What is Virtue and Why is it Essential?

Written By: Owen Bender

Teacher: Fr. Noah Bushelli

Class: Catechism Level 6

Issue: Set to Appear in the April 2020 Issue of the Newsletter

What is virtue? It is questions like these that the most brilliant minds try to answer in full and
fail. It’s simple and straightforward, but it addresses something so complex that we could dwell on it for
centuries and still have more to think about. This said, these few paragraphs will simply cover a basic
outline for the best way to think about virtue.

To begin with, what type of thing is virtue? The well-known Greek philosopher Aristotle, in his
book Nichomachean Ethics, put it like this; everything involved with the soul is either an emotion, a
capacity, or a state of being. Virtue can’t be emotion, because emotions in and of themselves aren’t
good or bad-only how they are triggered and how we act on them. They certainly aren’t capacities, since
anyone can become capable of doing good or bad things but never do them. So a virtue is a state of
being.

But the question is, what state of being? Aristotle called virtue “ a balance of vice.” Proof of this
is found in Proverbs 11:1-“A false balance is an abomination before the lord, but a just weight is pleasing
to him.” If this doesn’t make sense to you, think of it like an archery game, and virtue as the bull’s-eye.
One can aim too far to the right or left; these are alternative vices-for example, hoarding to much
money stingily, and spending it carelessly whenever you want. There are an infinite number of
directions in which you can miss the target (or the devil can tempt you away from the righteous path).
But virtue is the state of being in which your bow is aimed dead ahead, and thus your arrow will hit the
mark.

This brings up another topic-virtuous action. If we are to continue the metaphor, this is firing an
arrow and hitting the target. But don’t get confused; virtuous actions are not virtuous character. As we
have said, virtue is not a capacity, so someone may be able to do something in accordance with a virtue,
but have to push themselves to do so. Or, perhaps, they had an ulterior motive. Doing what is right
simply because we are told to is not enough. Think of growing in a virtue like exercising a muscle; you
can go lift a dumbbell, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you have strong arms. But if you keep lifting
heavy weights every day, you grow stronger. Eventually, it is becomes easier to lift a given amount of
weight, and you can begin to lift something heavier.

The thing about progressing in virtue is that you can keep growing stronger and stronger. There
is no, “Okay, I have reached perfection as far as a human being can achieve, I can stop now.” The truth
is, we are all flawed. There is absolutely no way for us to earn a place by God’s side in heaven, and yet
he is so merciful that he grants one to us anyway. We will never be able to imagine the depth of his
Love, and we can only begin to comprehend how we can be righteous in God’s eyes with attaining true perfection.

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