What is the Virtue of Prudence?
- Cause, measure and of all the virtues – Aquinas
- Prudence is the Virtue that uses practical reason to discern the good and to choose the right ways to achieve this good.
- Practical wisdom
Charioteer of the Virtues
It directs all the other virtues. So if we think of a horse and cart – then the cardinal virtue of Prudence is the charioteer – the driver that moderates and guides all the other cardinal virtues of justice, fortitude and temperance, which are like the horses.
- Prudence is essential in the life of a Christian – It takes Prudence to decide what career path you’ll take after school. It takes prudence to decide whether you will ask someone out on a date, or DTR or end a relationship. It takes Prudence to plan your next holiday. See show notes
4 components to Good judgment – true to being memory, docility/openness, able to see the situation clearly and timely. (memoria, docilitas and solertia) True to being memory
- which essentially means that we have the ability to see what has transpired in the past – our own desires, passions, thoughts and actions and see them for what they are with true humility. Not false humility that makes excuses for our behaviour or makes us out to be a victim of circumstances, NOR a false humility where we beat ourselves up for everything AND not false humility that places us on a pedestal, but the honest truth of where our strengths were and where our weaknesses were. An honest assessment of the past, and learning from them.
- This is a really important aspect of prudence. Lets say that a person makes an imprudent and sinful choice, and that choice or sinful action is one that they have been struggling with for some time. Knowing the pitfalls of the past enables one to make ‘battle strategies’ for the future by saying ‘okay this didn’t work out, what am I going to differently next time? Who am I going to call? What am I going to do, what circumstances am i going to place myself in? For example, If i struggle with Gossip, its helpful for me to become aware of who do I gossip around, what feelings or difficulties might lead me to gossip, eg, do I gossip about someone when I’m feeling inadequate or down. Knowing these things can help me to battle ready for the next temptation to gossip – When I’m around the people I gossip with I can be on my guard that I don’t fall into gossip and I can make a conscious choice to leave any gossip that occurs, I can check my own emotional state and relaise that I might be prone to talking uncharitably about someone today, so I need to make a resolution that day that I’ll catch myself gossiping and stop immediately.
Openness and docility
It’s also essential to reach out for information. That could be reaching into the depths of our faith tradition, and scripture to learn what do we already know about God’s word in this matter. It’s also the ability to be open to learn from others, particularly those wiser than us. This is the space where we need counsel and mentorship in all areas of our lives and if faith is our great gift, than even more reason to seek counsel and mentoring to grow in our relationship with God. One of the greatest gifts after the friendships I have, are the mentors in my life. I have certain wise people that i turn to for guidance in different areas of my life from business, to ministry, to spiritual life, to the life of being a woman, and in more recent times i’m searching for another mentor in a new area of my life. There is so much that I don’t know, and I need these people’s wisdom and counsel to help me make more prudent decisions in my life.
- God often speaks through others in our lives, part of docility is a willignnes to hear God in those who challenge some of our less helpful habits. Should someone we trust offer some wisdom around an aspect of our lives, we have a number of options. I can chose to ignore this advice on the basis that ‘I know better’ Or ‘Who are they to tell me!’ But we ought to remember the lack of prudence the Gallilleans had when our Lord went back to his home town and they’re like: Hey we know this guy, why would we listen to him! Of course they didn’t allow themselves to hear the voice of God. When people challenge or encourage us, we need to listen. We don’t al;ways have to act – again, prudence helps us discern our actions in the face of advice given – but we are bound to listen.
Clarity in the present
We also need to be able to see the present with honesty and not be clouded by our passions, desires and wishful thinking. A prudent person knows the difference between going out with someone who seems to have a lot of fun, and you’re attracted to the way they seek out adventure and entice you to be more adventurous, and let’s face it you find them really good looking too… and having the clarity to see that you are genuinely physically attracted to this person, all the emotions and passions are there, the chemistry is there between you two, BUT the fun is more risk taking behaviour, their lifestyle choices are in direct opposition to your values, and their constant call out to adventure seems to draw you further and further away from interior solitude. Clarity is what helps us see things as they truly are, so that we have raw material to work with as we toss up what we decide.
-This takes self knowledge. An understanding of your own emotions, and what they’re doing, In seeking clarity in the present, it can be useful to do an examination of consciousness, an examen where I stop during my day and ask, what is going on for me, what is happening in my hear, what are my thoughts surrounding this thing, how do I feel about what I’ve seen heard or done and then importantly, why does that feeling or thought exist?
It’s also timely – once you have clarity and all the information you can gather, a decision is made promptly. Virtue doesn’t wait for the next moment to love, Virtue loves in the now. So a timely decision would be to decide whether you’d like more time to get to know this person, or if you’ve gathered enough information to determine if this is someone you can see yourself in a long term relationship with, and make a decision that honors both of your time and energy.
- Again I would point to vocational discernment. When the available info is gathered, when you’ve prayed and sought advice – move in to make a decision. I would also point out that a timely practice of prudence is extremely important in the moral life. Using sexual purity as an example, if someone struggles with a sin against the sixth commandment and the person can tell that a temptation is likely coming, that is the time to act. At the very beginning before the temptation is upon us. Not during – if its during, the battle is pretty well lost.
Personally, I’ve found breaking prudence down into those 4 components has helped me in making difficult decisions. It’s also made the dating realms so much less dramatic!
TBG (Truth, Beauty, Goodness)
Padre: Going to Loni’s citizenship ceremony
Stina: Art of Living by Dr Edward Sri