Back-to-School Time: A Refresher on the Four Cardinal Virtues

We know that as mothers we need to be virtuous, but what does that mean? With back-to-school time around the corner we can give ourselves a refresher course on the four cardinal virtues (courtesy of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Catechism, and my husband who was up late working on a lecture on the virtues) to better assess where we stand and where we ought to be headed.

By definition, virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do good, making self-mastery possible and giving joy in leading a moral life. The cardinal virtues—prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance—are human virtues, meaning that they are acquired by actually doing them (as opposed to the theological virtues—faith, hope, and love—which are given to us by God through grace and the sacraments). Virtue is always in the mean; extremes ought to be avoided.

Below is a chart that shows the mean of the virtue as opposed to the excess of the vices.

Vice in Deficiency Virtue Vice in Excess
impulsiveness Prudence: practical reason to discern good or the application of moral principles to particular cases indecision
avarice, clinging to wealth Justice: constant and firm will to give what is due to God and neighbor prodigality, spending money or resources wastefully/recklessly (includes things like flattery)
pusillanimity (smallness of soul; lack of ability to do great things—think: parable of talents) Fortitude: strength to resist temptation/difficulties presumption or vainglory; thinking that you can do it all
excessive indulgence Temperance: moderation of pleasure; directing of appetites; mastering of instincts insensibility; a rejection of all desire

Where do you stand according to these virtues? If you find yourself in either of the outside columns, don’t fret! The cardinal virtues come only by practice and so by definition are things that we all need to keep working on.

Back-to-school time for the kiddos might free up some time for us to reassess where we’ve been going and make any little changes we need to keep on a better course. Here’s to a new school year and a fresh start at practicing virtue!

Have a question about the virtues? Let me know and I will consult someone smarter and get back to you!

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