The Latin motto of a local classical and Christian school recently came to my attention: Caritas, Veritas, Actio. Here is a presentation of this motto:

Caritas (love): We love God and each other. We cultivate kindness, courtesy, and generosity of heart.
Veritas (truth): We affirm that truth exists. As we seek truth we love more completely and increase our ability to act for ourselves.
Actio (action): We govern ourselves and act intentionally. We live according to the truth, beauty, and goodness we have received, and seek to influence the world for good.

A reflection on the three elements of this motto may shed significant light, I think, on the human condition, on the best of our Christian and classical inheritance, and on the confused state of our contemporary mind and soul.

I will take the elements of this motto in reverse order.

Actio. We are acting beings; we are moral agents. We have physical needs and wants, but these do not determine who we are or what we do. We make a thousand choices every day, from the very little to the very big, choices that make both ourselves and our world at least a little better or a little worse. Every action is a beginning that produces something new under the sun. Each of us is endowed with a moral conscience, a sense of right and wrong, an awareness of good and bad, a portion of divine light, a precious flame that we either nourish or smother with every choice we make. All of us have made some bad choices, but Christ’s atonement makes it possible to be liberated from the otherwise eternal consequences of those choices and to build a future in which the good consequences of good choices will prevail and accumulate.

Veritas. Our little flame of moral agency does not provide all the light we need to do what is right and to make ourselves and our communities better. It is like a pilot light that, if we do not smother it, stands ready to ignite the fuel of the larger lamp of our understanding, the fuller light we need to guide our actions. We do not choose and act by mere feeling or by instinct, even moral instinct, but according to our best understanding of the realities that define our limits and our opportunities. We choose and we act in order to become better and to make our communities better, and this requires us to understand what “better means,” what it means to excel and to flourish and to do what we can to give our friends, neighbors and fellow citizens the opportunity to excel and to flourish. The better we understand the truth, and first of all the truth about ourselves—our limitations as well as our possibilities—the more we can contribute by our actions to the good.

The best of the ancient philosophers, the founders of our classical philosophic tradition, devoted themselves to a quest for the truth about human nature and the highest good to which human beings might aspire. They found in human virtue or excellence, in the well-ordered human soul, the best clue to this highest good, and in the eternal order of nature, including the heavenly bodies, the best clue to a well-ordered and beautiful soul. They sought in the ordering principle of nature itself a model and a ground for the orderly shaping of the human soul by virtuous action and by rigorous study of eternal things. Just as they valued self-sufficiency in the city, that is, the strength and independence and security of the political community, so they thought of the best soul, the best individual character, as one that needed nothing and no one beyond itself. For the classical philosophers, the best soul was the most self-sufficient.

Accordingly, for these philosophers, the highest “Good,” or god, the divine principle, was also understand as perfect and absolute self-sufficiency. Think of Plato’s eternal and changeless “form of the Good,” or Aristotle’s idea of god as a pure self-thinking thought whose remote and timeless goodness sets in motion the whole cosmos. The god of the philosophers, just because he, or it, was the best thing in the universe, the purpose of the rest of the universe, was unconcerned with all the beings, including human beings, who were moved by his or its absolute goodness. On this classical view, we human beings look up to divinity, but divinity does not concern itself with us. The Greek god is a god of self-sufficient goodness, a god of goodness understood as self-sufficiency, and not a god of love. The god of the Greeks is an image of the noble pride of the philosophers.

Now, the defect of this otherwise noble philosophical pride leads us to CARITAS.

St. Augustine of Hippo, who lived into the fifth century after Christ, and who did more than any other thinker to bring together the classical and Christian traditions, and thus to create Western Civilization, had the highest respect for the Greek philosophers’, and especially Plato’s, meditations on an absolute and timeless (albeit impersonal) divinity. But he had learned from the Bible of an essential hope that the philosophers could not speak to. He had learned from scripture of a God whose perfection, unlike that of the philosopher’s, included His infinite love for the human beings he had created. This was a God far above the pride of the philosophers, yet ready to descend into the hearts of every human being. This was a Heavenly Father who offered, through the gift of His Son, not to elevate the mind of the rare philosopher above all the cares and affections that, along with our reason, define our humanity, but instead to satisfy and to redeem every worthy desire of every ordinary human heart. This was a God who first loved us, so that we, by responding to this love, could gain eternal life, not as pure minds, but as loving, as well as rational, beings.

