Saint Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica (II.II) writes at length on the virtues. This is an unsurpassed source text for anyone wishing to make a deeper study of them. About prudence, he says,
Prudence is love discerning rightly that which helps from that which hinders us in tending to God.
Prudence is knowledge of what to seek and what to avoid.
A prudent man is one who sees as it were from afar, for his sight is keen and he foresees the event of uncertainties.
These are wonderful, life-affirming statements. Imagine for a moment substituting our name for the word prudence in the remarks above: “John is someone whose love discerns rightly that which helps from that which hinders us in tending to God.” Or, “Amanda has the ability to know what to seek and what to avoid in the complexities of human existence.” What a wonderful, peace-giving thing it would be to have such an ability.
Saint Thomas Aquinas helps us to understand the virtue of prudence by analysing the “parts” of prudence. Prudence isn’t simply one thing, existing as a sort of spiritual lump. As a virtue, prudence comprises other abilities. Prudence, in Saint Thomas’s thinking, is a bit like a dance, then, with a number of different steps. When learning a dance, we break it down into its steps, practice the steps individually, and then eventually put them all together. And we’re dancing! Tomorrow we will begin to learn the steps.
E.D. Dancing at her First Communion, by MMB.