We must take a good look at the word temperance and its true meaning in order to fully grasp the subject concerning temperance as a cardinal virtue
Temperance is one of the four cardinal virtues upon which swings the gates of life. To be temperate in common language which usually means to be moderate to be reserved, but this is only a part of the picture. Just as with fortitude which was the overcoming or avoiding of the evil so as to obtain the good, with temperance the same applies.
But temperance is more than merely doing of good acts, it involves the ordering of the inner self. It implies that we look to ourselves and our state or condition and focus on self.
Beware! For this turning to look on ourselves can have two kinds, one is selfish the other selfless.
- To be selfless makes for man's self-preservation
- To be selfish makes for man's destruction
Genuine self-preservation is the turning of man towards himself, but with the condition that he does not fix all his attention upon himself. So we can say that Temperance is selfless self-preservation
Intemperance, on the hand is self destruction through the selfish degrading of the powers we have, which should be aimed at self-preservation.
When this order becomes upset we say that the passions have got the better of us, but in fact it is not our passions which are bad, for they are merely the material which can be used for either good or bad, but it is we ourselves that either hold up or destroy this order. As St. Paul says, “ For I do not the good that I wish, but the evil that I do not wish that I do.” Romans Ch. 7, v. 19.
Take the example of a gun, it is an instrument for propelling at high speed a metal projectile. In itself it is neither good nor bad, yet it can be used to save life or destroy it, to kill or to protect from being killed. The evil comes not from the gun but from the use of the gun, that is from man.
The powers to which temperance refers are the most essential for preserving our life and for the preserving of the human race. They are also the ones which are first to work in the opposite direction, they can most easily bring unrest to the soul because they belong to the very essence and core of man.
This turning to self with a selfless self-preservation, is a loving of our true self, it is an ordering so that man does not miss the target. We must not seek ourselves blindly but correspond with open eyes to the true reality, God, ourselves and the world. Therefore to desire the inner order for its own sake become ridiculous. True love is selfless, it is the desire to see good done to the object of our love, all the good we see in ourselves is a refection of the goodness of God. So in loving the true self and wish true good to ourselves, is loving and wishing good to God.
Our Lord was asked what was the greatest of the commandments and he answered, “ to love the Lord God with all our heart, strength and soul, and to love our neighbour as ourselves.” Now if we are commanded to love our neighbour as ourselves then we are commanded to love ourselves with a true love. To retain the order in our souls shows that we truly love ourselves.
Temperance then is the preservation of the inner order of man. Temperance not only preserves the order but defends it, and by defending the order from attack, the order is maintained. The enemy is the selfish disorder, selfish love which disregards the good, and wants only to satisfy and use nature for perverted ends.
Chastity and Unchastity
Unchastity destroys the structure of the person, but how?
Unchastity falsifies and corrupts the virtue of prudence. Everything that attacks and is in conflict with the virtue of prudence, originates in most cases from unchastity. Unchastity brings with it a bindness of spirit which pretty well excludes all understanding of the goods of the spiritual part of man. It splits and makes difficult the power of decision, as well as making the ability for contemplation and concentration very difficult. This is why chastity is a necessary requirement for contemplation, and prayer, so only after demanding chastity from Subdeacons does she impose upon them the prayer of the Church the Breviary.
The process of blinding a man’s mind by unchastity is not like a plant which wilts because you forget to water it, but this blindness is the very essence of unchastity, which is by its very nature destructive. It is not its outward effect and something that follows as a consequence, but this blindness is its essential property.
Unchastity destroys in a special way the self-possession which comes from acting in accord to reason. This unchaste abandon and the self-surrender of the soul to the world of sensuality paralyses the very depths of a man’s person: the ability to perceive and understand, in silence, the call of reality, and as well to make in this silence, the decision here and now for the concrete action which needs to be done.
The essence of prudence is to face squarely all the things that surround our concrete actions. Unchastity constricts man and makes him incapable of seeing objective reality. An unchaste man wants above all something for himself; he in distracted by an unobjective “interest”; his constantly strained will-to-pleasure prevents him from confronting reality with that selfless detachment which alone makes genuine knowledge possible.
An example is that of the lion who, at the sight of a stag, is unable to perceive anything but the anticipated meal. In an unchaste heart, attention is not merely fixed upon a certain track, but the “window’ of the soul has lost its “transparency”, that is, its capacity for perceiving reality, as if a film of dust had covered it.
The inner nature of unchastity lies in selfishness. St. Augustine says that, “Chaste is the heart that loves God without looking for reward.” We say that prudence is most of all poisoned and perverted by unchastity, but how does this happen?
Prudence implies a transformation of the knowledge of truth into decisions which correspond to the real world. This is done in three steps: thinking about what has to be done, judging what should be done, then making the decision to act upon all this.
Here is a table to show the difference between someone who is temperate, and one who is intemperate, when it comes to being prudent,
The Temperate man
- Looks at the truths of things
- Weighs things up, for and against
- Makes his decision with full control
The Intemperate man
- Acts recklessly and without consideration
- Makes his judgement in great hast
- Abandons himself to the pull of the senses
Chastity renders one able to see reality, not only everyday things as they really are, but also the ultimate reality, enabling a man to the most selfless dedication of love, that is contemplation, where a man turns towards the Divine being and is enabled to become aware of this truth, which is also the highest good.