(If I were to follow the example of modern ethical writers I should omit almost all which our author finds needful to say of that group of manly virtues of which courage and fortitude are chief. Whewell, for example, in his Elements of Morality, merely finds a place for the names in his list of private virtues. Effeminacy or sentimentality may admire courage in some military chief. But that courage is an essential virtue in the soldier of the Cross; that the world is to be defied even unto death; that hardship and the persecution of calumny and neglect, with attendant poverty and contempt, are the virtues of the saints of God -- these are the hard lessons to be learned in the school of our Lord Jesus Christ. He that follows the Divine Master must learn of Him not only His long-suffering, but the steadfast courage with which He went up to Jerusalem, knowing that He was going to His cross. I will abridge our author's discussions, but omit little more than those counsels of perfection which may be found in this part of the Summa. -- J. J. E.)
Are these virtues?
"Virtue makes him that possesses it good, and renders his work good." But the good of man is a life according to right reason. Virtue, therefore, is in agreement with reason.
(1) Reason itself is rectified by the intellectual virtues (2) this right reason is applied to human affairs by justice; (3) impediments to this rectitude in human relations are removed.
But there are two impediments to right reason's work one, when pleasure attracts in an opposite direction, which impediment is removed by temperance and its allied virtues. another, when the will is repelled from following right reason by the difficulties which present themselves. To resist these difficulties requires fortitude of mind. Manifestly, then, this is a virtue, inasmuch as it leads one to a life according to reason.
(1) Weakness of body (2 Cor. xii. 9) is courageously home by a patient soul, and patience is one of the allied virtues, a part of fortitude; while a man's recognizing his own natural weakness pertains to that perfection of the Christian life which is called humility.
(2) The doing courageous acts does not always indicate the virtuous habit. One may encounter difficulties like a courageous man when he does not perceive the greatness of the peril; or when he is confident because he has previously escaped; or when he trusts to his acquired art or skill; or he may be impelled by some passion like anger or sorrow; or he may he in quest of some temporal advantage, honour, pleasure, or lucre; or he may be driven to act courageously through fear of punishment, disgrace, or loss (Nic. Eth. iii. 7, 8).
(3) Some are so physically constituted that they have a natural disposition (physical courage) towards this virtue of the soul. And this is true also of other virtues; e.g., temperance or continence.
All virtues require a fixed purpose; but courage, as a special virtue, signifies firmness in enduring and repelling grave dangers in which it is most difficult to retain that fixed purpose. The special object, then, of this special virtue is grave perils and great labours.
These are the remoter object; the more immediate object is fear and excess of rashness. For fear shrinks from evil which is difficult to resist or overcome, and so withdraws the will from following right reason. But also such difficulties must he judiciously encountered in order that they may he utterly destroyed. Courage must govern not only natural fear but also excessive rashness.
The fear of death.
It is necessary to hold firmly by rational good against every evil whatsoever, because no corporeal good can equal that good; and courage, therefore, most of all braces the will against the greatest evils, among which none is more terrible than death; for this strips a man of all the earthly goods which he may desire. The Lord, therefore, in forbidding fear, selected the dread of death, saying, "Be not afraid of them which kill the body, but are not able to kill soul" (S. Matt. x. 28).
This is not merely the courage of the soldier in battle it is the courage of the just judge, or of the priest, or of any private man who does not shrink from peril of death while holding by the right; as when the priest, the sister, or any Christian man allows no fear of infection to hinder his duty to the sick, or goes on a dangerous journey because some pious work calls thereto.
This is the courage of martyrs who in faith courageously fight a good fight (Heb. xi. 34).
Fortitude in enduring is greater than courage in attacking.
For it is more difficult to repress fears than to govern excessive rashness. The danger itself aids the latter virtue, while it increases the difficulty of the former.
To endure is more difficult than to attack, first, because the attack which calls for your fortitude seems to be made by the stronger, while in attacking with courage it seems to be implied that you are the stronger; and, again, he who endures with fortitude feels the peril imminent, while he who attacks has it in the future; and, lastly, fortitude implies protracted effort of soul, while the courageous attack may be a sudden movement, a transient impulse.
