Transcript for Be Wise as Serpents

Be Wise as Serpents

The prudence of the world, mentioned by our Lord in the Gospel in the parable of the wicked servant, is often what is thought of first when the word “prudence” comes to mind.  It is characterized by someone who is clever and crafty, watching out for his own interests in serving his mistresses of the world, the flesh and the devil.  Of course, the use of cunning and worldly knowledge (“street smarts”) will ultimately lead to the person being humbled in this life or condemned in the next, for he falls into the hole he dug himself (Psalm 7:15).

It is also common to see the virtue of prudence invoked by those who feel themselves seized by fear, the cowardly;  they are so afraid of suffering the slightest turmoil or not being politically correct, that they become completely disabled.  They forget altogether those words that ought to send fear through their souls “Woe unto you , when all men shall speak well of you!” ASV Luke 6:26

So just like any other good thing, the great Deceiver slithers here and there, twisting and warping the virtue of prudence to that point that men become two faced liars who always have an angle, or petty cowards who fear any type of suffering and thus don’t do anything but excuse themselves because of the likelihood of failure. Whoever says he is without sin is a liar, so I speak from experience on the errors of craftiness and of irrational fear and even from the part of the fool who disregarded prudence in favor of passionate boldness. I condemn no one but the devil and those whose fate are sealed with him.

“Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharao, and did as the Lord had commanded. And Aaron took the rod before Pharao, and his servants, and it was turned into a serpent. And Pharao called the wise men and the magicians: and they also by Egyptian enchantments and certain secrets did in like manner.And they every one cast down their rods, and they were turned into serpents: but Aaron’s rod devoured their rods.” Exodus 7:10-12

The world has its prudence and our Lord has his.  Against the might of God’s prudence even wicked men are confounded.

Let us learn of this wisdom of the serpent of Aaron.  What is prudence?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes prudence as:

“ the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern
(discovering God’s will) our true good in every circumstance and to
choose the right means of achieving it; ‘the prudent man looks where he
is going.’ Prudence is ‘right reason in action,’ writes Saint Thomas
Aquinas, following Aristotle. It is not to be confused with timidity or
fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called the charioteer of
the virtues; it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is
prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The
prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this
judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to
particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to
achieve and the evil to avoid” (CCC 1806).”

I especially like the part about it not being timidity or fear.  Prudence pretty much affects every aspect of a man’s interior life since it regulates all the other virtues.  It is prudence that enables us to avoid sin and to practice virtue.  Why?  Because in order to avoid sin we need to know the causes and occasions of that sin, as well as the remedies for how to root it out.  Superabundant prudence not only teaches a man to avoid sin but even how to gain merit by fighting temptation.

Prudence teaches the soul how its faith can be strengthened and be made more practical and  how both the trust and fear of God go hand in hand to avoid both fear and presumption.  It teaches how every action can be animated by charity without hindering the discharge of our duties.  Consider how much prudence must play into things such as rebuking and instructing the ignorant dealing with the various sensitiveness of people. (1)

It also instructs how a man can do two things at once or practice what appear to be contradictory virtues.  Justice and goodness, meekness and fortitude, austerity and preservation of health, the interior life and good works.(1)  It was said of the Knights Templar by St Bernard of Clairvaux that “they appear gentler than lambs, yet fiercer than lions.” (3) Saint Padre Pio would hear confessions and speak with hundreds of people daily, yet he survived on one meal a day, several glasses of wine and a large beer in the evening.(4)

Without prudence a man can quickly become shipwrecked.  He could overdo the food that is meant to strengthen the body for labor, or he could wreck his body with excessive fasting.  A zealous and good project could be destroyed by an unnecessary conversation inflamed by passion.

With prudence a man knows the limits of his strength and the best means of using his talents for the glory of God.  

We are capable of being prudent, though it requires some discipline.  If I was to behave prudently, how would I know?  Well  the intellect and the will would follow these steps
Consultation, decision, and command.(2)  First I would seek the best end for my end goal, I would decide how to pursue it, then I would carry it out with discipline.  Our best end cannot be governed by the rules of the flesh but always on what will save our souls and give the greatest glory to God.  Our decision on what it means to pursue our goal is when we have used our minds to reach a decision based on right reason.  It is best reached by counsel from the Holy Spirit or through an elder or other superior whom God is probably operating through.  Once we have our mind set on the right and prudent course of action we must seek to carry it out.  To some degree we knock for knowledge, seek for the right and narrow road, and open the door to God’s will which brings the ultimate victory.

If we always are knocking, seeking, and following without turning back, then one could say that he has the habit of prudence.  So what helps a man grow in prudence?  Since supernatural prudence makes us direct all our will at God and makes us His friends and champions, one means of acquiring it is through prayer. (1)

However if we ask for the grace we must prepare ourselves to receive it.  A Christian who wishes to grow in prudence must avoid dirty tricks, deceit, fraud, duplicity, hypocrisy, and being a fake.  Through self examination he must learn his ability and strength, submit himself to the counsel of wiser men, and learn to speak the language of holy candor.

“Brothers: Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour” 1 Peter 5:8  The devil and the flesh will seek to strangle this noble charioteer of the virtues by tempting a person to hasty judgement without a proper consideration for the end of their actions.  We must seek to be a people who act after having thought about an action, as opposed to acting during fits.  Now I do not mean that we need to perform a deep consideration about what shirt we are going to put on (especially if most of our shirts look the same) so the amount of time for the consideration must be proportionate to the decision being made. (1)

Even with big decisions, however, we must eventually come to a conclusion.  It is sad to see some people so caught up in “discerning” that they do no one any good, and become like the unprofitable servant who hid his talent rather than going out in investing it.

Sometimes though, even a good action must be put aside for a better one, or something good might need to be delayed for the sake of prudence.  A correction might need to not be made if the hearer is hard of heart, for “the prudent shall keep silence at that time, for it is an evil time.” Amos 5:13.  An action could be good, but dangerous to perform, or it may hinder a person’s primary duties. It might be a noble sentiment to go into the worst part of town to seek to give alms, but it is hardly prudent to do so at midnight for “the prudent man saw the evil, and hid himself” Proverbs 22:3

“But the end of all is at hand. Be prudent therefore, and watch in prayers.” 1 Peter 4:7-8  Of course, the best time for all reflection is when we seek God and ask our lives to reflect the will of God.  For If God is for us, who can be against us, and if our lives reflect His will, then even what appears to the world to be defeat will rather be victory.

A fool laughed at the instruction of his father: but he that regardeth reproofs shall become prudent. Proverbs 15:5.  Reproofs being ideally acts of love are very important to the growth in prudence. But who are these fathers that we should seek reproof from or accept it from?  Many a worldly man hath given me evil advice in my youth, especially in these perverse days.  The answer is simple: those who have lawful authority and reproof in their area of authority, like a boss correcting work or a father instructing his son.  These relationships – based on obedience – are one of the normal means of God for guiding a soul unto perfection.  Should we listen to other men?  Yes, if they appear to be rich in virtue and holiness of life and make God their final end, but even if not if their complaint or reproof may be valid, and we should bless God for their mercy in reproving us and ask that, by His grace,we be humble enough to receive it.

God has given all men a task to do, and He will provide the ability to see it through, even if it requires a miracle.  The hand of God is behind a humble man who invokes the Name of Jesus, and God often asks of his servants what the world would say is foolishness.  Our Lord asked “When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, did you want anything? and they said “Nothing”.  Luke 22:35  Does that not seem imprudent? To send out men with nothing?  To men of faith, absolutely not. God asked it to be done, and that was enough for them. Since Christ has been given all authority on heaven and earth, we know that if we too receive a mission from God or lawful authority that we can can survive with Jesus as our companion.

“Then said he unto them: But now he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise a scrip; and he that hath not, let him sell his coat, and buy a sword”  Luke 22 :36.  That is the Divine Wisdom, to send out with nothing and then to send out with a sword and a scrip.  For a man must rely on God alone, but he still has his part to do.

That is but one short part of the Gospel that teaches prudence.  There are many other times and instructions for dealing with all manner of men and circumstances.  It is safe to say that the reading of the Holy Scriptures is an effective way to grow in prudence; as is reading the lives of the Saints, in which we can find amongst the Holy Ones of God both their triumphs of prudence and even the snares which they might have fallen into in their youth.

Worldly prudence is that craftiness and cowardice which seeks to serve selfishness, while supernatural prudence ends in the the Divine Gaze (2) and that habitually seeks God as its final end in all things.  It thinks not of worldly things unless it is to serve God.  Its purpose is simple and its heart is pure.  So, let us seek God in our considerations and turn our time of thinking into time of prayer; let us humble our pride so we can glory in our weakness, and do all that we can do. Let us put away cunning and embrace the boldness of Deus Vult (God Wills it) and let us put away our selves and pick up the cross of Christ, for Our Lord sends us “out as sheep in the midst of wolves.  Be ye therefore wise as serpents and as simple as doves.” Matthew 10:16


[1]  Tanquerey, Adolphe, and Herman Branderis. “The Moral Virtues Art I The Virtue of Prudence.” The Spiritual Life: A Treatise on Ascetical and Mystical Theology. Rockford, IL: Tan and, 2000. 479-88. Print.

[2]  Benedict, IV. Heroic Virtue: A Portion of the Treatise of Benedict XIV. London, [etc.: T. Richardson and Son, 1850.

[3]  Clairvaux, Bernard. “In Praise of the New Knighthood.” ORB — St. Bernard of Clairvaux. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Sept. 2012. <>.

[4]  Carty, Charles Mortimer. “Chapter II His Work.” Padre Pio, the Stigmatist. Rockford, IL: Tan, 1973. 17. Print.

[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church 1806

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