In the ascent towards holiness and happiness, a Catholic man must build the good habits (Virtue, from the Latin, vir, meaning “manliness, moral strength, goodness, valor”) of the moral life and break the bad habits (Vice, from the Latin, vitium, meaning “defect, offense, blemish, imperfection”) which cause him to fall into sin and risk losing his salvation. The Church provides a comprehensive list of Virtues which fall into two major categories: Theological Virtues (Supernatural) and Cardinal Virtues (Human). 

Because it is impossible for a mere man ascend to Heaven on his own ability, God grants every Catholic man the supernatural help to grow in Virtue through the Gifts of the Holy Spirit which are freely available to every Catholic man who remains in a state of grace; even if a Catholic man falls into mortal sin and loses the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, he can repent, confess his sins in the Sacrament of Penance and return to a state of grace and regain access to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. 

Virtues, Vices and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit 

To grow in holiness and to receive the happiness Jesus promises, the Holy Catholic Church teaches men about Virtues, Vices and how the Gifts of the Holy Spirit help a man. 

The Definition of Virtue

The Catechism of the Catholic Church confirms the definition of virtues:  “A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions” (CCC 1803). 

A virtue is a good habit. Habits are built by deliberate practice of specific acts until they become automatic. Like building any habit, building a virtue is the result of numerous small, repeated and sustained good and holy acts to the point where a man’s automatic response is to consistently do the good in any circumstance. Virtues are built by practice, practice, practice.

Virtues are summarized in The Catechism and are presented in two basic categories: Cardinal Virtues (Human) and Theological Virtues (Spiritual). The four Cardinal Virtues are Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude. The three Theological Virtues are Faith, Hope and Charity. 

The Definition of Vice

Vices are described in the Glossary of The Catechism as “A habit acquired by repeated sin in violation of the proper norms of human morality. The vices are often linked with the seven capital sins. Repentance for sin and confession may restore grace to a soul, but the removal of the ingrained disposition to sin or vice requires much effort and self-denial, until the contrary virtue is acquired.”

Vices are bad habits which delay or stop a man from growing in holiness by the embrace of sinful acts and the failure to perform holy acts (CCC 1865). Like other habits, Vices are built by small acts of sin that are repeated, over and over. Vices are built by practice, practice, practice.

One long-held common summary of the Vices are The Seven Capital/Deadly Sins which, through a failure to reject sinful acts and by repetition, become vices (bad habits) which predispose a man to continue to sin: Pride, Avarice/Greed, Envy, Wrath, Lust, Gluttony, and Acedia/Sloth (CCC 1866); these are called “Capital” for once a man has the vice/bad habit of these sins, he falls pray to all sorts of other sins (e.g. Greed can lead to theft, murder, etc.).  

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit

For those who are blessed to receive the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Baptism, the Holy Spirit graciously grants The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit as supernatural powers from God to help a man grow in the Virtues and battle against Vices. Traditionally, each of The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit offer special supernatural help which correspond to the seven core Virtues (four Cardinal Virtues and three Theological Virtues) as described below.

The Cardinal (Human) Virtues

Human Virtues were first described by the Greeks (including Aristotle) and given their fuller meaning by the Church (St. Thomas Aquinas). Human Virtues are, “firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good.  The moral virtues are acquired by human effort. They are the fruit and seed of morally good acts; they dispose all the powers of the human being for communion with divine love” (CCC 1804).

The Cardinal (Latin, cardinalis, meaning “principle, chief, essential”) Virtues are the four major human virtues under which all other sub-virtues can be organized: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance. In summary, the logic of the Cardinal Virtues can be remembered by considering how man achieves some noble goal: 1) Prudently set a goal, 2) act with Justice in the pursuit of the goal, 3) have the Fortitude to endure hardship, and 4) practice Temperance to avoid falling prey to obstacles/distractions. 

The Virtue of Prudence

Prudence is called the “charioteer” of the Cardinal Virtues because it is the virtue that allows a man to observe, analyze, choose, and implement a strategy or action to accomplish a goal. 

The Virtue of Justice

Justice is the virtue which helps set the overall way of living a righteous/just man seeks to live his life, always seeking to “give each their proper due” as he seeks to accomplish his mission. 

The Virtue of Fortitude

Fortitude is a virtue which strengthens a man to firmly persevere to achieve great things despite various challenges by circumstances or opposition by others. 

The Virtue of Temperance

Temperance is a virtue by which a man exerts self-control so the various pleasures and temptations of life do not stop him from achieving his mission.

The Theological Virtues

The Theological Virtues “are the foundation of Christian moral activity; they animate it and give it its special character. They inform and give life to all the moral virtues. They are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as His children and of meriting eternal life. They are the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the faculties of the human being…” (CCC 1813).

The Theological Virtues “relate directly to God. They dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity. They have the One and Triune God for their origin, motive, and object…” (CCC 1812) and support with the blessing of supernatural graces to allow a man to grow in the human virtues so as to be more and more conform his thoughts, words and deeds to Christ. 

The Theological (Latin, theologia, meaning, “the study of God”) Virtues are the supernaturally endowed virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity,  under which all other sub-virtues can be organized. In summary, the logic of the Theological Virtues ascend in understanding, conversion, and conformance of one’s life to God and His Holy Catholic Church: 

The Virtue of Faith

Faith is a theological virtue which is a gift from God that allows a man to believe in, and say “yes” to God and His Holy Catholic Church and launches and sustains a man throughout his remaining life to continue on the path to Heaven by seeking to draw ever closer to God, battle against sin, and love others; Faith protects a man from turning away from God and His Holy Catholic Church in disbelief. 

The Virtue of Hope

Hope is the second Theological Virtue which is a gift from God that allows a man to have an unbending trust in God and His promises of salvation and the eternal beatitude of Heaven, protecting him against despair or placing his trust in the world instead of God. 

The Virtue of Charity

Charity is the third and most important Theological Virtue which is a gift from God that allows a man to continually put Faith and Hope into concrete action by seeking to love God and neighbor in all his thoughts, words and deeds, protecting him against falling into selfish and hateful acts. 

See the Master Chart: Vice, Virtue and Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit