Humility: The First of the Lively Virtues
 by Anthony Esolen

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, who didst rise in the morning? How art thou fallen to the earth, that didst wound the nations?

And thou saidst in thy heart: I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, I will sit in the mountain of the covenant, in the sides of the north.

I will ascend above the height of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.
But yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, into the depth of the pit. (Is. 14:12-15)

When Thomas Aquinas asked how it was that Satan believed, in his pride, that he could be like God, he denied that even the devil could be so blind as actually to believe that he could be God.  For Satan understood by natural knowledge that that was impossible.  He could not create heaven and earth from nothing, as he well knew.  Besides, says Thomas, no creature desires its own demise, which must occur if it is to pass in essence from one grade of being to a higher grade.  Rather, Satan desired to be like God because he desired, as the ultimate goal of beatitude, that which he could attain by the power of his own nature, turning his desire away from that beatitude beyond nature which is bestowed by the free gift of God (S. T. I.63.4).  And this understanding of Satan's sin, Thomas adds, is in accord with the opinion of Anselm, who said that Satan desired what he would have attained if he had but stood.

We see here why pride is the fundamental evil.  It arises from a lie about who God is, and what we are.  We desire a likeness to God that we ourselves, by our own powers, can secure; but that is to divorce God from love, and to reject His gifts of love.  We cannot become like the giver of all good things by means of ingratitude.  We cannot become like the God of love by assuming that we, as creatures, do not need that love.  Bonum diffusivum sui: the good, by nature, pours itself out, spreads itself abroad, gives freely of its being.  We cannot become good, then, by standing aloof, by saying, I am alone and sufficient to myself, for God Himself, a community of Persons, sent forth His Spirit upon the waters, and made the world about us.

We want the gift, but we do not want it as given.  Dante illustrates the contradiction in three lines of stunning compression and power.  We are on the lowest terrace of Purgatory, where the vice of pride is punished, and we behold at our feet, like relief sculptures upon tombs set in a marble floor, examples of the fall of the proud.  The first, and paradigmatic, is that of Satan:

Mark, on this side, the one whom the Most High
Created as the noblest of His creatures
And see him fall like lightning from the sky.  (Purg. 12.25-27)

Satan was the noblest of God's creatures; that is to say, he was a created being, and the glory of his being was God's gift to him.  To reject that gift is to fall like lightning, and here we should recall the moment when our Lord Himself, in joyful praise, echoed that verse from Isaiah.  He had sent forth the seventy two disciples, granting them authority to teach and to heal, and they returned to Him and cried out in astonishment, Lord, the devils also are subject to us in thy name!�  To which Jesus replied, I saw Satan like lightning falling from heaven (Lk. 10:17-18).  Then He advised them to rejoice not in the exercise of that power, but in gratitude, for their names were written in heaven.  And Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Ghost, and said: I confess to thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hidden these things from the wise and the prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones (Lk. 10:21).  Of course:  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men (1 Cor. 1:25).

Pride makes a great show of strutting upon the face of the earth, glorying in its palaces and its power, but beneath all the blare and the garish pomp there lies, as it were, a shrunken thing, a cringing little emperor, afraid of the dark afraid of the vast waters of love.  By contrast, humility is the most realistic of virtues.  I am a creature; well then, I acknowledge that I am a creature.  I cannot attain blessedness on my own; cannot, on my own, even make this world into a decent wayside station, let alone heaven.  Well then, I acknowledge what history and my own eyes will teach me.  I am a sinner; I survey the moonscape of my life and see it pitted with self-regard, stupidity, and spite.  Well then, I bend the neck and confess the sins.  In humility, literally, we bow down to the humus or the soil beneath us, and cry out, with the repentant psalmist, My soul cleaves to the dust (Ps. 118:25).  It is not that we make ourselves out to be less than what we are, but that we try for a change to stop making ourselves out to be more than what we are.  We try to look into the darkness of sin, and the more terrifying darkness of love.

But humility is more, far more, than a curative for pride.  It is itself a mighty power and here do the pagans ancient and modern stumble and fall.  Take up my yoke upon you, says Jesus, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest for your souls (Mt. 11:29).  The Lord Himself is humble, not despite His being one with the Father, but because He is one with the Father, for the Son cannot do any thing of himself, but what he seeth the Father doing (Jn. 5:19).  The lightning that scorches the earth is as a thing frozen in perpetual stasis as compared with the swiftness of the grace of God that comes down to us from on high.  Then why turn to that glint of a firefly, the lightning, when we can dwell in the brightness of Him who said, Let there be light?  Jesus wants us to be humble so that we will be as He is, seeing the love of the Father and bringing it to light by our deeds.  The angels can fly, says the witty Chesterton, because they take themselves lightly.  We are to take ourselves lightly too, like the little children that thronged about the Lord, for the kingdom of heaven is for such (Mt. 19:14).

With that grace comes true power, so that humility expands the heart, opening it up in brave freedom to the might of God, so that Saint Paul can say, not boasting, I can do all things in him who strengtheneth me (Phil. 4:13).  And who is this giver of strength but that Lord to whom Paul has just sung the great hymn, who humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross (Phil. 2:8)?  What, then, can humility not attain?  The Bride of Christ is bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array (Sg. 6:9), because she is obedient to Him in all things.  The Church applies that verse also to describe the Virgin Mary die Jungfrau Maria, as the happy German phrase puts it, the young maiden Mary.  She whose prayers we believe are most effectual was no more than a maiden in a forgettable village called Nazareth.

