Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter, suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
Wisdom, who proceeds from the mouth of the Most High, reaching out mightily from end to end, and sweetly arranging all things: come to teach us the way of prudence.
Anything less is gnostic – in the bad, spiritual-but-not-religious way that makes us imagine we can do things, “Because we want to” or not do them “because we want to” and call it “my path” because “I’m following my bliss”; in the body-denying way that made the Church call it not just “wrong” but a “heresy”. In other words, it’s not someone else’s religion, like Hinduism – which has its own issues – but rather our religion twisted, like Mormonism or Mohammedism.
And that’s what Advent, the Advent Fast, the Incarnation, the entirety of Orthodoxy is about.
So our Advent Meditation series starts out with a prayer for Holy Wisdom to show us the viam prudentiae, the “way of prudence”. It’s ironic that every year I have to look up the definition of that word to make sure I’m using it properly… but it means “the ability to govern and discipline oneself by the use of reason.” So we pray for Holy Wisdom to come and show us how to live smartly, if you will, to live virtuously. But it is one of the four “Cardinal Virtues” of the west. We might turn to a western writer to explain it:
What Prudence Is Not:
Many Catholics think prudence simply refers to the practical application of moral principles. They speak, for instance, of the decision to go to war as a “prudential judgment,” suggesting that reasonable people can disagree on the application of moral principles and, therefore, such judgments can be questioned but never absolutely declared wrong. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of prudence, which, as Fr. John A. Hardon notes in his Modern Catholic Dictionary, is “Correct knowledge about things to be done or, more broadly, the knowledge of things that ought to be done and of thing that ought to be avoided.”
“Right Reason Applied to Practice”:
Aristotle was closer to the truth. As the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, he defined prudence as recta ratio agibilium, “right reason applied to practice.” The emphasis on “right” is important. We cannot simply make a decision and then describe it as a “prudential judgment.” Prudence requires us to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong. Thus, as Father Hardon writes, “It is the intellectual virtue whereby a human being recognizes in any matter at hand what is good and what is evil.” If we mistake the evil for the good, we are not exercising prudence—in fact, we are showing our lack of it.
Source: Prudence: A Cardinal Virtue
So prudence starts out, at least, with learning what is right… and continues through applying it. It’s about knowing what is right – and doing it in daily life, doing it properly.
How does that apply in Advent? Advent is about preparing for the Coming-of-God-With-Us, the Incarnation – a nice big word meaning nothing more than God-becomes-flesh. But it means nothing less than that either. God-becomes- THIS man, this one man, in one place, in one time, in one family, in one tribe, in one people… has a name, a gender, a brain, a heart. Is right or left-handed, does or doesn’t like his mother’s hummus, does or doesn’t have brown eyes. God is someone we can point at and picture now, not a gaseous vertebrate of infinite heft, as some vainly claim. God is STUFF now.
So we fast, not because rich food is bad, or veganism is morally better: but to teach us that what we eat, what we wear, what we buy, what we spend money on, what we possess, what we read, what we eroticize, what we dismiss is also part of our “working out our salvation in fear and trembling”. The Orthodox person is not saved in spite of this world, but through it, because of it. To borrow Martha Stewart’s idea, we do this by Good Living. But we mean something radically different.
That’s where I’m exploring this Advent.