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THE FOUR CARDINAL VIRTUES
Grand Lodge of Texas
In the Entered Apprentice Degree, the new brother is introduced to the Four Cardinal Virtues during the close of the explanatory lecture. These virtues are Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice and are very briefly explained to the new Entered Apprentice. Unfortunately, these virtues have no connection to the rite of initiation experienced by the new Mason and the lecture does little to clarify their introduction at this time. From an esoteric standpoint, one must go to great lengths to manipulate these virtues to make a connection to the ritual.
Up to at least 1750, none of the early Masonic manuscripts or ritual exposures contains any reference to the Four Cardinal Virtues. Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia states, “It is probable that this peculiar part of the lectures goes back beyond the dawn of symbolic Masonry and that what we have is a distorted remnant of a much more meaningful symbolism or has been built up in modern times out of a brief and unimportant part of the old pre-Grand Lodge working.” In addition, one must realize that the Masonic ritual is a combination of many ideas that have come from the distant past and woven into a ritual. Over time, ideas have been added, removed or merged with other concepts to form the current Masonic ritual. Based on the evidence, the Cardinal Virtues were not added to the Masonic ritual until after the middle of the eighteenth century. Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia suggests that the Cardinal Virtues were “taken from the Christian Church, which derived them from Plato and to which the Church had added the three Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope, and Charity, which Freemasonry also borrowed.”
In any event, the Cardinal Virtues have intrinsic value to the Mason and are certainly essential to Freemasonry. They can stand on their own within the ritual without any direct connection to the initiatic experience or to Masonic symbolism. The Texas Monitor of the Lodge provides an explanation of each of the four virtues.
“Temperance is that due restraint upon our affections and passions which renders the body tame and governable, and frees the mind from the allurements of vice. This virtue should be the constant practice of every Mason, as he is thereby taught to avoid excess, or the contracting of any licentious or vicious habit, the indulgence of which might lead him to disclose some of those valuable secrets which he has promised to conceal and never reveal, and which would consequently subject him to the contempt and detestation of all good Masons.” Temperance represents restraint. The Mason must control his passions and desires. He must practice restraint in all things and avoid excess. He must exercise caution in his action, speech, thought, feeling, judgment, and life.
“Fortitude is that noble and steady purpose of mind, whereby we are enabled to undergo any pain, peril, or danger, when prudentially deemed expedient. This virtue is equally distant from rashness and cowardice; and, like the former, should be deeply impressed upon the mind of every Mason, as a safeguard against any illegal attack that may be made, by force or otherwise, to extort from him any of those valuable secrets with which he has been so solemnly entrusted, and which were emblematically represented upon his first admission into the Lodge.” Courage is another name for fortitude. For the Mason, fortitude symbolizes more than physical courage. It also represents moral courage. The Mason must have the strength and ability to make a decision based upon his own moral convictions and stick to it regardless of the consequences. The Mason must exhibit the highest moral and ethical principles in his life and standby those principles when society looks unfavorably upon those principles.
“Prudence teaches us to regulate our lives and actions agreeably to the dictate of reason, and is that habit by which we wisely judge, and prudentially determine, on all things relative to our present, as well as our future happiness. This virtue should be the peculiar characteristic of every Mason, not only for the government of his conduct while in the Lodge, but also when abroad in the world. It should be particularly attended to in all strange and mixed companies, never to let fall the least sign, token, or word, whereby the secrets of Masonry might be unlawfully obtained.” In its most comprehensive sense, prudence implies not only caution but also the ability to judge in advance the probable consequences of one’s actions. It also symbolizes wisdom in the conduct of one’s activities. Wisdom of mind and soul comes from thought, study and circumspection. It brings the Mason closer to God. Prudence reminds the Mason to reflect upon the moral and social consequences of his activities and his relationship to his Creator.
“Justice is that standard, or boundary of right, which enables us to render to every man his just due, without distinction. This virtue is not only consistent with Divine and human laws, but is the very cement and support of civil society; and as justice in a great measure, constitutes the real good man, so should it be the invariable practice of every Mason never to deviate from the minutest principles thereof.” Justice symbolizes equality for the Mason. The Mason should govern his own actions, have them judged openly, and his conduct towards others should be without deception. He should undertake actions because he desires to and not because he is forced to. His actions should be unselfish and self-sacrificing.
The Four Cardinal Virtues of Freemasonry provide a framework for daily living and serve as a guide for our relationship with God and our fellow man. Thus these virtues are essential to Freemasonry. Perhaps this is why they are introduced in the Entered Apprentice Lecture, to provide a foundation upon which to build the lessons of Freemasonry. As new Masons we must begin to develop and strengthen these virtues, which will help us grow and develop into better men. As experienced Masons, we should constantly remind ourselves of these virtues and their importance in our lives. If we strive to perfect the Four Cardinal Virtues in our lives, we will grow closer to God, be content with our station in life, and influence society for the better.
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Last modified: March 22, 2014