Mary was not like Michal, the daughter of King Saul and wife of David.  When Michal saw David, whom Dante calls lumile salmista, the humble psalmist (Purg. 10.64), dancing and reveling naked before the Ark of the Covenant, she despised him in her heart (2 Sam. 6:16), calling him a buffoon to expose himself so before the handmaids of his servants (6:20).  But David defied her, saying, I will be little in my own eyes (6:22), and therefore, says the sacred author, Michal the vainglorious daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death (6:23).

Dante places the pride and barrenness of Michal beside the humility and the fruitfulness of Mary.  What can humility do?  It flings wide the portals of the heart, because once, in that little Nazareth, it flung wide the portals of heaven itself:

The angel who came down
with the decree that brought to earth the peace
for which men wept so many years, which freed
The gates of Heaven long prohibited,
to us appeared so true, engraven there
in sweet and courteous pose, he did not seem
A silent form.  You'd swear you heard him say
Hail! for the one who opened Heaven's high love
was there in image, she who turned the key,
And in her pose was stamped the spoken word,
exactly as a seal in molten wax:
Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  (Purg. 10.34-45)

Solicitude: The Second Lively Virtue
 
About the distance of an earthly mile
we'd gone already, and in little time,
Because our wills were eager when we heard
Spirits coming our way, flying above,
Heard them but never saw them, graciously
Welcoming to the wedding feast of love.
The first voice called aloud as it flew by,
They have no wine, and so it made its way,
Continuing the message of its cry.
Dante, Purgatory 13.22-30

Just as the heart-opening virtue of humility is the remedy for pride, so solicitude for the good of others is the remedy for envy, the second of the deadly vices.  Our name for this vice derives from the Latin invidia, which literally means the habit of seeing things twisted (the inner meaning of our word wrong) or inside-out.  When, for example, Miltons Satan catches sight of the innocent Adam and Eve engaging in a passionate kiss, he cannot help but look:

Aside the Devil turned
For envy, yet with jealous leer malign
Eyed them askance, and to himself thus plain'd:
Sight hateful, sight tormenting!  Thus these two,
Imparadised in one anothers arms,
The happier Eden, shall enjoy their fill
Of bliss on bliss, whilst I to Hell am thrust,
Where neither joy nor love but fierce desire
(Among our other torments not the least)
Still unfulfilled with pain of longing pines.  (Paradise Lost, 4.502-511)

We can imagine him there, squint-eyed, compelled to see and hating what he sees.

Envy is a kind of small-souled reduction of pride.  There is a vain glory in one who strives to be seen as preeminent among his fellows; but there is not even a vain glory in one who wishes that no one were seen to be the least bit greater than he.  Envy, as Thomas Aquinas defines it, is the self-indulged sorrow at beholding the good of others, especially if that good is spiritual.  My neighbor is affable; I call him a gladhander.  My brother considers well before he speaks; I call him sly.  My sister weeps when she sees an animal suffering; I call her a sentimentalist.  My friend crosses himself and says grace before he eats his lunch in the cafeteria; I call him a religious zealot.  Envy does worse than attribute vices to people who are not vicious.  It grieves at the sight of their very virtues, and turns those virtues the wrong side out.  Nor is there any virtue that cannot be eyed askance by the envious soul.  Ask our Lord.  He was a wine-tippler who cast out devils in the name of Beelzebub.  So said the leering Pharisees.

As always in Dante's Purgatory, the work I have quoted above, the principal exemplar of the virtue we are to cultivate is provided by Mary.  When the poets enter the terrace where envy is punished, they hear voices overhead, and the first of these merely cries out, They have no wine, the words of Mary to Jesus at the wedding feast at Cana.  How is that meant, as Dante puts it, to welcome souls to the wedding feast of love ?  What virtue does it represent?

That short utterance, so simple and yet so powerful, recalls the whole scene in the Gospel of John.  Jesus and the first disciples are at a wedding feast, when the bride and the bridegroom run out of wine.  An envious person at this moment would secretly rejoice, or feel a thrill of self-satisfaction.  I knew better.  I told them that twenty jars would not be enough.  Well, some people just don't listen.  But Mary, solicitous for the welfare of the married couple, makes their plight her own.  She wishes to avert the embarrassment.  We can go farther: she wishes that the conviviality of the feast, a great good in itself, would continue, for without the wine the feast would surely break up.

They have no wine, she says.  What can this mean?  It is wine that gladdens the heart, as the psalmist says, and so her appeal to Jesus is more than an appeal to provide some practical necessity.  It strikes to the heart.  I have come to give you life, and life in abundance, Jesus will say to His disciples.  He has come to make our joy complete.  He is Himself the wine that makes the heart leap; the wine pressed from his own veins upon the Cross, and the wine drunk anew in Heaven with all of those who accept His gifts.

Woman, it is not my hour, says Jesus in response, and I have long heard it said that by this statement He meant, I had not planned on performing any wonders just yet, or perhaps that He was testing Mary to see how she would react.  But if we remember the bread and wine of the Eucharist, that wonder that the apostle surely has in mind, we may hear Jesus as intimating to us that it is not yet time for the broaching of that sweet wine of the sacrament.  What we have, then, is not a solicitous Mary and a reluctant Jesus, but both Mary and Jesus solicitous for the good of others, and Jesus then rewarding His mother's complete faith in Him and her gracious good will for the bride and the groom.  He turns the water into wine.  It is not the wine of the kingdom of God, not yet; but it is excellent wine, as the headwaiter says, who reproaches the groom for saving it to the end, when, for half drunken revelers, any old wine would do.  Jesus, so to speak, will reverse the order for all of us drinkers of wine: every blessing we enjoy now will be but a foretaste of the liquor of heaven.

No doubt the feast at Cana went on, and only a few people knew that Jesus and Mary were at the heart of that feast.  It was their solicitude that enabled it to go on.  And this rejoicing in the good of others is one of the notes that should surprise us most about our Lord.  Not only does He deign to dwell among us and to bless us; He derives real delight from our feeble attempts to understand Him and to love Him.  Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, He cries out when Peter confesses that He is the Messiah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in Heaven!   He offers to enter the pagan centurion's home to cure the man's dying servant, and when that brave Roman soldier says, Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my servant shall be healed,Jesus marvels at the man, saying, I have not found such faith in all of Israel!   Of John the Baptist He says that no greater man has ever been born of woman, yet the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he.  He compares His father to the man who threw a great feast when his wayward son had returned to him, and to a woman who invited her neighbors over to rejoice with her when she found her lost coin.  We know, in worldly terms, what that prodigal son was worth we hear it from the elder son himself, caught in sorrow at his brothers spiritual blessing.  The boy was a shiftless and ungrateful wretch who squandered his fathers wealth on drunkenness and whoring.  We may guess that the coin the woman found would have been as nothing to a Herod or a Pilate.  Nor is a single sheep lost in the wilderness worth any great deal.  But Jesus the Good Shepherd, rejoicing, carries that lost sheep home upon His shoulders.

How difficult this virtue is to practice!  The hedonist is not only the man who steeps himself in pleasures of the belly or the flesh.  The hedonist may be quite austere Epicurus himself was, who lent his name to the pursuit of one's own pleasure.  But when we are truly solicitous for the blessings of other people, then and only then do we begin to hear the singing and the laughter of the feast, as from a castle upon a great height.  Then we join our fellows, and say with the psalmist, I rejoiced when I heard them say, Let us go up to the house of the Lord.

Meekness: The Third Lively Virtue
 
We all know the account in Luke about the boy Jesus, who when he was twelve years old accompanied his parents to Jerusalem for the Passover, as was their custom.  But this time he stayed behind in the city after the feast was over, and they, believing that he was somewhere in their caravan of kinsmen, only sought him after a days journey.  When they returned to Jerusalem they found him after three days, in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions (Lk. 2:47).  He was old enough to be a man now, a bar mitzvoth, a son of the commandments.  Any Jewish person might recognize that.  But there was more.

When Mary cried out to him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing, Jesus replied, How is it that ye sought me?   Did they not know that he had to be about his Father's business? (2:48-49).  He has redirected their attention from one father, Joseph, to the true Father in heaven.  In this family drama of obedience, Jesus shows where his ultimate submission lies, and yet he returns to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph, and obeys them in all things.
Dante, at the beginning of the terrace of wrath in Purgatory, portrays the moment thus:

And in the ravishment of ecstasy
There came to me the vision of a temple
Crowded with learned men, and I could see
A lady at the doorway in the mild
Pose of a gentle mother, saying, Oh
Why have you treated us this way, my child?
See how we've worried as we searched for you
Your father and I.  (Purg. 15.85-92)

The poet sees what a theologian might miss.  Mary has what any mother would consider just cause for anger what Thomas Aquinas calls parvipensio, to slight, to treat someone as if he counted for little.  Yet her words are not angry.  She pleads for understanding; she waits for the answer from Jesus.  We can imagine the boy shaking his head quizzically, wondering about their wondering.  His reply is not defiant, but half amused.  Where else did they think he could possibly be?  Mary did not understand, but she kept all these sayings in her heart (Lk. 2:51).  The Greek suggests that she kept watch over them, she held them close, just as she kept and pondered the tidings of the shepherds when Jesus was born (Lk. 2:19).

Mary did not brood; she pondered.  She is here our exemplar of meekness, that sweet and mild virtue that, like the soft answer, turneth away wrath (Prov. 15:1).  Jesus identifies himself with the virtue, saying, Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly of heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden light (Mt. 11:28-30).

Now it is not true that Jesus never spoke sharply.  Anger in itself is no sin, but is the faculty whereby we seek justice.  To the hard of hearing one must sometimes shout; hence to the Pharisees, those ear-stoppled righteous men, Jesus would cry out, Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? (Mt. 23:33).  But notice that even there Jesus does not assert that any particular Pharisee is going down to perdition.  Jesus never snarls, never turns with spite on one who has offended him, never shows a hint of that terrible delight in vengeance.  Socrates was a mild enough fellow, but there was a streak of malice in his irony, as it is clear that he enjoyed the embarrassment of his opponents.  With Jesus instead we find, beneath his very warnings and his rebukes, the disappointment of a boundless love.  He is just as the prophet foretold: He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth (Is. 53:7).

Why do I say that the virtue of meekness brings life?  Consider the difference between someone who is ready to cavil at the least perception of a wrong done to him, and one who is, as God is, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy (Ps. 103:8).  The former, the one who makes touchiness into a principle of action, is continually besieged with wrongs that must be redressed.  That's inevitable, given that we are sinners.  His family and his friends, aware of this vice, walk gingerly about him.  Both he and they are cramped; and no one escapes the shadow of enmity.

But the latter dwells in freedom.  It is not that he is timid, afraid to avenge himself.  It is rather that his meekness clears a wide field.  Must this slight be mentioned?  Perhaps not.  Must this act of disobedience be punished?  Perhaps, but not at the moment.  Would it be excusable in me to return an angry word for the angry word?  Yes, but what good would that do?  Am I in the right?  Yes, but do you really wish to win an argument and lose a friend?  When the prodigal son returned to his father, would it have been understandable had the old man sighed and shook his head, and said, Come, boy, let's clean you up at least ?  Yes, understandable; and it would have planted in the boy's heart the doubt that perhaps he should have stayed away after all.

It is a paradox, but nonetheless true, that meekness demands largeness of heart.  We see this when our Lord, brought in bonds before Herod Antipas, never answered that fool after his folly, but submitted in silence.  And when he was dying upon the cross, with all the people mocking him, he said, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do (Lk. 23:34).  The meek shall inherit the earth: they are the ones great enough for it.

Zeal: The Fourth Lively Virtue

When Dante and Virgil enter the fourth ring of the winding path up Purgatory Mountain, they meet a band of souls weeping and racing at once, galloping for good will and righteous love.  Before they can ask a single question, they hear these heartening words:

Come on, come on, don't let time slip away
for lukewarm love! cried those who ran nearby.
Zeal in well-doing makes grace green again!

These sinners are atoning for the sin that Josef Pieper said was characteristic of our day.  It is the devil of the noonday sun, acedia, spiritual sluggishness: the unwillingness, and the resulting incapacity, to derive joy from what should legitimately bring us joy.  Acedia, says Saint Thomas, is the sin against the Sabbath, because the Sabbath is to be celebrated with a restfulness that is more active, more fervent, than is the necessary toil that burdens the other days of the week.  They atone for it by calling upon the muscular virtue of zeal, engaging, to use the words of our Lord, all the heart and mind and strength and soul.

The same Greek root gives us our words zeal and jealousy, and here it is useful to note the difference.  Jealousy properly refers to a demand that what is one's own remain inviolate.  It may become a vice, as when a jealous husband spies upon his innocent wife; but God Himself says to the children of Israel that He is a jealous God, meaning that the worship due to Him may not be granted in the least to any strange god to any mere work of that factory of idols, the human mind.  But zeal is that same desire, born of devotion, to ensure the inviolability of a good that belongs to someone else, and particularly to God.  Zeal for thy house hath eaten me up, says the evangelist, when Jesus, angered on behalf both of the poor and of God, makes a whip of cords and drives the thieving dealers out of the Temple.  Zeal is the spirit that breathes throughout the celebratory Psalms.  I rejoiced, says the Psalmist, when I heard them say, Let us go up to the house of the Lord.  David is moved by zeal when he dances naked before the Ark of the Covenant.  When Ezra the Scribe reads the book of the law to the Jews returned from captivity, they are at first abashed and crushed with sorrow, but he commands them instead to refresh themselves and to feast with joy.

Zeal reveals to us all the difference between a world grown merely secular and old, and the youthfulness of Christian love.  The young student Charles Peguy threw all his capacious energy into the promotion of socialism in France.  That was before his dramatic conversion to the faith; but even in the midst of those years he retired from the prestigious Ecole Normale for a year an unprecedented thing to do to return to his peasant home and to begin his lifelong poetic meditation upon the life of Joan of Arc.  His Joan simply will not accept that it is God's will that the French countryside be ravaged by the soldiers of England.  How will they be saved? she asks, again and again.  How will they be saved?  It is her zeal her irrepressible love for the poor French peasants, her unquenchable desire to guard their rights that opens her heart to the call to give her very body for their sake.  Peguy himself, by then an ardent Catholic, died in the front lines of battle at the beginning of World War I, a hero for his beloved France.

Or we may think of Joseph de Veustre, a young man of weak constitution, who fairly cheated his way onto a ship bound for Hawaii, so that he could hurl himself into work among the lepers on Molokai.  He came upon a sinkhole of physical and moral corruption.  He was zealous in his anger against what should not be, because he was zealous in his love for what should be.  He did not hate the wretched and dying sinners he met there, but loved them with a searing fire, to cauterize their souls, when he could not heal their bodies.  He did for them what Mother Teresa did for the dying in Calcutta.  This is no cold and abstract philanthropy.  I would not do what you are doing, said a journalist once when he beheld Mother Teresa cleaning the purulent sores of a dying man, for a million dollars.

I would not do it for a million dollars either, Mother Teresa replied.  Not for a million dollars, but for zealous love.  What did she see in those people, half rotten while they breathed still?  She saw Christ; she saw royalty.  Her zeal but gave them the honor they deserved.

That zeal is well expressed by the words of Christ that haunted her all her life.  They are words of relentless love.  I thirst, said Jesus from the Cross.  Tell her, said Jesus in a dream to a young priest who was to visit Mother Teresa, tell her that I still thirst.  Jesus thirsts for the good of all lost souls.  He is the Good Shepherd, the one who does not say, Well, ninety nine out of a hundred is all right, but cannot rest until that one lost sheep is found again and carried home upon his shoulders.  And then there is rejoicing in heaven, more for the one than for the ninety nine.

What unreasonable love of God, that there should be such rejoicing, wrote Peguy.  That zealous man also wrote that Jesus upon the Cross wept for love.  He did not notice His own mother abandoned to sorrow at the foot of the Cross, and the beloved disciple John supporting her, because He was thinking still of that Judas whom He loved so well, and whom He could not save.

