The Theological Virtues

“The theological virtues of faith hope and love are infused in us by God.” (1)

Preface

Moments after my husband died, I phoned my sister.

“Did you open a window?”, she asked.

“I’m opening it now.”

Five years later, when my sister lay dead in a hospice room, I made sure a window was open. It was comforting to think that I was obeying her wish.

Now, I am sequestered by the Covid pandemic, missing the few activities that still had remained in my retired life, and I wonder why that window-opening custom was so reassuring. After all, quantum physics claims that fundamental particles, can penetrate walls, and what could be more fundamental than the stuff of souls?

Why do I believe that human beings have immortal souls, anyway? Is my belief in God, and that we are made in the image of God, just wishful thinking because I fear death?

This essay is my attempt to address questions like these. I think the answers lie in what God has infused in us, i.e. the three theological virtues.

Faith

We use at least a modicum of faith everyday. We readily fall back on trust when making small decisions because we have better things to do than to examine all proofs of advertising claims. We also trust that civic ordinances and laws were instituted for our good. We believe, or at least hope, that if we are fooled, our trust can and eventually will, be tested by consequences, and the perpetrators will be exposed.

We also tend to have faith/trust in various professionals since none of us can be experts in every field. We take advice from known experts, providing they have good credentials, and we can (if we take the time) question their reasoning. But can our faith in God be justified only after death? Here are some sources that to me are some justification for theism even now:

We have the testimony, consistency and perseverance of saints, some of whom were willing to suffer and die rather than denounce their faith. We also have the writings of theologians, who give us reasoned dialogs, and we have the Scriptures, which many profess are God’s words to us. Most compelling to me, we know of faithful people personally, who show by their actions and words that they live by God’s precepts, and although they recognize that God is above and beyond the world as we know it, they profess that His “peace surpasses all understanding” (2).

Hope

If we lose hope we cease to live because we fall into despair. That was the cardinal sin of Judas Iscariot. If he had only reached out to Christ, he would have been forgiven and thereby given all of us, myriads of subsequent sinners, an extra dose of undying hope. When we stop hoping we stop working for change and consequently all the worst things we can imagine can happen. All I can say is, thank God for Hope.

Love

Even the most fervent unbelievers in God acknowledge the unique importance of love. Some maintain that this feeling is only the result of evolution because it aids survival and reproduction (Favoring selected individuals has value because it aids the tribe, whose members are genetically related.) But this seems difficult to use in explaining altruism, showered on distant tribes or even on different species. Utilitarian thinking can’t explain why we love beauty in nature and in art, architecture, music and words. We love certain people for their inner beauty, for what they say and do, for the ideas they pass on, and for their reaching out to make the world happy and healthy for everyone.

When I was an undergraduate, the priest in charge of the Newman Club told us a story of a very poor family he knew that lived in another country. The mother hung up on the wall of her little hut, a bright photo of a red tomato that she cut out from the label on a soup can. That little bit of beauty made her family smile. So it is with everything beautiful we see, hear or understand.

Love is a feeling we can’t define, but It is something we profoundly need. It motivates us to do things that have no apparent purpose. Evidence for this has been found in all human societies: Ever since people have buried their dead, they made decorations, the earliest of which survive as images on cave walls and by carvings in stone and bone. No such evidence has been found in non-human constructions. Admirable animal dwellings, such as beehives, always have important uses and are never just decoration. Even the elaborate and colorful bowers are built by some birds only to attract mates.

It is often said that God is Love. We can’t really explain either completely.

Conclusion

“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (3)

Beginnings of faith, hope and love, are pivotal graces that are scattered on all people by God. The parable of the Sower is found in all three of the synoptic gospels (4). In it God’s graces/ gifts (His words) are called seeds, with all the potential that image implies. God’s seeds need be be nurtured. We must work to make our hearts fertile soil and keep watering and guarding God’s teachings. Good actions/efforts, reasoning, prayers and the sustaining energy of the sacraments are needed to make them grow. Otherwise they will stay dormant like dried seeds.

1. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologies q. 63, art. 1-2
2. St Paul, Philiphians 4:7pms
3. St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:13
4. Mark 4: 1-20; Matthew 13: 1-23 and Luke 8: 4-15

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