Tag Archives: Saint Thomas Aquinas

29 September: Fortitude VI, Fortitude, Justice and Endurance.

gatewaypresteigne (507x800)

And the virtue of justice? What does that have to do with fortitude? St Thomas says of justice that it is ‘…the lasting and constant will [to] render each his due’ (S. T., II, II, 58,1). Fortitude stands firm against whatever threatens a value. That valued thing might exist on a world scale, such as the freedom of our country, or on a personal scale, such as my right to a just wage; or on any other scale you choose, but the key word is value. By the virtue of justice, we become able to recognise what is of true value, and honour it by a certain kind of commitment to it, as appropriate. By the virtue of justice, in other words, we are able to identify what is worth the kind of self-dedication that fortitude requires.

Which brings us to the consideration of St. Thomas’s teaching on the chief “act” of fortitude. For him, fortitude is about endurance. This may be surprising. Perhaps we expected fortitude to issue in a big display of obvious power directed against something big and bad. How does endurance figure into fortitude? St. Thomas explains that endurance is “an action of the soul cleaving resolutely to good, the result being that it does not yield to fear” (S. T. II, II, 123, 6). Endurance, then, in “cleaving resolutely” to something, implies length of time. We don’t have to cleave resolutely when the difficulty disappears quickly. Resolute cleaving is only necessary when we have a difficulty that doesn’t go away.

So we see here that first of all, fortitude is a virtue for the long haul. Fortitude is what comes into play for situations that require time in order to achieve their fulfilment. Take something like marriage. The wedding day is not the fulfilment of the marriage vows. It is the golden anniversary that fulfils what the couple set out to do and become when they made their commitment to each other. In the meantime, fortitude is what helps them to weather the storms that are inevitable in a relationship between two fallible beings; it helps them to learn from their mistakes, admit their share in them, say ‘Sorry,’ and start again.

SJC

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/

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

28 September: Fortitude V, Fortitude and the True Self

Prague_Demonstration_April_1990 (640x442)

Today is the feast of Saint Wenceslas, King of Bohemia. Gathering around his statue helped people to develop and exercise fortitude in times of oppression and eventually to win freedom for their country.

 

What does fortitude do for us in these painful situations? Does it make us invulnerable? Does it make us completely fearless? Does it make us feel strong? The answer to all these questions is no. We will need fortitude as long as we are alive, and we will be vulnerable as long as we are alive. We will never be without the need of this virtue. Fortitude is about helping us to be strong, but it will not make us feel strong.

Then, what kind of strength are we talking about here? We do not have a “fortitude button” in our hearts, that we can turn on whenever we need it. But, fortitude does get help from the other virtues, so that it can become part of our character as a human being, part of our personality. This is where we can return to our reflections on the virtue of prudence. Prudence gives us the ability both to see reality and to see the good for which we are striving. This identification of and commitment to the good in a given situation is the vital thing that sustains us in situations requiring fortitude. Sometimes a situation is confusing, and there are several good things that seem to be in conflict. We can find it hard to identify which good thing we should be focused on. We often need the counsel of a wise person to help us sort through the confusion, and to gain clarity. Once we do, however, then we need fortitude so that we do not begin sliding back because of the pull of our emotions. Fortitude strengthens us on the level of our will, so that we become able to hold fast to that which we perceive to be good and true and worth suffering for. In this way, we become able to handle the emotional reactions that can otherwise be overwhelming in the face of danger or difficulty.

St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of these emotional reactions by using the concepts of fear and of daring. In his thinking, the fear and the daring are on opposite sides. Because of fear, he says, we simply want to run away from the threatening thing. If we do that, though, then as St. Thomas puts it, the will withdraws from following what the reason knows to be right, good and true. This is where fortitude helps us to become the person we really want to be, for we lose something vital here on the level of personal integrity if we run away from everything that is difficult and emotionally threatening. By holding firm to our convictions and principles, even at great personal cost, we grow. We become recognisable as someone whose actions match up to our system of values. It is not easy to be such a person. Fortitude is about this kind of growth.

At the other extreme from fear, there is the tendency to be “daring” in the face of danger – by which St. Thomas means that, rather than try to escape, we race headlong into a dangerous situation ‘without taking counsel’, and in a manner that is not helpful to anyone, but only makes the situation worse. While there can be a time when a situation truly calls for a kind of bravery that advances into battle against the enemy, for St. Thomas, this is precisely what “daring” does not do. Daring, in his thinking, seems to be another word for a knee-jerk reaction, which dashes precipitately into the face of danger, taking foolhardy risks, endangering oneself or others unnecessarily.

In other cases, as St. Thomas points out with shrewd awareness of human nature, the person reacts by both running away from and running toward danger. He quotes Aristotle here and says, ‘Some hurry to meet danger, yet fly when the danger is present. This is not the behaviour of a brave man’ (see S. T., II, II, 123, 6). This brief sketch perfectly captures the personality of someone who talks big, but cannot cope with real danger.

