By: Lisa Corley
Image: Allegory of Prudence by Titian, c. 1570 [National Gallery, London] A barely visible inscription reads: EX PRAETERITO/PRAESENS PRUDENTER AGIT/NE FUTURA ACTIONẼ DETURPET (“From the experience of the past, the present acts prudently, lest it spoil future actions”). Historians suspect that the faces (three ages of man) are, left to right: Titian himself (Tiziano Vecelli) as the past; his son, Orazio, as the present; and a young cousin, Marco Vecelli, as the future. Likewise, the wolf represents the past, the lion the present, and the dog the future.
The goal of Catholic classical education is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue. This year, Borromeo Academy is intentionally focusing on teaching virtue to our young scholars. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines virtue as “…a habitual and firm disposition to do good. It allows a person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself.” The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God. This takes intentional practice and effort.
The Latin word for virtue is virtus, which means courage. We all have the potential for acquiring virtue within us and through God’s grace. The acquisition of virtue demands education, training, and perseverance. We need to know what is right (good) to be able to choose to do what is right (good). It then needs to become a habit so that our virtuous life becomes easy and automatic. “Daily experience shows that the repetition of actions or reactions produces, if not always an inclination, at least an aptitude to act or react in the same manner. To say that a man is accustomed to a certain diet, climate, or exercise, that he is an habitual smoker or early-riser, that he can dance, fence, or play the piano, that he is used to certain points of view, modes of thinking, feeling, and willing, etc., signifies that owing to past experience he can do now that which formerly was impossible, do easily that which was difficult, or dispense with the effort and attention which were at first necessary.” We cannot accomplish this on our own. We NEED God’s grace. John 15:5 “…without me you can do nothing.”
The students and teachers at Borromeo Academy will be studying the seven Christian virtues of the Church. There are four primary moral virtues, which are called the cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. The word cardinal derives from the Latin cardo, meaning "hinge." These four virtues are called "cardinal" because all other virtues are categorized under them and hinge upon them. The Old Testament states, "For [wisdom] teaches temperance and prudence, justice and fortitude, and nothing in life is more useful for men than these" (Wisdom 8:7). There are three theological virtues, which are faith, hope and charity. These are infused along with sanctifying grace into the soul of a person at baptism. They are supernatural. The Seven Virtues are the stepping stones to the glorification of the soul. The purpose of the Seven Virtues is to guide you on the path of righteousness, and keep you away from sins.
The first quarter of the year our focus with be on the cardinal virtue of prudence. Prudence is about having sound judgement and making sound choices. It is about being thoughtful. This virtue is sometimes called “the mother of all virtues” because prudence is the virtue that helps us to decide how to act. We are prudent when we seek to know what the right thing is and then choose to do the right thing. Sometimes this means getting advice from other people or praying to God to help you decide. Prudence helps us to know how to develop all the other virtues. For example, courage means doing the right thing when we are afraid, but we need prudence to know what is right in the first place.
Prudence is developed through the following habits:
How are you developing prudence in yourself and your child? Virtue is taught most powerfully through example. Do you teach only through a host of rules and reasons for the rules? That would be like teaching them the rules of basketball without putting them on the court to play the game. This approach produces confusion and an attitude of not caring. To be effective, teaching prudence requires experience and failure. Once we have developed the foundational virtue of prudence, the next three quarters will focus on justice, fortitude and temperance.
We encourage you, as your child’s primary educator, to study and practice the virtues along with your young scholar. The vocabulary of the virtues should become part of your daily life. “The arduous task of growing in virtue is worth it because a virtuous person is a person whose life is characterized by a sense of vitality, purpose, and joy regardless of circumstances.”
Are you up to this task? The teachers will be using a program called Virtues in practice. You can find out more about it here:
Resources for further reading: