The Life of Virtue – Diffidence
Shamefacedness, the state of being ashamed, is not a virtue according to St. Thomas but neither is it a vice, it is only related to vice. Diffidence cannot be a virtue because, under a strict definition of virtue, only those things which belong to perfection can be described as virtues. Furthermore, diffidence cannot be said to belong to perfection because the state of being ashamed belongs to fear; those who are ashamed fear the consequences of the action that they have performed, or potential damage of some kind that may occur to them because of the situation in which they find themselves. For example, if a man steals a watch from a shop and is later confronted by somebody who saw him perform that action, the shame that he experiences cannot be virtuous because he is simply afraid of what might happen if the witness reports him to the police. This is to be afraid is a consequence of sin. We can see this in scripture: right from the beginning of the human race, Adam and Eve have nothing to be afraid of in the state of paradise in which they lived before the fall. It is only after sin enters the world and corrupts every relation between every creature that our first parents have something to be afraid and ashamed of, their nakedness and their guilt. As scripture says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love” (1 John 4:18).
Also, for something to be a virtue it must be something that is done out of habit, an action that is performed because one wishes to do what is good, that is the way in which the virtuous person approaches life. However, the state of being ashamed is not a habitual action, or even an action at all, for it is a passion, an emotional state. St. Thomas says that the person who is perfected in virtue does not feel ashamed and does not fear the consequences of sin, since his mind is not set on things that are evil, they do not trouble him. Let us pray that we may all know, in this life, that blessed state, in which are minds, hearts and bodies, our whole being, is continually turned towards the Lord in one great act of praise, thanksgiving and adoration until we attain that perfect loves that knows no fear.