The Divine Life in Man


IT IS A WONDERFUL PRIVILEGE to be able to talk to a friend over the telephone. It is even more wonderful to enjoy a friend's company face to face. But if your friend is in another city, then you can only enjoy his company face to face by making the long journey to him.

SPEAKING VERY BROADLY we might say that faith, hope and charity enable us to enjoy God's company, but over the telephone, not face to face. Through faith we hear His voice telling us wonderful news about Himself and His love for us. The sound of love in His voice and in His promises to us lifts our hearts up in hope. The love we return to Him in charity impels us to give up all things for Him and to undertake the long journey which will bring us to Him. But still, before we can see Him face to face, we must actually set out on the road that leads to Him.

As WE HAVE SAID PREVIOUSLY, we walk to God by our human actions. But the field of human activity is broad and deep. In the course of the average human lifetime a man must do many things besides believe, hope and love. He must eat and drink, work and rest. He may marry and beget children. Then he must provide food, clothing and shelter for his family. He must provide intellectual, moral and religious training for his family. He may enter politics. Then he must govern his community well. He may become a soldier. Then he must defend his country well. But no matter what life may demand of him, he must direct all his actions to the goal of happiness. He needs therefore the moral virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. The moral virtues will enable him to set in order the wide field of human activity and direct all his actions to God, the object of the theological virtues. We all admire the man who orders his life well. Such a man knows the goal of human life. He knows how to suit his actions to his goal. Everything that he does turns out well. The virtue which enables such a man to direct his actions to the goal of human life is the virtue of prudence. Prudence is the virtue which directs human action to the goal of happiness. In this chapter we shall consider the virtue of prudence.

PRUDENCE DIRECTS HUMAN ACTS to their proper goal. But direction is first of all a work of reason. Prudence therefore is an intellectual virtue. If a man were to set out for the North Pole we should think him imprudent if he wore only a light summer suit. We should say that he did not have enough foresight to realize that his body could not stand the intense cold of the Arctic region unless it were warmly clad. Prudence implies foresight---an ability to foresee what things must be done to attain the goal and what things must be avoided. But foresight of this kind must be based on a remembrance of past experience and a correct estimate of the present conditions of human action. Prudence then is a perfection of man's reason. It enables him to direct his actions to their goal intelligently.

BECAUSE IT DEALS with human actions it is a work of man's practical reason. It is not, like the other intellectual virtues of understanding, science and wisdom concerned with speculative truth or theories. It is concerned with the details of human actions, with the living of life itself. It adapts human actions to the attainment of the goal of life---happiness. As the good mechanic chooses the right tool for the task at hand, so the prudent man chooses the right human action for the goal of human life.

