of our reason. Infused temperance, on the contrary, keeps a superior happy mean in the use of food in order that we may live in a Christian manner, as children of God, en route to the wholly supernatural life of eternity. Infused temperance thus implies a more severe mortification than is implied by acquired temperance; it requires, as St. Paul says, that man chastise his body and bring it into subjection,(9) that he may become not only a virtuous citizen of society on earth, but one of the "fellow citizens with the saints, and the domestics of God." (10)

Part of the distinction here is the "end", the "reason" for the virtues. The Moral Virtues are practical to a certain extent, but if these are directed towards God, these become steps to heaven. Although the atheist, for example, may eat in a temperate manner, he is not directing his actions towards the Almighty and eternal life. He is acquiring virtue rationally, but without the supernatural motive. This is one of Aquinas' examples, as seen above.

There is a difference between motives and action. The Christian does all for the love of God and others, and not merely for one's self. Before moving on, I want to refer to a footnote here. Babies who are baptized receive all these virtues. This is why it is so important to have babies baptized and for parents to raise their children with the idea of cultivating these virtues. Here is the note:
Clement V at the Council of Vienna (Denzinger, Enchiridion, no. 483), thus settled this question, which was formulated under Innocent III (Den­zinger, no. 410): "Whether faith, charity, and the other virtues are infused into children in baptism." He answers: "We, however, considering the gen­eral efficacy of the death of Christ, which is applied by baptism equally to all the baptized, think that, with the approval of the sacred Council, we should choose as more probable and more consonant and harmonious with the teachings of the saints and of modern doctors of theology, the second opinion, which declares that informing grace and the virtues are bestowed in baptism on infants as well as adults." By these words, "and the virtues," Clement V means.not only the theological virtues, but the moral virtues, for they also were involved in the question formulated under Innocent III.

As I wrote earlier this week, there is no reason why a child cannot become a saint.

St. Artemius Died at AgeTwelve
And, it is imperative that Catholic parents are aware of the life of the virtues in order, not only to become holy themselves, but to nurture holiness in their children.

The virtues grow together and are all based on love, the love for God and neighbor. If one advances in one virtue, one will advance in all. But, it is imperative that the person is in sanctifying grace, receiving the sacraments regularly, and praying. Too many Catholics believe all this life in the virtues will "just happen". Not so. And, sadly, many Catholics do not even realize that the life of virtue must be lived in order to become perfect, as we are all called to be. We are all called to be perfect. Even those who could not read in the Middle Ages looked towards their books of stone for these truths. We have or are in danger of losing these truths today. We see a crisis in character formation all around us, in politics, in youth, in ourselves. Without virtue, there is no character. To be continued...