Christ and the Infused Moral Virtues
Meeting a new and interesting person fascinates us. Think of the many times you have met someone with whom you just clicked. The more that you got to know each other, the more interesting that person became. The more interesting that person became, the more you wanted to know.
The most unique and fascinating person in history is, without a doubt, Jesus Christ. Jesus is not just a regular human being. He is also God, which makes him infinitely fascinating.
In Church-speak, Christology is the study of who and what Jesus is, deep down, in his inmost being. Basically, Christology is the big word for getting to know Jesus, not just in a skin-deep way, but getting to know him for who and what he really is.
Two in One
Jesus has two natures united in one person. He has a divine nature and a human nature, united in a divine person, the second person of the Trinity. That means that if you ask, “What is Jesus?” then there are two right answers. If you say Jesus is God, you got the question right. If you say Jesus is a man, you got it right, too.
If you ask, “Who is Jesus?” then there’s only one right answer: Jesus is God the Son, the second person of the Trinity.
Almost 1600 years ago, in a meeting of bishops from all over he world at a town in modern-day Turkey called Chalcedon, the Church proclaimed this truth loud and clear. At this Council of Chalcedon, the bishops in union with Pope St. Leo the Great declared that the Lord Jesus Christ is the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and a body; consubstantial with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same consubstantial with us as regards his humanity; like us in all respects except sin.
So, Catholics have always and will always believe that Jesus is fully God and fully man.
Like Us in All Respects Except Sin
This is where getting to know Jesus gets really interesting. Jesus is like us in all ways except sin. As God, Jesus is all-powerful, all-knowing, and infinite, but as a human being, Jesus was limited and could still grow in knowledge and grace. Even though he is God, Jesus was still conceived and born, grew up in a family with a mom and dad, played on the playground in Nazareth with his friends, and asked all sorts of questions that adults hadn’t ever thought about. Ultimately, Jesus went on to teach and lead people to God as an itinerant preacher, only to be accused before the government and sentenced to death. As God, Jesus could never die. As man, Jesus died on the cross. Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, where he continues to be both God and man, praying for us as man and hearing our prayers as God.
Body and Soul
Like us, Jesus has a human body and a human soul. He is not just God inhabiting a body, like someone who puts on a jacket. He has a human body and a human soul, in addition to being God. And what’s more, Jesus’ body and soul still work like other human bodies and human souls do. He can see, smell, touch, taste, and hear like everyone else. He can think and make choices like everyone else, and he experiences the range of human emotions and feelings. In short, we have a high priest who is like us in all things except sin, with a real body and soul and all that comes with it.
As a man, Jesus even had to love God with his human soul, like we do. The difference is that the God Jesus was loving was Jesus himself!
How Regular People Love God
In order to know and love God truly and completely, human beings have to be given extra help from God himself. Our souls are meant for God, but they aren’t big enough to know and love God on their own. God helps us to love him by giving us a special gift, or actually, a whole slew of gifts. If every present under the Christmas tree was for you, it still wouldn’t add up to the number of gifts God gives human beings to help us know and love him.
Among the many gifts God gives us to help us know and love him are the infused moral virtues. Let’s break that down.
Virtues are good habits of the soul, like the habit of being courageous in the face of danger or the habit of not overeating. Virtues like courage and temperance help us to be good people. We build up regular virtues by repeatedly doing virtuous things. So, for example, if we want to grow in the virtue of generosity, we need to be generous often, giving our money and possessions to others to help them. Once we get in the habit of giving our money and possessions for good things, we have the virtue of generosity. Being generous makes us better people. After all, who likes greedy people more than generous people?
These virtues that are gifts from God are called “infused.” “Infused” means “poured into.” The idea is that God pours these virtues into us. When God pours out his grace on us, he also pours out moral virtues, like generosity, courage, and temperance.
What is the difference between infused virtues and regular virtues? Regular, or “acquired,” virtues are habits that we develop on our own and make us into better people. Infused virtues are habits that God gives us by which we love God. With the infused virtues that God gives us, we can be courageous in the face of evil for love of God, we can avoid overeating and be temperate for love of God, and we can give our possessions and money to good causes for love of God. Rather than doing these things simply because they make us better people, we can do them in a way that is ultimately an act of love for God.
God helps us to love him in our everyday lives by giving us the infused moral virtues, by which our good choices are ultimately acts of love for God.
How Jesus Loves God
Jesus is God, and God is all powerful, so he doesn’t need anything extra to help him love God, right?
As God, Jesus has been loving the Father and the Holy Spirit for all eternity. But Jesus is also a man, like us in all things except sin, so as a man, he loves God like we do, just more perfectly.
Since Jesus is like us in all things, his human soul received similar gifts that God gives to the baptized. Jesus’ soul was filled with grace, and from that grace, Jesus was given the infused moral virtues. He was given generosity, courage, temperance, and all other moral virtues. With these virtues, Jesus was generous for love of God, Jesus was courageous for love of God, and Jesus was temperate for love of God. As man Jesus did everything for love of God because he received from God these wonderful gifts, the infused moral virtues.
A great example of this is the agony in the garden, when Jesus is struggling to take on the heavy burden of the cross. Jesus knew he was going to suffer a terrible and painful death, and he knew that it was all part of God’s plan. At the same time, no human being could just waltz in and pick up a cross and carry it to his own death. That is a scary moment, and it is human nature to be anxious about such a scary thing.
When Jesus was sweating blood in the garden of Gethsemane, he prayed to the Father, saying, “Not my will but yours be done.” In that moment, Jesus is offering himself to the Father, but the overwhelming anxiety that causes him to sweat drops of blood tells us it was a tough moment of prayer. Jesus was able to be courageous and generous for love of God in that moment because he had the infused moral virtues.
Jesus courageously looked death in the face for love of God. He generously gave all he had, himself, to save us for love of God. He patiently endured all the suffering that came to him for love of God. He humbly accepted the divine plan and fulfilled it for love of God.
Jesus, Example of all Virtues
When we have difficult choices to make, we should always make good choices for love of God. Jesus is the perfect model of this for us. With the same gifts of infused moral virtues, the followers of Jesus can also do amazing, even heroic, things for love of God. As Jesus used the infused moral virtues to offer himself completely to God for our salvation, we can use the infused moral virtues to offer every one of our actions to God for love of him.