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The Cardinal Virtues

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Allegories of the virtues on the fa├žade of La Rochelle city hall.

Or if one loves righteousness, whose works are virtues, She teaches moderation and prudence, righteousness and fortitude, and nothing in life is more useful than these.
Wisdom 8:17, The Bible

A very old classification of virtues, first found in Plato's Republic, and called "cardinal" (meaning "pivotal" and "holiness") by St. Ambrose. The Cardinal Virtues are considered by the philosophical school of ethics to be the source where all other virtues (compassion, piety, loyalty, etc.) spring from.

  • Prudence (Latin: prudentia/sapientia): Also known as Wisdom. To govern and discipline oneself by the use of reason. Considered to be the "mother" where all other virtues spring from, Prudence is the ability to judge good and evil — not just in general, but in particular situations — and by extension can be used to judge the moral character of a person by their actions. As an Allegorical Character, Prudence is usually found holding a mirror, book or scroll in one hand (representing wisdom and hindsight) and a snake in the other, either coiling over her arm or around a spear (representing "false prudence", or caution based off of cowardice). Some depict her possessing the face of a man behind her head similar to Janus in Classical Mythology, further illustrating the concept of wisdom through foresight. Opposite of Folly.
  • Courage (Latin: audacia or fortitudo): The ability to withstand danger. Also known as "audacity", "bravery" or "valor", courage is when one is able to look upon the reality of pain, hardship, shame, scandal and even death with perseverance. As an Allegorical Character, Audacity/Audacia//Fortitude/Fortitudo is depicted the most erratically out of the four virtues, depicted with armor and a club, either accompanied by a lion or with a crumbling column, both representing a warrior's spirit and iron will. Opposite of Cowardice.
  • Temperance (Latin: temperantia): Control of the appetites. The ability to restrain oneself in the opportunity of selfish pleasure and arrogance for the sake of the common good. As an Allegorical Character, Temperance is usually depicted using two vessels to transfer water from one to another, representing restraint, charity and moderation in the face of excess. Opposite of Gluttony.
  • Justice (Latin: iustitia): The rendering of everyone what they are due. The Golden Mean between selfishness and selflessness and the sixth and highest stage in Kohlberg's moral development, Justice is the establishment and enforcement of equality on an individual, micro-scale and societal, macro-scale. As an Allegorical Character, Justice is arguably the most famous as an allegorical character, often depicted wearing a blindfold, cowl or crown (representing justice without bias), with a pair of scales in one hand (representing equality between two sides) and a sword or a shield in the other (justice defending). Opposite of Corruption.

Christians often add the three theological virtues (love, hope, faith) to form the Seven Christian Virtues — not to be confused with the Seven Heavenly Virtues.

Sub-Trope to Virtue/Vice Codification. Compare Embodiment of Virtue. Contrast Embodiment of Vice, Evil Virtues and Seven Deadly Sins.


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  • All four virtues are represented in the Cast of Personifications of Seven Virtues (including Fortitude by Sandro Botticelli) with three others added from the Seven Heavenly Virtues.
  • Fortitude, Temperance and Justice are cards in the Major Arcana of Tarot Cards, all of them baring a resemblance to the art-historical Allegorical Characters of their namesake. The card "The Hermit" is sometimes considered to represent Prudence to complete the cycle.
    • Strength (alternatively known as Fortitude) is depicted as a woman accompanied by a lion, representing emotional calm in the face of adversity. When inverted, it means a lack in confidence in one's self and one's own abilities.
    • Temperance is depicted as an androgynous figure transferring water from one cup to another, sometimes with angel wings and a triangle on their chest. The card's meaning represents balance, patience and moderation. When inverted, it means a period of negligible excess.
    • Justice is often depicted wielding a sword and scales. The card's meaning represents a search for truth, with one becoming consciously aware of the ethics of a given moment. If inverted, it represents a moral failing.
  • Various churches, cathedrals and other important buildings include allegorical renderings of the Cardinal Virtues in the form of stain-glass and sculptures. Such examples include:
    • A collection of sculptures on the facade of the Santa Maria del Rosario (also known as I Gesuati) in Venice, Italy.
    • A collection of sculptures on the facade of La Rochelle City Hall building (as seen on the page's picture).
    • Stainglass windows in St Peter's Church in Leicester, Leicestershire.
    • Mass-produced bronze statue depictions by Veronese Design.
  • Italian late Baroque painter and printmaker Luca Giordano was known (among other things) for his allegorical paintings, four of which each representing the Cardinal Virtues; Allegory of Prudence, Allegory of Fortitudo, Allegory of Temperance and Allegory of Justice.
  • The Four Cardinal Virtues Prudence Justice Temperance and Fortitude by Alisa Mulina is a set of acrylic on canvas square paintings. They are all abstract in nature and each follow different shades of a specific color, the shapes made out similar to creases in an origami sheet of paper; green dragon for prudence, red sword for justice, blue cup for temperance, and yellow lion for fortitude.
  • Raphael Rooms: In "Cardinal and Theological Virtues", anthropomorphic personifications of the Christian cardinal virtues (Fortitude, Prudence, and Temperance) are depicted as putti. Justice is present on the fresco across the room, "The Parnassus".

