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Thomas Aquinas on Theological Virtues: Summa Theologica

I have herein summarized and quoted from articles 1-4 of question 62 “Of the Theological Virtues” in the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas.  This time I have organized my summaries more in tune with how Aquinas wrote them: 1) the sed contra (some authoritative statement Aquinas usually wishes to defend), 2) the respondeo (Thomas’s way of explaining things) and 3) adversus (Thomas’s responses to various objections).  I begin, however, with IN SUM (my summary of Aquinas’s article).  All quotations from the Summa are taken from the English Translation, Summa Theologica, trans. the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 5 vols., rev. ed. 1948; repr., Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 1981.

There Are Theological Virtues (ST I-II.62.1) 

IN SUM: Faith, hope and love are properly called theological because: 1) they are not attainable by a human’s natural capacities; 2) they are only attainable through a certain participation in God’s nature; 3) they are infused by God and direct a person sufficiently toward God as the object of supernatural happiness; 4) they are known only through Divine revelation.  They are properly called virtues because they are dispositions to that which is according to nature, even if this nature is only attainted through a certain participation in God’s nature.[1]

sed contra. The Divine Law has precepts about the acts of faith, hope and love; the precepts of the Divine Law concern virtue.  Therefore, faith, hope, and charity are virtues directing us to God.  Therefore they are theological virtues.

respondeo.  There is a kind of happiness proportionate to human nature that can be obtained by a person’s natural principles.  There is also a happiness “surpassing man’s nature, and which man can obtain by the power of God alone, by a kind of participation of the Godhead, about which it is written (2 Pt 1:4) that by Christ we are made partakers of the Divine Nature” (ST I-II.62.1).  Natural principles will not suffice for this latter kind of happiness; God must give “additional principles, whereby he may be directed to supernatural happiness.”  These principles are called theological virtues both because they are “infused in us by God alone” and because they direct us “aright” to God as end (i.e. God is their object).  Furthermore, they are also called theological because they are only known through Divine revelation.

adversus. A thing may posses something by nature in two ways: 1) by it’s essential nature and 2) by participation.  Thus the theological virtue can properly be called “virtues” since they are dispositions of perfect things to that which is best, namely, that which is according to nature, as the Philosopher says.  For theological virtues are “proportionate to man in respect of the Nature of which he is made a partaker.” (ST I-II.62.ad.1)

These are called Divine virtues not because God is made virtuous by them, but because God makes us virtues by them and directs us to Himself. (ST I-II.62.ad.2)

Although man is directed to his first beginning and last end by his nature—his reason and will—these natural principles only allow man to attain to happiness in proportion to his nature; they are not sufficiently directed to God in so far as He is the object of supernatural happiness. (ST I-II.62.ad.3)

Theological Virtues are Distinct from Intellectual and Moral Virtues (ST I-II.62.2) 

IN SUM: Theological virtues are distinct from moral and intellectual virtues because habits are distinguished by their objects and because whatever surpasses a human’s natural capacities is distinct from that which is attainable according to human nature alone.

sed contra. Whatever surpasses human nature is distinct from whatever is according to that nature.

respondeo. Habits are distinguished by their objects and the object of theological virtues is God Himself, an end that surpasses the knowledge of [unaided] human reason.  Moral and intellectual virtues are comprehensible to [unaided] human reason.  Therefore the theological virtues are distinct from moral or intellectual virtues.

adversus.  Although wisdom is thought to be an intellectual virtue that directs humans to God, wisdom as defined by the Philosopher only considers Divine things insofar as “they are open to the research of human reason.  Theological virtue, on the other hand, is about those same things so far as they surpass human reason” (ST I-II.62.2.ad.2).

Augustine defines the cardinal virtues as “the order of love” (ST I-II.62.2.ob.3).  If Augustine is to be understood as referring to love “commonly so called, then each virtue is stated to be the order of love, in so far as each cardinal virtue requires ordinate emotions; and love is the root and cause of every emotion, as stated above” (Ibid.).  If Augustine is referring to the love of charity, we must take him to mean that “all other virtues depend on charity is some way” (Ibid.).  In either case, Augustine does not mean “every other virtue is charity essentially” (Ibid.).

“Though charity is love, yet love is not always charity” (ST I-II.62.2.ad.3).

