THE FOUR CARDINAL VIRTUES
In the Entered Mystical Officer’s Degree, the new brother/sister is introduced to the Four Cardinal Virtues during the close of the explanatory lecture. These virtues are Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice and are very briefly explained to the new Entered Mystical Officer. Unfortunately, these virtues have no connection to the rite of initiation experienced by the new member of The Mystical Court and the lecture does little to clarify their introduction at this time. From an esoteric standpoint, one must go to great lengths to manipulate these virtues to make a connection to the ritual.
Up to at least 1750, none of the early Masonic manuscripts or ritual exposures contains any reference to the Four Cardinal Virtues. Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia states, “It is probable that this particular part of the lectures goes back beyond the dawn of symbolic Masonry and that what we have is a distorted remnant of a much more meaningful symbolism or has been built up in modern times out of a brief and unimportant part of the old pre-Grand Lodge working.” In addition, one must realize that the Masonic ritual is a combination of many ideas that have come from the distant past and woven into a ritual. Over time, ideas have been added, removed or merged with other concepts to form the current Masonic ritual. Based on the evidence, the Cardinal Virtues were not added to the Masonic ritual until after the middle of the eighteenth century. Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia suggests that the Cardinal Virtues were “taken from the Christian Church, which derived them from Plato and to which the Church had added the three Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope, and Charity, which Freemasonry also borrowed.”
In any event, the Cardinal Virtues have intrinsic value to the Mystical Court member and are certainly essential to The Mystical Court. They can stand on their own within the ritual without any direct connection to the initiating experience or to the symbolism of The Mystical Court. I will provide you with an explanation of each of the four virtues.
“Temperance is that due restraint upon our affections and passions which render the body tame and governable and frees the mind from the allurements of vice. This virtue should be the constant practice of every member, as you are taught to avoid excess, or the contracting of any licentious or vicious habit, the indulgence of which might lead you to disclose some of those valuable secrets which you have promised to conceal and never reveal, and which would consequently subject you to the contempt and detestation of all good Mystical members.” Temperance represents restraint. The Mystical member must control his passions and desires. He must practice restraint in all things and avoid excess. He must exercise caution in his action, speech, thought, feeling, judgment, and life.
“Fortitude is that noble and steady purpose of mind, whereby we are enabled to undergo any pain, peril, or danger when prudentially deemed expedient. This virtue is equally distant from rashness and cowardice; and, like the former, should be deeply impressed upon the mind of every Mystical member, as a safeguard against any illegal attack that may be made, by force or otherwise, to extort from you any of those valuable secrets with which you have been so solemnly entrusted, and which were emblematically represented upon your first admission into the Court.” Courage is another name for fortitude. For the Mystical member, fortitude symbolizes more than physical courage. It also represents moral courage. The Mystical member must have the strength and ability to make a decision based upon your own moral convictions and stick to it regardless of the consequences. The Mystical member must exhibit the highest moral and ethical principles in your life and stand by those principles when society looks unfavorably upon those principles.
“Prudence teaches us to regulate our lives and actions agreeably to the dictate of reason, and is that habit by which we wisely judge, and prudentially determine, on all things relative to our present, as well as our future happiness. This virtue should be the peculiar characteristic of every Mystical member, not only for the government of your conduct while attending the Court, but also when abroad in the world. It should be particularly attended to in all strange and mixed companies, never to let fall the least sign, token, or word, whereby the secrets of The Mystical Court might be unlawfully obtained.” In its most comprehensive sense, prudence implies not only caution but also the ability to judge in advance the probable consequences of one’s actions. It also symbolizes wisdom in the conduct of one’s activities. Wisdom of mind and soul comes from thought, study and circumspection. It brings the Mystical member closer to God. Prudence reminds the member to reflect upon the moral and social consequences of your activities and your relationship to your Creator.
“Justice is that standard, or boundary of right, which enables us to render to every man his just due, without distinction. This virtue is not only consistent with Divine and human laws, but is the very cement and support of civil society; and as justice in a great measure, constitutes the real good man, so should it be the invariable practice of every Mystical member never to deviate from the minutest principles thereof.” Justice symbolizes equality for the Mystical member. The member should govern his own actions, have them judged openly, and your conduct towards others should be without deception. You should undertake actions because Your desires to and not because you are forced to. Your actions should be unselfish and self-sacrificing.
The Four Cardinal Virtues of The Mystical Court provide a framework for daily living and serve as a guide for our relationship with God and our fellow man. Thus these virtues are essential to The Mystical Court. Perhaps this is why they are introduced in the Entered Mystical Officer’s Lecture, to provide a foundation upon which to build the lessons of The Mystical Court. As new members, we must begin to develop and strengthen these virtues, which will help us grow and develop into better men. As experienced members, we should constantly remind ourselves of these virtues and their importance in our lives. If we strive to perfect the Four Cardinal Virtues in our lives, we will grow closer to God, be content with our station in life, and influence society for the better.
Sir Godfrey Gregg OHPM, ROMC