It is not uncommon to confuse secular values with Christian virtues. I often hear Catholics list the values of this world like tolerance, equity, inclusivity, etc. as Catholic virtues. This is simply not the case. There are only seven virtues listed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: faith, hope, love, prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. Virtues are gifts from God that lead us to live in a close relationship with him. Virtues are like habits. They need to be practiced; they can be lost if they are neglected. The three most important virtues are called theological virtues (faith, hope, and love) because they come from God and lead to God. The cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance) are human virtues, acquired by education and good actions. Cardinal comes from cardo, the Latin word for hinge, meaning “that on which other things depend.” In Summa Theologica II.2, St. Thomas Aquinas asserts the following correspondences between the seven Virtues and the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit:
- The gift of wisdom corresponds to the virtue of charity.
- The gift of knowledge corresponds to the virtue of faith.
- The gift of counsel corresponds to the virtue of prudence.
- The gift of fortitude corresponds to the virtue of fortitude.
- The gift of understanding corresponds to the virtue of faith.
- The gift of piety corresponds to the virtue of justice.
- The gift of fear of the Lord corresponds to the virtue of hope.
In some respects, the gifts are similar to the virtues but a key distinction is that the virtues operate under the impetus of human reason (prompted by grace), whereas the gifts operate under the impetus of the Holy Spirit; the former can be used when one wishes, but the latter operate only when the Holy Spirit wishes. The former are like the oars of a boat; the latter, the sails. On this Pentecost Sunday let us renew our commitment to live the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and to practice the life of Catholic Virtues.
Fr. Wojtek Kuzma