Summary of A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart by Josef Pieper

A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart 
by Josef Pieper, Ignatius Press, 1991

“Acedia means this: that man denies his effective assent to his true essence, that he closes himself to the demand that arises from his own dignity, that he is not inclined to claim for himself the grandeur that is imposed on him with his essence’s God-given nobility of being” (51).


“The connection of the licentiousness of the desire for pleasure with the indolent inability to get angry is the distinctive mark of complete and genuinely hopeless degeneration. It shows itself wherever a social class, a people, or a culture is ripe for ruin” (35).



“Discipline is selfless self-preservation. Indiscipline is self-destruction through selfish debasement of powers intended for self-preservation” (31).

“Cheerfulness of heart is the seal of selflessness. By this seal, one recognizes with certainty that hypocrisy and any frenzy of self-absorption are very remote. Cheerfulness of the heart is the unmistakable sign through which the inner authenticity of discipline as selfless self-preservation becomes manifest” (32). 

St. Thomas Aquinas said that “the goal and norm of discipline is bliss” (33).


“Fortitude presumes vulnerability; without vulnerability, there is no possibility of fortitude. An angel cannot be courageous because it is not vulnerable” (24).

“To be brave means to ready to sustain a wound. Since he is substantially vulnerable, man can be courageous… through it, he wants to protect or gain a deeper, more substantial freedom from harm” (25). 

“What is essential to the virtue of fortitude is… steadfastness and patience… because the real world is so structured that it is in the most extreme emergency, where the only possible resistance is steadfastness, that the final and most profound spiritual strength of the person can become manifest… and patience is the radiant essence of final freedom from harm” (28).

“The virtue of fortitude protects a person from loving his life in such a way that he loses it” (28). 


“The primal will for the good lives from the ongoing momentum of the original leap by which man, in answer to the creative call of God, crossed over the chasm that divides nothingness from existence” (9).

“All duty is based upon being. Reality is the basis of ethics. Goodness is the standard of reality. Whoever wants to know and do the good must direct his gaze toward the objective world of being, not toward his own “sentiment” or toward arbitrarily established “ideals” and “models”. He must look away from his own deed and look upon reality” (11). 

“Man’s good lies in being in accordance with reason” (17).

“The moral good is nothing else than the continuation and fulfillment of the natural tendencies of our being” (47). 


“Hope is the genuine virtue of the “not yet”… We are viatores, on our way, “not yet” beings” (48).

“Whereas natural hope springs from man’s youthful power and dries up along with it, for supernatural hope, however, the reverse is true: it not only is not tied to being naturally young but also is itself the basis for a much more substantial youthfulness. It endows a person with a “not yet” that simply surpasses and is remote from the decline of natural powers of hope… Nothing assures and establishes “eternal hope” as does the theological virtue of hope” (49). 

“Supernatural hope implants in man the new “future” of a simply inexhaustible “not yet” (50).

“Christian hope is first and foremost an existential direction of man toward the perfection of his being, toward the fulfillment of his essence, thus toward his ultimate realization, toward the fullness of being” (53-4). 


“The just man, the more he realizes that he is the recipient of gifts and that he has an obligation to God and to man, will alone be ready to fulfill what he does not owe. He will decide to give something to the other that no one can force him to give” (24).


“Magnanimity is the expansion of the spirit toward great things; one who expects great things of himself and makes himself worthy of it is magnanimous… he is concerned only with great things that are suitable for him… above all, great glory” (37).

“Undaunted uprightness is the distinctive mark of magnanimity, while nothing is more alien to it than this: to be silent out of fear about what is true” (38).

“Magnanimity encompasses an unshakable firmness of hope, a plainly defiant certainty, and the thorough calm of a fearless heart” (38).

“A “humility” that would be too narrow and too weak to bear the inner tension of coexistence with magnanimity is indeed no humility” (39).


“Prudence, as the formal basis and “birth mother” of all human virtue, is the cautious and decisive faculty of our spirit for shaping things, which transforms the knowledge of reality into the accomplishment of the good” (15).

“Prudence means the hesitant seriousness and, so to speak, the filter of reflection and yet also the daring courage for definitive resolution” (15). 

“In prudence, the dominant virtue of the conduct of our lives, the happiness of active life is resolved” (16).

“Man is prudent and good only together; prudence belongs to the definition of the good… Omnis virtus moralis debet esse prudens: All virtue is necessarily prudent” (12). 

“One can be prudent only if one loves and wills the good through and through; indeed, only one who is first prudent can do good” (18).

Prudence is “to allow the more deeply experienced truth of the reality of God and of the world to become the measure and standard for one’s own desire and action” (20). 


“Only he who looks at the world with pure eyes experiences its beauty” (44).

“Purity is the unreserved openness of the entire being, from which alone the word can be spoken: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord” (Lk 1:38)” (45).

“Purity is not only the fruit of purification but also comprises in itself the readiness to accept God’s purifications, perhaps terrible and deadly, with the brave openness of a trusting heart and so experiences its fertile and transformative power” (46).

Silent Listening

“The world reveals itself to the silent listener and only to him; the more silently he listens, the more purely is he able to perceive reality. Since reason is nothing else than the power to understand reality, then all reasonable, sensible, sound, clear, and heart-stirring talk stems from listening silence. Thus all discourse requires a foundation in the motherly depth of silence. Otherwise, speech is sourceless: it turns into chatter, noise, and deception” (13).

“Who indeed could be attentive in silence to the discourse of things unless he expected something from perceiving the truth?” (14)


“Temperance, insofar as it keeps the person himself in order by vigilance and restraint, provides for both the realization of one’s own good and the authentic progress of a man toward his goal, the unalterable requirement. Without it, the stream of the innermost essential human will could overflow its banks, lose its direction, and never reach the sea of fulfillment. Yet temperance is not the stream itself. Still, it is the bank and rampart, and through its firmness, the stream is endowed with an unhindered course, momentum, slope, and velocity” (33-34).


“To be open to the truth of real things and to live by perceived truth: these constitute the essence of the moral person” (42-3).


“Virtue is the utmost of what a man can be; it is the realization of the human capacity for being” (9).

“Authentic, perfected virtue, by dint of the very definition of the concept, bears the happily radiant seal of spontaneity, of freedom from constraint and of self-evident inclination” (10). 

“The “soundness” of any virtue lies in the fact that it is appropriate to objective reality, both natural and supernatural. Conformity to reality is the principle of both soundness and goodness” (11).

“Every virtue must be always tied with all others at their core” (30). 


  1. Thanks a lot

    On Sun, Sep 2, 2018 at 11:12 PM The Prodigal Catholic Blog wrote:

    > richardconlin posted: “A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart by > Josef Pieper, Ignatius Press, 1991 Acedia “Acedia means this: that man > denies his effective assent to his true essence, that he closes himself to > the demand that arises from his own dignity, that he is ” >

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