The Four Cardinal Virtues

From Damien of Lodge Devotion

Each time the Lodge is opened, the Worshipful Master asks his Officers their duties in the Lodge, the

"Jewel" (symbol) of his office and what it "masonically" teaches.

The Jewel of the Inner Guard is the crossed swords. They refer to "two of the four cardinal virtues, namely prudence and fortitude". Each time the Lodge opens, we hear only two of the four virtues, but the others appear elsewhere in our ritual.

The four Cardinal Virtues are: Prudence, Fortitude, Temperance and Justice.

Arguably, these were originally derived from Plato's philosophy (Protagoras 330b, which also included piety (hosiotes)). They were adapted into the Christian tradition by theological scholars such as Saint Ambrose, St. Jerome, Augustine of Hippo, and Thomas Aquinas

The term "cardinal" comes from the Latin cardo which translates as 'hinge'. The cardinal virtues are known as such because "they are hinges upon which the door of the moral life swings."

The four cardinal virtues also appear in the Old Testament's Book of Wisdom which, interestingly, is attributed to the wise King Solomon.

"She [Wisdom] teacheth temperance, and prudence, and justice, and fortitude, which are such things as men can have nothing more profitable in life." Wisdom 8:7

The book of Wisdom is part of the apocrypha and ironically does not appear in the King James Edition of the Bible, commonly presented to Christian Masons as their personal "Volume of the Sacred Law". However, this book does appear in Standard Catholic Bibles and others.

In Freemasonry, especially in America, we often hear of additional virtues - 'Faith, Hope and Charity".

While Prudence, Fortitude, Temperance and Justice are the Cardinal Virtues, 'Faith, Hope and Charity" are often known as the Theological Virtues. They appear in several places in the Bible like First Corinthians 13:13 "And now these three remain: faith, hope, and charity. But the greatest of these is charity." However, insome translations, the "charity" is translated as "love". For instance The King James Version of the Bible uses "charity," but "charity" was derived from the Latin "caritas", or "love" and earlier from the Greek "agape". I quite like an emphasis on "love" rather than charity, for surely charity should be linked heavily with love of our fellow humans, and we cannot love others without being charitable towards them. I am sure that would be an interesting inclusion to the odd Masonic discussion on the distinction in Craft Ritual between "charity" and "benevolence" which Freemasons sometimes debate. Remembering "charity" is sometimes translated as "love" in Corinthians adds an extra dimension to the discussion on why we mention "charity" and "benevolence" as distinct but related in our Masonic ritual.

Of further interest to Masons would be this quote from Wikipeida In Genesis, Chapter 28 Jacob describes his vision of a ladder or stairway leading to heaven. In oral tradition, the three principal rungs on the ladder were denominated Faith, Hope and Love…These three are mentioned in Chapter 13 of First Corinthians: 'And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love'. Because of this reference, the seven attributes are sometimes grouped as four cardinal virtues (prudence, temperance, fortitude, justice) and three heavenly graces (faith, hope, charity).

The Cardinal Virtues are often depicted in Western Culture as female allegorical figures and were a popular subject for funerary sculpture. To me, this is interesting in the context of the lessons of the Third Degree. The attributes and names of these figures may vary according to local tradition. For instance, on the tomb of Sir John Hotham, in St Mary's Church, South Dalton the four figures are:

  • Justice - holding a sword.

  • Temperance - mixing wine and water in two jugs.

  • Fortitude - with a broken column.

  • Truth - holding a mirror and being attacked by a serpent.

For me, it seems 'faith hope and charity" have a distinctly New Testament feel. For instance, 1 Thessalonians 1:3 "because we recall in the presence of our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and endurance of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ" and Galatians 5:5-6 "For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait expectantly for the hope of righteousness. 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision carries any weight—the only thing that matters is faith working through love."

When hearing "two of the four cardinal virtues", I often wonder why the other two don’t get a mention in opening or closing the lodge. I also wonder where the emphasis on 'Faith, Hope, and Charity" went and when - and why they seem to figure more heavily in American Masonic Rituals, although one, "Charity" gets a very important emphasis in our First Degree as chief among "the blessed three". Perhaps it was the Eighteenth and Ninetieth Century ritual revisionists in England who removed overt Christian elements to make Craft Freemasonry more universal and make it less Christian Centric allowing men of other Religions to join Speculative Freemasonry.

3C. 1 Corinthians 16:13 Stay alert, stand firm in the faith, show courage, be strong.