Wednesday 20th February 2019

Home » Our Catholic Faith » Currently Reading:

The Cardinal Virtues — Prudence

September 15, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


In beginning our consideration of the virtues last week, we saw that the word virtue, in general, can be defined as “a firm and habitual disposition to do good. It allows a person not only to perform good actions,” explains Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ, “but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his bodily and spiritual powers. He pursues and chooses this good in concrete actions of daily life” (The Faith, p. 161).
A person who lacks virtue will, at best, do good only sporadically. Conversely, through the habitual practice of virtue, a person will progressively improve not only what he does but who he is.
German philosopher Dr. Josef Pieper (1904-1997), a renowned Thomist theologian and expert on the subject of virtue, provides an insightful explanation:
“The doctrine of virtue…has things to say about [the] human 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, brave, and temperate. The doctrine of virtue . . . is one form of the doctrine of obligation, but one by nature free of regimentation and restriction. On the contrary, its aim is to clear a trail, to open a way” (The Four Cardinal Virtues, p. xii).
As described last week and alluded to above by Dr. Pieper, there are four cardinal virtues — prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance — upon which all the other moral virtues are grounded. These key virtues, as one might surmise from the meaning of the Latin root “cardo” from which cardinal is derived, are the “hinge” virtues on which the others depend, “as a door depends on its hinges” (Msgr. Paul J. Glenn, A Tour of the Summa, p. 143).
Before examining each cardinal virtue individually, it would be instructive to develop more fully a topic that was mentioned briefly in closing last week’s column, namely, the difference between the natural acquired virtues and the supernatural infused virtues. The former are acquired through repeated effort on our part to do what is right; the latter are infused directly by God (along with sanctifying grace and the theological virtues) at Baptism.
“The acquired moral virtues,” explains Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP, in volume one of The Three Ages of the Interior Life (AIL), “have an object accessible to natural reason; the infused moral virtues have an essentially supernatural object commensurate with our supernatural end, an object which would be inaccessible without the infused light of faith” (p. 57).
Fr. Paul A. Duffner, OP, by way of contrast, demonstrates the differences between natural and supernatural virtues:
1) Natural virtues are acquired and strengthened by repeated acts while supernatural virtues are infused into the soul by God along with sanctifying grace and also grow with sanctifying grace; 2) acquired virtues dispose the faculties to follow the dictates of reason while infused virtues dispose the faculties to follow reason illuminated by faith; 3) natural virtues are lost by non-use and/or repeated contrary acts while supernatural virtues are lost (along with sanctifying grace) by mortal sin, but can be restored through sacramental absolution; and 4) acquired virtues increase the ease with which good actions are performed whereas infused virtues give the supernatural capacity to perform actions meritorious of Heaven (cf. The Rosary Light & Life [RLL] — volume 46, n. 3, May-June, 1993).
Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange points out that “true acquired moral virtues may exist even in a man in the state of mortal sin” (AIL, p. 58). For example, a man may practice sobriety, pay his debts, and teach his children good principles so as to live reasonably in the temporal sphere.
However, “as long as [he] is in a state of mortal sin, his will is habitually turned away from God . . . with the consequent result that he shows great weakness in accomplishing moral good, even of the natural order” (ibid.).