Zeal does not give up; just as youth, blessed youth, cannot believe in defeat.  I am no great exemplar of zeal, because the noonday sun, and its dry heat, and the dust of the road we travel, lie heavy upon my heart, and I forget to rejoice sometimes, and I forget to love.  I say, I have loved enough, but love does not understand that middling adverb.  I say, God will take care of me, and that's true, but God also has granted me the great privilege of taking care for Him, so to speak the privilege of worship.  I say, I am doing all right, but that makes no sense at all.  The wine that gladdens the heart has been freely broached for us all, in the Eucharist, and in all graces showered upon us by prayer, and the sacraments, and a life lived in Christian love; and would we say, I am content with just so much gladness, and need no more?

Perhaps our frames, sin-riddled, are too weak for so much joy.  If that is so, then zeal makes grace green again, as Dante  says.  We are short of breath.  The remedy is not to lie slack, but to run.  We'll make a pitiful show of it at first, and for a while afterwards too.  But there is no other way to enlarge the heart than the way of zealous love.

I am absolutely persuaded, too, that zeal is catching.  There are some hardened souls who snicker at the grand foolishness of youth.  But there are others, not so far gone in acedia, who might look upon a youthful worshiper, or upon the youthfulness of worship itself, and burn with homesickness for a joy they have lost.  For the love of those souls, and for the love of God, we should race.  Few will be the leaders of the race, but the rest of us, the wobbly-kneed, can at least follow along, and sing, Jerusalem, my happy home, when shall I come to thee?

 

When Jesus first sent forth his disciples to preach that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand, he did not advise them to take provisions.  Heal the sick, he said, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.  They had, in Jesus, entered into a relationship of giving.  As the Father had given to the Son, so the Son gave to His disciples, and so the disciples were to give in turn, and to receive the gifts of those who welcomed them in.  That seems to be why Jesus warned them against what might seem to be perfectly practical measures: Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses (Mt. 10:8-9).

Answering the objection that liberality was not a virtue because not everyone has the means to practice it, Thomas Aquinas says that even poor men may be liberal, because, as the Philosopher says, the virtue consists not in a multitude of gifts, but in the habit of the giver.  For some people consume their wealth in acts of intemperance, like the son in the parable who squandered half of his father's estate on drunkenness and harlotry; such people are prodigals, and not true gift-givers.  Others spread their wealth abroad to make themselves a name, and such boasters are also not truly liberal.  They, like the prodigals, are not giving but purchasing.

The essence of the virtue is suggested by the word liberalitas, says Thomas, and by its common synonym largitas.  According to the Philosopher, he says, to be liberal is to be ready to send forth.  That is why liberality is sometimes called by the name largesse: for what showers itself forth at large does not hold back, but rather sends.  And that too seems to pertain to the word liberality: because when someone sends forth from himself, in a sense he liberates it from his custody and dominion, and shows that his soul is free from attachment to it.

If we consider the words of Jesus and the meditation of Thomas together, we see freedom in a more profound sense than the modern world recognizes.  If I ask a bright college freshman, What does it mean to be free? I will invariably hear one of two replies.  Freedom is, first, non-interference: I am free to do as I please, within the civil law, and no one can tell me otherwise.  Then freedom describes the political structure that ensures the non-interference: a nation is free to the extent that each citizen may do as he pleases.

Such a definition of freedom is wholly negative, and therefore inadequate.  It does not tell me what my freedom is for apparently, it is for nothing but what I happen to choose.  It also does not tell me  for whom I am free.  Its subject is a human being severed from time and place, from family and community, from God and from his fellow men; an un-human being, a creature such as never has existed and never, except in Hell, can exist.

But when I freely receive and freely give, then am I free.  When I give of my substance to others, I set it at large, so to speak, and set my heart at large with it.  All is grace, says the long-suffering country priest in Bernanos novel.  The whole secret of existence seems to lie in that enclosed and yet boundless garden.  It is the precious blood of Jesus flowing from His opened side, dear, in the sense of being both beloved and costly; yet it flows freely, and it is dear to us because it is so freely given.  If a man owes me a thousand dollars and pays me what he owes, I receive what is neither dear nor free; but when Jesus, who owes me nothing, gives me of His very body and blood in the blessed sacrament, then I receive gratuitously what is most dear.

To follow in the way of Jesus, then, is to be free: to be free from deadening self-service, so as to be free for love.  It follows that liberality has nothing to do with what is cheap, tawdry, proud, vain, cruel, negligent, or insensible.  The word liberal has come to imply a certain political program, which was once associated with an expansive view of civil liberties, and is now associated with sexual license and the vast welfare state that that license makes necessary.  Yet whatever one may believe about our quadrennial national display of democracy, true liberality, like love, is not a matter of possessing correct political opinions.  One cannot, for example, be liberal with someone else's money, or with someone else's blood.  One cannot be liberal in the service of sin.  One cannot be a liberal sower of discord and chaos.  One cannot be a liberal reducer of civic freedom to license.  One cannot be a liberal opponent of those very institutions, such as the family, that are the seedbeds of both civic and spiritual liberty.  Such things do not enlarge the heart.  They constrict it.  They do not set free.  They enslave.

But let's not underestimate how hard it is to practice this virtue.  The stingers of covetousness sink deep.  For the richest people ever to walk the earth, we sure do a lot of wanting: this house, that car, this title, that award, this place on my list of places to visit, this thrill on my list of thrills to seek.  Liberality would help us dig out some of the stingers.  How would it do so?
Liberality: The Fifth Lively Virtue

Cheerful Giver: The Fifth Lively Virtue:

One day a reporter watched, incredulously, as Mother Teresa cleaned the purulent and stinking sores of a man in a ditch.  I wouldn't do that for a million dollars, he said.  Neither would I, said she.

