Aristotle speaks of virtues as dispositions which make people good and cause them to function well. In 1 Corinthians 13, and elsewhere, St Paul speaks in a similar way about faith, hope, and love. 1 With these points in mind, and following the practice of his day, Aquinas asserts that the theological virtues are faith, hope, and charity. 2 These, he says, are the means by which we come to God by grace as opposed to nature. Their presence is what chiefly allows us to say that, in the time of the New Law, people have become sharers in the divine nature. For Aquinas, they are the heart of the life of grace. In this chapter, therefore, we will explore what he says about them in some detail. The discussion, I hope, will help the reader to see how it is that much of his thought as covered in earlier chapters comes to a kind of culmination when he turns to what, for him, is clearly the most important aspect of our lives.
In much day-to-day discourse, and in much that is written, 'faith' is what you have when you believe in the existence of God. For many people, 'religious belief', 'religious faith', and 'belief in God's existence' can all be used interchangeably. But this is not how it is with Aquinas. He thinks of faith as the virtue of wanting and attaining God, the ultimate good, as he has revealed himself to us in the person of Christ. To put it another way, it is a divinely given disposition by which we begin to share in God's understanding of himself as Father, Son, and Spirit. For Aquinas, belief in the existence