THE FOUR CARDINAL VIRTUES:
In the Entered Apprentice Degree, we receive instruction about the
Four Cardinal Virtues: Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice.
What do we mean when we say that these are “cardinal virtues?” A
virtue has been defined as a particular moral excellence involving integrity of
character in the performance of our duties to ourselves and to others in our
families and in society at large. The word “cardinal” means a “hinge.” Doors
turn on hinges when they are opened or closed. Without the hinge, the door
would be useless, and in fact would not even be a door. The word “cardinal”
therefore means that something is fundamentally important. These four
virtues are the principal or chief virtues according to which Freemasons
should conduct their lives.
These four virtues are practical principles to leading our everyday lives
and becoming good men and women. The cardinal virtues are perfected or
strengthened by habit. We became members of this Lodge to improve
ourselves in Masonry. The more we practice the piano or our golf game, the
more we will acquire good habits of playing and become more skilled at those
games. The more we practice temperance, fortitude, prudence, and justice in
daily life, the better men and Freemasons we become.
Temperance, we are told in the First Degree, is that due restraint on
the affections and passions which renders the body tame and governable, and
frees the mind from the allurements of vice. This virtue should be our
constant practice; it enables us to avoid excess or acquiring bad habits that
might cause us to violate our obligation to keep inviolate the secrets
entrusted to our care. We would then be subject to the contempt of our
Brothers and to the severe symbolic penalty.
A temperate man practices moderation in all things. He does not allow
himself to lose his balance in life, such as by easily losing his temper when
stuck in a traffic jam. He will not drink excessively, because he knows that it
will impair his judgment when driving or when attending a business meeting.
The old-fashioned “three martini lunch” did not encourage clear thinking or
good health among the men who participated.
There are all kinds of passions—food, alcohol, love, and even our
personal goals are among them. The temperate man will not let his emotions
or passions control him. He will not devote himself wholly to the pursuit of
pleasure, to the neglect of his duty to himself and to his family. He knows
that being easily angered or excitable can affect his physical health. He also
knows that keeping his emotions too much under control can also affect his
health. This is why temperance requires a “due” or proper or measured
restraint on the passions, and not complete suppression of emotions.
Practicing moderation in all things is difficult, but it is also necessary if the
body is to be fit and healthy and able to enjoy the blessings which God has
Practicing temperance benefits the mind as well as the body. The
mind is the thinking part of man, and everyday men must be conscious that
they have the choice between doing a good deed or action and temptations to
engage in vice. By vice our ritual does not mean only what we usually think
it means. For Freemasonry, vice is anything that can lead us astray from our
efforts to become better men.
Vice (for example) includes greed, selfishness, hate, pride, and
gluttony. Martha Stewart was not influenced by the practice of temperance
when she decided to sell that stock on an insider tip; otherwise her mind
would have been free of the temptation to make even more money.
We are not practicing temperance when we indulge our desire for
pleasure to an extreme. It is very tempting to eat an entire pint of Ben and
Jerry’s ice cream by yourself. A more serious example is the man who drinks
alcohol to excess. He not only harms himself, but also he may lose his job and
be unable to support his family. The mind must be disciplined by the practice
of temperance, to prevent it from choosing to go to such an extreme that can
be harmful to your health and the well being of your family.
The ritual tells the candidate that by practicing temperance, he will
avoid the contracting of “licentious or vicious habits the indulgence in which
might lead you to disclose” the secrets entrusted to his care. The secrets
entrusted to his care are more important than just the words and grips he
will learn in the degree. The secrets he is warned against disclosing are the
confidences his Brothers, trusting in his discretion, have whispered in his
ear. The First Degree teaches us to trust our Brother Masons with our
innermost secrets. But a man who is intemperate and abuses drugs or
alcohol may lose his judgment and relax his inhibitions to such an extent that
he will reveal what he has promised his Brother he would conceal.
Temperance also teaches us not to lose our tempers when dealing with
our Brothers on lodge business. Far too many Lodges have split down the
middle over trivial issues when one side or the other has acted with
intemperance. Hurtful language has often caused individual Brothers never
to return to their mother Lodges. And far too often have Masons one side or
the other of an issue threatened to bring a Brother up on charges of
Unmasonic Conduct. Rather than using the trowel to spread the cement of
Brotherly Love and Affection, there are men in Freemasonry today who
would use the trowel to stab a Brother in the back.
Temperance is a foundation stone in Freemasonry. The Masons of the
18th century knew this fact. They saw the Lodges as schools for gentlemen,
who would learn civility and practice the domestic and public virtues. These
are the tools for getting along in relationships that overlap class and religious
distinctions. The early English and American Lodges consisted of men from
the nobility and the middle class. The members were of many religions at a
time when not all denominations were recognized under English law. The
members were also of varied political persuasions that could have caused
severe and violent divisions in a Lodge. This is why our 18th century Brethren
decided early on that politics and religion could not be discussed during a
Lodge meeting, so that peace and harmony might not be disturbed. This is
also why Temperance is the first of the Four Cardinal Virtues.
If our earliest Brothers, such as George Washington and Benjamin
Franklin, could be aware of the importance of Temperance in a lodge and in
the world, then so should we conduct our lives within our Lodges and in our
every day lives. As we are charged: This virtue should be your constant