Anyone exposed to the media and politicians in America has a real good idea that something is terribly wrong. Partisan bickering seems to dominate the media stories as if the reality we face isn't bad enough. Obama blames Bush for everything wrong. Then he blames Republicans for doing nothing when the Democrats control everything and don't even need the Republicans.
The Democrats blame the Republicans for being obstructionists while the Republicans blame the Democrats for not including them in back room deals. All the while the media grovel for stories that incite the hatred and drama so they can beat each other in the ratings. Of course Obama blames Congress for not doing enough while Congress blames the White House for never taking a stand.
What we have is a classic stalemate in chess terms. What happens in a stalemate? No one wins. That leaves it up to the people to sort through the barrage of claims and counter claims, through the greed and corruption, through the lies and half truths in order to make some sense of where we stand and where we are going. It also means the politicians in Washington, the executives on Wall Street, the bosses in the union headquarters and the media in their ivory towers are all lost in the storm.
What does a captain of a ship do when facing a storm? Preparation and patience, combined with faith, strength and hope will always help you make it through the storm and tomorrow will always be there to reward your courage, strength and faith. In times like these when the truth is elusive and our leaders are paralyzed, when ethics and morality seem gone from governing, and when self-preservation dominates the common good it helps to remember the old ways.
In the ancient teachings of the Catholic Church through the works of theologians St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas and dating all the way back to the ancient Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle, long before the time of Jesus, good and evil was defined by the Seven Cardinal Virtues and the Seven Deadly Sins.
It would do us well in this time of a crisis of confidence and moral corruption to remember the Seven Cardinal Virtues and Seven Deadly Sins whether you are Catholic or not as they were an inspiration to the Christian founders of our great nation. It also would not hurt to see if you are living the virtues and rejecting the sins and apply the same standards to our candidates for public office.
The Cardinal Virtues
Four virtues play a pivotal role and accordingly are called "cardinal"; all the others are grouped around them. They are: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. "If anyone loves righteousness, [Wisdom's] labors are virtues; for she teaches temperance and prudence, justice, and courage." These virtues are praised under other names in many passages of Scripture.
Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; "the prudent man looks where he is going. Keep sane and sober for your prayers." Prudence is "right reason in action," writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle. It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.
Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the "virtue of religion." Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor. "You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven."
Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause. "The Lord is my strength and my song. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will's mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion: "Do not follow your inclination and strength, walking according to the desires of your heart." Temperance is often praised in the Old Testament: "Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites." In the New Testament it is called "moderation" or "sobriety." We ought "to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world."
The Theological Virtues
The human virtues are rooted in the theological virtues, which adapt man's faculties for participation in the divine nature: for 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.
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. There are three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity.
Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself. By faith "man freely commits his entire self to God." For this reason the believer seeks to know and do God's will. "The righteous shall live by faith." Living faith "work[s] through charity."
The gift of faith remains in one who has not sinned against it. But "faith apart from works is dead": when it is deprived of hope and love, faith does not fully unite the believer to Christ and does not make him a living member of his Body.
The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it: "All however must be prepared to confess Christ before men and to follow him along the way of the Cross, amidst the persecutions which the Church never lacks." Service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation: "So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven."
Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ's promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. The Holy Spirit, he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life."
The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men's activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.
Christian hope takes up and fulfills the hope of the chosen people which has its origin and model in the hope of Abraham, who was blessed abundantly by the promises of God fulfilled in Isaac, and who was purified by the test of the sacrifice. "Hoping against hope, he believed, and thus became the father of many nations."
Christian hope unfolds from the beginning of Jesus' preaching in the proclamation of the beatitudes. The beatitudes raise our hope toward heaven as the new Promised Land; they trace the path that leads through the trials that await the disciples of Jesus. But through the merits of Jesus Christ and of his Passion, God keeps us in the "hope that does not disappoint." Hope is the "sure and steadfast anchor of the soul . . . that enters . . . where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf." Hope is also a weapon that protects us in the struggle of salvation: "Let us . . . put on the breastplate of faith and charity, and for a helmet the hope of salvation." It affords us joy even under trial: "Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation." Hope is expressed and nourished in prayer, especially in the Our Father, the summary of everything that hope leads us to desire.
We can therefore hope in the glory of heaven promised by God to those who love him and do his will. In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere "to the end" and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God's eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ. In hope, the Church prays for "all men to be saved." She longs to be united with Christ, her Bridegroom, in the glory of heaven:
Hope, O my soul, hope. You know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain, and turns a very short time into a long one. Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end.
Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.
Jesus makes charity the new commandment. By loving his own "to the end," he makes manifest the Father's love which he receives. By loving one another, the disciples imitate the love of Jesus which they themselves receive. Whence Jesus says: "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love." And again: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."
Fruit of the Spirit and fullness of the Law, charity keeps the commandments of God and his Christ: "Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love."
Christ died out of love for us, while we were still "enemies." The Lord asks us to love as he does, even our enemies, to make ourselves the neighbor of those farthest away, and to love children and the poor as Christ himself.
The Apostle Paul has given an incomparable depiction of charity: "charity is patient and kind, charity is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Charity does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Charity bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."102
"If I . . . have not charity," says the Apostle, "I am nothing." Whatever my privilege, service, or even virtue, "if I . . . have not charity, I gain nothing." Charity is superior to all the virtues. It is the first of the theological virtues: "So faith, hope, charity abide, these three. But the greatest of these is charity."
The practice of all the virtues is animated and inspired by charity, which "binds everything together in perfect harmony"; it is the form of the virtues; it articulates and orders them among themselves; it is the source and the goal of their Christian practice. Charity upholds and purifies our human ability to love, and raises it to the supernatural perfection of divine love.
