Catholic Q&A: The Theological & Cardinal Virtues

Catholic Q&A: The Theological & Cardinal Virtues

By Fr. Rick Poblocki

Part I: The Theological Virtues

What is a “virtue”? Do we divide them into any special categories?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines virtue as “a habitual and firm disposition to do the good.  The moral virtues are acquired through human effort aided by god’s grace; the theological virtues are gifts of God” (CCC, Glossary, p. 903).

What do we mean by speaking of the “theological virtues”?

The theological virtues are “gifts infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as His children and of meriting eternal life. The theological virtues are Faith, Hope, and Charity” (CCC, Glossary, p. 903; cf. also CCC, 1813).

Why are Faith, Hope, and Charity called the theological virtues?

The word theological comes from the greek words Theos (pronounced Thay-yos, which means God) and logos (pronounced low-gos, which means word or understanding).  They are called theological virtues because each of them relates us to God in a personal relationship.


What is Faith?

Faith is the virtue by which we firmly believe all of the Truths that God has revealed, on the word of God by revealing them.  They are infallibly true because God can neither deceive nor be deceived.

  • Faith is belief in something true, based on the word of another, even though that truth might not be fully understood.
  • Divine Faith is belief in a Truth or mystery known only because God revealed it.
  • It is grace that helps us to attain faith and persevere in it, to take God’s word for whatever He has revealed.
  • Faith is supernatural because we cannot by ourselves acquire it.  It is a gift of God.  It is, however, increased by prayer and by acting in Faith; the Apostles asked of the Lord: “Increase our Faith!” (Luke 17:5).

[Faith is] both a gift from God and a human act by which the believer gives personal adherence to God who invites his response, and freely assents to the whole truth that that God has revealed.  It is this revelation of God which the Church proposes for our belief, and which we profess in the Creed, celebrate in the Sacraments, live by right conduct that fulfills the twofold commandment of charity (as specified in the Ten Commandments), and respond to in our prayer of faith.  Faith is both a theological virtue given by God as grace, and an obligation which flows from the First Commandment of God” (CCC, Glossary, p.878-879); cf. CCC, 26,142,150,1814,2087).


What is Hope?

Hope is the virtue by which we firmly trust that God, Who is all-powerful and all-faithful to His promises, will in His mercy give us eternal happiness and the means to obtain it.

  • God promised to give us eternal life, and the means to obtain it.  In this promise is our hope.
  • Hope is necessary for salvation.  Our hope must be firmly founded in God, Who promised to give us the means for salvation.
  • Such firm hope, however, should not exclude reasonable fear of the loss of our soul.  Very often we fall short of the proper use of the means of salvation granted us.

“[Hope is] the theological virtue by which we desire and expect from God both eternal life and the grace we need to attain it” (CCC, Glossary, p. 882; cf. 1817).


What is Charity?

Charity is the virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbors as ourselves for the love of God.

What does the practice of Charity bring about in the life of a Christian?

Charity is the Queen of all virtues.  It unites God and each human person perfectly in love.  It also unites the human person to all other persons, for the love of God.

What is required of those who wish to love God above all things?

To love God above all things, we must be willing to renounce all created things rather than often Him by sin.

Are there any practices that can help me to deepen my love for God?

Yes! We can do this by speaking to God – asking Him for this grace by praying the traditional Act of Charity (see below), opening our hearts to Him, and just by practicing charity toward God and others.  These are the most simple and effective ways to deepen in charity.

Why does St. Paul say the Faith and Hope pass, only Charity remains?

The Holy Apostle teaches this truth, because when we get to heaven, faith and hope will cease.  Since faith is belief and trust in the unseen, faith will no longer be necessary, because in heaven we will see and possess God!  Hope ends, because by being in heaven we can no longer desire what we already possess.  But for all eternity we shall have charity: we can love God forever!

“[Charity is] the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God” (CCC, Glossary, p. 870; cf. 1822).

How do I go about gaining the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity?

Gaining the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity are simple!  We gain Faith, Hope, and Charity by asking God for these gifs.  This can be done by making the traditional Acts of Faith, Hope, and Charity in Prayer (see below).  The other way we gain these virtues is by practicing them in our daily life as we go about our duties and obligations.  Faith, Hope, and Charity are gained by asking God for them and by practicing them in daily life.



O MY GOD!  I firmly believe that You are One God in three Divine Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; I believe that Your Divine Son became Man, and died for our sins, and that He will come to judge the living and the dead.  I believe these and all the Truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches, because You have revealed them, Who can neither deceive nor be deceived. Amen. (partial indulgence)


O MY GOD!  Relying on Your infinite goodness and promises, I hope to obtain the pardon of my sins, the help of Your Grace, and life everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ, My Lord and Redeemer.  Amen. (partial indulgence)


O MY GOD!  I love You above all things, with my whole heart and soul, because You are all-good and worthy of all love.  I love my neighbor as myself for the love of You.  I forgive all who have injured me, and ask pardon of all whom I have injured.  Amen. (partial indulgence)

Part II: The Cardinal or Moral Virtues

What do we mean when we speak of the “moral virtues” or the “cardinal virtues”?

The cardinal virtues are “four pivotal human virtues (from the Latin cardo, ‘pivot’): prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance.  The human virtues are stable dispositions of the intellect and will that govern our acts, order our passions, and guide our conduct in accordance with reason and faith” (CCC, Glossary, p. 869; cf. also: 1805, 1834).

How many moral virtues are there?

The four main cardinal virtues are prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance.

Why are prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance called the moral virtues?

They are called the moral virtues because they dispose us to lead moral, or good, lives, by aiding us to treat persons and things in the right way, that is according to the Will of God.  Moral virtues are opposed to the capital sins.

What are the capital sins?

The capital sins are “sins which engender other sins and vices.  They are traditionally numbered as seven: pride, covetousness, envy, anger, gluttony, lust, and sloth [acedia, or spiritual sluggishness]” (CCC, Glossary, p. 869; cf. CCC, 1866).

  • A vice is a pattern or habit of committing sin or doing evil.

How are the cardinal or moral virtues related to Faith, Hope, and Charity?

The moral virtues are related to Faith, Hope, and Charity by being an outgrowth and completion of the theological virtues.  The moral virtues flow from Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love).  The theological virtues perfect or complete our interior being; the moral virtues perfect or complete our exterior being.  If we sincerely strive for these virtues, we are on the road to perfection.

How exactly do both sets of these virtues fit in with Christ’s twofold Commandment to love God and our neighbor?

The theological virtues affect our relationship with God; the moral or cardinal virtues affect our relationship with our neighbors and ourselves (e.g. Faith makes us believe in the existence of God; Temperance makes us regulate our urges and desires).


What is Prudence?

Prudence is the cardinal virtue that disposes us in all circumstances to form right judgements about what we must or must not do.  It teaches us when and how to act in matters relating to our eternal salvation.

  • Prudence perfects or illuminates the intelligence, which is the power of forming judgments; for this virtue, knowledge and experience are important.
  • Prudence shows us how to set aside earthly things in order to earn riches for eternity.  It is the eye of the soul, for it tells us what is good and what is evil.  It is like a compass that directs our course in life.  It is opposed to worldly wisdom.  It is a virtue of understanding.  “Be prudent, therefore, and watchful in prayers” (1 Peter 4:7).


What is Justice?

Justice is the cardinal virtue that disposes us to give to everyone what belongs to them.  It teaches us to give what is due to God and what is due to our neighbor.

How does justice allow us to live in this world in the power of God?

Justice makes us willing to live according to the Commandments.  Living the Commandments is thinking and acting as God Himself does – therefore, we share His life and show forth His power.

How would I experience the power of justice in my attempts to live as a Christian?

Justice shows up in one’s experience as a power that motivates us to safeguard and grant the rights of all: the right to life, freedom, honor, good name, sanctity of the home, and external possessions.  When you actively and deliberately do these things, you are acting in justice!

  • The just man or woman is an upright person.  He or she gives to everyone what is due to them or what is theirs by right.  The just person gives God the worship due to Him; they give obedience to authorities; they respect their subordinates, and all under their care and responsibility.


What is Fortitude?

Fortitude is the cardinal virtue that disposes us to do what is good in spite of any difficulty.  It gives us the strength to do good and avoid evil in spite of all obstacles and afflictions.

How would the virtue of Fortitude appear in my life?

We possess fortitude when ridicule, threats, or persecution do not prevent us from doing what is right; it is a refusal to give in to discouragement and the ability to continue in perseverance.

Here are a few examples:

Couples who are open to life and have large families are often asked by tactless individuals, who have been brainwashed into the “birth control mentality” of the world: “Isn’t it time to stop?”  Couples open to life practice fortitude when they either ignore these poor misguided souls, or when they set people straight.  Young couples who carefully practice chastity before marriage (even if they experience a strong physical attraction to each other) are practicing fortitude; those who stay faithful to the teachings of the Church even if it seems “nobody else is doing it” are practicing fortitude.

I don’t think I am doing anything great, but I am still willing to undergo whatever suffering is necessary to enter heaven.  Am I on track?

The greatest fortitude is shown by bearing great sufferings rather than undertaking great works.  No Saint was ever a coward.  Martyrs had fortitude.


What is Temperance?

Temperance is the cardinal virtue that disposes us to control our desires and to use rightly the things which please our senses.  It regulates our judgment and passions (i.e. our bodily drives and urges made unruly by Original Sin) so that we may make use of temporal or material things only in so far as they are necessary for our eternal salvation.

How would I practice temperance in daily living?

It’s done by deliberately avoiding “overindulgence.”  We practice temperance and possess it as a virtue when we eat and drink or use what is necessary to healthily sustain life and preserve our health in order to fulfill our duties toward God and neighbor.

How are the moral and theological virtues signs of God’s power in our lives as Christians?

Jesus promised us the truth would make us free.  If these virtues free us from being dominated by sin or by the unruly urges and desires that are rooted in Original and actual sin, then we are free.  If we are free because of Jesus’ power, then these are signs of His power in our lives!

Fr. Rick Poblocki is the Pastor of St. Josaphat’s Parish in Cheektowaga, NY. This article also appears in St. Josaphat’s Weekly Bulletin, available for view in its entirety at Don’t miss Fr. Rick on the Tuesday and Thursday Open Forum Editions of Calling All Catholics, weekdays at 5pm on The Station of the Cross Catholic Radio Network and the iCatholicRadio App. Used with permission.



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