The Eagle and Child: S1E14 – “The Cardinal Virtues”

Carindal Virtues

Carindal Virtues

In today’s episode, we revisit some of the material covered in the previous chapter. In this episode, C.S. Lewis re-examines the question of morality through the classical lens of the four Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Temperance, Justice, and Fortitude.

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Episode 14: “The Cardinal Virtues” (Download)


— Show Notes —

• My outline for this chapter is available here. Unfortunately, there isn’t a C.S. Lewis Doodle for this chapter 🙁

• Matt hijacked the start of this episode by naming some of the books we use to elevate his microphone:

Hymns and Homilies of St. Ephraim
A Summa of the Summa by Peter Kreeft
Mary and the Fathers of the Church by Luigi Gambero
The King James Only Controversy by James White
○ How to do apologetics by Patrick Madrid

According to Matt, this explains why my ideal woman is Amy Farrah Fowler!

• While discussing my reading habits, I mentioned that I’m a fan of the Pints with Aquinas podcast by Matt Fradd, who is author of several books including the The Porn Myth.

• Quote-of-the-week:

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point” (The Screwtape Letters)

• The Beer-of-the-week was, once again, Franziskaner.

• There are seven virtues which Jack identifies. There are three theological virtues: faith, hope and love. There are also four Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Temperance, Justice and Fortitude.

• The word “cardinal” comes from the Latin word “cardinalis” which means means hinge. It is on these four virtues that all others turn.

• I was surprised that Jack never actually defines “virtue”. Etymologically, it comes from the Latin word “virtus” which, in turn, comes from the Latin word “vir”, which means “man”. My education in the virtues has primarily come through The Catholic Man Show podcast. Here are some of their episodes on the subject of virtue:

Episode #84: Patience
Episode #82: Courage
Episode #77: Natural & Supernatural Virtue
Episode #48: Talking Virtue in Bartlesville
○ …

For a working definition of “virtue”, I went to St. Thomas Aquinas, the medieval scholastic who drew heavily from the works of Aristotle. He defines virtue as “…good qualities of mind whereby we live righteously” (ST IaIIae 55.4). I simplified it even further: virtues are good habits, vices are bad habits.

1. Prudence
This is “practical common sense, taking the trouble to think out what you are doing and what is likely to come of it”. It is the virtue which directs all the others.

People today often don’t think of prudence as a virtue, and even some Christians cite Matthew 18:3 where Jesus tells us to “become as little children” as justification for rejecting prudence. Lewis rejects this interpretation. Matt referenced Matthew 10:16 where Jesus tells his followers to be “wise as serpents”. To help understand this saying of Jesus, I gave the analogy of a little child jumping into her father’s arms. I referred to a talk from Bishop Barron’s on “Dumbed Down” Catholicism:

This does not mean we all have to be intellectuals. I spoke about some of the great Saints of the Church who were considered by their contemporaries to be simple or unextraordinary. Some of the people I had in mind here were St. Therese of Lisieux, Brother Lawrence, and St. John Vianney.

Christianity is an education in itself. Jack references John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. I referenced a story by Boston College Philosophy Professor, Peter Kreeft.

2. Temperance
Temperance doesn’t necessarily mean abstention and it also doesn’t refer only to alcoholic drink. Temperance just means taking a pleasure to the right level. As Jack points out, Islam is the teetotal religion, not Christianity:

“Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, there’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino! [Let us bless the Lord]”
– Hilaire Belloc

“In Catholicism, the pint, the pipe, and the cross can all fit together.”
– G.K. Chesterton

A Christian may give up certain things for a good reason, but as soon as he starts insisting others also abstain, he has taken a wrong turn.

I mention that Byzantine Catholics (and Eastern Orthodox) are currently in the Nativity Fast, which means that we give up good things (like meat and dairy) as an ascentical practice.

We discuss chastity and sex. Matt explains that he typically explains Catholic teaching to people primarily in terms of natural reason since, after all, Christianity provides a guide for the correct functioning of the “human machine”.

People can be intemperate about lots of things other than alcohol. Are you temperate with regards to Netflix?!

Why do we drink on the show? In explaining this, once again, I steal liberally from The Catholic Man Show, since the hosts also drink on air and regularly address this issue. Matt and I share a beer because God made the things of this world good (see Genesis 1:31). We can give glory to God by consuming the good things of this world which He made for us, but only as long as we consume them to the right degree (i.e. with temperance). For those suffering from alcoholism, the “right degree” is probably complete abstinence. For those dealing with addictions and their families, I would recommend a book recently released by my friend Scott Weeman, “The Twelve Steps and the Sacraments”.

3. Justice
Justice is what we would call “fairness”. Matt offered a caution from Lewis’ book The Great Divorce about giving someone “their due”.

4. Fortitude
This is what we might today call “guts” or “grit”. This is necessary for the practice of all the other virtues.

I told the story about the song The Altar and the Door by Casting Crowns. I heard the lead singer explain the story behind the song and album and how, when our fortitude fades, black and white turn to grey and we begin to negotiate with sin.

• Finally, Jack explains the difference between virtuous acts and virtuous character. If we focus on the former, we will reach the following incorrect conclusions:

1. The “how” and the “why” don’t matter
Right actions done for the wrong reasons don’t build character and it’s character that we want!

I disagree with Lewis’ assessment a bit. Right actions done for the wrong reasons can be a starting point for us. In being virtuous, we can see the beauty of virtue and see that this is indeed the right way to run the “human machine”. Jack will actually build on this idea himself in Book IV’s chapter “Let’s pretend”.

2. God cares most about “the rules”
This is incorrect. What God most cares about transforming us into Jesus!

3. Virtue is only for earth, not Heaven
Virtue is the very thing which will allow us to enjoy Heaven!

At the end I mentioned Sarah Swafford’s talk on “emotional virtue” on Leah Darrow‘s podcast, Do Something Beautiful.

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