WDTPRS – 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time: When “values” replace “virtues”

Let’s look at the Collect for the upcoming 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time:

Deus, qui fidelium mentes unius efficis voluntatis, da populis tuis id amare quod praecipis, id desiderare quod promittis, ut, inter mundanas varietates, ibi nostra fixa sint corda, ubi vera sunt gaudia.

A master crafted this prayer.

In the 1962 Missale Romanum we use it on the 4th Sunday after Easter. It is also in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary.  Listen to those “eee”s produced by the Latin “i”. Savor those parallels.

Varietas means “difference, diversity, variety.”  It is commonly used to indicate “changeableness, fickleness, inconstancy.”  I like “vicissitude”.  The adjective mundanus is “of or belonging to the world”.


O God, who make the minds of the faithful to be of one will, grant unto Your people to love that thing which You command, to desire that which You promise, so that, amidst the vicissitudes of this world, our hearts may there be fixed where true joys are.


O God, who cause the minds of the faithful to unite in a single purpose, grant your people to love what you command and to desire what you promise, that, amid the uncertainties of this world, our hearts may be fixed on that place where true gladness is found.

Let us revisit that id…quod. We can accurately say “love that which you command,” or “love what you command”, but that strikes me as vague.  Can we be more concrete and say “love the thing you command… desire the thing you promise”?

We are called to love and desire God’s will in concrete situations, in the details of life, especially when those details are little to our liking.  We must love God in this beggar, this annoying creep, not in beggars and creeps in general.  We must love Him in this act of fasting, this basket of laundry, this illness.

We must not reduce God’s will to an abstraction or a dreamy ideal. “Thy will (voluntas) be done on earth as it is in heaven”… or so it has been said.

Lest we forget why we needed new translation….


Father, help us to seek the values that will bring us lasting joy in this changing world. In our desire for what you promise make us one in mind and heart.

Good riddance!  “Values”.  Very slippery.  Typical of the obsolete translation.

To my ear, “values” has a shifting, subjective starting point. In 1995 Gertude Himmelfarb wrote in The De-Moralization of Society: From Victorian Virtues to Modern Values that “it was not until the present century that morality became so thoroughly relativized that virtues ceased to be ‘virtues’ and became ‘values.’”

In this post-Christian, post-modern world, “values” seems to indicate little more than our own self-projection.

John Paul II taught about “values”, but in contradiction to the way “values” are commonly understood today.  For example, we read in Evangelium vitae 71 (emphasis added):

“It is urgently necessary, for the future of society and the development of a sound democracy, to rediscover those essential human and moral values which flow from the very truth of the human being and express and safeguard the dignity of the person: values which no individual, no majority, and no state can ever create, modify, or destroy, but must only acknowledge, respect, and promote.”

In his 1985 letter to young people Dilecti amici 4, John Paul II taught:

“Only God is the ultimate basis of all values…. in Him and Him alone all values have their first source and final completion… Without Him – without the reference to God – the whole world of created values remains as it were suspended in an absolute vacuum.”

Benedict XVI taught about the threats we face from the “dictatorship of relativism”, from the reduction of the supernatural to the natural, from caving in to “the world”.

Christ warned His Apostles about “the world”, saying said: “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil” (John 7:7).  He spoke about this world’s “prince” (John 12:31; 14:30 16:11).  St Paul wrote: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

If what “the world” offers gets priority over what God offers the world through His Holy Church, we produce the situation Paul VI described on 29 June 1972, the 9th anniversary of his coronation:

“Through some crack the smoke of Satan has entered into the temple of God.”

Our Collect today asks God to grant that His will be the basis of our “values” in concrete terms, not in mere dreamy good intentions or this world’s snares.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. St. Irenaeus says:

    Here’s the substitution of values for virtues in our discourse in recent history, in one easy graph:

    If that doesn’t embed properly, try this:


    Note the shift starts not long after Nietzsche.

