A Thesis by Jacquelyn Barten, Guest Blogger
Finally, comes the last cardinal virtue, temperance. As regards the hierarchical arrangement of the cardinal virtues, justice and courage affect the good of many more people than temperance. Kaczor and Sherman point out, however, that “in ranking the virtues, as in ranking the accomplishments of people, one may be better than another in a certain respect but not in another respect.” While fortitude and temperance serve the preservation of the good, intemperance is more blameworthy than being cowardly, in regards to the object or motive matter. Fortitude often deals with overcoming the fear of something outside of one’s control, while temperance regards control over one’s own actions. Temperance is distinguished from the other cardinal virtues in that it refers exclusively to the active man and his personal look at his condition, his vision, and his will.The Catechism defines temperance as the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. The virtue of temperance, properly speaking, concerns not intellectual pleasures, but rather bodily pleasures, specifically man’s appetites in eating, drinking, and sexual activity. In varying degrees, however, temperance also perfects the affective emotions of love, desire, joy, hatred, aversion, and sadness. Pieper explained St. Thomas Aquinas on this point: “the primary and essential meaning of temperare, therefore, is this: to dispose various parts into one unified and ordered whole,” while the second meaning of temperance is “serenity of the spirit,” inner order. Temperance is a virtue because man’s inner order is not a simply given and self-evident reality. Pope John Paul II further explained: “In our ‘lower self’, our ‘body’ and everything that belongs to it is expressed: its needs, its desires, its passions of a sensual nature particularly. The virtue of temperance guarantees every man mastery of the ‘lower self’ by the ‘higher self,’” control of passions so they do not prevail over reason, will, and even the “heart.”
A mother’s control over her eating, drinking, and sexual activity might not seem to affect her parenting in the same quick-witted way that the practice of prudence does, but a temperate mother serves as an indispensible example of control to her children. Kaczor and Sherman reinforce this logic: “The person who acts as if one or a combination of fleshly goods were the greatest good deprives himself (and the community) of full sharing in authentic human happiness.” We can only begin to imagine how an immoderate practice of eating, drinking, or sexual activity could destroy peace in the home. In regards to eating, Pieper stated that fasting is the medicine, the discipline, the inner order of virtue by which the turbulence of sensuality is kept in check, which thus liberates the spirit.
St. Thomas understood that the pleasures of touch such as eating are “most natural to us, so that it is more difficult to abstain from them, and to control the desire for them.” Fasting helps a person to be more truly free. St. Thomas wrote that “fasting is useful as atoning for and preventing sin, and as raising the mind to spiritual things.” Although fasting is difficult Kaczor and Sherman note numerous ways that this virtue can be acquired every day:
Opportunities to practice temperance abound and are as common as every meal. Through small, everyday acts of self-mastery, the excellence of temperance becomes second nature. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen recommends: “At least three times a day, deny yourself some tiny, legitimate pleasure, such as that…second drink, or the extra lump of sugar, in order to discipline your spirit and keep mastery over yourself for the love of god.”
Simply put, occasionally eating a toddler’s portions for instance, if done with a cheerful heart, has a healing power. St. Peter warns that mankind should “join fasting with knowledge” (2 Pet 1:5, 6). St. Thomas expounded upon this saying that “in abstaining from food a man should act with due regard for those among whom he lives, for his own person, and for the requirements of health.” For this reason, for example, pregnant and nursing mothers should be cautioned on their forms of fasting. It is common to hear that “a mother always fasts,” but it is necessary to be careful with this phrase; it can be a false comfort. As with all the others, there is a mean of this virtue. Motherhood has so many seasons that it calls for a constant reassessment of the call to fast. For example, if a mother is pregnant or breastfeeding, she should eat enough to ensure her and the child’s health.
The Church recognizes that each Friday is a special day of fasting. In memory of Jesus’ sacrifice on Good Friday, mothers can decide with their families what they are going to abstain from, whether it is meat or dessert, etc. Mothers can also model temperance as applied to the manner in which they teach their family to eat. St. Thomas noted that it is inordinate to eat “hastily” or “greedily.” Your family should not forestall the proper time for eating or fail to observe the due manner of eating.
