Historically writers have categorized the seven ‘virtues’ into two different types, the first four of them are called “Cardinal” virtues and the remaining three are referred to as ‘Theological’ virtues. The ‘Cardinal’ ones are those that all people recognize; the ‘Theological’ virtues of FAITH, HOPE, and CHARITY are those that usually only a Christian acknowledges. I will get to the ‘Theological’ ones, but before I do we must begin with the four ‘Cardinal’ virtues. The first thing one should know about ‘Cardinal’ virtues is that the word ‘cardinal’ comes from the Latin word meaning “the hinge of the door”, they are called ‘Cardinal’ virtues because they are hinges upon which the door of the moral life swings.. They are PRUDENCE, TEMPERANCE, JUSTICE and FORTITUDE.
Prudence simply means practical common sense, or taking the time to think out what you are doing and the likely outcome of it. Today rarely do people think of Prudence as a ‘virtue’. But in fact Christ told us to be prudent, when he instructed His disciples to be “as harmless as doves” but also “as wise as serpents.” God is no more pleased with those who choose to slack off intellectually, then any other slacker. True Christianity is something that takes all of you, brains and all. Fortunately, anyone who is honestly trying to be a Christian will discover that his intelligence is being sharpened, no special education is required, Christianity is an education in itself.
Temperance is one of those words that has had its meaning changed. What we think of when we think of temperance is someone who does not drink. However, originally ‘Temperance’ mean nothing of the sort, ‘Temperance’ referred not specifically to drinking, but to all pleasures; and it meant practicing self-control, abstention, and moderation.
One of the great missteps of Christians is to restrict their thinking of ‘Temperance’ to the question of drinking. By doing so, it helps people to forget that you can be just as ‘intemperate’ about a lot of things. A man who makes golf, or his motorcycle the center of his life, or the woman who devotes all her thoughts to shopping, her dog, or traveling is being just as ‘intemperate’ as the person who gets drunk every night.
Justice means much more than what we see on our televisions as we watch police and lawyer television shows, or even the actual thing. It is the proper moderation between self-interest and the rights and needs of others, it is the old name for everything that we call “fairness”; it includes honesty, truthfulness, keeping promises, giving as well as receiving and all of that side of our life.
Justice is that virtue that we demand and expect from others as it applies towards actions directed at us. However the modern Christian seems to want to pretend that ‘Justice’ is a quaint old fashioned virtue when it applies to their choices, and their actions. Doing so at their own peril, the modern Christian expects ‘Justice’ before forgiveness for the sins of others, but forgiveness without ‘Justice’ for their sins. As I mentioned before, there will be a great many surprises when we get to Heaven.
Lastly, there is Fortitude, which includes both kinds of courage – the kind that faces danger as well as the kind that “sticks to it” under pain. We would describe someone with ‘Fortitude’ as someone with “guts”. Fortitude could well describe the thousands of Christian martyr’s each year, as well as the wife who will not divorce her husband, even as he betrays her, because of her sworn marriage vow to her husband and God. You can not practice any of the other virtues for very long without bringing this one into play.
There is one last point about virtues that needs to be noticed. There is a difference between doing some just or temperate action and being a just or temperate person. Someone who is not a good golfer, may every now and then make a good shot, but a good golfer ahs trained his eyes, muscles and nerves so that good shots may be relied on. In the same way a person who preserves in doing just actions gets in the end a certain quality of character. It is that quality, rather than the particular actions that virtue applies to.
This difference is important, for we might think that if you did the right thing, it did not matter how or why you did it – weather you did it willingly or unwillingly, through fear of public opinion or for its own sake. The truth is that doing the right thing for the wrong reason does not build the internal quality of character called a ‘Virtue’, and it is the character that really matters.
While it is probably true that there will not be any occasion for just or courageous acts in the next world, there will be every occasion for being the type of person that we can become only as a result of our actions here. The point that I am making, is not that God will not allow you into Heaven, if you lack certain qualities of character; my point is, that if you did not get at least the beginnings of those qualities inside you, then there are no possible external conditions that could make you happy with the deep, strong, unshakable kind of happiness that God intends for us in what we call Heaven.