On the Perfect Points of Our Entrance: An Exploration of the Cardinal Virtues

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
Paul D. Saltz

When a man enters a room, it could be at his lodge, his place of business, a place of civic engagement, his house of worship, a place of social enrichment, and most importantly his own home; how does he wish to be perceived? For the sake of argument, we shall hold to the premise that a good man wishes to be known for his positive character and sound behavior. The attributes and desires of evil men shall be laid aside for other authors to contend with. Yet knowing how a man desires to be perceived by the larger community does not ensure that he will be. While strangers may be given the benefit of the doubt, those with history are continuously weighed against the tome of their daily actions.

We are taught in the lecture of the Entered Apprentice degree that we are to be known by the perfect points of our entrance. The four points allude to the cardinal virtues of temperance, fortitude, prudence, and justice. By having our entrance to every room ornamented by the adherence to these virtues, a man may increase the probability of a warm welcome. For this reason, a deeper understanding of these virtues is of great importance.

Before the dissection of these virtues commences, please permit me to discuss virtue as a moral habit. Now much has been written and debated in the realm of human development as to how we learn and how habits become part of our behavioral repertoire. So for this discussion, we shall rest on the premise that consistent practice shall demonstrably lead to the formation of habit. As Manual Velasquez, et al stated:

“Virtues are developed through learning and through practice… Just as the ability to run a

marathon develops through much training and practice, so too does our capacity to be fair,

to be courageous, or to be compassionate… Virtues are habits. That is, once they are acquired

they become characteristic of a person.” (Manual Velasquez, et al, web)

Our observed habits speak volumes about who we are as men and Masons. Like a fanfare of trumpets, they precede our entrance into any room. So just as we are to use our working tools to rid our rough ashlars of superfluities, it should become our daily practice to use them in the development of our moral habits, and of the cardinal virtues especially.

The lecture as prescribed by the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Ohio, defines temperance as:

“that due restraint upon the affections and passions which renders the body submissive and

frees the mind from the allurements of vice.” (Entered Apprentice degree)

Such a definition can read quite constrictive to the modern ear. Aristotle did not view the temperate person as one who completely despised life’s pleasures. Rather, they hold such enjoyments within the context of human life as a whole, not permitting overindulgence to undermine other aspects of their existence (Summers, web). Temperance can be viewed as a process of reflection upon our wants and desires to understand why we feel we want them and to what extent the fulfillment of them affects other aspects of our lives, including our relationships with others. Having this self-knowledge allows us to set priorities and create balance based on what we truly value. As Paul Bloomfield wrote in “Some Intellectual Aspects of the Cardinal Virtues”:

“Know Thyself and Be Temperate can be seen as the same thing due to the self-knowledge required for sound decision making… It is within our own consciouses where we must examine the effects of how we judge ourselves, our self-conceptions, and our views about the world around us. This is why temperance is the hardest to master.” (Bloomfield, 301, 303)

This kind of reflection can be very uncomfortable if not downright unsettling. We may not like what we see when it comes to why we are passionate about one thing over another, or why we throw caution to the wind to overindulge in one activity at the expense of something or someone else. In the end, it is not about stripping our lives of everything that gives us even the tiniest amount of enjoyment. Rather the goal is to keep all of our passions within due bounds so that we remain faithful to our obligations and live a balanced life in line with our values, the foundation of our plumbline.

The Entered Apprentice Degree closes its section on temperance by aligning it with the guttural. The explanation given is that by being over indulged, such a state could lead to the disclosure of secrets, which is in direct connection with the historic penalty of the obligation. While many of life’s pleasures are certainly enjoyed through the guttural and that altered states of euphoria can make men say all kinds of things, it can be speculated that its position between head and heart signifies the focus of our reflection in our efforts to be truly temperate Masons. It is also through the guttural that we communicate our needs and wants to those we hold most dear to us. This positive usage, while in contrast to the lecture, does promote the healthy relationships needed to have a balanced life.

