Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Philip the Chancellor: On the Unity of the Virtues

AS WE OBSERVED IN OUR LAST POST, Philip the Chancellor advances the view that the cardinal virtues are acquired, which is to say they are the product of human effort and are natural in character.  Thus they are of a different order than the theological virtues, which have been infused in the Christian upon baptism and so are supernatural in both origin and end.  There is therefore in Philip's view virtues that com from grace and moral virtues that spring from nature.

Philip also addresses the question of the unity of the cardinal virtues.  The cardinal virtues seem, at least at first blush, to be separate, and not really one.  The position against the unity of the virtues is first seen through the eyes of Stoic authority.  Seneca, in his Epistle 66, says: "All that happens well happens justly and bravely and prudently and temperately."  This suggests separateness.  Similarly, Cicero in his Tusculan Disputations (2.14.32) contrasts the virtues to Corinthian vases, so that they appear not to be distinct.  "If you lose one of your Corinthians [vases], you can say that the rest of the vases are safe."  But, in Cicero's view, this cannot be said of the virtues, for "if you lose one of your virtues, you must necessarily confess that you no longer have any virtue."

The Cardinal Virtues by Michele Schiavoni (1760) 
in the Major Sacristy of the Church of Saint Geremia and Lucia

The same view regarding the unity of virtues seems to be supported by Christian authority.  So St. Bernard  of Clairvaux advocates the unity of virtues in his book to Pope Eugenius, De Consideratione.  Through a series of rhetorical questions, St. Bernard clearly takes the view that the cardinal virtues are one, so that they must be all had or none had:

What is temperance but holding to the mean in our actions by removing excess and deficiency? And what is courage but confronting the arduous and persevering amid difficulties? And what is justice but rendering to each what is his due? And what is prudence but in our choices distinguishing good from bad? . . . . The mean is where there is the whole internal power and the very core of all the virtues, and where all are so united that all seem one virtue. This is especially true since they do not communicate by somehow participating in the mean, but each of them wholly and integrally possesses it.*

This all, then, would suggest that the natural, acquired virtues are one, so that "whoever has one virtue has all," and the demands of one virtue requires that the others all be present.  Philip the Chancellor makes the argument from justice, showing how justice requires also prudence, fortitude, and temperance to operate, and "the same argument," he stats, "can be made for the other virtues."

Drawing from Aristotle, Philip the Chancellor also proposes the following argument in support of the unity of the virtues.  In his Nicomachean Ethics (1105a9), Aristotle observes that "virtue is the ultimate end of a potency for something."  This suggests that "a virtue of the rational soul can be defined in terms of its ultimate end."  If, ultimately, the end defines virtue, then it would seem that they all become unified by the common end.

Again turning to Aristotle, this time his De caelo, Philip starts from an alternative Aristotelian definition of virtue.  Using Aristotle's alternative definition, "virtue is the disposition of a perfected [subject] in relation to its optimum state."  (281a14-15)  As an example, Aristotle compares imperfect circles with the "greatest circle" which is the standard or optimum circle.  Just like a defect in the drawing of any circle ruins the entire circle, so does the failure of goodness in any manner ruin the goodness of the entire act.  "The consequence is that goodness in h rational soul will b a virtue only when there is goodness in every act."

One final argument for the unity of the virtues is advanced by Philip the Chancellor.  The soul, he observes, is a simple essence.  In a simple essence, contraries cannot exist.  Good or bad, "absent any further determination," that is in their most general sense, "are contraries."  If that is so, then it is apparent that thy cannot exist in the soul at the same time.  This suggests that the soul is either virtuous entirely, or not virtuous entirely, and therefore that there is a unity in the virtues.

*De cons., 1.8.9-11; 3:404-6.

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