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CCE Corner – A Life of Virtue

September 17th, 2020 by Becca Tellinghuisen

Welcome back to our Classical Christian Education Corner! In the year ahead, watch for short pieces about classical Christian education, from the philosophical to the practical. We’ll include reflections on Scripture, poetry, philosophy, and literature, summaries of relevant books, articles, and podcasts, and “best practice” tips from fellow travelers on this journey toward “lives well-lived.”

In our first CCE Corner for the year, we begin with the topic of Virtue. Trinitas was formed with the purpose of preparing students for lives well-lived. But what is a life “well-lived”? A life with physical health? Pleasure? Friends? Wealth? Power? Honor? A very quick history lesson shows that a theme throughout classical and Christian thought is that whatever else you think is part of the good life, a life well-lived must be a life of virtue. Ancient philosophers identified four Cardinal Virtues: wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice. “Cardinal” comes from the Latin word “cardo” which means “hinge.” The Cardinal Virtues are considered the primary virtues, the pivot on which the other virtues turn or depend. These four virtues were later incorporated into Christian moral teaching during the Middle Ages by thinkers like Thomas Aquinas, and three Theological Virtues were added: faith, hope, and charity (love).

Looking a little closer, the Cardinal Virtues have to do with persons’ relationships to each other, and they can be practiced by anyone (under the proper conditions). Wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice form the basis of natural morality necessary for civilized society, and they are essential for obtaining one’s natural end of flourishing in this world. The Theological Virtues have to do first of all with persons’ relationships to God, and they are gifts of grace from Him (we cannot develop them on our own). Faith, hope, and love are necessary for one’s supernatural end which is union with God. They also overflow into our relationships with others. Christians through the ages have believed that both sets of virtues are essential to a life well-lived, to living the way God intended us to live–in harmony with each other and with Him.

A virtuous life not only cultivates harmony with others and with God, it also cultivates harmony within the individual’s soul. It brings reason, will, passion, and appetite into proper relationship. It is essential that children be taught to think well so that they may choose rightly (even when tempted otherwise). It is also essential to foster, from a very young age, affection and desire for those things that are true and good and beautiful. It is not surprising that virtue requires the right sort of conditions to grow.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle observed that one of the most important variables in either promoting or interfering with a person’s virtue formation is the family. Children learn well what they see, hear, feel, and practice in the home. In modern times, in the United States, children also spend a lot of time in school. They also learn well what they observe and do there. At Trinitas, we have always considered ourselves partners with you, the parents. Together, we share the goal of and responsibility for forming children’s minds and hearts to know and love the good. If you have seen our virtue posters in the halls and the classrooms, you may have noticed the words “Learn. Live. Love.” We believe that children need to learn about virtue through inspiring stories and discussions. They need to live the virtues by practicing them daily. And we hope that, by this kind of training in an environment of warmth and affection, they come to love the life of virtue.

Returning to our brief history lesson, this philosophical and theological framework for human flourishing was dominant throughout western history at least until the Enlightenment, after which, the concept of virtue was replaced most often by one of three things: the idea of duty, the pleasure of the greatest number, or relativism. And, while there have always been challenges to the classical Christian vision of the good life, a plethora of challenges, both subtle and outright, continues to grow in modern times. Strongholds for the classical Christian view remain, however, and Trinitas desires to be one of them.

We begin this year with a Virtue of the Quarter focus on COMPASSION, a virtue deriving from the Theological Virtue of charity (love). We are able to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves by the gift of the Holy Spirit and through practice in our daily lives. Look for our next CCE Corner and our Virtue of the Quarter home poster for more.