Recalling the Virtues During the Season of Lent
REMNANT COLUMNIST, Idaho
“The life of man requires to be regulated by the virtues with regard
--St. Thomas Aquinas, (Summ. Theo. II-II, 160, 1)
XXIII described the primary aim of the Second Vatican Council in his
Opening Speech of October 11, 1962, when he said, “The greatest concern
of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian
doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously. That doctrine
embraces the whole of man, composed as he is of body and soul. And,
since he is a pilgrim on earth, it commands him to tend always toward
heaven.” Three things may be noted in this statement of the originator
of the council, (1) the Deposit of Faith must be guarded and promulgated
better, (2) the perfection of man concerns both the spiritual and
physical aspects of his person, and (3) man is called to save his soul.
The successful implementation of the first and third items of this list
have been analyzed and debated in this and other Catholic periodicals
for almost forty-three years.
Interestingly, not that much attention has been given to the second goal
that the pope proposed that fall morning. Scholarship and critical
commentary have largely ignored the perfection of man, body and soul.
Though educational enthusiasts have made much noise about the formation
of the “whole person”, little practical guidance has been offered to
assist this aim. Sure, there have been a few critiques of the error
known as “personalism”. Nevertheless, a whole new anthropology has been
foisted on the Church. What is worse, this has come about by way of the
adoption of a new philosophy that embraces categories hitherto foreign
in the Catholic vocabulary. In particular, “values” and the “inherent
dignity” of natural man have replaced the principles of the good and the
perfectibility of the created order. In sum, the result of this post-conciliar
“new man” has been the invention of a most eccentric “theology of the
body” along with the suppression of the traditional, realistic
understanding of man’s actual development in body and soul.
This development is properly accomplished by the work of virtue, which
is the dismissed handmaid of the modern era. Indeed, all of the
operations of man, both his corporeal actions and his spiritual powers,
are regulated and perfected by way of virtue. Catholics who take
seriously their fidelity to Tradition will do well to consider that the
entire human life can be summed up in the goal of receiving grace and
acquiring virtue in all things. From giving glory to God, to perfecting
himself and saving his soul; from pursuing happiness and beatitude, to
serving the common good of the Church, the social order and his family;
all things depend on the life of grace and the practice of virtue.
If man will perfect himself in body and soul, as Pope John challenged,
he should recall what it means to be a “man”. It must be remembered that
man has a single, complex nature that is at one and the same time both
physical and spiritual. In our age we have forgotten this. Furthermore,
we have forgotten how to live rightly and perfect our complex nature.
Our anthropological amnesia is manifest in so many ways. For instance,
most Catholics have attained little to no intellectual virtue. These are
the truths apprehended by the intellect. How many Catholics today know
even the simple answers from the Catechism including “God is spirit
infinitely perfect” or “Man is a creature composed of body and soul, and
made to the image and likeness of God”?
Additionally, the wills of Catholics are largely unfortified and
misdirected with regard to the higher moral virtues. We see this in
spades with the practice of the virtue of religion, a relative to the
cardinal virtue of justice. Ubiquitous is the impious participation of
the faithful at Sunday and daily liturgies where their manifest
ignorance of the sacrifice of the Mass is demonstrated in the mundane,
self-congratulatory motions and songs that dominate modern worship. By
and large, most Catholics today do not will to offer along with the
priest the unblemished, eternal sacrifice of the Incarnate Word of God
for their sins and the sins of the world.
Finally, where the lower bodily passions and emotions used to be kept in
check through reverent bodily postures in Church, as well as the
regular, year-round mortifications of periodic fasts and the Friday
abstinence: now gyrating navels sway to the beat of the guitar and drum;
while overfed adolescents may be seen chewing gum in the communion line.
More than ever, Catholics today are in need of developing an
understanding of the virtues that regulate the various aspects of man.
In order to do this, we must first form a proper understanding of what
man is. Since man is a rational animal, we can distinguish groups of
virtue that correspond to the parts of his soul and his body.
Very simply, we see three forms of virtue that perfect three fundamental
aspects of man:
Man’s intellect, a spiritual faculty, is perfected by the
intellectual virtues, where truths are attained and reside in the soul
Man’s free will, another spiritual faculty, is perfected by the higher
moral virtues which incline him to pursue the good in all things.
Man’s body, from whence arise the emotions or passions, is regulated by
the lower moral virtues, which order these bodily motions according to
right reason, and keep man directed toward the higher spiritual goods in
which he will find his true happiness.
It is important for all men, and especially clergy, parents and other
educators to keep these three aspects of man and their corresponding
virtues in mind in all the work they do.