  • In Michael Flynn's Up Jim River the harper tells the emperor that courage is one of the Four Great Strengths, and when he asks, that the other three are prudence, justice, and moderation.
  • Dante's Paradiso:
    • The Sun - Fourth Circle of Heaven - is where those who represent wisdom in the Cardinal Virtues (that which illuminates the world in the same way that the Sun does to the Earth) reside, including Thomas Aquinas, Albertus Magnus and King Solomon.
    • Mars - the Fifth Circle - is where warriors who died for a righteous cause and represent the virtue of fortitude reside. Here Dante meets Joshua, Judas Maccabeus, Charlemagne, Roland, Godfrey of Bouillon and his ancestor Cacciaguida who died in the Second Crusades.
    • Jupiter - the Sixth Sphere - is populated by rulers who used their authority with fairness and dignity, representing the virtue of justice. Here Dante meets such examples as David, Hezekiah, Trajan, Constantine, William II of Sicily, and Ripheus the Trojan.
    • Saturn - the Seventh Sphere - is populated by those who represent the virtue of temperance, Dante meeting Peter Damian.
  • Keys to the Kingdom: The seven parts of the Will of the Architect, taking anthropomorphic forms, each embody the Seven Christian Virtues. This is in opposition to the Morrow Days, the Arc Villains of each book, who are plagued with one of the Seven Deadly Sins.
    • The First Part (The Frog) represents Fortitude, being the most proactive and biggest risk taker among the Wills.
    • The Second Part (The Bear) represents Prudence, making it come off as Insufferable Genius who has more important things to do than directly assisting the heroes.
    • The Fourth Part (The Snake), represents Justice, displaying a strong sense of For Great Justice where it seems more interested in punishing an evildoer rather than dealing with a more immediate threat.
    • The Fifth Part (The Beast), represents Temperance, being far more agreeable and patient than previous parts of the Will.
  • Parodied in Going Postal; the Virtues are depicted on the Post Office walls, but alongside the conventional ones are two Odd Job Gods called Bissonomy and Tubso, whose definitions have been completely forgotten by the people of Ankh-Morpork (then again, the other virtues probably aren't practiced much either.)
  • The Daughter Of Doctor Moreau: Carlota invokes the Christian theological virtues to silence a racist Evil Colonialist — she says that while the natives might lack faith, he lacks love, which The Bible values more highly.

    Video Games 
  • The Auditio (also known as the Cardinal Virtues) in Bayonetta are the highest-ranking members of the Hierarchy of Leguna under Jubileus, the Creator. There are only four known members, all of which being Angelic Abominations of immense power that helped wipe the Umbra Witches to near extinction during the Clan Wars. Curiously, each of their personalities directly contradict their namesakes; Fortitudio repeatedly tries to discourage Bayonetta from confronting him, Temperantia makes some rather suggestive dialogue with her, Iustitia was willing to kill innocent people just to get to Bayonetta and Sapientia is reckless, boastful and racist to humans. Whether they behave in such ways to inspire the virtue in others or if they're just massive hypocrites is debatable.
    Amongst the spiritually powerful of the Middle Ages, it was thought Paradiso held for all a Divine Will, and as a result, they developed heavenly logic. The concept of the "Cardinal Virtues" was born of this logic, and classifies Paradiso's Divine Will into four broad groups. These Cardinal Virtues occasionally become physical manifestations of the great intentions of Paradiso, and are known as the Laguna, inspiring awe in the masses.
  • The Cardinal Virtues in Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers are four sin eaters that represent the pinnacle of Light's "salvation", and as such they're named for the virtues in the original Greek and are accordingly Idiosyncrazy:
    • Andreia, courage, is obsessed with hunting the most dangerous and powerful monsters, to the point that she tries to remake her old team through corpses.
    • Phronesis, prudence, runs around creating Unrealistic Black Hole "hollows" in the deserts of Amh Araeng, trying to find and rescue a friend who long ago fell into a hollow of his own creation.
    • Dikaiosyne, justice, is seeking out a set of treasures that once belonged to a princess it served when it was still human, to reclaim and guard them as ordered.
    • Sophrosyne, temperance, is reviving certain slain Sin Eaters, because when they were human, they were ill and the only person who cared for their plight was the person Sophrosyne once was.
  • Your employees' stats in Lobotomy Corporation are sorted accordingly to the four Cardinal Virtues:
    • Courage (called "Fortitude" in this game) determines their health and can be leveled up by doing Instinct work.
    • Prudence determines their Sanity Meter and can be leveled up by doing Insight work.
    • Temperance increases their work success and also speeds it up, and can be leveled up by doing Attachment work.
    • Justice determines how fast they can attack or move, and can be leveled up by doing Repression work.


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Amongst the spiritually powerful of the Middle Ages, it was thought Paradiso held for all a Divine Will, and as a result, they developed heavenly logic. <br><br>The concept of the "Cardinal Virtues" was born of this logic, and classifies Paradiso's Divine Will into four broad groups.<br><br>These Cardinal Virtues occasionally become physical manifestations of the great intentions of Paradiso, and are known as the Laguna, inspiring awe in the masses. Personifying courage and fortitude, Fortitudo has been depicted as a terrifying being sporting an enormous face and two dragon's heads. He is said to be capable of summoning magma flows at will.

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