Aquinas on the unity of perfect moral virtue and its significance for the nature-grace question

Renee Mirkes, Marquette University


This dissertation contributes to a substantive account of Aquinas's synthetic virtue theory through a reconstruction of the relation between acquired and infused moral virtue in the Christian who possesses both. The work advances a twofold thesis. First, the acquired moral virtue and its infused counterpart are the material and formal principles, respectively, of the perfect realization of that particular moral virtue and constitute a unified virtue that is supernaturally transformed. Second, the theoretical explanation for the unity of perfect moral virtue significantly clarifies Aquinas's understanding of the relation of nature and grace as the dynamic interchange between the human creature and God. Chapter One begins the discussion of virtue with a focus on its genus (habitus) and differentia (operativus bonus). Chapter Two identifies acquired moral virtue as the highest-ranking human virtue, but virtue in a relative sense, or secundum quid, when judged against the absolute perfection of infused virtue. Viewed within Aquinas's hierarchy of virtue, acquired virtue emerges as an inferior virtue that is dispositive toward, or in potency to, a superior or infused virtue. Chapter Three sketches Aquinas's account of the spiritual structure of the Christian life with a focus on the infused virtues. Due to the universal presence of charity, virtue in an absolute sense (simpliciter) is formally a virtue of charity, or a virtue informed by charity, and materially an inferior virtue. Chapter Four reconstructs Aquinas's theory of the unity of perfect moral virtue incorporating relevant points from his explicit teaching on the nature of virtue, his scattered references to the relation of the two species of moral virtue, and his treatment of analogous questions which involve the unity of ordered components within a single reality. Chapter Five criticizes the representative theories of Francisco Suarez (1548-1617) and Louis Cardinal Billot (1846-1931) on the relationship between the two species of moral virtue from the perspective of facility. Chapter Six summarizes the significance of the conceptual part of the thesis for Aquinas's doctrine on nature and grace and applies the thesis to relevant contemporary theological debates.

Recommended Citation

Mirkes, Renee, "Aquinas on the unity of perfect moral virtue and its significance for the nature-grace question" (1995). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9626937.