Tag Archives: virtue

30 September: Fortitude VII, More Endurance.

 

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This idea of endurance is worth lingering over. When I taught this subject as a class, a student once asked, “Isn’t it better to fight for what is right, rather than just put up with something that is evil? Shouldn’t we utilize anger and aggression against an evil which threatens?” St. Thomas allows this, in fact. Moreover, he nowhere says that we should ‘put up with evil’ in a passive way. He says that in resisting evil, all the emotions of the soul can be employed by the virtuous person if they are modified according to the dictate of reason. But as for anger and aggression, they are effective only sometimes. At best, “moderate anger”, as he calls it, can be useful because it is both “moved by the commands of reason and it renders an action more prompt.” Moderate anger, then, is not a tantrum, a rage, a show of personal power. It is intelligent, it speaks without shouting, it has a rational basis for its concerns. That is what Thomas means by being “moved by the commands of reason.” Moreover, an angry person doesn’t delay and stall about doing what needs to be done: an angry person acts quickly. This can be a very good and useful thing.

Then, if the anger is under control, if one has a reasonable set of objections and can communicate them in a rational way, and without dragging one’s feet, then this would be St. Thomas’s idea of the virtuous way to utilize the emotion of anger and grow in fortitude. It might be effective if the difficulty is the type than can be resolved by reasonable argument. Some are.

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The Iron Bridge is a symbol of endurance: Abram Darby III’s endurance against scoffers, and nearly 240 years of Shropshire weather and the vagaries of the river Severn.

But, sadly, not all difficulties can be resolved in this way. For Thomas, the bottom line still seems to be that we must accept that most serious problems take a long time to resolve. This is why endurance, in his teaching, is more effective than anger – even moderate anger. Endurance isn’t merely a passive virtue, for ‘do-nothings’. Rather, endurance actively stands firm on the side of what is truly valuable and good when trials come. It does not capitulate to pressure. It keeps hold of the ethical reasons for taking the stance we take. This, as anyone knows who has ever tried it, is not easy. That is why fortitude is a virtue.

I would like to end these reflections with what The Catechism of the Catholic Church says about fortitude.

Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice one’s life in defence of a just cause (no. 1809).

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

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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/

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September 27, Fortitude IV: Fortitude and Mortality.

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At Manchester City War Memorial, MMB.

The ultimate danger is death. But most of us are not required to die for a good cause. Yet, there are other forms of death. We are apt to say, with feeling, “Oh, I would die if such and such happened.” Most of the time, when we use that expression, we know we would not actually die if that thing happened – but the expression bears some truth after all. We would not physically die, but whenever we feel threatened emotionally, we feel that some important part of us would receive a mortal wound if that thing happened. To be rejected by someone we love, for example, does not cause physical death, but the emotional hurt is very deep. If the relationship with the loved one comes to an end, then the part of us that was brought to life through that relationship feels like it is coming to an end. A death of sorts does occur. And so, fortitude is about coping with these kinds of very painful human experiences. It may be that in fact, the relationship in question should change, or even come to an end. Clinging to a relationship out of fear of the loneliness and hurt that will follow once the person is no longer in our life can sometimes perpetuate a relationship that is causing greater harm to oneself that the loneliness we fear. Fortitude would counsel a person in this situation to bring the harmful relationship to an end, and to bear the pain that will ensue for the sake of a deeper level of healing and growth.

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 26: Fortitude III, Fortitude and Things that Threaten.

thursday-9-pansy-pavementSo, fortitude is about things, people, circumstances that threaten us. We speak easily nowadays about finding something “threatening.” We might use the word to describe our feeling about someone’s personality, and confide to a friend, “I don’t know why, but Sam threatens me.” Or, it might be that some actions are scary for us. We might admit to someone we trust, “The very idea of getting up in front of an audience and giving a speech is much too threatening. I couldn’t possibly do it.” We all know what it’s like to feel threatened, and it is very uncomfortable. No one likes it. That churning feeling in the stomach. That inability to behave naturally, to find the right words to converse normally. The trembling hands, the racing pulse. Something elicits these symptoms of anxiety because it is perceived as dangerous. Fortitude is what governs our fear of danger. This fear needs to be kept under control, because if it is allowed to get the upper hand, we will simply run away.

Now, there are times when running away is the wisest thing to do. No one contests that. But what if the person who “threatens” us happens to be our employer in a job we know we can do? If we run away every time we feel threatened by someone, we will not be able to negotiate the pressures of the professional world. It is fortitude that counsels us to stick it out, explore our insecurity, try to determine why these feelings are surfacing and then take steps to overcome them. We do this because earning a living requires it. Financial independence is one of the requirements of adulthood, ordinarily. We need fortitude not only for things that are obviously big and difficult – like perhaps running into a burning building to rescue someone. Even in order to realise the goals entailed in living as an adult we need the strength that fortitude develops within us.

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Père Jacque Hamel’s last earthly audience included his murderers.

Or, take our other example, that of feeling threatened by having to speak before an audience. This is not something that is required of everyone, but, once again, what if your job requires you to lead a seminar from time to time? Your future in the company might depend on it. It is fortitude that counsels us to learn how to address an audience by perhaps taking advice from someone who is accustomed to public speaking, by planning your talk well in advance, by noting that smiling and making eye-contact with the audience is important, and so on. Fortitude is what comes into action when we might prefer to run away, wiggle out of something, or back out of situations that are of importance to our personal, professional or religious lives.

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

 

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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.

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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

 

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June 10: Justice VI: Justice, Gratitude and Religion

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Abbey of Saint Maurice, Switzerland.

We have not yet talked about justice expressed toward God, but we need to. It is of crucial importance. The Catechism’s definition of justice mentions God as the principal recipient of our justice. Why should that be so? God does not need anything from us! Isn’t justice about responding to need?

Yes, justice is about responding to need, and about paying our debts. But justice is not primarily a virtue by which we learn to add up the numbers and pay the bill. On a more fundamental level, justice is the virtue by which we become increasingly sensitive to our indebtedness. The distinction is subtle, but important. There can be a grudging quality that goes with paying a bill, as we know when we see our hard-earned money vanishing so quickly.

But, a grudge does not belong in the virtue of justice as it relates to God. In being sensitive to indebtedness, we realize how much we have been given by God. In him we have received something far beyond what we have strictly deserved – the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in the field, the very kingdom of heaven, as Jesus expresses it.

Even if we do not acknowledge God as our loving Father, and the creator of the universe, it is hard to avoid admitting that we have been given gifts in our lifetime that are of vital importance to us, that have helped us to become ourselves. This gives us a recognition, simply put, that someone has loved us, and has shown it, and our life has changed for the better because of it. When that Someone is acknowledged as God, then we need a way that allows us to make some sort of response. Tomorrow, we shall reflect on this.

SJC

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

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

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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

 

 

 

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2 May: Prudence IX, Hmmm.

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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.

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