Virtue and Sin
Forces In Opposition
"An offense against God as well as a fault against reason, truth, and right conscience. Sin is a deliberate thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the eternal law of God. In judging the gravity of sin, it is customary to distinguish between mortal and venial sins."
Taken from the glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church
"A habitual and firm disposition to do the good. The moral virtues are acquired through human effort aided by God’s grace; the theological virtues are gifts of God."
Taken from the glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Many people view Sin and Virtue to be opposites of each other. But the opposition posed between them is deeper and more important than simply two opposite sides of a coin like good and evil. It is that notion and how virtue leads us away from sin that I intend to explore in this post on Sin and Virtue.
The Reproductive Nature of Sin
Sin, by its nature, reproduces and reinforces itself. When man makes a choice, he makes himself to be a person who chooses such an action. Therefore, if a man chooses a sinful act such as theft, he becomes a thief. This aspect of sin is more than merely one of defining or classifying a person by their actions, but rather it is a modification of who and what the person is becoming.
Through repeated sinful acts, man engenders in himself a disposition to vice. Once that vice has taken root in man's being, it creates in him perverse inclinations. These perverse inclinations result in a clouded conscience and a lessened ability to judge the difference between good and evil. This lessened capacity for discernment of the good results in poor choices which result in sinful acts, which we see is the source of the disposition to vice and the cycle continues in a downward spiral away from the good and away from a participation in the love of God and the love of neighbor.
How do we stop this downward spiral that takes us away from God?
The Importance of Virtue to the Christian Moral Life
Saint Gregory of Nyssa tells us ...
"The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God."
... and Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us ...
"Through virtuous living, man is further ordained to a higher end, which consists in the enjoyment of God."
If sin takes us away from God, virtue directs us toward God.
Unlike sin, virtue forms in us firm attitudes, stable dispositions and habitual perfections of the intellect and will. Through a life of virtue we turn towards God not away from God. The Baltimore Catechism tells us that we are made by God to know, love and serve Him. To accomplish that purpose that we must live a life of virtue.
It is virtue that provides a counter to the downward spiral that is the consequence of sin. Let us look at two ways virtue helps us with the battle against sin.
Pride vs. Humility
Pride turns us in on ourself. We want to determine the meaning of our life. It makes us the master of our own little part of the world. But when we turn to humility we open ourselves up to the divine plans of God, He who knows what is best for us. And in turning to God we say "Thy will be done" instead of "My will be done"
Chastity vs. Lust
Many people think that the virtue in opposition to Lust is Puritanism, but this can not be further from the truth. Puritanism, while opposite of lust, is not the solution. Lust is the use of another human being as the means to ones sexual pleasure. Puritanism helps prevent against this but in doing so it views the other as something contrary to the good. The real virtue that opposes Lust is the virtue of Chastity. Chastity is the perfect expression of sexuality, one that is ordered to the profound respect of the other.
Virtue and Grace
"Human virtues acquired by education, by deliberate acts and by a perseverance ever-renewed in repeated efforts are purified and elevated by divine grace. With God’s help, they forge character and give facility in the practice of the good. The virtuous man is happy to practice them." (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1810)
Grace finds its source in Jesus' once an for all sacrifice on Calvary. Grace is God's free and unmerited gift to man which allows us to live a virtuous life and through that break the downward spiral that results from sin.
"...where sin increased, grace abounded all the more"
- Romans 5:20