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/

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

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/

 

Picture credit

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

June 12: Justice, VII: Justice, Gratitude and Religion

open-hands-prayer

The just person does not repay another merely because the other needs it, but because the other has done something good for us. We wish to make a return. There is a deep and soul-enriching reciprocity about justice, then. We are touching something fundamental in the human make-up here. To repay a good deed done to us with a reciprocal good deed is something we need to do in order to be whole. On the other hand, to be constantly on the receiving end of goodness without ever acknowledging it is a kind of solipsistic existence that is not good for us, and in our heart of hearts we know it. Even babies will spontaneously respond to goodness by smiling back at a loving smile, by embracing the one who embraces them with love. We are made to respond to goodness and love by a goodness and love of our own.

In our life with God, we will always be indebted to him. The sheer size of what we’ve been given by God is truly astronomical: he has given us the universe! He has given us life. He has given us himself in his beloved Son. He continues to sustain us in being by his love. We will always be loved more by him than we can possibly love in return. But that does not excuse us from trying. It is religion that allows us to attempt some expression of our gratitude to God. God does not need gratitude in the same way our employee needs his pay, or in the same way our friend needs to be thanked for his acts of kindness to us. God does not need. Full stop. But we need to express it.

shared meal

Gratitude, then, is inseparable from religion and is an aspect of justice. Eucharist is a word that literally means thanksgiving. One of the psalms exclaims, ‘Oh how can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me? The cup of salvation I will raise, and I will call on the Lord’s name’ (psalm 115). Through religion, we raise the cup of salvation, we give ourselves to God, who gives himself to us. This reciprocal giving, on such a deep level, is itself a gift – the greatest of gifts.

St. Thomas Aquinas, who never seems to overlook anything, ever, points out (S.T., II, II, Q. 106:5) that gratitude isn’t always related to the material size of what we have been given. From our human benefactors, also, we have been given many things, large and small, on many levels, by many people. Yet, as St. Thomas comments, we are ‘sometimes under greater obligation to one who has given little, but with a large heart.’ What a beautiful thought. I think of the gift of a sea-shell given by a child with shining eyes. The gift of a smile from an adult with intellectual disabilities. The gift of trust given by a friend. These gifts are what help to make us human, and to make life liveable. As we study here the virtue of justice, we see that it reminds us to notice that the gift with a heavy weight, with a countable quantity, or with a vast size is not the only thing that make a gift valuable, and that obliges us to respond in kind. The intangible quality of the gift is perhaps what is most valuable to us. The gift of the heart, the gift of love, this is the greatest gift. To return it is one of the greatest of human acts. The virtue of justice helps us to live lives of gratitude, of reverence, of joy and of greatness.

SJC.

Anyone wishing to make a further study may consult:

Josef Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues, University of Notre Dame Press, 1966.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II.II. Q. 58f.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1803 – 1811.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

June 8. Justice IV: Justice and Debt

aquinas-carlo_crivelli_007 

The virtue of justice is particularly sensitive to all forms of indebtedness, not merely monetary. ‘The just deed,’ says St. Thomas with admirable succinctness, ‘is the deed that is adjusted to or commensurate with the other’ (S.T., II.II, Q. 57:3). For example, a parent feeds baby-food to her three-month-old baby because that is what the baby needs. The rest of the family receives normal food. An employer in a large company normally would not expect the daily cleaners to be doing executive work. Justice apportions expectations, services, and wages according to the needs, services, and abilities of the other.

Justice, therefore, does not mean that everyone is treated in the same way. Rather, it is the role of justice to see that people are treated differently when they are different, when they have different needs, and exist in differing situations. The equality with which justice is concerned involves ensuring that what is done for another or given to another is duly proportionate to that person in his or her situation of need.

At the same time, when people are existing in identical situations, then it is the role of justice to ensure that their treatment is identical. Two people performing the same job in the same company should be paid the same wage, regardless of the colour of their skin, their country of origin and so on. ‘Justice’, says Thomas Aquinas, ‘is the perpetual and constant will to render each one his right. A man is said to be just because he respects the rights of others’ (S.T. II.II. Q58:1).

SJC

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

June 7. Justice III: Justice and the Other

syrian-gathering

Photo: L’Arche.

A theme underlying the Catechism’s teaching on the virtue of justice, but which could easily be missed, is that justice is a virtue by which we focus on others’ rights and claims.

We are perhaps encouraged by our culture to be aware of justice or injustice in the political sphere. But apart from that, our culture today teaches us to be most aware of injustices done to ourselves. We are taught to ask “what about me?” rather constantly. Granted, in a world where we can easily be victimised by entire systems of injustice, this is an important and necessary question to ask. The virtue of justice does not require us to be victims. On the contrary, this virtue is about opposing injustice wherever we find it. But, it is possible to go overboard here. It is the justice of the nursery, of the two-year-old, and of the ghetto, that regards everyone as a potential robber and enemy. It is important to grasp that in the virtue of justice, its principal act is to honour the legitimate rights and claims of others.

So then, St. Thomas Acquinas tells us in his Summa Theologica (II.II, Q.58:1): ‘It is proper to justice, as compared with the other virtues, to direct man in his relations with others.’ The other virtues – prudence, courage and temperance – are formed within the mind and emotions of the individual. They may involve other people, but they may not. Justice, on the other hand, exists in relation to others. It works to maintain a certain equity between a need and the fulfilment of that need. The obvious example is in the payment of a just wage for a service rendered. But there are deeper and more subtle considerations relative to justice, which we shall explore in the coming posts.

