Virtue Ripening Into Character

Father Geiermann defines virtue and shows how it ripens into good character:

“Virtue is a habit of doing moral good. A natural habit is acquired by repeated acts, but a supernatural virtue is infused by the grace of God. At the outset the will may be opposed by the defects of temperament, by the evil inclinations of passion, and even by sinful habits in the practice of virtue; but, by systematically waging war on these perverse inclinations in a Christian manner, man may gradually overcome their combined opposition and cultivate voluntary good habits, or virtues. By striving thus man contributes his part to the development of the corresponding supernatural virtue, of which grace is always the efficient cause.”

“A moral virtue is the golden mean between the vices of excess and defect. This mean is marked out by right reason, that is, by reason free from error, prejudice, and delusion, especially when this reason is enlightened by faith. The virtues that unite us directly to God are called theological; those that govern our actions in the way of rectitude are called moral. . . . The theological virtues are: faith, hope and charity. The principal moral virtues are: prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. The latter are called cardinal virtues, because all other moral virtues are subordinated to them.”

“Both virtues and vices grow, and ripen into character. Character is the moral disposition of a person.” If the will “submits as a voluntary slave to the evil tendencies of temperament, it develops a vicious character.” But if the will “strives to act according to the dictates of reason enlightened by faith, it gradually develops a Christian character.”

“An ideal Christian character results from the blending of the virtues of integrity, honesty, moral courage, moderation, and charity. Integrity regulates man’s actions in accordance with reason enlightened by faith. Honesty makes him faithful to truth and justice. The moral courage of a Christian must be guided in all circumstances by prudence, and strengthened by divine grace. Moderation enables man to act in due season; while charity, the jewel of a Christian character, is dead to selfish motives and ever seeks the neighbor’s spiritual and temporal welfare.”

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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