Wisdom, Justice, Courage/Fortitude, Temperance - Moral virtues

After having considered the three theological virtues, we know turn to the next four moral virtues, or the cardinal virtues. They are called cardinal for all other virtues depend on them. Further, they are a united whole, for if a man has one virtue, he has them all, just as if we have one sin, we, in principle, possess them all (James 2:10). One cannot be truly wise who is not also just. One will not be courageous if he is not temperate. Pulling one thread of virtue unravels the entire garment.

When contemplating what it means to be virtuous, we must think about virtue in two senses. One sense is that perfect virtue displayed by Christ and to which all His followers are called. Believers are to imitate their Father and be as wise, just, courageous, and temperate as possible. Their lives are to be living sacrifices and pleasing to God (Rom. 12:1-2), something impossible for the unbeliever (Rom. 8:8). Their virtue is measured by God’s law, done for His glory, and empowered by His Spirit. When we talk about virtue in this way, it is a gift from God, and unbelievers cannot participate in it at all. Bad trees cannot produce good fruit. Stony hearts do not pump blood or flow with living water. Christian virtue evaluates measure, motive, and means beyond a mere external level.

But we also must consider virtue in a second sense for the simple fact that pharisees and stoics tend to make great neighbors. You can trust them to watch your house, take care of your children, strive for the common good, and to do countless other good things. When considered from this narrow, external perspective, they are virtuous. On the outside, the white-washed tomb looks good, but we remember that they are filled with dead bones. So to we must also remember that all of their good works are done in rebellion to God, and thus Augustine makes reference to the “splendid vices of the pagans.” In this external sense, some unbelievers are better or more virtuous than others, but all are condemned under the law and cannot stand before God.

What is wisdom?

Man is gifted with various faculties and abilities. He can reason, will, love, contemplate, and enjoy. When we consider what wisdom is, it will be a habitual use of these abilities in perfection. Man will reason to, and choose his greatest end, and then be able to navigate complex situations to reach this goal. Wisdom is the habit of discerning and choosing the best path towards a man’s supernatural end.

Scripture reveals to us this great end of man as glorifying God (Ps 85; Is 60:21; Rom 11:36; 1 Cor 6:20; 10:31; Rev 4:11) and enjoying Him forever (Ps 16:5-11; Ps 144:15; Is 12:12; Phil 4:4; Rev 21:3-4; Luke 2:10). Man was created to know, love, and enjoy God. The way man glorifies God is further revealed in the two great commandments: love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Wisdom consists in discerning how to apply the universal commands to love God and love your neighbor in each particular situation.

There are three primary qualities to wisdom, memoria, docilitas, and solertia. Memory consists in a love of the truth — a conformity to reality. The mind apprehends truth and does not forget it. It will not intentionally falsify evidence in order to achieve to a desired end. It does not lose knowledge like a coriander used as a bucket. Memory doesn’t masquerade as a false humility that willingly “forgets” or obscures the truth that it knows. Truth is too important to be mentally redacted when circumstances are difficult.

Teachability is humility applied to knowledge and is the philosopher’s first confession. Socrates concluded he was the wisest because he was the only one who knew he didn’t know. In contrast to the sophists (wise ones), the philosophers termed themselves “lovers of wisdom” to confess that they did not have wisdom, but they desired it. The one who knows all things cannot be taught. Wisdom strives for knowledge and to take in new information. It thirsts after truth and allows itself to be taught. Wisdom seeks counsel and input from others.

Sagacity or clear-sightedness-under-pressure allows a man to choose the proper end quickly, even while under stress. His memory and powers of observation allow him quickly to take in the situation and apply the truth he knows in a clear way. This is the ultimate end of wisdom, to discern and choose the best bath to man’s end of knowing, loving, and enjoying God forever. Life is complex, and there isn’t a rule book or casuistry guide to all the decisions you will face. Wisdom apprehends the truth of things, observes the situation, seeks council, and then makes the best decision.

How can you grow in wisdom?

As we seek to grow in virtue, there are several immediate applications of this understanding of wisdom. First, since true moral virtue necessitates grace, we must be taught of God. There is a wisdom from above and a wisdom from below (Jam. 3:13-18). Philosophy that seeks to understand the world and proposes the natural ability of man to do what is right apart from God is vain (Col 2:4, 8; cf. Rom 1:18-21; Eph 2:1-3). To truly know reality, we must know God through revelation by His Spirit (1 Cor 2:14). Prudence is put in action especially through trials, and God tells us to ask for this sort of wisdom (Jam. 1:2-5).

