The theological virtues are faith, hope, and love (sometimes written as “charity”). A virtue is a particular moral excellence (www.dictionary.com/browse/virtue), and the theological virtues are the most excellent qualities that humans can have, as they come only from God and lead back to God. In Catholic theology, the theological virtues are often compared to the cardinal virtues, such as self-control and courage, which are human virtues developed by knowledge and making right choices.
Faith is the virtue of belief in God. Hope is the virtue of being confident in our eternal life in Christ. Love is the virtue of seeking what is best for the loved one. The first person to use the term theological virtues was the philosopher Thomas Aquinas (1225—1274) in his text Summa Theologica (Wawrykow, J., “The Theological Virtues,” The Oxford Handbook of Aquinas, Davies and Stump, ed., Oxford University Press, 2012).
Aquinas and many after him base this grouping of theological virtues on the apostle Paul’s famous treatise on love in 1 Corinthians 13, which ends in verse 13: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” In Summa Theologica, Aquinas wrote, “These virtues are called Divine, not as though God were virtuous by reason of them, but because of them God makes us virtuous, and directs us to Himself” (Question 62, Article 1, Reply to Objection 2).
One of the blessings of salvation by grace through faith is having the gifts of faith, hope, and love. Peter does not list the “theological virtues,” but he does refer to the great blessings of God’s gifts: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (1 Peter 1:3–4).
It is only by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit that we can truly have the “theological virtues” of faith, hope, and love. These gifts truly do come from God.
First Corinthians 13 ends with a focus on the preeminent theological virtue: “The greatest of these is love” (verse 13). Love is “the climax of [God’s] nature; it is the fulfilling of all duty; it is the crown and jewelled clasp of all perfection” (MacLaren, A., Expositions Of Holy Scripture). The apostle John focuses on God’s love and what that looks like in our lives: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:7–9).
The ultimate picture of God’s love for us is in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 John 4:10). Our faith in Him gives us the hope we need, and the result is a love for Him, which ultimately frees us to love others.