Four cardinal virtues were recognized in classical antiquity and in
Prudence (φρόνησις, phronēsis; Latin: prudentia; also Wisdom,
Sophia, sapientia), the ability to judge between actions with regard
to appropriate actions at a given time
Courage (ἀνδρεία, andreia; Latin: fortitudo): also termed
fortitude, forbearance, strength, endurance, and the ability to
confront fear, uncertainty, and intimidation
Temperance (σωφροσύνη, sōphrosynē; Latin: temperantia):
also known as restraint, the practice of self-control, abstention,
discretion, and moderation tempering the appetition, hence the meaning
chastity. Sōphrosynē can also be translated as sound-mindedness.
Justice (δικαιοσύνη, dikaiosynē; Latin: iustitia): also
considered as fairness, the most extensive and most important
virtue; the Greek word also having the meaning righteousness
These virtues derive initially from Plato's scheme, discussed in
Republic Book IV, 426–435 (and see Protagoras 330b, which also
includes piety (hosiotes)).
Cicero expanded on them, and Saint
Ambrose, Augustine of Hippo, and Thomas Aquinas adapted them while
adding a set of theological virtues.
The term "cardinal" comes from the Latin cardo (hinge); virtues are
so called because they are regarded as the basic virtues required for
a virtuous life. They also relate to the Quadrivium.
1 In classical antiquity
4 See also
7 External links
In classical antiquity
The four cardinal virtues appear as a group (sometimes included in
larger lists) long before they are later given this title.
Plato identified the four cardinal virtues with the classes of the
city described in The Republic, and with the faculties of man. Plato
narrates a discussion of the character of a good city where the
following is agreed upon. “Clearly, then, it will be wise, brave,
temperate [literally: healthy-minded], and just.” (427e; see also
435b) Temperance was common to all classes, but primarily associated
with the producing classes, the farmers and craftsmen, and with the
animal appetites, to whom no special virtue was assigned; fortitude
was assigned to the warrior class and to the spirited element in man;
prudence to the rulers and to reason.
Justice stands outside the class
system and divisions of man, and rules the proper relationship among
the three of them.
Plato sometimes (e.g., Protagoras 349b; cf. 324e, 329c, 330b, 331a-c)
lists holiness (hosiotes, eusebeia, aidos) amongst the cardinal
virtues. He especially associates holiness with justice, but leaves
their precise relationship unexplained.
In Aristotle's Rhetoric we read: “The forms of
Virtue are justice,
courage, temperance, magnificence, magnanimity, liberality,
gentleness, prudence, wisdom.” (Rhetoric 1366b1)
The Roman philosopher and statesman
Cicero (106–43 BC), like Plato,
limits the list to four virtues:
Virtue may be defined as a habit of mind (animi) in harmony with
reason and the order of nature. It has four parts: wisdom
(prudentiam), justice, courage, temperance.” (De Inventione, II,
Cicero discusses these further in
De Officiis (I, V and following).
The Roman Emperor
Marcus Aurelius discusses these in Book V:12 of
Meditations and views them as the "goods" that a person should
identify in one's own mind, as opposed to "wealth or things which
conduce to luxury or prestige."
The cardinal virtues are listed in the Bible. The deuterocanonical
Wisdom of Solomon 8:7 reads, "She [Wisdom] teaches temperance,
and prudence, and justice, and fortitude, which are such things as men
can have nothing more profitable in life."
They are also found in the Biblical apocrypha.
4 Maccabees 1:18–19
relates: “Now the kinds of wisdom are right judgment, justice,
courage, and self-control. Right judgment is supreme over all of these
since by means of it reason rules over the emotions.”
Catholic moral philosophy drew from all of these sources when
developing its reflections on the virtues.
Part of a series on
Substance theory (ousia)
Quiddity (essence / accident
Principle of double effect
Cardinal / Theological / Intellectual virtues
Treatise on Law
Summa contra Gentiles
Contra Errores Graecorum
Commentaries on Aristotle
St. Albertus Magnus
Reginald of Piperno
School of Salamanca
Doctor of the Church
St. Ambrose (330s–397 AD) was the first to use the expression
“cardinal virtues.” “And we know that there are four cardinal
virtues temperance, justice, prudence, fortitude.” (Commentary on
Luke, V, 62)
St. Augustine, discussing the morals of the church, described them:
For these four virtues (would that all felt their influence in their
minds as they have their names in their mouths!), I should have no
hesitation in defining them: that temperance is love giving itself
entirely to that which is loved; fortitude is love readily bearing all
things for the sake of the loved object; justice is love serving only
the loved object, and therefore ruling rightly; prudence is love
distinguishing with sagacity between what hinders it and what helps
it. (De moribus eccl., Chap. xv)
The "cardinal" virtues are not the same as the three theological
virtues: Faith, Hope and Charity (Love), named in 1 Corinthians 13.
