Change the Model, Change the Virtue, by Randall Smith

Christ Provides the Antidote to Fear Amid Coronavirus, by Sue Ellen Browder
March 25, 2020
Pope Believes Chinese Virus Is Nature’s Wrath, by Kristine Christlieb
March 25, 2020

*Image: The Cardinal Virtues by Robinet Testard, c. 1510 [Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris]. This image illuminated a treatise by François Desmoulins de Rochefort, tutor to the French king, François I.

By Randall Smith, The Catholic Thing, March 25, 2020

Randall B. Smith is a tenured Full Professor of Theology. His book Reading the Sermons of Thomas Aquinas: A Guidebook for Beginners is available from Emmaus Press. And his book Aquinas, Bonaventure, and the Scholastic Culture at Paris: Preaching, Prologues, and Biblical Commentary is due out from Cambridge University Press in the fall.

Note: Pope Francis has asked all the Christians of the world, and others so inclined, to join him in saying the Our Father at noon Rome time, 7 AM East Coast time in America, for the rapid resolution of the coronavirus crisis. His public prayer should be available for viewing on the Vatican’s video live stream at the Vatican website. – RR


Randall Smith

Many Catholics have heard of the four cardinal virtues: Prudence (or Wisdom), Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance. There are also the three “theological” virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love. But for now, I wish to focus on the classic four.  I want to suggest that, when we try to embody those virtues in our lives, much depends on whom we take to be the model of that virtue.

There are many ways in which any particular virtue can be expressed.  A judge can be just or not just, but so can a teacher, mother, or shop owner.  A soldier can be brave or not brave, but so can a patient before surgery or a young adult going for a job interview.  What Christians ought to consider is the person they envision themselves imitating when they envision a particular virtue.  This question is by no means original to me.  It is one that the Fathers and Doctors of the Church dealt with repeatedly.

Let’s say the virtue needed is temperance. There’s a certain kind of temperance needed if you would become Aristotle’s “magnanimous man,” able to dole out the right benefits in the right amount, neither overspending nor being cheap.  This is not an unimportant virtue, especially if you have the resources to benefit others and finance public goods.  ….

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