  2. ML says:

    Great post. This has always been a pet peeve of mine as well – going back to Dan Quayle and his unfortunate use of the phrase “family values”. Once we use and accept the language of the left we have already lost the argument.

    Traditionally the term value is used in relation to things whose values fluctuate. Principles and virtues by their nature are unchanging. The values of gold and the dollar fluctuate whereas the nature of courage and humility do not.

  3. Curley says:

    I had a similar thought recently when I attended “values training” at the hospital system I work for. They seemed a shallow substitute for traditional virtues, but that word would seem “religious”. Totally right about them being subjective and easily manipulated.

  4. Austin says:

    Translating this was one of Cranmer’s best moments. Even the expansions are felicitous:

    O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men: Grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

  5. Joseph-Mary says:

    Printed both the literal and current translations to live in my breviary. Always disliked that ‘values’ rendering.

  6. Fr. Reader says:

    The term “values” is used much in the phenomenological tradition, in which it is used in different flavours and colours. The philosophical dissertation of Karol Wojtila: “The ethical system of Max Scheler as means of constructing a Christian ethics” can tell us something about it for its validity of such concept in Christianity.
    Nevertheless, the concept of value is not empty of meaning and does not necessarily might want to be a substitute for virtues. The works of Von Hildebrand are an example, he uses it extensively (he was somehow brought to the faith partially by Scheler himself,) but he gives it a different meaning that is (in my opinion) compatible with Christianity, and is very enriching.

    The graph of St Irenaeus is certainly interesting, but I think we need more than that for condemning the use of a certain term. This one is very interesting too:
    but I don’t think we will learn much from it.

  7. Andrew says:

    In the Latin (normative) text, the two citations from John Paul II use “bonum” for “value” which doesn’t give an opening to negative interpretations.

  8. Kathleen10 says:

    People who are uninterested or turned off by what Catholicism actually taught for 2000 years try to “improve” the message by making it generic, which can be molded more to their liking. It would be easy for a discerning Catholic to identify who is who with a side by side comparison of the writer who actually ascribed to Catholicism versus one who did not. One is rich with actual meaning and inevitably points to Christ and the other can be interpreted many ways and inevitably points to man.

  9. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    I’ve read (but have never yet tried to follow it up properly), that ‘values language’ has its basis in Stoic philosophy as drawn upon by Immanuel Kant in his use of ‘Werten’. (I don’t know what Latin or Greek terms lie behind this.) I don’t know what the dangers of his use, or pf what corresponds to it in Stoicism, are. The English Wikipedia article (for whatever that may be ‘worth’ – there’s that ‘values language’ again!) on Kant includes, “In Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, Kant […] posited the ‘counter-utilitarian idea that there is a difference between preferences and values’ “.

    Both St. Irenaeus and Fr. Reader seem right about the corrosive Nietzschean development of ‘values language’ and about Christian attempts to use it well. (Perhaps C.S. Lewis’s notable use of it is indebted to, e.g., Max Scheler, or to some sort of parallel English-language development?)

    The 1973 ICEL chopping and changing attempt to substitute “help us to seek the values” (together with “In our desire for what you promise”) for “da populis tuis id amare quod praecipis, id desiderare quod promittis” does seem bizarre at the least. Perhaps it demonstrates the need to take account of and reject explicitly any ‘voluntaristic’ dangers in Christian uses of ‘values language’, in line with Benedict XVI’s Regensburg address.

  10. WYMiriam says:

    Two thoughts come to mind:

    1. For myself, the defunct ICEL “translation” is bad chiefly because they left out the part about obeying the thing(s) that God commands — which omission is no surprise, considering what also happened with most of the Latin texts which referred to holiness. . .

    and . . .

    2. The Google Books Ngram Viewer was an eye-opener! What was especially noticeable to me was that period of about 10 years when the occurrences of “virtues” and “values” matched extremely closely: the 1890s — known, once upon a time, as “the Gay 90s.” Did the people who gave them that appellation know something we don’t know?

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