The practice of the moral life animated by charity gives to the Christian the spiritual freedom of the children of God. He no longer stands before God as a slave, in servile fear, or as a mercenary looking for wages, but as a son responding to the love of him who "first loved us":
If we turn away from evil out of fear of punishment, we are in the position of slaves. If we pursue the enticement of wages, . . . we resemble mercenaries. Finally if we obey for the sake of the good itself and out of love for him who commands . . . we are in the position of children.
The fruits of charity are joy, peace, and mercy; charity demands beneficence and fraternal correction; it is benevolence; it fosters reciprocity and remains disinterested and generous; it is friendship and communion: Love is itself the fulfillment of all our works. There is the goal; that is why we run: we run toward it, and once we reach it, in it we shall find rest.
The Gifts and Fruits of The Holy Spirit
The moral life of Christians is sustained by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These are permanent dispositions which make man docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David. They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations.
Let your good spirit lead me on a level path.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God . . . If children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.
The fruits of the Spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory. The tradition of the Church lists twelve of them: "charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity."
Beginning in the early 14th-century, the popularity of depicting the Seven Deadly Sins by artists of the time ingrained them in western popular consciousness. The Italian poet ante Alighieri (1265-1321 C.E.), wrote three epic poems (known collectively as the Divine Comedy) titled Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. In his book Inferno, Dante recounts the visions he has in a dream in which he enters and descends into Hell. According to Dante, he is told by his guide that a soul's location in Hell is based upon the sins that they commit when they are alive. In each 'ring' of hell, a specific punishment is doled out. As they descend lower and lower, the punishments (and consequently sins) become worse and worse until he reaches the bottom and discovers Satan. In Inferno, Dante encounters these sins in the following order (canto number): Lust (5), Gluttony (6), Avarice (7), Wrath (7-8), Heresy (10), Violence (12-17), Blasphemy (14), Fraud (18-30), and Treachery (32-34).
The Seven Deadly sins are listed today as follows:
Lust (Latin, luxuria)
Lust (fornication, perversion) —
Obsessive, unlawful depraved thought, or unnatural desire for sexual excitement, such as desiring sex with a person outside marriage or engaging in unnatural sexual appetites. Rape and sodomy are considered to be extreme lust and are said to be mortal sins. Dante's criterion was "excessive love of others," thereby detracting from the love due to God. Lust prevents clarity of thought and rational behavior.
Gluttony (Latin, gula)
Gluttony (waste, overindulgence) —
Thoughtless waste of everything, overindulgence, misplaced sensuality, uncleanliness, and maliciously depriving others. Marked by refusal to share and unreasonable consumption of more than is necessary, especially food or water. Destruction, especially for sport. Substance abuse or binge drinking. Dante explains it as "excessive love of pleasure".
Avarice (Latin, avaritia)
Greed (treachery, avarice) —
A strong desire to gain, especially in money or power. Disloyalty, deliberate betrayal, or treason, especially for personal gain or when compensated. Scavenging and hoarding of materials or objects. Theft and robbery by violence. Simony is the evolution of avarice because it fills you with the urge to make money by selling things within the confines of the church. This sin is abhorred by the Catholic Church and is seen as a sin of malice. Dante included this sin in his first novel. Simony can be viewed as betrayal. Thomas Aquinas on greed: "it is a sin against God, just as all mortal sins, in as much as man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things."
Sloth (Latin, acedia)
Sloth (apathy, indifference) —
Apathy, idleness, and wastefulness of time. Laziness is particularly condemned because others must work harder to make up for it. Cowardice or irresponsibility. Abandonment, especially of God. Dante wrote that sloth is the "failure to love God with all one's heart, all one's mind and all one's soul".
Wrath (Latin, ira)
Wrath (anger, hatred) —
Inappropriate (unrighteous) feelings of hatred and anger. Denial of the truth to others or self. Impatience or revenge outside of justice. Wishing to do evil or harm to others. Self-righteousness. Wrath is the root of murder and assault. Dante described wrath as "love of justice perverted to revenge and spite".
Envy (Latin, invidia)
Envy (jealousy, malice) —
Grieving spite and resentment of material objects, accomplishments, or character traits of others, or wishing others to fail or come to harm. Envy is the root of theft and self-loathing. Dante defined this as "love of one's own good perverted to a desire to deprive other men of theirs".
Pride (Latin, superbia)
Pride (vanity, narcissism) —
A desire to be more important or attractive to others, failing to give credit due to others, or excessive love of self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God). Dante's definition was "love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one's neighbor". In Jacob Bidermann's medieval miracle play, Cenodoxus, superbia is the deadliest of all the sins and leads directly to the damnation of the famed Doctor of Paris, Cenodoxus. Pride was what sparked the fall of Lucifer from Heaven. Vanity and narcissism are good examples of these sins and they often lead to the destruction of the sinner, for instance by the wanton squandering of money and time on themselves without caring about others. Pride can be seen as the misplacement of morals.
In the original classification, Pride was considered to be the 'deadliest' of all sins, and was the father of all sins. This relates directly to Christian philosophy and the story of Lucifer as told in the Bible. Lucifer, the highest angel in heaven, surrendered to the sin of pride and demanded that the other angels worship him. This being a violation of God's will, Lucifer and his followers were cast from heaven.
Our forefathers talked of the need for all Christians to continually work to master the Cardinal Virtues and to eliminate the Deadly Sins. It was a lifelong dedication. The results of such perseverance were the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Would we not do well to do the same? These are the standards that created America, they are the foundation to preserve America. Live them and demand the same from our elected officials.
Thanks to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and New World Encyclopedia for guidance in this article.