This endurance, therefore, has its special beatitude (S. Matt. v. 10).
The object aimed at by the courageous man is not honour, pleasure, or lucre.
His immediate end is to express his virtuous habit in his act; i.e. , to do the right thing, the courageous act, as the outward expression of his courage; the ultimate end is beatitude or God.
He may not find pleasure in his act, though he prefers it to all pains or sorrows. These he may sensibly feel, but his soul is lifted above them.
He has foreseen and prepared himself for the hour of conflict, though it may come suddenly, and its very suddenness prove the strength of his courage.
Well-governed anger, anger subject to his reason and used as his instrument, may sustain him.
Fortitude is a cardinal virtue.
For it has in high degree that needful mark of virtue, firmness in action, and the more so because its object, afflicting evil, has the greatest tendency to make one fall or draw hack from following right reason.
The firmly standing in truth and righteousness against the attacks of persecutors even unto death, the fortitude which patiently endures pains unjustly inflicted, is the highest act of this virtue (S. Matt. v. 10).
The Faith is often the end of the martyr's testimony, but it is fortitude which strengthens him to bear witness. Charity is the first motive, the commanding virtue, which alone gives the act its worth, though fortitude is the virtue which immediately elicits the act. It is not the mere endurance until death which makes the martyr's action laudable; it is the perfect charity manifested thereby, overcoming the strongest natnral passion, the love of life.
Observe, also, that all virtuous acts, as referred to God, arc protestations of the faith (S. Jas. ii. 18), and may be causes of martyrdom. Thus, S. John Baptist was a martyr, though he suffered death for reproving an adulterer. And not only does he who suffers for the faith suffer as a Christian, but he who testifies to the faith by his Christ-like life, imitating Christ in holy deeds and in avoiding sin (Rom. viii. 9).
So, for example, he is a martyr who chooses to suffer rather than to tell a lie.
Is fear a sin?
We may be speaking of a passion or emotion of the soul: and none of these as such are either good or bad, laudable or blameworthy. But the good in human acts requires a due order, and violation of that order is sin. That due order demands that the passions be governed by right reason; and reason dictates that some things he shunned and others sought for, and some of these things more than others. When, therefore, the ungoverned soul flees those things which reason commands us to endure while we are aiming at what is more to be sought, the fear is inordinate and sinful. But if the soul dread and shun what ought to be dreaded and shunned, there is in that fear no inordination or sin. It would he simply unnatural not to fear earthquake, fire, or flood; reason, itself, dictates that these be shunned, and anything else which cannot he resisted, and from enduring which no good result can be expected.
Is fear ever mortal sin?
We have seen that it is sin when it shuns what right reason forbids our shunning. But this inordination may be in the sensnous nature alone, without consent of the will; and this will be venial sin, or no sin at all.
But sometimes this inordination reaches the will, when with free choice something is shunned contrary to the dictate of right reason. This may be venial, but it may also be that mortal cowardice of which the Apocalypse speaks (Rev. xxi. 8): "But for the fearful, . . . their part shall be in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death."
Does fear excuse from sin?
Fear is so far sin as it is against the order of reason. But reason judges that some evils are more to he avoided than others are. Therefore, if any one in shunning the greater evils does not avoid the less, he does not sin. Thus, corporal death is more to be dreaded than the loss of money; and if one through fear of death should promise or give something to bandits, he would he excused from sin; but not so if, without legitimate cause, his cowardice should lead him to pass over the good and bestow gifts on the unworthy.
For if any one, through fear, shunning the evils which are less to be feared according to reason, fall into the evils which are more to be dreaded, he cannot be totally excused from sin, because such fear is inordinate.
Evils of the soul are more to be feared than those of the body, and those of the body more than external evils. Therefore, if any one incur evils of his soul -- i.e., sins -- in order to avoid bodily evils, as blows, or death itself, or if he endure bodily ills in order to avoid the loss of money, he is not totally excused from sin.
Yet in a certain way his sin is diminished, because what is done through fear is less voluntary; for it imposes a kind of necessity on a man.