Therefore, as Fr. Duffner states unequivocally: “No matter how much we have advanced in natural acquired virtues, they bring no supernatural benefit without the infused virtues to make their acts meritorious” (RLL, ibid.).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) now devotes a single but substantial paragraph to each of the four cardinal virtues beginning with prudence, which it defines it as “the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it” (CCC, n. 1804). The etymology of “prudence” comes directly from the Latin prudentia (“a foreseeing, foresight, sagacity, practical judgment”).
In his Summa Theologiae (STh), St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle, defines it as “right reason applied to action” (STh II-II, Q47, art. 2). Similarly, the crucial importance of prudence in making wise practical judgments is underscored in the Old Testament Book of Proverbs: “The simple [man] believes everything, but the prudent [man] looks where he is going” (Prov. 14:15).
Prudence, or practical wisdom, is the habit of right reason by which we order means to ends, by which we make choices and judgments. On the natural level, it is the “queen of virtues” in that it leads the other virtues by guiding the reasoning or deliberation process. Classical philosophers portray prudence as the “charioteer of the other virtues” (auriga virtutum) because it directs them: “It guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure” (CCC, n. 1806).
Prudence is an intellectual virtue because it perfects reason; it is also a moral virtue in the sense that it is intimately tied to the will and appetites. One cannot perform a morally good action without being prudent, without it being in accord with right reason in the particular situation. For example, it would not be a truly virtuous act to fast at the joyous occasion of a wedding reception; it would, in fact, be both imprudent and intemperate under the circumstances.
All the virtues have to grow and work together; in other words, you cannot have one without the others. Prudence, however, is unique in that it leads the other moral virtues in the sense that it directs and balances them. Another important point regarding the virtue of prudence is that it can never be used badly; it can never be associated with vices.
In today’s society, the word “prudent” is often used in reference to sensible management of financial matters or other worldly affairs, a mere practical, calculating cleverness or worldly prudence where the end sought is a particular temporal good (e.g., the wise use of money). True prudence aims for something infinitely higher — it refers to the prudence of a person who chooses wisely and responsibly with regard to his final end, that of eternal beatitude.
If prudence as a virtue referred simply to practical cleverness, people blessed with the natural gift of superior intelligence would have a significant advantage — not everyone can be prudent in that sense. However, we all have the ability, if we cooperate with God’s grace, to exercise prudence in the sense of making good choices for our final end.
Very simple and humble people are often, in fact, far more prudent than those who have been endowed with great natural gifts. This is seen throughout history in the actions of government leaders, philosophers, scientists, and other intellectually gifted individuals who perpetrated great evil.
As is true for each of the cardinal virtues, there are two types of prudence: natural and supernatural. Natural prudence guides man toward his natural end and is strengthened by repeated acts of prudence — it is the work of a lifetime. Supernatural prudence, on the other hand, is elevated from natural acquired prudence in that it guides one toward his supernatural end.
As noted earlier, it is infused into one’s soul by God at Baptism — everyone in the state of sanctifying grace possesses supernatural prudence to some degree (as well as the theological virtues, the other supernatural moral virtues, and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit).
In his Modern Catholic Dictionary (MCD), Fr. Hardon identifies three stages of mental operation that should take place in exercising the virtue of prudence: 1) take counsel carefully with oneself and from trusted others; 2) judge correctly on the basis of all the evidence at hand; and 3) direct subsequent activity according to the norms determined after a prudent judgment has been made (cf. MCD, p. 448). Furthermore, and not surprisingly, the gift of the Holy Spirit most closely connected to this cardinal virtue is that of counsel, which perfects prudence (see volume 149, n. 9; March 3, 2016 for a fuller treatment).

