What are the Cardinal Virtues? What are the Theological Virtues? The below seven questions give a brief introductory summary of St. Thomas Aquinas’ nine questions found in the Summa Theologica I-II.61-62.

Q61 – Of the Cardinal Virtues

1. What are the Cardinal Virtues?

The Cardinal Virtues are the natural moral virtues of man – though prudence is also a intellectual virtue – which have as their end man’s natural perfection. These virtues are available to all men by nature (Acquired Virtues); however, those who also possess the theological virtue obtain a certain perfection, because God’s grace perfects nature (Infused Virtues).

Prudence – “very act of reason,” the “principal virtue,” which orders things (directs the virtues through right reasoning)
Justice – the ordering of reason in operations (places all things in proper order according to reason)
Temperance– ordering of passion: to curb the incites against reason (safeguards against that which would lure men from reason, e.g., lust)
Fortitude – ordering of passion: to halt the withdraw from reason (safeguards against that which would make men flee reason, e.g., fear)

2. What is the “Principal Virtue”?

Justice is seen as the pinnacle of moral virtue, even though prudence is the intellectual/moral virtue by which the cardinal virtues are ordered.

Prudence: “First, as existing in the very act of reason: and thus we have one principal virtue called Prudence.”
Justice: “Secondly, according as the reason puts its order into something else; either intro operations, and then we have Justice.”

3. How do the Cardinal Virtues Differ?

“It is clear that the aforesaid virtues are distinct habits, differentiated in respect of their diverse objects.” However, “the qualities of prudence overflow on to the other virtues in so far as they are directed by prudence. And each of the others overflows on to the rest, for the reason that whoever can do what is harder, can do what is less difficult.”

However, the virtues remain distinct – it is not just prudence in different forms.

Hope by Raffaello Sanzio, 1507

Q62 – Of the Theological Virtues

1. Why even have Theological Virtues?

There must remain a distinction between nature and grace; thus, the Cardinal Virtues perfect what is natural and the Theological Virtues raise man’s capacity to perfect his supernatural end. St. Thomas speaks of the Cardinal and Theological Virtues as cohering in man by interplay, not necessarily an inferior and superior ranking.

2. What are the Theological Virtues?

The Theological Virtues are Faith, Hope, and Charity, and share the following characteristics:

1. God is their object
2. Infused by God
3. Revealed by God

The third principle is most interesting, because that means the Theological Virtues were not known prior to them being revealed by God. Also note that they are infused by God, thus the Theological Virtues are not those that can be naturally acquired by men.

3. What is the object of the Theological Virtues?

God is “the supernatural object of happiness.” The Theological Virtues are distinct from the Intellectual and Moral Virtues, because the Theological Virtues have as their object God. There is a difference in kind -opposite to a difference of degree – between how the Philosopher and the Theologian considers God, for the former uses just the Intellectual Virtues and the latter uses the Theological Virtue that “surpass human reason.”

4. What is the perfection of each theological virtue?

FaithPerfects the Intellect: “by faith that the intellect apprehends the object of hope and love. Hence in the order of generation, faith precedes hope and charity. In like manner a man loves a thing because he apprehends it as his good.”

HopeStrengths the Will: “hence for the very reason that a man hopes in someone, he proceeds to love him: so that in the order of generation, hope precedes charity as regards their respective acts.”

CharityTransforms the Whole of Man: (Intellect & Will) “For thus charity is the mother and the root of all the virtues, in as much as it is the form of them all, as we shall state further on (II-II Q23, A8).” Charity literally transforms the man into something Christ-like.

Nota Bene – God cannot be known without being loved.

Charity by Raffaello Sanzio, 1507