Pope Francis: Theological Virtues Are the ‘Fundamental Attributes’ of a Christian Life

The Holy Father said Wednesday that faith, hope and charity form the key pillars. He also mentioned St. John Paul II: ‘Remain faithful to his legacy. Promote life, and do not be deceived by the culture of death.’

Pope Francis addresses pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican for his Wednesday general audience on April 24.
Pope Francis addresses pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican for his Wednesday general audience on April 24. (photo: National Catholic Register / Vatican Media)

Pope Francis on Wednesday opened a new chapter in his ongoing catechetical series on virtues by pivoting to a reflection on the three theological virtues — faith, hope, and charity — which he noted form the key pillars of Christian life.

The Holy Father bolstered his analysis by looking to the legacy of St. John Paul II. 

“Looking at his life, we can see what man can achieve by accepting and developing within himself the gifts of God: faith, hope and charity,” the Pope said to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square. 

Pope Francis greets pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican for his Wednesday general audience on April 24, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

Pope Francis greets pilgrims April 24. | Vatican Media

Saturday will mark the 10th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s canonization.

“Remain faithful to his legacy. Promote life, and do not be deceived by the culture of death. Through his intercession, we ask God for the gift of peace for which he, as pope, has worked so hard,” Francis said.

The Pope framed his predecessor’s legacy within the context of the three theological virtues, which he characterized as the “fundamental attributes” of a Christian life and “the great antidote to self-sufficiency.”

“The Christian is never alone,” the Pope said. “He does good not because of a titanic effort of personal commitment but because, as a humble disciple, he walks behind the Master, Jesus.” 

Harkening back to his previous reflections on the four cardinal virtues — prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance — Pope Francis noted while they “constitute the ‘hinge’ of a good life,” it is the three theological virtues that lead Christians “toward the fullness of life,” as they are “received and lived out in relationship with God.” 

Pope Francis greets pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican for his Wednesday general audience on April 24, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

Pope Francis greets pilgrims April 24. | Vatican Media

But the Pope stressed that the four cardinal virtues were not “replaced” by Christianity but instead “enhanced, purified and integrated.”

The Pope stressed that living a life predicated upon the theological virtues forms a firewall against the vices, namely pride, which can “spoil a whole life marked by goodness.” 

The Pope asked: “A person may have performed a mountain of good deeds, may have reaped accolades and praise, but if he has done all this only for himself, to exalt himself, can he still call himself a virtuous person?” 

But the Holy Father reminded the faithful: “If we open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, he revives the theological virtues in us. If we have lost confidence, God reopens us to faith; if we are discouraged, God awakens hope in us; if our heart is hardened, God softens it with his love.” 

At the end of the audience, Pope Francis renewed his appeal for peace  for “tormented” Ukraine, as well as in Myanmar, and in Israel and Palestine, repeating his regular refrain: “War is always a defeat.” 

Pope Francis (R) embraces new Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich after he appointed him during an Ordinary Public Consistory for the creation of new cardinals on October 5, 2019 at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

Pope Francis vs. Cardinal Hollerich

EDITORIAL: The Pope’s comments regarding women’s ordination in his interview with CBS put a damper on the movement to alter the Church’s teaching on the priesthood and diaconate.