Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Prudence or Integrity?

‘Political Catholics’ encounter the question of prudence all the time. (A ‘Political Catholic’ is simply one who feels the need to and does in fact interject himself into the ideological wars. Many bloggers are ipso facto PCs.)

I introduced the topic into my Patristics class last night. We were discussing the careers of St. Gregory Nazianzen and St. John Chrysostom. Both ended poorly by worldly perspective, but gloriously in the mind of Christ. Nazianzen stepped down as Archbishop of Constantinople mainly because he was not politically savvy enough to maintain both his strong doctrinal convictions and the legitimacy of his position as archbishop. Chrysostom was horrible brutalized under the aegis of the wicked Archbishop of Alexandria, Theophilus, and died being exiled from his see in Constantinople. What unites these two saints is that both chose integrity over prudence.
I have contrasted the two in the title of this post out of hope to stave off their facile Platonic elision. Yes, in the realm of ideas they are related; in the realm of fact they are so often opposed. Post factum rearrangements I deride. My point is: take the matter seriously. Christ says, the world or your soul, not both.

How far does Santorum’s prudence extend, how far his integrity? – I have no idea. Let’s see how things play out. We know there were definite limits to George W’s Christian integrity, but Harper is an embarrassment to Christians of a far greater magnitude.
Now, what about us bloggers? Sylvia is a woman of integrity. The Heresy Hunter is a man of prudence – hiding as he does in the shadows of anonymity. (Am I baiting him? No, I am just teasing him. BTW, via email I have discovered that he is actually a really nice guy!) My friend, Julie, at Concerned for Life, is a woman of integrity. Her daughter has told me about her slashed tires after Life Chains and pro-life bumper stickers! Me, some people think I like to polish apples; an episcopal friend of mine has chastised me harshly over my imprudence. In the end, I don’t think I fit into either extreme, but would like to think my integrity is greater than my prudence.

Prudence can be a bad word.
In our “Red Hat Toronto” Canada era, I think we should make a move towards integrity. With Cardinal Collins we have all been robbed in red so that we might one day be able to be bathed in blood. Martyrdom was something for which Early Christians longed.

Yet, on the other hand, we have the Great St. Basil, friend of Nazianzus, who was in all things a model caution, so much so as to irritate his buddy. 


  1. Sometimes people pretend it's prudence, when it's really cowardice. For which they (we) can hardly be blamed. I'm a mom of several; I am afraid to be jailed (or even sued, which I can't afford) for my beliefs or political statements. May God give us strength to endure whatever he may ask us to undergo.


  2. True enough. But inaction is no guarantee of safety either. In fact, quite the opposite.

    1. Especially in eternal terms, and those are the only ones that matter. :)

  3. Jesus had complete integrity, but sometimes he slipped away from the crowd because his time had not yet come. Sometimes he remained silent under questioning. He did not constantly do the equivalent of turning over the tables and scourging the money changers or calling the Pharisees whited sepulchers.

    Prudence as a genuine virtue is not the same thing as political calculation or cowardly going along to get along. Prudence is having a sense of divine timing and the wisdom to say or do what God would have you do in the moment. Some people mistake integrity for rashness, or boldly proclaiming the truth no matter what when because of the timing or the venue or the persons doing so has the opposite effect to what is intended.

  4. Although the Greek text is ambiguous, I am always surprised that it is often translated to mean that Jesus also scourged the money changes, and didn't just use the whip to drive out the animals. I don't agree. But that's periferral to your comment.

    Yes, prudence is real knowledge, not just lucky guessing, or a well-attuned super-ego.