The ‘Cardinal Virtues’

In the previous chapter of Mere Christianity CS Lewis took time to boil morality down into  three parts (due to the chapter originally being written as a 10-minute talk). Here in this latest chapter he goes into more detail, breaking morality down into 7 virtues (4 cardinal and 3 theological). ‘Cardinal Virtues’ are virtues that we all see and value, and Lewis walks briefly through each one.

Prudence is practical common sense. I love how Lewis refers to our command to have a child-like faith, and yet we are to be wise and ever-thinking. We are to think through all of our decisions, whether they are good or not (even if it is giving to a charity). We must deepen our understanding of who God is. God has room for people of very little sense (those who have learning or developmental disabilities), but He desires all of us to use what sense we do have. God truly is no more fond of intellectual slackers than He is of any other slacker.

The second ‘Cardinal Virtue’ is Temperance, which is essentially knowing the line and going no further in anything pleasurable. Often it was (and sometimes still is) assigned merely to alcohol and used as a command to abstain from alcohol completely. But temperance is knowing how to consume in moderation, or to know that when around others who would be tempted to go further than they should one should abstain so as not to encourage others to fall. I really like how Lewis points out that this virtue should apply to all pleasures, be it alcohol, golf, bridge or other activities. Today there are so many options that are not inherently bad, but to not practice temperance we allow them to control our lives.

The third ‘Cardinal Virtue’ is Justice. More than just a courtroom virtue, this one requires us all to be honest, fair, keeping promises and so forth. Essentially we are to be just and fair in all of our dealings. The last ‘Cardinal Virtue’ Lewis mentions is Fortitude, which boils down to courage and perseverance. Once cannot practice the other virtues long without needing this one to come into play.

I really resonated with Lewis when he pointed out that these virtues need to be practiced all the time, and that an individual committing one virtuous act does not make them a virtuous person. Even a poor tennis player makes an excellent shot now and then. Practicing these virtues creates a quality of character that God is looking for inside of us, one that reflects His core teachings.

What do you think about the ‘Cardinal Virtues?’