On the Virtues: Part One of on the Virtues and Vices

On the Virtues: Part One of on the Virtues and Vices

On the Virtues: Part One of on the Virtues and Vices

On the Virtues: Part One of on the Virtues and Vices


Roland J. Teske, S.J., Donald J. Schuenke Professor of Philosophy (Ph.D., University of Toronto, 1973), specializes in St. Augustine and medieval philosophers, especially William of Auvergne and Henry of Ghent. He has translated 10 volumes of works of St. Augustine, 4 volumes of works of William of Auvergne, and 3 volumes of works of Henry of Ghent.

He has published over 50 articles on Augustine, over a dozen on William, and several on Henry. He has given the St. Augustine Lecture at Villanova and the Aquinas Lecture at Marquette University. He has been visiting professor at Santa Clara University, John Carroll University, and Villanova University.


Being about to speak of the virtues, he first subtly examines the definition of virtue
that Tully proposed; then, he also gives the definition of Aristotle and examines it
as well. Afterward, he explains whether potency differs from habit and brings forth
certain very subtle things from the workshop of philosophy, which, you see, cannot
be suitably summarized

Since it has become clear from the very order of divine things and of the sapiential sciences that the science of virtues and morals, of vices and sins, as well as of merits and their rewards, follows upon the preceding sciences, we will with the help of God begin to examine these in the mode of wisdom and by the paths of proofs, until their being, which involves some question and contradiction, is established so that you may acquire certitude on the questions and opinions that have previously existed on them and also still exist. After this, however, we will speak about these in other ways, in order that the knowledge of them may not only be clear in many ways, but also pleasing and productive of the volitions by which the perfection of our souls is helped, by which they are aroused and also armed for wars against the vices and sins, and by which virtues and morals are made desirable to our souls, not only because of the hope of rewards, but also because of their perfection, grace, sweetness, and healthiness, and the multitude and beauty of their marvels.

We will also first of all state the words of those who came before us and explain them by a brief and clear explanation. If Tully, therefore, who said that virtue is “a habit of a well-constituted mind,” understood in this statement that virtue is a quality of a well-constituted mind, that is, something that constitutes a mind well, that is, ordering it well, he still leaves us with no slight ambiguity. For he either understood that virtue orders a mind well in a certain respect, that is, in terms of a part or that it constitutes it well without qualification, that

1 Tully is Marcus Tullius Cicero, the great Roman orator and philosopher.

2 The definition is found in Boethius, On Topical Differences (De differentiis topicis) 2; PL 64: 1188D. In her book, Boethius’s De topicis differentiis, translated with notes and essays on the text, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977), Eleonore Stump refers in the notes to Aristotle’s definition of virtue in Nicomachean Ethics 1106a21–24. In “Oraison et art oratoire: Les sources et le propos de la Rhetorica divina” (Autour de Guillaume d’Auvergne, p. 207). J.-Y. Tilliette attributes William’s definition to Cicero in De inventione 2.159, where Cicero says that “virtue is a habit of the mind suited to the limit of nature and to reason: virtus est animi habitus naturae modo et rationi consentaneus.”

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