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Cardinal Virtues

Human virtues are habitual and stable perfections of the intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They are acquired and strengthened by the repetition of morally good acts and they are purified and elevated by divine grace.

(CCCC 378)

The principal human virtues are called the cardinal virtues, under which all the other virtues are grouped and which are the hinges of a virtuous life. The cardinal virtues are: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. (CCCC 379)

Prudence--- disposes reason to discern in every circumstance our true good and to choose the right means for achieving it; 'the prudent man looks where he is going (Prov 14:15). 'Keep sane an sober in your prayers' (1 Pet 4:7). Prudence is 'right reason in action' writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle. It is not to be confused with timidity or feat, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principals to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid (CCC 1806).

Justice--- the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the ;virtue of religion.' Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor. 'You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor' (Lev' 19:15).  Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven' (Col 4:1). (CCC 1807).

Fortitude--- is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause. 'The Lord is my strength and my song' (Ps 118:14). 'In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world' (Jn 16:33). (CCC 1808).

Temperance--- is the moral virtue that moderates the attractions of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will's mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion: 'Do not follow your inclination and strength, walking according to teh desires of your heart' (Sir 5:2, cf. 37:27-31). Temperance is often praised in the Old Testament: 'Do not follow your base desires, but restain your appetites' (Sir 18:30). In the New Testament it is called 'moderation' or 'sobriety.' We ought 'to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world' (Titus 2:12).

To live well is nothing other than to love God with all one's heart, with all one's soul and with all one's efforts; from this it comes about that love is kept whole and uncorrupted (through temperance). No misfortune can disturb it (and this is fortitude). It obeys only God (and this is justice), and is careful in discerning things, so as not to be surprised by deceit or trickery (and this is prudence). (St. Augustine, De moribus eccl. 1, 25, 46: PL 32, 1330-1331). (CCC 1809).


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Corresponding Vices

Folly or foolishness--- refers to one who lacks the proper fear or respect for God. He or she is therefore prone to go in the wrong direction is life. 'The fool says in his heart, there is no God...' (Ps 14:1). 'The wise will inherit honor, but fools get disgrace' ( Prov 3:35).

Injustice---the deliberate failure to give another what is due him or her. It may be  single act or an acquired habit (vice). (Modern Catholic dictionary).  A common cause of injustice is human selfishness. 'So the law is slacked and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous, so justice goes forth perverted' (Hab 1:4), and 'The king gives stability to the land by justice. But a man who takes bribes overthrows it' (Prov 29:4).

Cowardice--- enslaving ourselves to fear because we don't take God's Word seriously; we do not believe He is actually with us or will strengthen us. A coward consciously shies away from unpleasant situations, doing whatever he can to save his own skin, enslaving himself to fear. 'The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion' (Prov 28:1). 'For God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control' (2 Tim 1:7).

Intemperance--- an intemperate person is someone who permits their impulses to run rampant. 'Hear, my son, and be wise, and direct your mind in the way. Be ot among winebibbers, or among gluttonous eaters of meat; for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe a man with rags' (Prov 23:19-21).

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