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).
Together, they comprise what is known as the seven virtues, also known
as the theological virtues. While history suggests that the first four
date back to Greek philosophers and were applicable to all people
seeking to live moral lives, the theological virtues appear to be
specific to Christians as written by Paul in The New Testament.
Efforts to relate the cardinal and theological virtues differ. St.
Augustine sees faith as coming under justice. Beginning with a wry
comment about the moral mischief of pagan deities, he writes:
They [the pagans] have made
Virtue also a goddess, which, indeed, if
it could be a goddess, had been preferable to many. And now, because
it is not a goddess, but a gift of God, let it be obtained by prayer
from Him, by whom alone it can be given, and the whole crowd of false
gods vanishes. For as much as they have thought proper to distribute
virtue into four divisions – prudence, justice, fortitude, and
temperance – and as each of these divisions has its own virtues,
faith is among the parts of justice, and has the chief place with as
many of us as know what that saying means, ‘The just shall live by
faith.’ (City of God, IV, 20)
Jesuit scholars Daniel Harrington and James Keenan in their Paul and
Virtue Ethics (2010) argue for seven "new virtues" to replace the
classical cardinal virtues in complementing the three theological
virtues, listed as "be humble, be hospitable, be merciful, be
faithful, reconcile, be vigilant, and be reliable".
The Tomb of Sir John Hotham, supported by figures of the cardinal
Four cardinal virtues; Louvre, Paris. Brooklyn Museum Archives,
Goodyear Archival Collection
The Cardinal Virtues are often depicted as female allegorical figures
and were a popular subject for funerary sculpture. The attributes and
names of these figures may vary according to local tradition.
In many churches and artwork the Cardinal Virtues are depicted with
Justice – sword, balance and scales, and a crown
Temperance – wheel, bridle and reins, vegetables and fish, cup,
water and wine in two jugs
Fortitude – armor, club, with a lion, palm, tower, yoke, broken
Prudence – book, scroll, mirror (occasionally attacked by a serpent)
Notable depictions include sculptures on the tomb of Francis II, Duke
of Brittany and the tomb of John Hotham. They were also depicted in
the garden at Edzell Castle.
A humorous depiction of the four cardinal virtues appears in the
children's book "Masterpiece" written by
Elise Broach and illustrated
by Kelly Murphy.
The cardinal virtues as depicted on the tomb of
Pope Clement II
Pope Clement II in
Allegories of the virtues on the facade of the
Gesuati church in
Prudence by Gaetano Fusali
Justice by Francesco Bonazza
Fortitude by Giuseppe Torretto
Temperance by Alvise Tagliapietra
Allegories of the virtues on the facade of
La Rochelle city hall
Seven cardinal sins
Cardinal and Theological Virtues
^ "Cardinal Virtues of Plato, Augustine and Confucius".
theplatonist.com. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04.
Summa Theologica II(I).61
^ Harper, Douglas. "cardinal". Online Etymology Dictionary.
^ "Cicero: de Inventione II". thelatinlibrary.com.
Marcus Aurelius (1976). Meditations. Penguin Classics trans. by
Maxwell Staniforth. p. 83.
^ Harrington, Daniel; Keenan, James (2010). Paul and
Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.
St. Ambrose, "On the Duties of the Clergy" Book 1, chapter 24
(paragraph 115) and following
St. Augustine, "Of the Morals of the Catholic Church"
Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article
John Rickaby (1913). "Cardinal Virtues". In Herbermann, Charles.
Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
Seven Virtues (atheism.com)
Cardinal Virtues according to Aquinas (New Advent)
The Seven Virtues in
Great Commandment; "All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two
commandments." – Matthew 22:35-40
Republic, Book IV
Augustine of Hippo
Sources: Paul the Apostle
1 Corinthians 13
Seven deadly sins
Source: Prudentius, Psychomachia
People: Evagrius Ponticus
Pope Gregory I