The virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance are exhibited throughout Scripture in the actions and teachings of many biblical figures.
The concept of the four cardinal virtues originated in ancient Greek philosophy, and was then adopted by early Christian leaders and theologians to support the teachings of the Holy Bible. The virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance were seen as core values needed by individuals to live a virtuous life in the service of God.
The following post explores the history of the four cardinal virtues and their definitions, details biblical examples embodying these virtues, and provides advice on how to incorporate them into daily life. Understanding and cultivating virtuous behavior helps us lead more upright, moral lives, and be better members of Christian society.
The four cardinal virtues stem from the philosophy of Plato and were expanded on by other Greek philosophers such as Aristotle, Cicero, and Plutarch. The term cardinal comes from the Latin word cardo, which means hinge. Prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance were considered the hinges upon which character strengths and values were built (or torn down).
The cardinal virtues are exemplified by actions and teachings throughout the Old and New Testaments, despite not being clearly defined in the Bible. When Christianity rose to prominence, the cardinal virtues were adopted by philosophers and church leaders, and have remained an integral part of Christian ethics and moral theology for over 2,000 years.
Examining the Four Cardinal Virtues
Prudence is the ability to discern the appropriate course of action and exercise good judgment. It encompasses wisdom, foresight, and deliberation. A prudent person carefully considers their options and the potential consequences of their actions.
Biblical Examples of Prudence
“If the ax is dull, and one does not sharpen the edge, then he must use more strength; but wisdom brings success.” (Ecclesiastes 10:10)
“A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims foolishness.” (Proverbs 12:23)
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)
Tips to Help you Practice Prudence
1. Carefully consider options and consequences before making important decisions. Don’t rush into things.
2. Seek wise counsel from mentors and advisors before taking action.
3. Plan, and think through a variety of possible scenarios.
Justice encompasses righteous conduct, fairness, honesty, and integrity. A just person deals fairly with others, does what is morally right, and speaks up or acts in opposition when encountering corruption, manipulation, and dishonesty.
Biblical Examples of Justice
“Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16:20)
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
In the New Testament, Jesus criticizes the scribes and Pharisees for tithing spices but neglecting “the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” (Matthew 23:23).
Tips to Help You Practice Justice
1. Deal honestly and ethically with others in business and personal relationships.
2. Stand up for what is right, even if it’s unpopular.
3. Treat others fairly, and don’t discriminate or take advantage.
4. Respect the rights and dignity of all people.
Fortitude (also described as courage or strength) represents emotional strength and resilience in the face of adversity. A courageous person perseveres through trials and withstands fear, uncertainty, and intimidation.
Biblical Examples of Fortitude
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
“By standing firm you will gain life.” (Luke 21:19)
“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” (Acts 4:29)
Tips to Help You Practice Fortitude
1. Persevere through challenging times and don’t give up easily.
2. Have the courage to do the right thing even when afraid.
3. Don’t compromise core values and beliefs due to pressure or fear.
4. Develop mental resilience through adversity and failures.
The fourth and final cardinal virtue is temperance, which refers to self-control, moderation, and restraint. A temperate person exhibits mastery over desires, emotions, and behaviors. By taming excessive desires and impulses, temperance allows us to live a Godly, prudent lifestyle.
Biblical Examples of Temperance
“Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.” (Proverbs 16:32)
“Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Romans 13:14)
“And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;” (2 Peter 1:5-6)
Tips to Help You Practice Temperance
1. Exercise moderation in food, drink, shopping, screen time, and other indulgences.
2. Control your impulses, emotions, and behaviors. Don’t overreact.
3. Live within your means. Develop healthy spending habits.
4. Find balance and stability in life. Don’t overindulge.
In the 2000+ years since their adoption by early Christians, the four cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance continue to be vital to Christian ethics. We emulate these virtues every time we make prudent decisions, treat others justly, face trials with courage, and exercise self-control.