The man had unwittingly revealed his habit of thinking by the words he used.  He meant to say, I would never do what you are doing.  But the expression, not for a million dollars, arose from a habitual way of looking at the world, one of payment and restitution.  If you do a certain favor for me, I am bound to repay you.  So if you endure something particularly noisome for my sake, then I am bound to repay handsomely with a million dollars, so to speak.

But Mother Teresa was not bound to clean the poor man's sores, nor was her patient bound to repay her.  They were dwelling in another world entirely.  What one would never bind oneself to do for a million dollars, that same would one free oneself to do freely, for nothing, or rather for everything,  because love is everything; because God is love.  Dear man, be comforted, I can imagine Mother Teresa whispering, and seeing in him the face of Jesus.

If you long for a happy death, said Father Benedict Groeschel in my hearing last fall, learn to love the poor.  Father Groeschel had spent his whole life in that liberty.  Hard to do, hard to do!  But he was in earnest.  And now that I think again of Mother Teresa and the reporter, I see what he means.  There are three people in the scene.  The reporter is bound corded up and knotted in self-protection.  He is deeply moved by what he sees, but he would prefer not to have to look.  He is afraid of the liberty of a heart that loves.  The dying man is bound he, like all men, bears on his wrists and ankles and neck the marks of the shackles of sin and death.  And no one in his right mind will help him.  He must die.

Then there is the diminutive nun from Albania, with the arms of a girl and the heart of a lion.  She, by the grace of God, that liberally showered gift we are free to receive, kneels down and brings into the scene a love that is stronger than slavery and death.  It is as if she were to say, You, you alone, are more important than all the rest of the world.  You lived in bondage.  Now be free.�

The Lord loves a cheerful giver, says Saint Paul.  It must be so.  It is the glorious liberty of the children of God.


 Temperance: The Sixth Lively Virtue

Temperance, alas, is a virtue with a bad reputation.  It calls to mind photographs of the flint-jawed Carry Nation, crusading against alcohol, until finally her cause carried the day and Prohibition, speakeasies, bootlegging, and organized crime swept the land.

I'm not being quite fair to that old temperance movement.  Drunkenness was a scourge for a family in poverty, and Prohibition did in fact crack the backbone of a subculture of alcoholism, as actuarial tables during those years will show.  Still, it brought to the fore that streak of joylessness in the American soul that values sobriety not because it makes a man wise but because it ensures that he will show up at the factory on time and not get his hand caught in the turbine.  For such a soul, it is not wine that gladdens the heart but oil that slicks the gears.  And now, now that we are haunted by the ghastly composite of Carry Nation and Clara Bow, it is sexual license (with appropriate padding and poison) that loosens the zipper and makes for tame subjects of the vast machinery of the state.

But true temperance brings strength, and only a strong heart and soul not to mention a strong body can stand the strain of joy.  The word itself suggests good order and strength.  It is built from the Latin tempus, time.  Something temperate is, in the first instance, something done in due time, in season; think of a band of mariners swinging the jib just at the right moment to catch the shifting wind.  It is also something done in an appropriate mode or fashion, given the circumstances: the inner meaning of the old word modest.  A man in good temper is one who is equal to the situation, composed, in control of his faculties, just as tempered steel is strong, as it must be, or tempered silver is malleable into thin sheets, for its very different uses.  To lose one's temper, then, is literally to lose that capacity to act in a timely or well-governed or effectual way.

The old poets understood the principle.  Take Edmund Spenser, and his knight of temperance, Guyon, in The Faerie Queene.  Guyon's task is to defeat the enchantress Acrasia, who dwells in a place that Spenser sardonically calls The Bower of Bliss.  Now, Acrasia's name suggests a-cracy, literally lack of any government or self-control.  Her Bower of Bliss is, fittingly, populated by lewd ladies and lascivious boys, including a couple of naked girls giggling and dunking each other in a pond their names are obviously Cissie and Flossie, says C. S. Lewis.  The porter of the place sits at his porch and smiles, offering guileful semblants, enticing passersby with deceptive phantoms, delusive specters that promise joy and deliver nothing.  His very dress suggests not masculine power, but effeminacy and weakness:

His looser garment to the ground did fall,
And flew about his heels in wanton wise,
Not fit for speedy pace, or manly exercise.

He is the unmanly counterpart to Excess, a woman

Clad in fair weeds, but foul disordered,
And garments loose, that seemed unmeet for womanhood.

And when we finally meet Acrasia herself, she is half-naked, hanging over a young lad who is not only disarmed: his very shield has been scrubbed bare.  The boy is in a dead sleep, physically and morally:

In lewd loves, and wasteful luxury,
His days, his goods, his body he did spend.

Have we ourselves ever seen the like, let us say in a dormitory, or a bar?  Lewis verdict is devastating:

The Bower of Bliss is not a picture of lawless, that is, unwedded, love as opposed to lawful love.  It is a picture, one of the most powerful ever painted, of the whole sexual nature in disease.  There is not a kiss or an embrace in the island: only male prurience and female provocation.