Build the Foundation First
Especially in the very young, but also with adolescents, conquering the
passions and emotions (these are essentially interchangeable terms) is
the first priority. For like a towering building where the lofty heights
rest firmly upon the solid foundation and well-built lower portions, so
too, in man can the intellect and free will be perfected only if the
emotions are in order. The intellectual and higher moral virtues require
the peace that can only be attained through the lower moral virtues.
These building-block moral virtues bring resilience, strength,
proportion and order to the motions of the body known as the passions.
The body is subject to physical local motions of fidgeting, breathing
and walking. It is also subject to the physical motions of passion like
anger, fear, joy and sorrow. The passions are good things bestowed upon
the corporeal nature of man. Like all things of the material world,
though, they are designed to serve the higher, spiritual dimension of
creation. Nevertheless, since the Fall of Man and even despite the work
of Redemption today, the passions tend to rebel against the spirit. They
seek to dominate it. Only through concerted effort might they once again
submit themselves to the mind of man.
Turning to an earlier pontiff, Pope Pius XI explained all these things
brilliantly in his encyclical letter on Christian education, Divini
illius Magistri. Here the Holy Father defines the human person who is
the subject of education. Paragraph 58 reads,
In fact it must never be forgotten that the subject of Christian
education is man whole and entire, soul united to body in unity of
nature, with all his faculties natural and supernatural, such as right
reason and revelation show him to be; man, therefore, fallen from his
original estate, but redeemed by Christ and restored to the supernatural
condition of adopted son of God, though without the preternatural
privileges of bodily immortality or perfect control of appetite. There
remain therefore, in human nature the effects of original sin, the chief
of which are weakness of will and disorderly inclinations.
Thus in man, and especially in the young, there is a real battle to get
him off the ground, so to speak, to raise him up beyond the confines of
his bodily, emotive and fallen nature. Without the Fall, the material
portion of man, his body and its emotions, would serve as the right
foundation for his actions, all of them ordered to the perfection of his
spirit. After Adam, the body and its passions are still a foundation for
man’s actions, but they now serve as a weighty anchor to restrain and
limit his spirit both prior to and even during his formation at home,
school and church.
In the human body there are two general forms of passion that arise in
different situations, which being subject to disorder needs tidying. The
first is the tendency to desire the easily obtainable pleasures that
arise from what we traditionally call the concupiscible appetite. The
other is the inclination to flee from the arduous work and threats that
come our way, from what we traditionally call the irascible appetite.
Both of these require the training and discipline of the virtues in
order to be mastered. These lower moral virtues will restore the
passions from the present natural state of disorder to their proper
place in the life of man as handmaid to right moral action.
Tempering Concupiscence and Fortifying the Irascible
Do we not all labor to overcome the tendency to moral decadence
suggested by the manifold pleasures enticing us in so many ways these
days? Think of the education of the young. In the classroom or the home
school, do not many children begin the day ready for recess and
snack-time as well as eager to color another picture and talk with a
neighbor more than they are motivated to focus on fulfilling their
morning tasks and routines, or willing to recollect themselves for the
next grammar lesson? These distracting interests, which appeal to the
concupiscible appetite of our bodies, need to be tamed by the will,
through the virtue of temperance and its various forms. Meanwhile, the
work involved in successfully completing a demanding academic unit
requires the strengthening of our body’s irascible appetite, which ought
to pursue and not shirk from the arduous goods in life such as study,
through the virtue of fortitude.
Today, the traditional Catholic home may be the only safe haven for
families seeking to persevere in the virtues of temperance and
fortitude. The traditional family, that has fled to the seclusion of the
hills, fields and farms, is the only contender in the battle to master
the passions, defeat the usurpation of the flesh and attain the
difficult prize which is the crown that does not fade. We need only to
recall the graver temptations of the modern age to see how this is the
case. When optimistic John opened his council in 1962, the world
concurrently unleashed the full forces of the sexual revolution. As we
all know, this revolution has become the institutional culture in
America and the western world. The sins of the flesh have become the
very criteria by which fallen man today evaluates his morbid perfection.
Yet it is this sin, and its various manifestations, that are the lowest
of the obstacles to the true perfection of man. The misuse of the animal
emotion that regards the reproduction of the species is far from any
notion of justice, prudence, truth or Charity. But like an unfortunate
boxer, this basest of sins takes most Catholics out of the match with a
knockout blow in the first round.
At the same time, a fortified resolve to face difficult challenges seems
to be equally missing. Today, the emotion of fright and flight dominates
man for sure. He suffers from an anemic irascible passion, which rolls
over at the first physical difficulty presented to him. For instance,
how many “pro-life” Catholics today are willing to brave the elements
and face the taunts that await them before the abortuaries around our
country? How many of the faithful are diligent in their practice of the
Friday abstinence, and observe the ember days? How many of us carry our
cross, suffer the white martyrdom and offer all things in reparation for
the sins committed against the Immaculate and Sacred Hearts? Which of
us, when the systematic persecution begins and we face certain, painful
imprisonment and death, will affirm our faith and forsake the comforts
of this life and by so doing merit the martyr’s crown?
Let us begin to restore our families with simple things, then. The first
step is to recall that virtue is the habit of doing good things well.
With repetition and practice, each virtue becomes easier to perform. As
a weightlifter initially struggles to press 120 pounds, in time, through
consistent repetition, even heavier weights become easy to lift. Now,
forming the habit to make good habits is the surest way of beginning the
life of virtue. Do not be afraid to begin with little things. For
instance, young children, as well as adults, need boundaries and
structure to their day. Morning, work-time and evening routines are the
surest way for establishing a habitual pattern of always doing the right
thing well. The laissez-faire method of parenting that allows the young
to merely stumble from one interest to another each day is a recipe for
disaster. Instead, a structured day that follows a certain familiar
pattern is insurance for the moral life. In this way, the passions of
the moment are conquered for the duty of state, minute-by-minute,
hour-by-hour, day-by-day. In such wise the Catholic home becomes
A Modest Beginning
After pursuing the initial work of restoring virtue in our homes through
acquiring little good habits that structure the day, now let us consider
the major virtues that govern the Christian life. These directly perfect
man in both his body and his soul. We should recall that there are three
Theological Virtues and four natural cardinal virtues that perfect man
in this life. These seven great monuments make it possible for man to
act well easily. They allow him to enjoy the life of grace, and finally
enable him to merit eternal rewards that will get him into heaven.
Imagine a ladder reaching from the earth, past the stars to the heavenly
abode. Now imagine the climber who begins at the bottom rung as an
infant and succeeds in climbing through old age unto the empyrean
heights. Along the way there are many rungs. Ever so often, seven times,
in fact, there are platforms upon which to rest. Each platform is either
a cardinal or a theological virtue. The rungs below each platform are
the subordinate virtues belonging to the major platform virtue above. In
ascending order, these platforms are Temperance, Fortitude, Justice,
Prudence, Faith, Hope and Charity.
The first four virtues here, the cardinal virtues, belong to the
perfection of man as man, and are thus the foundation upon which the
supernatural Theological Virtues grow (which in turn perfect man as
God’s friend). Since grace builds on nature, we should first consider
the natural life of man. This life, and the virtues associated with it,
do not contradict the supernatural vocation, but prepare for it and
complement it. An analogy to this is the child who first learns to be
quiet, sit still and fold his hands at times of prayer in order to
dispose himself to petition God and hear Him in his heart.
In examining the cardinal virtues, we will look at their concrete
applications to the various particulars of life. In these particulars we
will discover a multitude of simpler virtues that are applications and
related instances of the cardinal ones. These little virtues are easy to
understand. By climbing from one to the next on the ladder of
perfection, we will better grasp the great monuments that are the
cardinal and Theological virtues.
The first virtues that concern all men are related to one another with
respect to Temperance. They are not, strictly speaking, the subject
matter of Temperance. After all, do we not usually think of Temperance
in regard to the moderation of eating and other pleasures associated
with the sense of touch? Humility, studiousness and modesty in word and
dress do not treat of tempering those difficult to overcome bodily
inclinations toward sense pleasure. Instead, they temper the less
difficult emotions to master. That is why they are traditionally grouped
together in reference to Temperance.
The virtue modesty is first of all a general heading that we do not want
to exclusively identify with the way women clothe themselves. Modesty in
dress is but one instance of modesty. Instead, the class of virtues we
call modesty concerns a group of habits. Each one addresses a particular
human activity that needs its own good habit to perfect it. As we shall
see, modesty concerns both habits of mind and of body.
This virtue, modesty, takes it name from the root word, “mode”. As a
virtue, “mode” regards the manner of doing things in a way that avoids
the extremes of excess and deficiency. Often we hear that “the virtuous
way is the mean”, or “all things in moderation.” These easy to remember
sayings capture the essence of all moral virtues, and particularly
modesty, which is their model.
Arguably the most famous mode of this virtue is the mind’s manner of
forming an honest self-assessment as well as his hope and aspiration to
greatness. This virtue is humility. Its opposite is the vice pride.
Humility – Modest Hope: Self-Effacement, Deference to Neighbors, Esteem
Many wise men have demonstrated that humility is the most important of
the natural moral virtues, second only to justice. Great lights like St.
Thomas Aquinas are very prudent in making that conclusion, for humility
is the gateway to all of the other virtues. Humility is based on the
realization that “I am not the center of the universe.” It accepts the
greater reality that exists “beyond my own being,” while it acknowledges
that “I am a part, not the whole, of this reality.” Finally, it sees
that in the structure of the world around me, “I am not placed at the
top.” These are the sorts of truths upon which the virtue of humility
rests. From such a vantage, humility concerns the tempering of man’s
spirit in its natural inclination to attain great things.
True humility begins with an honest assessment of oneself both according
to nature and grace. Catholics traditionally acknowledge that sin is the
only thing that man produces all by himself. All other things in nature
and grace are good because they are of God. The humble man will boast in
his blessings from God. He will also confess his poverty of self. Let
us, of course, not be confused by Luther’s error, that man is sin.
Luther held the erroneous notion contrary to Catholic dogma, that Adam’s
sin destroyed man’s nature. Simply, God gave Adam no such power.
While discussing humility, St. Thomas Aquinas makes this point when
commenting on Philippians ii, 3, “In humility, let each esteem others
better than themselves.” The Common Doctor says, “We may consider two
things in man, namely that which is God’s and that which is man’s.
Whatever pertains to defect is man’s: but whatever pertains to man’s
welfare and perfection is God’s.” He goes on to show that humility
“properly regards the reverence whereby man is subject to God.”
Furthermore, “the humble man, in so far as he is the author of his own
defect and sin, will place himself lower than all other men, in so far
as they possess Godliness within themselves.” (II-II, 161, 3) At the
same time, humility does not entertain falsehoods. Though the humble man
takes all the blame, and gives God all the credit, even for his own
merits; he does not lie about the degree of his ills or blessings.
Thus it would be false humility for a St. Francis or Padre Pio to esteem
their good as worse than that of a Judas or Cain; as the inverse is
wrong for the latter to hold that their squandered graces were superior
to those of the saints. Yet, even the greatest saint was viler than the
worst of the damned in his offenses as compared to the least grace
possessed or good deed performed by any of the sons of perdition while
they otherwise vainly walked this earth.
Speaking very technically, humility is defined as the regulation of the
movement of the emotion hope, which is, as St. Thomas teaches, “the
movement of a spirit aiming at great things.” (II-II, 161, 4) The humble
man hopes in greatness, but within the bounds of reason and grace, never
too little nor too much. A humble man may attain great things, if he is
given the talent and grace. He is even free to recognize the great
achievement, but he must attribute it to God, not himself. He is not
free to the self-esteem by which he identifies himself with his
Showing us the way to perfect humility, St. Benedict identified 12
degrees of this virtue in his famous Rule. Every Catholic ought to own
that Rule and meditate on it often. I merely reproduce his principles of
humility here; they are easy to understand and simple to apply:
1) Fear God, and always be mindful of everything God has commanded.
2) Do not delight in fulfilling one’s own desires.
3) Subject oneself to a superior.
4) Embrace patience by obeying under difficult and contrary
5) Confess one’s sins.
6) Think oneself worthless and unprofitable for all purposes.
7) Believe and acknowledge oneself viler than all.
8) Do nothing but to what one is exhorted by the common rule of the
9) Maintain silence until one is asked.
10) Do not be easily moved and disposed to laughter.
11) Speak few and sensible words, and not in a loud voice.
12) Be humble not only in heart, but also to show it in one’s
very person, one’s eyes fixed on the ground.
Three questions come to mind in reviewing these ancient precepts: (1)
Which of these have become obsolete for man in the world in this
twenty-first century? (2) Which of these have become obsolete for
Catholics in the Church of the third millennium? (3) Which of these are
unnecessary for my state in life, personal sanctity, piety, good works,
salvation and glory given to God? The answer to all of these questions
Another even more authoritative compilation of teachings on humility is
the Beatitudes preached by Our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount. The
Fathers of the Church in their explanation of these precepts for the New
Law almost unanimously point to the overriding spirit of humility
present in these monuments to perfection and salvation of the New
Pride: Self-Esteem and
Standing in the Place of God
Contrarily, pride is the indulgence of hope beyond the measure of reason
as sketched above. St. Gregory the Great defined the four forms that
pride can take in the acts of an arrogant sinner. They are: (1) when one
thinks that his good is from himself; (2) when he believes his good to
be from above, but possessed on account of his own merits; (3) when he
boasts of having what he has not; or (4) when he despises others and
wishes to appear to be the only possessor of what he has. In every
instance here, pride is most deadly because man claims as his own what
is not his; he attempts to put himself on God’s throne.
Furthermore, pride is the root of every sin committed that is otherwise
not due to mere ignorance or weakness. Thus, anytime we knowingly and
willingly transgress a commandment under our own full power, we always
sin against that precept of the law and we sin against humility. For
instance, if I were to steal a youngster’s sandwich, I would be
depriving him of his good and break the seventh commandment. I would sin
against the child. But by the very act of breaking a precept of the law
laid down by God Himself, I am also offending God. In this case, I am
also sinning by pride in that I prefer my own judgment to that of God’s.
I put myself in his place and disregard his authority.
Adam committed the first sin against humility when he listened to his
wife who had spoken with the serpent, and ate from the forbidden tree of
the knowledge of good and evil. Adam’s objective was clear; he attempted
to become a god. Adam hoped to attain something greater than he could by
right and by nature, and he despised the sole precept laid upon him in
paradise. Adam esteemed himself greater than he should have. As a
result, pride was the original sin. It is also the root of the life of
iniquity for all men who commit actual sins.
Prior to Adam’s original human violation of the virtue of humility was
the sin of pride practiced by the devil and his cohorts in the
beginning. Instead of delving into an analysis of demonology, which is
never a prudent endeavor for theologians, let alone mere mortals such as
you and I, let us instead consider their chief adversary, St. Michael
the Archangel. As far as we know through the public Revelation entrusted
to the Church, St. Michael is now the greatest of the heavenly host.
This is most revealing for in the hierarchy of the nine choirs of
angels, the archangels are only second from the bottom. Satan was the
chief of the seraphim –the highest order. But Michael, whose very name
means, “Who is like God?” answers the riddle of his moniker, “No one,
neither Lucifer nor I,” by driving that unworthy wight from the pinnacle
of glory unto the utter depths of hell. Yes, Satan is proud, but St.
Michael is humble. For his ongoing heroic act of the original virtue,
humility, Michael’s reward is the title and the authority that
accompanies it, “Prince of the Heavenly Host.” The humble has been
exalted; he is victorious.
Our Lord, when He came to save the world, chose to undo in His first
Advent the very breaches of humility practiced by Satan and Adam that
violated the perfect order God gave to heaven and earth. He did this by
taking upon Himself the form of the lowest rational creature, a poor,
simple and helpless babe. Did He not also hide Himself in utter
obscurity for 30 years with His mother and father in Nazareth? Did He
not, too, preach the way of salvation through the lowly course of the
beatitudes that begins with the Spirit of Poverty, and then progresses
on to the other relatives of humility? Did He not finally humble Himself
supremely as prophesized by Isaias as the Lamb led to slaughter who
opened not His mouth?
We need not ponder long to understand the imperative for forming a
healthy humility in our lives. If we hope to have any success as
faithful children of God, we must begin with a solid foundation in the
humility of the saints who teach us in their contemporary situations the
same Gospel that our Lord gave to us 2000 years ago. We must also draw
attention to the incidents that try our humility on a daily basis and
show how they are occasions for virtue, character building and merit.
Above all, we must pray to have instilled within us a hearty esteem for
God, His Church and the saints. And from that vantage we must learn to
test every spirit. What accords with our welfare and the glory of God is
good. What is not, is chaff. A Catholic does not listen to the moderns
who preach self- esteem. Instead he hearkens to the voice of the Lord
who speaks with authority and truth. It is in the Spirit of the All-good
and the Almighty that he learns to pray, “Jesus, I trust in you!”
Through these prayers, and similar practices, we Catholics can attain a
modest self-assessment that places hope where it belongs, namely, in
Studiousness: The Modest Pursuit for Knowledge
Now that we have treated of humility, which is the moderation of the
desires both for a good self-evaluation as well as the hope to attain
great things, we turn next to the moderation of the ambition to pursue
knowledge and the intellectual life. When modesty virtuously regulates
this natural human desire for knowledge, we have the special virtue,
The word “study” refers to the keen application of the mind to
something. As a virtue, studiousness primarily concerns the moderation
of the desire for knowledge, which is effected by the work of study. A
secondary sense of this virtue considers the work involved in keenly
applying the mind to difficult subject matter. That special sense of
studiousness is really taken up as an application of the virtue
perseverance when considering the onerous demands upon the scholar.
For our consideration, studiousness will regard that earlier sense, the
moderation of the desire to know. Now knowledge, in itself, is the
intellectual virtue of habitually knowing something. In so far as
something is true, it is good to know, for the purpose of the intellect
is to have the mind in agreement with reality. Since the moral life is
distinct from the intellectual life, the moral life does not apply the
concept of the mean to the possession of these intellectual virtues
called knowledge. After all, truth is not capable of being regulated by
categories like too little or too much. As for instance, either one
knows that 1+1=2, or one does not know that. One cannot know such a
truth according to the modes too little or too much, though one must
avoid the temptation to take pride in or misuse for evil purposes the
knowledge attained. The more volatile equation, E=MC2 comes to mind.
On the other hand, the desire or purpose for attaining true knowledge is
something that is regulated by the moral virtues. It is subject to the
moderation of mean, lest the natural desire for knowledge be excessive.
After discerning that one’s desire for study is free from prideful or
malicious intent, the virtue of studiousness considers four things in
regard to the moderation of the desire for knowledge. Where the pursuit
of study is inordinately undertaken, there is present not virtue, but
the vice of curiosity.
First, one must recollect himself prior to commencing study to discern
that his pursuit corresponds with the obligations incumbent upon him.
Any distraction from the studies proper to one’s duty of state would
constitute a curious inquiry into less profitable matters. To help us
understand this point, we might recall that study refers to the attempt
to find out the truth of anything, not just the subjects found in an
academic curriculum. Reading the newspaper, minding the affairs of
others, heeding gossip, following the latest episode in a popular
television show, keeping up with the fashions that are all the rage,
knowing the latest bands, or clicking to the next curious novelty on the
Internet are the very things that often compete for studious attention
by Catholics in America today. Assuming the moral content of these
things is licit (and almost universally they are not, as detraction,
slander, avarice, anger, gluttony, immodesty and impurity are the very
objects of inquiry here), there must be good reasons for paying
attention to them. These reasons include helping direct man to his last
end and giving glory of God. Also, such secondary matters of importance
may only be pursued after all necessary studies for our duty of state
What are the matters for study required of our duty of state? They are
the various obligations entrusted to us according to the
responsibilities of our age and office. Every man has the duty to study
the things of God as revealed by Him, expounded by reason and entrusted
to the Church. All are responsible for learning and retaining the
catechism. All are responsible for daily spiritual reading. St.
Alphonsus de Ligouri, the moral doctor of the Church, counseled that you
will not save your soul if you do not faithfully attended to 15 minutes
of spiritual reading each day. All must study the moral law and the
virtues. All must learn the civic code of their society by which they
are required to live. All must learn the customs and rules of their
home. All must learn the curriculum entrusted to them by their parents,
school and Church. All must learn the domestic arts, or a trade,
profession or science by which to make a living. All must recollect the
mind and spirit by tending to noble arts that elevate the intellect and
succor the spirit. All must tend to any other matter necessary for the
sustenance of their temporal and eternal wellbeing.
Secondly, studiousness avoids consultation from unlawful sources of
knowledge. Curious is the sinful man who consults demons, oracles,
witches, fortune-tellers, horoscopes, tarot cards, and all other
superstitious media from the occult. Though no longer a lawfully binding
list, the Index of Forbidden Books is the resource for the perfidious.
Secular and Masonic sources for history and political theory are to be
avoided, as well. They are the deceptive tales and doctrines of the
enemies of goodness, truth and salvation that entice young and old away
from their Christian destiny.
Thirdly, the good student may pursue a comprehensive study of the truth
about creatures if and only if it is done with reference to the goal of
all knowledge, which is God. Animal husbandry and veterinary medicine
are disciplines principally ordered to the good of man, and by extension
the glory of God. Good breeds and healthy stock are necessary things for
the welfare of man. On the other hand, a curious probing into the
biological origin of species, and specious theories of the rights of
animals alongside men, are the concerns of the godless multitude who
have squandered their intellectual inheritance in our generation. SPCA
and PETA are not the abbreviations following the names of the spiritual
children of St. Francis.
Lastly, the studious do not study above the capacity of their own
intelligence. Error and confusion are the only results when this
principle is violated. For instance, men lack the ability to learn new
things about the inner nature of God, the Blessed Trinity, apart from
what has already been revealed by Him and infallibly clarified by Holy
Mother Church. Any speculation leading to novel insights concerning
things that are beyond the natural light of reason that have not been
specially and publicly revealed are predetermined from the outset to be
Another instance is the unjust promotion of every living body
automatically on to higher education. The effects of Original Sin, which
all men suffer in different degrees, include the darkening of the
intellect and the weakening of the will. Though no man save Adam is
responsible for this condition that is common to all, those who suffer a
greater diminution of the intellectual light are unfit for rigorous
scholastic studies. I will never forget the poor fellow who was a
classmate of mine in a graduate theology program somewhere in the
Midwest, who after two weeks of rather brilliant yet comprehensible
lectures on a recurring topic in philosophy, blurted out in class,
“Duuuh, Dr. Paaaaaul, I jees don’t get this natural law stuff!”
(gesticulation and pronunciation in the original). This poor soul
probably went on to graduate (if he made it through the program) with
upwards of $25,000 to $40,000 in student debt and has no practical way
of earning a living that would suitably remunerate him to be able to pay
down that balance and provide modestly for a family. A social security
number and a pulse should not be the only requirements for admission to
higher studies. More to the point, this fellow ended his academic career
frustrated and confused. This is an offense against studiousness.
