What is it? How to be attained? What are its sources?
What is virtue, and who is "a virtuous person"? He may be one who likes and does good and righteousness, whereas virtue may mean purity or walking in the way of God.
It also may mean power within oneself enabling a person to overcome all inclinations and temptations of evil, and to practice a righteous life. It may mean going beyond the self to the care for others, beyond self-love to love for God and people. This is important, because sin often makes one focus on oneself trying to lift oneself up and satisfy one's own desires.
Virtue also is going beyond the level of pleasure, whether of the senses or the heart. Most of the sins may be accompanied by such sensual pleasure of the body, the mind or the self, and seek to satisfy them in a wrong way. Those who love money or possessions find pleasure in them, and who love adornment or food, positions or fame, the flesh or taking revenge, all those find pleasure in fulfilling these things.
Sin then is seeking pleasure, whereas virtue is rising above the level of pleasure to find true happiness in spirituality. Happiness is different from pleasure, for pleasure is usually connected with senses, flesh, and substance.
Sources of virtue: 1. Wisdom, discerning, and knowledge: This is the teaching of St. Anthony. Scholars and philosophers likewise focus on the word "Knowledge", by which they mean true knowledge that discerns between good and evil. Some people call this kind of knowledge "Gnosticism". The Holy Scripture says, "The wise man's eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness." (Eccl 2: 14) Also in the Parable of the five wise virgins and five foolish virgins (Mt 25): the wise represent the life of righteousness while the foolish the opposite.
A truly wise person is one who walks in the life of virtue, whereas a sinner is one who is foolish even though a scholar. Such a person is not aware of the nature of things and the nature of good and evil, is not aware of his eternal life, or of the results of sin. He does not know what is good and what is evil or what is for his benefit and what is not! He is ignorant of the divine wisdom and of true knowledge. Such a person needs guidance and awareness.
The Lord Christ described His crucifiers as ignorant, saying, "They do not know what they do." (Lk 23: 34) St. Paul likewise said about them, "Had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." (1 Cor 2: 8) Atheism is described in the Holy Scripture as foolishness, "The fool has said in his heart, there is no God." (Ps 14: 1) Even a philosopher without wisdom is foolish and ignorant, for wisdom calls upon a person to walk in the proper way. There may be a young woman who falls in love with a young man of a different religion and the matter develops into marriage; she has not enough wisdom to know the result of her deed and the kind of life waiting for her! She may not accept the words of a guide who tries to draw her attention to the end of her way and that she destroys herself and her family. The deeper a person goes into wisdom, the more and better he can discern matters and judge well. However, wisdom and knowledge are not the only source of virtue, for a person may be aware of the good way but does not walk in it. Here come other sources of virtues:
2. Willpower and determination: A person may not be able to walk in the way of virtue because of weak will, as the Apostle says, "For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice." (Rom 7: 19) Many persons desiring to live a virtuous life practice spiritual exercises to strengthen their willpower, for weakness makes falling in sin easy. Each is a cause and a result to the other.
A virtuous person is powerful in spirit, mind, determination, and action, as well as in practice and in overcoming external wars and inner inclinations. On the other hand, a weak person is one subjugated to evil habits, and having no control over his tongue or nerves or thoughts. This leads him away from virtue, and even if he repents, he may return to sin again.
3. Principles and values are another source of virtue: A spiritual person who holds to principles and values can easily lead a virtuous life, because values protect him. He cannot fall in sin though fought with it! He will say, 'I cannot do such a thing or break my principles even if they put a sword on my neck!'
On the contrary, a sinful person has no values, or in other words, virtues have no real value in his sight to keep them! He lies, because truth means nothing to him; he commits adultery, because chastity has no value to him; he cheats, because honesty is worth nothing to him … and so on with respect to other virtues! Due to the loss of values in his life, he falls in recklessness and indifference. Nothing is valuable in his sight; neither time, appointments, duties, public order, law, or traditions; nothing at all!
4. Fear of God is a source of virtue: A person who has God's fear in his heart cannot sin, therefore, the Scripture says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." (Prov 9:10) Here fear and wisdom come together. A spiritual person fears to break God's commandments, fears the day in which he will stand before the Just Judge (Heb 10: 31), fears punishment, fears to lose his chastity, fears to lose the divine image, fears to lose his reputation, and fears to be an offence to others.
With fear a person walks in the way of virtue, and by practicing virtue he gets to love it, so he continues out of love not fear. However, some of those who do not understand properly the natural order of virtues reject fear with misunderstanding of the verse, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear." (1 Jn 4: 18) We would inquire: Has anybody attained such perfect love that casts out fear? We ought to begin with fear, for the Scripture says, "Conduct yourselves throughout the time of your sojourning here in fear," "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." (1 Pet 1: 17; Phil 2: 12) Let us trust that fear will lead us to love.
5. Another source of virtue is the divine gift to a person: Virtue is of two kinds, one is natural, with which a person is born like the calm temper, and the other is attained by struggling. Of the first type is John the Baptist who was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb (Lk 1: 15), and Jeremiah the Prophet to whom God said, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; and I ordained you a prophet to the nations." (Jer 1: 5)
An example of those who struggled to attain virtue is St. Moses the Prophet. Whoever struggles certainly receives a heavenly reward for his struggling and triumph. These are classified by the Lord in the Revelation with the words, "He who overcomes" (Rev 2, 3).
Nevertheless, even a person born with virtue needs to struggle in order to overcome. The adversary does not let such a person alone, but fights him so that he may lose his virtues. Therefore, such persons need to hold and be steadfast against the enemy's wars, as the Lord said to the angel of the church of Philadelphia, "Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown." (Rev 3: 11) Moreover, one has to struggle to reach perfection in virtue through the narrow gate according to the Lord's commandment (Mt 7: 13).
6. Grace is another source of virtue: God's grace supports and strengthens man to enable him to walk in God's way and be steadfast in it. As St. Paul the Apostle says, "By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." (1 Cor 15: 10) Due to the importance of grace, the holy church prays God in every meeting to give it to us: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen." (2 Cor 13: 14)
However, we should respond to the work of the grace and take part with the Holy Spirit in work. God's grace will not work with us or give us virtue unless we take part and accept its work. This is what St. Paul meant by "the communion of the Holy Spirit". The Holy Spirit works within us, and with us. God's work unites with man's will and action to attain virtue.
7. According to some Fathers, virtue is by nature implanted within oneself: This means that sin is resisting this divine implantation, which is common in the conscience of everybody, whatever his religion: Buddhism, Brahmanism, Confucianism … Virtue is the natural unwritten law given by God in our nature to guide us to good and to rebuke us if we do not walk in the proper way of virtue. That is why a person who sins feels ashamed, afraid and confused. This may be noticed in a child when he takes something not his own or does something wrong against the values implanted by nature within him, and also happens to the old, therefore they like to commit sin in secret, in darkness, where nobody can see them because they resist something implanted within them. That is why the Lord said, "Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." (Jn 3: 19) Next time – God willing - we shall speak about the various types of virtue: the passive and the active virtues, and the inner and outer virtues, and the integration of virtues … etc.