Detachment And

Let us close by prayerfully reflecting on the words of Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, OCD, on the importance of guarding against influences of the world and the flesh in exercising prudence:
“In order that our judgments and may be prudent, we must know how to free them from elements which are too subjective, such as our personal attractions and interests, our likes and dislikes. Sometimes we can deceive ourselves into thinking that we are judging a situation or deciding to do something solely for the glory of God or for the good of our neighbor, when, in fact, if we examined ourselves thoroughly, we would perhaps see that the motives which prevailed in our judgment or in our deliberations were egoistic and dictated by our own personal interests.
“Hence, even prudence requires that we cleanse our hearts from all these human motives, and that we practice detachment and renunciation” (Divine Intimacy, n. 174 § 1).

+ + +

(Don Fier serves on the board of directors for The Catholic Servant, a Minneapolis-based monthly publication. He and his wife are the parents of seven children. Fier is a 2009 graduate of Ave Maria University’s Institute for Pastoral Theology. He is a Consecrated Marian Catechist.)

Share Button

2017 The Wanderer Printing Co.

Twitter Feed

Load More...

Pope picks liberal cardinals Cupich, Marx, Tagle for featured talks at Vatican Abuse Summit

ROME, February 18, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Germany, and Cardinal Antonio Tagle of the Philippines will be featured speakers at the Vatican’s upcoming summit on clerical sex abuse titled, “The Protection of Minors…Continue Reading


RAPID CITY, S.D. ( – A bishop is calling a Catholic apostolate “evil” for being critical of Cdl. Blase Cupich. Bishop Robert Gruss of Rapid City, South Dakota issued a statement to be read from all parish pulpits the weekend of Feb. 9–10 condemning…Continue Reading

The Christian Faith: The only valid and the only God-willed religion

The Truth of the filial adoption in Christ, which is intrinsically supernatural, constitutes the synthesis of the entire Divine Revelation. Being adopted by God as sons is always a gratuitous gift of grace, the most sublime gift of God to…Continue Reading

Roberts joins Supreme Court’s liberal wing in blocking Louisiana abortion law

Chief Justice John Roberts joined the Supreme Court’s liberal wing on Thursday in temporarily blocking a Louisiana law that would have placed restrictions on abortion clinics, in the high court’s first major ruling on abortion since the confirmation of Associate Justice…Continue Reading

Supermodel Takes On Catholic Poland With Sex Education Campaign

Supermodel Anja Rubik could be a symbol of any modern, progressive European country. After joining a campaign to defend women’s rights, she started tackling school sex education and published a book for teenagers that sought to counter the teachings of…Continue Reading

Cardinals endorse campaign to stop homosexual networks in Church

February 5, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Cardinal Gerhard Müller – the former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – commented on a recently launched campaign to Stop homosexual networks in the Catholic Church as organized by the Swiss organization…Continue Reading

Back on Twitter, Bishop Tobin rebukes Catholic pols who support abortion rights

PROVIDENCE — After a months-long hiatus, Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence has returned to Twitter to pointedly remind Rhode Island’s Catholic legislators — and the state’s Catholic governor — of his “track record on dealing with pro-abort…Continue Reading

US bishop rebukes Virginia Governor for ‘staggering’ infanticide remarks

ARLINGTON, Virginia, January 31, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – The staunchly pro-lifeCatholic Bishop of Arlington, Virginia, has strongly rebuked pro-infanticidecomments made earlier this week by Virginia Democratic Governor Ralph Northam. Bishop Michael Burbidge today called Northam’s comments a “staggering admission” that reveals just “how far abortion…Continue Reading

Pope Francis: ‘We must provide sex education in schools’

ROME, January 28, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Pope Francis is advocating sex education in schools, saying he believes children “must” be taught “objective” lessons about human sexuality that aren’t “soaked with ideological colonization.” During an inflight press conference on his return…Continue Reading

Trump blasts Virginia Democrats for defending infanticide

January 30, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – President Donald Trump lambasted Virginia Democrats for supporting abortion up until, during, and even after birth, calling Delegate Kathy Tran’s comments on her bill permitting abortion even as a woman goes into labor “terrible.” Virginia…Continue Reading

Catholic Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo Vows to Sign Bill Legalizing Abortions Up to Birth

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo is pushing a radical pro-abortion bill in her state while claiming to be Catholic. The legislation, which contradicts the teachings of the Catholic Church, would legalize abortions for basically any reason up to birth. A…Continue Reading

Undiscovering Columbus: Notre Dame President Puts Explorer Under Wraps

The University of Notre Dame has capitulated to several left-of-center causes and ideologies that threaten its reputation as the premier Roman Catholic college in the nation. The most recent submission to contemporary ideologies is the decision to cover the murals…Continue Reading

Untitled 5 Untitled 2

Attention Readers:

  Welcome to our website. Readers who are familiar with The Wanderer know we have been providing Catholic news and orthodox commentary for 150 years in our weekly print edition.