Curiosity, then, is the vice that opposes studiousness. It does so
principally by violating one of these four modes of good study and its
proper intention. Briefly, we could mention that curiosity also
considers the “temptation of the eye”, which is the pursuit of knowledge
gained from sights for lustful purposes. Men, who are more easily prone
to lustful abandon must learn to guard their eyes. Women, who are more
prone to attract, must learn to veil their beauty in ways that will be
discussed in the next section.
Modesty in Outward Movement and Dress
We come to the last virtues that comprise the various external forms of
modesty. These are modest human movements, speech and dress.
Modest bodily movements have the character of virtue when they possess
honesty and beauty. Honesty refers to a thing being worthy of honor.
Honor is due to the quality of excellence present in the thing we
revere. Beauty is similar. It is the comeliness that results from the
concurrence of clarity and due proportion. Now beauty in external things
is all the more noble and honorable when it denotes a corresponding
interior ordering and proportion that is the result of the excellence of
virtue in a soul.
St. Thomas teaches that the style of outward movements pertains to the
beauty of honesty. (II-II 168. 1 ff.) This is present when there is a
fittingness of movement with regard to the person who moves. These we
call “taste”, that is, those things which are becoming to the person
himself. These things reveal the interior dispositions and the ordering
of the passions of the soul. St. Ambrose wrote, “from these things (the
outward movements), the man that lies hidden in our hearts is esteemed
to be either frivolous, or boastful, or impure, or on the other hand
sedate, steady, pure and free from blemish.” Truthfulness is the related
virtue that sees to it our outward movements of words and deeds are
signs of our inward disposition.
There is also the fittingness of movements as regards externals such as
other persons, the business at hand, or place. Here the rule of “methodicalness”,
directs outward movements. Friendliness and affability are the related
virtues that perfect outward movements that are directed toward others.
A sense of decorum directs our bearing in different physical places and
Play and recreation are another aspect of movements and speech that
require the regulation of the virtue modesty. Just as the body fatigues
and needs rest and refreshment, so, too, the soul fatigues under
strenuous mental labor and needs rest and refreshment. This rest comes
about through pleasure. Thus St. Thomas teaches “the remedy for
weariness of soul must needs consist in the application of some
pleasure, by slackening the tension of the reason’s study.” (II-II 168.
2) Pleasure comes from play and humor. These things are distinguished
from all other pursuits in that they employ words and deeds with no
further objective than the soul’s immediate delight.
In this fun, three things need special moderation. The first is that
there are no indecent or injurious words or deed. Nothing should be
discourteous, insolent, scandalous or obscene. The second caution guards
against the excessive relinquishing of the mind over to the fun. The
balance of the mind is carefully attained through the hard work of study
and practice of the virtues. Game play should not upset that balance.
Thus children especially should never be allowed absolute freedom in
their games. The restraint of good behavior should still dominate so
that their fun reflects their upright minds. Thirdly, observance of
persons, time and place is important. Not every possible good game is
appropriate at any time, place or presence of persons. The extremes of
excessive play and lack of mirth are to be avoided in the modest person,
lest buffoonery or severity result.
Grace and Honesty in Outward Apparel
The outward things that we use, such as clothing and adornments, are not
themselves either virtuous or vicious. How they are used and esteemed
are. Within a sane culture, the ethics of the virtue of modesty in dress
follows the norms laid down by the customs of the society in which one
finds oneself. There, violations of the norm offend public modesty.
However, Americans today live in a revolutionary culture that favors a
perpetual challenge to the prevailing norms of style, modesty, decency
and goodness. To the extent that Catholics in their families, schools
and churches tolerate our era’s successive decadence in morals and
modesty, they are part of the revolution. As other ages were not so
dominated by the spirit of the Eumenides and Bacchus to the extent that
ours is, the traditional role of custom and public habit is no longer a
safe guidepost either for fit or coverage of garments. Let us turn to
some other particulars that govern modest adornment and apparel.
To begin with, we must neither be too attached nor too pleased with the
raiment of the body. This needs to be observed in three ways. First, we
must not seek glory from too excessive an attention to dress. This form
of the virtue of modesty in dress is really a relative of humility.
Second, we must not seek excessive pleasure in the comforts afforded by
clothing. Contentment is the related virtue here that makes us satisfied
with what is suitable, and enables us to determine what is becoming in
this manner of life. Lastly we must not be too picky in selecting the
clothes that we must wear. Simplicity is the rule, for it makes us
content with what we have.
There are also ways by which we fail to govern our dress with modesty by
way of deficiency. One, called “effeminacy”, is the neglect of giving
proper regard to the use of outward apparel. This vice occasions an
offensive shabbiness in appearance. Another is a shrugging off of all
convention and decorum by dressing with abject contempt for cleanliness,
orderliness or decency. The last two are seen everywhere today in
America where misplaced trousers fall below the hips, defectively short
blouses are hemmed above the navel, and pre-faded, pre-worn garments are
sold at exorbitant prices at the boutiques.
