TEMPERANCE FORTITUDE AND PRUDENCE
This Short Talk was written by Illustrious Brother Alphonse
Cerza, 33d, the widely known author of Masonic book-reviews and
essays, as well as of books like Anti-Masonry and A Masonic Thought
for Each Day of the Year. His contributions to the publications of
the Masonic Service Association include Digests like Let There Be
Light and The Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction. His consent to publish
this Short Talk "for good and wholesome instruction" is deeply
Freemasonry is sometimes described as a school which teaches men a
way of life which has met the test of time. We do not have a
monopoly on the teaching of moral Truths, but we do have a special
way of teaching which is both interesting and effective. Freemasonry
teaches its members all the cardinal virtues which are designed to
make its members better men, but this Short Talk will discuss only
three of them: Temperance, Fortitude and Prudence.
The word "temperance" has acquired an unfortunate connotation in
modern times. It is frequently associated with the movement to
eliminate the use of alcoholic beverages. But the word has a much
broader meaning. The Masonic definition of Temperance may be stated
briefly as follows: Temperance is that due restraint upon our
affections and passions which renders the body tame and governable,
and frees the mind from the allurements of vice. Every Mason is then
told that Temperance should be the constant practice of every Mason,
as he is taught to avoid excess in all things, such as contracting
any licentious or vicious habit, the indulgence of which might lead
him to- suffer, or to lose his health, or cause him to lose his
In a general sense it means that one must exercise a degree of
self-restraint and selfcontrol at all times, in all the activities
of life, including both words and deeds. The key idea is "moderation
in all things." The idea is well illustrated in the old statement:
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." It does not mean
abstinence except in matters which are inherently bad or harmful.
The word "temperance" comes to us from the Latin, which means to
temper or harden according to the use intended. As a consequence, we
must recognize that there cannot be hard and fast rules in this
subject. Each person must decide for himself how much restraint and
self-control must be exercised in a particular situation. For
example, I like to eat apple pie; one small piece is adequate to
satisfy my desire after a hearty meal. My neighbor might not eat as
hearty a meal, but might desire a larger piece of apple pie. Both of
us by the exercise of self-control and by being temperate refrain
from having a second helping.
There was a time when smoking cigarettes was considered just a bad
habit. During this period the temperate use of cigarettes meant that
one should smoke only a moderate number each day. Recent research
has indicated that smoking cigarettes is closely connected with the
development of cancer. Freemasonry takes no specific position in the
matter of whether its members should smoke or not smoke; each member
is taught to make his own decision. If he believes that smoking is
bad because it is likely to bring on cancer, he should abstain from
smoking. If he is in doubt, he should at least be moderate in
responding to his desire for a smoke, thus reducing the hazard.
Temperance also requires him to abstain from smoking in the presence
of those who find it distasteful or harmful.
The second principle under consideration is that of Fortitude. It is
closely related to Temperance because very often the use of
Fortitude is necessary to being temperate in a specific situation.
In Freemasonry Fortitude is defined as that noble and steady purpose
of the mind whereby we are enabled to undergo any pain, peril or
danger, when prudentially deemed expedient. The word is related to
the word "fort," which originally denoted a structure built around
something for protection. It is a word that comes to us from the
Latin and indicated not so much a moral attitude, but rather the
true quality of manhood, as is implied that one had strength and
Fortitude, therefore, is that quality of character which gives a
person strength to withstand temptation and to bear all suffering in
silence. Fortitude is a virtue, for it permits one to do his duty
undisturbed by evil distractions. It is in great measure a frame of
mind to regulate one's words and deeds with courage and with
determination. It is both a positive and a negative quality in that
it creates courage to do what is right and also creates strength or
character to withstand intemperance. Above all else, it also creates
the mental attitude to bear one's burden bravely when all other
The third basic principle, Prudence, is closely related to both
Temperance and Fortitude, for it is the type of yardstick which is
to be used in determining what constitutes Temperance in a specific
situation and to what extent Fortitude should be applied.
Freemasonry defines Prudence as that principle which teaches us to
regulate our lives and actions agreeably to the dictates of reason,
and is that habit by which we wisely judge, and prudently determine,
the effect of all things relative to our present as well as our
The application of Prudence to our everyday life means that we will
use discretion in our acts and words; that we will use good judgment
in what we say and do; and that we will use self-control and
foresight in all such matters. It also means that we will act
intelligently and with conscious regard of what the consequences
I mentioned that I like to eat apple pie. By the use of Prudence I
realize that if I have had an ample meal, it is best that I have
only a small piece of apple pie for dessert. Using Prudence helped
me to realize that if I have a large piece of apple pie, and then
have a second helping, I will feel stuffed and suffer physical
discomfort. So I decide to be temperate in eating apple pie. I
realize the possible consequences and with the use of Fortitude I
refrain from having a second helping. Prudence teaches me to build a
fort against my desire to satisfy unduly my desire and taste for a
second helping and that it is best that I be temperate and have only
one small piece.
Many years ago I developed the habit of smoking two packs of
cigarettes a day. One day I discovered that I could no longer run up
two flights of stairs without puffing like a steam engine. When I
was told by my doctor that this was probably due to my excessive
smoking, by the use of Prudence I decided to quit. But I needed more
than just the decision to quit smoking; I needed to realize that
this was the occasion not merely to be temperate by reducing the
number of cigarettes I smoked each day, but to abstain completely.
This was forcibly impressed upon my mind because the smoking was
hurting me. In order to succeed in breaking the habit I had first to
convince myself that the smoking was doing me harm; this then
brought me to the principle of Prudence, which urged me to stop. And
then I had to use Fortitude to accomplish the result. It took
courage and determination. And now, twenty-five years later, I have
not returned to smoking cigarettes in spite of the alluring
television commercials we were formerly deluged with.
Sometimes it is easy to abstain or to be temperate. I am reminded of
the familiar witticism of the elderly Brother who said, "I have
finally learned to subdue my passions. Mother Nature has taken care
In conclusion, we would do well to remember the words of Voltaire, a
Mason, when he said: "The richest endowments of the mind are
temperance, prudence, and fortitude. Prudence is a universal virtue,
which enters into the composition of all the rest; and where she is
not, fortitude loses its name and nature."
Some Historical Events of December, 1777
Dec. 2: John Paul Jones and USS Ranger arrived at Nantes, France.
Dec. 4: News of Burgoyne's defeat at Saratoga reached American
commissioners in Paris. Two days later the French Foreign Minister,
the Comte de Vergennes, responded positively to their overtures for
negotiating a military alliance.
Dec. 5-8: British reconnaisance forces in Pennsylvania engaged
Continentals in a number of skirmishes at Whitemarsh, Chestnut Hill,
and Edge Hill. British General Howe, with most of his army,
followed, but fording Washington's defenses in the Whitemarsh area
too strong for a general attack, withdrew to Philadelphia.
Dec 11: Washington withdrew his forces from Whitemarsh to go into
winter quarters at Valley Forge, a position more easily defended. A
large British foraging party under Cornwallis clashed with
Washington's army at Matson's Ford, Pennsylvania, but quickly
withdrew, delaying Washington's march to Valley Forge for several
days. Thus began the "Bitter Winter" of 1777-1778.
Dec. 13-14: Congress established the Inspector General Department in
the Continental Army and appointed Brig. Gen. Thomas Conway the
Inspector General, a temporary triumph for the "Conway Cabal"
Dec 15: Negotiations began in Paris with British agent Paul
Wentworth, which culminated in a fruitless meeting with Franklin,
who detested and suspected Wentworth. The French, however, aware of
the negotiations, hastened their decision to conclude an alliance,
and so informed the American commissioners on December 17.
Dec. 22-28: 7000 British soldiers under Howe left Philadelphia on a
large foraging expedition, but were followed and harassed by an
American contingent under Col. Daniel Morgan, who captured a few
Dec 29: Near Wilmington, Delaware, Gen. William Smallwood sent 100
men to capture a British transport that had run aground. They took
68 soldiers and a dozen seamen.
Late Dec.: At Fort Randolph, Point Pleasant, West Virginia, a part
of Capt. William McKee's Virginia militia were ambushed by Indians.
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