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The Life of Virtue - Dulia

Thursday, July 23, 2009
The virtue of dulia, or honour, is concerned with recognising excellence. For Aristotle, it was only right that people who lived lives of great virtue should be shown respect and honoured, especially after they had died and their whole lives could be seen as an example of excellence. Indeed, such a practice is often seen in many part of the world, where great figures in political, military or public life are commemorated by memorials such as statues.
St Thomas Aquinas accepts Aristotle's idea that honour is a virtue, but in his usual way renders it Christian. We show honour to people precisely by external signs like statues, just as was the case for the ancient Greeks. The difference is what we are honouring. According to the Christian idea of dulia, honour is due to those who have excelled in their living out of their faith. What we are doing is recognising their 'excelling goodness' (ST IIa IIae qu. 103. art. 2). And for us, this means showing honour to the saints by our various observances. We may honour the saints in many ways, for example by veneration of relics, icons and other holy images. And most importantly perhaps, we honour the saints, recognising that they are with God, when we ask them to intercede for us.
It is a popular misconception about Catholics that they are involved in worship of the saints. But this is not the case, since there is a difference in the kind between the reverence that we show towards the saints and the worship we offer to God. When we honour the saints, we are recognising that they lived exemplary lives and were conformed to Christ. In worshiping God, we recognise that He is the source of all goodness and holiness, the one who made it possible for the saints to reach perfection in their Christian lives.

Robert Gay OP


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