The seven basic virtues as seven steps to becoming wise


The acquisition of wisdom is closely related to the acquisition of virtue.

To the essence of wisdom belongs not only knowledge of the human virtues but also the possession of the human virtues themselves.

In so far as there is some degree of acquired virtue in a person, there is as well some degree of acquired wisdom in that person.

This paper identifies the seven basic virtues – prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance, faith, hope, and charity – as seven steps to becoming wise.

1. The step of prudence

There is wisdom in prudent acting. Prudence is not something one can teach to others by means of an instruction manual. Personal experience in life is the precondition for prudent acting.

A prudent and wise person is a person trained in docility, foresight, shrewdness, circumspection, caution, good counsel, understanding, common sense, and memory.

2. The step of justice

There is wisdom in acting justly. A just and wise person is a person trained in just lawgiving, in obedience to superiors and discipline with regard to inferiors, in equity as regards equals, infidelity and truthfulness towards all, and in piety and religion towards God. The just and wise know how to prioritize and fulfill their daily obligations.

3. The step of fortitude

There is no wisdom when the required measure of fortitude is lacking. To act with fortitude is to act with a fixed and continued persistence in a well-considered purpose. It belongs to fortitude the voluntary and prolonged endurance of arduous and difficult things for the sake of spiritual profit.

4. The step of temperance

Temperance is an ally of wisdom. The wise person exercises moderation when experiencing the pleasures of this world. To act with temperance is to act with sobriety, abstinence, detachment, vigilance, refinement, modesty, continence, honesty, gravity, simplicity, purity, chastity, good manners, class, and decency.

5. The step of faith

There is pride, not humility, in those who are unwilling to subject their intellect to the rules of faith and tradition. Faith is the humility of intelligence. “Where humility is, there also is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2).

6. The step of hope

A wise person knows how to value hope.

As Pope Benedict XVI says, every day a person experiences “many greater or lesser hopes and sometimes one of these hopes may appear to be totally satisfying without any need for other hopes. When these hopes are fulfilled, however, it becomes clear that they were not, in reality, the whole.” The wise know that only something that will always be more than they can ever attain will satisfy them. (See Encyclical Letter “Spe Salvi,” 30 November 2007, no. 30.)

7. The step of charity

Charity is the love for God. Charity is grounded on the rational capacity of human beings, not on sentiments or feelings. Guided by wisdom, charity inspires in souls a profound commitment to excellence and virtue.

The order in which the seven virtues are presented in this paper does not indicate a chronological priority. According to spiritual writers and philosophers, virtues are interconnected. And, since wisdom directs both our intellect and our affections, wisdom is found to connect all the virtues.

The seven basic virtues are indeed seven steps to becoming wise.

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