Tag Archives: Josef Pieper

25 September: The Virtue of Fortitude, II, What is it?

 

dbp_1973_771_maximilian_kolbe

Saint Maximilian Kolbe showed great fortitude in standing against Nazism and in giving his life for another.

The notion of fortitude takes a bit of explaining. Like prudence, it seems an old-fashioned word, not used very much in ordinary conversation. When, in fact, was the last time you heard someone use the term? Perhaps the answer is Never. And yet, fortitude is an important concept, and if you possess it as a virtue, you have something very valuable indeed. Why? Because fortitude is about having strength on the level of our deepest self. You might say that fortitude is about being the person you really want to be.

Paradoxically, however, fortitude presupposes human weakness, presupposes that we are liable to be wounded. A stone cannot have fortitude because it has no mind or soul or feelings (as we would understand them). Nor can an angel have fortitude, because an angel is immortal. Fortitude belongs to thinking and feelings beings that are mortal, that can be hurt, and even killed – and that’s us. We can be wounded on so many levels, emotionally, spiritually, physically. Fortitude is that virtue by which we are able to be brave in the face of threats to our emotional, spiritual or physical well-being. Josef Pieper spells it out: ‘...[E]very violation of our inner peace; everything that happens to us or is done with us against our will; everything in any way negative, everything painful and harmful, everything frightening and oppressive’, this is what fortitude is for. And he goes on, ‘The ultimate injury, the deepest injury, is death.’

For further study:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church ,Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1994

The Four Cardinal Virtues, Joseph Pieper, University of Notre Dame Press

http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/

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September 24: The Virtue of Fortitude, I.

330px-1859-Martinique.web

Welcome back to Sister Johanna of Minster Abbey who resumes her reflections on the virtues in Agnellus Mirror.  This week we are considering Fortitude, but beginning with a reminder of what we’ve seen so far. I could not resist this picture, bearing in mind the verse from Psalm 92 describing a virtuous person: The just shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow up like the cedar of Libanus. I’m sure Sister’s reflections will help us all to flourish, wherever our roots may be. MB.

  1. Recap

A few months ago we studied some of the cardinal virtues. If you weren’t here for it, it might help to say that the concept of virtue comes from the Latin word for strength: virtus. A person who strives to grow in virtue then, is not a kind of namby-pamby wimp, but a person of integrity and strength. There are four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. They are called cardinal virtues not because they were discovered by a cardinal of the Catholic Church, or are virtues only practiced by cardinals, but because they are of “cardinal” or major importance in the moral life and in our lives with Jesus.

These virtues are sometimes called acquired virtues, because through God’s grace and our cooperation with grace, we can acquire them, and grow in them. I have been writing about the virtues for this blog because studying them has helped me in my life of discipleship. I’d like to share what I have learned in the hope that others may come to love the virtues, and be inspired to interiorise them.

It is not possible to separate the virtues from each other completely because they depend on each other. This is good news because it means that if we grow in one virtue, there is a knock-on effect, and we simultaneously make progress in all the virtues. We have seen in previous posts that prudence exercises a certain superiority over all the other virtues – you might say that prudence presides over them. This is because only the truly prudent person can understand how to live the other virtues of justice, fortitude and temperance. Prudence is the cause of the other virtues’ being virtues at all, as the Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper points out in his book The Four Cardinal Virtues. Why is this so? Because prudence acts a bit like a good lifeguard on a beach. The lifeguard oversees what is happening on the beach and, if she is good at her job, keeps an eye on the most vulnerable swimmers, and blows the whistle if she sees someone taking imprudent risks. In the moral life, it is prudence that keeps tabs on all the happenings in our life, foresees what might become dangerous, and guides us to safer, more reasonable pursuits.

Prudence, for instance, asks the right questions (see St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, [abbreviated below as S. T.] II.II. 47:7 for his treatment of this). It is through the virtue of prudence that we ask “how” and “with what means” we, in a given situation, shall succeed in doing what is needed. Likewise, prudence never forgets to seek answers to questions like, “Where is this action going? What is the point of doing this? What will it achieve?” It belongs to prudence to direct all the virtues appropriately, so that we do not misjudge a situation and proceed to do the right thing for the wrong reasons, or the right thing in the wrong way, at the wrong time, and in an amount that is either surplus to requirements or in deficit of them, thereby creating a situation that is worse than the one we started with. By being both process-oriented and goal-oriented, prudence helps us to deploy all the virtues in a suitable manner so that we may find a path through the dilemmas and confusions with which existence in a fallen world is inevitably filled.

