Most philosophers consider Prudence the Queen of Virtues. Prudence is defined as: “Correct knowledge about things to be done or, more broadly, the knowledge of things that ought to be done and of things that ought to be avoided.” (Modern Catholic Dictionary) Aristotle defined Prudence as recta ratio agibilium, “right reason applied to practice.” (Catholic Encyclopaedia) The emphasis on “right” is important. We cannot simply make a decision and then describe it as a “prudential judgment.” Prudence requires us to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong. If we mistake the evil for the good, we are not exercising prudence—in fact, we are showing our lack of it. In St. Augustine’s thinking, prudence is love cleaving to the beloved, and so judging rightly. Hence, there is no prudence without knowledge of God’s truth. We cannot commit any sin without being imprudent, and to avoid sin is the most prudent thing we can do.
St Bonaventure (following St Augustine) divides the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit into four groups of three and attributes each group to a cardinal virtue. According to him, Prudence is the habitual cleaving to God, whose nature is Wisdom and the enjoyment of whom leads to love, joy, and peace (see reference below).
Firstly, if Prudence tends to the achievement of what we truly desire, this will certainly express itself in peace. In the famous expression of St Augustine, “my heart is restless till it rests in Thee.” To rest in God is perfect peace.
Prudence leads to the experience of peace under the influence of the infused virtue of Faith. Peace is a state of harmony, whether exterior (between political states, for example, or factions in society) or interior (between the parts of our soul, such as our desires and emotions, or our will, reason, and imagination). Faith has an important role in bringing peace, because Faith is the virtue by which we freely commit our entire self to God. (CCC 1814) Without that commitment we would be serving ourselves, and the service of self (one’s own nation or economic interest to the exclusion of others) will always, in the end, run counter to the common good, and to peace in society. In the interior life, as C.S. Lewis shows in The Abolition of Man, the service of self always boils down to a kind of slavery in which the self is controlled by whatever desire happens to be uppermost.
Secondly, the experience of peace leads to joy, which is a kind of delight and pleasure in the achievement of one’s heart’s desire. One might think that, like a dog chasing a car, we would not know what to do if we caught up with it, but the true good for our souls is not like that. It is what we were made for. If a thirsty dog finds a stream of water, he knows exactly what to do with it.
The infused virtue of Hope is this aspiration to the happiness that comes from giving oneself to God. It opens up the heart to eternal beatitude. (CCC 1818) Like a kind of divine energy it floods into us and has the effect of producing joy out of Prudence. It brings the practical wisdom of Prudence to its fulfilment in God.
Thirdly, peace and joy lead to love, in the sense that they reinforce it and cause it to grow. But more importantly, love itself is the perfection of peace and joy, as it is of Prudence, and their ultimate cause, because it is love that we most truly desire, and love is God. The spiritual fruit we call love is comprised the experience of loving and being loved, and our own works of love that flow from a Prudence energized by the Holy Spirit, who is Love in person.
In conclusion, Prudence is putting God’s truth into practice. It is in practising God’s truth that we receive the fruits of peace, joy and love from the Spirit of Truth. Conversely, if we do not desire God’s truth, we will not be able to receive the Spirit of Truth and the fruits that come with it. (Cf. John 14:15-17; Gal 5:22-23) The Spirit of Truth (or Holy Spirit) was there before the earth was formed (Cf. Gen 1:2), it brought about the birth of Christ (Cf. Luke 1:35), it was present at Christ’s baptism (Cf. Matt 3:16), it guided Christ when he began his ministry (Cf. Luke 4:14), it gave the disciples the gift of tongues on the day of Pentecost (Cf. Acts 2:4), and it will guide the Church into all the truth (Cf. John 16:13). There can be no Christianity without the Spirit of Truth because Christ and the Spirit are one. Hence, it is important for all Christians to exercise prudence so that by the grace of God we may receive the fruits of the Spirit of Truth and be known as God’s children in name and truth.
Let us welcome the Holy Spirit with the song “Holy Spirit We Welcome You” by Chris Bowater: