TOC Previous Next A+A-Print


Chapter 26: Modes of Christian Response


The modes of Christian response are faith’s specification and charity’s fulfillment of the eight modes of responsibility. The modes of responsibility, treated in chapter eight, forbid what does not conform to a will toward integral human fulfillment. The modes of Christian response are ways of acting characteristic of a person whose will, enlivened by charity, is directed in hope toward the fulfillment of everything in Jesus. These principles of Christian moral life are the blessings proclaimed in the eight Beatitudes.

These Christian moral principles are more blessings than demands, because living faith which makes them known also leads one to fulfill them. Thus, the modes of Christian response are not only norms but virtues. The difference between common human virtues and Christian ones is the difference between good acts formed by the modes of responsibility and good acts formed by the modes of Christian response. Christian virtues specify common human virtues in light of the fallen and redeemed human situation. Since the Christian modes of response are more specific than the common modes of responsibility, one finds in Christians states of character vicious only by specifically Christian standards—“Christian vices.”

St. Augustine and St. Thomas teach that the gifts of the Holy Spirit correspond to the first seven Beatitudes. The gifts belong to the messianic endowment of Jesus in which every Christian shares; they are principles of life in the Spirit. Although Thomas takes a different position, the view suggested here is that the gifts can be identified with charity insofar as it is the gift of the Holy Spirit which transforms the moral requirements articulated in the modes of responsibility into the modes of Christian response called “blessed” in the Beatitudes.

Taking the Beatitudes as the framework, then, what are the Christian modes of response?

1. To expect and accept all good, including the good fruits of one’s own work, as God’s gift—for the “poor in spirit” understand that their achievements are only a share, given freely and generously by God, in his fullness. The virtuous disposition is humility; the Christian vice is pride. The corresponding gift of the Spirit is fear of the Lord, which Thomas links to the virtue of hope.

2. To accept one’s limited role in the Body of Christ and fulfill it—for the “meek” understand that submissiveness to God’s will involves no loss or delay to their personal fulfillment. The virtuous disposition is “Christian dedication,” while lukewarmness and minimalism are opposed to it. The corresponding gift of the Spirit is piety or godliness, an attitude of filial reverence and dutifulness toward God.

3. To put aside or avoid everything which is not necessary or useful in the fulfillment of one’s personal vocation—for those who “mourn” (not contrite sinners but those who turn from transient goods to fulfillment in Jesus) understand that to be disposed to goodness itself frees one from the pursuit of particular, finite goods for their own sake. The virtuous disposition is detachment; worldliness and anxiety are opposed dispositions. The corresponding gift of the Spirit is knowledge, by which one discerns what belongs to faith and judges everything by its light.

4. To endure fearlessly whatever is necessary or useful for the fulfillment of one’s personal vocation—for those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” understand that they have nothing whatsoever to fear. The virtuous disposition is the faithfulness and heroism characteristic of the martyr, though required of all Christians, while weakness of faith and faintheartedness in the face of non-Christian standards are among the Christian vices. The corresponding gift of the Spirit is fortitude.

5. To be merciful according to the universal and perfect measure of mercy which God has revealed in Jesus—for those who “are merciful” understand that they are to be disinterested and selfless as God is. The virtuous disposition is mercy, compassion, service to others on the model of Jesus, while the opposed vice is a legalistic attitude toward others. The gift of the Spirit is counsel: for Augustine, realization that it is in our best interests to be merciful; for Thomas, a divine practicality directing to a life of mercy which transcends human standards.

6. To strive to conform one’s whole self to living faith, and purge anything which does not meet this standard—for the “pure in heart” understand that in this life charity requires continuous conversion. The virtuous disposition is single-minded devotion to God, including a sense of sin and continuing conversion, while the Christian vice is reflected in mediocrity and insincerity. The corresponding gift of the Spirit is understanding.

7. To respond to evil with good, not with resistance, much less with destructive action—for “peacemakers” understand that the effort to live according to divine love must be universally conciliatory. The virtuous disposition is the conciliatoriness which seeks the redemption of enemies; one opposed disposition is the tendency to shun evil instead of carrying on a redemptive ministry to those enslaved by it. The corresponding gift of the Spirit is wisdom, the power of putting in order as peacemakers do.

8. To do no evil that good might come of it, but suffer evil together with Jesus in cooperation with God’s redeeming love—for “those persecuted for righteousness’ sake” understand that one must undergo evil in order to bring the evildoer in touch with perfect goodness. The virtuous disposition is self-oblation, the Christian vice the fragile rectitude of the person who does not wish to sin but seeks fulfillment in this world. Since there are only seven gifts of the Spirit, Augustine assigns none here; however, one might say there is a corresponding gift, unique to each Christian and disposing him or her to offer God the unique gift of himself or herself.