Various lists of the cardinal virtues interchange fortitude and courage. The reasoning is because:

“People who have fortitude are described in an admiring way for their courage and this word
comes from the Latin fortitudo, meaning ‘strength’.” (Vocabulary.com)

Under the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Ohio, the word fortitude is used. In its Entered Apprentice lecture fortitude is defined as:

“that noble and steady purpose of mind whereby we are enabled to undergo pain, peril or danger, when deemed expedient.” (Entered Apprentice degree)

In one sense fortitude can be seen as the polar opposite of temperance because where temperance guides us in regards to what is pleasing, fortitude moves us forward in those situations that we wish to avoid. Yet they can be more similar that it would appear at first glance. Both of these virtues aid us in striking a balance in life. Temperance guides us in preventing life’s pleasures from becoming all consuming. Fortitude assists us in evaluating situations so that we do not take risks for “trivial ends.” (Bloomfield, 295) Instead, fortitude provides the courage to act boldly for those ideals and goals worth risking for. Thus temperance and fortitude both require us to examine what we value most and as a consequence, where we set our plumbline.

It has been fortitude that has shaped human history. Every innovative idea ever presented, every new technology utilized to ease then human workload, to every great societal shift brought about by war or peaceful protest, all required fortitude to carry them out. From world changing events to those that change a family unit (marriage, having children, changing jobs, etc.) we rely on fortitude to help us strike the balance between “excessive timidity and excessive boldness.” (Summers, web) We can’t become paralyzed by fear or ruined by recklessness. Rather fortitude allows us to move forward, eyes open, and with full understanding of the costs and potential benefits of an action.

The Entered Apprentice lecture connects fortitude with the pectoral due to our being received on the point of a sharp instrument. While fortitude is certainly required to knock on the door, be received, and proceed with the initiatory ritual, there is more to it than that. Fortitude and courage have long been associated with the heart. A popular culture example would be the cowardly lion from the Wizard of Oz (originally featured in the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum in 1900, followed by film adaptations in 1914, 1925, and the classic version in 1939 where Bert Lehr was cast as the lion). Towards the end of the story the lion is presented with a heart by the wizard, acknowledging the courage he already possessed. This longstanding association makes a natural connection between the pectoral and fortitude.

Prudence is described in the Entered Apprentice lecture as that which:

“teaches us to regulate our lives and actions according to the dictates of reason and is that habit by which we wisely judge and prudentially determine upon all things relative to our present as well as our future happiness.” (Entered Apprentice degree)

Prudence can be seen as practical wisdom, guiding our choices as we determine what is good in the present moment. (Summers, web) Learning prudence is primarily through lived experience. We gain situational wisdom by broadening our experiences and learning from them, both the positive and the negative. We also learn through shared wisdom from those of both lengthier life and of different paths than our own. As Henry Summers writes in “What Were Aristotle’s Four Cardinal Virtues”:

“Aristotle’s moral framework thus emphasizes the role of mentors in the ethical life. We must
learn how to judge rightly from those who have experienced more than we have and who have
gained insight over the course of their lives. Moral education, then, is key.” (Summers, web)

Brethren in Freemasonry are uniquely positioned through both formal programming and informal gatherings, to share wisdom gained with each other. One does not need to be an official Master Craftsman to a candidate in order to impart knowledge gained during the course of his life. Neither does a new brother need to wait until he has sat in the east or received a twenty-year service pin to share his thoughts. Every man comes to Freemasonry with life experiences and wisdom that can be shared for the improvement of all. In the spirit of brotherly love even the shyest Entered Apprentice can be encouraged to share their own wisdom, thus allowing the lodge to benefit from the strength of every living stone within it.