SJC

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

3 May, Prudence X. Conclusion: Proceeding in Confidence.

Palm Sunday Philippines 2015 02

Saint Thomas Aquinas has a genius for analysis, certainly, and analysis often brings to light something of which we were already dimly aware so that we become more conscious of it, and say to ourselves, ‘Yes, that is what I have always thought.’

Someone once asked me, however, if Saint Thomas meant us to have a checklist with boxes to tick each time a big decision was needed in life.  And if not, how do we make use of the insights we’ve just been considering?  My advice is that, like many things that apply to the inner life, these parts of prudence overlap.  Growth in one area will mean that growth in the virtue as a whole.  We might consider the list and see, for example, that we have a hard time with one or two aspects of prudence.  With Thomas’s insight, we can apply ourselves to these aspects and undertake to make some progress in them.  Or, we might find that we were already striving in this direction, but were coming under criticism from others, whose lack of prudence was making them impatient with our tendency to approach matters from the perspective outlined here.

Now, perhaps we can proceed with more confidence in

‘discerning rightly that which helps from that which hinders in our journey toward God.’

SJC.

Many thanks to Sister Johanna for this series of reflections on Prudence. I think I’ll go back and consider them all together, now I’ve read them one by one.   Will T.

Photo: Missionaries of Africa

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

2 May: Prudence IX, Hmmm.

warsaweve1-800x457

Circumspection. 

Foresight looks ahead.  Circumspection looks around.  It is to do with how the many circumstances in one’s life may combine at this particular point in time in the effort to attain one’s end prudently.  It takes cognisance of the complexity of existence.

Jack and his bookshop might be getting along fine now and he may decide to expand his business.  But then he prudently decides to wait a bit because of, say, illness in the family.  He doesn’t want to be preoccupied with business when the family may need him to be more available at home.  Circumspection strives to evaluate how everything will or will not work together.  It will try to leave room for the unexpected, for the unforeseeable.  Which leads us to: 

Caution 

Isn’t prudence about caution?  Having said so much do we really need to consider caution, too?  After foresight and circumspection, aren’t we sufficiently protected from evil?  Not really.  Thomas says that the things with which prudence is concerned are ‘contingent matters of action.’  Put in more modern words, we cannot control everything, or see into the depths of every action.  The ‘false is found with the true,’ he warns, and ‘evil is mingled with good on account of the great variety’ of life and events and personalities.

‘Good is often hindered by evil, and evil has the appearance of good.  Wherefore prudence needs caution.’ 

SJC.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

1 May: Prudence VIII, Foresight

steep-st-lincoln1-640x599

 

Foresight – or looking into the future – might seem to be a bit strange here in our survey of the virtue of prudence.   How can we see what has not happened yet?  How can we control that?  Isn’t foresight God’s affair?  And our part is simply to accept what he disposes?  Not quite, according to Aquinas (Summa Theologica  II.II: 49:6).  It is true, he says, that certain things about the future are subject to divine providence.  But the virtue of prudence is about the ‘means to an end’; it is about setting things in order in the present so as to attain a desirable end in the future.  Foresight is directed to the future, and to something distant, but is brought to bear on things in the present, that are within our power to regulate.

This sounds a bit airy-fairy, so let’s go back to our friend, Jack, with the bookshop.  He wants his bookshop to be successful.  He therefore needs to hire people who will be trustworthy and will help him to attain that end.  He knows now that if he is soft-hearted about hiring unreliable people with poor references, they will probably not help him to succeed in business.  Foresight tells him what will probably happen if he hires the right kind of person.  He cannot know everything about the future, and cannot guarantee absolutely that the person he has hired with the good references will work out fine.  But, he can set things in order by doing as much as he can do, checking the references well, and divine providence will have to do the rest.

Foresight looks ahead and evaluates the present according to the goal that exists in the future.

SJC.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

30 April: Prudence VII, Reason.

mercy.pier (640x340)

Saint Thomas Aquinas says that it is important for prudence that a person be “an apt reasoner” (Summa Theologica 49.5).  We have just said that we must not be thinking forever about what to do, but still, we must think enough.   We know, for example, the exasperation we feel when someone flip-flops from one decision on one side of the problem to the opposite decision on the opposite side with very little rational explanation for the change of mind.

Today, pop psychology has placed a rather inordinate stress on the so called “gut feeling,” as though our gut somehow has access to a truth that the mind and the reason cannot find.  Saint Thomas thinks more highly of our powers of reason than that.  He says that reason is the faculty that researches, weighs and evaluates.  Going off on tangents, or taking quantum leaps isn’t really the way to attain prudence, in his thinking.  Rather, he says,

‘The work of reason is research proceeding from certain things to other things.’ 

Eminently reasonable himself, Thomas would have us take a step by step approach to discovering the most prudent course of action:

  ‘It is proper to the rational creature to be moved through the research of reason to perform any particular action.’  

SJC.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections