« Prev Chapter VII. That Perfect Virtues Are Never One… Next »

CHAPTER VII.

THAT PERFECT VIRTUES ARE NEVER ONE WITHOUT THE OTHER.

It is said that the heart is the first part of a man which receives life by the infusion of the soul, and the eye the last, as, contrariwise, in a natural death the eye begins first to die, and the heart is the last. Now when the heart begins to live, before the other parts are animated, life is certainly very feeble, frail and imperfect, but ever as it establishes itself more thoroughly in the rest of the body, it is also more vigorous in each part and particularly in the heart, and we see that when life is injured in any one of the members it is weakened in all the rest. If a man's foot or arm be hurt all the body is troubled, excited, disturbed and affected; if the stomach is disordered, the eyes, the voice and the whole countenance show the effects of it, so great is the sympathy amongst the organs of man's natural life.

482

All the virtues are not acquired together, in an instant, but one after another, in proportion as reason, which is like the soul of our heart, takes possession, first of one passion then of another, to moderate and govern them: and ordinarily this life of our soul begins in the heart of our passions, which is love, and spreading itself over all the rest it quickens at last the very understanding by contemplation; as, on the contrary, moral or spiritual death makes its entry into the soul by the want of reflection517517L’inconsideration—i.e., failure of the spiritual eye (Tr.)death enters by the windows,518518Jer. ix. 21. says the sacred text—and its last effect is to destroy good love, which once perishing, all our moral life is dead in us. So then, although we may perhaps possess some virtues without others, yet are they but languishing, imperfect and weak virtues, since reason, which is the life of our soul, is never satisfied nor at ease in a soul unless it occupy and possess all the faculties and passions; and when it is aggrieved and wounded in some one of our passions or affections, all the rest lose their force and vigour, and grow exceedingly weak.

You see, Theotimus, all the virtues are virtues by the proportion or conformity they have with reason, and an action cannot be called virtuous if it proceed not from the affection which the heart bears to the excellence and beauty of reason. Now if the love of reason possess and animate a soul, it will be obedient to reason in all occurrences, and consequently will practise all the virtues. If Jacob loved Rachel in consideration of her being Laban's daughter, why did he despise Lia who was not only the daughter, but the eldest daughter, of the same Laban? But because he loved Rachel by reason of her beauty, he could never equally love poor Lia, though a fruitful and wise maid, because to his mind she was not so fair. He who loves one virtue for the love of the reason and comeliness which shine in it, will love all the virtues, since he will find the same motive in them all, and he will love each of them more or less, as reason shall appear in them more or less resplendent. He who loves liberality and not chastity, shows sufficiently that he loves not liberality for reason's sake, because reason is 483still more radiant in chastity, and where the cause is more strong the effects ought also to be more strong. It is, therefore, an evident sign that such a heart is not moved to liberality by the motive and consideration of reason; whence it follows that this liberality which seemed to be virtue is but an appearance of it, since it proceeds not from reason, which is the true motive of virtues, but from some other and foreign motive. It is sufficient for a child to be born in marriage to bear in the world the name, the arms, and the titles of his mother's husband, but to have his blood and nature he must not only be born in the marriage but of the marriage. Actions have the name, arms and badges of the virtues, because being born of a heart endowed with reason we presume them to be reasonable, yet they have neither the substance nor vigour of virtue when they proceed from a foreign and illegitimate motive, and not from reason. It may happen then, that a man may have some virtues and lack others; but they will either be virtues newly springing and as yet tender, like flowers in blossom; or else perishing and dying virtues, like fading flowers: for, in conclusion, virtues cannot have their true integrity and sufficiency unless they be all together, as all philosophy and divinity assure us. What prudence, I pray you, Theotimus, can an intemperate, unjust and cowardly man have, since he makes choice of vice and forsakes virtue? And how can one be just without being prudent, strong, and temperate, since justice is no other thing than a perpetual, strong and constant will to render to every one his own, and since the science by which right is done is called jurisprudence, and since, to give each one his own, we must live wisely and moderately, and hinder the disorders of intemperance in ourselves so as to give ourselves what belongs to us? And the word virtue, does it not signify a force and vigour belonging to the soul as a quality, even as we say that herbs and precious stones have such and such a virtue or property?

But is not prudence itself imprudent in an intemperate man? Fortitude, without prudence, justice and temperance, is not fortitude, but folly; and justice is unjust in the weak man who dares not do it, in the intemperate man who permits 484himself to be carried away with passion, and in the imprudent man who is not able to discern between the right and the wrong. Justice is not justice unless it be strong, prudent and temperate; nor is prudence prudence unless it be temperate, just and strong; nor fortitude fortitude unless it be just, prudent and temperate; nor temperance temperance unless it be prudent, strong and just. In fine, a virtue is not perfect virtue, unless it be accompanied by all the rest.

It is true, Theotimus, that one cannot exercise all the virtues at once, because the occasions are not all presented at once; yea, there are virtues which some of God's greatest saints had never occasion to practise: for S. Paul, the first hermit, for example, what occasion could he have to exercise the pardoning of injuries, affability, magnificence, and mildness? Nevertheless, such souls stand so affected to the rectitude of reason, that though they have not all the virtues in effect, yet they have them all in affection, being ready and prepared to follow and obey reason in all occurences, without exception or reservation.

There are certain inclinations which are esteemed virtues and are not so, but favours and advantages of nature. How many are there who are naturally sober, mild, silent, chaste and modest? Now all these seem to be virtues, and yet have no more the merit thereof than bad inclinations are blameworthy before we have given free and voluntary consent to such natural dispositions. It is no virtue to be by nature a man of little meat, yet to abstain by choice is a virtue. It is no virtue to be silent by nature, though it is a virtue to bridle one's tongue by reason. Many consider they have the virtues as long as they do not practise the contrary vices. One that has never been assaulted may truly boast that he was never a runaway, yet he has no ground to boast of his valour. He that has never been afflicted may boast of not being impatient, but not of being patient. In like manner, some think they have virtues who have only good inclinations, and as those inclinations are some without others, they suppose that virtues may be so too.

In truth the great S. Augustine shows, in an epistle which he wrote to S. Jerome, that we may have some sort of virtue without having the rest, but that we cannot have perfect ones 485without having them all; whilst, as for vices, we may have some without having others, yea, it is even impossible to have them all together: so that it does not follow that he who has lost all the virtues has by consequence all the vices, since almost every virtue has two opposite vices, which are not only contrary to the virtue but also to one another. He who has forfeited valour by rashness cannot at the same time be taxed with cowardice; nor can he who has lost liberality by prodigality, be at the same time reproached with niggardliness. Catiline, says S. Augustine, was sober, vigilant, patient in suffering cold, heat and hunger; so that both himself and his accomplices deemed him marvellously constant; but this constancy wanted prudence, since it made choice of bad instead of good; it was not temperate, for it gave the bridle to repulsive uncleanness; it was not just, since he conspired against his country: it was not then constancy but obstinacy, which to deceive fools bore the name of constancy.

 


« Prev Chapter VII. That Perfect Virtues Are Never One… Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |