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WEEK 23: Being loving, faithful and hopeful

See the theological virtues in your life 

Home > #3- Practice > Week 23- Being faithful, hopeful, loving

As we draw towards the end of this intensive stage of building virtue literacy and shaping your mind towards virtue, we come to the theological virtues.  These are the three virtues we find in 1 Corinthians 13:  faith, hope and love.

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The theological virtues

The virtues of love, hope and faith have been called the ‘theological virtues’ because of their association with early Christian theology in Europe.  But here a disclaimer needs to be made, for although it is true that the Christian vision contributed to explore these virtues in new ways, it this does not mean that the virtues of love, hope and faith are the exclusive domain or invention of Christian theology.

When asked what ren is, for example, Confucius replied ‘cherish people’. And in Confucianism, just like in Christianity, love is seen as a foundational virtue as reflected in the famous passage called shu: ‘What you do not want others to do to you, do not do to others’.   But love is also considered a fundamental social glue by many philosophers. The contemporary political philosopher John Rawls, for example, claims that toleration, as a social and philosophical attitude, is not possible without the virtues of patience, generosity and love.So love, as hope and faith are ubiquitous virtues and we might even advance claims to their universality.

Having said that, in this brief treatment we will focus on the Christian tradition of these virtues because it offers some distinctive insights that are can be generally very helpful to you as you seek to develop them in your character. Rivers of ink have flown on the theological virtues, and in this brief space it is impossible to do any of them full justice.  What will do is to look at them through the eyes of the famous painter Raphael, who has depicted them with rich symbolism on three altar-step tables that are kept in the Vatican Pinacoteca (AL2).

The virtue of love

In the Christian tradition, love is seen as a virtue that holds all other virtues to account. In the words of St Paul, who famously put together faith, hope and love as things which will last, ‘the greatest is love’ (1 Corinthians 13, Bible). Augustine, unpacked the grandeur of love by defining virtue and vice in terms of ordered or disordered love.  For him, all virtue is well-ordered and all vice is disordered love, either in relation to God, neighbour and the world.  Centuries later, Dante, in the Divine Comedy, picks up on Augustine’s theology and graphically depicts the seven capital sins in terms of love gone wrong (pride, vainglory and wrath), distorted love (gluttony, lust and greed) or lack of love all together (acedia).  Aquinas went further and claimed that any other virtue is false unless it is motivated by love as the virtue that elevates and perfects all natural virtues.

Raphael depicts the virtue of love is depicted as a fertile woman laden with children who loves and serves all life.  And life hungrily searches for her.

We then see a cherub on her left bearing fire to remind us that love is moved by a warming passion, and a cherub on her right that is pouring out abundant grapes, symbol of the generous giving of oneself.

Love is committing ourselves to the good of people, projects, things and principles with the same intensity that we commit to our own welfare. It is the embodiment of the golden rule of doing to others what we would have others do to us. Love not just of people, but of structures, nature, goodness, beauty.  So we love our neighbours, but we also love our neighbourhood.

Love includes solidarity towards neighbours and enemies in need. It includes friendship and most other virtues, like loyalty, courage, justice and compassion. Love also includes benevolence, described as a deep satisfaction in what you have, leading to being happy for what others have and desiring that their conditions improve even further.  Benevolence, in turn is related to kindnessgentleness and altruism.

The vices that oppose love include envyjealousypridemalvolenceindifferenceegoismwrath and vengeance.  A spirit of competitionsuspicion of other’s motives, harshness and cynicism are also vices opposing love. Love, like all theological virtues, has no excesses.

The virtue of faith

Faith is a virtue characterized by the double disposition of reliance and reliability. Reliance has to do with faith in. Reliability means faith towards. The two are connected, as faith in someone or something often serves as the grounds of faithfulness (e.g. to God, spouse, a friend or a cause).

Raphael depicts the virtue of faith as reliance on the living presence of Christ in the Eucharist, in reflection of the particularly Catholic vision of the presence of Christ in the sacraments.

The two cherubs on the right and the left hold signs with the latin letters JHS (Jesus hominum Salvator) and the Greek letters CPX, both pointing to the titles of Jesus as the saviour of humanity.  Hence, faith for Raphael is strongly bound to the Christian dogma of the incarnation.

More generally, we can see that faith includes loyalty to another person and is an irreplaceable mark of friendship. It also includes the disposition to believe in reliable sources and the choice to act on the basis of those beliefs. Faith finds its synonyms in trust, trustworthiness and obedience and it is surely one a main theme in global literature.

But faith is also about being faithful and trustworthy, and hence includes the virtue of truthfulness as the disposition of saying the truth (in love), of being genuine and of living loyally in friendship and relationships. Truthfulness is essential for collective cohesion, as nothing will segregate social bonds as much as dishonesty In many ways. When we see faith as being reliable, we can see the relation to the virtues of being responsible, accountable and answerable for what we have, or have not, said and done, whatever the consequences. The virtue of honesty also finds a place here, where our words and intentions match our actions out of self-respect, respect for others, integrity and sincerity.

