These have God not only for their end but for their object. All our actions should have God for their end or goal; they should be aimed to do His will, to praise Him and thank Him and bring us closer to Him. God is object as well as the end. By Faith we believe in God, by Hope we strive towards God, by Charity we love God.
God is their object. God is also in a special sense their cause. They are wholly from Him. By Faith we have a new power in the intellect, enabling us to accept whatever God reveals simply because He reveals it. We may see it as mysterious, we may feel that it is beyond us, we may not see how to fit it either with some other of his revealed truths or with our own experience of life. But we do not doubt that what He says is so. By Faith the soul accepts Him as the source of truth. And it does so, not by its own power but His. He gives the power, not our own reasoning: He sustains Faith in us. Our hold upon anything we have arrived at for ourselves can never be surer than the mental process by which we got to it. Our Faith rests upon God who initiates and sustains it.
Faith, Hope and Charity are called habits by the theologians, and this is not simply a technicality. If we think over our natural habits, we see that there is a real change in ourselves after we acquire them, something in our very natures leading us to act in certain ways – to drink cocktails for instance, or answer back sarcastically. We say that a given habit grows on us. Really it grows in us, becomes second nature. Theologians apply the word to any modification whether in body or soul, which disposes us either to do things we did not do before or do more easily or competently things we did. The skill of a pianist is a habit.
It is in this sense that Theological Virtues are habits. They are really in our very souls, and they enable us to do things which without them would be impossible for us. They differ from natural habits in the way we acquire them. A natural habit is acquired gradually, as we repeat some particular action over and over again: supernatural habits are given to us in an instant by God. They differ again in the way they are lost. To be rid of a natural habit – drinking cocktails again – we must make a long series of efforts; supernatural habits are lost by one mortal sin against them. But while we have them, habits they are in the meaning just given.
The drama of the Christian life is that, in acquiring the supernatural habits, we do not lose the natural habits. Our soul has the supernatural power to act towards God, but it has a natural habit of acting for self, ignoring God. It has the supernatural ability to make the unseen its goal, but a natural habit of being overwhelmed by the attractions of the visible. By steadily acting upon such natural habits as run counter to the supernatural we may, with our own efforts and God’s grace, bring our nature and its habits wholly into harmony with supernature and the habits that belong to it.
For all of us it is a lifelong struggle. And its scene is the will. The will is that in us which decides, and it decides according to what it loves. In obedience to God, our will is the point of contact through which the Supernatural Life flows to us. A mortal sin – a serious and deliberate choice of our own will as against God’s – breaks the contact, we lose the virtue of Charity, supernaturally we are dead. We may still have the habits of Faith and Hope, which can be lost only by sins directly against them; but they are no longer life-giving. Only Charity makes the soul and its habits come alive. That is why “the greatest of these is Charity.” (Read 1 Corinthians Chapter 13).
Faith is the root of the whole supernatural life. With it come Hope and Charity and the rest. The soul is alive with them. To its own natural life of intellect and will, there is now added this new and higher life. The new life, like the old, is actually in the soul , as the power of sight is in the eye. And it never leaves the soul unless we withdraw the invitation. It is the simple acceptance of God as our teacher.
Hope has three elements: it desires final union with God, sees this as difficult, sees it as attainable. The nature of Hope comes out more clearly as we see the two ways of sinning against it, by presumption and by despair. Despair will not believe in the attainability, the sinner seeing himself as beyond the reach of God’s power to save. Presumption ignores the difficulty, either by assuming that no effort on our part is necessary since God will save us whatever we do, or by assuming that no aid from God is necessary since our own effort can save us unaided. The answer to both is St. Paul’s “I can do all things in Him that strengthens me.”.
Charity is simple: it is love of God. As a necessary consequence it is love of all that God loves, it is love of every image or trace or reflection of God it finds in any creature. Whatever the soul in charity loves, it loves for what of God is in it, the amount of God’s goodness it expresses or mirrors. This is true love, since it means loving things or persons not for what we can get out of them but for what God has put into them, not for what they can do for us but for what is real in them: it means loving things or persons for what they are , and it is rooted in loving God for what He is.
Moral virtues have God for their end, but for their object they have created things- how we shall best use these to bring us to God.
Prudence disposes the practical reason to discern, in every circumstance, our true good and to choose the right means for achieving it. (CCC 1835)
Justice consists in the firm and constant will to give God and neighbor their due. (CCC 1836)
Termperance moderates the attraction of the pleasures of the senses and provides balance in the use of created goods. (CCC1838)
Fortitude ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. (CCC 1837)
F.J. Sheed, Theology for beginners Hardcover– Sheed & Ward; First Edition (January 1, 1957), p. 89 ff