The Cardinal Virtues: Prudence by Martina Casey

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (“CCC”) there are four cardinal or central virtues around which all other virtues hover. They are prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. In a four part series we’ll explore each of them starting with prudence.

The “auriga virtutum (charioteer of the virtues)” prudence “guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure” (CCC1806). Prudence is our conscience’s keeper; the actual word “prudence” comes to us from Latin’s “prudentia,” literally meaning “foresight.” It reminds us to be cautious without being afraid. Here are four ways to practically implement prudence in our lives, supported by Scripture.

  1. Think before you speak. Proverbs 21:23 tells us that “he who guards his mouth and his tongue, guards his soul from troubles.” St. Paul tells us how to do this in 2 Corinthians 10:5, take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ.
  2. Wait before you act. Proverbs 12:16 tells us that “a fool’s anger is known at once, but a prudent man conceals dishonor.” The great example of this Proverb lived out is St. Joseph. In Matthew 1:19 we are told that when Joseph, who “was faithful to the law,” found out Mary was pregnant he “did not want to expose her to public disgrace” and “had in mind to divorce her quietly.” Here’s what that means, he would have been justified by the law to have her stoned, but prudence prevented him. And it’s that prudence that saved the life of the innocent woman and her Child, our Lord Jesus.
  3. Accept criticism. Again it’s Proverbs that give us a clue as to why; “a fool rejects his father’s discipline, but he who regards reproof is sensible” (Proverbs 15:5). Think about who’s giving you the advice and who’s criticizing you. Consider why they are doing it. What’s their motive? Before you decide if the criticisms or advice has merit, pray on it.
  4. Be selective. To put it another way – guard yourself. Proverbs 22:3 says that “the prudent sees the evil and hides himself, but the naïve go on, and are punished for it.” Guard yourself against bad friendships. Guard your eyes against bad media. Be selective of whom you let in your life. Be selective of what you read.

How will you practice the virtue of prudence today?

St. Joseph, pray for us.

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