79. Virtue may be defined as the conscious union of human weakness with divine strength. Thus the person who makes no effort to transcend the weakness of human nature has not yet attained the state of virtue. And that is why he goes astray, because he has not yet received the power which makes what is weak strong. On the other hand, he who willfully relies on his own weakness instead of on divine power, regarding this weakness as strength, has completely overshot the bounds of virtue. And that is why he goes astray, because he is unaware that he has left goodness behind; indeed, he mistakes his error itself for virtue. Thus the person who makes no effort to transcend the limits of his natural weakness is more easily forgiven, because indolence is the main reason for his lapse. But he who relies on his own weakness instead of on divine strength in order to do what is right, is likely to have lapsed because of willfulness.
This text obviously flows from Jesus’ teachings about the reversal of the way we think things ought to be and Paul’s explicit words about being strong in his weakness. It’s easy to grasp how we can be lazy and not seek the strength to transcend our weakness. After all, I’m sure most of us do that every day. The subtler insight of this text is that we can focus and rely on our weakness, perceive it as strength instead, and fail to join that weakness with divine strength. It’s another path pride can take.