We are too prone to ignore or to forget that our modern individualism, our sense of the freedom and dignity of every human being, derives from Christian revelation. The insight of a 20th-century philosopher, “Each human being is unique, so that with each birth something uniquely new comes into the world,” is unthinkable without Christianity. The birth of each human being, each child of God, is a wonderful new beginning, not only for that child, but for the world; each birth renews the world. No idea is more open to misunderstanding and even to abuse than the Christian belief in the infinite worth of each individual—all around us we can see this idea distorted, even perverted, to serve the unhealthy desires, whims and compulsions of those who claim to be sovereigns over their own identities and thus, in a way, over the world. And yet, despite this vulnerability to distortion, no truth could be more beautiful or more fundamental to our understanding of the world and of our place in it than the idea that God esteemed each of our souls to be worth the sacrifice of His Son. And in responding in word and deed, in prayer and in action, to this divine evidence of the worth of our own soul, we participate in —we play a part in, here and now -- the eternal drama, the unfolding of the meaning of the cosmos.

The Biblical idea of love changed the world—with help from theologians like St. Augustine who strove to hold together classical virtue and Christian faith. The Christian idea of a love that embraces our whole humanity and the whole of humanity continues to shape our modern, supposedly secular society, even though many have denied or forgotten the source of this love and of this insight into the dignity of every human person. We continue to assert human dignity, and human rights, but we have forgotten their divine source and the divine responsibility inherent in this dignity. We passionately, even desperately assert the rights of humanity, but we have forgotten the truth of human nature and the responsibility of human action. In forgetting God, we have removed love from the truth of moral agency, we have severed caritas from veritas and actio.

This is why classical thought, with its sober attention to both the limits and the possibilities of human nature, can now provide an essential service to a Christian civilization that has forgotten its sources and lost its bearings. The natural and incomplete truth of classical moral and political philosophy can still remind us of how God created us, of the natures he gave us, and of what it means to reason together and to exercise moral agency as we seek to excel and to flourish as individuals, as families and as communities.

Caritas, veritas, actio. Alexis de Tocqueville once described his highest aspiration as that of “liberty under God and the laws.” Free, moral agency in light of the truth of our natures sustained by faith in a loving God—this is the classical and Christian legacy that is the only solid foundation of our modern, Western civilization. This is the understanding of humanity as pinnacle of the creation of a loving God that along can make meaningful, virtuous action possible; this alone can sustain our confidence that we can grow in truth and love as we act according to our best lights with faith in God to light our path and to forgive our missteps. With the assurance of God’s love, every day can be a new beginning, every act of faith and moral responsibility can be a part of your eternal story, which is also part of the great story of God’s love for his creation. Our action, however imperfect, and sometimes even apparently fruitless by our mortal standards, can be part of the unfolding truth of God’s love.

To conclude, a distillation of my key points:

Humans are responsible moral agents, that is, beings capable of choices that matter.
Moral agents need to be guided by reliable truths.
We can only fully live by a truth that comes from God’s Love.
In today’s world love has been separated from God, and therefore from Truth.
Today we need both classical and Christian truths in order to understand the worth of souls and the meaning of our lives.

Finally, let us briefly consider what would it mean in the contemporary world to hold together classical and Christian truths about human nature and the human condition? This union has never been better or more concisely expressed than in these words from Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address: “[W]ith charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right…” Christian charity alerts us that God’s image is in every human being, including those that our society would rank as inferior or that offend our cultural sensibilities. This love for human beings, inseparable from—and, in fact, derivative from—our love for our Creator and Redeemer, implies the Christian virtue (not recognized by the great pagan philosophers) of humility, a recognition of the limits of our own wisdom and virtue and an openness to insights and virtues unfamiliar to us. At the same time, to serve God by serving our families and our country, we must act “with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right.” We must not misinterpret humility to imply that we cannot make necessary judgments about what is right and wrong, noble and base, virtuous and vicious. As we bow before God, we must be ready to stand up for what is virtuous and praiseworthy among men. As we humbly seek by reason and by revelation better to understand what is right and good, we must act with confidence on the understanding that has been granted us.

Lincoln’s marvelous combination of firmness in the right with recognition of our limitations under God can guide us in the many challenges we face—moral, familial, and political—in our increasingly tumultuous and confused world.

Full Citation for this Article: Hancock, Ralph C. (2022) "Actio, Veritas, Caritas," SquareTwo, Vol. 15 No. 2 (Summer 2022),, accessed <give access date>.

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