Faith is a virtue that can be difficult to navigate, as we are often called to be faithful to those we may not like. It can also place us in conundrums of conflicting loyalties, and it regularly requires the exercise of prudence as we seek the mean between the excesses of ingenuity, over-reliance, fanaticism and partisanship and the deficiencies of betrayal, distrust, cynicism and anarchy. The opposing vices to faithfulness and truthfulness are easily identified as falsehood, lying, deceit and dishonesty.

The virtue of hope

Raphael depicts the virtue of hope as a woman in prayer which carries with it the attitudes of waiting and seeing beyond the present with its burdens.  In the Christian vision, hope is inextricably bound to divine providence as the future is placed in the hands of a loving and powerful God.

The two angels on either side suggest postures of tranquility and serenity, as all is in the hands of God.

More generally, we can understand hope as looking upwards and onwards. Hope wins over short-sightedness and the tendency to get discouraged as soon as we don’t obtain results. Hope is a virtue that projects us towards a positive future and conditions our life with an optimistic view of the future even when the outlook is grim.

Hope is closely linked to the virtue of joy, as the ability to not dwell on present adverse circumstances, and of friendship, as seeing through imperfections and offering new opportunities after failure. As with the other virtues, hope also needs wise discernment in order to avoid the excess of ingenuity and gullibility and the deficiency of cynicism.

Patience might be included as a virtue related to hope as it calls for appropriate expectations regarding the evils the world and its inhabitants. The virtue of patience might be described as the disposition to bear conflicts and to resolve them in peace over time, rather than through rapid conflict. Patience is the opposite of wrath that explodes during conflict. Patience is the precious ability to remain controlled and to know how to wait, demonstrating wise discernment between the excesses of irascibility, intemperance, impulsiveness and haste and the deficiency of resignation and defeatism.

An animal story

Inspiration about virtue can be found from animals, and the true story of the dog Hachikō is a wonderful example of love, faith and hope (HA, see also the movie A Dog’s Tale).

In November 1923, an Akita puppy was born in a barn in Odate, Japan. In the mountains of this northeast region, the dignified little pup stretched out his paws and took his first steps. In 1924, the puppy was given to a man with whom he would forge an incredible, unshakable bond — unbroken even by death.

Ueno Hidesaburo was a professor in the Department of Agriculture at the Imperial University of Tokyo (now The University of Tokyo). Not in the market for a pup, Ueno unexpectedly accepted Hachikō as a gift from his former student. In the winter of 1924 Hachikō arrived in Tokyo to meet Ueno. A fragile pup in poor health, Hachikō slept under Ueno’s western-style bed, wrapped in fabric(In those days it was rare to find dogs indoors.) Hachikō became weaker and developed a fever, causing Ueno and his wife to bolster their efforts to nurse him back to health.

Once healed, every morning Hachikō accompanied Ueno to Shibuya Station where the two would part ways for the day. Rain or snow, Hachikō would return to the station to greet his beloved companion at the end of each day. Their routine continued for years, and provided constant comfort and unwavering friendship to the other. On May 21, 1925, Hachikō watched his friend Professor Ueno board the train for the last time. That day, while lecturing his students, the 53-year old professor suffered a fatal stroke. It would be the last day Hachiko ever saw the professor again.

When Ueno died, his wife could not keep a large dog like Hachikō so she sent him to live with a relative who lived in Asakusa, in the eastern part of Tokyo. Despite the distance, however, Hachikō would repeatedly run back to his former house in Shibuya. Concerned for the dog’s health and safety, the professor’s former gardener, Kikusaburo Kobayashi, took Hachikō in, having known Hachikō for years. The dog longed for his owner, and every morning, he returned to the train station to wait for Ueno.

Although Hachikō was not a stray, people around the station assumed he was – why else would a dog be there by himself? As such, some of the employees treated him poorly. They would paint his face with a mustache and children would tease and taunt. Vendors even went so far to pour water on Hachikō, hoping it would make him leave and not return. He was seen as a nuisance… an abandoned, unwanted beast. When one of Ueno’s students, Hirokichi Saito, recognized Hachikō, he attempted to stop the abuse. He contacted a local media outlet, who published a story which gained instant traction and spread throughout Japan.

Hachikō’s years on the street had left him battle-scarred and underweight. One of his ears drooped and he suffered from severe heartworms. But still Hachikō spent most of his days sprawled out on the station ground, eyes still searching for his master. On March 7, 1935, a station employee noticed Hachikō walking into secluded rooms and going into shops where he had been treated kindly, perhaps looking for a familiar face. He was last seen asleep on a wooden bed by the baggage room. The next day he was found dead on the side of the road.

Hachikō had waited for almost ten years for the professor. On March 10, 1935, a small memorial was held at Hachiko’s shrine which was located next to Ueno’s resting place. Hachikō’s death made front page news, and the people of Japan deeply mourned his passing. Schools in Japan often cited Hachikō to their students as an example of loyalty, friendship and good character.  Today, we can see in this wonderful dog an example of the virtues of love, faith and hope.

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