Saturday, 9 May 2009

Lost virtue

Now there’s a word that has gone out of fashion -virtue. My online dictionary defines virtue as: “the quality of doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong. ” Traditionally there are seven virtues consisting of a combination of the four cardinal Virtues and the three Theological virtues. They are as follows:

Cardinal virtues
Prudence, which is “proper judgment of reasons for action with regard to appropriateness of context.”
Justice, which is “proper judgment regarding individual human interests, rights and desserts.
Temperance (or restraint), which is “practicing self-control, abstention, and moderation.
Courage (or fortitude), which is “forbearance, Endurance and ability to confront fear and uncertainty, or intimidation.”

Theological virtues
Faith, which is “steadfastness in belief”
Hope, which is “expectation of good”
Love (or charity), which is “selfless, unconditional and voluntary loving-kindness.

The pursuit of virtue is co-terminus with the pursuit of God as the following sayings from one of the Desert Fathers demonstrate:

Abba Isidore of Pelusia once said: “Prize the virtues and do not be the slave of glory; for the former are immortal, while the latter soon fades.” The same abba also said: “Many desire virtue, but fear to go forward in the way that leads to it, while others consider that virtue does not even exist. So it is necessary to persuade the former to give up their sloth, and teach the others what virtue really is.” He also said: “Vice takes men away from God and separates them from one another. So we must turn from it quickly and pursue virtue, which leads to God and unites us with one another. Now the definition of virtue and of philosophy is: simplicity with prudence.” (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers trans by Benedicta Ward SLG).

Virtue is out of fashion today. We see this in the fact that it is rarely if ever used both in everyday conversation, in the newspapers or, indeed, anywhere else. However, as Isidore reminds us, it is virtue that “leads to God and unites us with one another”. It unifies our society and brings us closer to the One from whom we came. But the opposite, he reminds us, is also true: “Vice (the absence of virtue or its opposite) takes men away from God and separates them from one another”. Looking at society today I can only conclude that this ancient saint is right. Vice abounds and needs no definition while virtue continues anonymous and in need of a rediscovery.

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