Saturday, July 14, 2012


  ~~ “Fortitude is the guard and support of the other virtues.” --John Locke ~~

How to go on?

How can any of us possibly persevere in this hopeless world?  What makes us press forward in our lives?  How can we choose the right path when there are so many wrong ones being presented to us?  Is there some force within us all that can be tapped in troubling and difficult times? 

Of course there is.  It is called many things, but none so descriptive as "Fortitude"-- that force that protects us from the negative friction caused by doubt, fear, and adversity so that we can press on and do the right thing.  It does this by enabling us to move forward in a positive way, in spite of adversity, conducting life's many and varied activities in an upright and virtuous way. 

We call Fortitude a virtue because it is a higher thing-- something we have to invoke and work on practicing.  I can feel Fortitude inside and around me, but I cannot claim it as something I "found" or created within myself.  I know in my heart that it is a supernatural gift that I must use properly.  However, before I can do that successfully and consistently, I have to know exactly what it is and how it works (as with every other philosophical question). 

~~ “Fortitude is the marshal of thought, the armor of the will, and the fort of reason.” 
--Francis Bacon ~~

Taking it from the basics, I can begin by seeing what thinkers in the past came up with on the subject.  Many of the great philosophers spent considerable time on Fortitude-- including Plato, Aristotle, and St Thomas Aquinas-- and they all wrote of Fortitude as a virtue.  Plato called Fortitude the "principle of not flying danger, but meeting it."  Aristotle did not specifically write that Fortitude is the highest virtue, but he covers it first when he covers the moral virtues.  St Thomas was specific and wrote that fortitude ranks third among the Cardinal Virtues after Prudence and Justice.  Whatever his "ranking" of Fortitude, St Thomas knew its vital nature in the scheme of things: that it must ensure the stability of all the virtues.

 ~~  "Virtues in general must act with that firmness which fortitude bestows."  ~~  St Thomas Aquinas

The Greek masters and St Thomas differed in other specifics.  The Greeks saw the great example of Fortitude as "facing death in a noble way"-- with much emphasis on battle and physical courage.  St Thomas, on the other hand, believed that true Fortitude involves moral courage to withstand all things which threaten our immortal soul-- and that courage fails us with every act of vice.  In order to really be a virtue-- rather than simply our fighting "animal" spirit the Greeks wrote of-- Fortitude has to be guided by our rational soul that St Thomas described.

I agree strongly that Fortitude is much more than physical courage.  A brave and courageous warrior can excel on the battlefield, but still succumb to worldy tempations and moral failures.  In fact, it seems clear that what makes Fortitude a virtue is the fact that we need it in times that are not extraordinary at all.  We need it in quiet times when we are trying to make it through the day.  We need it when temptation is all around and the right choice is not the easy one.  I often find Fortitude necessary in what are seemingly easy times-- when our guard is down and we can fall prey to sins and vices; perhaps because they seem fun and innocuous, or we are simply not paying due attention. This is when I find myself needing Fortitude-- at the times when my guard can be down.  To me, this makes it more of a consciously applied trait-- a form of watchfulness, or "Condition Yellow," as we say in my profession.

~~ "Gird your hearts with silent fortitude, suffering yet hoping all things." 
--Felicia Hemans ~~

The interesting thing to me about Fortitude is that you need it in order to practice the other virtues-- especially during trying times-- but you also need... something in order to practice Fortitude.  Reason tells me that while Fortitude is the motive power of all the virtues, it still needs a power of its own to function.  The Christian will attest that the driving force behind Fortitude is God Himself. The secularist will give credit to a good conscience and solid values from the individual (we'll leave for now the troubling question of how a secularist would recognize those things).

Without opening an age-old argument, I will say that I believe the force has to come from something outside of ourselves.  It is too logically fallacious for me to believe that my own self can protect me-- single-handed-- from myself.  Certainly, I can feel myself responding with Fortitude and using it to strengthen me... but I cannot bring myself to claim it as a force that I created inside myself.  Each time I fail, I can feel an outside power helping me-- if I choose to call upon it.  "Doing the right thing" becomes a way of choosing and a way of conducting the day to day business of life.  Ups and downs begin to look the same, with the same basic plan:  never quit, never do what you know to be wrong, and if you fail, get right back to trying.  That is the force of Fortitude.

 ~~ “Though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again.” --Proverbs 24:16 ~~

Finally, there is the ultimate struggle for which we will need Fortitude.  At some point in our lives, we will be confronted with the truth of our mortality.  Having considered this for some time, I have come to the conclusion that we ultimately have but three choices in this area.
First, there is the choice of denial.  We have all spent time there and will again at some point.  Younger people tend to live in denial of mortality, as the power and essence of youth seems to repel the notion just as negative often repels positive.  There are many older people, though, who also embrace denial and its anesthesia-like siren song.

Second is the choice of despair.  Just as with denial, we have all experienced this one at times.  Despair can be a very, very strong force-- as evidenced throughout history, even for biblical persons up to and including Jesus Christ Himself.  Despair would have us abandon all of our virtues, including Hope, and surrender to the abyss. 

The third and final choice is acceptance of our true self which leads to a pursuit of our Creator and the right path.  People make this choice every day, because it is ostensibly an easy one to make.  The difficulty, of course, comes when we try to stay on the path that we thought we wanted.  Illustrative of this point is a quote from one of the giants of the early Christian forefathers, Saint Augustine, who famously said, "Lord, make me chaste, but not yet."  Deep inside, we recognize what is the right path, but at times it is so incredibly difficult to follow it.

St Augustine's sentiment seems to be hard-wired into all of us, and I contend that only Fortitude can see us through it.  Only a force that transcends our mortal selves can help us save our immortal souls.  We cannot shoot straight at the target of morality without a fortress to protect us from the slings and arrows of sin and vice that always seek to throw off our aim. 

~~ "Patience and fortitude conquer all things." --Ralph Waldo Emerson ~~

Fortitude, seen as a Cardinal Virtue and as the "enforcer" of the other Cardinal Virtues, is our ticket to the "straight and narrow" called out in the Gospel of Matthew (7:14).  The Bible, in fact, speaks to Fortitude's importance many times.  Regardless of your personal Faith or lack thereof, the wisdom is undeniable.  Here are a few of my favorites.

~~ “...let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” --Hebrews 12:1 ~~

~~ “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” --Galatians 6:9 ~~

For those who choose the third way (acceptance and seeking), the Bible is our guide and is absolutely filled with fuel that inspires and empowers the Fortitude we need.

~~ "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." --Philippians 4:13 ~~

~~ "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him."
--James 1:12 ~~

I close by positing that Fortitude is, literally, the gift that keeps on giving.  Once we have left behind us the despair and denial that choked our path, and once we begin to use Fortitude properly and successfully, we will find our way... our right way.




Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this essay! Coming in handy for a project at school plus it is totally awesome!!!

4/9/12 11:09  

Post a Comment


web counter
web counter