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Theological virtues

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-K101-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

The three theological virtues of faith, hope and love, referred to frequently by the apostle Paul in his letters, play an indispensable role in Christian theorizing about a person’s duties with respect to God. Thomas Aquinas is responsible for the most thorough and influential philosophical theory of the theological virtues. According to him, faith, hope and love are virtues because they are dispositions whose possession enables a person to act well to achieve a good thing – in this case, the ultimate good of salvation and beatitude. Without them, people would have neither the awareness of nor the will to strive for salvation. Despite the fact that they are infused in persons by God’s grace, one can wilfully and culpably fail to let them develop.

Faith for Aquinas is the voluntary assent to propositions about God that cannot be known by the evidence available to the natural capacities of humans. Other theologians, such as Martin Luther and Søren Kierkegaard, deny the assumption that faith is primarily cognitive or propositional in nature, insisting instead that it is trust in God. Kierkegaard even challenges the presupposition that faith is logically continuous with natural knowledge. There has been much debate in the second half of the twentieth century as to whether it is ever rationally permissible to believe something on the basis of insufficient evidence.

According to Aquinas, hope for one’s salvation requires that one already have faith. Hope requires that one remain steadfast in the face of despair on the one hand and presumption on the other. Aquinas models the virtue of love on one strand of Aristotle’s notion of friendship. Love of God entails desiring the good that God has to offer, seeking to advance God’s goals, and communicating one’s love to God. Love for others follows from the realization that they are also created with good natures by God.

Citing this article:
Mann, William E.. Theological virtues, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-K101-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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