Not a kiss, nor an embrace in the land of intemperance.  It follows that temperance is in harmony with both physical and moral power, and with the strength of true love.  Spenser, the wise Christian poet and philosopher of love, sees that too.  So he describes the action of the sailor bringing Guyon to the Bower of Bliss, having to steer a straight path between the Quicksand of Unthriftihood and the Whirlpool of Decay:

But the heedful Boatman strongly forth did stretch
His brawny arms, and all his body strain,
That the utmost sandy breach they shortly fetch,
Whiles the dread danger does behind remain.

And the House of Alma, his emblem of temperance in action, is filled with young men and women actively pursuing their love, and what god should be present to bestir them if not Eros himself?

And in the midst thereof upon the floor
A lovely bevy of fair ladies sat,
Courted of many a jolly paramour,
The which them did in modest wise amate [glance downward],
And each one sought his lady to aggrate [delight]:
And eke amongst them little Cupid played
His wanton sports, being returned late
From his fierce wars, and having from him laid
His cruel bow, wherewith he thousands hath dismayed.

The scene fairly bustles: some of the lovers are singing, some are laughing for joy, some are playing with straws, some are sitting at ease, and some indeed are in the throes of a kind of comical agony, frowning or fawning or blushing.

Temperance, as Spenser shows us, is the virtue that respects the nourishment and care of the human body and then, by extension, of the body politic, so that instead of dissipating our faculties we strengthen them, and spend ourselves on what brings us true profit, rather than to slug in sloth of sensual delight, a pleasure that disappoints, and that is far from love.  This same poet will, in the hymn that celebrates his own wedding day, issue the following summons for jollity:

Make feast therefore now all this livelong day,
This day forever to me holy is:
Pour out the wine without restraint or stay,
Pour not by cups, but by the bellyful,
Pour out to all that will,
And sprinkle all the posts and walls with wine
That they may sweat, and drunken be withal.

And that comes right after he has thus memorialized the sobriety, the sweet temper, of his beloved bride, at the moment their wedding is consecrated:

But her [solemn] eyes still fastened on the ground
Are governed with goodly modesty,
That suffers not one look to glance awry,
Which may let in a little thought unsound.
Why blush ye, love, to give to me your hand,
The pledge of all our band?
Sing ye sweet Angels, Alleluia sing,
That all the woods may answer, and your echo ring.

That momentary blush how much does it reveal!  It shows both the self-governance of the bride, her strength of soul, her temper, if you will; and also, and not coincidentally, her passionate love for her bridegroom.

Spenser was but following the lead of sacred scripture, which so often associates vanity and heedlessness with the image of the drunkard: But they have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink . . . They err in vision, they stumble in judgment.  For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness (Is. 28:7-8).  Meanwhile, the severe temperance of Daniel and his three friends is rewarded with spiritual gifts.  They begged their Babylonian overlords to spare them from eating the defiling meat the king ate, and from drinking his wine.  Their meal of pulse and water left them healthier in the flesh than the kings servants were, and fairer of countenance.  Then God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams (Dan. 1:17).  The Baptist ate locusts and wild honey, and Jesus Himself fasted for forty days in the desert.  But as for the wicked beast that rules the earth, the cry against her comes forth from heaven: Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of her fornication (Rev. 14:8).

There is wine, and there is wine.  We are temperate, not so that we may drink a little bit of wine and grow a little tipsy, but so that we may drink the true wine and grow inebriated.  Hence Jesus at Cana turned the water into wine, and good rich wine, as the steward noted, not thin ordinary stuff.  For when it comes to joy, the soul in good temper knows no bounds: I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved (Sg. 5:1).

Chastity: The Seventh Lively Virtue

When Satan, in Miltons Paradise Lost, insinuates himself into the garden of Eden, he encounters a perfect riot of beauty: lush grapevines hanging over grottoes and heavy with fruit, grassy meadows full of browsing cattle and sheep, streams splashing their way over the rocks, and flowers literally pouring forth at the bidding not of dainty art but of Nature boon, showering her gifts in abundance.  But although he recognizes that these things are beautiful, they bring him no pleasure.  The fiend saw undelighted all delight, and then he comes upon a sight that saddens him to the core of his being:

Two of far nobler shape, erect and tall,
Godlike erect, with native honor clad
In naked majesty seemed lords of all,
And worthy seemed: for in their looks divine
The image of their glorious Maker shone:
Truth, wisdom, sanctitude severe and pure,
Severe, but in true filial freedom placed.

Adam and Eve are both naked and clad: their innocence and their honor are as a robe of majesty, and they need no other.

Milton understood well that chastity is not the same as abstinence.  Indeed, Adam and Eve are chaste, and they do not abstain from the rites mysterious of wedded love.  What they do is not merely permissible.  It is blessed by God.  It is holy.  That is why, when they enter their bower at night, they enter a sacred place where none of the lowly animals will go, such was their awe of man.  That is where they go after a day of creative labor, and conversation, and prayer; for theirs is not casual fruition, but the consummation of their love as embodied souls made by the God of love.  Chastity is the virtue of reverence for sexual being, male and female, both in oneself and in all other persons.

This reverence, as I see it, implies a metaphysical realism with regard to sex.  What Pope John Paul II called the nuptial meaning of the body is immediately and powerfully evident to anyone who sees a husband and wife walking together, hand in hand.  This sense of fittingness precedes a childs awareness of the details of sexual intercourse, but it is founded upon that reality, for the mysterious parts, as Milton calls them, are made for one another.  I can breathe on my own, digest food on my own, and think thoughts on my own.  The only thing I cannot do on my own is, however, the most time-transcending and creative thing of all: I cannot engage in a reproductive act on my own.  Only a man and a woman together, in genuine sexual intercourse that is, the interactive congress of the sexes as such, male and female can perform that kind of act.

