Recent Posts

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Part 69: DoC and Perfection: St. Ambrose

I shall be jumping into the middle of a discussion on the Four Cardinal Virtues by Ambrose. The commentary by me is in red. As a reminder, these four virtues are, and I use upper case for emphasis, Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Courage or Fortitude. I have left on the links for those who want to read more.

I have written about these before, of course, but St. Ambrose has tremendous wisdom, so this is not merely a repetition of the basics. Ambrose relates these virtues to the lives of the Patriarchs of the Old Testament, but I skip to this section below.

126. The first source of duty, then, is prudence. For what is more of a duty than to give to the Creator all one's devotion and reverence? This source, however, is drawn off into other virtues. For justice cannot exist without prudence, since it demands no small amount of prudence to see whether a thing is just or unjust. A mistake on either side is very serious. For he that says a just man is unjust, or an unjust man is just, is accursed with God. Wherefore does justice abound unto the wicked? says Solomon. Nor, on the other hand, can prudence exist without justice, for piety towards God is the beginning of understanding. On which we notice that this is a borrowed rather than an original idea among the worldly wise, for piety is the foundation of all virtues.

As in this entire series on perfection, one notices a hierarchy of movement. Piety, that is, the virtue by which we give God His due reverence, worship and service, must accompany the four cardinal virtues. If we are merely "good atheists", these virtues cannot be brought to perfection, as God is not the source nor the goal of the life of virtue. Without the focus on God, these virtues lack the means as well as the end for which these are given. Prudence is practical, helping us judge our actions and those of others. Prudence allows us to walk in the world and make good and right decisions. But, these actions must have God as the goal, the focus.

127. But the piety of justice is first directed towards God; secondly, towards one's country; next, towards parents; lastly, towards all. This, too, is in accordance with the guidance of nature. From the beginning of life, when understanding first begins to be infused into us, we love life as the gift of God, we love our country and our parents; lastly, our companions, with whom we like to associate. Hence arises true love, which prefers others to self, and seeks not its own, wherein lies the pre-eminence of justice.

To be just, one give each person his due and God His due. But, again, in pursuing perfection, justice cannot be a mere exercise in fairness or magnanimity. God is the root and goal of justice.
He Himself is All-Just, All-Good, All-Righteous. Without Him, we can be thinking we are just when we are merely trying to please ourselves or others. Am I good to others for my sake, for their sake or for the sake of God Himself?

128. It is ingrained in all living creatures, first of all, to preserve their own safety, to guard against what is harmful, to strive for what is advantageous. They seek food and converts, whereby they may protect themselves from dangers, storms, and sun—all which is a mark of prudence. Next we find that all the different creatures are by nature wont to herd together, at first with fellows of their own class and sort, then also with others. So we see oxen delighted to be in herds, horses in droves, and especially like with like, stags, also, in company with stags and often with men. And what should I say on their desire to have young, and on their offspring, or even on their passions, wherein the likeness of justice is conspicuous?

129. It is clear, then, that these and the remaining virtues are related to one another. For courage, which in war preserves one's country from the barbarians, or at home defends the weak, or comrades from robbers, is full of justice; and to know on what plan to defend and to give help, how to make use of opportunities of time and place, is the part of prudence and moderation, and temperance itself cannot observe due measure without prudence. To know a fit opportunity, and to make return according to what is right, belongs to justice. In all these, too, large-heartedness is necessary, and fortitude of mind, and often of body, so that we may carry out what we wish.

I want to emphasize the phrases "large-heartedness" and "fortitude of mind".

Without generosity, without a heart which wants to be all and give all to God for His sake, one will be closing the door to perfection.

St. Francis said, "My God never says 'enough''. And, so, too, we are called to do the hard thing, to follow the difficult roads in order to perfect the virtues with which God has graced us.

"Fortitude of mind" is necessary. This is a kind of courage or steadfastness in the mind, created either by nature and grace or through grace and suffering.

Toughness of mind is absolutely essential for the path of perfection. Otherwise, one gives up when the going gets tough.

Can you decide to follow the call to perfection? Do you want to be perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect?

To be continued........