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Article # 36
Four Cardinal Virtues

Author: V.W.Bro.G.K.Selvarajan G.D of C.    Posted on: Tuesday, August 13, 2002
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[ A great majority of our Ancient Brethren are credited to have constantly

practiced the Four Cardinal Virtues and Freemasons are exhorted to

practice them. The author has taken considerable effort in marshalling

the various lectures of different jurisdictions and views of eminent

Masonic writers. This article besides being highly informative guides us

through the teachings of scriptures on these virtues. The following

passage from Bro.Arthur Ward in “Masonic Symbolism and the Mystic

Way” will highlight the importance and necessity of the practice of

these virtues. “ The four tassels symbolize the cardinal virtues which

when rightly exercised, help the spiritual powers to energise in their

several bodies or vehicles and finally to radiate from their corresponding

physical centers, just as the threads of a tassel radiate from the base.

through Temperance vitality floods the body, through Fortitude energy

strengthens the soul, through Prudence wisdom enlightens the mind

and through Justice love suffuses the spirit ; for to love all perfectly

is to be unjust to none”. This article is the paper the learned author

presented in a Seminar on the “ Symbolism of the First Degree” and the

same was well received with acclamation. Please read on. .. . ..


We are all familiar with that portion of the explanation of the T.B, in which we were informed that, " Pendent to the corners of the Lodge are four tassels, meant to remind us of the Four Cardinal Virtues, namely Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice, the whole of which tradition informs us were constantly practiced by a great majority of our ancient brethren". Considerable emphasis is placed on those virtues and the initiate is exhorted to practice every domestic as well as public virtue. The charge after initiation beautifully instructs us, " Let Prudence direct you, Temperance chasten you, Fortitude support you and Justice be the guide of all your actions". It is therefore evident that those virtues are of paramount importance and figure prominently in the shaping up of the character of every Freemason, besides helping him to lead a life according to the Masonic rule and line.

The word cardinal means principal or as fundamentally important. It has been pointed out in "Beyond the Pillars", that the expression cardinal was derived from the Latin word "Cardo" , which means a hinge. Another author mentions that the derivation was from the Latin word "Cardinalis", which means relating to a hinge. The word Cardinal therefore indicates, that on which something hinges. B.E. Jones in “ Freemason’s Guide and Compendium”, has observed that old Roman writers used the word as implying ‘most important’ and applied the same to the four points of East, West, North and South and to the winds blowing from those directions. The expression cardinal virtues therefore appears to mean the fundamental virtues, which support and operate as hinges or pivots and on which the whole character develops. Similar view has been expressed by Bro. Mackey in his Revised Encyclopedia of Freemasonry and he defines Cardinal Virtues as “The prominent or principal virtues on which all the others hinge or depend”. Plato in his Republic refers these virtues as four important virtues. Aristotle had also held similar view. Romans had however referred these virtues as the cardinal virtues. The book “Beyond the Pillars” points out that, “Wisdom teaches Temperance and Prudence and Justice and Fortitude”.

All the religions prescribe the practice of these virtues. Christianity has adopted these virtues as the Natural Virtues and had later added Faith, Hope and Charity as the Super Natural or Theological virtues

Masonic Lectures have given description of all these virtues and it would be advantageous to quote them in extenso. It is mentioned that “ Temperance is that due restraint of the passions and affections, which renders the body tame and governable and relieves the mind from the allurement of vice. This virtue, ought to be in constant practice of every Mason, as he is thereby taught to avoid excess of the contracting of any vicious or licentious habits, whereby he might, unwarily, be led to betray his trust. American Rite describes, “ Temperance is that due restraint upon our affections and passions, which renders the body tame and governable and frees the mind from the allurement of vice”. The Canadian Rite describes, “Temperance is that due restraint upon our desires and passions, which renders the body tame and governable and frees the mind from all allurements of vice”. Bro. Street in his “Symbolism of the Three Degrees”, has declared that “ Temperance means moderation, not only in drink, but in diet, not only in diet, but in action, not only in action, but in speech, not only in speech, but also in thought, not only in thought, but also in feeling. It condemns excess of every kind; of our affections as well as our passions; our feelings as well as our appetites”. In one of the Masonic exposures, it was mentioned as follows. “ Temperance is more particularly the virtue of prosperity, as it guards the soul against those insidious allurements, by which its nobler feelings are too often corrupted … and that its influence is not confined to the hour of prosperity alone and that it forms the mind to a general habit of restraint over appetites, passions and even virtues, any of which, if allowed to acquire exclusive influence over the soul , would concentrate the faculties in a single point , absorb its feelings and confine its energies , insensibly producing intolerance of sentiment and degenerating into an excess, scarcely less pernicious than vice itself”. Temperance was therefore styled as “ the crown of all virtues. Its influence can modulate the varied chords of lively sympathy or generous feelings, till each acquires its due tone and vibration and the whole become blended in one sweet accordant harmony”.

All the saints and scholars have stressed the need for restraint and moderation of desires, emotions, wants and allurements and above all the subduing of the senses. Bhagavad Gita teaches us that uncontrolled and excited senses impetuously carry away the mind of even wise men striving for perfection and the person who controls and sublimates the senses can focus his mind and thoughts on God. No scripture directs that senses should be made defunct. The deciding factor is the attitude with which the senses are directed. Gluttony and slavery to the tongue is sin. Eating to keep the body fit for a noble purpose is virtue. Beholding the body of another with lust is sin. Viewing it as the abode of God is virtue. All the senses can be sublimated and the sense objects sanctified in such a way, that divinity is contacted in and through senses. Lust, anger and greed are the three evils, which every one of us should control at first and then abandon. Gita proclaims that a man freed from those evils reaches the Supreme Being. Freemasonry enlightens the initiate on the imperative need to practice Temperance. While unfolding the Symbolism of the Emblematical lights, it is stressed that S is to regulate our actions and C is to keep us in due bounds. We have also been taught that we can rise to eminence by merit, if we limit our desires in every station of life. A general restraint of all emotions and desires springing from the darker side of our mind will be the best way of practicing of the foremost of the Cardinal Virtues. The practice of that crown of all virtues will definitely chasten us, as it had chastened the Freemasons all through the ages.

In his “Symbolism of the Three Degrees”, Street has declared that, “Fortitude implies.. a physical bravery, that leads one to resist insult or attacks with force, but more especially, that moral courage that enables one at the risk of incurring the sneers of others, to refrain from a resort to violence, except where the necessity is imperative .When however the necessity arises, it is not deterred by pain or circumstance, be it so appalling or threatening”. Rev. John Lawrence in his book “By ways of Freemasonry”, has observed that, “ fortitude, would enable overcome obstacles to progress and brave the dangers of the way”. The Masonic lecture refers to Fortitude as follows , “ Fortitude is that noble and steady purport of the soul, which is equally distant from rashness and cowardice: it enables us to undergo any pain, labour, danger or difficulty, when thought necessary or demand prudentially expedient. This virtue like the former ought to be deeply impressed on the breast of every Mason, as a fence and security against any attempts, which might be made, either by threats or violence to extort from him, any of those Masonic secrets, he has so solemnly engaged himself to HELE, conceal and never improperly reveal: the illegal revealing of which might prove a torment to his mind, as the Cs were emblematically to his body, when extended to his n.l.b, at the time of his initiation”.

Bro.Mackey’s views on Fortitude found in his Encyclopaedia is that Fortitude “not only instructs the worthy Freemason to bear the ills of life, with becoming resignation, taking up arms against a sea of trouble, but by its intimate connection with a portion of our ceremonies , it teaches him to let no dangers shake, no pains to dissolve the inviolable fidelity he owes to the trust reposed in him”. We find from one of the Prestonian Lectures that Fortitude has been described as a “ fence or security against any attack that might be made upon him by force or otherwise to extort from him any of our secrets”. Spence in his Polymetis declares that the Roman by means of this virtue had subdued practically the then known world. Fortitude in American Rite as well as the Canadian rite has been described as “ that noble and steady purpose of mind, whereby we are enabled to undergo any pain, peril or danger, when prudentially deemed expedient”. Rev.Lawrence has pointed out that Fortitude “ would enable him to overcome obstacles to progress and brave the dangers on the way”. Bhagavat Gita in the 17 th Chapter classifies Fortitude as a quality of men endowed with Divine nature. The practice of such a Divine as well as a Cardinal Masonic virtue will definitely support us to evolve better.

