The German writer Josef Pieper (d 1997) described our supernatural life as having three main currents. First, we have knowledge of God surpassing what we can know about Him naturally because He reveals it to us (faith). Next, we live by the patient expectation that what we believe God promises will indeed be fulfilled (hope). Then, there is our response of love of the God whom we come to know by faith as well as love for neighbour (charity).
Speaking of these currents, Holy Church’s traditional, Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite speaks to us of the theological virtues in the Collect for this 13th Sunday after Pentecost:
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, da nobis fidei, spei et caritatis augmentum: et, ut mereamur assequi quod promittis, fac nos amare quod praecipis.
Literal rendering: “Almighty eternal God, grant us an increase of faith, hope and charity, and cause us to love what You command so that we may merit to attain what You promise.”
Natural virtues are acquired through education and discipline. The theological virtues faith, hope and charity are given to us by God. They perfect and elevate everything virtuous which man might do naturally. Considered one at a time, charity is the greatest of the three, followed by hope and then faith. However, St Augustine (d 430) says: “There is no love without hope, no hope without love, and neither love nor hope without faith” (enchir 8). They are woven together.
The goal of the virtuous life, as we read in Catechism of the Catholic Church 1803, is to become like God. “The practice of all the virtues is animated and inspired by charity, which ‘binds everything together in perfect harmony’ ” (1827). Living the theological virtues concretely reveals in us the image of God and the grace He gives to His adopted children.
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