The Cardinal Virtues

Have you ever had to repaint a room in your house or apartment? If you have, you’re probably familiar with the process of removing everything else in the room, taping off areas that you don’t want to be painted, and removing any doors from their hinges to access the doorframe.  And, if you were the one responsible for removing the hinge pins and getting the door down, you may be familiar with the difficulty of this process.

After each hinge pin is removed, more and more weight from the door is displaced upon each remaining pin. By the time you get to the last one (hopefully the top one if you did it right), the whole door is resting on that one pin. If you were to leave it as it is, eventually, the hinge would break, and the door would fall.

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This is an apt analogy for the four virtues upon which our good habits “hinge”: prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. Father Tom Wilson joined Josh Raymond on The Inner Life to talk about these virtues, what each of them means, and how they help us in our daily lives.

Father Tom began the discussion by defining just what virtue is as defined by the Catholic Church. Virtues, at their core, are the good habits that we can build to live a more holy and moral life. They are the opposite of vices, which are bad habits, and they can be split into two different groups: natural virtues and theological virtues. Theological virtues consist of virtues that are acquired through the grace and generosity of God while natural virtues don’t necessarily require grace and can be acquired by anybody through habit-building and practice.

In other words, these are learned virtues that can be developed through experience and encounters where they are needed.

Josh and Father Tom then spoke about the Cardinal virtues in-depth, beginning with prudence, also known as the “mother of all virtues”. Prudence is the catalyst that lends itself to the better practice of all other virtues because it is defined as “right judgment” or “wisdom”. Prudence in action is using prior knowledge or deferring to the people who have the knowledge to make the right call at a time when a decision is necessary. Father Tom offered the example of treating someone who had sustained a serious injury. One might argue that they should be moved, but another, out of prudence might suggest that the injury is still unidentified and so the patient should be stabilized where they’re at for now.

But prudence will also arrive in moral situations, particularly ones where peer pressure is a factor. Maybe your friends want to participate in reckless, dangerous, or evil behavior. While it might be easy to give in at that moment, the ability to say ‘no’ to participating requires a prudent person.

The conversation then moved on to justice, “blind justice” as it’s known, personified as a blindfolded woman holding a sword and a scale. Justice is defined as the virtue which seeks to give everyone their due. In other words, it is the policy of appropriately rewarding those for doing good and appropriately punishing those who do evil. It’s often difficult to act as blind justice, though, because we do, in fact, have personal opinions, and chances are that when weighing in on a situation, we have a preferred outcome. It’s not easy to shed our biases and personal preferences based on selfish reasons.

Josh talked about how difficult it is to calmly approach handing out justice when you have something on the line. But in order to become a just person, less emphasis should be put on how to make somebody suffer or benefit as you did and more emphasis should be put on what is being asked of you in this situation of difficult decision-making.

In a culture that practically thrives on the concepts of indulgence and consumption, it’s hard to see ourselves living the virtues of self-control and temperance. Temperance is the virtue of mastery and moderation over our earthly possessions whether it be our digital devices, food, drink, sleep, or any other number of pleasures or substances. A common misconception about Catholicism that’s actually more present in protestant faiths is the idea that pleasure and leisure are bad.

On the contrary, pleasure and leisure are necessary for decompression, relaxation, and leading a well-balanced life. Without it, our lives can become 2-dimensional, too focused on work and responsibility. But on the other side of the coin, we have to be able to manage our pleasure responsibly. Overindulgence leads to subsequent weakness, shirking of responsibilities, addiction or obsession, and dependency. Temperance is as key to balance as leisure is.

And the last Cardinal virtue is fortitude, closely associated with courage. Fortitude and courage both are founded upon the strength to continue on towards a goal, implying the idea that there are obstacles in this journey. As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Nothing worth having comes easy.” When we pursue something good and true, whether it be a virtue, personal holiness, or growth in a relationship, we should understand that there will be hindrances.

Those hindrances might come in the form of opposing viewpoints, inconvenient happenstance, monetary or resource-based setbacks, or a hundred other things, but the virtue of fortitude is built for just those circumstances. It doesn’t mean that we won’t get knocked down. It means that we keep getting back up when we do.

Tune in to The Inner Life weekdays at 11am CT

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John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at relevantradio.com and on the Relevant Radio® app.