Street has urged that to some extent there is overlapping of Prudence in Fortitude. He has added that “ it signifies also ability to meet every situation, however dangerous or difficult, with common sense and reason”. He has moaned that that virtue is lacking in a surprisingly large proportion of the human race. Ritual teaches us that Temperence will chasten us, Fortitude support us and Prudence will direct us. Amplifying the same Preston’s eulogium runs as follows. “ Prudence is the true guide to human understanding and consists in judging and determining with propriety what is said or done upon all occasions, what dangers we should endeavour to avoid, and how to act in all our difficulties”. The American Rite mentions that, “Prudence teaches us to regulate our lives and actions, according to the dictates of reason, and is that habit by which we wisely judge, prudentially determine, on all things relative to our present, as well as our future happiness”. Emulation ritual expresses similar views and adds that “ this virtue ought to be the distinguishing characteristic of every Free and Accepted Mason, not only for the good regulation of his life and actions, but as a pious example to the popular world, who are not masons.” Let this virtue of Prudence, direct all of us.

“Let Justice be the guide of all your actions”, is the dictate in the ritual. It has also been impressed upon us that “when anyone is said to be a member of it … (Freemasonry) the world may know that he is one to whom the burdened heart may pour forth its sorrow… whose hand is guided by Justice..”. Freemasonry has attached considerable value to this virtue of Justice. The lecture in the Emulation Ritual mentions that Justice “ is that station or boundary of right, by which we are taught to render to every man his just due and that without distinction. This virtue is not only consistent with the Divine and Human law, but is the standard and cement of civil society. Without the exercise of this virtue, universal confusion would ensue, lawless force would overcome the principles of equity and social intercourse no longer will exist and as Justice in a great measure constitutes the really good men, so, it ought to be the invariable practice of every Free and Accepted Mason, never to deviate from the minutest principles thereof, ever having in mind the time he was placed at the N.E part of the Lodge.. when he received that excellent injunction from the W.M. to be just and upright in all things”. The American as well as the Canadian rituals describe the virtue of Justice as follows. “ Justice is the standard or boundary of right. which enables us to render to every man his due, without prejudice”. Truly, Justice is the bedrock and foundation of any organized society. It is the bulwark against injustice and the guardian angel of the rights of every human being, however low or high he or she may be. That is the reason for the exhortation. “Let Justice be the guide of all your actions”.

Cardinal virtues have been from time to time represented variously in Lodges. Taine notes in “The Seven Virtues”, that they had been regarded as corner stones upon which the walls of the temple were raised. Citing Durandus, he has also observed that in the middle ages, they were considered as the four walls of the Temple of God. The Cardinal Virtues have been, in the Grand Temple in Freemasons Hall, London, depicted in the ceiling as four angels with the names Temperentia, Fortitudo, Prudentia and Justitia. In Canadian Lodges, the Cardinal Virtues are represented as Tassels placed at the four corners of the Lodge room. Such an arrangement is found in some of the Lodges in India. The temples in Kolkata, Lodge Pandian in Madurai and in Lodge Mysore have such arrangement. Dyer, quoting from “An interpretation of our Masonic Symbols”, by Bro. Arthur Ward has observed in his book “Symbolism in Craft Masonry”, that in Medieval period operative Masons extended ropes from a center pin and ensured that the angles were true and as the buildings were raised , corner plumb lines were dropped to ensure that walls were perpendicular and the angles true. The said practice was modified in speculative masonry by replacing the plumb lines with tassels hanging from the corners of the Lodge rooms. Later the tassels were woven into the carpet and then marked on the four corners of the T.B. Many authors have also urged that there appears to be no actual connection between the Four Cardinal Virtues and tassels. However, the importance is the symbolism the tassels portray and the exhortation that the Four Cardinal Virtues have to be constantly practiced by Freemasons, as it has been traditionally reported to have been practiced by a great majority of our ancient brethren. All those virtues have to be practiced to make us “good men and true” and to prove ourselves worthy of the Great Fraternity of which we have the proud privilege to belong.

[The author is at present the Grand Director of Ceremonies of the Grand Lodge of India. He is a P.M of lodge Justitia (No.82) and the Founder Master of Lodge Chennai(No.317) He is a great ritualist and it is a treat to watch the ceremonies performed by him. He is equally a learned masonic scholar and has addressed many seminars. We hope that this article will enlighten us on the Four Cardinal Virtues.--- Moderator]

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Ramachandranra wrote on Tuesday, October 21, 2003:

Subject: four cardinal virtues

in depth dwelling into the virtues.great revelation with nice explanation

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