From my limited understanding of Catholic theology, the theological virtues (pistis, elpis, agape) apply to God and God's promises. That is, pistis is belief in the correctness of divine revelation, elpis is the hope of eternal life, and agape is love for God. The standard English translation (faith, hope, and love/charity) gives a somewhat broader impression, however. Are these virtues interpreted as applying to somewhat wordly things, as well? Are they virtues in their common meanings?

For example:

  • Does pistis include faith in other human beings in the colloquial sense (not exclusive of faith in God) ?

  • Does elpis include hope that God will save one from worldly temptation? From depression or disease? Hope that one will be physically saved from danger? Hope that one will be saved by "accident" or by other people (possibly interpreted as ultimately attributable to God)?

  • Does agape include a general love of humans for humanity? Charitable giving?


Fr. Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., explains the difference between the moral virtues and the theological virtues in part 1, ch. 3, art. 2 of his Three Ages of the Interior Life:

The theological virtues are infused virtues which have for their object God Himself, our supernatural last end. This is why they are called theological. By contrast, the moral virtues have for their object the supernatural means proportioned to our last end. Thus prudence directs our acts to this end; religion makes us render to God the worship that is due Him; justice makes us give to everyone what we owe him; fortitude and temperance regulate the sensible part of our soul to prevent it from going astray and to make it cooperate, according to its manner, in our progress toward God.

Thus, although the natural and supernatural orders are absolutely distinct and independent of each other (i.e., grace, which raises us to the supernatural level, is entirely freely given by God; it doesn't spring out of human nature), moral virtues do help us achieve our supernatural end.

Human faith would more likely fall under the moral virtue of prudence; it is reasonable to trust trustworthy people.

Regarding agape: Love of humans must be for God's sake, not solely "for humanity"'s sake (else it would be idolatry, i.e., loving a creature for its own sake); this proper order of charity is seen in Matthew 22:37-39:

Thou shalt love [αγαπήσεις] the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love [αγαπήσεις] thy neighbour as thyself.

  • Does hope that God will save one from mundane danger (through human agency or otherwise) qualify as elpis?
    – Obie 2.0
    May 4 '18 at 17:06
  • Also, is love for humans truly idolatry if it doesng proceed from agape? Even e.g. philia or storge, which I doubt in most people can be expected to proceed solely from love of God? That seems rather serious.
    – Obie 2.0
    May 4 '18 at 17:10
  • @Obie2.0 Human love is idolatry if it excludes the love of God.
    – Geremia
    May 4 '18 at 17:40
  • What about elpis? Arguably, that's the main concern of the question.
    – Obie 2.0
    May 4 '18 at 17:56

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