Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 69(3) August 2019
St Thomas Aquinas on the Cardinal and Related
Virtues for Today
Mark O'Keefe, OSB Cascade Books- available in Kindle, Hardback and Paperback
Reviewed by Dr Pravin Thevathasan
This proved a very interesting and straightforward read. The author does not dwell on specific moral issues. Rather, this is a general comment on the virtues as understood by Aquinas. If we want to live happy lives, we are called to practice the virtues.
Prudence, says the author, is the virtue that enables us to make decisions well. All other virtues must be guided by prudence. It inclines us to the good. However, if we do not possess the other virtues, we cannot be prudent. Justice is grounded in the recognition that we are related to each other. It is the disposition to give to people what is owed to them. Types of justice include distributive and commutative justice. All this is explained clearly. This chapter also contains an interesting commentary of the doctrine of epikeia: what is the original intention of the law and how does it apply in a particular situation.It is never intended as a sneaky repudiation of natural law. A person can generously refuse to accept what is financially owed to him. He cannot under particular situations engage in adultery. That is situation ethics and was clearly condemned by the Church for 2013 years.
Fortitude is the abiding inclination to overcome obstacles. It moderates fear. Aquinas notes that fortitude is often accompanied by a kind of justified anger. The courageous patient with cancer who fights it, for example.
Temperance is the virtue that disposes us to moderation especially in our desires for food and sex. It directs us to a life worthy of a mature human person. The last excellent chapter examines the theological virtues, the infused moral virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
This is an ideal read for someone who wants to know what Aquinas has to say about the virtues. In about a hundred pages, the author has succeeded in showing us how the virtues form the human person.