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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
Virtues regarded as fundamental, and under which, as heads, all others may be arranged. The term "cardinal virtues" is first used by Ambrose to denote that group of four virtues which became familiar through the writings of Greek philosophers, and which were first formulated by Plato. In accordance with his threefold division of the soul into its rational, combative, and appetitive elements, Plato recognized four fundamental virtues:"φρόνησις" or "σορία," wisdom; "ἀνδρεία," courage or fortitude, and this, as Zeller remarks, considered as a valor against the foes within the soul; "σωφροσύνη," temperance; and "δικαιοσύνη," justice or uprightness, conceived as resulting from the harmony of all the soul's powers when wisely governed. These four virtues became the classical expression of Greek ethical thought, irrespective of any particular system. They are specially prominent in the Stoics; and it is through the influence of the latter that they are found in Jewish writers of the Hellenistic period (see HELLENISM).
The Wisdom of Solomon.
Strictly speaking, there never was, as a native and independent growth in Judaism, any attempt made to deduce systematically the commandments of the Torah from one or more general principles. It is only when the Jewish mind meets the Greek that Jewish thought attempts to present in Greek form, and also partly to recast into Greek ideas, the religious and moral conceptions of Israel. Thus a writer in the second century before the present era, the author of the Wisdom of Solomon, recognizes sophia, or wisdom, as the root of all virtues, and identifies it in his mind with the Spirit of God. In describing its workings he goes so far in his personifications as almost to hypostatize it, and speaks of the fruits of wisdom later as four (Wisdom 8:7): "temperance and prudence, justice and fortitude."
The unknown author of IV Maccabees shows the influence of Stoicism in his enumeration of the four virtues in the following order: in the beginning of his work (1:18) φρόνησις, as the most important, through which the mind rules over the affections; then justice, fortitude, and temperance. He illustrates the triumph of reason over the passions, from the martyrdoms described in II Macc. Quite different again is the order of the four virtues in IV Macc. 5:22: temperance, fortitude, justice, and piety (see Freudenthal, "Die Flavius Josephus Beigelegte Schrift über die Herrschaft der Vernunft," 1869, pp. 51-55). Schürer says this "influence of Stoicism upon the author is in no other point so penetrating. . . . The reason to which he ascribes dominion over desire," and which is to produce the virtues, is "not human reason as such, butreason guiding itself according to the rule of the Divine law."
Lastly, Philo, using his allegorical method, finds in the four streams of Eden an indication of the four cardinal virtues ("De Allegoriis Legum," § 19; compare "Quod Omnis Probus Liber," § 10); while in the order of them he follows the Stoics, he departs from them in recognizing the insufficiency of man to liberate himself from his sensual nature. For this is needed the help of God, who plants and promotes the virtues in the soul of man. True morality is, as Plato teaches, "the imitation of Deity," or, better, as the Rabbis say (Sifre, Deut. 49): "As He is called gracious, be thou gracious; as He is merciful, be thou merciful; as He is holy, be thou holy."
Jewish Fundamental Virtues.
While there seems to be no other work of a Jewish writer in which the four virtues are directly mentioned, it may not be improper in this connection to note the tendency growing up in Jewish literature to enumerate certain virtues as striking manifestations of character. Thus the statement is given in Ned. 38a and other portions of the Talmud: "R. Johanan said, 'The Holy One, blessed be He! lets his Presence dwell only with the strong, the rich, the wise, and the humble.'" In this connection may be mentioned the accepted definitions of Ben Zoma (Ab. 4:1): "Wise is he who learns from every man; strong is he who masters his own spirit or 'yeẓer,' (his evil inclination); rich is he who is contented with or rejoices in his lot." It may be said that here is a group which is again and again found in the writings of Jewish philosophers of the Middle Ages. As the reverence for God was regarded as the beginning of wisdom (Psalms 111:10; Proverbs 1:7), and as yeẓer, the evil inclination, was chiefly identified with the tendency to unchastity, a special cluster of Jewish virtues is here presented: study, combined with fear of God; chastity; cheerfulness or contentment; and humility or meekness. As these would express the inward disposition of the "disciple of the wise," there are also enumerations, especially in "Ethics of the Fathers," which seem to emphasize the fundamental virtues as they appear objectively in the deed or social institution. Such statements as that of Simon the Just (Ab. 1:2): "Upon three things the world rests—the study of the Law, divine service, and deeds of love," or that of another sage (Ab. 1:18): "Upon three things is the world established; viz., truth, justice, and peace," can well be taken to mirror the virtues which appeared to the Jewish mind as fundamental. [Compare Paul's triad of Christian virtues: faith, hope, and charity (1 Corinthians 13:13).
Reference may also be made to the classical passage of the Talmud (Mak. 23b, 24a): "R. Simlai said, 'Six hundred and thirteen commandments were given to Moses. King David came and reduced them to eleven (Psalms 15). The prophet Isaiah further reduced them to six (Isaiah 33). Micah (6:8) reduced them to three: "He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good . . . to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God." Isaiah again reduced them to two (Isaiah 56). The prophet Amos placed them all upon one principle (Amos 5:4): "Seek me and live"; or, as the prophet Habakkuk said, "The just shall live by his faith."'"
- Zeller, Philosophie d. Griechen, 2:1,884; 3:2,271,276;
- Schürer, The Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, div. 2, 3:245,379;
- J. Freudenthal, Die Flavius Josephus Beigelegte Schrift über die Herrschaft der Vernunft, pp. 51, 55;
- H. Sidgwich, History of Ethics, p. 43, note.
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Cardinal Virtues'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/c/cardinal-virtues.html. 1901.