Since wisdom consists in sure knowledge, we should seek to develop our memory. A man who must be constantly reminded of what he should already know cannot be considered wise (cf. Heb 5:11-14). One who seeks to be prudent will develop this habit of remembering, and will seek out knowledge in all of the various sciences. True philosophy is man’s method of understanding the world which God has made, and it is a vast and wonderful world. A wise man will grow in knowledge of math, natural science, history, ethics, literature, geography, music, astronomy, and theology. Each of these are sciences or bodies of knowledge that may be explored and enjoyed.

Prudence also seeks to listen to others. It does not rush off and speak before understanding. It is quick to hear and slow to speak. Wisdom is eager to test, discern, and measure in order to find and savor what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8). This is how the virtuous soul is nourished, by being fed on grace and truth. This is not a foolish “wisdom” that uncritically accepts and believes everything it hears, but diligently searches for gold. The wise man loves truth above the choicest jewels and eagerly pursues it (cf. Job 28). The imprudent man loses sight of his supernatural destiny and instead pursues earthly treasures (cf. Matt 6;19-24, 34).

Finally, the wise man is able to take action. Far from being an idle contemplation, wisdom is able to chart the safest course through a turbulent and rock-filled sea to arrive at a safe harbor. It does not grow unsettled or rush into judgment; It does not fall into a paralyzed indecision. I steadily observes and draws upon all its resources in order to love justice and pursue it. This is why the prudent man will also be just. One who claims to be wise, but uses his memory and reason to pursue evil is not prudent, but cunning or crafty.

The wise of this age are put to shame through the foolishness of the cross. The ones who embrace this foolishness of preaching are the wise. One who wishes to be wise will find himself crucified with Christ and die to the elemental patterns of the world — namely, a righteousness through works of the law. The truly wise will receive in rest in a righteousness that is by faith.

One day, during a PE class, the students were playing a basketball game to 21 points. After a short break, the two teams came back, switched sides, and started another game. In the first or second possession of the game, one of the blue players got the ball and started running towards the hoop. There was no one else in front of them and they had a a clear layup. Their entire team was yelling at them, cheering them on — wait! They were shouting, “WRONG WAY!”

Direction is important. You may be the most skilled basketball player in the world, but if you are aiming at the wrong basket, it will be for nothing. There are objectively good works, but if they are not done out of love, they are as a clanging cymbal or clashing gong. They are just noise, but they are not truly virtuous.

The previous two virtues we have considered are faith and hope, and now we come to what Paul describes as the greatest of the three theological virtues. Remember that these three virtues all come from God, are practiced through God’s Spirit, and are directed towards God. From Him, through Him, and to Him are all things. Who do you have faith in? Who do you hope in? God. Now, whom do you love?

There are many different ideas of love. We could talk about loving your dog, or pizza, or fishing, or your spouse, or your kids, or your country, and all of those would be different meanings of love, but let us clearly specify what kind of love we are discussing with the theological virtue of love. What is love? Love is obedience to the greatest commandment. In our catechism this year, we have been reminded of the greatest commandment and its connection to how we can glorify God. We glorify God when we love Him as the most supremely desirable object of our affection. If God is not the highest object of our love, we are saying something else is more worthy of our love than God, and we dishonor Him.

When we are talking about this virtue of love then, we don’t mean love of pizza, or love of your dog, or your family, although they are related. This virtue of love is directed towards God. It is for this reason that those who are not Christians cannot practice this virtue. It’s no use trying to practice more faith, or hope, or love if you have not been born of the Spirit.

Do unbelievers love their families? pets? favorite foods, movies, and books? Yes. Of course they do. But they cannot love them for God’s sake. And because their lesser loves don’t find their direction in the ultimate love for God, they are disordered, or going in the wrong direction. It is not enough just to love things, but we must love them for God’s sake.

Have you ever tried to shoot a bow with a bent arrow? The arrow is twisted and bent so that it no longer works exactly like it should. Is it still an arrow? Yes, but it’s twisted. It’s the same way with disordered loves. Love as a human capacity is a gift from God that we are allowed to express towards other beings. All human beings, as made in the image of God, can and do express love in countless ways towards others, but we also must recognize that humans are fallen creatures. We do not love as we ought. We fall short because we break the greatest commandment.

How can you practice this virtue of love? First of all, recognize the primary and main object of love - God. This is the greatest commandment: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Extend all of your being towards loving God. Do you know Him? Do you love Him? You cannot love your neighbor fully or virtuously, unless you love him for God’s sake.

Second, love all of the good things that God has created and given to you, for His sake. This involves loving them with the right amount of love that they deserve. You are ordering your loves. Do you love pizza? Do you love your mom? Which one do you love more? Loving rightly let's you choose rightly. We will suffer the loss of one of these things to gain the other.

Third, remember what the Bible says about love. It is not in mere words, but in actions. What do your actions say about what you love? Do you say you love God, but disrespect those in authority over you? If you cannot obey them, how could you obey God? Do you say you love your friends, but you talk about them and make fun of them when they can’t hear you? Do you love the things that God loves?

Fourth, Let every lesser love and delight lead you to God. Delight in them fully, but in their place. Beautiful, true, and good things are training you for eternal happiness in God. Don’t waste them by being bored by splendor. Love them.

Finally, share your love with others. What we love, we love to share. We say, “Come look at this! Isn’t this awesome!” If God is your highest love and delight, share that with others. Whenever you see a new truth or something beautiful, share it with someone else.

Murphy's Law is simple. If anything can go wrong, it will. If your toddler can climb onto the table and drink the rest of your coffee making him a caffeinated terror for the next four hours, he will. If you can break your freshly sharpened pencil lead three times in a row, you will. If you can forget everything else you were going to say — where was I going with this?

Pessimists are firm believers in Murphy's Law, and they almost deserve it. Two more famous pessimists in literature are Eeyore and Puddleglum. When first introduced to Puddleglum, he remarks, "Puddleglum's my name. But it doesn't matter if you forget it." Eeyore's experience isn't much better. “‘I might have known,’ said Eeyore. ‘After all, one can’t complain. I have my friends. Somebody spoke to me only yesterday. And was it last week or the week before that Rabbit bumped into me and said ‘Bother!’. The Social Round. Always something going on.’” Both of these characters, as with all pessimists, look at any situation and expect it to get worse. They lack hope.

Instead, hope is a future expectation of good, but this isn't a vague or glib optimism. This hope is grounded in reality. 1 Peter 1 shows us the nature of hope. Believers are born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus (vs. 3), to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, unfading, and being kept by God (vs 4). This hope rejoices (vs 6, 8), endures (vs 7), and will receive its expected end (vs 9).

Hope is the sister virtue to faith. While faith looks at an object and trusts that object in the present, hope looks to the future. Hope is the future eye of faith that expects the yet unseen fullness of joy. This hope is secured by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, because the worst has already happened. The Son of God was beaten, scourged, and hung on a tree to slowly die of asphyxiation and blood-loss. He was left alone, back ripped to shreds, and then his cold body was placed in a cold tomb, and all his followers scattered.

But it was not possible that death should hold him, so on the third day God raised Him up to new life. His heart began to beat again, driving blood throughout His previously lifeless body. He walked out of the tomb on the first day of the week as a new creation, and promises the same to all who hope in him. After the pattern of his resurrection, we will be raised.

This is the comedy of the universe. The last enemy has been de-fanged and stripped of its power (1 Cor 15:54-55), and those who lived in fear of death their whole lives will no longer fear that devouring dragon (Heb 3:14-15). We see this pattern written in the script of the cosmos. Trees decay and lose their leaves in Fall to bud again in the Spring. We sleep each night to rise again in the morning. Bodies are sown in the ground as seeds that will burst out in resurrection life. The most feeble, foolish, sin-crushed soul who trusts in Jesus for that hope will be raised.

In the meantime, we wait. Life is pain. Everyone who lives will suffer in some way -- sickness, betrayal, abandonment, weakness, death. This is the lot of humanity. Is it worth it? There are two responses: curse God and die or trust Him. Hope reminds us that God has given us life and breath -- existence. He has poured out innumerable good gifts into our lives when we didn't even have to exist. More than that, He has given His own Son; what could He possibly be holding back (cf. Rom 8:32)? Hope reminds us that this often bitter existence is worth it, because we have God.

Hope means joy. Christian's don't get to act like Eeyore or Puddleglum. "Woe is me. My life is so awful." We have God! Temporary trials are not even worth comparing with joy that comes from knowing God -- from being known by God. This is why the apostles frequently remind Christians to rejoice in trials, because through them all, we have God. This is what it means to be more than conquerers. Even the most difficult, crippling trial becomes our servant to purify our everlasting joy in God.

Hope should lead to fearlessness. The worst thing imaginable for a mere, material existence is death, but Jesus has robbed even that final enemy of its power. As Peter reminds women, those who hope in God do not fear anything that is frightening (1 Pet 3:5-6). What will we fear? Sickness? Mockery? Pain? Death!? Peter has already told us, our inheritance cannot be touched by any of these things and they are God’s purifiers for our eternal good (1 Peter 1:3-12). This is true hope.