"Such actions as these are of a mixed character. One, under the influence of fear, does the action voluntarily, for he moves himself; but, abstractedly, the action is perhaps involuntary, for no person would choose anything of the kind for its own sake; e.g., the throwing goods overboard in a storm. In such acts as these men are sometimes even praised when they undergo anything painful for the sake of great and honourable consequences; but pardon is bestowed when a man does what he ought not to do, owing to causes which are too strong for human nature, the pressure of which no one could support" (Nic. Eth. iii. 1).
But, to avoid misunderstanding, it should be observed that in the opposite extreme from cowardice, and equally opposed to virtuous fortitude, although the acts may sometimes resemble it, is that senseless indifference to danger which does not fear what ought to be feared. "A wise man feareth and departeth from evil; but the fool beareth himself insolently and is confident" (Prov. xiv. 16).
It is natural to love life and all that is ordained for its well being; and, in due mode -- i.e., not making these the end, but using them for the ultimate end -- it is lawful and right.
Earthly goods are to be despised, and their loss is not to be feared, so far as they impede the love and fear of God but the case is otherwise so far as they are instruments in God's service.
No one is wholly bereft of this natural self-love. Even the cowardly suicide, out of self-love, seeks to free himself from present distresses. A defect, then, in this natural fear of what ought to be feared, arises either from want of due love for what God has bestowed, or from pride, self-confidence, and contempt of others, or from senseless stupidity of soul (possibly the bravery of the prize-fighter); and either way it is vicious, although possibly due to that invincible ignorance which will excuse it.
Natural boldness, quick in action, governed by reason which has first taken counsel, based on judicious self-confidence, shows us a passion of the soul in virtuous operation. But the excess of that passion, its emancipation from reason's rule, is a sin opposed to Christian courage or fortitude.
Aristotle shrewdly notices that while the rash wish to imitate the courageous man, most of them are at once bold and cowardly, for their self-confidence does not bear up under terrible circumstances (Nic. Eth. iii. 7).
What are the virtues allied to courage and fortitude?
We have seen that the acts of these virtues are two-fold actively encountering difficulties, and patiently enduring adverse circumstances. Now, for such action four things are requisite (1) Greatness of soul, a bold confidence ready for the encounter, the virtue of magnanimity; (2) (a special virtue of the rich and powerful), a largeness of action which prevents the falling short in execution of what has been boldly undertaken, the virtue of magnificence. The extreme perils which called for courage are not here in question, but the lesser difficulties of noble actions.
(3) Fortitude requires, first, that the soul be not utterly cast down in sorrow through the difficulty of imminent evils, and this is the virtue of patience; and (4) that through the protracted endurance of difficulties the soul be not wearied out and give up its efforts; this virtue is perseverance. "Let us run with patience the race that is set before us; . . . consider Him that hath endured such gainsaying of sinners, that ye wax not weary, fainting in your souls" (Heb. xii. 2).
(There are virtues which are the special glory of the great, the rich, the powerful. And so long ns human society lasts, such men must be found in it, even in a democracy like these United States. Men are worthy of honour whose lives are illumined by these virtues; they are a curse to the land which gives them greatness, power, or wealth, if they are degraded by the opposite vices.
Magnanimity and magnificence are the two virtues of the few. The many can have them only in preparedness of soul, not in actual exertion. Following Aristotle, our author makes much of these virtues. It does not seem best for me to omit them. -- J. J. E.)
Magnanamity is that greatness of soul which strives to do things worthy of honour, not, however, as esteeming human honour itself as of great price. But, still more, this greatness of soul strives for things worthy of great honour. It is not unduly lifted up at receiving great honours, but rather looks down upon them. It is the worthiness to he honoured which is the aim. And this greatness of soul is a virtue, because it is the rational use of these great human goods.
Magnanimity and humility are not contrary to one another. (How perfectly are they blended in the great apostle, S. Paul!) The magnanimous man thinks highly of the gifts of God which he has received, and aims at great use of them. He says with S. Paul, "I can do all things through Christ strengthening me."
But humility may cause him to think lowly of himself, when he considers his defects.