Faith, Hope, and Charity are Fittingly Reckoned as Theological Virtues (ST I-II.62.3) 

IN SUM: Virtues direct a person to an end either with respect to human reason or human will.  Faith directs the human intellect to God and hope and charity direct the human will to God.  Thus they are fittingly seen as theological virtues and they direct humans “in the same way” as the other virtues.

sed contra. “The Apostle says (1 Cor. Xiii. 13): Now there remain faith, hope, charity, these three.”

respondeo. Theological virtues direct man “in the same way” the other virtues direct man—namely, “in respect of his reason” and “through the rectitude of the will which tends naturally to good as defined by reason” (ST I-II.62.3).  First the intellect receives supernatural principles held by a Divine light; these we call “the articles of faith.”  Secondly, “the will is directed to this end, both as to the movement of intention … [and this belongs to] hope, and as to a certain spiritual union, whereby the will is, so to speak, transformed into that end—and this belongs to charity” (Ibid.).

adversus. Faith and hope are imperfect inasmuch as “faith is of things unseen, and hope, of things not possessed” and yet “faith and hope in things which are above the capacity of human nature surpass all virtue that is in proportion to man, according to 1 Cor i. 25)” (ST I-II.62.3.ad.2).

There are three theological virtues instead of just two.  One might think there need only be one for the intellect and another for the will.  However, “two things pertain to the appetite, [namely] movement to the end, and conformity with the end by means of love.”  Therefore, with respect to the theological virtues we have one virtue for the intellect (faith) and two for the appetite (hope and charity). (ST I-II.62.3.ad.3).

In the Order of Generation, Faith precedes Hope and Charity (ST I-II.62.4) 

IN SUM: With respect to the generation of acts, a person cannot hope in or love something unless she first apprehends it by either the senses or the intellect.  Therefore faith, through which a person perceives the supernatural end, must precede hope and love.  Nevertheless, it is true that in the order of perfection, charity always precedes faith and hope because faith and hope are “quickened” by charity and thereby receive their perfection as virtues.

sed contra.  “The Apostle enumerates them thus (1 Cor. xiii. 13): Now there remain faith, hope, charity.”

respondeo There is the order of generation and the order of perfection.

In a subject faith must precede hope, and hope charity with respect to their acts (“because habits are all infused together”), “for the movement of the appetite cannot tend to anything, either by hoping or loving, unless that thing be apprehended by the sense or by the intellect” (ST I-II.62.4).  By faith the intellect apprehends the object of hope and charity, so it comes first.  Likewise a person loves something only if he apprehends it as his good.  If a person hopes to obtain this good through another person “for the very reason that a man hopes in someone, he proceeds to love him: so that in the order of generation, hope recedes charity as regards their respective acts” (Ibid.).

“But in order of perfection, charity precedes faith and hope: Because both faith and hope are quickened by charity, and received from charity their full complement as virtues.  For thus charity is the mother and the root of all the virtues, inasmuch as it is the form of them all, as we shall state further on” (Ibid.).

“Charity is the mother and the root of all the virtues” (ST I-II.62.4).

adversus When Augustine says that after believing and loving and doing good works, a person “ends in hoping” (ST I-II.62.4.ob.2), he is referring to hope in the meriting of eternal life, a hope already “quickened by and following charity” (ST I-II.62.4.ad.2).

Love is the principle of all emotions, and hope is a kind of emotion since it is a passion.  Thus it might seem that charity, which is love, precedes hope.  However, hope can regard its principle object (the good hoped for) or it can regard “the person from whom a man hopes to be able to obtain some good” (ST I-II.62.4.ad.3).  With respect to the principle object (the good hoped for) love always precedes hope: “for good is never hoped for unless it be desired and loved” (Ibid.).  With respect to the person one hopes in, hope precedes love because it is by reason of hope the person is loved and “from the fact that he loves him, he then hopes all the more in him” (Ibid.).  Thus “hope is increased by love” (Ibid.).

[1] This last point is the easiest to call into question: Is Aquinas saying the theological virtues fit Aristotle’s definition because by participation in God’s nature, the Divine nature becomes a part of human nature via participation?  If not, he seems to be defining virtues differently from Aristotle by equivocating on the word “nature.”  Aristotle did not intend by this word anything other than human nature.



