What is Prudence?
By Mikki Scibba
Prudence is a virtue that helps you think through things and act in ways that are right, good, and pleasing to God. God gives us free will so we can choose to do what is good. Prudence tells us what is good, when to do it, and how to do it. Prudence helps you to know and choose the right ways to reach a good end or goal. For example, getting an A on your next test is a good goal but cheating would be a bad way to get it. Instead, studying would be the right way to reach your goal of getting an A. Searching for, knowing and doing God’s will requires prudence. There is no greater goal to have in life than to do what God wants you to do. Praying for and practicing prudence will help you to follow God.
St. Thomas Aquinas, who lived in the 1200s, wrote many things about the virtue of prudence. He describes a few parts of prudence. Just like a house has many parts like walls, floors, windows, doors and a roof so does prudence have many parts. Knowing these different parts can help you when you have to make a decision about something. Below are a few parts of prudence St.Thomas Aquinas writes about:
- Memory: We learn a lot from things that have happened in the past. For example, if I burned my hand after touching a hot stove. From that experience, I learned that it hurts to touch a hot stove. So next time I will be more careful and not touch it. The knowledge of past events is stored in our memory. You can use your experiences to help us make prudent choices.
- Understanding: You must know what is right and wrong before you can choose what is right. Understanding helps you grasp the knowledge of good and evil. Studying the Bible and Church teaching are great ways to understand right from wrong.
- Docility: People are not born knowing everything. We must be taught. Docility is the willingness to be taught. Have you ever put a sponge in a water? What happened? It soaked up the water, right? If someone is docile, he or she is ready to “soak up” knowledge and is always willing and ready to learn. You can work on docility by listening to your teachers and parents, taking correction well, or listening to and thinking about someone else’s ideas.
- Foresight: Foresight is having a view of the future and thinking ahead. For example, if your mom asked you to pack your bag for a weekend trip, it would be good to check the weather so you can pack appropriately. This is an example of foresight. When making decisions it is important to think about the consequences of those decisions. Consider what might happen in the future if you act a certain way now.
- Circumspection: Circumspection is looking at the all the facts and circumstances around a situation and thinking about them carefully when deciding what needs to be done. It is important to take time to pray about and to think things through before acting.
- Caution: Caution helps you avoid evil, and helps you to watch out for things that are keeping you from doing good. God does not just want you to avoid doing bad things. God also wants you to do good things. Practicing caution can help you realize if you are not doing something you should be doing.
St. Thomas warns against vices that can prevent us from growing in prudence. Imprudence is the lack or absence of prudence. Below are a few specific types of imprudence which should be avoided.
- Precipitation - This has nothing to do with the weather! Precipitation is when someone acts too quickly and does not think before acting. Sometimes this happens when you act on how you feel instead of thinking about what should be done.
- Thoughtlessness - Thoughtlessness is when a person is careless and does not think about those things which can lead to a prudent act. This vice ignores many of the parts of prudence we discussed above, like foresight and circumspection.
- Inconstancy - Inconstancy is when someone stops or withdrawals from completing a good and prudent action.
So now that you know what prudence is, let’s go through some simple steps on how to make good and prudent choices.
Steps to making a prudent decision:
- Deliberate. Gather any information you need to make a good decision. This may include seeing what Jesus teaches about your situation by looking at the Bible and Church teachings. You can seek good counsel, which means to ask a trusted adult for advice.
- Make a good judgment. After you deliberate, first pray. Ask God for help. Think through the information and advice you received. Consider different decisions you could make and their consequences.
- Act. Now it is time to actually do the right thing. You have already prayed and thought about it, so it is time to act and do what is good.
Prayer for Prudence
Dear Lord, please help me to know what is right.
Guide me on when and how to do what is good.
Teach me to think before I act.
You are my Rock and I trust You will lead me
to make decisions that are pleasing to You.
Suggestions on practicing prudence:
☐ Find a person you think is wise and ask him or her for advice on how to make good decisions.
☐ Always think before you speak or act. Ask yourself if what you are about to say or do is right and good.
☐ Learn from other people’s decisions. Write down some decisions you see people making. Discuss with an adult negative and positive consequences that can happen when someone makes good decisions and bad decisions.
☐ Use the “Practicing Prudence” worksheet when you have a decision to make.
☐ Find a Bible verse about prudence or wisdom and memorize it
☐ Before making any decision, pray to God and ask for help.
Mikki Sciba is the Seasons of Infancy and Initiation Specialist for the St. Philip Institute of Catechesis and Evangelization in the Diocese of Tyler. She develops and implements creative methods for evangelizing and catechizing children between the ages of 0-12 years.