Jun 20, 2018
I am sure that, like most people, you have often been tempted to confuse the prudence practiced by "children of the world," and the type of prudence advocated in the gospel: "Be prudent like the serpent." In both cases, a person carefully steers clear of what is rash, unwise, and impulsive; every decision is carefully gauges, and examined from every angle. Therefore, the similarity is striking.
But there is a chasm separating the first from the second, still the first can copy the second so well that we need to sharpen our attention in order to be able to distinguish between them.
The gentle Saint Francis of Sales used to say that he had scant sympathy for the virtue of prudence, "this poor virtue which he had such difficulty loving," and when he managed to love it, "It was out of pure necessity" (L'espirt de St. Francis of Sales, Msgr. Camus, p. 246). Commenting upon the gospel urging us to be prudent like serpents and simple like doves, he remarked that the proportion between "the serpent" and the "dove" should be ten to one. To keep them in equal balance is bound to have a harmful consequence, namely that the serpent will devour the dove; the dove on the other hand, cannot be a threat to the serpent. This gentle saint was clearly referring to the fact that the virtue of prudence can easily degenerate into "worldly prudence" (which he detested); we must therefore be constantly on the watch to avoid this dangerous pitfall.
He relates that after the success enjoyed by his introduction to the devout life, his "prudent' friends advised him never to write another book: "It would be difficult for the sequel to match your masterpiece, and consequently any further publication would tarnish your now well-established reputation as an outstanding writer!"