Here we stand on the shores of a vast and life-giving but also dangerous sea.  Sex is the first thing we notice about someone, and the last thing we forget.  In social situations it never quite fades from our awareness.  We understand that the man is for the woman, as the woman is for the man.  This being-for is marked in the differences themselves.  In the husband and wife, these differences are for completion, as Genesis suggests and as Milton makes clear, in the scene when Adam pursues the newly-created Eve:

                         To give thee life I gave
Out of my side to thee, nearest my heart,
Substantial being, to have thee by my side
Henceforth an individual solace dear;
Part of my soul I seek thee, and thee claim
My other half.

We are not talking here about the pleasure one gains from friendship, or the enlargement of the heart and the mind that is occasioned by social interchange generally.  We are talking instead of something new in the world: the literally individual solace of marriage, wherein the man and the woman become one flesh, never, without grave sin, to be put asunder.

Man is a social being; he casts bridges over the rifts that separate one person from another.  But the union of man and woman is unlike those; in it, and in it alone, do we unite with a different kind of human being altogether, a person who sows the seed, which a woman can never do, or a person who is the field wherein the seed and the egg bear fruit, which a man can never be.  It requires the most radical surrender of self.  I do not simply mean that the man and woman bear certain emotions toward one another.  I mean that the man, precisely as a man, gives himself entirely in the act of sexual congress to the woman, who gives herself in return, as a woman.  The very act cries out: I was made for you, meaning not just, I give you pleasant feelings, or even, I will always be with you, but rather, Everything that I am, in all the reality of my sex, belongs to you, is yours by right, because with you its meaning, biological and personal, is fulfilled.

Unlike mere abstinence, then, chastity is ineluctably social.  It colors all of our relations with men and women, because it recognizes them and reveres them as sexual beings.  Every man, married or not, is the sort of being oriented towards fatherhood, as every woman is the sort of being oriented towards motherhood.  I'm not saying that every man will actually sire a child; nor will every woman bear a child.  Here we might well mention the spiritual fatherhood of a priest or the spiritual motherhood of a nun.  But instead I would like to draw a corollary from the being-for that is inscribed in each sex.  It is inseparable from procreation.  Animals reproduce; only man, in the act of love, bears within himself a consciousness that he is doing what his own parents did, and what his children may do in turn.  The meaning of the act transcends the moment just insofar as the man and woman are open to that fact and all that it implies.  Our popes have understood the point.  It is a logical and psychological contradiction to say, I give myself entirely to you, while saying, I deny to you the fullness of my sexual being, and the heritage of the generations that I bear within me.  That is to treat a man or a woman as somewhat less than a man or a woman: as male and female givers of pleasure.

On the liveliness that chastity brings I could say much; and perhaps the subject requires another essay or two.  C. S. Lewis shrewdly noted, in The Four Loves, that the first casualty of a misplaced exaltation of eros is eros itself.  I note this deadening all the time.  Where chastity is not honored, people lose their reverence for the sexes, and with that reverence they lose also interest.  Not to say that they keep themselves free of sexual encounters.  But these then tend to be loveless and joyless, disappointing, sometimes even perfunctory.  The simple pleasures of sexuality are lost.  A lad and a lass cannot flirt innocently without the shadow of a sexual liaison falling over the act.  They are thus free to fornicate, but that very license cramps them and everyone else.  The stakes are raised too high.  If a boy says to a girl, Would you like to go to a movie with me? she must think beyond the movie far beyond.  Knowing that this is so, the boy does not trouble to ask her in the first place.

The dash, the pursuit, the courtship, the sending of poems, the singing of songs, the high hearted pleasure occasioned by a smile, or by the touch of a hand all these are dulled.  One needn't take my word for it.  The lyrics of folk love songs testify: they could not be composed now, because they would not be understood.  Something as simple as Loch Lomond appears to have come from another world.  The first singer of that song would have understood what prompted Dante to write, centuries before him, Ladies who have intelligence of love.  Our young people can understand neither.

Where chastity is not honored, the boy cannot even enjoy the foolish pleasures of boyhood of old.  If you look at old photographs of high school football or baseball teams, you will see the boys fairly hanging all over one another; that physical expression of affection is only possible because reverence for male sexual being clears room for it.  Boys are for girls: that is that.  If one were to intrude upon this picture of camaraderie and say, I feel a sexual desire for you, that would do violence to the maleness of the boys.  It would be a subtle attempt to divert their confidence that they are husbands-to-be or fathers-to-be, to turn their attention in upon themselves to conceive of their maleness in the severely restricted sense that they possess a certain sort of body, without considering what that body is for.  It would dampen philia with eros, and then would subvert eros itself, replacing it with a kind of mutual autoeroticism.

The society that promotes chastity thus promotes true wedded love, and the land of marriage, despite all the troubles that sinful human beings bring upon themselves, is a perfect paradise by comparison with the land of easy fornication and childlessness by choice.  There we will find all the glorious expectancy of young people in love; the pilgrimage that begins with an exchange of glances and ends within the temple, with man and woman exchanging vows, before they enter that other temple where they exchange their very bodies; the beauty of a gift given without reserve, at the just time, with due ceremony; and the beauty of the child ever present in their midst; the child who may be born from their loving interchange, and the Child whom they in their innocence revere.

 

 

The Lively Virtues
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