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Virtues Related To Fortitude

October 20, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


How often in the day-to-day trials associated with trying to live an authentically Christian life do we experience sentiments that mirror those of the psalmist when he proclaimed: “I was pushed hard, so that I was falling” (Psalm 118:13a)? Yet, we can always have confidence based on what immediately follows: “But the Lord helped me. The Lord is my strength and my song” (Psalm 118:13b-14a).
It is this very verse that the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) cites right after defining the cardinal virtue that we began to consider last week: fortitude.
And how fitting it is, for “the moral virtue of fortitude strengthens us so we can face difficulties courageously and overcome temptation energetically. This virtue helps us to face persecutions, to conquer fear in the face of hardship, and even to lay down our lives for the sake of the Gospel” (The Didache Bible, p. 703).
Indeed, “martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith….[The martyr] endures death through an act of fortitude” (CCC, n. 2473). As expressed by Christoph Cardinal Schönborn in volume 3 of Living the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Martyrdom…is rightly considered to be the ultimate case of fortitude: better to give up worldly goods and bodily life than to deny God’s love and fidelity” (p. 39).
Pope St. John Paul II wrote eloquently of the value of heroic fortitude lived to the point of martyrdom in his 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor (VS), where he referred to martyrdom as an “outstanding sign of holiness in the Church” (VS, n. 93 § 1). The Vicar of Christ went on to say, however, that “although martyrdom represents the high point of the witness to moral truth, and one to which relatively few people are called, there is nonetheless a consistent witness which all Christians must daily be ready to make, even at the cost of suffering and grave sacrifice” (VS, n. 93 § 2).
Moreover, as St. Thomas Aquinas affirms, “He that stands firm against great things will in consequence stand firm against less things” (Summa Theologiae [STh] II-II, Q. 123, art. 4).
The virtue of fortitude in operation manifests itself in two ways: to attack and to endure. “There will be occasions in which the individual is called upon to defend the good by means of attack,” states Fr. Jordan Aumann, OP, “and there will be times in which the individual cannot attack but must resist by not yielding” (Spiritual Theology [SpT], p. 307).
Perhaps surprisingly to many, fortitude shows itself in daily life most fully in patient endurance.
As Fr. Aumann explains, from a psychological point of view it is easier to attack an evil — especially when the passion of anger is aroused and adrenaline is flowing — than to tranquilly accept and even embrace the suffering that accompanies a terminal illness; or the humiliation and loss of livelihood that results from unjust persecution for standing firm in defense of “politically incorrect” Christian principles (e.g., heroic Christian bakers and florists who steadfastly refuse to compromise by providing services for so-called same-sex marriage ceremonies).
As is the case for all the moral virtues, true fortitude lies in the mean. Opposed by excess is inordinate fearlessness, of taking unreasonable risks disproportionate to the end being sought. An excessively bold or reckless man charges foolhardily into dangers that could have been prudently avoided. Opposed by defect is the vice of cowardice or timidity where one refuses to take a prudent risk or make a prudent sacrifice because of excessive fear.
The cowardly person is so concerned with self-preservation that he becomes crippled with fear in the face of danger — he abandons the greater good due to terror.
The cardinal virtue of fortitude has integral parts which might be described as virtuous habits that are necessary for its full expression. As we saw earlier when treating the virtue of prudence, these integral parts are like the foundation, walls, and roof of a house (cf. STh II-II, Q. 48, art. 1), without which the house would not exist.
St. Thomas names and considers four integral parts of fortitude in his Summa: magnanimity, magnificence, patience, and perseverance — along with the vices opposed to each by defect and excess (see STh II-II, QQ. 128-138).
In last week’s column, we considered magnanimity (“greatness of soul”) which “by its very name denotes stretching forth of the mind to great things” (STh II-II, Q. 129, art. 1). It consists in doing great and honorable things for their own sake, not for accolades — the magnanimous man has little time to worry about personal honor.
“Magnanimity reflects our consideration of the divine spark within us,” says Dr. Kevin Vost, Psy.D, “the recognition that we are greatly blessed by God and should use our powers for the greatest works of good within our capacities” (Understanding Your Ten Talents [UTT], p. 85).
Christ Himself exhorted His followers to be magnanimous: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Heeding the words of the Master and with the help of God’s grace, the magnanimous man strives for perfection to the extent possible in this life. Opposed by excess are the vices of presumption, ambition, and vainglory; opposed by defect is the vice of pusillanimity (“smallness of soul”).
The second integral part of fortitude, magnificence, derives from two Latin words: magnus (“great”) and facere (“to make or do”). In common usage in today’s culture, its meaning is most often associated with rich or splendid display, but as a virtue it is about “making great things, principally through proper expenditure of money” (UTT, p. 88). As expressed by St. Thomas, “it belongs to magnificence to do something great” (STh II-II, Q. 134, art.1, ad 3).
Since there is no greater end than to give greater honor and glory to God, the magnificent man is on the lookout to find ways to make Him more honored and loved. A fitting example from times past are the enormous outlays made in European countries to construct magnificent basilicas and cathedrals, some of which took more than a lifetime to build.
In contemporary times, mind-boggling outlays go rather toward the construction of extravagant stadiums with see-through roofs — at a cost in excess of a billion dollars. Just consider the magnificent cathedral that could be erected and adorned to give honor and glory to our Creator for a fraction of that amount.
Although magnificence does not face up to physical danger per se, it is allied with fortitude in that it demands the surrender of large amounts of one’s possessions. Opposed by defect to the virtue of magnificence is the vice of meanness or miserliness of heart where one cuts corners in order to get by for the least amount possible. By way of excess is the vice of wastefulness, of making outlandish expenditures for garish display that exceeds the value of the outlay.
The third integral part of fortitude, patience, is the virtue that “enables one to bear physical and moral sufferings without sadness of spirit or dejection of heart” (SpT, p. 308). A man is said to be patient because “he behaves in a praiseworthy manner by suffering things which hurt him here and now,” says the Angelic Doctor, “in such a way as not to be inordinately saddened by them” (STh II-II, Q. 136, art. 4, ad 4).
Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, OCD sagely states that “just as we need bread to live, so every day, even every moment, we need patience because every day and every moment brings with it its own trial” (Divine Intimacy, p. 874).
The “little way” of St. Thérèse of Lisieux places great emphasis on the practice of patience in all the little occasions of irritation one encounters each day as a means to grow in virtue and charity.
By defect, a vice opposed to patience might be the display of impatience (e.g., lashing out at a person causing a hardship or simply avoiding a difficult situation even though one’s state of life demands that it be faced). Another vice might be resignation — to continue to bear a hardship, but with sorrow, sadness, and in a spirit of defeat. Opposed to patience by excess is impassivity.
As expressed by Deacon Douglas McManaman, “There is nothing praiseworthy about ‘patiently’ enduring harm against others, against the common good, or the divine honor. Such ‘patience’ is merely a front that disguises a cowardly and unjust spirit” (A Treatise on the Four Cardinal Virtues, p. 109).

The Battle For Holiness

The fourth integral part of fortitude, perseverance, “disposes a person to hold steadily to a good purpose, keeping the end steadily in view, despite delays, fatigue, and temptations to indifference” (Msgr. Paul J. Glenn, A Tour of the Summa [ATS], p. 271). In the Christian context, it is an infused virtue by which we overcome the tendency to discouragement due to the sheer length of the spiritual battle for holiness that we encounter as a constant struggle.
In a special category is final perseverance, for “it needs not only habitual grace, but also the gratuitous help of God sustaining man in good until the end of life” (STh II-II, Q. 137, art. 4).
Opposed to perseverance by defect is softness (effeminacy) which “tends to give way under the effort of sustained virtue, even when the stress is slight” (ATS, p. 272). St. Thomas especially applies this vice to those who fail to persevere in the struggle against the allurement of pleasure (cf. STh II-II, Q. 138, art. 1). Opposed by excess is obstinacy (pertinacity) by which one adheres excessively and unreasonably to his own opinion or judgment (cf. STh II-II, Q. 138, art. 2).

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(Don Fier serves on the board of directors for The Catholic Servant, a Minneapolis-based monthly publication. He and his wife are the parents of seven children. Fier is a 2009 graduate of Ave Maria University’s Institute for Pastoral Theology. He is a Consecrated Marian Catechist.)

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