The counterpoint to Eeyore and Puddleglum is King Lune. “For this is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land.” Who will laugh the loudest in the face of famine? Who refuse to be cynical and give in to nihilism? Hope will not put us to shame.

What is faith?

Imagine a Roman legion about to clash against a larger barbarian horde. They are outnumbered 3 to 1, but they have assurance that their greatest general is on the way with cavalry that will decimate the barbarian foot-soldiers. All the legion needs to do is hold on. If they flee from the battle, they will be branded as cowards, and one of their most important cities will be lost. What is faith in this situation? Faith is trusting the word of the general based on his character and letting that trust lead to action by staying in the fight. If one claimed, “I believe the general will come,” but ran away, would you take his word seriously? His actions would demonstrate that his faith was not genuine.

What is faith? Faith is trusting, relying, depending, or resting on some object. When you sit in a chair, you are exercising faith in that chair. Every time you speed down a road, you are trusting that the other drivers will stay on their side of the road. When you deposit money into a bank, you are depending on that bank to record the money to your account. You cannot absolutely know that the other party will come through on their promises, but neither is your faith blind. Based on past experiences and assumptions about employees, drivers, and chair construction, you feel confident in your behavior.

Often you will hear definitions of faith as “believing what you can’t see” or “believing something contrary to evidence.” It may be described as a “blind leap in the dark” or “wishful thinking.” Too easily these definitions can lead us to think that faith is something like climbing a ladder composed of mist — a vacuous nothingness of dreams and hopes. You can't live in this castle of clouds.

The Bible paints faith as a far more concrete virtue. In Hebrews 11, the author cites numerous examples of individuals who all acted in faith. But notice that none of them were blind. Noah, Abraham, and Moses all had a sure and firm knowledge of God’s promises and so acted upon their trust in His character. This is what the virtue of faith is. Faith is a knowledge of some fact, an assurance that it is true, and an embracing of that truth for yourself.

How much faith do you need? Jesus says that you may have faith as small as a mustard seed (Matt 17:20). This is because it is never the amount of faith that is effectual; It is the object of faith. The airplane will transport those who swagger aboard while barking on a Bluetooth earpiece and those who hold their head between their knees for the entire ride. Those who, though filled with doubt, still painted blood on their doorposts were saved just as surely as those who never wavered (Ex 12). The object of faith is everything. God is mighty. Faith simply receives His acts.

How to practice faith

As with all of the other spiritual virtues and every good thing, faith is a gift from God. If you lack faith, ask! Hear the assurance of God that He knows how to give good gifts to His children who ask for them (Matt 7:7-11). Jesus will not turn away one who humbly asks for greater faith (Mark 9:24). He is not a harsh taskmaster commanding the making of bricks without straw (Matt 12:20).

If faith requires a sure knowledge of God, feed this virtue by remembering and rehearsing the promises of God as found in Scripture. Refresh your mind by rereading the great sweeping narrative of God’s creation and salvation of mankind. Watch God’s faithfulness and providential care shine through each story and episode. Any where you scratch the surface, you will strike gold.

Virtue is never an isolated act. It requires a community in which to be displayed. Encourage and exhort those in your community to exercise greater faith by reminding them of God’s word and works. Like an overexcited collection of molecules in a 3rd grade science fair, stir one another up to love and good works (Heb 10:24-25).

Faith always leads to action. It is never impotent and lifeless. Far from being a mere verbal confession, real faith works (Jam 2:14-26). When we discuss the four cardinal virtues, this will be important to remember, for none of the cardinal virtues are pleasing to God unless they are from the seeds of faith, hope, and love (cf. Heb 11:6).

Classical Education is a centuries old methodology aimed at forming young minds through the emphasis of language and mathematics. The aim of Classical Education is to equip students with the “tools” of learning teaching them how to think and be life-long learners. This approach focuses on the modeling of virtue, the maturing of the intellect, and the ability to powerfully express oneself to others.

Latin is unapologetically incorporated beginning in the 3rd grade. There are many benefits to studying Latin, including a greater knowledge and appreciation for our English language, and ease of studying other languages, a greater appreciation for classical literature, and higher SAT scores.

For more on Classical Education please see CCA’s distinctive elements and also our list of recommended reading.

The essence of the Christian worldview is grace. Two thousands years ago Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus that Christians exist ”for the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph. 1:6). Charis Classical Academy exists for the same reason. The Greek work “charis” /care-iss/ means grace and grace is the guiding value for all aspects of this educational institution. It is the sustaining sun around which this Christian, Classical, and University Model school will orbit. Anything less would be hopeless moralism that harms children and robs God of the glory due his name. Grace. It’s what we all need. It’s what Charis Classical Academy is all about.