JMC : Four-Square / by Joseph Rickaby, S.J.


Like temperance, the virtue of fortitude also has its seat in the irrational appetite. That appetite sovereignly desires whatever makes for the maintenance of the animal nature in the individual and its propagation in the race, that is to say, eating and drinking and sexual intercourse. Temperance curbs the craving for these things. On the other hand, the same appetite sovereignly shuns that which is the destruction of the animal nature, namely death. Fortitude curbs the fear of death. But as the Hebrew Psalm cxxxix has it, man is fearfully and wonderfully made. Here is a wonder in the constitution of humanity, and of animal nature generally; the irrational appetite does not in every respect fear death: in some respects it is only too prone to rush upon death recklessly. We must recall what we have laid down already, that the irrational appetite is two fold. There is the blind craving after the pleasurable; in that, the lowest portion of the irrational appetite, temperance has its seat. There is a higher, though still irrational portion; and this portion, oddly enough -- except in Greek, where Plato named it thumos -- has never had a distinctive name to itself in any language. St. Thomas called it the "irascible part." We are obliged to call it by such slang names as "pluck," "go," for lack of a proper terminology. Perhaps "rage" might be a suitable and decent name for this irrational portion. In the portion called rage (thumos) then there dwells the passion of impetuosity. There also dwells in the same portion the counter-passion of fear. Impetuosity urges one to rush on death; fear, to fly from it. Fortitude has for its office to curb and moderate both these passions, but especially the passion of fear. Fortitude is a mean between rashness (over-impetuosity) and cowardice (overfear), coming, however, nearer to the former than to the latter. Fortitude thus is a two-sided virtue, moderating two opposite tendencies; while temperance is one-sided, moderating desire alone.

The man of fortitude, whom we will call the "brave man," is not "fearless," in the sense of being quite a stranger to fear. The man who has no fear in him at all is not brave, but foolhardy. The brave man is sensible to fear, but is not carried away by it. His mind subdues the fear, and braves the danger that nature shrinks from. Virtue, it may be observed, has not for its office to extirpate the passions, only to moderate them. The philosophers called Stoics enjoined the extirpation of the passions. Fear was never supposed to seize upon their "wise man," or "sage," nor anger, nor desire, nor any other passion or strong emotion; in all things their sage was calmly and sweetly reasonable, no more. It may readily be imagined that men would sin less if they were devoid of all passion. We must take human nature as we find it, and must make the best of our natural being. Passions are essential constituents of human nature as it comes under our experience. A being wholly devoid of passion would be something other than mortal man. Passions lead incidentally to much evil, but they also do good. To express the fact in a doggerel rhyme,

"Passion nudges,
Reason judges."

An insult, for instance, rouses one to anger. Thereupon it is for my reason to judge how far the punishment of the offender would be a public good, and not (what is forbidden) a mere piece of private revenge. Passion renders some service as a stimulant; some service also as a corroborative, helping us on in a way that reason already approves; such is the working of great indignation. Somehow a man who seems wholly passionless and unemotional is scarcely a lovable man. He is scarcely human. Like loves like, and humanity loves its kind. Be it admitted then that the breast of the brave man is not wholly inaccessible to the passion of fear.

Fortitude is not an intellectual conviction, as Plato thought: it is a habit resting upon the intellectual conviction that the physical evil of death is not the worst of evils; but, as Aristotle says, "there are things which a man should never allow himself to be forced into doing -- he should rather die." So the martyrs judged, when there was question of denying Christ. The highest act of fortitude is martyrdom. "Call a person a martyr," says St. Ambrose; "you need add no further praise." Establish the fact of martyrdom, and we may proceed to canonization without ulterior inquiry.

"Agnis sepulcrum est Romulea in domo,
Fortis puellae, martyris inclytae."

"Agnes's tomb is in the house of Romulus, brave girl, glorious martyr": so the Christian poet Prudentius. I forget the rest of his eulogium, but really no more is needed. "Of all virtuous acts," writes St. Thomas, "martyrdom pre-eminently argues the perfection of charity; because a man proves himself to love a thing the more, the more lovable the thing that he despises for its sake, and the more hateful the thing he chooses to suffer rather than lose it. But of all the goods of the present life man loves life most, and contrariwise most hates death, especially a death attended with pain and bodily torments. And therefore, of human acts, martyrdom is the most perfect of its kind, as being the sign of the greatest charity, according to the text: Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John xv, 13). In the natural order, the analogue of martyrdom is a soldier's death on the battle-field. Fortitude is shown wherever death is braved on right principle in a noble cause; and, in a less degree, wherever anything painful to bear is smilingly encountered.

Before we commend a daring deed, or a feat of endurance, as an act of fortitude, we must have reason to think that it is done on the proper motive of the virtue, i.e., for conscience' sake, and not on an inferior motive. It is not fortitude to venture life in what is manifestly a bad cause. It is not fortitude to stand your ground because mere human respect, or the threat of punishment, keeps you from running away. Mere stolidity and toughness of nerve and physical fibre is not fortitude, but a predisposition thereto. In this way men are predisposed to fortitude by living much in the open air, like those Germans of whom we read in Caesar that for thirteen years they had not gone under a roof. Knowledge that there is no real danger is not fortitude, nor professional skill bringing the danger for you almost to zero. Lastly, anger emboldens, but bold deeds done under mere impulse of anger are not acts of fortitude. If the angry man is to be accounted brave, we can hardly refuse the praise of fortitude even to the drunkard, for "mighty deeds are done by wine."

