Skip to comments.Prudence: Mother of All Virtues
Posted on 05/02/2009 9:36:43 PM PDT by Salvation
St. Paul, in his Letter to the Philippians, captured the idea of virtue and the living of a virtuous life: "My brothers, your thoughts should be wholly directed to all that is true, all that deserves respect, all that is honest, pure, admirable, decent, virtuous or worthy of praise" (4:8). With this in mind, the classic definition of virtue is a habit or firm disposition that inclines a person to do good and to avoid evil. Characterized by stability, a virtuous person not only strives to be a good person, but also seeks what is good and chooses to act in a good way. Aristotle defined virtue as "that which makes both a person and what he does good."
Dr. Joseph Pieper, one of the great Thomist theologians and an expert on virtue, provided this explanation: "The doctrine of virtue ... has things to say about this person; it speaks both of the kind of being which is his when he enters the world, as a consequence of his createdness and the kind of being he ought to strive toward and attain to by being prudent, just, temperate and brave. The doctrine of virtue is one form of the doctrine of obligation, but one by nature free of regimentation and restriction" (The Four Cardinal Virtues).
On one hand, an individual can acquire human virtues through his own effort under the guidance of reason. Through education, by deliberately choosing to do what is good, and through perseverence, a person acquires and strengthens virtue.
On the other hand, with the help of divine grace from God, the individual finds greater strength and facility to practice these virtues. Through these grace-assisted virtues, which we would now call moral virtues, he gains self-mastery of his weakened nature due to original sin. In sum, these virtues help to forge that Christian character and to motivate a person to become God-like, in the best sense of the term.
There are four primary moral virtues, which are called the cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. The word cardinal derives from the Latin cardo, meaning "hinge." Consequently, these four virtues are called "cardinal" because all other virtues are categorized under them and hinge upon them. The Book of Wisdom of the Old Testament states, "For [wisdom] teaches temperance and prudence, justice and fortitude, and nothing in life is more useful for men than these" (8:7).
Prudence, the "mother" of all of the virtues, is the virtue by which a person recognizes his moral duty and the good means to accomplish it. Actually, prudence is part of the definition of goodness. A person can be prudent and good only simultaneously. No other virtue can contradict what is prudent. Therefore, what is prudent is substantially what is good, and prudence is the measure of justice, temperance and fortitude.
A prudent person looks at the concrete reality of a situation with a clear, honest objectivity; references and applies the moral truths (e.g the Ten Commandments or the teachings of the Church); makes a moral judgment; and then commands an action. Moreover, prudence also seeks to accomplish the action in a good way doing what is good in a good way.
Clearly, prudence is essential for the formation and operation of ones conscience. To be a prudent person, one must know Gods truth, just as to have a good conscience, one must know Gods truth. One cannot do what is good if one does not know the principles of truth and goodness.
To prudently examine a situation and then to determine a course of action, one must keep in mind three aspects of prudence: memoria, docilitas and solertia. Memoria simply means having a "true-to-being" memory which contains real things and events as they really are now and were in the past. Everyone must learn from his past experiences. Remembering what is to be done or avoided from past experiences helps to alert us to the occasions and causes of sin, to prevent us from making the same mistakes twice and to inspire us to do what is good. Be on guard: the falsification or denial of recollection is a grave impediment to exercising prudence.
Docilitas means that a person must have docility, an open-mindedness, which makes the person receptive to the advice and counsel of other people. A person should always seek and heed the wise counsel of those who are older, more experienced and more knowledgeable.
Finally, the exercise of prudence involves solertia, which is sagacity. Here a person has a clear vision of the situation at hand, foresees the goal and consequences of an action, considers the special circumstances involved and overcomes the temptation of injustice, cowardice, or intemperance. With solertia, a person acts in a timely manner but with due reflection and consideration to decide what is good and how to do the good. With a well-formed conscience attuned to Gods truth, and with the proper exercise of memoria, docilitas and solertia, a person will act prudently.
Contrary vices to prudence include precipitance (acting impulsively), inconstancy (changing resolutions too quickly), negligence and losing sight of ones supernatural destiny, namely eternal life. Perhaps the last vice is most prevalent today: too many people act without regard to their eternal judgment and without setting their sights on Heaven. The prudent person seeks to always do what is good in the eyes of God so as one day to be joined to His everlasting goodness in Heaven. After all, Jesus asked, "What profit would a man show if he were to gain the whole world and destroy himself in the process?" (Mt 16:26).
Given this introduction to the cardinal virtues and to the virtue of prudence, next week we will continue the discussion on the virtues of justice, fortitude and temperance.
Saunders, Rev. William. "Prudence: Mother of All Virtues." Arlington Catholic Herald.
This article is reprinted with permission from Arlington Catholic Herald.
Virtues Discussion Ping.
**Prudence, the “mother” of all of the virtues, is the virtue by which a person recognizes his moral duty and the good means to accomplish it. Actually, prudence is part of the definition of goodness.**
Has our country forgotten virtue altogether?
Cardinal Virtues: Obama and the Real American Infrastructure Part One
Cardinal Virtues: Obama and the Real American Infrastructure Part Two
Morality is Habit-Forming: The Cardinal Virtues
The Cross Exemplifies Every Virtue [St. Thomas Aquinas]
Living the Virtue of Humility
moral relativism - all moral viewpoints equally valid and acceptable.
In my opinion, all virtues, even faith, hope and charity touch morality in some way or another.
Thanks for the ping!
Don’t think you know where I was coming from but think about it for a bit.
Are you talking about the detioration of morality so that everything under the sun (and in darkness) is accepted in the U. S.?
(That was only a little thought — LOL!)
I was answering your question in post 2. It’s the reason why we are where we are in this country now.
Well, I finally understood where you were going with that. Yep, if our government had the prudence and good jedgment that our Founding Fathers had, we would not be in the mess we are in today with Obortion Obama as president.
Plus — I think of the military and almost cry over what is happening there. God help us.
great post. Thanks!!
You are SOOOOOO Intolerant!!
You should respect diversity (i.e., you should embrace narcissism)
It seems since the election that even you Roman Catholics have become absorbed by secular politics in religious or theological discussions. Half of my family is Roman Catholic; the older generation quite good Catholics too. They are, however, consumed with a desire to see to it that a Roman Catholic “voice” be heard in the “public square” and they have succeeded to an extent. In the meantime, they didn’t notice that their children and now grandchildren fell away from The Church. Worrying about transitory things can be soul destroying. Nothing transitory belongs to us, S.
“Worldly thoughts and the cares of life have the same effect on the understanding as a veil draped over the eyes, for the understanding is the eye of the soul. So long as we leave them there, we cannot see. But when they fall away as we remember that we are to die, then we shall clearly see the true light which illumines every man as it comes into the world from on high.” +Symeon the New Theologian
This article took me back to my days of teaching and a unit that I did on “Virtue and the Formation of Conscience”.
I promise that I did a great job teaching the unit, but these are the responses that I got back on the quiz of my then 7th graders.
What are some important virtues to acquire and why?
Hope, faith and charity are some good virtues that we should “require”.
Fortitude, kindness, peace, love are good virtues to acquire. They are good
because they make us become the good person I am.
Patience, because you can tell people about God without getting frustrated.
One is humility, because no one is perfect and you have to know that.
One important virtue to acquire is patience because we need to wait a lot in
life and another virtue is fortitude so we won’t give up.
What negative effects can some of today’s TV shows, movies and music have on
a conscience formation?
They say bad words and show bad images that go into our brain.
Some negative affects would be cursing, shooting and killing.
Some negative effects of TV shows, movies and music are that they could have
bad words and could lead that person to using them. Another is that TV just
has powerful rays that can harm the eyes.
Todays TV programs can have negative effects on conscience growth because
some shows today have harsh language and make bad themes look cool. Movies
have the same problem. Music today can have harsh words and talk about
things best left unsaid. Such things can give us a bad conscience.
What can we do to form a good conscience?
Practice doing good things and pick good idles.
This is fantastic. Are you still teaching a class?
How about doing an adult class?
“This is fantastic. Are you still teaching a class?”
This was from when I was teaching in a pretty traditional Catholic school, unfortunately that was 3 years ago. I cobbled this lesson together from the Baltimore Catechism.
I still teach, but only in CCD, which is very different. One hour and 15 minutes a week, with an class that is mostly “unchurched”.
I’ve gone from planting seeds to just making sure that the soil doesn’t get paved over.
“How about doing an adult class?”
I’ve got other fish to fry in our parish. I’m better with the kids and I work on the Church newsletter. We are fortunate to have very gifted leaders and a robust environment for adult education in my parish.
Thought you all would get a chuckle out of my post on #14.
My old 7th grade class.
I lived to tell.
I saw some of my old students this Sunday at Mass, maybe not the brightest lights “back in the day”, but they are an excellent crop of young people today. Great parish. Excellent Catholic families.
The fate of the nation has me at starts and fits. The future of our Church is in wonderful hands!
LOL! Thanks for sharing this. I really liked Brennan’s and Kevin’s replies ;) but all were good.
“The fate of the nation has me at starts and fits. The future of our Church is in wonderful hands!”
Yep. Same here!
great article, thanks for posting.
It’s always amazing when I post these older links. Thanks.
yes, it always is... I think I’m going to need a Catholic dictionary for some of these threads, lol...
btw, I found this sentence to be the most insightful:
Be on guard: the falsification or denial of recollection is a grave impediment to exercising prudence.
Boy, could we ever say that on some threads!! LOL!
Wow! Terrific statement!
it sure is, how did you find this thread?
Totally by accident, I saw one of Salvations replies in the latest posts page. The title was intriguing, so I clicked on it, and voila!
The Politics of Prudence, Russell Kirk
yea, me too.