The Moral Virtue of Prudence – Part 2 of 3

Father Pegues continues his exposition of the virtue of prudence by discussing sins opposed to prudence. Some sins are opposed to prudence on account of defect; others, on account of excess. Here we shall discuss sins of defect, and in the next post, sins of excess.

Sins opposed to prudence on account of defect are termed imprudence. Sins of imprudence are mortal when a person “acts contrary to the divine laws.” Such a one “spurns the laws of God” and “acts with rashness.” Sins of imprudence are venial when one “acts contrary to God’s laws but without contempt and without peril to what is necessary for his salvation.”

Every sin is, in fact, associated with imprudence, for “no sin would ever come to be if there were no act of imprudence.” Yet, there are occasions when the sin of imprudence exists apart from any other sin. This occurs “in every case when, without doing anything in itself bad or even when doing something that is good, one acts with hastiness, or with lack of thought, or with inconstancy, or with negligence.”

Hastiness “consists in not making sufficient enquiry before acting as regards when one should act and in what manner one should act.”

Lack of thought is “a sin against the rectitude of judgment; and it consists in despising or in neglecting to consider what is necessary to ensure a right judgment in conduct.”

Inconstancy is “a defect in the very act of commanding which is the proper act of prudence; . . . the inconstant man is he who for lack of a firm command does not effect what he had resolved upon.”

Negligence is “the want of readiness in putting into execution, by way of command, the resolutions of the judgment, made after due enquiry and counsel, as regards the attainment of the end of virtue.” Negligence is a serious sin, for “it paralyzes all virtuous action; at times it hinders a virtuous act altogether, or it effects that the act is done only half-heartedly, in such wise that it loses most of its worth and merit.” Negligence manifested in an external act is called laziness or torpidity. Negligence is a mortal sin “when it affects whatever is of precept that concerns salvation; even when it is not a mortal sin, unless one is on one’s guard, it causes a spiritual sickness that leads inevitably to spiritual corruption and death.”

Quotations from Thomas Pegues, Catechism of the “Summa Theologica” of Saint Thomas Aquinas, trans. Aelred Whitacre (New York: Benziger, 1922).

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