Some Hows and Whys of Prudence

December 22, 2021 • 6 min

From The Sinner’s Guide, page 416
By Venerable Louis of Granada

Section IX.

The Government of the Understanding.

We have now come to the greatest and noblest of the faculties, the understanding, which raises man above all visible creatures, and in which he most resembles his Creator.

The beauty of this power depends upon that rare virtue, prudence, which excels all others. In the spiritual life prudence is to the soul what the eyes are to the body, what a pilot is to a vessel, what a head is to a commonwealth.

For this reason the great St. Anthony, in a conference with several holy monks on the excellence of the virtues, gave the first place to prudence, which guides and controls all the others.

Let him, therefore, who desires to practise the other virtues with profit earnestly endeavor to be guided by prudence in all things.

Not limited to any special duty, it enters into the fulfilment of all duties, into the practice of all virtues, and preserves order and harmony among them.

Having the foundation of faith and charity, it first belongs to prudence to direct all our actions to God, Who is our last end.

As self-love, according to a holy writer, seeks self in all things, even the holiest, prudence is ever ready to examine what are the motives of our actions, whether we have God or self as the end of what we do.

Prudence also guides us in our intercourse with our neighbor, that we may afford him edification and not give him scandal.

To this end it teaches us to observe the condition and character of those about us, that we may more wisely benefit them, patiently bearing with their failings and closing our eyes to infirmities which we cannot cure.

“A wise man,” says Aristotle, “should not expect the same degree of certainty in all things, for some are more susceptible of proof than others. Nor should he expect the same degree of perfection in all creatures, for some are capable of a perfection which is impossible to others. Whoever, therefore, would force all lives to the same standard of virtue would do more harm than good.”

Prudence also teaches us to know ourselves, our inclinations, our failings, and our evil tendencies, that we may not presume upon our strength, but, recognizing our enemies, perseveringly combat them.

It is this virtue also which enables us wisely to govern the tongue by the rules which we have already given, teaching us when to be silent and when to speak.

Prudence likewise guards us against the error of opening our minds to all whom we may meet, or of making confidants of others without due reflection.

By putting a just restraint upon our words it saves us from too freely expressing our opinion and thereby committing many faults. Thus are we kept constantly reminded of the words of Solomon: “A fool uttereth all his mind; a wise man deferreth and keepeth it till afterwards.” [Prov. xxix. 11.]

Prudence also forearms us against dangers, and strengthens us by prayer and meditation to meet all the accidents of life. This is the advice of the sacred writer: “Before sickness take a medicine.” [Ecclus. xviii. 20.]

Whenever, therefore, you expect to participate in entertainments, or to transact business with men who are easily angered, or to encounter any danger, endeavor to foresee the perils of the occasion and arm yourself against them.

Prudence guides us in the treatment of our bodies, causing us to observe a just medium between excessive rigor and immoderate indulgence, so that we may neither unduly weaken the flesh nor so strengthen it that it will rule the spirit.

It is also the duty of prudence to introduce moderation into all our works, even the holiest, and to preserve us from exhausting the spirit by indiscreet labor.

We read in the rules of St. Francis that the spirit must rule our occupations, not be ruled by them.

Our exterior labors should never cause us to lose sight of interior duties, nor should devotion to our neighbor make us forget what we owe to God.

If the Apostles, who possessed such abundant grace, deemed it expedient to renounce the care of temporal things in order to devote themselves to the great work of preaching and other spiritual functions, [Acts vi. 2, 3, 4.] it is presumption in us to suppose that we have strength and virtue capable of undertaking many arduous labors at one time.

Finally, prudence enlightens us concerning the snares of the enemy, counselling us, in the words of the Apostles, “to try spirits if they be of God, for Satan transformeth himself into an Angel of light.” [1 St. John iv. 1 and 2 Cor. xi. 14.]

There is no temptation more to be feared than one which presents itself under the mask of virtue, and there is none which the devil more frequently employs to deceive pious souls.

Inspired and guided by prudence:

  1. We shall recognize these snares;

  2. We shall be restrained by a salutary fear from going where there is danger,

  3. But animated by a holy courage to conquer in every struggle;

  4. We shall avoid extremes;

  5. We shall endeavor to prevent our neighbor from suffering scandal,

  6. But yet we shall not be daunted by every groundless fear;

  7. We shall learn to despise the opinions of the world, and not to fear its outcries against virtue, remembering, with the Apostle, that if we please men we cannot be the servants of Jesus Christ. [Gal. i. 10.]

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