Conclusion Of Cardinal Virtues

In comparing Bonaventure's and Aquinas's appropriations of the Neoplatonic hierarchy of virtues, we note first that both Christian writers affirm the theory without hesitation. Even though they confront it in specifically theological contexts, both authors eagerly adopt from a pagan authority a theory bearing on the end of man. Indeed, both of them give specifically Christian emphasis to the ethical theory. Bonaventure insists that "the whole of Sacred Scripture" is concerned with the exemplar virtues. Aquinas too makes significant theological use of the theory, choosing to introduce it at a crucial point in the dialectic of the Summa. The article of the Summa considered above is the last article of the last question on cardinal virtue; as such it helps form a transition between Aquinas's discussions of moral and theological virtue.

At first glance, Aquinas's appropriation of the Neoplatonic theory may seem more surprising than Bonaventure's. Bonaventure rather predictably uses the Neoplatonic theory to criticize Aristotle and to articulate a Christian conception of the soul's journey to God. Gilson, in discussing this appropriation, notices an appropriate parallel between Bonaventure's understanding of a divine illumination in human knowledge, and a divine illumination of human virtue.51 But this is precisely the Bonaventure that we expect, and one which we are used to contrasting with Aquinas. Gilson uses this very "doctrine of moral illumination" to contrast Bonaventure's "Christian Platonism" with Aquinas's "Christian Aristotelianism" (Gilson 1938, 428-430). Yet, as we have seen, Aquinas assents to the same Neoplatonic theory of a hierarchy of virtues which characterizes the Platonist "doctrine of moral illumination." This makes it tempting to try to bring Aquinas's appropriation of the Neoplatonic theory to bear on some of the persistent questions in the interpretation of Aquinas's thought: Is Aquinas's Aristotelianism more important than his Neoplatonism? Is Aquinas's ethics really Aristotelian? Does Aquinas have a properly philosophical ethics?

Of course the evidence of ST 1-2.61.5 does not determine answers to any of these questions. In fact, there is good reason to think that such questions cannot be answered by unqualified affirmations or negations,52 and ST 1-2.61.5 helps to illustrate this. For one thing, it is clear that in the mind of Aquinas, the Neoplatonic theory of the cardinal virtues does not compete with, but complements, the Aristotelian account. Mark Jordan has said that Aquinas's appropriation of the Neoplatonic hierarchy of virtues "stretches the analogy of [Aristotelian] virtue almost to breaking" (Jordan 1993, 239). Yet as we have seen from the discussion above, in Aquinas's mind the analogy does not "break"; the Neoplatonic "stretch" is, for Aquinas, compatible with Aristotle's ethics.

This is all the more evident when Aquinas's treatment is contrasted with Bonaventure. Bonaventure uses the Neoplatonic theory as an occasion to criticize Aristotle. Aristotle, for Bonaventure, follows a way of "darkness," making philosophical mistakes for which the Neoplatonic theory offers a corrective. As Aquinas presents it, the Neoplatonic theory does not so much correct as supplement the Aristotelian account of virtue. For Aquinas, the Neoplatonic theory provides a way of understanding the relationship between the political and contemplative lives which, on the one hand, seems to address philosophical questions raised by Aristotle's ethics, but which, on the other hand, is not at odds with Aristotle's ethics.

We may note two such complementary aspects of the Neoplatonic analysis of the political and contemplative lives. First, it preserves a strong—and certainly Aristotelian—connection between being, the object of metaphysics, and goodness, the object of ethics; virtue is a reflection of divine virtue, and is pursued as part of a creature's proper end, (re-) union with the creator, who is the ultimate good, and the complete being. Second, and because of this strong connection between being and goodness, it allows us to understand how human "lives" that can be differentiated can still be necessarily related: the political man and the contemplative man are engaged in different activities, but both are engaged in human activities, and so the same virtues are actualized in them according to different modes. The contemplative life is superior to the political life just insofar as the virtues manifested in the contemplative life are closer to the exemplar virtues, and preparative of the purified virtues appropriate to separate substances.

While disagreeing over whether the Neoplatonic theory is a philosophical corrective or a philosophical complement to Aristotle, Aquinas and Bonaventure seem to agree that the theory addresses what we would think of as properly theological issues. Aristotle is famous for avoiding questions about the separability of the human intellect from the body, and the survival of the soul after death.53 Bonaventure and Aquinas, equipped as they are with confidence in the Christian faith, do not avoid these questions: the human soul can survive the death of the body, and can then achieve the higher virtues, and union with God. As we have seen, the Neoplatonic account of the hierarchy of cardinal virtue helps them to introduce and articulate this theological position.

Of course this does not mean that for either Bonaventure or Aquinas the Neoplatonic theory is itself a sufficient Christian theology of virtue. Here we must notice that for both of them, not only does the Neoplatonic theory correct or complement Aristotle, but faith complements the Neoplatonic theory. Bonaventure makes this clear in an extended discussion of the limitations of pagan virtue, and the necessity of Christ and His grace. Less explicitly indicated, Aquinas's agreement is suggested in the citation of Augustine on charity. While the theory of the hierarchy of cardinal virtues gives an account of the relations between the active and contemplative lives, and accounts for the superiority of the latter, in doing so it may seem to recommend the philosophical life unconditionally. Aquinas is careful to consider the possibility of a motive to sacrifice contemplation for action. The appeal to Augustine on this matter implies that, for Aquinas, such a motive is best understood by supplementing the pagan philosophical ethics, referring beyond the cardinal virtues to the specifically Christian virtue of charity.

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