Theological virtues

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The Three Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope and Love (1780) by Johann Georg Unruhe (Parish Church of St. Michael in Untergriesbach). Above, Faith with cross, chalice and shining host, next to it elevated the Lamb of God; on the right, Love as a female figure with children and a flaming heart in her right hand, next to it on the right the pelican, as a symbol for the Christ who rips open his chest and sacrifices himself to nourish his young with his own heart's blood; on the left, Hope with anchor and branch.
Faith, Love and Hope. Coloured drawing by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld.

The three Pauline virtues or theological virtues of faith, love and hope are first mentioned in Paul's First Epistle to the Thessalonians.

„2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.“

Together with the four cardinal virtues already mentioned by Plato, they form the seven main virtues in the Christian occidental cultural sphere, which are set against the corresponding 7 main vices. The best known is their discussion in the First Epistle to the Corinthians:

„1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.“

Unlike the Ten Commandments, they are not commandments or prohibitions to act, but refer directly to the central virtues of our bodily members, which must be carefully nurtured. Faith is the highest virtue of the astral body; the power of love should flow through the etheric body, and hope refers to the physical body (Lit.:GA 130, p. 172ff).

Iconographically, faith is symbolised by a cross or a chalice with a host, love by the heart or a woman with children, and hope by an anchor, a bird or a branch.

See also


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English.
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.