BECAUSE PRUDENCE ACTUALLY directs human actions it is a perfect virtue. It is a perfect virtue because it directs man to what is morally good precisely as good. The prudent man not only knows what should be done, he also applies that knowledge to his action. Prudence then is not found in the dreamer who never acts on his dreams, nor in the impulsive, impatient man who is always acting, but without forethought either of the proper goal or of the proper means to the goal. Prudence presupposes that a man's will is good, that is, it presupposes that the will is actively tending toward good. Without this active tendency of the will to good, a man is at best an ineffective dreamer, who refuses to apply his knowledge to action, and at worst, a crafty schemer who applies his knowledge to evil action.
THIS ACTIVE TENDENCY of the will toward human good is the work of the other moral virtues of justice, fortitude and temperance. The function of prudence is to direct the actions of these virtues to their goal. The proper goal of each of these virtues consists in conformity with right reason. Now the conformity of an act of justice, fortitude or temperance with right reason is appointed by reason itself. It is not the role of prudence to find or appoint the goal of these virtues. But it is prudence which determines in what way man shall act in order to attain the goals appointed by reason. A man, for example, has borrowed fifty dollars from a neighbor. The end or goal of justice is to give each man what is due to him. Justice, in conformity with right reason, demands therefore that the fifty dollars be paid back. But how and when shall it be paid back? A man without prudence might never pay it back, and so he would fail to observe the rule of reason in a matter of justice. Such a man would not have the foresight and the resolution to set aside a small sum from his wages each week until he had saved the entire sum and could pay his debt. Instead he might wait for some windfall to drop the money in his lap, or he might waste his own money betting on horse races in the vain hope of getting the fifty dollars quickly. But the prudent man will save according to his ability so that he can repay his neighbor as soon as possible. In this case prudence has determined exactly how the debt shall be paid. It determines, for instance, to open a savings account in a bank and deposit five dollars each week until the whole amount is saved.
PRUDENCE, WE SAY, decides or determines just what act or acts will attain the goal of moral virtue. This shows that the chief act of the virtue of prudence is to command. In any matter of human action reason has three tasks to perform. Reason must take counsel, judge and command. If a man owes money which he must repay, he must first take counsel, that is, consider the different ways in which it may be possible to save the money he owes. He might simply wait until times get better or until he is making more money. He might borrow from Peter to pay Paul. He might gamble in order to get the money quickly. He might save a little of his wages each week until he has the sum owed. Then reason judges the relative merit of each of these different ways of paying the debt. It finds that waiting for better times is unsatisfactory because it offers no real assurance that the debt will ever be paid. Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul just transfers the payment from one man to another. Gambling is too risky. Only a real effort to save through some sacrifice offers a likely solution to the problem. Lastly, reason commands that this last solution be put into action. Since prudence is concerned with human action, it is clear that the chief act of prudence is neither taking counsel, nor judging, but commanding. For only the command results in proper action.

THE FACT THAT SO MANY PEOPLE act imprudently shows that prudence is a virtue that implies maturity of mind. This is even clearer to us when we consider all the virtues of mind that real prudence requires. Take the case of a man in Phoenix, Arizona who is offered a better position in New York City. Shall he accept or refuse? Before deciding, he must recall that his wife has a bad case of asthma and that while the climate of Phoenix is very beneficial to asthmatics, the climate in New York is not. Then he must understand that his wife's health is more important than a larger income. But perhaps his employers will be angry at him if he refuses to move from the branch office at Phoenix to the home office in New York. He ought to be wise enough and docile enough to seek the advice of older and wiser men than himself. It will help too if he is shrewd enough to see the solution that is best among those suggested. The ability of his mind to reason will be a factor in reaching the right decision. He also needs foresight to determine the exact degree of danger to his wife if he goes or to both of them if he refuses to go, as well as the probable effect, on his employers of the reasons for refusal. If he intends to refuse, he must determine circumspectly just what reasons he can give to gain his point without offending his employers. Lastly, he must be cautious not to endanger his whole future by his refusal or the way in which he refuses. Let us say that he makes a prudent decision. Quite properly for his wife's sake he refuses to go to New York. But he explains this reason so well to the home office, he appeals so successfully to the fundamental humanity of his employers that he retains their respect. In reaching this decision he has made use of memory, understanding, docility or teachableness, shrewdness, reason, foresight, circumspection and caution. All these habits of mind are required for perfect prudence.

THE GREAT NUMBER of mental talents required for prudence should not make us think that it is almost impossible to be prudent. There are two kinds of prudence possible to man, namely, natural or acquired prudence and supernatural or infused prudence. Natural prudence is acquired slowly with age, experience, education and character training. Memory, foresight, circumspection and caution require experience and therefore time before they can be acquired. Understanding, shrewdness and perhaps docility require both experience and training or education before they can function perfectly. But all these things are possible to a human being with good will. If the will remains steadfast in its pursuit of moral good, then natural prudence will mature in a man.

BUT, AS WE HAVE ALREADY SEEN, the will of man cannot remain constant in the pursuit of good without grace and the infused virtue of charity. Perfect prudence can be found then only in those who are and remain in the state of grace. More important even than this is the fact that the infusion of grace and charity in the soul by God brings with it also the infusion of the supernatural virtue of prudence. Supernatural prudence does not have to be slowly and laboriously acquired by men. It is a gift from God. It is given even to children through the Sacrament of Baptism. It is possible therefore for everyone to begin his life with some prudence, with supernatural prudence. And this prudence is superior to natural prudence. Natural prudence conforms human actions to the rule of human reason. But supernatural prudence conforms them to the rule of the Eternal Law of God. In this way it prepares men for the happiness of the vision of God. Through supernatural prudence the Divine light of the Eternal Law guides human acts to the eternal destiny of man safely and surely and divinely.

MOREOVER, TO INSURE the proper functioning of supernatural prudence God also gives through grace the gift of counsel. We are not speaking here of natural human counsel, but of that supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit which is called counsel. This gift of God makes the mind of a man docile under the guidance of God Himself. Through this gift it is the eternal wisdom of God which enlightens man in the choice of human actions which will lead man to happiness.

IT IS TRUE of course that supernatural prudence will not function perfectly in a human being from early childhood. Some training in natural prudence will be helpful. But as long as a human being retains the good will of charity, supernatural prudence and counsel will in turn be helpful in the attainment of natural prudence.

THE OBJECT OF PRUDENCE is the good of the moral virtues, human good. But, as we have seen elsewhere, human good may be the good of the individual or the common good of society. Hence it is possible to divide prudence into prudence for the individual---which is called simply prudence---and prudence for society---which is called domestic prudence when it deals with the good of the family, political prudence when it deals with the good of society or the state, and military prudence when it deals with the problems of defending the good of the state or nation against attack. Everyone needs prudence in the management of his own individual life. Those who have the care of families, states, or military forces will need respectively either domestic, political or military prudence to provide for the common good of society.

THE NECESSITY OF PRUDENCE for successful living makes it important to consider briefly the vices opposed to prudence. First of all there are the vices which are evidently opposed to prudence, the vices of imprudence and negligence. Imprudence is the vice of not following the rule of reason in human action. As we have seen, the prudent man takes counsel before acting. He uses his memory, understanding, docility, shrewdness, reason, foresight, circumspection and caution. But the imprudent man will not take counsel. He will not use these mental talents. He rushes headlong into action, without caution or circumspection, thoughtless of his past experience or ability to reason, inconstant because of lack of foresight. Negligence is the failure of a man to be alert in his human actions. It indicates that a man is not sufficiently interested in the proper goals of human activity to take the means to be prudent.

SECONDLY, THERE ARE THE VICES of carnal prudence, craftiness and excessive worry, which resemble prudence. Many people even think that these vices are true prudence. Carnal prudence is the prudence of the man who looks upon the goods of the flesh as the goal of his life. He is alert and shrewd in obtaining the goal of his desires, the satisfaction of the needs of the body. But his prudence is a false prudence because it prevents him from obtaining eternal happiness, the satisfaction of the needs of his soul. Craftiness is the sin of using fictitious or evil means to gain the desired goal. Excessive worry is the sin of being so solicitous of obtaining worldly goods or of providing for the future that a man forgets to work for the true goal of eternal happiness.

THESE SINS OF IMPRUDENCE arise from the capital sins of lust or avarice. Since the goal of human life is the eternal happiness of the vision of God, anything which withdraws the mind and heart of man from God and the things of God will lead to the loss of prudence. But men turn from God to the world either through lust for the pleasures of the flesh or through an inordinate desire for the goods of this world of time and space. The prudent man, on the contrary, is always sufficiently farsighted to realize that all human activity is worthwhile only to the extent that it leads man to God. For prudence is concerned ultimately with the direction of human activity to the great goal of human life, the vision of God.

IMPRUDENCE LEADS TO UNHAPPINESS. We might even say that it is unhappiness. It condemns a man to the futility of achieving goals that do not satisfy him. The imprudent man is imprisoned in the dense jungle of base desires and ignoble satisfactions. He cannot escape from the tyranny of the flesh. The prudent man finds happiness in human action. His activity is always satisfying because he knows that it is leading him to eternal happiness. His prudence frees him from the tyranny of the flesh and the despotism of inordinate desire. It has been said that vigilance is the price of liberty. We might paraphrase the statement and say that prudence is the price of the freedom of the sons of God.