One last area in the consideration of modest dress is its relation to
the virtue of purity. Modest dress elevates the physical personae of the
man or woman who wears such clothing, so that his or her body reflects
the virtues striven after and attained by the soul. Furthermore, it
educes the virtues of moderate thoughts and tempered desires in those
who behold them. On the other hand, when such dress is uncharitably or
negligently missing, the scandals of temptation and seduction often
St. Thomas Aquinas, who is known as the “Angelic Doctor” for his heroic
purity, had much to say on this and the related topics concerning
women’s dress. I simply reproduce for you his wisdom. He begins: “As
regards the outward apparel of women, we must bear in mind the general
statements made above concerning outward apparel,” I have summarized
those in the preceding paragraphs. St. Thomas continues,
and also something special, namely that a women’s apparel may incite men
to lust, according to Proverbs vii. 10, Behold a women meeteth him in
harlot’s attire, prepared to deceive souls.
Nevertheless a women may use means to please her husband, lest through
despising her he fall into adultery. Hence it is written (1 Cor. vii.
34) that the woman that is married thinketh on the things of the world,
how she may please her husband. Wherefore if a married woman adorn
herself in order to please her husband she can do this without sin.
But those women who have no husband nor wish to have one, or who are in
a state of life inconsistent with marriage, cannot without sin desire to
give lustful pleasure to those men who see them, because this is to
incite them to sin. And if indeed they adorn themselves with this
intention of provoking others to lust, they sin mortally; whereas if
they do so from frivolity, or from vanity for the sake of ostentation,
it is not always mortal, but sometimes venial. And the same applies to
men in this respect. Hence Augustine says (Epistle ccxlv. Ad Possid.): I
do not wish you to be hasty in forbidding the wearing of gold or costly
attire except in the case of those who being neither married nor wishful
to marry, should think how they may please God: whereas the others think
on the things of the world, either husbands how they may please their
wives, or wives how they may please their husbands, except that it is
unbecoming for women though married to uncover their hair, since the
Apostle commands them to cover the head. Yet in this case some might be
excused from sin, when they do this not through vanity but on account of
some contrary custom: although such a custom is not to be commended.”
Finally, St. Thomas concludes with a few words about the practice of
women adorning themselves in men’s clothing: “Outward apparel should be
consistent with the estate of the person, according to the general
custom. Hence it is in itself sinful for a woman to wear man’s clothes,
or vice versa; especially since this may be a cause of sensuous
pleasure; and it is expressly forbidden in the Law (Deut. xxii) because
the Gentiles used to practice this change of attire for the purpose of
idolatrous superstition. Nevertheless this may be done sometimes without
sin on account of some necessity, either in order to hide oneself from
enemies, or through lack of other clothes, or for some similar motive.”
(II-II 169. 2)
The argument for the practice of American women (and most of the female
sex of the western world) wearing feminized versions of men’s attire as
arising from the moral revolution in which we suffer today is beyond the
scope of this study, though all indications would be that this practice
is revolutionary and against good morals. Nevertheless the principles
outlined by the Angelic Doctor are beyond reproof.
Regarding resources for both the principles of modesty in dress as well
as sources for obtaining suitable dress for the young, please consult
the recently published masterpiece by the articulate and gracious
Catholic woman, Colleen Hammond, entitled Dressing with Dignity. Every
home should own at least one dog-eared copy of this definite book on the
subject of modesty in women’s dress. It is available at both
www.colleenhammond.com and www.valoramedia.com.
We have considered these various species of Modesty first, namely
humility, studiousness and external actions and coverings, because as we
explained earlier, they are related one to the other under Temperance as
those desires which are easier to moderate than the subject matter of
the cardinal virtue, which is the desire of the flesh. It must be noted
that these virtues: humility, studiousness and the various outward forms
of modesty, have to be mastered early and remain with the young (or be
recaptured by the old) so that they may have the virtuous foundation for
attaining temperance in the things more difficult to handle. It stands
to reason that when the easier and more elementary things are missed,
the latter, mature and more onerous duties will suffer a tragic fate.
Returning to the analogy of the virtue ladder, we began with those
virtues that make for an easier initial ascent. In the future we shall
examine one more set of virtues related to temperance that are essential
for all men, namely clemency and meekness, and then move on to the
specific forms of temperance and their necessary constituent parts. That
will bring us firmly and safely to the first landing on the virtue
 Please note that the term “spiritual” does not mean supernatural as
is often confused. “Spiritual” refers to the immaterial nature of the
higher creatures, namely: angels and men.
 Note how this is so unlike our modern churchmen’s presentation of
man. Here the mystery of man is still reasonably comprehensible. How
different this is from the moderns who present him as essentially
mystifying, and therefore the object of veneration and even solipsism.