Wednesday, June 8, 2011
The Four Cardinals
No, it’s not about my hometown’s baseball team or officials in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. It’s about the four cardinal virtues. And as C.S. Lewis explains in Mere Christianity, that’s “cardinal” as in “pivotal.”
Prudence. Temperance. Justice. Fortitude.
They’re in short supply these days. They even sound so old-fashioned and dated. Two have taken on somewhat different meanings – Temperance became anti-alcohol back in the late 19th century and Justice these days is usually translated somewhere in the vicinity of “my rights.”
But they’re important, these four. They’re even more important than when C.S. Lewis first wrote about them.
In the 1940s, most people could still recognize and define them.
Today we think to have Prudence must mean you’re a prude.
As a society, we are not so far gone that we can’t recognize the virtues. We instinctively know what Justice is – fairness, which, as Lewis says, includes honesty, give and take, truthfulness and keeping promises, among other things. Prudence – thinking out what you’re doing or planning to do and understanding what will result from it. Temperance is doing things in a measured, balanced way.
I like how Lewis describes Fortitude: “…Fortitude includes both kinds of courage – the kind that faces danger as well as the kind that ‘sticks it’ under pain. ‘Guts’ is perhaps the nearest modern English. You will notice, of course, that you cannot practice any of the other virtues very long without bringing this one into play.”
I also like that he capitalizes them. They are something beyond common nouns.
We live in a coarse culture, in a coarse time. Our elected officials embarrass us but we’ll keep reelecting them. (The problems with Congress are not new; it was Mark Twain who said that Judas Iscariot was nothing more than a premature congressman.) Our celebrities are, well, just that, celebrities, who behave as if popularity connotes wisdom and intelligence.
The differences between Christians and culture should be sharpening, but I see little of that. It’s more like we’re becoming more like the culture, not less. Making our music sound just like the music of popular culture isn’t going to make us relevant, but something else just might.
Something like living the cardinal virtues: Prudence, Temperance, Justice, Fortitude.
Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter have been hosting our discussion of Mere Christianity. To see more posts on this week’s chapter, “The ‘Cardinal Virtues,’” please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact.