In All Wisdom and Prudence
Knowledge of what happened before us is not a hobby. To call someone a history buff is like calling someone a DNA buff. We are walking inheritances, and if we do not know about people who lived before us, we cannot know ourselves. Lacking experience of what Matthew Arnold called “the best which has been thought and said,” we cannot prudently reject the worst that has been thought and said.
Prudence is the guide for its fellow natural virtues: it discerns justice, which in turn justifies temperance, which then tempers courage. Aristotle called prudence “right reason in action.” Prudence analyzes experience, correctly judges what is right and wrong, and acts accordingly. It is imprudent to underestimate the machinations of evil. Christ requires prudence in a world hostile to Christ: “Behold, I am sending you as lambs among wolves; be therefore crafty as snakes and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
The prudent remember, for example, that the Nazis began the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, a Friday, and that the British cabinet members were taken by surprise because “gentlemen do not start wars on weekends.” Better knowledge of history would have taught them that the Devil is not a gentleman.
Craftiness without innocence is cynical, and innocence without craftiness is naive. The cynic mocks those who are naive. It would be naive to be surprised by the increasing mockery of religion in our cynical society. It would be imprudent not to detect cynicism in the current Administration’s opposition to the addition of a prayer to the World War II Memorial in our capital. The director of the Bureau of Land Management said that it would “dilute the memorial’s message.”
That prayer, read over the radio by President Roosevelt on June 6, 1944, at the start of the Normandy invasion, ended: “O Lord, give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment – let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose. With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace – a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil. Thy will be done, Almighty God. Amen.”
Prudence knows that this prayer does not “dilute the message.” It is the message.