The lecture of the Entered Apprentice degree assigns prudence to the manual, for how we held the volume of sacred law. Every man can gain wisdom through the study of their faith’s sacred texts. Yet independent study of limited perspectives only takes us so far. Humans are social animals who need interaction. As Freemasons we have the benefit of learning from the collective of our diverse brotherhood. The process of becoming prudent is enhanced and even expedited through our experiences with shared knowledge. Who better to learn and share with than one in whom we share a grip.

Justice is defined in the Entered Apprentice lecture as:

“that standard or boundary of right which enables us to render to every man his just due without distinction. This virtue is not only consistent with divine and human laws, but is the very cement and support of civil society.” (Entered Apprentice degree)

As temperance and fortitude are connected to where we set our plumbline, justice demands strict adherence to the level. In matters of justice, how we view our own place in the world and our relation to others is just as important as how we view a situation where a person(s) claim wrong doing and insist on restitution. To hold mankind on the level ensures that we hold the concerns and needs of all men as valid and do not dismiss them because the other is viewed as less than. The philosopher John Rawls once wrote that “justice is the elimination of arbitrary differences.” (Bloomfield, 306) This definition can be seen as the foundation of every social justice movement through history, from rights for aboriginal peoples, women, to more current struggles for racial equity, and over sexual orientation and gender identity. While difference has created a beautiful spectrum of diversity across the human family that is to be celebrated, our interactions and decision making as it relates to other individuals and our relationships with them require us to see all people as individuals whose lives are just as valuable and deserving of respect as our own. As Albert Pike wrote in his essay on the 16th Degree – Prince of Jerusalem in Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry:

“the work of justice shall be peace, and the effect of justice, quiet and security, and wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of the times. Walk ye righteously and speak uprightly; despise the gains of oppression, shake from your hands the contamination of bribes; stop not your ears from the cries of the oppressed…” (Pike, Freemasoninformation.com)

The level is our tool against oppression and discrimination in all forms for it demands that we see each person on earth by their character and not by which they are different from ourselves. This is the foundation of a just society.

The Entered Apprentice lecture connects justice to the pedal, by way of the time we stood squarely in the northeast corner of the lodge. It was in this position where each Mason was to begin laying the cornerstone of their own temple not made with hands. While it can be speculated that the spiritual cornerstone should consist of all of the virtues, it must be leveled with justice. Otherwise, the stones laid upon it will not stand. Likewise, a society without true justice is doomed to crumble into anarchy. Thus every Mason must stand as an embodiment of justice for the larger world.

The old adage “actions speak louder than words” brings our exploration of the cardinal virtues into pristine focus. As with all lessons within Freemasonry, it is in their practical application that we improve our lives and it is by our actions that we are known by the world around us. A man can want to be greeted and welcomed as a good and upright individual but do the actions he is known by warrant it? We are all called to deep reflection; to honestly face our rough ashlars and submit our lives to the painful strikes of the gavel, to rid ourselves of negative thought processes and behaviors. Are our lives in balance? Do we act with courage for the right reasons? Do we let practical wisdom guide our decision making and are we willing to learn from and mentor others? Do we see every human being as valued and beloved children of our creator and do we stand for taking actions that maintain the worth of each individual? How do you truly enter a room?


Brother Saltz was initiated on June 27, 2023, passed on September 26, 2023, and raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason on February 13, 2024, at Reynoldsburg Lodge #340, Reynoldsburg, Ohio. While still a newbie in many respects, he enjoys delving into ritual and helping his brothers with the monthly breakfast which supports the Reynoldsburg Special Olympics. He has been a lifelong student of history and philosophy and looks forward to researching and writing on the breadth of what the craft has to teach us in our modern times. 

Outside of Freemasonry, Brother Saltz serves the residents of his home county at the Child Support Enforcement Agency, where he is an Administrative Assistant to the executive team and manages the office's diversity initiatives. He is a self-described anglophile, foodie, avid reader, and lover of the arts. When not at work or with his brethren, he finds sanctuary at home with his husband Aaron, and their two cats. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.