Monday, April 20, 2015

Giotto: The Virtues and Vices ~ Prudence

Home and possessions are an inheritance from parents, but a prudent wife is from the LORD. Proverbs 19:14
I, Wisdom, dwell with prudence, and useful knowledge I have. Proberbs 8:12
[Prudence is] an intellectual habit enabling us to see in any given juncture of human affairs what is virtuous and what is not, and how to come at the one and avoid the other. It is to be observed that prudence, whilst possessing in some sort an empire over all the moral virtues, itself aims to perfect not the will but the intellect in its practical decisions. Its function is to point out which course of action is to be taken in any round of concrete circumstances. It indicates which, here and now, is the golden mean wherein the essence of all virtue lies. It has nothing to do with directly willing the good it discerns. That is done by the particular moral virtue within whose province it falls. Prudence, therefore, has a directive capacity with regard to the other virtues. It lights the way and measures the arena for their exercise. The insight it confers makes one distinguish successfully between their mere semblance and their reality. It must preside over the eliciting of all acts proper to any one of them at least if they be taken in their formal sense. Catholic Encyclopedia
[P]rudence is love distinguishing with sagacity between what hinders it and what helps it...prudence is love making a right distinction between what helps it towards God and what might hinder it. On the Morals of the Catholic Church, Chapter 15, St. Augustine

Seated at her desk, Prudence resembles nothing so much as the head clerk in an accounting house. She has a very no-nonsense look about her. Pen in hand, she notes all the facts, all the details and takes them into consideration. She looks in a mirror, even perhaps taking her own motivation into account. 

Prudence is the moderator over all the other virtues. She judges the positive and negative aspects of all situations and decides whether or not any given action is wise at any given time. She doesn't provide the will to accomplish these actions, but she uses the intellect to make the best decision. I wrote in the post on temperance that even our virtues can become disordered. It's temperance that strengthens our will against this disorder, but it's prudence that informs the will that it is disorder.

So far, I have written about Justice, Temperance, Fortitude and Prudence, the four cardinal virtues. These are all virtues that would have been recognized and commended by the pagans. After the post about Prudence's opposite number, we will move on to the theological virtues.


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