Classical Christian Series 3 (Theological Virtues)

The Virtues are moral muscles, and there are foundational muscle groups that every human, as a moral being, should know something about.
The Cardinal Virtues are the four foundational virtues, upon which nearly all other virtues are built. These cardinal virtues—and the ability to strengthening or weakening them over time—are a gift of grace given to all humans by God.
The Theological virtues, while still operating as moral muscles, are different.
These special strengths are given by God specifically to his people. It is in his grace that God gives Faith, hope, and charity (love) to those who are in Christ. 
That being said, it would be a mistake to think of these virtues as less than virtues.
While faith, hope, and charity are absolutely gifts of grace from God, they are also moral muscles that we can choose—every single day—to neglect or to strengthen.
The more catholic-minded among us will not have a problem with this way of thinking. But if you—perhaps through no individual fault of your own—tend to think of the “early church” as beginning around the 16th century, or if “works” is a five-letter word in your mind, you might be taken aback by thinking about working to strengthen your faith, hope, and charity muscles. Perhaps you (rightly) think of the Gospel as being one of grace and are (understandably though wrongly) concerned that any emphasis on works will lead to the belief that we somehow earn our salvation.
Neglecting good works in an attempt to “protect” grace is like receiving a new car as a gift, but never taking the time to learn how to maintain that car for fear of thinking that your own work on that car will somehow diminish the “gift” nature of the car itself.
In doing so, you are actually dishonoring both the giver and the gift. 
Yes, salvation is the result of nothing short of unmerited grace. But don’t let the beauty of that gift stop you from working out your salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12), or from encountering the good works that God has prepared for you to do (Eph 2:10).
In the wise words of my favorite Baptist philosopher, “Grace is opposed to earning, not effort.“
Strengthening your own faith, hope, and charity is one way to work out your salvation, to be prepared for the good works that God has prepared for you to do, and to honor the one who gave you these gifts in the first place. 

The Theological Virtues

There are plenty of good definitions of faith, hope, and charity out there. I find the ones below helpful as we think of these three as virtues.
Faith is the strength by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, because He is truth itself.
Ingesting Scripture and seeking to embrace what it says whether we agree or not, is both one of the most fruitful and difficult ways to strengthen this muscle.
Hope is the strength by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ's promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.
We grow in hope through practices that help us place less emphasis on our lesser hopes (financial security, recognition, achievement, etc.) in order to make room for our greatest hope to more regularly be front of mind. These can be practices like sabbath, fasting from social media, and saying “no” to otherwise beneficial social or business opportunities. 
Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux has probably written most clearly about the virtue of charity, and how we can strengthen our charity muscle over time. He describes four degrees of learning to love. These stages are necessary for our development as people and as Christians, but the journey through them is not easy or short.
  • In the first degree of love, we learn to love our self for our own sake.
  • In the second degree of love, we learn to love God for our own sake.
  • In the third degree of love, we learn to love God for God’s sake.
  • In the final degree of love, we learn to love our self for God’s sake.
There is much more to say about these — especially the fourth degree! — but this email is getting long and already has a footnote. 
So, there we have it: (1) the virtues are moral muscles, (2) all humans are endowed with the Cardinal virtues and the ability to strengthen them over time, and (3) all Christians are given the grace of the theological virtues, along with the ability to strengthen them over time. 
Next up is a specific muscle group for our purpose as a learning community: the academic virtues. 


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