Delight in Virtue

Whenever I read what St Benedict has to say about the twelfth step of humility (RB 7. 62-70), a different word or phrase tends to strike me. This morning it was his observation that when we finally come to the perfect love that casts out fear, we do all that we formerly did ‘no longer for fear of hell but for love of Christ and from good habit and delight in virtue (delectatione virtutum)’. I am accustomed to noting that this chapter follows the Rule of the Master quite closely, that Benedict’s ‘good habit’ is not very far from Cassian’s ‘love of the good’ (amore ipsius boni), and that, like Cassian, Benedict introduces reference to the love of Christ (in Cassian it is affectus Christi) to end his chapter on a ‘high’. But it was that ‘delight in virtue’ which hit me today.

‘Delight’ is such a beautiful word, full of warmth and charm. Is that what we associate with virtue? For many of us, acting virtuously has elements of struggling against our inclinations, being good when secretly we would prefer to be bad — or at any rate, slightly less good than we feel we ought to be. Virtue has a brisk, cold bath quality to it: it is good for us and for others, but it is difficult to convince ourselves that it is anything other than a trifle unpleasant. We are glad when we have been virtuous; actually being virtuous is less appealing.

Benedict’s conclusion to his chapter on humility presents us with a real challenge. To find joy, delight, in being humble and in the practices that lead to humility, means a reversal of values. Self has to move from centre-stage; Christ has to become all in all. We shall never attain that kind of freedom by our own efforts; it has to be the work of grace. I think an important part of that is rethinking our vocabulary. All the words that suggest struggle and grim determination tend to focus us on ourselves; those that point to Christ are much lighter, happier, gayer in the old-fashioned meaning of the word. Delight in virtue. That’s not a bad imperative for the day, is it?


3 thoughts on “Delight in Virtue”

  1. Fortitude, Prudence, Temperance and Justice are the virtues that I was taught as a child, which along with Faith, Hope and Charity all seem to me to be things to delight in, particularly if we have them in abundance and those around us share them as well.

    The love and Grace of God through Jesus Christ given freely to us and through Grace, those virtues are gifts which we should use with wisdom and humility.

    Delight is a lovely word, because it shows us how in the words of the Psalmist:

    Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” – what more can we ask for?

  2. ‘Delight’, ‘joy’ and ‘tender’ are for me all warm words. ‘Duty’ and ‘virtue’ are cold. So your posting touches something in me, but immediately I am reminded of Dorothy Day’s phrase ‘the duty of delight’ that brings cold and warm together. Ah, but it’s going to be one of those days when your posting sets me searching not only my own heart and mind, but also my bookshelves. Just how did Day intend that phrase? Was it really Ruskin who first used it? And just where is that piece that Sr Wendy Beckett wrote about Day. Yes it will be a wet day well spent, thank you.

  3. I have not before considered the juxtaposition of the two words “delight” and “virtue”. It will be good to meditate on this today. Thank you, Sister.

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