BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (187): How is virtue connected to happiness?

Rev José Mario O Mandía

We saw previously that God calls each one of us to be holy and offers us His help, “for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). It is up to each one of us, however, to make use of that help that He extends to us. We respond to His grace through our ascetical struggle. In this way, we cultivate good and holy habits. These good habits are called virtues. Simply put, a virtue is a good quality that we would like to see in another person.

The CCC (No. 1803) quotes Saint Paul and says: “‘Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things’ (Philippians 4:8).”

Then it explains: “A virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions. ‘The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God’ (St Gregory of Nyssa, De beatitudinibus, 1).” Moreover, virtues help us perform good acts not only with ease but also with joy.

“Why be virtuous?” Scotty Hendricks asks. He then explains, “In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle proposed that humans are social, rational animals who seek to ‘live well.’ To that end, he proposed a system of ethics designed to help us reach eudaimonia, a Greek word that means living well or flourishing.

Eudaimonia is reached by living virtuously and building up your character traits until you don’t even have to think about your choices before making the right one.

“Such a person will be happy, but not in the same way as a hedonistic person. They will strive for self-improvement and will live their lives to the fullest. They will be the kind of person that others want to be like. Above all else, they will flourish” (“How to be happy: Aristotle’s 11 guidelines for a good life,”


(1) Human virtues. “Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good” (CCC No. 1804). These are acquired by constant repetition of acts. By “acquired,” we mean that even a non-baptized person can cultivate these through habit. Following the classification of Saint Thomas Aquinas, these are:

(1.1) Intellectual virtues (cf. S Th I-II, q57). As the name indicates, these virtues perfect our intellect. These are further subdivided into speculative virtues and practical virtues.

(1.2) Moral virtues. These virtues perfect the will. They all revolve around four key or cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance.

(2) Supernatural virtues. They can only come from God, who infuses them into the soul in sanctifying grace.

(2.1) Theological virtues. Their source, motive, and end are God Himself. They are faith, hope, and charity.

(2.2) (Supernatural) Moral virtues. These are infused with sanctifying grace, and are the supernatural counterpart of the human moral virtues with the same name (see 1.2 above). The supernatural moral virtues make possible the heroic exercise of virtue.