  Our daily version offers only some of what we publish weekly in print. To take advantage of everything The Wanderer publishes, we encourage you to su
bscribe to our flagship weekly print edition, which is mailed every Friday or, if you want to view it in its entirety online, you can subscribe to the E-edition, which is a replica of the print edition.
  Our daily edition includes: a selection of material from recent issues of our print edition, news stories updated daily from renowned news sources, access to archives from The Wanderer from the past 10 years, available at a minimum charge (this will be expanded as time goes on). Also: regularly updated features where we go back in time and highlight various columns and news items covered in The Wanderer over the past 150 years. And: a comments section in which your remarks are encouraged, both good and bad, including suggestions.
  We encourage you to become a daily visitor to our site. If you appreciate our site, tell your friends. As Catholics we must band together to rediscover our faith and share it with the world if we are to effectively counter a society whose moral culture seems to have no boundaries and a government whose rapidly extending reach threatens to extinguish the rights of people of faith to practice their religion (witness the HHS mandate). Now more than ever, vehicles like The Wanderer are needed for clarification and guidance on the issues of the day.

Catholic, conservative, orthodox, and loyal to the Magisterium have been this journal’s hallmarks for five generations. God willing, our message will continue well into this century and beyond.

Joseph Matt
President, The Wanderer Printing Co.

Untitled 1

Interview With Cardinal Burke . . . Discriminating Mercy: Defending Christ And His Church With True Love


  By DON FIER (Editor’s Note: His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and Founder of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wis., graciously took time out of his busy schedule to grant The Wanderer a wide-ranging interview during a recent visit to the Shrine. Included among the topics…Continue Reading

Developing Lives Of Peace After The Heart Of Mary

By RAYMOND LEO CARDINAL BURKE (Editor’s Note: His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke delivered the address below at the 32nd Annual Church Teaches Forum, “The Message of Fatima: Peace for the World,” Galt House, Louisville, Ky., July 22, 2017. The address is reprinted here with the kind permission of Cardinal Burke. All rights reserved. This is part one of the…Continue Reading


Today . . .

Dubia cardinals to bishops at Vatican abuse summit: ‘Will you also be silent?’


VATICAN, February 19, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Cardinal Raymond Burke and Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, the two remaining dubia cardinals, wrote an open letter to the Presidents of the worldwide Bishops’ Conferences meeting in the Vatican for the Summit on sexual abuse. “The plague of the homosexual agenda has been spread within the Church,” they write, “promoted by organized networks and protected by a climate of complicity and a conspiracy of silence.” The Church hierarchy, however, wishes…Continue Reading

Vatican sex abuse cover-up unravels as prosecutors home in on bishop protected by Pope Francis

February 18, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Argentinean prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation for alleged sexual abuse against a bishop and close personal friend appointed and protected by Pope Francis, according to the attorney general’s office of the province of Salta, Argentina. The target of the investigation is Gustavo Zanchetta, who was named bishop of the diocese of Orán by Pope Francis in 2013. Zanchetta suddenly fled his diocese and resigned from his office in July…Continue Reading

McCarrick laicized by Pope Francis


Vatican City, Feb 16, 2019 / 01:41 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ordered this week the laicization of Theodore McCarrick, a former cardinal and archbishop emeritus of Washington, and a once powerful figure in ecclesiastical, diplomatic, and political circles in the U.S. and around the world. The decision followed an administrative penal process conducted by the CDF, which found McCarrick guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament…Continue Reading

Daleiden decries gov’t ‘collusion’ with Planned Parenthood in body parts case

SAN FRANCISCO, California, February 12, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Pro-life advocate David Daleiden decried what he said was “collusion” that he witnessed happening in court yesterday between California’s deputy attorney general and abortion organizations.

Bishop Schneider: Abuse summit will be ‘doomed’ if it doesn’t address homosexuality

KAZAKHSTAN, February 8, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Astana, Kazakhstan said that the upcoming Vatican abuse summit is “doomed to failure” if the “predominant role” of homosexuality in the crisis is not addressed. “If the upcoming Summit on Clerical Sexual Abuse in the Vatican will not address the issue of the moral relativism and the non-belief in the perennial validity of the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue as the deepest cause of clerical…Continue Reading


Neither Left Nor Right, But Catholic . . . The Exhumation Of The Equal Rights Amendment

By STEPHEN M. KRASON (Editor’s Note: Stephen M. Krason’s Neither Left nor Right, but Catholic column appears monthly [sometimes bimonthly]. He is a professor of political science and legal studies and associate director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is also co-founder and president of the…Continue Reading

