The Cardinal Virtues played a prominent role in Plato's Republic and appears in 8:7 of the Book of Wisdom. They were also presented as the moral hinges of the Christian Church by St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and St. Aquinas. Combined with the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, the Cardinal Virtues prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice comprise the Seven Heavenly Virtues. In a time where morals are presented as anything goes by our media, the Cardinal Virtues might serve as the moral hinges for our families. And, Advent and stories like The Voyage of the Dawn Treader offer us an opportunity to reflect on and develop these needed virtues in our families.
The Season of Advent naturally personifies each of these virtues. And, the Advent wreath provides us with a chance to learn and share with each other what these virtues really represent. For example, each week of Advent could be devoted to one of the virtues. And, the Christmas story could be used to personify the significance of that virtue. Here is what such an Advent reflection might look like:
Gathered around an Advent wreath, one family member lights a candle while another family member leads a spontaneous and heart-felt prayer, such as:
Dear God, We thank you for all you have given us. During this Advent Season lead us to find you in a new way. While we reflect on the Cardinal Virtues, help us to build a strong moral foundation in our family so that we can know, love, and serve you. Let our family be a tool by which you work to serve others. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Another family member might explain the virtue of the week. Together as a family, discuss how the virtue is represented in the Christmas story. Use the guide below to lead your discussion.
Week One: Prudence~Having the wisdom to make right decisions and actions. Mary had the wisdom to know God's will in her life. She wisely chose to say "yes" to giving birth to God's son despite what others thought of her.
Week Two: Temperance~Having moderation, abstention and self-control. Jesus was born in a stable. The Holy Family did not worry about material or wordly possessions. They did not fret or give into anxiety when Joseph could not find room for them in an inn. They trusted and knew that God would take care of their needs.
Week Three: Fortitude~Having the ability to confront fear and uncertainty. Mary and Joseph had the courage to travel to Bethlehem knowing that Mary was due to give birth—even they did not have an arranged place to stay. They did not question God's plan for them. They embarked on God's journey.
Week Four: Justice~Having concern and empathy for the rights of others. Christ was born into our world to bring us justice and save us from sin. By coming into this world, he gave us a chance for salvation.
To deepen and further carry this reflection throughout the entire season of Advent, you might also choose to read together C. S. Lewis' story The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In the story, you will find ample examples of the Cardinal Virtues at work. And, the examples provide entertaining and fun scenarios and characters that allow us to see how they and we also struggle with these virtues. Here are just a few examples of how your family might find the Cardinal Virtues in Lewis' tale:
Prudence: Rhoop learns that he needs to guard his dreams—because dreams can also be nightmares.
Temperance: Eustace becomes a dragon after stealing and hoarding a treasure that does not belong to him.
Fortitude: Rheepicheek has the courage to voyage into the darkness when everyone wants to turn back. And, Lucy faces the darkness by turning to prayer.
Justice: Lucy shares her cordial with Eustace to cure him from seasickness—even when he is being nasty and mean to everyone.
These are just a few examples of how you might find, apply and discuss the Cardinal Virtues. Then, as a celebration of your Advent voyage and the miracle of Christmas, you and your family might go to watch The Voyage of the Dawn Treader come to life on the big screen.
Leading our families to find the moral fabric of stories gives them a different and needed type of seeing that is often absent from society. By teaching them the value of virtue, we dress them in the armor of Christ. I can't think of a better family gift for Christmas!
More applications of these virtues to Lewis' life, our own lives, detailed explanations, and guided discussions of these virtues can be found in my book Finding Purpose in Narnia: A Voyage on the Dawn Treader (Nimble Books, December 2010). To reflect on the Theological Virtues, you might also find my book Finding Purpose in Narnia: A Journey with Prince Caspian (Paulist Press, 2008) helpful.
Gina Burkart is the Reading and Learning Coordinator at the University of Northern Iowa where she also teaches English courses in the Department of English Language and Literature. She has a doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction, literacy studies. Her recent publications include Finding Purpose in Narnia: A Voyage on the Dawn Treader (Nimble Books, 2010), Finding Purpose in Narnia (Paulist Press, 2008.) and A Parent's Guide to Harry Potter (InterVarsity, 2005). She has presented at numerous conferences and been interviewed nationwide by media networks. She is also a featured About.com writer on the topic of Christian teens.