FOUR-SQUARE or The Cardinal Virtuesby Joseph Rickaby
An excerpt from the beginning of:
I. VIRTUE IN GENERAL
There are infused virtues and acquired virtues. These addresses deal with the latter, with the acquired virtues. Of infused virtues we shall have something to
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An excerpt from the beginning of:
I. VIRTUE IN GENERAL
There are infused virtues and acquired virtues. These addresses deal with the latter, with the acquired virtues. Of infused virtues we shall have something to say at the end. A virtue is a habit of doing right; a habit of doing wrong is called a vice. A habit is a made thing, made by the free human acts of the individual. It results of acts whereof he is master, to do or not to do, and he chooses to do them. No one is born with habits. A young child consequently has neither vices nor virtues. But it has propensities both virtuous and vicious. These propensities are partly common to all men, partly peculiar to individuals, depending in the latter case on the bodily nature inherited from parents and ancestors according to what is called the law of heredity. Habits and acts answer to one another; but a person may do an act, good or evil, without having yet formed the corresponding habit, be it of virtue or vice. Clearly, a man may get drunk without being an habitual drunkard, or give an alms before he has mastered the virtue of liberality. Otherwise no virtue could ever be acquired; for the act must precede the habit, and the habit of virtue, or of vice, is the gradual result of a series of virtuous, or vicious, acts. But, done without habit, an act is done fitfully, irregularly, with difficulty and uncertainty and much imperfection.
The best way to understand a habit, and thereby to understand what a virtue is, is to consider what we understand by skill. Skill is a habit of proficiency in some art. Skill comes by practice. We are not born skilful, we are born clumsy creatures; but this native clumsiness adheres to some natures more than to others. We are born with predispositions which may be turned into skill by practice. Practice presupposes power; you cannot practise running unless nature has gifted you with the use of your legs. Skill, therefore, and virtue, and every habit, presupposes power. Habit is the determinant of power, not the maker of it. The skill of a trained singer is a habit. The voice is there from the first; the most accomplished vocalist was once a squalling baby; if the baby had had no lungs and vocal chords to squall with, never could the singer's voice have been trained to melody. Every habit is in some power, and perfects that power to act equally, surely, readily, to good effect. A strong man, seizing a billiard cue for the first time, may make a cannon and pocket the balls; but he will not do that again. Only a practised and skilful player ever makes a break at billiards. The unskilful player, till his skill begins to come, makes only occasional flukes. Nor will a man who has not acquired the virtue of meekness succeed in keeping his temper, when provoked at all hours from Monday to Saturday. His is not the skill so to command himself. That skill is the virtue, which he has not yet got.
The sum of a person's habits is called his character. Education is the foundation of character. Education is chiefly of the young, because young natures are in all things more plastic. Older people are "set," as in bone and muscle, so likewise in habits. Nevertheless, habits go on growing, to a greater or less degree, throughout life; thus education itself becomes a lifelong process. Whatever we do consciously and willingly, we are apt to do it again; that aptitude goes to build up habit. And not only what we do, but what we wilfully omit to do, when there is occasion for doing it, goes to make habit also -- a habit, that is to say, of omitting. The immediate author of all a person's habits is the person himself, for habits come of personal acts, of which he is the doer. Every man thus makes his own character, -- we must add, out of pre-existent materials, which he did not make, and under the influence of a surrounding atmosphere of circumstances, which he has not created. Still, though influenced and conditioned, he is not absolutely controlled by present circumstance and pre-existent fact; he acts for himself, and his acts make him the manner of man that he becomes. Hence it is possible, indeed, it not uncommonly happens for a youth to be educated in one way by his parents and guardians, and meanwhile to be educating himself in a diametrically opposite direction. His masters put him to study; if he did study, he would grow studious and, possibly, learned; as it is, he "cuts" his lessons day by day, and is forming to himself the character, one degree worse than that of an ignoramus, the character of a misologus, hater of books and learning. Or worse still, he has to be much in chapel, for so his companions are; he hears many prayers recited, he not unfrequently goes to the Sacraments as those about him do; but because he inwardly repines at all these things...
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