June 1, 2008

"A thought followed by a resolve, a resolve followed by an act"

Virtue is not, like riches, power or glory, a privileged or exceptional thing; it is the reign of order in every soul that wills it, the spontaneous fruit of love, which is the common fund of our nature, and the most lowly hut is an asylum as open to it as the palace of kings. A thought followed by a resolve, a resolve followed by an act: such is virtue. It is produced when we desire it, it increases as quickly as our desires, and if it costs much to him who has lost it, he has always in himself the ransom which will bring it back again...

I put another piece on virtue below the fold...

By Will Duquette...

....St. Paul tells us, “Test everything; hold fast to what is good.” Intellectually, and practically, Catholicism seemed to do this. As an example, consider virtue. Or, rather, a virtue. Bravery, say. What is it? According to the Catholic tradition, which goes back to antiquity (to Aristotle, as a matter of fact), a virtue is, simply enough, a good habit. If you have the virtue of bravery, that means that you are in the habit of standing firm in times of danger, even though you are afraid. If you have the virtue of honesty, that means that you are in the habit of telling the truth, even though it might benefit you to lie.

This is important. This description of virtue not only tells me what virtue is; it tells me how to get it. How can I become brave? By getting in the habit of behaving bravely. And how can I do that? By choosing to stand firm when the going gets tough. I can start with small things, indeed I’ll have to start with small things. Major battles don’t come every day. But if I can get in the habit of standing firm, then when the crisis comes and there is no time to think, I can trust that my established habits will take over and I will do the right thing. The same applies to honesty, chastity, or any other virtue.

Now, this is basic moral philosophy. But despite my having been a Christian my entire life, and having been actively involved in a church for all of my adult life, I’d never heard virtue described in that way–to the extent it was talked about at all.

But the Roman Catholic writers I was reading all seemed to take it as a matter of course. They referred to it, and they all seemed to be on the same page. And when I thought about it, so was C.S. Lewis. In his writings, though, he tends to avoid using the standard well-known terms so as to present the material freshly, as he does in The Abolition of Man where he spends an entire book writing about the Natural Law and never once uses the term. For this is basic moral philosophy, and it used to be that everyone knew it. And yet I hadn’t, despite having every opportunity. But the Catholic bloggers and writers did.

This is a humble example, but it illustrates my point. The Catholic tradition tests everything and holds on to what is good. I don’t mean to imply, by the way, that every Roman Catholic knows these things, or that the definition of virtue is preached in every parish. But this wealth of knowledge is readily available if you look for it, and it’s all of a piece. It hangs together....

Posted by John Weidner at June 1, 2008 5:38 AM
Weblog by John Weidner