Similarly, also, the magnanimous man may take a low view of others as they fail of the gifts of God through their own fault, for he does not value others so highly as to do anything unbecoming for the sake of their favour or honour. But in his humility he may honour others, and esteem superiors so far as the gifts of God appear in them. "In his eyes a reprobate is despised; but he honoureth them that fear the Lord" (Ps. xv. 4).
Firm confidence is found in the magnanimous man.
The theological virtue of hope leads him to put his confident trust in God's help. This confidence of the great soul is in himself as uplifted by God. (Note again S. Paul's words quoted above.)
The magnanimous is also secure in soul. As confidence implies a certain strength of hope, so security implies a perfect freedom and rest from fear.
Wealth is the instrument which the great soul uses for great deeds; but he does not think it to be a great thing; therefore he is not lifted up if he have wealth, nor is he greatly cast down at losing it.
I do not now mean by the word that spiritual presumption which is a sin directly against God (page 182), but that sin against natural order which consists in assuming to do what is beyond one's powers. It is not this sin to "forget those things which are behind, stretching forward to the things which are before" (Phil. iii. 13); for what is not now possible in actual doing, may be potentially in the soul and may he reached by virtuous progress.
It is not presumptuous to aim at effecting some good work, though it would be so if our confidence did not rest on Divine aid (2 Cor. iii. 5).
This is the inordinate love of honour among men. Remember that honour implies a certain reverence exhibited to any one for a testimony of his superiority or excellence. Now man has not this from himself; it is the gift of God therefore the chief honour is due to Him. Also it is to be remembered that this gift of God is bestowed for the benefit of other men. Thus, then, the love of honour is inordinate, first, when one seeks testimony of an excellence which he does not possess; next, when he desires honour for himself without referring it to God; and, lastly, when he makes his glory his end without referring it to others' benefit. Such ambition is always a sin.
Honour is not the reward of virtue as if that reward were itself a virtuous thing which ought to be sought for as an end. The value of the reward lies in what it testifies to on the part of others who have no greater reward to give.
Ambition in its excessive love of honour goes beyond true greatness of soul, as presumption does in undertaking what is beyond its strength.
Vainglory: is it a sin?
Glory properly signifies the conspicuous manifestation of some one as distinguished for what is honourable among men, whether that be some corporeal or some spiritual good. But, taken more widely, glory consists not merely in the opinion of the world in general, but even of a few, or of a single individual, or even of one's self alone when he considers his own peculiar good as worthy of praise.
But that any one know and approve his own good is not sin. So in 1 Cor. ii. 12, "We received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things which are freely given to us by God."
Neither is it sin that any one wishes his good works to be approved of men. "Let your light so shine before men," etc. (S. Matt. v. 16). The desire of glory, therefore, in itself expresses nothing vicious.
The desire of vainglory is another thing. Glory may be vain, (1) when the glory is sought in that which is perishable (Jer. ix. 23); (2) when it is sought from the uncertain judgment of man (S. John v. 44); (3) when the love of glory is not referred to its due end; viz., the honour of God or the good of our neighbour.
(1) God seeks His own glory, not for His own sake, but for ours. And in like manner man may seek his own glory for the benefit of others, "that men may see his good works, and glorify his Father which is in heaven."
(2) It might be said that the love of glory excites men to worthy deeds, and that the Holy Scriptures themselves promise glory as the reward of good works (Rom. ii. 10). But glory before God is not vainglory. "He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord; for not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth" (2 Cor. x. is). it is certainly true that some are provoked to virtuous acts from the love of human glory, as they may be from the desire for money or any other earthly good. But that man is not a truly virtuous man who does virtuous acts for the sake of human glory (S. Aug., De Civ. Dei. v. 12).
(3) To seek laudable fame is not sin, provided that it is not sought for on its own account. For it contributes nothing to man's perfection. It may be sought for so far as it is in some way useful; either (1) that God may be glorified among men; or (2) that others may imitate a good example; or (3) that the man himself, knowing by the testimony of others the good that is in him, may be zealous to persevere in it and go on to better things. So it is laudable to have a care for a good name and to provide things honourable in the sight of God and man. This is not vainly delighting in the praise of men (S. John xii. 43).
True magnanimity uses honour and glory in quite another fashion. Honour, power, riches are little things in the sight of it. It cares more to be than to seem, more for truth than for opinion. A small thing with it is the praise of men.
Vainglory, on the other hand, is contentious for small things because it esteems them to be of great consequence.
Is vainglory a mortal sin?
I answer that the sin of vainglory considered in itself does not seem to be contrary to charity so far as the love of our neighbour is concerned. But it may be contrary to the love of God in two ways. First, one may glory falsely. "What hast thou that thou didst not receive? But if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?" (1 Cor. iv. 7). Or one may set the earthly good in which he glories above God. "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might; let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth, glory in this that he knoweth Me" (Jer. ix. 23). Or one may prefer the testimony of men to the testimony of God, as the Pharisees did (S. John xii. 43).
These regard the object of the vainglory.
But, again, on the part of the one who glories, vainly, he may refer his intention to glory as the ultimate end, doing even virtuous acts for that, and in order to obtain it not avoiding to do what is against God (S. John v. 44).
But if the love of human glory, although it be vain, be not repugnant to charity in either of these two ways, it may be venial sin.
But the Lord said (S. Matt. vi. 1), "Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men, to be seen of them, else ye have no reward with your Father which is in heaven;" and nothing excludes from the eternal reward except mortal sin. Yes; a virtuous act has no merit as regards eternal life if it be done for vainglory, even if that vainglory be not mortal sin; for no one by sinning is rendered fit for eternal life. But when one absolutely loses the eternal reward on account of vainglory, and not only as regards a single action, then it is mortal sin.
Remember, however, that vainglory is in the highest degree dangerous and injurious, not only on account of its gravity, but also because it is a preparation for grave sins, rendering a man presumptuous and self-confident; and so, little by little, he loses the inward gifts of God.
Is vainglory a capital vice?
Some place pride amoug the capital sins, and these persons omit vainglory from the list. But pride may be called the queen of all vices, and then vainglory, which immediately springs from it, must be regarded as a capital vice; for from the inordinate desire of glory among men arise a numerous throng of vices.
Observe that it is not necessary that a capital vice should be a mortal sin; for this can arise from venial transgression, inasmuch as the latter prepares the way for the former.
What are the children of vainglory?
Those vices which are naturally ordained for its end, which end is the manifestation of one's own superiority. (1) A man may aim at this directly in his words; this is vain boasting; or (2) he may aim at it in his deeds, which, if they are true and greatly admired, may produce the sin of ostentation (or presumptio novitatum); (3) the deeds may be a false manifestation, and so the third child of vainglory is hypocrisy; (4) one may indirectly try to show his superiority in mind by his unwillingness to receive a better judgment, which is the sin of obstinacy; or (5) his will may be in view when he will not give it up for the sake of harmony with others, and this child is discord; or (6) the superiority may be implied in speech, when one clamorously disputes with others; the sixth child of vainglory is contention; and (7) lastly, vainglory may produce an unwillingness to carry out a superior's command; this child is called disobedience.
Everything which is contrary to the law of nature is sin. But as through presumption one exceeds the proportion of his powers, striving after greater things than he has capacity for, so the pusillanimous, in his seeming humility, which is not humility at all, refuses to aim at what is commensurate with his powers. This is unnatural, and a sin like presumption. Accordingly, in the Gospel the servant who buried in the earth the money which he had received from his master, out of pusillanimous fear shirking his responsibility for it, was punished at his master's return. This vice may arise even from pride, when one rests on his own judgment of what he is fit for or capable of. Contrast with this self-willed pusillanimity the true humility of Moses (Ex. iii.), and Jeremiah (Jer. i.). Divinely called to holy work, they considered the insufficiency of their human weakness, and so held back. But pertinacious refusal would have been pusillanimous pride.
(Following the Nicomachean Ethics, our author gives a special place to the virtues and the vices of the rich. I give only a brief outline of his thought. -- J. J. E.)
Magnificence aims to produce great works at large expense for the Church, for the commonwealth, for charitable purposes (as hospitals, orphanages, etc.). The magnificent man does not chiefly aim at great expense in personal outlay; not that he does not seek his own good, but because that is something small in comparison, as his magnanimous spirit views it. But when some great occasion or permanent result is in question, as a wedding or a suitable residence, he may show his magnificence in a more personal way.
He is liberal, though every liberal man is not magnificent, because he may not have the means for being so. He is such, however, in his habit of mind.
Magnificence is a special virtue, a species of magnanimity, its special object being what is great in size, value, dignity. Its great works are for great ends; first, of course, the honour of God; then, the good of man. Such great works imply large outlays and oppose the inordinate love of money.
Like fortitude, magnificence overcomes difficulties, not those of personal perils but those of large expenditure. But it is not the great expense which the virtue aims at, it is the greatness of the work.
Meanness and extravagance are the opposite vices (the special vices of the rich). The mean rich man, with his little soul, aims at mean expense, and, consequently, at small results. His sin consists in withholding what is rationally due to the greatness of the work presented to him.
The vice at the opposite extreme consists in senseless extravagance out of all proportion to the importance of the work in hand, out of ostentation and vainglory, or some other sinful motive.
Is patience a virtue?
Moral virtues are ordained for good, preserving the good of reason against the assaults of the passions. But sorrow has its place among those passions. "The sorrow of the world worketh death" (2 Cor. vii. 10). It is needful, then, to have some virtue through which the good of reason may he preserved against sorrow, lest reason give up to it. This virtue is patience. By it we bear evil with equanimity; i.e., with no disturbance from sorrow which might make us abandon the good through which we may arrive at still better things (S. Aug., De Patientia, c. 2). The patient man will rather bear evil in not committing it than commit it by not bearing it.
Can patience be had without the grace of God?
"Desires have power to produce toleration of labours and pains; and no one voluntarily bears what produces suffering except for that which gives him pleasure" (S. Aug., De Patientia, c. 4). Therefore, that good on account of which one is willing to suffer evils is more willed and loved than the good whose privation produces the pain which we patiently endure. But that any one prefer the good of grace to all natural goods from whose loss pain can be caused, is due to charity which loves God above all things. Hence, it is manifest that patience, as a virtue, is caused by charity, which S. Paul says (1 Cor. xiii. 4) "suffereth long." But it is manifest that charity cannot be had except through grace (Rem. v. 5); therefore, patience cannot be had without the help of grace.
(1) But some, through their own native strength, patiently endure ills on account of some evil without the aid of grace; "men endure many labours and pains for what they viciously love" (S. Aug., loc. cit.). But it is much more rational and natural to bear evils on account of the good, which is being truly patient. Therefore it seems that grace is not needed. I answer that rational inclination corrupted nature of ours the inclination would prevail in man if his nature were uncorrupted. But piscence prevails. And so man is more prone to endure ills for the goods in which concupiscence delights in the present than to bear ills for future goods which are rationally sought for. Yet this latter is true patience.
(2) You may say again that some who are not in a state of grace abhor the evils of vices more than corporeal evils. Some noble heathen have endured the greatest tortures rather than to betray their country or commit some other disgraceful deed. But this is being truly patient. Yes; but the good of political virtue is commensurate with human nature, and our will can aim at it without the help of justifying grace, though not without God's assistance. But the good of grace is supernatural, and man cannot aim at that by virtue of his own nature.
(3) You may argue, again, that some for the sake of recovering bodily health willingly suffer gravest pains; but that the salvation of the soul is not less desirable than bodily health; therefore for it, also, one can patiently bear many evils without the aid of Divine grace. But the toleration of evils whieh one sustains for the sake of bodily health comes from the natural love of one's own body. The patience which proceeds from supernatural love is very different.
Patience is a virtue annexed to fortitude; for both endure with equanimity the evils which come from without. But it is quite consistent with both these virtues that, when there is need, he be attacked who produces these evils. The patient man may be also courageous. "To be patient under one's own injuries is laudable, but to endure injuries directed against God is impious." "The precepts of patience are not contrary to the welfare of the commonwealth for whose preservation conflict against its enemies is carried on" (S. Aug., Ep. ad Marcell., 138).
