Over to Sister Johanna for her reflections on the second Cardinal Virtue: Justice.
The cardinal virtues come in a famous pack of four: prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. We looked at prudence in some of our previous posts. I thought it time now to move to the moral virtue that is next in line: justice.
If you weren’t here for the posts on prudence, then it might help briefly to revisit them: they began on 24th April, and can be found at this link.
Prudence has a lot to do with seeing reality as it is, not as we would like it to be. It is also to do with being able to plot out a course of action which takes that reality into account. A prudent person is a great one to have as a confidant, it seems to me. He or she will ask you a lot of questions and help you to arrive peacefully at a decision – which, in the end, will still be your decision, because the questions and answers that prudence considers do not force you into anything. Rather, they reveal a path by clearing away the weeds, and so enable you freely to walk down that path, and own the decision. The words of great twentieth century Catholic philosopher, Josef Pieper,* can be enlightening. He says:
Prudence has a double aspect. One side is concerned with gathering knowledge, with establishing a yardstick, and is directed toward reality; the other side is concerned with decision and command, with evaluation, and is directed toward action.
I love the idea that prudence is about gathering the knowledge that enables us to understand reality. Behind this is the humble acknowledgement that as fallen creatures, our view of things is apt to be distorted. Prudence is about opening our eyes to the truth of things and situations, so that our subsequent decisions and actions will be directed toward that same truth and goodness. ‘Prudence translates the truth of real things into the goodness of human activity…. Thus prudence does not simply rank first in the scale of cardinal virtues, it actually is the “mother of virtues.” And “gives birth” to the others’ (Pieper).
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.
Saint Thomas Aquinas by Carlo Crivelli
E.D. Dancing at her First Communion, by MMB.
Image from: http://fatherkevinestabrook.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/homily-easter-friday-2016.html
‘None of the disciples was bold enough to ask, “Who are you?”
I was wondering why such a question would even arise? Didn’t the disciples know what Jesus looked like after going around with him for three years?
Then it occurred to me that perhaps Jesus’ appearance was different after the Resurrection. After all, the disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognise Him either. It was only Jesus’ familiar actions – breaking bread, feeding and caring for them, creating miracles of abundance that gave Him away.
The lesson from this for the disciples is that, from now on, the Christ will be recognised not by an individual physical appearance but by what he does. That is why He asks Peter to feed and care for the people of God, continuing His ministry. It applies to us, His followers, who continue His mission today. People should be able to recognise Christ in us by our actions: breaking bread in the Eucharist, feeding and caring for people, trusting in the Father’s providence for our needs.
I ask God to keep reminding me that my actions should always be those of Jesus, to witness that He is alive in the world today.
Amen – alleluia!
I’m getting better at saving snippets that might come in for the blog. I found this a month ago: a Tablet* report on Pius XI responding to a lecture on Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.
” The thought rising in our mind in beholding these two great Saints is that in certain things they are capable of imitation. We see the never satisfied, indefatigable, almost infinite care of Saint Augustine in his continual revision of his writings, reading, re-reading the works he had written, reviewing, correcting and perfecting them with a diligence verily heroic, offering in such a way the admirable conjunction of unequalled care in the most minute details, with a study which mounted to the heights of genius. We mark the same thing in Saint Thomas, and we recall with pleasure the days when we were librarian at Milan and at the Vatican, and recall the autograph kept there of Saint Thomas in which we see the most precise care even of the writing itself. We see a scrupulous fidelity to the rules of writing, with the greatest care not to disturb the clearness of the writing. And [we] see the most exquisite asceticism nourished by the most solid theology. That is how truly these two giants of study may be imitated. Study and piety, diligent fruitful study, true, profound and solid piety. Study demands from piety the divine recompense which it alone can give, piety demands from study the splendours of knowledge.
” Study and piety, these two must never be forgotten by our beloved sons, who … must have in them that which was manifested in these two great souls—the identification of study and piety—of science and charity.”
Cut through the flowery language and Pope Pius is saying something important. Prayer and study depend on each other, as do science and love. Now there’s a thought. Precise care is a mark of science as it is of theology: what’s the quarrel about?
*10/5/30 The TABLET 10 May, 1930, p623.
Can he who hurls the lightening from the top
and swirls the rain,
disarm us with a baby’s grin and stop
earth’s spin? Then start again?
Can he be like a jester – on his head –
quite turned around?
Or is it us – bewildered thoughts unsaid –
who’re upside down?
Of course, the problem’s us and not with God.
We think we Know.
We think our view is true – and his plain odd.
But he’s below
so far is he above. He is a mite,
so vast is he,
so full of life as to become finite –
an infant God. And poor, do not forget.
So strange, this tale.
We hear it year by year and love it, yet
we simply fail
to follow footsteps leading down. We fall
instead – yes, all –
which is as well because the paradox, recall,
is this: God’s small.