In Latin a virtue is described as personal characteristics valued as promoting individual and collective well being and therefore are good by their very definition. In the early usage of the word it was used to describe something as masculine or war like. The opposite of a virtue is a vice, something we are all too familiar with I am afraid.
In a wider definition of virtue the word would refer to excellence and something that is essentially good. Virtues are something that should be practiced all of the time. The three major religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all share the virtues is common. In the Jewish tradition God is known as the compassionate one and is often times invoked as the Father of Compassion. In the Islamic tradition the Qur’an is the great repository of all virtue in earthy form and the Prophet Mohamed and his reported sayings are the exemplar of the virtue in human form.
In addition to the beatitudes that Jesus spoke in the Gospels, there are many fruits of the Holy Spirit as found in St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians 5:22-23 “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” In many ways the fruits listed are virtues in a strict sense of the definition we have laid out at the beginning.
The Orthodox Christian Church teaches that the human body as well as the soul has to be trained and disciplined because after all we humans are a unity of soul and body. For the Orthodox Christians we use fasting and self-control as the primary source of all good and the foundational act in acquiring virtue. This is something to work up too not something that happens over night.
In the book of Genesis we read that human beings were created in the image and likeness of God. The 7th Century Theologian John of Damascus writes, “The expression according to the image indicates rationality and freedom, while the expression according to the likeness indicates assimilation to God through virtue.” All of the human virtues can be attributed to God. They are the property of the divine which should be in all of us by the gift of God during creation and our salvation through Christ Jesus.
The likeness of God depends upon our moral choices upon our virtues and the likeness can be destroyed by sin in the very real sense. The image of God however can never be lost even by the most sinful act. We do not possess these virtues from the start. The virtues are a goal that we all must aim for. The virtues are something which we can only hope to acquire by degrees through the grace of God.
Faith, “the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) Hope, the assurance of the good outcome of our lives lived by faith in God. Love, The greatest virtue of all. If we do not love one another we cannot love God, for God is love.
If we just take aim at these virtues who knows our world might just be a better place.