Justice is connected to prudence as its “first word”, according to Josef Pieper. We saw in our earlier posts that justice is only possible if we can grasp and evaluate rightly what is going on in our lives, and this capacity comes from prudence. No one can be just without the clear-sightedness that prudence gives us. Justice, then, because it is informed by prudence’s knowledge, is able to relate to people and things fairly, because it understands, in an overarching way (and not just from time to time), how much we have received from them and what we owe them.

In our next post we will turn to the virtue of fortitude.

For further study:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church ,Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1994

The Four Cardinal Virtues, Joseph Pieper, University of Notre Dame Press

http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/

 

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June 9: Justice V: The Fruits of Justice

 serre eyraud

Because ‘the object of justice is to keep men together in society and mutual intercourse’, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, then when justice succeeds the result must surely be that society enjoys the blessing of peace. And on the personal level, holiness must be one of the fruits of this virtue. There is even an element of voluntary self-sacrifice in the virtue of justice, according to St. Thomas. He says justice ‘disregards its own profit in order to preserve the common equity’ (Q 58:11).

Perhaps one wouldn’t expect ‘justice to ‘disregard its own profit’. Doesn’t self-sacrifice go beyond justice? Wouldn’t it make more sense to place sacrifice under the virtue of charity, maybe? But, no. Not in St. Thomas’s thinking. For him, since justice deals with the rights of others, all the virtues pertaining to life with others are part of justice and enable one to exercise justice. So kindness, mercy, liberality, succouring the needy and so on are all ascribed to justice. The good person is above all the just person, says Josef Pieper, commenting on St. Thomas. ‘Justice reaches out beyond the individual subject’, he says, in order to ‘pour itself out, to work outside itself, to be shared with others, to shine forth. A thing is more eminently good the more fully and widely it radiates its goodness’ (see Josef Pieper’s book, The Four Cardinal Virtues, part 2:3). Yet, we were not wrong in seeing the close connection between the outpouring of justice and the outpouring of charity. The Catechism underlines this in the remark, ‘It is characteristic of love to think of the one whom we love’ (no. 2804). It is likewise characteristic of justice to think of the other, whom we love.

SJC.

Photo MMB, 1970, Le Melezin, Serre Eyraud.

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June 5: The Virtue of Justice I:Prudence Revisited.

Picture Wed 2nd March

Over to Sister Johanna for her reflections on the second Cardinal Virtue: Justice.

The cardinal virtues come in a famous pack of four: prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. We looked at prudence in some of our previous posts. I thought it time now to move to the moral virtue that is next in line: justice.

If you weren’t here for the posts on prudence, then it might help briefly to revisit them: they began on 24th April, and can be found at this link.

Prudence has a lot to do with seeing reality as it is, not as we would like it to be. It is also to do with being able to plot out a course of action which takes that reality into account. A prudent person is a great one to have as a confidant, it seems to me. He or she will ask you a lot of questions and help you to arrive peacefully at a decision – which, in the end, will still be your decision, because the questions and answers that prudence considers do not force you into anything. Rather, they reveal a path by clearing away the weeds, and so enable you freely to walk down that path, and own the decision. The words of great twentieth century Catholic philosopher, Josef Pieper,* can be enlightening. He says:

Prudence has a double aspect. One side is concerned with gathering knowledge, with establishing a yardstick, and is directed toward reality; the other side is concerned with decision and command, with evaluation, and is directed toward action.

I love the idea that prudence is about gathering the knowledge that enables us to understand reality. Behind this is the humble acknowledgement that as fallen creatures, our view of things is apt to be distorted. Prudence is about opening our eyes to the truth of things and situations, so that our subsequent decisions and actions will be directed toward that same truth and goodness. ‘Prudence translates the truth of real things into the goodness of human activity…. Thus prudence does not simply rank first in the scale of cardinal virtues, it actually is the “mother of virtues.” And “gives birth” to the others’ (Pieper).

SJC

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