God Counts The Tears Of Women

By DONALD DeMARCO The Talmud states that God counts the tears of women. This is a beautiful statement and underscores the compassion that God has for all women. Moreover, it is a compassion that should be shared by men, for the same text warns men that “they do not cause their wives pain.” Rabbi Chaim…Continue Reading

Abortion And The Green New Deal… De-Developing And Dehumanizing The United States

By TERENCE P. JEFFREY (Editor’s Note: Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor in chief of Creators Syndicate — — distributes his column. All rights reserved.) + + + Do you know who said the following? “If you further decided to buy a small car that would last 30 years, be easily repairable and…Continue Reading

Has Trump Found The Formula For 2020?

By PATRICK J. BUCHANAN (Editor’s Note: This column was released February 8, before further developments in Virginia.) + + + His State of the Union address, say the two networks, met with the approval of 76 percent of all viewers — 97 percent of Republicans, 82 percent of independents, and 30 percent of Democrats. Seventy-two…Continue Reading

Pope Francis . . . Names Cardinal Farrell To Be Camerlengo

By HANNAH BROCKHAUS VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News) — Pope Francis Thursday, on February 14 nominated a new camerlengo, Irish-American Cardinal Kevin Joseph Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, and a former bishop of Dallas. The responsibilities of camerlengo include overseeing the preparations for a papal conclave and managing the administration of…Continue Reading


Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

Be Like God And Love Your Enemies

By FR. ROBERT ALTIER Seventh Sunday In Ordinary Time (YR C) Readings: 1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23 1 Cor. 15:45-49 Luke 6:27-38 In the second reading today St. Paul teaches there are two Adams, the first Adam is of Earth, the second, Jesus, is from Heaven. St. Paul points out that the natural came first, then the spiritual, so…Continue Reading

A Leaven In The World… “Men Are Not Women” And Other Inconvenient Facts

By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK Of course men are not women, you might respond — it’s a matter of fact. You can certainly say that for yourself if you so choose, but you cannot say it for everyone. Not anymore. The politically correct absconding from the use of reason is exploding into a political and social lobby of ever-increasing proportions.…Continue Reading

Catholic Replies

Editor’s Note: Some words of wisdom from Fr. George Rutler in the parish bulletin of The Church of St. Michael in New York City: “The other day, intemperate journalists accused youths from a Catholic high school in Covington, Ky., of making racial threats against an elderly Native American during the March for Life. Videos proved that there was no truth…Continue Reading

Cardinal Zen In New Book… Vatican’s China Strategy Was All About Compromise And Surrender

  By MAIKE HICKSON Joseph Cardinal Zen, For Love of My People I Will Not Remain Silent, Ignatius Press: 2019,; paperback, 153 pages. (LifeSiteNews) — Chinese Cardinal Joseph Zen has strongly criticized in a new book the Vatican’s recent dealings with China, stating that the “strategy was wrong,” adding that it was “all about compromise and surrender.” He has…Continue Reading

The Trustworthiness Of God

by FR. ROBERT ALTIER Sixth Sunday In Ordinary Time (YR C) Readings: Jer. 17:5-8 1 Cor. 15:12, 16-20 Luke 6:17, 20-26 In the first reading today the Prophet Jeremiah declares cursed those who trust in human beings while turning their hearts from the Lord. Blessed, on the other hand, are those who trust in the Lord, whose hope is the…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes… St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara

By CAROLE BRESLIN India has almost as many people (1.37 billion) as China (1.42 billion), which has three times the land area. Of the population of India, under three percent are Christian. In Kerala, a state on the southwest coast of India, nearly 20 percent are Christian. Perhaps the greater proportion is a result of St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara, who…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes… Blessed Jacoba Of Settesoli

By CAROLE BRESLIN Two millennia of Catholicism have produced saints from all walks of life: rich and poor — and the wealthy who became poor, such as St. Francis of Assisi who renounced his inheritance, St. Anthony of Egypt who gave his wealth away, and St. Thomas Aquinas who became a poor monk. There have also been those who lived…Continue Reading