Many seminarians and potential-seminarians to the Catholic Church are thrilled about salvation history. And this is a good thing. Indeed, new seminarians love to study how Joshua and Caleb took the Holy Land from the pagans. We all love how the underdogs could beat the Canaanites and all surrounding tribes. We all know the spoils of the Land of Milk and Honey did not go to merely the legalistic, but to the courageous. In fact, Joshua and Caleb were the only two of the original twelve spies to even enter what we now call “Israel.” They obeyed the call to execute great fortitude against all odds:
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.—Joshua 1:9.
Modern-day seminarians seem at first to be filled with a similar fortitude. But soon after entering seminary, their zeal for the Lord is often tempered or blunted with firm and seemingly-fatherly advice from formation staff, usually telling them to be “prudent.” They must be “prudent” in their penances. They must be “prudent” in their love of traditional liturgy. They must be “prudent” in their criticism of the corrupt Church hierarchy. As we will soon see, this is not a correct use of the Cardinal Virtues of “Prudence.”
Before we get there, keep in mind that in the Bible, we repeatedly find that God seems to reward mostly or even exclusively the courageous. This is true in both the Old Testament and New Testament. Even the quietest saints, like St. Joseph, had to make extremely bold moves (like believing an angel to flee with his family to Egypt.) St. Peter, completely on-fire with supernatural charity, had to say at least once after Pentecost, “We must obey God rather than men.”—Acts 5:29. Even in Church history, we see that God seems to reward mostly or even exclusively the courageous. Almost always, the saints are required to swim upstream against the culture, never with it.
Now let’s consider how the Four Cardinal Virtues can not contradict each other. Was Jesus “prudent” when He criticized the Pharisees to the point they chose to execute Him? Yes, he was actually prudent in all His decisions. Besides being the God-man who is Eternal Wisdom, He obviously knew that His criticism of a corrupt hierarchy was right-reason (prudence) to attempt to save His enemies. Wisdom spoke wisdom, regardless of painful consequences.
St. Thomas Aquinas quotes St. Augustine in the very definition of Prudence: ”Prudence is the knowledge of what to seek and what to avoid.” Thus, Jesus was seeking the souls of the Pharisees, even as they rejected Him. St. Thomas also quotes St. Isidore in saying: “A prudent man is one who sees as it were from afar, for his sight is keen, and he foresees the event of uncertainties.” Like Our Lord Jesus, we are called to do the right thing regardless of consequences, even if we see numerous “events of uncertainties” coming at or against us for our swimming upstream against a corrupt culture.
Why then do so many conservative Catholics believe that prudence means refraining from calling out modernist-heretics? Somehow we have come to believe that “prudence” means excessive-legalism in patty-cake obedience. Perhaps with a weird desire to look like a pious Christian, many modern Catholics today become people-pleasers in being merely “pastoral” with no other virtues. That’s sweet, but it won’t take you the Holy Land when God is calling you to be courageous against the enemies of Israel.
Prudence and Fortitude are two of the Cardinal Virtues according to St. Thomas Aquinas. Thus, they cannot contradict each other in theory or practically as they grow together in a soul. Joseph Pieper, the Thomistic scholar from the 20th century, teaches that prudence (right-reason) is also “common sense.” Notice he doesn’t say it’s being super-careful or super-intellectual at every step along the Christian walk. It is right-reason lived-out in common-sense, accessible to every person. Even non-baptized people can live the Four Cardinal Virtues.
But only baptized souls are given the gifts of the Holy Spirit. With amazing precision and divine beauty, St. Thomas Aquinas perfectly placed each one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit under one of the Four Cardinal Virtues. The gift of Counsel fits under Prudence. Counsel is when the Holy Spirit gives you the clarity of what to do, think and say in a specific moment. Thus, Joseph Peiper brilliantly teaches adds on to that teaching that “Counsel is super-naturalized common-sense.”
This means your average Catholic who has true Prudence (right-reason or common-sense) also has Counsel (super-naturalized thinking) in his soul, provided he be living in sanctifying grace. The theological virtue of Supernatural Charity is of course the source-and-summit of all of the virtues and gifts. (1 Cor 13.) But since love of God is prioritized ahead of love of man (Mt 22:38) any honest Catholic should be able to recognize every aspect of evil in the current-crisis in both Church and State. Thus, Fortitude can have absolutely no contradiction in Prudence.
Look at the life of Our Lord described in the fifth paragraph of this blog far above to be assured of this again.
Fortitude gives you the strength to overcome any fear, even when your intellect via Prudence identifies a real threat. Unfortunately, this “threat” may even be people you once trusted in the religious life. But if your soul depends on sticking up for the Truth, then human friendships must take a back-seat to Jesus Christ Himself in your life.
In days as dark as this, Fortitude may not just be the gravy, but the actual mashed-potatoes tied to your salvation. That is, courage might be necessary (not supererogatory) to enter the new Holy Land of the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in such near apostasy from the top-down as nearly the whole world of clergy has gone the way of modernism, not Apostolic Catholicism.
But would God really let this many Catholics be deceived in the current Church crisis?
Well, would God really let only two spies enter the Holy Land? Yes, even if that seems God’s grace failed. We know His grace didn’t fail, but that 99% of the Hebrews cooperation with grace failed. God is under no requirement to twist anyone’s arms, even when 99% of the one true world religion refuse themselves salvation by choosing to be fearful instead of courageous. Yes, salvation really is dependent on fortitude as much as prudence.
For Joshua and Caleb, both men were living both Prudence and Fortitude together, for God seems to reward mostly or even exclusively the courageous in the Bible and in Church history. (And Prudence in their case was the knowledge of how to fight-well, not being “prudish” as we often conflate the two words in English.)
Of course, today our battle is not physical but spiritual, but we still hear the words, Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.—Joshua 1:9. Being courageous is now the most prudent thing to do.
This was the courageous last sermon of my friend, Fr. Mark Beard who just died in a car accident. Fr. Beard was a friend in real life and a great priest, but please still pray for the repose of his soul: Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.