Virtue isn’t often associated with manliness these days. In fact, the exact opposite is true—many believe you aren’t a real man unless you are a “bad boy” or a rebel. But this wasn’t always the case. In fact, the virtue comes from the Latin word vir, meaning man. Virtue literally means manliness. In ancient times, philosophers like Aristotle encouraged men to cultivate virtue to reach their full potential.
What is virtue?
It is hard to live a virtuous life if we don’t first know what virtue it is. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines virtue in the following way:
A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.
In other words, virtue is the habit of choosing what is good and right, despite our own inclinations.
Getting still more specific, the Catholic Church teaches that we should cultivate seven different virtues—four cardinal (or natural) virtues and three theological (or supernatural) virtues. The cardinal virtues are prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice, and the theological virtues are faith, hope, and charity. I’ll save the definition of these virtues for another post.
Why does virtue matter?
For the Catholic man, virtue isn’t an option. We have to cultivate virtue, both natural and supernatural, if we want to live a holy life and get to heaven. But why?
Virtue is essential because we all are filled with disordered passions. Anger, gluttony, lust, laziness, envy, pride, and greed—these sins are churning about in our souls constantly due to our fallen nature. If we don’t tame them, they will kill us spiritually. That’s why the Church calls them the seven deadly sins. Virtue helps us to tame these passions and overcome them, building the foundation for a holy life.
St. Paul talks about this very fact in his letter to the Romans. He says,
If you live a life of nature, you are marked out for death; if you mortify the ways of nature through the power of the Spirit, you will have life.
In other words, if you are living a supernaturally virtuous life, empowered by grace, you are on the road to heaven. If you aren’t, however, and your life is characterized by the seven deadly sins, you are probably on the road to hell.
This may sound harsh, but it is true. Virtue is that important.
Choose the virtuous life.
Many men coast through life without a thought to where they are going. They don’t really worry about things like temperance, prudence, or fortitude—let alone faith, hope or charity. But no one gets to heaven on cruise control. If you’ve been living aimlessly, decide today to pursue virtue with all your heart. Ask the Holy Spirit for the graces you need to be a virtuous man.
What about you? Have you thought about virtue before? Are you cultivating it in your life? Leave your thoughts in the comments.