Beyond fasting, sobriety, and chastity, there are also quasi-integral virtues of temperance. In this discussion we begin to see just how interconnected the cardinal virtues are. Above, under the virtue of fortitude it is mentioned that anger is an emotion perfected by fortitude, however, anger in varying degrees, is also a virtue perfected by temperance at a secondary level. Josef Pieper devotes a chapter in The Four Cardinal Virtues to the “power of wrath.” St. Thomas Aquinas stated that “wrath is the strength to attack the repugnant [i.e. the vices against fasting, sobriety, chastity, and beyond]; the power of anger [whether in thoughts, words, or deeds] is actually the power of resistance in the soul.” One who is by bodily temperament disposed to anger is more readily angered and likewise their children. In other words, Pieper wrote that moderate anger is more easily and frequently hereditary. A mother practiced in tempering her anger is then more readily available to aid her children in acquiring this virtue as well. Anger can be a grievous sin especially since it leads to things that are harmful to one’s neighbor. Quoting another, St. Thomas points out: “he that is angry without cause shall be in danger; but he that is angry with cause shall not be in danger: for without anger, teaching will be useless, judgments unstable, crimes unchecked.” Kaczor and Sherman explain, however, that although anger can be worse than intemperance because more people may be injured, intemperance is more blameworthy because it is more fully voluntary arising from pleasure than sadness as that of an angry person.
It is the duty of a mother, to check her anger in regards to the actions of her children in order to discipline her children that they understand how to image God. St. Thomas explains: “the order of reason in regard to anger may be considered in relation to the mode of being angry, namely that the movement of anger should not be immoderately fierce, neither internally nor externally; and if this condition be disregarded, anger will not lack sin, even though just vengeance be desired.” Again, comparable to the virtue of fortitude, mothers can become temperate and masters of themselves only through a mildness and gentleness, similar to patience.
Ultimately, in order to acquire the virtue of temperance, as with all the virtues, Christians can turn and pray to Mary, the Queen of Virtues; perhaps in studying her virtues mothers may humbly imitate a small portion of her contemplative nature. Mary was the model of tranquility and serenity in regards to all things related to temperance. Mary understood in a very profound way that if she injured her body, she injured Christ, the Lord of our bodies. Mothers can also heed and seek to obtain the “integral parts of temperance: shamefacedness (healthy fear of doing what is wrong) and honesty, as well as the already mentioned “subjective parts” or species of temperance: abstinence, sobriety, and chastity. In other words, temperance also requires studiousness, modesty, and self-mastery: purity of the eyes, memory, and imagination. Pieper wrote: “it has been said that only the pure of heart can laugh freely and liberatingly. It is no less true that only those who look at the world with pure eyes can experience its beauty.”
Followers of Christ are called to become like children in order to experience the beauty of the Kingdom of Heaven. Mothers are not only called to teach purity to their children, but also to learn from the purity of their children. Children also teach mothers that living for Heaven requires extraordinary patience, humility, and a high threshold for discomfort, as Scott Appleby states, “God’s reign coaxes from us a lifestyle open to suffering of a kind which our children exact from us daily, hourly.” Children educate their mothers, and show them their shocking capacity for unconditional love (charity) the greatest virtue on which all the virtues rely.
 Ibid, II, II, 141, 8.
 Kaczor and Sherman, 311.
 Pieper, 125; Aquinas, II, II, 142, 3; Kaczor and Sherman, 316.
 Pieper, 147.
 Catechism, 1809.
 Kaczor and Sherman, 297 & 302.
 Torraco, Part B, 2-2 & 3-3.
 Pieper, 146-147.
 Ibid, 148.
 Pope John Paul II, General Audience, November 22, 1978, (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1978), http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/audiences/1978/documents/hf_jp-ii_aud_19781122_en.html [accessed October 2, 2010].
 Kaczor and Sherman, 45.
 Pieper, 182.
 Aquinas, II, II, 141, 7.
 Ibid, II, II, 147, 3.
 Kaczor and Sherman, 309.
 Pieper, 183.
 Kaczor and Sherman, 319.
 Aquinas, II, II, 148, 4.
 Pieper, 193.
 Aquinas, II, II, 156, 4.
 Pieper, 196.
 Aquinas, II, II, 156, 4.
 Ibid, II, II, 158, 1.
 Kaczor and Sherman, 395.
 Aquinas, II, II, 158, 2.
 Pieper, 195; Kaczor and Sherman, 404.
 Pieper, 156.
 Kaczor and Sherman , 298-299.
 Ibid, 316.
 Pieper, 167.
 Scott Appleby, “’Suffer the Children’: The Education of the Christian Parent.” Communio, Summer, 1988.