  1. jcont says:

    Fine but from a practical point of view how does God gift man with faith, hope and charity? what does man need to do to be worthy of these gifts? sit still? or actually act?
    In my humble opinion the door to these gifts is opened by faithfulness. faithfulness to people, obligations and traditions (or heritage) Jn 8:31-32 “if you remain faithful to my word, you will be truly my disciples; thus you will know the truth and the truth will set you free”
    Knowing the truth (i.e. God, because God is truth personified) is really receiving the gift of faith. The freedom we attain allow us to aim for hope and charity too.
    It is still God who determines how and when to gift us with faith, hope and charity but we need to be worthy of these gifts, God will not gift a sinner for example.

  2. jcont,

    Your touching on a great topic. Is salvation about God’s grace causing us to be different or is it a combination of God’s grace and our own effort? Does God gift randomly or does he gift only those who are “worthy” of receiving his gift?

    I think questions like these are confusing because they fail to give the proper taxonomy. All human actions or effort that play a role in salvation are caused by grace. Faith is a gift from God, along with all the other fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, patience, peace, etc.). All these results and effects of the divine indwelling, so in the ultimate sense God himself is the gift of grace.

    If ultimately grace is just God himself dwelling in a person (and what we call “grace” refers to the effects of this indwelling or the fruits of the Spirit living within us) we can never be “worthy” of this gift, or if we in some sense or in any way can be considered worthy, it is only because His grace has caused us to be made worthy by indwelling us and causing us to be made holy. We could never be made worthy in any sense by any other means than grace. Grace comes first as the cause of all salvific acts of will or their exterior effects.

    Whereas you believe that “God will not gift a sinner,” I believe God gifts only sinners (who else is there to gift?).


  3. Vincent says:

    Hello Bradley I am Vincent and I am new to this blog so bare with me. I have a question to ask and that is do you know if there is a difference between Aquinas’s understanding of merit and modern day Roman Catholicisms’? I also want to know what the other differences are between Aquinas’s salvation views and modern Romes’?

  4. Fran says:

    If virtues are “habits of good actions” and habits are habitus – “predispositions to act with ease” – acquired by repetition, how is it that the theological virtues are called “virtues,” that is, if they are infused, how are they “acquired by repetition?” Are they not a third kind of habitus, an infused habitus, not virtues?

  5. Fran – Exactly. Theological virtues are not acquired by repetition, but by infusion. Virtues are dispositions to act, not actions. I think a “habitus” is not the same thing as an action in Aquinas, it’s a disposition (like an internal habit).

  6. Vincent VAN DER WEERDEN says:

    “The Eastern Orthodox came to define tradition as the whole of the church’s witness, based on Scripture, but expressed chiefly in the seven ecumenical councils, the writings of the fathers, and liturgical worship… During most of the Middle Ages, the Western view differed only slightly, placing somewhat greater emphasis upon written Scripture as fundamental and an ever-increasing emphasis upon the papacy (rather than councils) as the normative spokesman of apostolic tradition. But in the fourteenth century the realization that certain doctrines…could not be proved even remotely from Scripture, together with theologians’ increased sophistication about their sources, inspired several of them to posit tradition as a separate, unwritten source, handed down by apostolic succession, especially through an infallible papacy. The Protestant revolt…transformed this view, despite protests, into the church’s official position at the Council of Trent: The truths and discipline of the gospel are contained in written Scripture and unwritten traditions given to the Church by Christ or the Spirit through the apostles, and both deserve equal respect” (Baker Books, c. 1984, p. 1105).

    On Sat, May 25, 2013 at 12:09 AM, “T h e o p h i l o g u e” wrote:

    > ** > T h e o p h i l o g u e commented: “Fran – Exactly. Theological > virtues are not acquired by repetition, but by infusion. Virtues are > dispositions to act, not actions. I think a “habitus” is not the same thing > as an action in Aquinas, it’s a disposition (like an internal habit).” >

  7. Fran Rohlf says:

    As I understand Aquinas, a habitus is a disposition to act with ease; a habit (in contrast to instinct, for example) is a disposition to act with ease that comes by repetition and a virtue is a good habit. That leads to my problem.

  8. Fran – But for Aquinas the theological virtues are infused. That means they are instantaneously acquired by grace – not by repetition of actions. Does that solve your problem?

  9. Fran Rohlf says:

    Yes. That is what is confusing. They would seem to be more infused habitus and only “virtues” by analogy.

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