23rd January 1589. Faith, Hope and Charity.

‘Caritas non conturbat me’: Charity doesn’t bother me; from the Catholic, Hilaire Belloc’s poem, where he defends his faith against all-comers.

Edmund Spenser in his Fairie Queen seeing Virtue as Gloriana’s [Queen Elizabeth’s] path to Salvation, wrote that it should be read for delight rather than ‘the profite of the ensample’. You can’t tell a Queen how to behave! 

Today in 1589 on 23 Januarie (sic), Edmund Spenser wrote to ‘The Right Noble and Valorous Sir Walter Raleigh, Kn. Lo: Warden of the Stannaries, and her majesties lieutenaunt of the countie of Cornewall'(sic).

The Letter contained a preface for the Faerie Queene which describes the allegorical presence of Virtue to be found in the [King] Arthurian legends, idealizing valorous, courtly knights in a mythical Faerieland.

The Faerie Queen showed the Queen (Gloriana), the supposed path, via Virtue, to Salvation, at a time of religious upheaval and controversy and purported to show how Catholic rule was unjust and how Gloriana’s virtuous godly knights would destroy superstitious Catholic continental power throughout. Virtue was obviously in the eye of the beholder!

The early writers were much exercized with human ethics and virtues. Aristotle in Nichomachenia saw ethics as moral, intellectual or social; Plato’s Republic records the four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, temperance and courage, which were expanded by the Pauline, Christian virtues of Faith Hope and Charity (Fides, Spes and Caritas).(1)

Hope, Charity and Faith at Brampton Church, Cumbria.

Hope, Charity and Faith at Brampton Church, Cumbria.

It was these seven virtues taken up by the early Church Fathers, which if practised would be effective against the seven deadly sins.(2)

In effect it was a battle between good and evil, as revealed in the early 5th century epic poem Psychomachia (Battle of the Souls), by the Christian Governor, Aurelius Prudentius.

It is not surprising that the Vulgate Bible compiled at the time is scattered with innumerable references to vice and holy virtue, and which were to become a key part of Catholic theology formulated in the Middle Ages.

The emphasis of virtue, (hamatia), placed high value on saintly behaviour, which contrasted with the theology of ‘The Fall’ and its associated sin and vices. Mankind was thus in thrall to guilt, when they failed to measure up to the virtues, which was exploited by an unscrupulous church.

(1) See Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians 1.13:13.

(2) As listed by Dante Alligieri these are: pride or vanity, envy or jealousy, wrath or anger, sloth or laziness, avarice, gluttony and lust.


Much early literature is based on allegories of vice and virtue: Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales where characterisation is an allegory of vice and virtue; less about individuals than abstract virtues, a literary medieval morality play as with Gluttony in the Pardoner’s Tale.

Then the conflict is seen in Shakespeare, for example, where Othello is driven by Iago’s envy of the Jew‘s success, and the 17thc Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan.

A window at Brampton Church, Cumbria, England, depicts Spes, Caritas and Fides. Spes was the Roman divine personification of the Imperial cult of Hope.

Spes Augusta was Hope associated with the capacity of the Emperor as Augustus ensuring blessed conditions.

Ref:stmartinsbrampton.co.uk. Picture of church window.

Ref: wikipedia.org/seven-virtues.

Ref: Philosophy of the Virtues, Sarah Emsley.

Ref: internet shakespeare.uvic.ca.

Ref: A History of English Literature. Classiclit.about.com/library.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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