Thursday, December 10, 2020 –
Welcome back! Today we will be covering the first of our Four Cardinal Virtues: Prudence. Now, I’ll give you that the cardinal moral virtues are a little tough to wrap your head around because they are all $5 words wrapped in $10 explanations, but we can (hopefully) have at least a small grasp on each one by the time we get to the end of each post.
Let’s start with our blanket definition from the back of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Prudence: The virtue which disposes a person to discern the good and choose the correct means to accomplish it. One of the cardinal moral virtues that dispose the Christian to live according to the law of Christ, prudence provides the proximate guidance for the judgement of conscience (1860).
Right away we have a workable definition. I mean, it is the Catechism. Of course, our Catholic Dictionary has a much deeper definition:
Prudence: Correct knowledge about things to be done or, more broadly, the knowledge of things that ought to be done and of things that ought to be avoided. It is the intellectual virtue whereby a human being recognizes in any matter at hand what is good and what is evil. In this sense, it is the moral virtue that enables a person to devise, choose, and prepare suitable means for the attainment of any purpose or the avoidance of any evil. Prudence resides in the practical intellect and is both acquire by one’s own acts and infused at the same time as sanctifying grace. It may be said to be natural as developed by us, and supernatural because conferred by God. As an act of virtue, prudence involves three stages of mental operation: to take counsel carefully with oneself and from others; to judge correctly on the basis of the evidence at hand; and to direct the rest of one’s activity according to the norms determined after a prudent judgment has been made. (Etym. Latin prudentia, foresight in the practical order; from providentia, foresight, directive care, providence.)
Again, we are seeing that prudence is a thinking sort of thing. For kicks and giggles you know I am going to pull out Bishop Morrow and some deeper Catechism. Naturally, we will start with the Bish:
How do prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance dispose us to lead good lives? –Prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance dispose us to lead good lives, as indicated below:
Prudence disposes us in all circumstances to form right judgments about what we must do or not do.—It teaches us when and how to act in matters relating to our eternal salvation. Prudence perfects the intelligence, which is the power of forming judgments; for this virtue, knowledge and experience are important.
Prudence shows us how to leave earthly things in order to earn riches for eternity. It is the eye of the soul, for it tells us what is good and what is evil. It is like a compass that directs our course in life. It is opposed to worldly wisdom. “Be prudent therefore and watchful in prayers” (1 Pet. 4:7). Prudence is a virtue of the understanding. (Bishop Morrow, My Catholic Faith, p. 87)
So prudence is knowing and understanding what is right and good for our eternal salvation. It is forming “right judgments about what we must do or not do.” It is forming our thoughts. Now let’s turn to our Catechism for the section on prudence:
1806 Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; “the prudent man looks where he is going.” “Keep sane and sober for your prayers.” Prudence is “right reason in action,” writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle. It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.
1835 Prudence disposes the practical reason to discern, in every circumstance, our true good and to choose the right means for achieving it.
So, prudence does NOT mean avoiding stuff because you are scared, nor does it mean putting on a fake smile and “rolling with the punches.” Prudence is also a think BEFORE you act thing.
You know in Harry Potter when Hagrid says on near repeat, “I should not have said that.” THAT is a lack of prudence. He did not have a clear and well-formed judgement of what he should or should not have said. He did not have an understanding to NOT tell things he should not until after he blurted them out. Sadly, prudence is not retroactive. However, with enough experience you gain knowledge, which means you **could** act prudently for future events.
This whole notion of what prudence is not is fine and dandy, but what would be an example of actual prudence?
Let’s use the example of an axe murderer…wait…no…um…children read this blog. Okay, let’s use the example of a giant pile of candy bars. Also, let’s bring back our Catechism definition: “discern the good and choose the correct means to accomplish it.”
In the case of our giant pile of candy bars, it would be PRUDENT to discern the good by recognizing that although candy bars are quite tasty, we would get horribly sick by eating them. We must also choose the correct means to accomplish NOT getting sick by only eating one candy bar. Even better, we should determine that our lust for candy is an earthly pleasure and is not helping us with our eternal salvation. We should absolutely recognize the divine inspiration of God’s creation of the cocoa plant, but also the need to give up the candy bar for the greater good of our soul.
I am not saying to never eat candy. However, prudence with regard to candy would be to see it for what it is: an earthly pleasure. If we put the want of candy over our love of the Lord, then we are not acting prudently, and that fleeting moment of coco pleasure is just that…fleeting!
Sancte Iustine, ora pro nobis!