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Fortitude (painting by Giotto)

A virtue is an action, personality type, or character trait widely accepted to be wholesome and ideal in nature. Examples of virtues are: Honesty, Respect, Trustworthiness, Empathy and Chivalry. A virtuous person is one who strives for high moral standards.


St Paul identified the three greatest virtues as faith, hope and love[1] (or charity – the word caritas can be translated either way). In Christian tradition, these are often known as the three theological virtues, and listed alongside four other cardinal virtues:

There is no express biblical basis for the cardinal virtues, although they can be found in the apocrypha in Wisdom 8:7.[3] Together with the three theological virtues, this gives a total of seven virtues to match the Seven Deadly Sins; contrasting portrayals of the sins and virtues are common in religious art.

Before the twentieth century, a common meaning of "virtue" was a euphemism for virginity. This usage is common in the writings of Shakespeare and many other pre-modern authors.

Virtues may be divided into intellectual virtues, moral virtues, and theological virtues.

Intellectual virtues

Intellectual virtue may be defined as a habit perfecting the intellect. There are two intellectual virtues:

  • Art, the right method with regard to external productions (recta ratio factibilium)
  • Prudence, the right method of conduct (recta ratio agibilium)

Moral virtues

Moral virtues are those which perfect the appetitive faculties of the soul, namely, the will and the sensuous appetite.


Justice, an essentially moral virtue, regulates man in relations with his fellow-men. Justice may be divided into annexed virtues:

  • Religion, which regulates man in his relations to God
  • Piety, which disposes to the fulfillment of duties which one owes to parents and country (also patriotism)
  • Gratitude, which inclines one to recognition of benefits received
  • Liberality, which restrains the immoderate affection for wealth from withholding seasonable gifts or expenses
  • Affability, by which one is suitably adapted to his fellow-men in social intercourse so as to behave toward each appropriately


Temperance is that moral virtue which moderates, in accordance with reason, the desires and pleasures of the sensuous appetite attendant on those acts by which human nature is preserved in the individual or propagated in the species. The subordinate species of temperance are:

  • Abstinence, which disposes to moderation in the use of food
  • Sobriety, which inclines to moderation in the use of spirituous liquors
  • Chastity, which regulates the appetite in regard to sexual pleasures

The virtues annexed to temperance are:

  • Continence, which restrains the will from consenting to violent movements or concupiscence
  • Humility, which restrains inordinate desires of one's own excellence
  • Meekness, which checks inordinate movements of anger
  • Modesty, which consists in duly ordering the external movements of anger; to the direction of reason


Fortitude, which implies a certain moral strength and courage, is the virtue by which one meets and sustains dangers and difficulties, even death itself. The virtues annexed to fortitude are:

  • Patience, which disposes us to bear present evils with equanimity
  • Munificence, which disposes one to incur great expenses for the suitable doing of a great work
  • Magnanimity is the virtue which regulates man with regard to honors. The magnanimous man aims at great works in every line of virtue, making it his purpose to do things worthy of great honor
  • Perseverance, the virtue which disposes to continuance in the accomplishment of good works in spite of the difficulties attendant upon them

Theological virtues

The theological virtues are three:

  • Faith is an infused virtue, by which the intellect is perfected by a supernatural light, in virtue of which, under a supernatural movement of the will, it assents firmly to the supernatural truths of Revelation, not on the motive of intrinsic evidence, but on the sole ground of the infallible authority of God revealing
  • Hope which allow us to trust, with an unshaken confidence grounded on the Divine assistance, to attain life everlasting
  • Charity is that theological virtue, by which God, our ultimate end, known by supernatural light, is loved by reason of His own intrinsic goodness or amiability, and our neighbor loved on account of God

Opposition to Virtue

  • Wojtyla says that many people devalue the virtues in order to excuse themselves from having to live by a higher standard. Since they don't want to make the effort to change, they treat the virtues lightheartedly or even openly attack them in order to justify their own lack of moral character. "Resentment . . . not only distorts the features of the good but devalues that which rightly deserves respect so that man need not struggle to raise himself to the level of the true good, but can 'light-heartedly' recognize as good only what suits him, what is convenient and comfortable to him" (p. 144).[4]

See also