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1. Virtue consists in proficiency in the practice of good works and the tendency of the will towards what is good, resulting from persevering exercise.
By good deeds is meant whatever is done in obedience to the will of God, or is pleasing in His sight. By practice in writing, painting, athletic and other sports, etc., proficiency and dexterity is attained, and the will becomes disposed towards the action in question. Practice makes perfect. Habit is second nature. It is difficult to break off any habit to which we have accustomed ourselves. One or two isolated good deeds do not constitute virtue, any more than two or three vines constitute a vineyard.
Certain good qualities or propensities, the gift either of nature or of grace, are often called by the name of virtue.
There are natural, inborn good qualities, dispositions or virtues. Many men are naturally meek, obedient, liberal or honorable. Hence it is that some of the heathen were distinguished for their virtues. There are also supernatural dispositions, which are imparted by the Holy Spirit when we receive sanctifying grace, that is, the Sacrament of Baptism or of Penance. The Holy Spirit renders us capable of accomplishing what is good for the love of God. This supernatural capability is something more than a mere qualification for the performance of what is good; a certain inclination thereto is also given us. But this disposition or inclination is not the same as proficiency or ease in the exercise of virtue; the latter must be won by practice. The capabilities imparted by the Holy Ghost stand in the same relation to actual virtue as the seed does to the plant, or the gift of one of the senses, e.g., the sense of sight, to the use of that sense. The good dispositions imparted by the Holy Spirit are also called infused virtue, and the proficiency attained through practice is called acquired virtue. The powers imparted by the Holy Spirit do not at once cause us to act aright; it is requisite for us to employ them frequently in order to gain proficiency in virtue.
2. It is only perfect virtue, i.e., those acts of virtue which are performed for the glory of God, which will be rewarded after death.
God does not merely require of us good deeds, but a good intention in accomplishing those deeds. Only when done with good intention, with a view to His glory, are they pleasing to Him, and en titled to a reward. Without the love of God there is no true virtue. The actions we perform for the love of God are acts of perfect, supernatural, Christian virtue. There are, as we have seen, natural virtues, which are inspired by earthly motives and are not done with a view to the glory of God. These only receive a temporal recompense (Matt. vi. 2), and have no value for the kingdom of heaven (Matt. v. 20). The difference between natural and supernatural virtues may be compared to the difference which exists between objects which are merely gilt, and those that are fashioned out of solid gold.
3. Virtue can only be acquired and increased by dint of struggle and self-conquest; for many obstacles have to be encountered, inward hindrances, the evil proclivities of the human heart, and outward hindrances, the contempt and persecution of men.
Nothing else is wanted to cause a boat which is launched on a fast- flowing river, to be carried away by the stream and swallowed up in the waters, than that the rowers should cease to ply their oars; but if the boat is going against the current, strenuous exertion on the part of the crew is required to bring it to its destination. So it is with man; he needs but to give way to the frailty of his corrupt nature to be borne to eternal perdition; but to contend against the force of his passions, the seductions of the world, and the temptations of the devil, and guide his bark to the haven of everlasting felicity, calls for no slight effort on his part. “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence” (Matt. xi. 12). The path of virtue is a difficult ascent, not an easy descent. Virtue is won not in times of peace, but of warfare. Many appear to be virtuous, but are not so in reality, because their virtue costs them nothing. Those who desire to attain proficiency in an art, or dexterity in a trade, must give themselves much trouble in learning it. Only in proportion as you do violence to yourself will you make progress in virtue. The most formidable obstacles have to be overcome at first, afterwards advancement becomes more easy. And as we advance in virtue, it brings happiness, and thus we are stimulated to greater efforts. But suffer ing is inseparable from virtue; wherefore he who shrinks from sufferings and persecution will never be rich in virtue. “He who fears the world,” says St. Ignatius, “will never accomplish anything worthy of God’s acceptance; for nothing great can be done in God’s service without provoking the enmity of the world.” He who strives in earnest to attain to virtue, will necessarily be humble, for he will feel his own frailty, as one who climbs a steep ascent becomes conscious of his bodily weakness. Consequently the most virtuous are the most humble.
4. Virtue procures for us real happiness both in time and in eternity.
The Greeks related of Heracles, one of their heroes, that at a spot where two roads met he found two maidens awaiting him, Pleasure and Virtue. The former spoke flattering words to him and promised him a life of enjoyment. The latter gravely warned him that many sorrows awaited him, but they would be followed by an everlasting reward. Heracles wisely followed where this one guided him. Sin, although it leads to perdition, is unquestionably most alluring; virtue is difficult and laborious, but it is attended with blessings. The fear of the Lord, the practice of virtue, is the way to attain true happiness even on earth (Ps. cxxvii. 1). “Much peace have they that love Thy law” (Ps. cxviii. 165). Above all, the virtuous man will have joy at his latter end (Ecclus. vi. 29). How joyfully St. Paul spoke of his approaching dissolution (2 Tim. iv. 7). Nothing can really harm one who loves God; all things, however adverse they appear, work together unto good (Rom. viii. 28). Many temporal blessings are bestowed on him (Ps. cxxvii. 4); he is compared by the Psalmist to a tree planted by running waters. A virtuous life contributes to one’s physical well-being; the practice of virtue, moreover, enlightens the understanding, and gives intelligence of the teaching of Christ. He Himself says: “If any man will do the will of God, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God” (John vii. 17). The practice of virtue entitles us to eternal salvation (Ps. xxxvi. 29). Godliness has promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come (1 Tim. iv. 8). Virtue makes us rich and honorable in God’s sight. She is to be preferred before kingdoms and thrones, and riches are nothing in comparison with her (Wisd. vii. 8). It is a treasure which cannot decay or be stolen from us (Matt. vi. 20). Noble ancestry, high position, does not make us renowned before God; virtue alone procures for us immortal honors, eternal riches, never-ending felicity.
5. Virtue makes us resemble God, and admits us to the friendship of God.
If we are humble, gentle, generous, and otherwise virtuous, we shall be like to almighty God, in Whom is the perfection of every virtue. We should therefore be careful to study the divine attributes, that we may imitate them and become true children of our heavenly Father. The virtuous man is a friend of God, for Our Lord says: “Whosoever shall do the will of My Father that is in heaven, he is My brother, and sister, and mother” (Matt. xii. 50). Similarity of tastes and feelings makes men friends. Virtue renders us beautiful in God’s sight. Physical beauty is deceitful and vain (Prov. xxxi. 30); true beauty is that of the heart. All the glory of the king’s daughter is within (Ps. xliv. 14). This loveliness is not apparent now, but it will be made visible one day. In winter all the trees are bare, though they are not lifeless, but when the sum mer comes they are clothed with verdant foliage. So the virtuous now appear insignificant and contemptible, for their true glory, their inner life, is hidden from human ken. But when this life is done, those who were counted dead shall shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matt. xiii. 43), while the wicked who were deemed happy shall mourn and weep. Virtue alone makes us true Christians. The seal of Baptism is not enough, nor even the sacerdotal robe. A Christian without virtue is a husk without a kernel, a spring without water, a vine without grapes. In vain do we call ourselves Christians, if we are not imitators of Christ.
This article, II. VIRTUE is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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