One would almost like to add a petition to the Litany, A timiditate bonorum, libera nos, Domine: "from the timidity of good people, good Lord, deliver us." The good are frequently at fault in the matter of the two virtues of fortitude and hope. A certain audacity lends itself to wickedness; the world is full of bold bad men. Timidity restrains from evil, as also does ill-health, the "bridle of Theages," as Plato named it; but when the timorous, or sickly, person has entered on the ways of virtue, his timidity restrains him from going very far in that direction. He is no hero. That is one reason why good people are many, but saints are few. It takes immense courage to start a saint. That great saint and lion-hearted woman, St. Teresa, knowing this truth, declares that fortitude is more necessary than humility, in a beginner. A beginner has little to pride himself on, much to deter him. Many of us remain moral cowards all our lives, dreading pain, dreading trouble, dreading the opinion of men, uneasy in our relations with God, scrupulous, suspicious, narrow-minded, meticulous. A moral coward never gets far in sanctity himself, and keeps others back. "Lord, give me faith and fortitude," was the prayer of a celebrated Oriental priest.

Fortitude is shown in attack, in taking the offensive vigorously, but more in defence and endurance, for the latter is harder, being done more on principle, with less support from the passion of impetuosity; also it is more protracted. So much more difficult is it to endure that it is a rule in war, whenever you can, to exchange the more difficult for the easier, and convert your defence into an attack -- which is a good rule in controversy also. The fortitude of a soldier comes out under the hardships of campaigning quite as much as in the wild rush of battle. 'The difficulty of martyrdom is just this, that the martyr has to stand wholly on the defensive; nay, he does not even defend himself, he endures. His, therefore, is the sublimest fortitude of all. The transition, then, is easy from fortitude to patience, which is usually ranked under fortitude. The object-matter of patience is not death; a man is said to die not patiently, but bravely. The object-matter of patience is the pain and annoyance of living, not to be saddened and soured under the burden of life. No virtue is more practical, none of more daily use. To whatever destination a man is setting out, you may always advise him to take as part of his outfit a large store of patience. Those who have most to do with their fellow-men have most need of patience; and every man has need of patience with himself. There is the patience of the poor, which the Psalmist (Ps. ix, 19) assures us shall never be lost sight of by God; the patience of learner and teacher, of workman and employer (oh, that there were more of it!), and as every one knows, patience is sorely tried by sickness. Bishop Ullathorne, of Birmingham, has written a large book on "Christian Patience," perhaps the most successful of all his works. Patience is dearer to God than great exploits. Better is the patient man than the strong; and he that governs his temper than the stormer of cities (Prov. xvi, 32). Impatience is one of the last sins that perfect men thoroughly overcome. He is a good man, indeed, who is patient on his death-bed.

Patience and meekness differ in this, that meekness is a curb upon anger, whereas patience on the whole may be said rather to curb fear taking the shape of fretfulness. A strong man is usually good-natured. He feels himself equal to the daily burdens of life, and does not fret over them. He is not querulous, but he is hot tempered. He is prompt to beat down resistance, and to right his own and other people's wrongs; he does not pule and whine over them. People say he is impatient, he is really passionate and quick to anger -- he is lacking in meekness, not in power to bear. There is a spice of cowardliness in all genuine impatience. The impatient man thinks that more is being put upon him, or fears that more will be put upon him, than he is able to bear. His spirit is overcome by the prospect of evil, which condition of defeat is a special note of fear. "The object of fear," says St. Thomas, "is something in the future, difficult and irresistible." A man is not afraid who thinks that he can bear what is being put upon him. And he is not impatient, either. An impatient man does ill in office -- he has not the courage of his position -- he lacks that fortitude which, like charity, beareth all things (I Cor. xiii); whereas a hot-tempered man, if he knows himself, may prove a capable ruler. What a hot-tempered man, who is also an able man, dislikes is slowness of execution, or bungling, or failure to perceive what is wanted, all which defects in his subordinates thwart his enterprises, and to his imagination look like wilful perversities and slights upon him, the commander. "To his imagination," I say, for it is imagination rather than intellect that makes a man angry. His intellect is aware that these defects for the most part are natural rather than voluntary. But so an impatient man gets into a rage with a pen that will not write, a lock that will not open, which is an irrational rage, similar to that of the lower animals. This so-called impatience, however, is lack of meekness rather than of patience. It is called "impatience" perhaps because there is no handy word to express the contrary of meekness. But in all genuine impatience there is something of the cowardly, for patience ranks under fortitude.

We may call patience a virtue-making virtue. Virtue comes of repetition of acts done with difficulty, weariness, and disappointment at one's own failures. The virtue is slow in coming; and when we think we have it, like other skill it fails us at an emergency. The notion then strikes us that we were not born to be virtuous, or cannot be virtuous as yet -- let the virtue come, if it will, in riper life. Such cowardice is to be checked by the thought that if the virtue be not forthcoming, there will set in instead the contrary vice, which, once it has become as a second nature, will be difficult to dislodge. Surely there should be a dash of heroism in every Christian character, heroism taking the form of patience and perseverance in well-doing. He that persevereth to the end shall be saved (Matt. x, 22). In the list of those whose portion is the second death, along with the unbelieving and the abominable and evil livers there appear, heading the list, the cowardly (Apoc. xxi, 8). There is a saying in England among the common people, "It's dogged as does it." In a recent national crisis there was revived a watchword of the party that ultimately proved victorious in the great Civil War, "We will see this thing through." God may well expect the children of light to dare for salvation what the children of this world (Luke xvi, 8) dare and bear for temporal ends. To be in heaven is to be with the martyrs, which means the having led a life on earth not wholly unlike martyrdom. The spirit of martyrs, the spirit of fortitude (Isai. xi, 2), that gift of the Holy Ghost which is breathed into us in Confirmation, should abide permanently in every Christian heart. Without this readiness to dare to do right and to suffer for doing so, religion comes to be as a pastime, or a conventionality for Sundays.

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