This I define as the virtue of one who aims at what is long deferred. Like magnanimity, it is based on hope of good. But like patience, it endures present evils in view of future good, only the delay makes that endurance still more difficult. Also, "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick" (Prov. xiii. 12); i.e., it produces sorrow which requires patience to sustain and constancy to continue the execution of good work. Long-suffering and constancy, therefore, are included in patience.
Those who err from infirmity rather than from fixed purpose are endured with long-suffering; this only is unendurable, that they long persevere in evil; but those who with pertinacious and exult in their faults, sinning through pride, may be endured with patience.
Is perseverance a special virtue?
Virtuous work has goodness and difficulty not only from the nature of the act itself, but also from the length of time required. Therefore, to persist long in any good until it reaches its consummation pertains to a special virtue.
(1) S. Augustine says (De Persever. c. i.), "No one can be said to have perseverance while he lives; he must persevere until death." But we must notice that the same word is used for a virtue and for its act. But one may have a habit of virtue who is not exercising its act. And sometimes one who has the habit begins indeed its exercise, but does not complete it. So a builder may begin a house and leave it unfinished. The word perseverance, then, is sometimes used for the habit by which one chooses to persevere, and sometimes for the act by which one actually perseveres. And sometimes one who has the habit chooses indeed to persevere and begins to act accordingly, enduring for a time, but does not complete the act, because he does not persevere until the end. But there are two ends, the end of the work, and the end of life. Perseverance per se requires that one continue to the end of his virtuous work, as the soldier perseveres to the end of the conflict, and the magnificent to the end of his great work.
But there are certain virtues whose acts ought to endure throughout our whole life; such are faith, hope, and charity, which regard the ultimate end of our whole human life. In these chief virtues the act of perseverance is not consummated until the end of life. In this view S. Augustine uses the word for the consummated act.
(2) But is not immovable persistence required for every virtue? Yes; for that is included in the definition of virtue; it is a "quality with difficulty changed." But perseverance aims at this as its special end, making this virtue a special one.
It is a secondary virtue annexed to fortitude, sustaining the difficulty which comes from prolonged good work, and governing the passions of fear, of fatigue, or of failure through prolonged effort. Constancy has the same end; but while the difficulty which perseverance overcomes arises from the mere length of the act, constancy persists in good against other outward impediments. Perseverance requires tke aid of Divine grace.
The virtuous habit needs the gift of habitual grace, as the other infused virtues do. But the actual perseverance enduring until death needs also the gratuitous aid of God, preserving man in good until the end of life. For free-will in itself is changeable, and this changeableness is not removed from it by habitual grace in this present life. And thus, though free-will may choose the good, even when renewed by grace it has not power to remain immovable in good. Choice may be in our power, but not execution of what we choose.
The virtue of perseverance inclines to steadfastness; but, like any other habit which one uses when he wills, it is not necessary that he who has the habit use it immovably until death. (This requires sustaining grace.)
But some persevere in sinful works, which are sometimes more difficult than virtuous action. This is true; but man by himself can fall into sin; but he cannot rise again without the aid of grace. The very falling into sin, accordingly, makes him persevere in it, unless he be liberated by the grace of God. But his doing some good thing does not make him persevere in good, because be is still able to sin; we need to be "furthered by God's continual help."
Weakness of spirit (mollities).
This is feebly withdrawing from good on account of its difficulties which are found intolerable. But a thing is not judged weak which yields to great and overpowering force; nor is that man reputed weak who yields in like manner. What I am now speaking of is not the yielding to fear of perils, nor even the giving up to violent desires; for, properly speaking, he is weak of spirit who gives up the good on account of regret for absent pleasures. (This is a kind of effeminacy or self-indulgence. Nic. Eth. vii. 7.)
It is due to two causes. One is habit; for when any one is accustomed to self-indulgence in pleasures, it is harder to bear their absence. Another cause is natural constitution, for some are born with an effeminate disposition.
The pleasure-loving cannot endure the labours which impede their enjoyment. This is another form of the same sin; or, again, excessive devotion to recreations, shrinking from hard works and laborious days.
The opposite vice is obstinacy or pertinacity, out of vainglory persisting in one's own opinion beyond rational measure; or inordinately persisting in one course of conduct through all difficulties (proud of being "consistent").
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