In Christian tradition, the seven heavenly virtues combine the four cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude with the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity.

The seven capital virtues, also known as contrary or remedial virtues, are those opposite the seven deadly sins. They are often enumerated as chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility.

Seven heavenly virtues

Cardinal virtues

Main article: Cardinal virtues

The term "cardinal virtues" (virtutes cardinales) was first used by the 4th-century theologian Ambrose,[1] who defined the four virtues as "temperance, justice, prudence, and fortitude".[2] These were also named as cardinal virtues by Augustine of Hippo, and were subsequently adopted by the Catholic Church. They are described as "human virtues" in the Catholic Catechism.[3]

Prior to Ambrose, these four qualities were identified by the Greek philosopher Plato as the necessary character traits of a good man, and were discussed by other ancient authors such as Cicero. They can also be found in the Jewish Book of Wisdom, which states that wisdom "teaches moderation and prudence, righteousness and fortitude, and nothing in life is more useful than these."[4]

Theological virtues

Main article: Theological virtues

The theological virtues are those named by Paul the Apostle in 1 Corinthians 13: "And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love."[5] The third virtue is also commonly referred to as "charity", as this is how the influential King James Bible translated the Greek word agape.

The traditional understanding of the difference between cardinal and theological virtues is that the latter are not fully accessible to humans in their natural state without assistance from God.[6] Thomas Aquinas believed that while the cardinal virtues could be formed through habitual practice, the theological virtues could only be practised by divine grace.[7]

Seven capital virtues

The seven capital virtues (also known as the contrary or remedial virtues)[8] are those thought to stand in opposition to the seven capital vices (or deadly sins).

Prudentius, writing in the 5th century, was the first author to allegorically represent Christian morality as a struggle between seven sins and seven virtues. His poem Psychomachia depicts a battle between female personifications of virtues and vices, with each virtue confronting and defeating a particular vice.[9] However, Prudentius did not base his allegory on the cardinal and theological virtues, nor did he use the traditional list of capital vices. The combatants in the Psychomachia are as follows:

Virtue Latin Sin Latin
Chastity Pudicitia Lust Sodomita Libido
Faith Fides Idolatry[10] Veterum Cultura Deorum
Good Works Operatio Avarice Avaritia
Concord Concordia Discord Discordia
Sobriety Sobrietas Indulgence Luxuria
Patience Patientia Wrath Ira
Humility Mens Humilis Pride Superbia

The success of this work popularised the concept of capital virtues among medieval authors. In AD 590, the seven capital vices were revised by Pope Gregory I, which led to the creation of new lists of corresponding capital virtues. In modern times, the capital virtues are commonly identified as the following:[11]

Virtue Latin Sin Latin
Chastity Castitas Lust Luxuria
Temperance Temperantia Gluttony Gula
Charity Caritas Avarice Avaritia
Diligence Diligentia Sloth Acedia
Kindness Humanitas Envy Invidia
Patience Patientia Wrath Ira
Humility Humilitas Pride Superbia

Although some medieval authors attempted to contrast the capital vices with the heavenly virtues, such efforts were rare.[12] According to historian István P. Bejczy, "the capital vices are more often contrasted with the remedial or contrary virtues in medieval moral literature than with the principal virtues, while the principal virtues are frequently accompanied by a set of mirroring vices rather than by the seven deadly sins".[13]

See also


  1. ^ Bejczy, István P. (2011). The Cardinal Virtues in the Middle Ages. Boston: Brill. p. 12. ISBN 978-9004210141.
  2. ^ Just, Arthur A., ed. (2003). Luke. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. InterVarsity Press. p. 104. ISBN 978-0-8308-1488-6.
  3. ^ "Catechism of the Catholic Church" (2nd ed.). St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church.
  4. ^ Wisdom of Solomon 8:7
  5. ^ 1 Corinthians 13:13
  6. ^ Waldron, Martin Augustine (1912). "Virtue". Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company.
  7. ^ Marbaniang, Domenic (May 2019). "Theology and Ethics: An Introduction". Revive. 12 (5): 6.
  8. ^ Bejczy 2011, p. 225.
  9. ^ Wieland, Gernot (1986). "Aldhelm's 'De Octo Vitiis Princip Alibus' and Prudentius' 'Psychomachia'". Medium Aevum. 55 (1): 85–86. doi:10.2307/43628952. JSTOR 43628952.
  10. ^ Young, S. "From the desert to the university: Parisian theologians and the seven deadly sins". Scholarly Community at the Early University of Paris: Theologians, Education and Society. Cambridge University Press. pp. 168–207.
  11. ^ Siker, Jeffrey S. (2015). Jesus, Sin, and Perfection in Early Christianity. Cambridge University Press. p. 46. ISBN 978-1-107-10541-6.
  12. ^ Bejczy 2011, pp. 228–229.
  13. ^ Bejczy 2011, p. 233.