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Learning the Virtues

First, what is virtue?

"Virtue", says Augustine, "is a good habit consonant with our nature."

St. Thomas Aquinas defines virtue in a similar way: "habitus operativus bonus", or “an operative habit essentially good”.

Simply put: virtue is a habit ( “operativus” or operation) in your soul (i.e. intellect and will) that disposes you to do good things.

By “good” we simply mean those habits or acts that are in line with right reason and our rational nature.

Virtues exist primarily in your mind, will, and heart and serve to strengthen character and personality through repeatedly choosing the good.

The Four Cardinal Virtues

Ancient philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, as well as the Catholic tradition, recognize four cardinal virtues, also known as human, natural, or moral virtues.

These include:

  1. Prudence (Wisdom)
  2. Justice
  3. Fortitude (courage)
  4. Temperance (self-control)

The term “cardinal” comes from the Latin, “cardo” or “hinge”, because all other virtues are directly dependent on these virtues.

As Stacy Mitch, author of the successful Courageous Women Bible study series says,

"Virtues are gained through human efforts, and the natural purpose of the practice of these virtues is a good life."

Six additional virtues leaders need to enhance what they do

Virtues are essential for every person, on a natural level, to become a dynamic and morally strong individual. The roots of the word “virtue” literally means “strength”, “power” or “courage” — all qualities we’d all be remiss not to possess.

But there are additional virtues when built on the four cardinal virtues, that enhance our ability to act in our businesses, jobs, families, and society:

  1. Prudence → make the right decisions, in the right way
  2. Courage → stay the course, resist pressures, and do what you know to be right
  3. Self-control → order your passions and emotions in accord with truth and fulfill your mission
  4. Justice → give to every person exactly what they are due
  5. Magnanimity → strive after great things, challenge yourself, and lead others
  6. Humility → overcome selfishness and habitually serve others in all that you do

As Alexandre Havard says about the virtues,

“Virtues do not take place of professional competence, but are part and parcel of it and substantially so. I might have a degree in psychology and work as a consultant, but if I lack prudence, I will have a hard time giving my clients sound advice. Perhaps I have an MBA and am a Senior Executive for a major corporation. Very good, but if I lack courage, my ability to lead in the face of opposition is already compromised. I may have a degree in theology and serve as a minister, but if I am devoid of magnanimity, I will stagnate as a person and a believer, and will lead my flock into the same condition.”

Whatever your job or state of life, strive for virtue — build those “moral and spiritual muscles” needed to lead.


This week, identify one cardinal virtue & one of the additional six that you lack and create a plan for how to grow.