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64. The Mean or Measure of Virtue

1. By the mean or measure we do notunderstand something to estimate the extent of virtue; we indicatethat which makes virtue show a sane balance, having neither excessnor deficiency. The measure of virtue does not reduce virtue to anaverage. Nor does it signify that every virtue is in itselfsomething that, as the ancients said, "stands in themiddle"; something requiring only a moderate exercise. Themean or measure of virtue is what determines its perfect practice.Thus, for example, justice, by the mean or measure, demands theexact rendering to everyone of what is due him. A debtor who omitspart of what is due, offends against the measure by defect; adebtor who pays in full but with vainglory and boastfulness,offends against the measure of justice by excess. Justice itselfcannot, of course, be in excess; but there can be excess (asillustrated in our example) in the manifestation or exercise ofjustice. Now, with respect to the moral virtues, the mean ormeasure is conformity with right reason.

2. The virtue of justice conforms to reason, and thusmanifests the measure or mean, when human actions are in accordwith the requirements of reality, of things. Hence we call the meanor measure of justice a real mean or measure. Other moralvirtues which regulate the passions, cannot be applied with theexactness of justice, but are in conformity with the mean ormeasure according to the judgment of reason in the circumstances inwhich they operate; hence we call their mean or measure arational mean or measure. If a man owes five dollars,justice (by the very facts of the case) requires the payment ofthat exact amount. But to observe temperance, a man does not haveto weigh out a precise number of ounces of food and drink; norwould a determinate amount be called temperate for every person inevery circumstance.

3. The mean or measure for the intellectual virtues of thespeculative order is truth. The mean or measure for theintellectual virtues of the practical order isprudence.

4. The theological virtues are not subject to measure or meanexcept accidentally, in so far as they are humanly manifested. Noexcess is possible in the theological virtues themselves. Scripture(Ecclus. 43:33) says, "Blessing the Lord, exalt him as much asyou can, for he is above all praise."

"Try to turn your heart from the love of things visible and bring yourself to things invisible. For they who follow their own evil passions stain their consciences and lose the grace of God. "
Thomas á Kempis

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"Does our conduct correspond with our Faith?"
The Cure D'Ars

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"It is well to choose some one good devotion, and to stick to it, and never to abandon it."
St Philip Neri

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