The Priesthood and Perfection by Garrigou-Lagrange - Chapter 10

Virtues of the Priestly Life

In modern times, when faced with great international disturbance, many people speak of a new world and a new order; but they do not sufficiently realize what the Church has often pointed out: that there must be a link between progress and tradition, that we cannot be sure of a worthy and peaceful future unless we build it upon what is best in the past. The new must be based on the old; if not, the new world will be without a foundation and will pass away without bearing any fruit; if it despises the past, it too will be despised after it has labored in vain to achieve something worthwhile.

It is often said that in every living organism there must be a force which assimilates new food and a force which conserves, and that there must be an equilibrium between these two forces. The organism will die if there is no new assimilation; and death, through a loss of strength, will be the outcome, if the food which is assimilated is not conserved. If an automobile is to run properly it must have power and brakes.

In the Church and in every society there must be an equilibrium between the progressive and the conserving force. If there is no progress, as in the Eastern schismatic churches, there will be the immobility of death; if there is no conserving tradition, as in liberal Protestantism and in that type of socialism which leads to materialistic communism and atheism, there will be the instability of constant change. In the latter case, the descent without any brake becomes very dangerous.

In order to preserve an equilibrium of forces, both in individual life and in the life of the community, it is not enough for us Christians to have a natural dynamism, such as democratic aspirations. These aspirations are, of course, some help against dictatorship and totalitarianism, but without Christian traditions they are clearly insufficient to preserve the equilibrium of which we have spoken.

On the other hand, this equilibrium is preserved by the Holy Spirit through the interrelation of the virtues. It is of this precious fruit of the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:22) that I would now like to speak.

First of all, it must be remembered that sins are not connected one with another. As St. Thomas points out,1 all mortal sins are a turning away from God, and therefore one cannot be remitted without another; they are not, however, connected. Actually, they are often contrary to one another, for example greed and prodigality, cowardice and rashness. Evil things therefore are opposed to one another and eventually destroy one another.

On the other hand all virtues have the same goal and therefore, especially in their perfect form, are connected one with the other in prudence and charity.

Virtues in an imperfect form that is, when they are only insecure and unstable dispositions are not connected. They are of three kinds.

(a) Natural temperament. One who by natural temperament is brave is often not gentle.

(b) Acquired disposition. The soldier who has learned to be brave in battle and is such not through love of the virtue, but through desire for glory, is often sensual. At times this sensuality prevents him from fulfilling his military duties.

(c) True virtues in process of formation. Even when true virtues are being formed, but are still dispositions which are easily moved, they are not yet connected. One can be in the process of acquiring the virtue of justice and yet not be chaste.

Moreover, as long as the soul remains in the state of mortal sin, those acquired virtues which were in the process of formation are not connected. In such a case, the soul is turned away from its ultimate end and is therefore ill-prepared to fulfill its obligations, even those of the natural order.

But when the Holy Spirit comes into the soul through charity, the true acquired virtues which were in process of formation are strengthened, and if sufficiently firm, solid, and stable, are connected one with another. A fortiori, infused virtues are connected with charity, as properties flowing from sanctifying grace.2

Aristotle's dictum that true prudence cannot exist without the moral virtues and that the latter cannot exist without prudence, their director, finds its experimental proof in the life of the just man. Prudence, in truth, is the "charioteer of the virtues," the "right way of doing things."

The principal reason for this connection of the virtues is: Each person considers that end agreeable which is in harmony with his affections. The ambitious man finds agreeable whatever is favorable to his ambition, the mild man whatever is comformable with mildness.

In practice, each person judges according to his own inclinations of will and emotion. If, therefore, these inclinations are not rectified by virtues, the practical judgment will not be right. At times this judgment may appear prudent because of a certain perspicacity, expertness or astuteness, but it will not be truly prudent, because in it there will be a defect either of justice or patience or temperance or mildness or simplicity; perhaps there will be a certain duplicity, haste, or laziness.

The Holy Spirit, therefore, when He comes into the soul, connects through prudence and charity the infused virtues, and even the acquired virtues if previously there has been sufficient exercise to acquire them. Thus, all virtues grow together, says St. Thomas, "like the five fingers of a hand."3

Moreover, the Holy Spirit has linked up the virtues and the gifts, for, as St. Thomas shows,4 the seven gifts are linked up with charity in that the Holy Spirit and the seven gifts are given when charity is infused into the soul. This is true of ever)' person in the state of grace, depending upon the degree of charity which he possesses. This harmony is wonderful, particularly in the case of those who are near perfection. Thus, chastity is helped in time of temptation by the gift of fear, "Fix my flesh, O Lord, in your fear"; fortitude by the gift of fortitude, especially when one is faced with martyrdom; justice toward God or religion, which gives God the worship due him is helped, particularly in time of involuntary aridity, by the gift of piety, from which springs a filial affection for God. When one is faced with complex situations, or unforeseen difficulties, prudence is assisted by the gift of counsel. Faith, assisted by the gift of understanding, penetrates the mysteries of salvation. Similarly, hope is assisted against presumption by the gift of fear, and under the inspiration of the gift of knowledge it realizes the vanity of created things and the gravity of sin. Thus through hope we more ardently desire to possess God and His grace. Finally, charity is assisted by the gift of wisdom by which we sec all things in God as their supreme cause and ultimate end; thus, we see that all good things proceed from Him, and that evil only comes when divine providence permits it for a higher good which we see so clearly that we shall cooperate in achieving it. This produces peace; and, according to St. Augustine, the gift of wisdom corresponds to the happiness of those who are at peace.

However, since intellectual gifts are both speculative and practical, they will appear in some just people in a contemplative form, in others in a practical form, more directly related, as in the case of St. Vincent de Paul, to action.

This wonderful harmony or interrelation of the virtues and gifts is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. In the Epistle to the Galatians we read: "The fruit of the Holy Ghost is charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, meekness, faith, modesty, continence, chastity."

2. Exemplified in Christ

In Jesus Christ, particularly, this wonderful harmony appears; for in Him the virtues, even those that appear opposed to each other, such as meekness and fortitude, are united in a most intimate manner. Our divine Lord had all the virtues in a heroic degree. In Him the most ardent love of God and an immense mercy toward sinners are wondrously blended; in Him are united a love of truth and justice and the greatest compassion for sinners, a compassion for those who tortured Him, for whom He prayed at the moment of His crucifixion, fulfilling most beautifully the words of the Psalmist: "Mercy and truth have met each other: justice and peace have kissed" (Ps. 84:11).

In Christ we find profound humility joined to great dignity and great-heartedness; the fortitude of a martyr to the meekness of the crucified; the highest wisdom to perfect prudence.

This sublime harmony of the heroic virtues in Christ, and the fact that it endured to the very end of His life is a "moral miracle," as apologists have pointed out: a miracle confirming Christ's claim to be divine.

Something similar, although of a less heroic degree, is found in the lives of true martyrs. According to St. Thomas5 and Benedict XIV6 we can distinguish true martyrs from false ones by observing how the virtues are joined in them. Like our divine Lord and St. Stephen, true martyrs are at the same time brave, humble, and gentle; they pray for their persecutors. False martyrs are different: their fanaticism is a certain blind obstinacy which avoids discussion, rules out wisdom, prudence, modesty, humility, and meekness. As apologists have shown, the constancy of martyrs is a direct result of God's action, manifested by the surpassing beauty of virtues, so varied and different, joined together in splendid unity.


In our day men must do penance for their sins and for the "works of the flesh" "sensuality, the service of (modern) idols, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, envies."

We must ask the Holy Spirit to give us those fruits of His which are "charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity." We must pray and strive daily to reach that unity of the virtues in charity, "which is patient, kind . . . which suffers all things, believes all things, hopes for all things, endures all things."

Only in this way will be preserved, in our own individual life and in the collective life of religious Orders and the Church, the conservative force and the progressive force. And what is best in the past will be preserved as a foundation for a worthy and fruitful future, so that it shall really be a beginning of life eternal.

3. Application of doctrine to priestly perfection

"The Spirit of truth will teach you all truth" (John 16:13), but "try the spirits if they be of God" (1 John 4:1).

I would like now, in a practical way, to make some applications of the doctrine of the connection of the virtues and gifts, so that we may understand better the nature of priestly and religious perfection.

In modern times, particularly, there is need for a renewal of the interior life. For this renewal, two qualities are necessary: a unity of mind, so that the intellect can see, amid such great complexity, what should be preserved from tradition and what progress should be made; and a living flame of charity in the heart, so that charity may be not only "affective" but "effective" as well.

Every false mysticism thinks that it can give this unity of mind and ardor of heart. Even the mysticism of communism, although materialistic and atheistic, says that it can give these two qualities; but in reality it leads to tyranny and universal slavery.

And it is clear that these two qualities cannot be supplied by those aspirations which gradually substitute for true faith, hope, and the love of God, a faith and hope in humanity and a merely theoretical love of humanity. These are great ideas gone mad, as Chesterton said.

For us to have a unity of mind in the intellect and in the heart a love of God and one's neighbor, there must be this connection of the virtues, of faith, hope, charity, the moral virtues and the gifts.

This connection is very different from that romantic sentimentalism which is not interested in the virtues; it helps one immensely in the examination of one's conscience and in true spiritual progress.

Without this connection a priest cannot unite all the qualities necessary for him, qualities urgently needed today.

In the life of a priest there must be a conservation of what is true in Christian tradition and a progress in true charity toward his neighbor, a charity which promotes greater distributive and social justice and does away with excessive inequality of circumstances.

To bring this about, a spirit of liturgical prayer, especially in the celebration of Mass, and a true devotion to the

Eucharist are most helpful. The Eucharist contains the hest of the past the passion of Christ, of which the Eucharist is a memorial and an application and the hest of the future progress in charity as the beginning of eternal life. It is not enough to know what Christ once said, historically; one must know His influence now in the life of the Church. For the Eucharist contains "Christ who is always alive to intercede for us," Christ who actually offers the Masses daily celebrated. Thus a living devotion to the Eucharist harmonizes beautifully what is best in the past and what is best in the future, with a view of reaching eternal life.

Thus also are united in the priestly life an interior life and an external apostolate. If prayer is neglected, the apos-tolate becomes too external, sterile, no longer vital because separated from its living source; it becomes almost mechanical. In order to be lifegiving and fruitful, it must proceed "from the abundance of the heart."

For this interior life to become the "soul of the aposto-late," there must be increasing self-denial and habitual recollection, which lead to a living faith illuminated by the gifts of intellect and wisdom, a spirit of prayer or filial piety toward God, and a practical charity. In this way alone can the priest truly become the salt of the earth and the life of the world.

He must also unite in himself a firm faith, without any indulgence for error, and a great mercy toward those who have gone astray. His faith would suffer if he had that kind of liberalism which leads to indifference, and he would fail in mercy if he had a rigorism like that of the Jansenists. His life, therefore, should be a summit between and above these two opposing deviations. But this summit cannot be reached unless the virtues are united to a very high degree.

A priest must also unite simplicity and a prudence which attends to particular things "the prudence of a serpent and the simplicity of a dove." He would fail in simplicity and be guilty of duplicity, were he to become utilitarian in outlook or an opportunist. On the other hand, he would not be truly prudent, were his simplicity too ingenuous, were he not to recognize a real evil which must be avoided, were he unable to discern the attacks of evil people who abuse the simplicity of the good. Thus, particularly in difficult times, a high degree of prudence without utilitarianism must be linked to a deep simplicity without any naivety. This is impossible without an intimate union of the virtues, and even of the gifts.

A priest must also unite meekness with the firmness of justice and strength. He must be firm without being rigid, possessing commutative, distributive, and social justice, and even equity or epikeia which looks to the spirit rather than to the letter of the law, especially when the exact observance of the law would be a cause of great injury. On the other hand, the meekness of a priest must not become an inept weakness and an indulgence toward those who are evil; otherwise the good would suffer through the excessive daring of the wicked. This also demands a linking up of the virtues in an elevated degree.

The priest must also unite true humility and dignity or magnanimity, always striving to do great things. These two virtues are not opposed but complementary; they help each other like the two slopes of an arch which support a building. Magnanimity prevents humility from degenerating into cowardice, and humility prevents magnanimity from degenerating into pride and ambition. Pride is an inordinate love of one's own excellence, but magnanimity strives moderately after great things, things worthy of great honor, but it does not do so greedily. Rather, it despises honors in comparing them with the great thing after which it strives with courage and calmness.

Finally, a priest must have absolute and perfect chastity. But he cannot be cold of heart, because he must have compassion for those who are in trouble and sympathize with them.

All these demand the linking up of the virtues in a very high degree. May this, by the help of the Holy Spirit, be achieved in us. We should pray for it. "Ask and you shall receive": this should be asked for in the name of the Lord Jesus.

In practice, one must insist particularly on the intimate union of humble obedience and fraternal charity. As St. Francis de Sales says, humble obedience, which preserves what is best in tradition, is like the root of a tree which penetrates the ground to draw nourishment from it; but fraternal charity is like the high, fruitful branches. The harmony of these two virtues in the soul of a just man resembles the union of these two parts of a tree.

If the deeper roots and higher branches function properly the tree is at its best. Similarly in a human soul, or in a community, if humble obedience and fraternal charity grow, that soul or that community is good. And if ever anything is wanting in prudence or energy, then God will supply it by the gifts of counsel and fortitude.

This teaching is full of consolation. Fortunately, sins are not interconnected; frequently they are opposed one to another. But the virtues, and even the gifts, are connected in charity. Thus in Communion, for example, there cannot be any increase in charity without an increase also in the other infused virtues and in the seven gifts; virtues, like "the five fingers of a child's hand, all grow together."


Gradually, through the interconnection and growth of both the acquired and infused virtues, the priest will acquire that spiritual character corresponding to his high vocation. This is evident in the lives of saintly priests and religious, particularly in the lives of the founders of religious orders.

Thus, in spite of great difficulties and worries, there is preserved I will not call it optimism because a natural optimism of temperament is not sufficient; nor conventional optimism, which remains external and superficial but something greater than optimism: a confidence in God, an infused and strengthened hope, and a true charity, affective and effective, toward all, particularly toward those who are unhappy, poor and in need of help.

By humble, devoted and persevering prayer, we obtain from the Holy Spirit the two qualities of mind which are so necessary, a unity of spirit which in such a great complexity judges accurately according to the Spirit of God and not merely according to the spirit of one's nature, and a living flame of increasing love. In this way, the spirit of tradition and true progress are harmonized, so that the

present time, made fruitful by the past, may produce fruit in the future, the real prelude in us to life eternal.


1. See S.T., 1-2, q. 73, a. 1.

2. See Ibid., q. 65, aa. 1 and 2.

3. Ibid., q. 66, a. 2.

4. See Ibid., q. 68, a. 5.

5. See St. Thomas Aquinas, Quod. IV, a. 9.

6. See Benedict XIV, De Servorum Dei Beatificatione, III, 21.