Friday, March 5, 2010

The Cardinal Virtues

Freemasonry teaches us to also cultivate the cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice. They are second only to the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity (charity is derived from caritas which means love). Together they form the seven virtues of a righteous man.

The term "cardinal" comes from the Latin cardo or hinge; the cardinal virtues are so called because they are pivotal virtues and upon their practice the life of such a person "swings" favorably with God.
Early Christian leaders and theologians endeavored to codify a standard for human behavior based upon the bible that eventually came to be called the “cardinal virtues.” 
The Christian interpretation of the four cardinal virtues are the following:

  • Prudence - practical common sense, or making the effort to think about what you are doing and what is likely to come from it. Proverbs 22:3 says: A prudent man seeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and suffer for it. Prudence is considered to be the auriga virtutum or the charioteer of the virtues. It confers upon another virtues the form of its inner essence; that is, its specific character as a virtue. For instance, not all acts of honesty are considered good, considering that honesty is a virtue in itself. What makes telling the truth a virtue is whether it is done with prudence. Telling a competitor the professional secrets of your company is not prudent and therefore not considered good and virtuous.
  • Restraint or Temperance - practicing self-control, and moderation. In the New Testament, the most common Greek word for self-control or temperance, is enkrateia. Its root meaning is "power over oneself" or "self-mastery." It is the virtue that holds our appetites in check, controlling our rational will or regulating our conduct without being duly swayed by sensuous desires. Temperance refers to all pleasures not just alcohol; and it did not mean abstaining, but going to the proper length and no further. Today there are some in the church who would equate temperance with just abstinence from drinking alcohol. But to me that is far from the truth, it is not ONLY about alcohol, it is also about men who obsess too much about their car, women who obsess too much about footwear. Proverbs 21:2 says: Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD weigheth the hearts.
  • Courage or Fortitude - In Chronicles 28:20 "And David said to Solomon his son, Be strong and of good courage, and do it: fear not, nor be dismayed: for the LORD God, even my God, will be with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee, until thou hast finished all the work for the service of the house of the LORD." This actually refers to two types of courage, the first type that makes you strong to face your fears and the second type that you need to keep persevering in what ever you have set out to do. Fortitude is that character quality which empowers individuals to move beyond good intentions to the place where they become doers of virtuous things.
  • Justice - The justice of God is always an expression of His perfect, righteous, holy character. We should endeavor to emulate in our life. Its not the justice that is delivered in the courtroom that is being referred to here but "proper moderation between self-interest and the rights and needs of others". In a nutshell it would encompass all those things that we today would consider as "fairness" in life and actions.

Depictions of the Virtues

 The Cardinal Virtues are often depicted as female allegorical figures and were a popular subject for funerary sculpture. On the tomb of Sir John Hotham, in St Mary's Church, South Dalton the four figures are:
  • Justice - holding a sword.
  • Temperance - mixing wine and water in two jugs.
  • Fortitude - with a broken column.
  • Truth - holding a mirror and being attacked by a serpent.