Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
Aristotle called prudence the most important of the four cardinal virtues. It is an intellectual virtue, primarily defined by right thinking but inextricably linked with right action. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines prudence as “an intellectual habit enabling us to see in any given juncture of human affairs what is virtuous and what is not, and how to come at the one and avoid the other.” Therefore prudence can be understood as the state of mind that lies behind the practical unfolding of all virtuous action. It is the process of thoughtful reflection, a careful and prayerful weighing of options, that brings forth the best possible decision. For Christians, it is the kind of knowledge that ought to be understood as coming from God, synonymous with wisdom: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy” (James 3:17). Defined in this way, prudence stands in contrast to the cleverness of the world revealed in jealousy, selfish ambition, and competitive disorder (James 3:16). In the words of one theologian, “Prudence can have no other meaning than this: to allow the more deeply experienced truth of the reality of God and of the world to become the measure and standard of one’s own desire and action.” At Live Oak, prudence is practiced through readiness and attentiveness, neatness, organization, follow through, and giving one’s best effort. Prudence helps us to see clearly in order that we may walk uprightly for the honor and glory of God.