The three theological virtues which serve as the basic foundation for all others are faith, hope, and love. The cardinal virtues which build upon them are temperance, justice, wisdom, and courage.

Does the Catholic church have or condone any sort of official ranking system for the virtues? There are numerous minor virtues which flow out from the cardinal virtues- is there a map or chart which organizes and shows the causal connection?

  • I think your questions makes more sense if you focus on the organizational map part of it rather than 'ranking'.
    – Adam Heeg
    Dec 16 '15 at 21:11

From the Recapitulatio of Fr. Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.'s De Virtutibus Theologicis (p. 20), a commentary on St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica II-II, he gives the following categorization of the virtues (virtutes), following the organization of St. Thomas's treatment of the virtues in his Summa:

categorization of the virtues

Here's a rough translation:

  • The Virtues
    • Theological (regarding the end)
      • in the will
        • virtue uniting us to God according to the beloved itself: CHARITY
        • virtue tending to God desired by us: HOPE
      • in the intellect
        • virtue knowing God according to the authority of God revealing: FAITH
    • Cardinal (regarding the means)
      • in the reason
        • regarding the right direction of the acts of the moral virtues: PRUDENCE
      • in the appetite
        • rational
          • regarding the operations toward another, rendering according to strict duty: JUSTICE
        • sensitive
          • regarding the passions
            • withdrawing from it what reason dictates (for fear): FORTITUDE
            • impelling toward something against reason (for sensual desires): TEMPERANCE

Prudence is indeed first among the cardinal virtues because it it deals with the "right direction of the acts of the moral virtues." Thomistic thought holds that "The will follows, does not precede, the intellect" (Thesis 21 of the 24 Thomistic Theses.)

St. Thomas Aquinas also wrote a Disputed Questions on the Virtues, and he distinguished three types of virtues—intellectual, moral, and theological—in Summa I-II q. 57.

The intellectual virtues are divided as follows (cf. Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought ch. 47 art. 2 "Classification of the Virtues"):

  • Intellectual Virtues
    • Speculative Order
      • Wisdom
      • Science (knowledge)
      • Understanding
    • Practical Order
      • Prudence
      • Art
  • A fantastic chart. Thank you very much for the classification and organization. My question was also inquiring into a ranking like a formal hierarchy "temperance is below justice" but I don't think that is the case. Rather part of wisdom is the knowledge of when what virtue is called for in difficult situations. Dec 18 '15 at 19:05
  • 1
    @RestinginShade Just as "The will follows, does not precede, the intellect," so must the passions be subjected to reason. Thus, it seems that perhaps justice, which governs the rational appetite, is higher than fortitude and temperance, which governs the sensitive appetites.
    – Geremia
    Dec 18 '15 at 19:26
  • By the same token, would that put faith (in the intellect) before hope and love (in the will)? Dec 19 '15 at 0:54
  • @MattGutting Yes, "Faith, by its very nature, precedes all other virtues" because "the last end [God] must of necessity be present to the intellect before it is present to the will, since the will has no inclination for anything except in so far as it is apprehended by the intellect." (Summa II-II q. 4 a. 7). Of course in heaven, when you behold God face-to-face in the Beatific Vision and thus don't need faith, only charity, the "greatest of these three [theological virtues]" (1 Cor. 13:13), remains.
    – Geremia
    Sep 19 '20 at 3:35

Yes, prudence is #1.

The rest flow from it, knowing what is right and choosing to do it is the basis for the other 3 virtues.

This what is taught in the 8th Grade Faith and Life series textbooks distributed by Ignatius Press. I don't know what catechetical reference there is for it and I don't have the textbook any more. But it expands on how the cardinal virtues relate to specific gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The Cardinal virtues and the Theological virtues aren't explained in the text as being interconnected in that way. I think you find their comingling in the gifts of the Holy Spirit more than anything. The Cardinal virtues are ranked by St. Paul and I've heard that the greatest is love because that's what will still be there I Heaven, so it is greater because it is eternal.


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