We would have a mistaken idea of prudence if we thought it faint hearted or lacking in daring. Prudence expresses itself as a habit which inclines us to act well, by shedding light on the end and by helping us to seek the most suitable means of achieving it.
But prudence does not stand highest in the scale of values. We should ask ourselves always: prudence, for what? For there is a false kind of prudence (cunning would be a better name for it) which is at the service of selfishness and is expert in using the best means to achieve warped ends. In such circumstances, cleverness and perspicacity only serve to worsen one's dispositions and to bring upon oneself the reproach St Augustine made in one of his sermons: 'Are you trying to bend the heart of God, which is always upright, so that it may fall in with the perversity of yours?' This is the false prudence of the person who thinks his own efforts are quite sufficient to save him. 'Do not seek to consider yourselves prudent,' says St Paul, 'for it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the prudence of the prudent.'