Waite on the cardinal virtues


In Waite's comments on the Hermit in Part 1, Section 2 of the PKT, he digresses into a discussion of the four cardinal virtue cards. What he says is fairly interesting, but as far as I can tell it hasn't received much attention, so I thought I'd take a look at it and try to understand what he's getting at.

He prefaces it by saying:

"The four cardinal virtues are necessary to an idealogical sequence like the Trumps Major, but they must not be taken only in that first sense which exists for the use and consolation of him who in these days of halfpenny journalism is called the man in the street. In their proper understanding they are the correlatives of the counsels of perfection when these have been similarly re-expressed, and they read as follows:"​

He sets up his commentary by making it clear that he plans to illuminate the "proper" meanings which aren't the same as the "first sense" or convention meanings. He compares them to the counsels of perfection after they have been similarly re-expressed. I'm not exactly sure what he means by this or why he make the comparison, but the "counsels of perfection" are Christian doctrines, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04435a.htm, and this is what Waite is referring to I believe.

1. "(a) Transcendental Justice, the counter-equilibrium of the scales when they have been overweighted, so that they dip heavily on the side of God. The corresponding counsel is to use loaded dice when you play for high stakes with Diabolus. The axiom is Aut Deus, aut nihil [God or nothing]."​

The original text is punctuated as follows: "Transcendental Justice, the counter-equilibrium of the scales, when they have been overweighted so that they dip heavily on the side of God." This is unfortunate and to me makes it harder to understand what he means. What he seems to be saying is Transcendental Justice is the counter-balance when the scales have become overweighted on the side of Diabolus; it not only restores the balance but causes it to tip in favor of God. The "loaded dice" of which he speaks is probably a reference either to God or the Transendental Justice.

2. "(b) Divine Ecstasy, as a counterpoise to something called Temperance, the sign of which is, I believe, the extinction of lights in the tavern. The corresponding counsel is to drink only of new wine in the Kingdom of the Father, because God is all in all. The axiom is that man being a reasonable being must get intoxicated with God; the imputed case in point is Spinoza."​

The sign for Temperance as Waite sees it, is "lights out in the tavern," i.e., abstinence or moderation. His answer to this is to drink freely of "new wine," i.e., the spirit. In the previous quote it's "God or nothing"; here it's "God is all in all." The answer to "reason," (a form of moderation) is intoxication in the spirit.

3. "(c) The state of Royal Fortitude, which is the state of a Tower of Ivory and a House of Gold, but it is God and not the man who has become Turris fortitudinis a facie inimici [a strong tower for me against the enemy], and out of that House the enemy has been cast. The corresponding counsel is that a man must not spare himself even in the presence of death, but he must be certain that his sacrifice shall be—of any open course—the best that will ensure his end [i.e., union with God]. The axiom is that the strength which is raised to such a degree that a man dares lose himself shall shew him how God is found, and as to such refuge [i.e., God]—dare therefore and learn."​

I'm not positive, but it seems likely the "death" of which he speaks is mystical.

4. "(d) Prudence is the economy which follows the line of least resistance, that the soul may get back whence it came. It is a doctrine of divine parsimony and conservation of energy because of the stress, the terror and the manifest impertinences of this life. The corresponding counsel is that true prudence is concerned with the one thing needful, and the axiom is: Waste not, want not."​

Waite's advice is not to waste energy on unimportant matters, i.e., things that don't help the soul "get back whence it came," i.e., to God.

He concludes with the following:

"I have mentioned these few matters at this point for two simple reasons: (a) because in proportion to the impartiality of the mind it seems sometimes more difficult to determine whether it is vice or vulgarity which lays waste the present world more piteously; (b) because in order to remedy the imperfections of the old notions it is highly needful, on occasion, to empty terms and phrases of their accepted significance, that they may receive a new and more adequate meaning."​

I'm not entirely sure what he means by (a); "vulgarity" might refer to the "man in the street" referred to above. Any ideas? As for (b), his previous comments are intended to impute new and more "adequate" meanings to the cardinal virtues; but it isn't change for change's sake, it's to "remedy the imperfections" created by the old notions.


I'm by no means an expert but I guess "vice" refers to people who know the counsel but act against it, and "vulgarity" to those who understand the virtues only in the most shallow way, as list of "don't"s. And that may well refer to the man in the street, i.e., people who take things at face value.

If I understand well, Waite is looking for ways to make the virtues actionable, if there is such a word. Don't only restrain from vice in order to reach virtue but activate virtue in such ways that counteract vice.

Don't only be just, be unjust to the devil if you play against him. Don't only be moderate, become intoxicated with god. Don't be simply courageous, be ready to lose everything. Don't be only prudent, preserve your energies for the truly important thing. All these sentences go beyond the normative character of the virtues - they exaggerate the virtues which are usually, shallowly understood to guard and warn us against exaggeration.

This inner contradiction makes his words a bit provocative. He uses Christian terminology but pushes the envelope of Christian interpretation of the virtues. That's at least my impression, I'm no expert.


Waite's new interpretations do seem to have a more living and active quality as opposed to the old, which might be considered "dead." Nice observation.